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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Brooklyn Bird Club trip to Ft. Tilden and Riis Park

It seemed like everytime I checked the weather forecasts for Saturday morning it would be different. One news station would say thunderstorms in the morning, another one would say no rain predicted. To use a recent partisan expression, there was a lot of "flip-flopping" going on. I decided to call Janet, the trip registrar, to help me make up my mind whether or not to cancel the field trip. We tossed a virtual coin into the air and it came up heads; the trip was on.

I like birding around the coast at this time of year. The bulk of the fall migration has passed but an occasional rare vagrant from the western part of the country may show up. It's also a good time to find early arriving winter visitors and sea ducks.

We parked at Ft. Tilden's administration building and started the morning with a slow walk around the edges of the soccer fields. It was overcast, damp and there was a strong wind blowing off the ocean. Birds were few and far between. I tried not to be discouraged, after all it wasn't raining. There were a few hundred Brant on the baseball fields and seemingly thousands more flying around the area. As we walked through a tiny remnant of undeveloped, ungroomed grassland we noticed something interesting. Pockets of the grass, as well as, dried stalks of milkweed and goldenrod were covered with Yellow white-lipped Snails. I've seen these snails numerous times but never so many in such a small area. Perhaps this is their breeding season.

Yellow White-lipped Snail

(Photo credit - Rob J)

In the backyard of a white building at the southeast corner of Tilden we spotted a perched adult Sharp-shinned Hawk. She sat still for a long time allowing us all good looks. As she scanned for prey her piercing, ruby-red eyes seemed like a Halloween devil disguise. From that location we walked over to Riis Park.

A bad photo of a Royal Tern

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Rough surf and a hazy horizon made it nearly impossible to locate any seabirds. On the sand near the main bathhouse, however, was a small flock of Royal Terns. These huge, orange-billed terns dwarfed some nearby laughing and Ring-billed Gulls. While observing the terns we kept hearing thin, peeping sounds; like small birds. When we walked out onto the sand looking for the mystery sparrows we discovered that it was actually a few juvenile Royal Terns. They were still begging for free handouts from their parents. It was a surprisingly small sound for such a large bird.

Shane had been at Riis Park the day before and located a pair of Vesper Sparrows near the picnic area. I headed over there next hoping that they were still hanging around. We spent a long time patiently surveying that area and it paid off. One very nervous Vesper Sparrow was still feeding within a flock of Song Sparrows, Palm Warblers and a single Savannah Sparrow. It was difficult for everybody to get good looks as it kept disappearing into a narrow border of dense vegetation between the short grass and boardwalk. While we were waiting for it to emerge from the long grass I spotted a lone Snow Bunting feeding next to the handball courts. An arctic breeding species, they are usually found in flocks along the coast in the winter.

The Snow Bunting was extremely cooperative. It hardly moved from within a one square foot area as it nibbled on the seeds at the tips of various drying grasses. We had to walk within a few feet of it to get back to the boardwalk and it just continued feeding. It must have been very hungry after a long flight.

A lone Snow Bunting

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Throughout the morning, as we walked along the vegetation that borders the north edge of the boardwalk we noticed a sweet fragrance wafting through the air. It seemed out of place for this time of year and more appropriate for spring. I sniffed every flower we passed and eventually tracked it down to a plant later identified as Thorny elaeagnus.

Thorny elaeagnus (Elaeagnus pungens)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

After lunch we made a brief stop at the fisherman's lot at the west end of Ft. Tilden. I wanted to scan the ocean and rock jetties. Fog was rolling in and the ocean was getting rougher. It was impossible to see any birds on the water. A flock of dunlins nervously probed the shore between two fisherman. The fog was making it difficult to see and since everyone seemed satisfied with our finds we decided to call it an early day.

Nancy dropped me off at Grand Army Plaza and, as I was walking home, I spotted one of our local Red-tailed Hawks. She was perched on the head of a bronze eagle atop the memorial archway in the center of the plaza. I tipped my hat to her as I passed.

- - - - -

Ft. Tilden & Jacob Riis Park, 10/30/2004
Common Loon (2, flyovers.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Brant (Several thousand.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (2 or 3.)
Dunlin (10 near Silver Gull Beach Club.)
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Royal Tern (~10, sitting on beach near main bathhouse.)
American Crow
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing (Flyovers.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler (Several.)
Vesper Sparrow (Edge of picnic area between handball courts and east bathhouse.)
Savannah Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting (Feeding at edge of sidewalk near handball courts.)
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch (Flyover.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, American Crow, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

1 comment:

Abfahrt said...

really impressive photos, not only cause i think birds are the most elegant lifeform.
i like what u do!

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope