Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Prospect Park with Shane B. and Sean S.

It was an unusually blustery spring morning. The 34 degree temperature almost persuaded me to skip a quick morning check on the hawks. As I passed the Picnic House I noticed all the squirrels nearby scrambling for cover. Split-tail had just flown out of the woods on Payne Hill and had zeroed in on one of the grey rodents below a stand of oak trees. The squirrels all managed to escape and the hungry Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree above me and wagged his tail from side to side.

When I left the house I didn't realize that it would be so windy. I had to stand in the lee of the elm tree below Big Mama and Split-tail's nest to stay warm. I felt the huge tree slowly rocking from the force of the wind. I could see the top of Big Mama's head in the nest as she peered down at me. I imagined her holding her wings out to cradle her young and prevent them from blowing out of the nest. The previous two years nest's were much closer to the ground and weren't really in danger on gusty days. Back then Big Mama spent more time away out of the nest monitoring it from a short distance. I can't wait to get my first glimpse of a fuzzy, white head sticking up from the nest...any day now.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 4/28/2004
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Great Blue Heron (Perched in tree in Midwood.)
Gadwall (Upper pool.)
Bufflehead (Upper pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher (Lower pool.)
Northern Flicker
Least Flycatcher (Payne Hill.)
Blue-headed Vireo (Several.)
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (3 or 4, Upper pool.)
Barn Swallow (Several.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Quaker Ridge.)
House Wren (2.)
Winter Wren (Midwood.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Common.)
Hermit Thrush (Common.)
Wood Thrush (2.)
Gray Catbird (Abundant.)
Brown Thrasher (3 or 4.)
Northern Parula (2.)
Yellow Warbler (Midwood.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)
Prairie Warbler (2, Ravine.)
Black-and-white Warbler (~10.)
Ovenbird (Midwood.)
Northern Waterthrush (Ravine.)
Louisiana Waterthrush (Ravine.)
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler (Quaker Ridge.)
Canada Warbler (Peninsula.)
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow (Several.)
Swamp Sparrow (Several.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch (6+, Midwood.)
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Saturday, April 24, 2004


(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Prospect Park with Shane B., Bill J. and Starr S.

Dawn in Prospect Park arrived cool and damp. As I walked north along the Long Meadow to meet Shane dozens of small sparrows hiding in the grass flushed, keeping one step ahead of me. Judging by their small size and trilling chips I presumed that they were Chipping Sparrows. Like other birders, Shane and I were playing the wind game again hoping that the previous night's south wind had delivered more migrant songbirds to the park. Maple trees are sprinkling the earth with tiny, pale green flowers and oaks have begun dangling their drooping yellow catkins; perfect lures for the insects that attract the colorful objects of our early morning walks.

At the Vale of Cashmere three Northern Waterthrushes were belting out their slurred songs. One was teetering along the edge of the mud in the empty pond. A distant, flute-like "eee-ooh-lay" played by an unseen Wood Thrush was the first I've heard since last year. Within 30 minutes the trees at the Vale began to come alive with various chips, whistles, churrs and warbles. A trio of Baltimore Orioles chased each other in the treetops while a single Orchard Oriole called from within a cloud of white blossoms adorning a cherry tree. The avian sounds and activities of the new dawn made me forget about my grogginess. As we walked deeper into the center of the park it became clear that virtually thousands of White-throated Sparrows had descended into the park overnight. On a grassy section near the entrance to the Midwood we inadvertently drove off a flock of about 200 of the melodic ground feeders.

In the Midwood a Worm-eating Warbler was feeding within a flock of White-throated Sparrows occasionally flying up to probe clusters of dead leaves suspended in various small saplings.

We met Bill and Starr at the Nethermead Arches overlooking the Ravine brook. It's a great vantage point for watching the birds feeding near the water. We must have stayed there for 30 minutes before heading up to Lookout Hill in search of a Kentucky Warbler Peter spotted at the end of the previous day.

Shane spotted another Worm-eating Warbler feeding near a stand of pines on the hill. After only watching for a moment it was flushed by five dogs whose owners didn't seem to think that the leash law applied to them. We quickly got over our disgust when, a little further up the path, we located a Summer Tanager eating a bee. We briefly discussed how to describe its rich, red plumage and finally agreed that the field guide's "rosy red" was perfect.

The small opening at the top level of Lookout is ringed with a few oak trees. I thought it might be a good spot to check for warblers. After a quick scan I announced, "There isn't one bird up here." A moment later Shane spotted something and, for the second time in a week, began choking on the words. Starr finished his thoughts with, "Cerulean Warbler!" These delicately painted blue and white songbirds are usually found singing from the tops of the highest trees, this bird had other ideas, though. He was gleaning insects from the undersides of leaves from a stretch of small maple saplings. Cooperatively remaining nearly at eye level we watched him feeding for what seemed like a very long time. Usually one only gets to watch a cerulean until he flies away but we left while he was still feeding. We ran into three other birders and brought them back to the spot where he was quickly relocated.

With twelve species of warbler under our belt and three new species for the year our morning of hunting songbirds was almost too easy.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 4/24/2004
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Common Loon (2, flying over cemetery.)
Double-crested Cormorant (~300 in several flocks flying over the park.)
Great Blue Heron (Flying over Quaker Ridge.)
Great Egret (Lullwater.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
Northern Flicker
Blue-headed Vireo (Several.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Lookout Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Midwood.) [Shane, Rob]
House Wren (2. North Zoo, Lookout Hill.)
Winter Wren (Midwood.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Several.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Abundant.)
Hermit Thrush (Fairly Common.)
Wood Thrush (2. Vale of Cashmere, Midwood.)
Gray Catbird (Fairly Common.)
Northern Mockingbird (G.A.P.) [Shane Blodgett]
Brown Thrasher (3. Vale, Midwood, Ravine.)
Northern Parula (4.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Ravine.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Lookout Hill.)
Prairie Warbler (3. Ravine [2], Butterfly Meadow.)
Palm Warbler (Common.)
Cerulean Warbler (Lookout Hill.)
Black-and-white Warbler (~8, various locations.)
Worm-eating Warbler (2. Midwood, Lookout Hill.)
Ovenbird (Midwood.) [Shane, Rob]
Northern Waterthrush (4. Vale [3], Ravine.)
Common Yellowthroat (Ravine.)
Summer Tanager (Lookout Hill.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Vale of Cashmere.) [Shane, Rob]
Eastern Towhee (Common.)
Chipping Sparrow (Fairly Common.)
Savannah Sparrow (Peninsula meadow.) [Bill, Rob, Starr]
Swamp Sparrow (3 or 4.)
White-throated Sparrow (Downright ubiquitous.)
Rusty Blackbird (Peninsula.) [Bill, Rob, Starr]
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole (Vale of Cashmere.) [Shane, Rob]
Baltimore Oriole (3, Vale of Cashmere.)
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (Rick's Place.) [Shane, Rob], Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Friday, April 23, 2004

Prospect Park with Pat P.

I finished a morning appointment earlier than expected and decided to walk through the park and check on the hawks. I had been working on Eastern Parkway so I cut through the Rose Garden and Vale of Cashmere on my way to the nest.

The yew shrubs that border the Rose Garden (I'm still trying to find the roses) were noisy with the squeaks and whistles of newly arrived Gray Catbirds. One made a loud ratcheting sound as it chased a second catbird from his early claim. Two police officers were interrogating a shady character who had been sleeping on a park bench at the north end of the garden. I steered clear of them and walked to the stairway that descends to the Vale of Cashmere. As I approached the stairs a Kentucky Warbler shot low across the path in front of me and landed in the ground cover of goutweed to my right. I watched it for a moment or two before calling a couple of friends on my cellphone. Nobody could get into the park so I continued to watch the bird alone as it foraged along the hillside. It gradually began moving up the hill and behind the guy that the police were interrogating. I briefly debated whether or not I should approach them or even look in their direction with my binoculars. The bird won out over good sense. The police officers gave me a strange look, I pointed at the bird, they gave me an emotionless nod then went back to questioning the glassy-eyed man on the park bench.


(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

The drooping branches of the Higan Cherry trees at the Vale of Cashmere are heavy with pink blossoms and the branches of the Redbud that edge Nelly's Lawn have erupted with petite pinkish-purple flowers. I spotted Pat at the opposite end of Nelly's Lawn and waved her over to show her the Kentucky Warbler. By the time we got to the Rose Garden the kentucky seemed to have moved on. We spent the next few hours in the Ravine and Midwood tracking down a number of other recent arrivals moving through the park.

We made a brief stop at Big Mama and Split-tail's nest to check on their progress. Big Mama was seated on the extreme south side of the nest facing west. I don't know if it indicates that there is a hatchling on the nest but it seemed a little peculiar that she was positioned so far to one side. Next time I'll stay at their nest instead of chasing songbirds.

There was a lot of bird activity in the Ravine. Small clouds of insects attracted a mixed flock of warblers above the stream near the Nethermead Arches. From the top of the bridge looking upstream we watched a hungry flock of migrants that included Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Palm Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat and, of course, Ruby-crowned Kinglet. We ran into Peter who told us of another Kentucky Warbler in the Midwood. Two other birders joined us and we searched the forest underbrush for a long time but were unsuccessful. Returning to the bridge overlooking the Ravine stream we lazily watched the birds feeding above and along side the water. Insects landing on the top edge of the bridge behind us were being sucked down like a vacuum cleaner by a Yellow-rumped Warbler walking along the sandstone railing.

With the arrival of catbirds and the first wave of warblers I think it's safe to say that the songbird migration is here and that my infinitely patient wife will be a birding widow for the next month.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 4/23/2004
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Wood Duck (Flying over Ravine towards pools.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Merlin (Flying over Midwood towards zoo.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2, Ravine.)
Northern Flicker
Blue-headed Vireo (2.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Vale of Cashmere & Ravine.)
House Wren (Midwood.)
Winter Wren (3, Vale of Cashmere & Midwood.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (2 or 3.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Fairly common.)
Hermit Thrush (~15.)
Gray Catbird (Several, Rose Garden.)
Northern Mockingbird (2, Grand Army Plaza entrance.)
Brown Thrasher (Vale of Cashmere.)
Northern Parula (Ravine.)
Yellow Warbler (Ravine.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Male, Ravine.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)
Prairie Warbler (Ravine.)
Palm Warbler (Common.)
Black-and-white Warbler (Ravine.)
Worm-eating Warbler (Midwood.)
Ovenbird (2, Midwood.)
Northern Waterthrush (Ravine.)
Louisiana Waterthrush (2, Vale & Ravine.)
Kentucky Warbler (Top of stairway from Vale to Rose Garden.) [Rob]
Common Yellowthroat (Ravine.)
Eastern Towhee (Several.)
Chipping Sparrow (~50, Nelly's Lawn.)
Swamp Sparrow (Vale of Cashmere.)
White-throated Sparrow (Abundant.)
Rusty Blackbird (2, Vale of Cashmere.)
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch (Several heard singing in Midwood.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin (Abundant.), European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Prospect Park (also a quick stop at Floyd Bennett Field) with Shane B.

We should be seeing signs of hatchlings at Big Mama and Split-tail's nest this week but I've decided to take a short break from monitoring them. On a couple of occasions Split-tail has seemed a little agitated (the growling incidents) so I thought that it might be a good idea to give them a little space. Also, Shane and I have been watching the wind direction and it looked like it might be a good morning for new migrants. Last night the wind changed to a south/southwest direction and by dawn it switched back around to north. Our thinking was that the wind shift would force some northbound birds down and, hopefully, into Prospect Park. It turned out to be a pretty good gamble.

I left my home just before dawn and walked to the park. I noticed that the layers of early morning bird songs shifted from resident species to "visitors" as I approached the center of the park. My block was noisy with House Sparrows chirping and pigeons cooing. At the very edge of the park the sounds changed mostly to starlings and cardinals. Entering the wooded section near the Litchfield Villa I began to hear choruses of robin's "cherrily, cherriup" and White-throated Sparrow's "pure sweet canada canada". The closer I got to the forested center of the park the more I heard the sounds of migrants. Following the edge of the ponds, one step behind a string of dimming street lamps, I heard the insect buzz of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, the loose trill of dozens of Yellow-rumped Warblers and the nasal "ca-ha" of a flock of Fish Crows.

I continued walking across the Nethermead and out towards the woods on the Peninsula. I rendezvoused there with Shane where we found that large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers seemed to have just dropped out of the sky. Through the course of our morning walk we found flocks of yellow-rumps on Lookout Hill, the Lullwater, the Ravine and pretty much anywhere that there were trees. Palm Warblers were seen in smaller numbers and we added several new species to the park's year list. On the Peninsula we listened to the singsong tune of a Warbling Vireo and flushed a Spotted Sandpiper at the edge of the "Thumb". Across the Lullwater, behind the rink, we patiently waited out a serenading Northern Waterthrush hidden in a multiflora rose bush. A bright splash of blue in the same bush turned out to be an Indigo Bunting.

Following the waterway into the Ravine in search of a Louisiana Waterthrush we stumbled on a much more exciting find. We had been walking downstream along the gravel bridle path in the Ravine when Shane spotted something that wasn't "another yellow-rump". In his excitement he stumbled on the words so I blurted out, "Yellow-throated Warbler!" It was his find and he really had the honor of announcing it (to the only two birders in the park) but I couldn't help myself. This striking bird with the golden throat patch and black and white face pattern has a more southern range and is not observed in the park every year. As Shane followed the bird I made a few phone calls to alert other birders. We briefly lost the bird but relocated it as it foraged for insects in the shrubs and blackberry brambles edging the stream. As we stood watching the warbler I heard a Northern Parula singing in the woods along Quaker Ridge. We watched the yellow-throated for a few minutes then left the park via Wellhouse Drive.

As we were walking past the Wellhouse I heard another new song for the season. Perched above the building was a beautiful, chestnut plumed Orchard Oriole chattering and whistling. Earlier in the morning we stood and listened to the strange, gurgling calls of a Rusty Blackbird in the same area.

We ended our morning by making a quick run out to Floyd Bennett Field in search of Upland Sandpipers (hey, we can dream) but came up empty. We did get great views, though, of a ghostly male Northern Harrier.
- - - - -
Prospect Park & FBF, 4/20/2004
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Horned Grebe (Floyd Bennett Field.)
Double-crested Cormorant (Several on flyovers.)
Great Egret (2.)
Green Heron (2.)
Brant (Floyd Bennett Field.)
Wood Duck (Lullwater.)
Northern Shoveler (2.)
Bufflehead (Female, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck (Several on lake.)
Northern Harrier ("Grey Ghost", Floyd Bennett Field.)
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel (6 or 8, Floyd Bennett Field.)
American Coot (3.)
Spotted Sandpiper (Peninsula "Thumb".)
Chimney Swift (3.)
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2, Ravine.)
Northern Flicker
Blue-headed Vireo (~5.)
Warbling Vireo (Peninsula.)
Fish Crow (7, flying over Nethermead.)
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow (Floyd Bennett Field.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
Brown Creeper (Ravine.)
Winter Wren (Lookout Hill.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (3.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Common.)
Hermit Thrush (4 or 5.)
Northern Mockingbird (Floyd Bennett Field.)
Northern Parula (Heard singing in Ravine.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)
Yellow-throated Warbler (Ravine near Nethermead Arches.)
Pine Warbler (Female, Lookout Hill.)
Prairie Warbler (2, Lullwater. 1, Ravine.)
Palm Warbler (~20-30.)
Black-and-white Warbler (2.)
Northern Waterthrush (Singing in Lullwater near skating rink.)
Indigo Bunting (Lullwater near skating rink.)
Eastern Towhee (Several.)
Chipping Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow (3 or 4.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Rusty Blackbird (Lookout Hill above Wellhouse.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole (Singing from perch above Wellhouse.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Prospect Park, Floyd Bennett, Riis Park, Fort Tilden, Spring Creek and Marine Park with Shane B.

I walked across the park just before sunrise to meet Shane near the lake. We had planned a long day of birding at various Brooklyn locations and thought that Prospect Park would be a good starting point. We wanted to spend a little time in the park before all the unleashed dogs and their owners arrived.

I was surprised by the endless cacophony of robin songs carrying through the woods and fields. It wasn't like that in the park the day before. In the Ravine a Louisiana Waterthrush was singing in the dark at the edge of the stream. The sky was beginning to lighten as I walked through the grass on the Nethermead and I could hear the ringing songs of Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos all along the edge of the field. Three Great Blue Herons were flying north above the meadow. As I waited for Shane at the Terrace Bridge I watched flock after flock of robins flying north over the park. Northern Flickers, while not as numerous as the robins, were also taking advantage of the south wind and flew past in good numbers. Through the course of the day we were also amazed by the large number of Double-crested Cormorants migrating. We easily observed several hundred birds flying overhead with a single flock containing close to one hundred individuals.

At Floyd Bennett Field we spotted a Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage off the Archery Road. I'm surprised he hasn't headed north yet. A flock of thirty tired Glossy Ibis landed in the trees next to the Return-a-Gift Pond. A pair of harriers patrolled low over the grasslands while eight colorful kestrels hovered higher above hunting for much smaller prey.

There wasn't a huge fallout of migrants today, although most birders were probably keeping their fingers crossed. It was the first time this spring that there were consistent south-southwest winds leading into the weekend and I'm sure everyone was chomping at the bit. While there were a number of changes in the local parks with Prospect Park recording five new species for the year the massive invasion of migrants is still a little ways off.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, Floyd Bennett Field, Riis Park, Fort Tilden, Spring Creek, Marine Park, 4/17/2004
-
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe (Floyd Bennett.)
Northern Gannet (3.)
Great Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant (Several hundred on flyover.)
Great Blue Heron (Prospect Park.)
Great Egret
Snowy Egret (Spring Creek.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Prospect Park, Floyd Bennett.)
Glossy Ibis (Floyd Bennett, Riis Park.)
Brant
Wood Duck (Floyd Bennett.)
Gadwall (Floyd Bennett.)
American Wigeon (Floyd Bennett.)
Northern Shoveler
Long-tailed Duck (Riis Park.)
Bufflehead
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Osprey (Prospect Park.)
Northern Harrier (Floyd Benett.)
American Kestrel (Floyd Benette, Prospect Park.)
American Coot
American Oystercatcher (Riis Park, Marine Park.)
Greater Yellowlegs (Spring Creek, Marine Park.)
Sanderling (Fort Tilden.)
Laughing Gull (Riis Park.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Monk Parakeet (Coney Island Avenue.)
Belted Kingfisher (Prospect Park.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Prospect Park, Ft. Tilden.)
Hairy Woodpecker (Prospect Park.)
Northern Flicker (Several dozen on flyover.)
Eastern Phoebe
Fish Crow (Prospect Park.)
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Prospect Park.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Ft. Tilden.)
Brown Creeper (Floyd Bennett.)
Winter Wren (2, Prospect Park.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Prospect Park.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush (Prospect Park.)
Eastern Towhee (Several.)
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow (Floyd Bennett.)
Savannah Sparrow (Prospect Park, Floyd Bennett.)
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Eastern Meadowlark (Floyd Bennett, Ft. Tilden.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch (Ft. Tilden.)
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

A Ton of Kinglets

I have a bad habit of referring to a large quantity of birds as a "ton" of birds. For example, within the last week large numbers of Ruby-crowned Kinglets have been moving through Prospect Park. These tiny, energetic birds have been eating their way through the park on their way north. When a friend asked me about the recent status of the migration in the park I reported to him that there were suddenly a ton of kinglets around.

I began to think about my use of the specific quantitative evaluation when it probably would have been more accurate if I had used more general terms like "abundant" or "fairly common". Could there have been literally a ton of those four inch long balls of feathers in Prospect Park's 526 acres? I decided to do the math.

The "Sibley Guide to Birds" lists the average weight of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet as 6.5 grams. There is a little over 453 grams to a pound:

453.59237 * 2000 = 907184.74
907184.74 / 6.5 = 139566.8830769231

Number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets it takes to equal a ton = 139,567.

It seems unlikely that there would ever be a ton of kinglets in Prospect Park. Maybe the next time someone asks I'll just say a busload. The results did start me thinking, though. I wonder how many pounds of bugs 139,000 kinglets could eat in a day...

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Prospect Park with Sean S.

It's getting close to hatching time for the Red-tailed Hawks so Sean and I decided to check up on the two pairs this morning. We met near the Upper pond (technically it's now called the Upper "Pool" but most birders have always know that area as Swanboat Pond) and walked through the Ravine to check the pine tree nest first. Along the way we spotted an immature red-tailed soaring above the Nethermead Meadow. He was gradually moving north towards the nests. We figured that it was only a matter of time until one of the adults attacked him. Within moments Split-tail came into view and began circling the young hawk. We watched them as well as possible through the trees and were surprised that Split-tail didn't appear to be aggressive towards the other raptor. He merely flew in circles with the other hawk as they followed the low rise of Quaker Ridge. It's possible that he eventually chased him off when we weren't watching but he seemed extremely passive compared to his aggressive attacks in late-January and February. I wonder why he has suddenly become so tolerant?

A quick check of the pine tree nest revealed that one of the adults was still sitting on the nest. Up on Payne Hill it looked like Big Mama and her mate were also still incubating their eggs. We decided to abandon nest sitting and instead walk around the park to see what the recent short burst of south winds have helped to carry into the park.

The most obvious change has been the switch in abundance between the Golden-crowned Kinglet and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. All of a sudden there are very few golden-crowned while the ruby-crowned seem to be chittering and singing from just about everywhere. We saw quite a few Brown Creepers moving through the park and Yellow-rumped Warblers have gone from a couple last week to at least 10 today. Palm Warblers seem to have also begun to increase in number although they are still scarce.

It was a very good morning for sparrows. The grey, drizzly weather left the park almost devoid of people allowing flocks of sparrows to feed out in the open on the meadows. Chipping Sparrows were fairly common in the grass feeding among juncos and Song Sparrows. Swamp Sparrows were seen along the edges of almost all the waterways and we also had one pleasant surprise on the Nethermead. While scanning the flocks of sparrows, robins, starlings and cowbirds on the field Sean spotted a Vesper Sparrow. Once I located the bird in my binoculars it was easy to pick out the comparatively chunky sparrow among the small, delicate Chipping Sparrows. Also seen on the Nethermead were Savannah and Field Sparrows.

April is a funny part of the northbound migration. It's almost like spring training for the "real" season. Certain species arrive at relatively predictable intervals and in relatively predictable abundance. Viewing birds is still pretty low-key and easy. One day in May, though, the floodgates (or windgates) will open and the ground, trees and sky will teem with feathered activity drawing our eyes and ears like a bloodhound on a scent. I can't wait.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 4/14/2004
-
Pied-billed Grebe (2, Prospect Lake.)
Great Egret (Prospect Lake.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (4, Duck Is.)
Wood Duck (Near Duck Is.)
Northern Shoveler (Several.)
Ruddy Duck (Several.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3 adults, 1 immature.)
American Coot (2.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2.)
Northern Flicker (Several.)
Eastern Phoebe (~12.)
Tree Swallow (~10.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Lullwater.)
Brown Creeper (~7.)
Winter Wren (Ravine.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (3 or 4.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (~50.)
Hermit Thrush (5.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (~10.)
Pine Warbler (2.)
Palm Warbler (5.)
Chipping Sparrow (Fairly common.)
Field Sparrow (1, Nethermead. 1, singing near Upper pond.)
Vesper Sparrow (Nethermead.)
Savannah Sparrow (2 or 3, Nethermead.)
Fox Sparrow (2.)
Swamp Sparrow (5.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch (~8, Rick's Pl.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker (2.), Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (Nethermead.), Tufted Titmouse (Payne Hill.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow (common.), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Something Weird

Sitting on my window sill next to the kitchen table is one of those Audubon Bird-a-Day calendars. I don't always remember to tear the pages off in a timely manner and today I noticed that it was still on Thursday, April 8th (the Green Violet-ear). While eating lunch I tore off the old page. Low and behold guess what Good Friday's bird was? A Least Bittern. Too weird...

Friday, April 09, 2004


(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Prospect Park rare bird

A birder can spend years honing their skills in the field and by studying bird field guides and song recordings but making an exciting find sometimes boils down to one thing; dumb luck.

I hadn't planned on going into the park Friday morning. The computer vendor on whom I was depending on making a delivery messed up the order and it wouldn't be arriving at the studio where I was working until early next week. I decided to take a walk over to the hawk's nest to check up on Big Mama and Split-tail before heading into the city for an afternoon appointment.

As I climbed the rise adjacent to the nest I quickly scanned the surrounding trees for perched hawks. Once at the top of the hill I checked the nest closely but it didn't seem like anyone was home. I walked around to get different angles on the nest and finally noticed the tip of a red tail sticking up. It was the smaller Split-tail on incubation duty. I walked back to my post next to a large elm tree and waited for his mate to return. To my right is a stand of spindly black cherry saplings where a pair of Eastern Phoebes were hawking for insects. As I was watching the flycatchers I noticed what I thought was either a clump of dead leaves or an old nest about 25 feet off the ground. For whatever reason I decided to look at it with my binoculars. It was neither and what I saw made my heart jump. It was a tiny Least Bittern sleeping in the tree. I tried to talk myself out of the identification and turn it into the much more common Green Heron. It had a black crown and back, buffy wing patches that faded to a darker orange on the edges, a white line on its wings, pale buffy streaks on its neck and breast and bright yellow feet and legs. The pigeon-sized egret perched in a tree was definitely a Least Bittern.

It's never enough for me to observe a "good" bird alone, I need to share it. I began making calls on my cellphone to try and get other birders into the park. Sean was on his way with his camera, Steve left work and pedaled home on his bike to grab his camera gear and I left messages with a few other people. I shouted to the first person that I saw walking by with a pair of binoculars, "Are you a birder?" He gave me a strange look and said, "Yes". I told him about the bittern and directed him up the hill. John appeared to be a beginner birder and I don't think he realized his good fortune that morning. Once Sean arrived I ran over to the Landscape Management Office to find Peter. I walked into his office and very calmly said, "Grab your binoculars, we're going to look at a Least Bittern." Peter looked kind of dumbfounded, checked his hearing aid and asked if he heard me correctly.

The last time a Least Bittern was observed in Prospect Park was on May 6, 1939 by Bernard Nathan and Edward Whelen. I don't believe that this bird is so much rare as it is rarely seen. They are a shy, secretive species that normally remains hidden in the reeds and grasses of marshes. Why this particular individual was perched high off the ground and out in the open is a mystery.

Eventually a group of about 9 people assembled below the rise watching the bittern in bright, morning sunshine. When one of the Red-tailed Hawks circled above the woods the bittern assumed his camouflage posture. He stretched his neck out, pointed his bill skyward and began to slowly rock from side to side. If he were standing among a patch of cattails he probably would have been very difficult to see but, perched among the slim, dark branches of a cherry tree, he just looked comical.

When I left to go to work there were still seven very happy people watching the bittern. I felt strangely upbeat, with the silly notion that I had accomplished a difficult feat and people were applauding me. But it was merely luck on my part and it was the performance of the bird that deserved the standing ovation. It was the first time that a late package from Fedex was a good thing. It really was a Good Friday.
(*see the link to Steve's photos above.)
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 4/9/2004
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Least Bittern (Payne Hill. Seen by Shale B. (with Eliza & Lucy), Rafael C., Peter D., Ron E., Mary E., Rob J., Steve N., Sean S., Heidi S., Ann W., John, Louise.)
Wood Duck (3, flying over Payne Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2, Payne Hill.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2, Payne Hill.)
Northern Flicker (Payne Hill.)
Eastern Phoebe (3, Payne Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Payne Hill.)
Hermit Thrush (2, Payne Hill.)
Pine Warbler (2, Picnic House & Payne Hill.)
Fox Sparrow (Singing at Rick's Place.)
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Downy Woodpecker (2.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (Payne Hill.), Tufted Titmouse (2, Payne Hill.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

This story was in today's New York Daily News:

Flies off the handle and wounds a bird
by Tom Raftery

"This Michael Jackson wasn't satisfied to tell a hawk to beat it.

Michael Jackson, 49, of Centereach, L.I., was released on bail early yesterday after he allegedly winged a red-tailed hawk with a pellet gun.

He was peeved that the bird was picking on his pigeons, Suffolk County police said.

Jackson was picked up just after 9 p.m. Monday following an anonymous 911 call saying a hawk had been shot outside his Eastwood Blvd. home.

The hawk was found alive and taken to the Selden Animal Hospital, where it was expected to recover."

**********

I was unhappy to read about Mr. Jackson's stupid behavior but was glad to see that one of his neighbors dropped a dime on him. Perhaps they were glad to see a hawk thinning out his pigeon flock. I don't know too many New Yorkers that would enjoy living next door to a pigeon flock. I wonder what the fine will be? It is a federal offense to injure any migratory bird.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Prospect Park, Central Park and Inwood Hill Park

According to Marie Winn's website Central Park's "Pale Male" and "Lola" have been incubating eggs since March 8th. Big Mama and Split-tail have been exchanging places on their nest since March 18th. The pair using the Ravine pine tree nest in Prospect Park have been incubating eggs since about March 13th. I don't have any information on the annual nest in the Green-Wood Cemetery yet but will check it out this week.

I also just received the following e-mail from Barry F. -

"Two weeks ago, Rita and I went to Inwood Hill Park (northern Manhattan) for a look at the nest that has been used for the last several years by Red-Tailed Hawks. Its unkempt appearance and the fact that, using only binoculars, we could not see a bird on the nest led us to the sad conclusion that the nest was not in use. (I think we made the same mistake last year.)"

"Today, with scope, we saw a red-tailed adult on the nest, engaged in incubation. At one point, she (I presume) stood up and turned 180 degrees before settling down again. The side of the nest visible to us from across the soccer field (ENE?) still looked disheveled but I suspect the center has been made habitable. Good luck, mom and dad!"


City rodents should be very wary come mid-April!

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Prospect Park with members of the New York City Audubon Society

My legs and feet are really tired. Sometimes I get so excited about sharing my knowledge of Prospect Park birds with others that I try to find them every species residing in or passing through the park. I don't realize how much I've walked until I get home and sit down to write my report. It is a good tired, though, knowing that the members of New York City Audubon that attended today's trip went home happy with the day's observations. We ended the day having seen 49 species and I added two more as I walked home from Grand Army Plaza after leaving the group.

Like yesterday's weather, it was cold and damp with overcast skies threatening to ruin our outing. The rain gods spared us, though, and we had several nice highlights to report.


(Photo Credit - Sean Sime)

I brought the group up to see Big Mama and Split-tail's nest. The ever-growing structure has made seeing a hawk on the nest difficult but we could discern the top of someone's head. I started to make excuses that one sometimes needs to wait for a long time in order to see interesting interactions at the nest. I didn't want people to get bored so suggested that we move on. We had just begun to leave when someone spotted the other adult soaring in the air above the nest. He landed on a branch a short distance above the nest and used his bill to snap off a twig. I guess he didn't like the small piece of wood because he quickly dropped it. He stepped a little further along his perch and snapped off a larger twig. That one seemed to fit his needs and he brought it over to the nest. Big Mama stood and backed up to the edge of the nest to allow her mate to perform a structural update. She then flew off towards the Long Meadow and perched in a tree over the foot path. Split-tail settled down on the eggs.

A small flock of Ring-necked Ducks remains on the upper pond and people seemed pleased to be able to observe these normally shy waterfowl up close. A pair of Bufflehead were also still present.

Near the Boathouse we spotted a Belted Kingfisher and a small flock of waterfowl circling very high in the sky. I misidentified the flock and was corrected by the more experienced waterfowl birders in the group. The passing flock were Northern Pintails, which is a good sighting as they are not seen very often in Prospect Park.

We heard the warbling trill of our first Pine Warbler of the day as we were entering the stretch of trees along the narrow Lullwater. It wasn't until we were adjacent to the Terrace Bridge that we actually observed one. It was a brilliant, yellow male singing from a perch in a pine tree. There were also a few ruby and golden-crowned kinglets in this area, as well as, a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. We continued our walk onto the Peninsula where we had very good looks at three more Pine Warblers and two Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The number of Tree Swallows flying over Prospect Lake has increased considerably since my previous day in the park. On the "Thumb" of the Peninsula a flock of approximately thirty swallows gathered on the spindly branches of a small paper birch and other saplings at the edge of the water. The small, blue and white birds were alternately perching in chattering, feisty groups then taking flight at once, soaring low over the water. Back and forth, this activity continued even as we stood a few yards away scanning the lake for waterfowl. The gull numbers on the lake has dropped off with the small remaining group taking flight when a Red-tailed Hawk plummeted towards Three Sisters Island from a very high altitude.

On our way back to Grand Army Plaza we passed by the Upper pond one last time. A quick scan here yielded a Great Egret standing like a statue on the north side of the water. The Belted Kingfisher flew by us again as we walked slowly north along the Long Meadow. Near the north end of the meadow a stand of magnolia trees have begun flowering and as we exited the park at Grand Army Plaza I noticed a few small cherry saplings covered in tiny, red blossoms. We've had so much precipitation already this year that I can't wait to see the explosion of "May flowers" that the seasonal "April showers" are going to bring.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 4/3/2004
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Pied-billed Grebe (1, Lullwater.)
Great Egret (Upper pond.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Three Sisters Island.)
Wood Duck (Drake, Lullwater.)
Northern Shoveler (Several, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Pintail (~6, flying over Boathouse.)
Ring-necked Duck (5, Upper pond. 2, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper pond.)
Ruddy Duck (~60, Prospect Lake.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
American Coot (4, Lullwater.)
Ring-billed Gull
Belted Kingfisher (Near Boathouse.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Lullwater.)
Northern Flicker (Several.)
Eastern Phoebe (~10.)
Tree Swallow (~30, Peninsula "Thumb" and Prospect Lake.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2, Lullwater.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3.)
Brown Creeper (2.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Several.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (3.)
Hermit Thrush (1, Payne Hill.)
Northern Mockingbird (Meadowport Arch.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (2, Peninsula.)
Pine Warbler (2, Lullwater. 3, Peninsula.)
Fox Sparrow (Several.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle (Abundant on Peninsula.)
Brown-headed Cowbird (4, Peninsula meadow.)
American Goldfinch (2, Rick's Place.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan (2.), Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Quaker Ridge.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (Heard in Lullwater.), Tufted Titmouse (2, 3rd Street entrance.), American Robin (Abundant.), European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Friday, April 02, 2004

Prospect Park

Winter seems to be having a difficult time surrendering to spring and brilliant, yellow forsythias and dazzling daffodils warmed the grey morning, defiantly pushing back the cold.

The first year that I followed the exploits of Big Mama and Split-tail was 2002-2003. That season Split-tail had the interesting habit of collecting bits of discarded newspaper for lining the nest. This year he's learned to use strips of bark for insulation. I guess he didn't like the black ink on his belly.

When I arrived at Payne Hill this morning Big Mama was on the nest. I had only been watching for a short time when I spotted Split-tail flying in from the direction of the zoo (I hope he hadn't been harassing the prairie dogs). To maneuver around the tangle of branches near the top of the nest tree he always drops in quickly with his wings pulled in close to his body. Just before hitting the nest he opens his wings like a parachute, lowers his feet, straightens his body and lands on a large branch near his seated mate. Today, instead of going right over to the nest he hopped down onto a branch below. Most of its outer layer had already been stripped away and he set about tearing off the little bit that remained. He flew up to the nest with a strip of dark grey bark in his bill and perched at its north edge waiting for Big Mama to stand up. She stood on the opposite side and slowly stretched her right leg straight back, pulled it in and then stretched her left leg out. It looked like such an enjoyable exercise that I imagined hearing her say "aahhh". Big Mama took a needed break and after Split-tail arranged the piece of bark, he sat down on the nest.

At Rick's Place a robin had laid claim to a young white pine and it looked like he had already begun a nest or returned to an old one. A pair of Blue Jays were trying to steal the nest and he aggressively defended it for 10 minutes. I was surprised by his tenacity as he flew back and forth between the two jays attacking them whenever they got close. In other parts of the park I observed several other jousting matches between male robins competing for mates or territory.

On Prospect Lake the Ruddy Ducks outnumber the Northern Shovelers for the first time since November. Most of the shovelers that had overwintered seemed to have moved on and a few more ruddies have moved in for a short visit. I observed five Pine Warblers today and have been searching for my first arriving bluebird.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 4/2/2004
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Pied-billed Grebe (2, upper Lullwater.)
Double-crested Cormorant (2, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (~12.)
Ring-necked Duck (5, Upper pond. 3, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper pond.)
Ruddy Duck (~60, Prospect Lake.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4.)
Ring-billed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Payne Hill.)
Northern Flicker (~20.)
Eastern Phoebe (1, Ravine. 2, Upper pond. 2, Lullwater. 3, Peninsula.)
Tree Swallow (5, over Prospect Lake.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Peninsula.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3.)
Brown Creeper (Lullwater.)
Hermit Thrush (2, Lullwater.)
Pine Warbler (2, Lullwater. 3, Peninsula.)
Eastern Towhee (Rick's Place.)
Field Sparrow (Binnen Waters.)
Fox Sparrow (2, Rick's Pl. 4, Ravine. 10, Lullwater.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle (Abundant.)
American Goldfinch (~12.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (3.), Downy Woodpecker (2.), Blue Jay (common.), American Crow (3.), Tufted Titmouse (4.), American Robin (Abundant.), European Starling, Song Sparrow (common.), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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