Thursday, August 26, 2004

Birding around Lookout Hill and the Peninsula with Sean

Common Green Darner (Anax junius)

-click to learn more about Green Darners-
(Photo credit - Rob J)

It's hard to believe that summer is almost gone. With a few exceptions, many of Prospect Park's breeding population have already dispersed and a few migrants are trickling into the woodlands. Catbirds remain in fairly large numbers in the understory's tangles and we spotted one young fledgling that is still far from independence. This was the first day in months that I didn't actually see one of our Red-tailed Hawks but I did hear a short call near the south side of Lookout Hill.

We located one small, mixed flock of migrant songbirds on Lookout Hill in and around the Butterfly Meadow. The foraging flock contained Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat and Wilson's Warbler. There was also a House Wren hiding in the wildflowers who seemed annoyed by my squeaking calls and chattered a loud scolding.

Asiatic Day Flower (Commelina communis L.)

-click to learn more about Asiatic Day Flowers-
(Photo credit - Rob J)

On the Nethermead Meadow Sean spotted a Cicada Killer landing with a captured cicada. I bent down and parted the long grass so I could photograph it. Sean used his foot to hold the grass back and the giant wasp began climbing his leg, dragging its paralyzed prey. I later learned that the wasp wasn't interested in stinging Sean. When their prey is too heavy and they land short of their burrow they will climb an upright object to gain altitude to complete the flight. Even with that knowledge it's still a little unnerving to have a wasp that large climbing up your leg.

Sean is befriended by a Cicada Killer with prey in tow


-click to learn more about Cicada Killers-
(Photo credit - Rob J)


Eastern Kingbird perched in Oak tree

(Photo credit -Sean Sime)

Eastern Kingbirds usually nest in fair numbers around the waterways of Prospect Park and today I commented to Sean that we hadn't observed any around the lake or the Lullwater. Kingbirds remind me of the cranky old man that yells at kids playing in front of his house. The ill-tempered flycatcher will sit perched on a conspicuous branch in "his" tree then chatter loudly while chasing any bird that comes close. With that image in mind I was surprised to find a flock of kingbirds feeding in relative harmony at the edge of the lower pool. Elderberry shrubs in that location are heavy with fruit and the flycatchers were bingeing on the purple berries. Later in the afternoon Sean spotted a Great Crested Flycatcher joining in at the banquet.

Also of note today was my first Veery sighting of the southbound migration.

Great Crested Flycatcher feeding on Elderberry

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 8/26/2004
-
Green Heron (Upper Lullwater.)
Wood Duck (2, Upper Lullwater.)
Red-tailed Hawk (Heard from Lookout Hill.)
Laughing Gull
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Flyby near Bandshell.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 80% (Heard calling on Quaker Ridge.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (Upper pool.)
Eastern Kingbird (6-8, feeding on Elderberry at Lower pool.)
Warbling Vireo (Heard on Duck Is.)
Red-eyed Vireo (2, Lookout Hill. 1, Lower pool.)
Barn Swallow
House Wren (Butterfly Meadow.)
Veery (Lookout Hill.)
American Robin (Abundant.)
Gray Catbird (Abundant.)
Northern Mockingbird (2.)
Cedar Waxwing (Flock of approx. 20 on Peninsula.)
Blue-winged Warbler (2 or 3, Lookout Hill.)
Yellow Warbler (Lookout Hill.)
Magnolia Warbler (Lookout Hill.)
Black-and-white Warbler (2, Lookout Hill.)
American Redstart (4 or 5 between Lookout and Peninsula.)
Ovenbird (Peninsula.)
Northern Waterthrush (Peninsula.)
Common Yellowthroat (Lookout Hill.)
Wilson's Warbler (Lookout Hill.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (1, Lookout Hill.)
House Finch (Lookout Hill.)
American Goldfinch (Lookout Hill.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (2 or 3, Lookout Hill.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

A Brief Walk through the Botanic Gardens

I'm still figuring out how to use all the features on my camera. Here's a couple of macro-mode shots:

American Snout (Libytheana carinenta)

-click to learn more about the American Snout-


Cone Flower and honey bee

-click to learn more about cone flowers-

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sunday, August 22, 2004

11th Annual Tom Davis Memorial Shorebird Walk

Today I participated in the Linnaean Society sponsored "11th Annual Tom Davis Memorial Shorebird Walk" at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The walk was lead by my friend Sean.

I didn't know Tom Davis. My relatively recent introduction to birding was many years after his untimely passing. It seems like all the long time New York City birders knew Tom and all have wonderful things to say about him. From what I've learned, Tom was more than just an incredible observer of wildlife, he was an enthusiastic teacher and vocal supporter for environmental causes. Many people have told me that Tom wasn't satisfied just finding and identifying a bird he had to show it to others and infect them with his excitement. For Tom, sharing was an important aspect to birding.

We began our morning well ahead of the scheduled 9am start time as Sean wanted to scout a few areas. Our small group of passionate nature lovers mingled in the low tide of Grassy Bay with gatherings of devoted hindus. As we scanned the opposite shore for birds the high, thin indo-carribean devotional chant from a lone woman in knee deep water weaved its way through the sounds of honking geese and crying terns. On the horizon an "A" train cut a silent line across the water on its journey south. Above the parking lot a hungry Merlin rocketed through a flock of pigeons perched shoulder to shoulder on the telephone lines.

Pelican trying to blend it with locals

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We spotted the white pelican at the north end of the East Pond. The water at that end was so high that only full waders would allow one access to the small flocks of birds present. The outflow valve on the East Pond hasn't been able to keep up with this season's abundant rain so there is little shoreline exposed. At high tide, when the bay's mud flats flood, flocks of migrating shorebirds usually move to the pond's shoreline making for easy observation. The early morning sun cast a beautiful orange hue over the pond, unfortunately there were more photographers and birders present than birds. I wondered where the shorebirds went when the ponds couldn't offer a respite. It would be a few hours before high tide so we decided to bird the trails around the West Pond to kill time.

Lesser Yellowlegs in early morning sun

(Photo credit - Rob J)

As we returned to the parking lot we spotted the pelican flying over us. It circled above the West Pond for a moment before disappearing to the southwest. Near the start of the West Pond trail Sean spotted a Cattle Egret foraging in the long grass at the edge of the marsh. He called a group of birders back who appeared to have overlooked the uncommon egret. They were very thankful.

Terns and cormorants at end of Terrapin Trail

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The rangers have cut a new path through the underbrush on the Terrapin Trail. A natural blind overlooks a sandy peninsula where flocks of birds tend to congregate. Today the mixed flock was mostly terns and cormorants. In between the resting terns scurried a few turnstones, oystercatchers and plovers. At the end of the Terrapin Trail Sean began talking with a young man visiting from Finland. Every bird was new to him so Sean asked him if he wanted to join us on our walk. His name is Mika and he was very grateful for the offer.

Semipalmated Plover

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Ruddy Turnstone molting

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Thanks to Chuck and Sean, our lunch on a picnic table outside the visitor's center became a veritable banquet. Most people usually just bring a sandwich but from their bag of tricks emerged a loaf of rustic bread, cheese, salami, olives, grapes...the only thing missing was a bottle of chianti. There was so much food we ended up sharing with two women at our table in the shade. After lunch Sean decided that the best bet for birds would be the exposed piers of the "Raunt" at the center of the East Pond. The shorebird numbers were disappointing but the opposite shore held a small mixed flock of yellowlegs and dowitcher. A short distance away, on a narrow stretch of mud and vegetation a flock of sandpipers were feeding. Dorothy, who was already scanning the flock when we arrived, pointed out a Hudsonian Godwit hiding among the yellowlegs. Eventually we spotted a second one sleeping with his long, upturned bill tucked under his wing. The slow tempo of the dog-day afternoon was briefly interrupted when a pair of Peregrine Falcons appeared in the air above us. One raptor had a small, unidentified bird in its talons and quickly flipped over to pass the food to the other bird. It then perched momentarily in the tree above us.

Where's the godwit?

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Common Terns

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We left the visitor's center and decided to stop once again at the north end of the East Pond to check the shore of Grassy Bay. A flock of approximately 75 terns were resting on the beach while smaller numbers were diving for fish. We noticed small, swirling schools of flashy Silversides churning in the water close to shore, no doubt the reason for the terns choice of real estate. While following the flights of the terns over the water a Ruby-throated Hummingbird flew into Sean's field of view. We all quickly got our sights on the insect-sized bird as it zipped across the water on its voyage south.

Heron Roost

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Floyd Bennett Field has been a good spot lately for finding migrating shorebirds. The numerous puddles on the runways formed by recent rains attracted many hungry birds. Unfortunately, our puddle jumping exercise was unsuccessful as many had already dried up or been "cleaned up" by park maintenance. Three killdeer did briefly drop in at a watering hole in the middle of the road but were quickly chased by passing cars. We also thought that the "Return a Gift Pond" at the North Forties section of the park might hold some interesting waterfowl. There were no ducks but the willow tree at the center of the water looked like a christmas tree adorned with Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron. The area was also swarming with so many mosquitos that, despite an oily layer of repellent, I felt like I lost a pint of blood to the tiny beasts. We quickly left.

As we walked the trails and ponds at the refuge today we crossed paths with a group from South Shore Audubon, one from Connecticut and many other small and large group from around the tri-state area. Everybody was exuberant and eager to find that "special" bird of the day. In the spirit of Tom Davis it also seemed like everyone was excited to share their finds with friends and strangers alike.

- - - - -

JBWR - 8/22/2004
-
Pied-billed Grebe
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ruddy Duck
Osprey
Red-tailed Hawk
Merlin
Peregrine Falcon
Ring-necked Pheasant
Clapper Rail
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
American Oystercatcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Willet
Spotted Sandpiper
Hudsonian Godwit
Ruddy Turnstone
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Least Tern
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
empidonax sp.
American Crow
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
American Redstart
Ovenbird
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Some random photos from Prospect Park

Black-and-white Warbler probing for insects

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Gray Catbird in need of a haircut

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Spotted Sandpiper at edge of lake

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Yellow Warbler bathing with a sparrow

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

A quick run through the park

I made a quick run through Prospect Park at lunchtime. I followed my usual route from the Vale of Cashmere at the north end, through Battle Pass, Rick's Place, the Ravine and the Lullwater to the Peninsula and lake. Warbler numbers are still pretty low and, right now, juvenile robins are the only species taking advantage of the abundant black cherry harvest. There are probably thousands of the young, spotty thrushes in Prospect Park at the moment.

The most productive area for songbirds was at Rick's Place along the bridle path where I ran into Inara Schwartz enjoying the "show". A mixed flock feeding in the understory included Blue-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Canada Warbler and Baltimore Oriole. A young Red-tailed Hawk was whinning somewhere behind us in the Midwood. When Split-tail and Big Mama landed in a Locust tree above the foraging songbirds all the wildlife seemed to disappear. The one exception was a grey squirrel slowly working his way through the dense pulp and hard shell of a black walnut fruit. His noisy gnawing on the outer shell created a mound of sawdust on the limb he was perched on. He was so focused on the task at hand that he would have been an easy target for the hawks.

Squirrel/walnut balancing act

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At the south end of the Nethermead Meadow a small puddle has formed at a bare patch in the grass. A Solitary Sandpiper snapped up insects in the temporary habitat. A second sandpiper tried to join in but was aggressively chased away. I guess that's why they're solitary.

Solitary Sandpiper in puddle on Nethermead

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At the water's edge on the Peninsula a Green Heron perched in a pile of orange, plastic fencing stood up straight, narrowed his profile and pointed his head skyward trying to become invisible. A passing pair of Red-tailed Hawk must have caused him concern, although I don't think the orange background helped his cause. Fortunately, the two hawks were more interested in circling and chasing each other. The smaller male would occasionally drop his feet as if he was about to land on her back.

Green Heron on roll of plastic fencing

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Split-tail and Big Mama playing

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 8/17/2004
-
Green Heron (Upper Lullwater.)
Wood Duck (Male, Lullwater.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3 adults, 3 juveniles.)
Solitary Sandpiper (2, Nethermead.)
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher (Ambergil.)
Hairy Woodpecker (Ravine.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Kingbird (Several.)
Red-eyed Vireo (1, Ravine. 1, Lower pool.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird (Several.)
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler (2, Rick's Place.)
Northern Parula (Ravine, seen by I. Schwartz.)
Yellow Warbler (Lullwater.)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (1, Aralia Grove. 1, Rick's Place.)
Blackburnian Warbler (Rick's Place.)
Black-and-white Warbler (1, Aralia Grove. 1, Rick's Place.)
American Redstart (1, Vale of Cashmere. 1, Aralia Grove. 1, Rick's Place.)
Northern Waterthrush (Aralia Grove.)
Canada Warbler (1, Vale of Cashmere. 1, Rick's Place.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (Several.)

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

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Brooklyn Coast after the storm

Shane and I were optimistic that the storm would bring some interesting birds to the coast and we went in search of them this morning. The bad news is that pelagic species didn't agree with our presumption, the good news is that we did observe a few nice surprises.

Flatbush driving range

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Our first stop was at a golf driving range near Floyd Bennett Field. Yesterday we found, among some peeps and Killdeer, a few Pectoral Sandpipers (and no, they weren't practicing their swing). Today only one remained. At Floyd Bennett Field there's a large puddle at the edge of field "A" that attracted a larger flock of pectorals. Using the car as a blind we were able to approach closely and counted 15 individuals. There was also a small flock of Black-bellied Plovers at another puddle along one of the runways. The biggest surprise at Floyd Bennett was a flock of Bobolinks on field "G". We originally thought that it was just a small flock but when they flew we realized that many more birds were hidden in the overgrown field. A conservative estimate would be about 75 birds.

Pectoral Sandpiper at driving range

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At Breezy Point we parked in the fisherman's parking lot and opted to walked the point counter-clockwise starting on the bay side. At the end of the path onto the bay side there was as small number of shorebirds and the expected mix of laughing, herring and Great Black-backed Gull, as well as, common, forster's and Least Tern. One surprise was a lone Bonaparte's Gull sitting on the beach.

On the ocean side of the point were large numbers of Sanderlings and Semipalmated Plovers. At first we were excited to see a single Red Knot among the other shorebirds but further down the beach we spotted a flock of about 75 or more knots. They were ultimately flushed by people on the beach and we relocated them back on the bay side where there was little human activity. Many of the knots still retained much of their beautiful, red breeding plumes.

The highlight of the day occurred as we were approaching two other birders. They suddenly stopped, looked through their bins and waved us over. Standing on the beach among the herring and Great Black-backed Gulls was a Lesser Black-backed Gull. It was a nice find as this is a gull that I would normally associate with the winter months. We especially enjoyed watching the "nearly-adult" plumed bird feeding at the water's edge. As the water receded it would rapidly stamp its feet in the saturated sand, stirring up arthropods and snapping them up before they were washed away. A pair of Herring Gulls seemed interested in the technique but never quite got it down.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

(Photo credit - Shane Blodgett)

Lesser & Great Black-backed Gulls

(Photo credit - Shane Blodgett)

As we were returning to the parking lot with the other birders a Yellow-billed Cuckoo was spotted perched on the corrugated roof of a building in the adjacent beach club. It flew across the path in front of us carrying some type of prey and disappeared into the underbrush. Could Yellow-billed Cuckoo be breeding at Breezy Point?

On both Saturday and Sunday we went out with certain species in mind. In one respect we weren't successful either day but, on the other hand, we weren't disappointed as we came away with some species that we never expected to see.

- - - - -

Floyd Bennett Field & Breezy Point, 8/15/2004
-
Double-crested Cormorant
Snowy Egret
Osprey
Peregrine Falcon (Marine Parkway Bridge.)
Ring-necked Pheasant (FBF.)
Black-bellied Plover (Both locations.)
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
American Oystercatcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Willet (Breezy Point.)
Spotted Sandpiper (Breezy Point.)
Ruddy Turnstone (10+, Breezy Point.)
Red Knot (75+, Breezy Point.)
Sanderling (Breezy Point, abundant.)
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper (Breezy Point.)
Least Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper (15, FBF.)
Laughing Gull
Bonaparte's Gull (Breezy Point.)
Ring-billed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Breezy Point, first seen by John Collins and George Dadone.)
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Least Tern
Black Skimmer
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Breezy Point.)
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Eastern Kingbird
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow (FBF.)
Savannah Sparrow (FBF.)
Bobolink (approx. 75, FBF.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Mystery Gull at Jamaica Bay

This morning Shane and I located an unusual gull at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The water level at the East Pond was too high for shorebirds so we walked across the north dyke road to scan for birds on Grassy Bay. Among the dozens of expected terns and gulls was a very white gull. Our first impression was that it was a juvenile Iceland Gull. It's an odd time of year to see one around NYC so we tried to be very careful with our identification and took some photographs. It's possible that it is some type of leucistic gull but I can't be sure. Below are some photos, feel free to add your opinions, just click the comments below the photos.


White winged gull on Grassy Bay

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Underside of wing

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Close-up of head

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Gulls Compared

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Thursday, August 12, 2004

A Slow Day in Prospect Park

Sean and I did a little birding in Prospect Park today hoping to locate some of the early songbird migrants already heading south.

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

There seemed to be less warblers around than the last time I was in the park. Continuous south winds probably had some affect on the bird movement. As we walked around the park we noticed that we were never far from the sounds of crying young Red-tailed Hawk. There are five juvenile hawks in the area and we noticed a number of the young raptors begging and trailing after their parents high in the sky. Over Breeze Hill we spotted Split-tail and Big Mama pair bonding. The smaller male was soaring close to the back of his mate while dangling his legs down. They ignored one of their offspring close by. At least one of the juvenile hawks seems to have stopped bugging his parents and was kiting over Breeze Hill and Lookout Hill. This is a very good time of year to see the hawk families out hunting over the Nethermead Meadow and Long Meadow.

Bad photo of a good bird (Caspian Tern)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

One unusual sighting was of a Caspian Tern over Prospect Lake. When flying with three Laughing Gulls this enormous tern made the gulls look small in comparison. I tried to take a photo but the fast moving bird made any decent pictures all but impossible. Since the park was relatively quiet I took a few photos of some of the common birds.

Mourning Dove

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 8/12/2004
-
Wood Duck (2, the pools.)
Osprey (Flying over Ravine.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3 adults, 4 juveniles.)
Spotted Sandpiper (Edge of lake at Peninsula.)
Laughing Gull (3.)
Caspian Tern (Flying back and forth over lake.)
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker (Lullwater.)
Eastern Kingbird (Several.)
empidonax sp. (2, Lower pool & Peninsula.)
Barn Swallow (Several over lake.)
House Wren (2 or 3 at back of Binnen Waters.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird (5 or 6.)
Cedar Waxwing (Several on Peninsula and Upper pool.)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Sullivan Hill.)
Black-and-white Warbler (Sullivan Hill.)
Ovenbird (Lookout Hill.)
Northern Waterthrush (Observed 1, heard 2 or 3 more.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole (4. Peninsula.)
House Finch (Lookout Hill.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (Fledgling in black cherry tree on Peninsula.), Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Next to Quaker Cemetery.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (2.), Tufted Titmouse, American Robin (Abundant.), European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Prospect Park and the Botanic Gardens

Pagodatree (Sophora japonica) flower carpet

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Much has changed around Prospect Park since my last visit three weeks ago. Today I noticed that fruiting Papermulberry, black cherry and polkweed have attracted large numbers of juvenile robins. On the Peninsula a family of Baltimore Orioles squabbled with three mockingbirds over feeding rights at a black cherry tree. The late-blooming Pagoda Trees have carpeted sections of the park with their buttered popcorn flowers and the Cucumber Magnolias are sporting dark red, oblong seed pods. In the Lullwater a group of grey squirrels hoarded the heavy, green fruit from a pair of Black Walnut trees. I made the mistake once of slicing into the pulp of the walnut with my pocket knife. The juice stained my hands orange for a week.

Fruiting Cucumber Magnolia

(Photo credit - Rob J)

On Sullivan Hill there is an annual colony of Cicada Killer wasps in the short grass. This year's colony of burrowing wasps is larger than I've ever seen and perhaps has something to do with the number of cicadas. I wanted to take a photograph of one of the humongous females next to my finger to show the scale. Unfortunately, the timid giants refused to exit their burrows when I bent down towards their hole. I got lucky, though, when I caught one returning with a freshly paralyzed cicada. Late in the afternoon a small flock of Barn Swallows began swooping back and forth across the grass. The wasps might be too large a meal for them as it didn't look like they were catching any.

A Cicada Killer (Sphecius speciosus) with Prey

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The Red-tailed Hawk youngsters are probably at the do-or-die point of development. As Janet observed in Green-Wood Cemetery on Sunday the parents have slowed down or likely stopped bringing food to their offspring. Near Rick's Place I heard the whining call of one of the juvenile hawks coming from somewhere in the Midwood. A few minutes later a less than stealthy young raptor crashed through the trees on Payne Hill. All the squirrels and birds scattered as a Red-tailed Hawk looking a lot like Alto perched briefly in a maple tree. Later in the day, on Breeze Hill, I spotted a juvenile hawk soaring high above the park. As it hung motionless on a thermal I could see it turning its head back and forth as it searched the ground for prey. It made me very happy to know that at least one of this year's brood has graduated and moved on to advanced hunting.

Alto (?) Hunting on Payne Hill

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The southbound songbird migration has started and I observed a nice mix of early migrants and local breeders. I came across the most diverse flock in the locust trees at the top of the stairway at Battle Pass. Feeding in close proximity were Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart and Canada Warbler. Farther up the path a Rose-breasted Grosbeak squeaked from the treetops.

While I was watching a small flock of Wood Ducks at the back of the Upper Pool I heard a familiar call in the distance. The ducks flew for cover and a very large, adult Red-tailed Hawk landed in the trees above me. It was Big Mama and, while I know it's a crazy thought, I felt like she was coming over to say "hello". Next time I go out to the park I plan to spend more time tracking down the young hawks.

Female Wood Duck on Upper Pool

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 8/10/2004
-
Pied-billed Grebe (Upper pool.)
Double-crested Cormorant (Prospect Lake.)
Great Egret (Prospect Lake.)
Wood Duck (3, Upper pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 2 juvenile.)
Spotted Sandpiper (Edge of lake on Peninsula point.)
Laughing Gull (1, Prospect Lake.)
Monk Parakeet (Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.)
Chimney Swift (Abundant.)
Belted Kingfisher (Prospect Lake near Peninsula point.)
Northern Flicker
Great Crested Flycatcher (Calling near Ambergill.)
Eastern Kingbird (Several.)
Warbling Vireo (Peninsula.)
Red-eyed Vireo (1, north zoo woods. 3, Payne Hill.)
Barn Swallow (2 over lake. Several over Long Meadow.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Battle Pass.)
Gray Catbird (Common.)
Northern Mockingbird (5, Peninsula. 3, BBG.)
Cedar Waxwing (Several at Upper pool.)
Blue-winged Warbler (2, Payne Hill.)
Yellow Warbler (1, north zoo woods. 2, Payne Hill. 1, East Wood Arch.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (1, Payne Hill.)
Blackburnian Warbler (1, Payne Hill.)
Prairie Warbler (1, East Wood Arch.)
Black-and-white Warbler (2, Payne Hill. 1, Midwood.)
American Redstart (2, Payne Hill. 1, East Wood Arch.)
Northern Waterthrush (1, Midwood.)
Common Yellowthroat (Peninsula.)
Canada Warbler (1, north zoo woods. 2, Payne Hill.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Payne Hill.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (1, Payne Hill. 5, Peninsula.)
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, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (Lullwater.), Tufted Titmouse (Several.), American Robin (Abundant.), European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Red-tailed Hawk Progress Report

I just received an e-mail from my friend, Janet, regarding the hawk family in Green-Wood Cemetery:

Hi Rob--

I was never able to find the two Green-Wood [cemetery] redtails once they left the nest--I tried several weekends.

Today I found one--looking very robust, perched not too far from the nest site, and piteously crying incessantly. I actually wasn't sure if both of the young were in the tree--or if the one was just a fantastic ventriloquist. It wasn't opening its mouth and was making no discernible movement in its throat. So at first I thought its sibling must also be in the tree. but I couldn't see it. I also couldn't see the first one after it moved further into the large maple, so maybe they both were there.

I hung around for a little while under cover of a weeping birch to see if the lunch wagon would pull up--but no further activity except continued crying.

Janet

Friday, August 06, 2004

Shorebirds at Jamaica Bay

Shane and I were watching the weather reports all week. Cooler temperatures and northwest winds were ideal conditions for encountering flocks of migrating shorebirds. Over the last week birders have begun posting enticing reports from Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. We checked the tide charts and drove over to the refuge in the late morning to meet the high tides and shorebird flocks arriving at the East Pond for their six hour respite.

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The normally uniform wall of green Phragmites that enclose the pond are now dotted with recently bloomed Marsh Roses. Even the narrow path through the dense reeds at the north end was adorned with the bright pink flowers.

Sleeping Semipalmated Sandpipers

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The exposed shoreline at the north end of the East Pond was dotted with flocks of sleeping and feeding birds. The most abundant species seemed to be Semipalmated Sandpipers. Counting all of these tiny birds as they moved about was impossible but by tallying them in small groups and multiplying we estimated that there were easily 3,000 individuals of this one species present. A flock of sleeping Black-bellied Plovers made counting easier and Shane came up with about 160 of that one species. When a pair of Peregrine Falcons appeared above the pond and began attacking the birds it made the number and variety of birds even more apparent.

Panic!

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Falcon hunting

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The flocks of birds all lifted off at once and moved as one, swirling mass. The predators made several, unsuccessful strafing runs through the cloud of flashing, flapping birds before disappearing over the horizon. As the flocks dispersed they seemed to instinctly break off into groups of like species. There were distinct clouds of tiny semipalmated peeps, larger stilt sandpipers then chunkier dowitchers and black-bellied plovers. Terns and gulls formed loose black and white flocks at the edges of the clouds. An oversized Hudsonian Godwit chose a large flock of the similarly long-legged yellowlegs with which to associate. When the panicked flocks decided that the danger had passed most settled down on a small island at the northeast edge of the pond.

Hudsonian Godwit on East Pond

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We drove to the visitors center and walked to the south end of the pond. At the area known as the "South Flats" a pair of South African birders pointed out what appeared to be a drowning Semipalmated Sandpiper. At first it seemed like it was merely flapping its wings as if it was bathing. It became apparent, though, that its leg was caught in something and that it was attempting to free itself. I walked out into the muddy water, bent down and wrapped one hand around the bird to stop it from flapping. I slid my finger down its right leg, into the mud and found that its foot had become trapped in the opening of an old mussel. I pushed the shell open and he immediately pulled his foot out. His feathers had become matted and, as I held him in my hand, he felt like nothing more than a thin layer of plumes wrapped around a delicate skeleton. I opened my hand and he flew a short distance then dropped to the ground and scurried for cover in the phragmites.

Trapped Sandpiper

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Near the center of the pond is an area of rotted timbers and broken pieces of concrete called "The Raunt". Birds seem to like perching and roosting in that spot. While Shane was examining the birds close to us I scoped out the Raunt. An American White Pelican that has been reported on and off for the last week was perched on the pilings preening itself. While he blended in nicely with the 200 or so Mute Swans on the pond he still seemed really out of place in New York City.

American White Pelican

(Photo credit - Shane Blodgett)

As we began approaching the low tide cycle on the bay many of the shorebirds on the East Pond started to disappear. By the time we left at 4:00pm only a small fraction of the late morning activity remained.

Juvenile Least Sandpiper

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, 8/6/2004
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Pied-billed Grebe

American White Pelican

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Glossy Ibis

Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck

Osprey
Peregrine Falcon

Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, American Oystercatcher

Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher

Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Forster's Tern, Least Tern

Eastern Kingbird
empidonax flycatcher sp.

Fish Crow

Tree Swallow, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Cedar Waxwing

Yellow Warbler
Northern Waterthrush

Eastern Towhee

Boat-tailed Grackle

American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, American Crow, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, August 01, 2004

A Week at Cape Cod

I've just begun to sort through my photos from our trip to Cape Cod. I'll add a few more later and have a full story soon.

Rock Harbor Channel Marker at Low Tide


Spider Crab at Low Tide


Wellfleet Audubon Boardwalk trail


Relaxing on Nauset Beach


Seals off Nauset Beach


Fin-backed Whale at Stellwagen Bank


Humpback Whale at Stellwagen Bank


White-winged Scoter shot through my scope


Baltimore Oriole at Fort Hill

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