Thursday, October 14, 2004

"Anything can happen this time of year"

That's what my friend Marty and some other long time birders have always told me. I understand now what they mean. Apparently, there are two issues at work. First, there are more birds heading south in the fall than there were going north in the spring due to the addition of a new generation. It was then explained to me that the post-breeding dispersal of this year's young create a greater likelihood that some inexperienced birds will get "confused" along the way. It seems like every autumn I hear a story or two of a particular species showing up in some unexpected location. Yesterday it was Prospect Park's turn to welcome a sidetracked visitor.

Juvenile Purple Gallinule

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

Purple Gallinules are not typically found in New York State, let alone Brooklyn. Their northern breeding range in eastern North America is Maryland. According to "Bull's Birds of New York State" there are two records of this bird for Prospect Park; May 6-9, 1983 and May 11, 1985. Yesterday a juvenile gallinule decided that Prospect Park was a fine place to fatten up on the local delicacies.

I went out early this morning hoping that the bird was still hanging around. As I was getting ready to leave Shane called me on his cellphone to give me the good news. He, Peter and Steve were out at first light and quickly relocated the bird. As I approached the end of the Peninsula I was scanning the opposite shore for any movement in the scattered rafts of vegetation. I leaned my bike up against a tree and noticed something out of the corner of my eye. A small, pale brown bird with huge feet was walking on a floating layer of Water Primrose ten feet away. I didn't want to scare the bird so I ducked down behind a section of tall Phragmites and took out my camera. I crawled out from behind the natural blind and found the young bird still feeding in the open. It was overcast, drizzly and my little camera needed more light. Sean was on his way with his camera so I just sat back and watched the bird.

Must be tough finding shoes for those feet!

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

He seems to be a little larger than a Blue Jay with feet out of proportion with his body. His long toes allowed him to walk on top of floating vegetation as he foraged for insects and fish. He continuously twitched his upturned tail as he search for food. At one point he snatched a small, silvery fish from the surface of the water. The adult gallinule is an intense indigo color. This mostly brown bird had hints of the blue plumage appearing on the fronts of his wings, as well as, a small patch on his back. On his forehead is a pale blue, diamond-shaped shield. He took a break from feeding and walked to the edge of the reeds to preen and bathe. For a few minutes he disappeared into the Phragmites and began calling. His voice sounded like a sad, mournful cry. A Pied-billed Grebe had been hiding in the reeds and the wailing sounds chased him away. Despite his anguished cries the gallinule appeared perfectly comfortable on Prospect Lake. I just hope he regains his bearings well before the first winter snowstorm. I also hope that he is able to evade our local hawks (one of the Red-tailed Hawks passed low over his head this morning while calling his mate).

Sean lying down on the job

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-click to learn more about the Purple Gallinules-

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Prospect Park, 10/14/2004
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Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Wood Duck
Cooper's Hawk (Chasing pigeons by Terrace Bridge.)
Red-tailed Hawk (Flying low and calling over Peninsula.)
Purple Gallinule (Feeding in the rafts of Water Primrose at edge of Peninsula across from rink.)
Belted Kingfisher (Heard calling near rink.)
Northern Flicker
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee (Heard calling on Peninsula.)
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (2, on top of railroad tie pile next to Wellhouse Drive.)
Baltimore Oriole (Singing from top of Birch tree on end of Peninsula.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice photos!
I watched the juvenile bird (my first Purple Gallinule- thanks for reporting it) around 9:00 today. It bobbed its tail up and down continuously...
Roberto Cavalieros

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