Saturday, September 25, 2004

A Class Trip to Mt. Loretto, Staten Island

A View of Lower Manhattan from ferry

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At the south end of Staten Island, facing Raritan Bay, are 194 acres of protected grasslands and coastal marine habitat. It's called Mount Loretto and was previously owned by the Catholic Archdiocese. It was through the efforts of "The Protectors of Pine Oak Woods" and various other conservation organizations that this area was designated a "Unique Area" by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Amazingly, within Mount Loretto's borders there are five ecosystems: marine/coastal, grassland, forest, and tidal and freshwater wetlands.

I was curious about the term "Unique Area" and found the following definition on the DEC's website:

[ ECL 51-0703 (4)]: "A state project to acquire lands of special natural beauty, wilderness character, geological, ecological or historical significance for the state nature and historical preserve and similar lands within a forest preserve county outside the Adirondack and Catskill parks" Definition: A parcel of land owned by the state acquired due to its special natural beauty, wilderness character, or for its geological, ecological or historical significance for the state nature and historical preserve, and may include lands within a forest preserve county outside the Adirondack and Catskill Parks.

It's a little vague but I suppose it gives the area some protection from future development. Here's some more information about Mt. Loretto:

http://www.dec.state.ny.us/website/reg2/loretto/

Wilson's Snipe

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

I've been to Mt. Loretto many times over the last few years looking for birds. My friend Steve and I have made it an annual spring ritual to look for Wilson's Snipe during the first weekend in April. They're odd looking little birds whose cryptic plumage make them perfectly suited for muddy habitats. Last year we discovered that the various wet depressions found within Mt. Loretto's grassland were magnets for snipes. I've also been to the area as part of the annual spring "Birdathon" as it is a rich area for migrating songbirds. The class field trip, however, was the first time that I looked closely at Mount Loretto's diverse flora. As we examined the shrubs and wildflowers I also found it impossible not to explore some of the abundant insect population.

Fields of Goldenrod at Mt. Loretto

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Porceline Berry vine

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Dick Buegler was our trip leader and had a wealth of knowledge to share with our group. He started off with a brief history of the area. He then spent the rest of the afternoon teaching us about the area's plant-life. As we gradually made our way across the huge meadow washed with golden yellow flowers I began to get distracted from the macro view of the environment. Above the grassland various species of dragonflies patrolled their territories. At our feet, crickets and grasshoppers jumped for cover as we slowly walked up towards the top of the bluff overlooking the bay. At a patch of short grass near the edge of the cliff we found dozens of butterflies feeding on tiny flowers or chasing off interlopers. Some of the species of insects fed on the toxic, white sap of the milkweed plant only to become poisonous themselves. We carefully examined an Io Moth caterpillar that was found crossing the asphalt roadway. Covered with dozens of venomous spines, the brightly colored caterpillar is capable of causing painful skin eruptions.

Spider eating lunch

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Another predator

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A stinging caterpillar (Io Moth)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

While scanning the shoreline from the top of the bluff I noticed a bright orange patch on the rocky coast. It turned out to be a Red Beard Sponge (Microciona prolifera). I'm not sure if it washed up onto the shore or has managed to thrive within the tidal zone.

Red Beard Sponge (Microciona prolifera)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We ended up spending much more time at Mount Loretto than we had originally planned. I enjoyed learning about the botany and was amazed at the diversity in such a relatively small area. While looking down at a patch of grass I asked Dick how many species were within a square foot of green. From my brief introduction I was able to identify at least six...I'm certain that there were a lot more. Just as people are surprised when I show them how many different species of birds there are in New York City, Dick's knowledge of flora was enlightening and motivated me to take a closer look at the city's greenery.

New York Ironweed

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Female Blue Dasher

(Photo credit - Rob J)

As we were getting ready to leave David pointed out a Cooper's Hawk soaring over the grassland. It made me think about plants absorbing nutrients from the soil, the insects eating the plants, small birds eating the insects and predatory hawks eating the small birds...

Grasshopper on Milkweed

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Mount Loretto, Staten Island, 9/25/2004

Bird List:

Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Osprey
Cooper's Hawk
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Red-eyed Vireo
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, Ring-necked Pheasant, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird

Plant List-

Trees:
Acer platanoides (Norway maple)
Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore maple)
Acer rubrum (red maple)
Acer saccharinum (silver maple)
Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven)
Betula populifolia (gray birch)
Celtis occidentalis (hackberry)
Juglans nigra (black walnut)
Liriodendron tulipifera (sweetgum)
Maclura pomifera (osage orange)
Morus alba (white mulberry)
Paulownia tomentosa (Royal Paulownia)
Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore)
Prunus serotina (black cherry)
Pyrus sp. (crab apple)
Quercus palustris (pin oak)
Quercus rubra (red oak)
Sassafras albidum (sassafras)
Taxus sp. (yew)
Tilia americana (American basswood)

Shrubs:
Cornus amomum (swamp dogwood)
Cornus racemosa (gray dogwood)
Elaeagnus umbellata (autumn olive)
Hibiscus syriacus (rose of Sharon)
Myrica pensylvanica (bayberry)
Rhus copallina (winged sumac)
Rosa multiflora (multiflora rose)
Rosa rugosa (wrinkled rose)
Sambucus canadensis (common elderberry)
Syringa vulgaris (lilac)
Viburnum dentatum (arrowwood viburnum)

Vines:
Ampelopsis brevipedunculata (porcelainberry)
Calystegia sepium (hedge bindweed)
Celastrus orbiculatus (Asiatic bittersweet)
Hedera helix (English ivy)
Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle)
Solanum dulcamara (bittersweet nightshade)
Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy)

Herbs:
Allium vineale (field garlic)
Ambrosia artemisiifolia (common ragweed)
Ambrosia trifida (giant ragweed)
Arctium sp. (burdock)
Artemisia vulgaris (common mugwort)
Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed)
Aster novae-angliae (New England aster)
Aster laevis (smooth aster)
Cirsium vulgare (bull thistle)
Commelina communis (Asiatic dayflower)
Daucus carota (Queen Anne's Lace)
Gnaphalium obtusifolium (sweet everlasting)
Lemna sp. (duckweed)
Linaria vulgaris (butter and eggs)
Melilotus alba (white sweet clover)
Oenothera biennis (common evening primrose)
Pastinaca sativa (wild parsnip)
Phytolacca americana (pokeweed)
Plantago major (common plantain)
Polygonum sp. (smartweed)
Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima (black-eyed Susan)
Solanum carolinense (horse nettle)
Solidago rugosa (rough-leaved goldenrod)
Solidago sempervirens (seaside goldenrod)
Taraxacum officinale (common dandelion)
Trifolium pratense (red clover)
Trifolium repens (white clover)
Verbascum thapsus (common mullein)
Vernonia noveboracensis (New York iron weed)

Grasses:
Lolium perenne (wild rye grass)
Panicum virgatum (switch grass)
Phragmites australis (giant reedgrass)
Setaria faberi (nodding foxtail grass)
Spartina alterniflora (saltmarsh cordgrass)

Butterfly List-

Monarch
Cloudless Sulfur
Clouded Sulfur
Orange Sulfur
Cabbage White
Black Swallowtail
Curly Crescent
American Snout
Sachem Skipper

Dragonfly List-

Black Saddlebag
Carolina Saddlebag
Blue Dasher
meadowhawk sp. (sympetrum)

Additional Species-

Io Moth caterpillar
Wolly Bear caterpillar
Banded Orb-weaving Spider
various grasshopper species

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Autumn Arrives

Since today is the Autumnal Equinox it seemed quite fitting that this morning was my best experience of the fall migration in Prospect Park. We've been seeing migrating land birds dribbling through the park for some time but this morning there appeared to be a nice movement of mixed flocks. The best bird of the morning for Shane and I was a talkative Yellow-breasted Chat near the Terrace Bridge at the start of the Peninsula. The brilliant, yellow bird was foraging within a stretch of hillside dotted with white asters.

Yellow-breasted Chat photographed in Bryant Park

(Photo credit - Dave Klang)

The flock that included the chat fed in that area for much of the early morning. The Butterfly Meadow, on Lookout Hill, contained many Common Yellowthroat, Wilson's Warbler, hummingbird, goldfinches and a small flock of White-throated Sparrows. The area on Center Drive near the stream also had a lot of activity, as did the Ravine. On the Peninsula we spotted 3 Indigo Buntings and I saw 2 more near the Sparrow Bowl on my way out.

Trailing along with the flocks of songbirds was at least one Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Merlin. I spotted "Big Mama" soaring over Prospect Lake, then dropping down into the woods of Lookout Hill. I also noticed one of the juvenile Red-tailed Hawks near the cemetery. With the arrival of some migrating raptors I look forward to seeing some interesting aerial dogfights with our local red-tails.

There are continuing northwest winds forecast for tonight so I expect that we'll be seeing more good birds tomorrow.

-----

Prospect Park, 9/22/2004
-
Wood Duck
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Merlin
Monk Parakeet
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Red-eyed Vireo
Red-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Palm Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
American Goldfinch

Other common 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, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Monday, September 20, 2004

Fort Tilden and Riis Park with Shane

Shane thought that we might be able to catch a good number of coastal migrants today. As it happened, though, the wind died considerably since yesterday and we found only a handful of raptors moving along the coast.

American Golden Plover (left) seen last year

(Photo credit - Shane Blodgett)

We got lucky again during our first stop at the Flatbush Avenue golf driving range. An American Golden Plover was flying around, landing and flying around trying to avoid getting beaned by golf balls. He finally got wise and flew off towards the south.

A view north, towards the city

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It was great weather to be on the hawkwatch platform at Fort Tilden however there weren't many hawks to see. We stayed only briefly but managed to count 11 kestrels.

A Cooper's Hawk near the baseball fields

(Photo credit - Rob J)

On the beach at Riis Park we noticed an unusually large flock of Sanderlings near the shore. We walked up slowly, then dropped to our knees to get closer. Finally we sat on the sand and pulled ourselves closer every few minutes. They didn't appear to be threatened by our presence and allowed us to get extremely close. Only the gulls seemed to spook the tiny birds. We estimated that there were 1,500 birds in the flock. It was interesting to scan the group and see individuals in various stages of plumage molt. One group that stayed to the right edge seemed to have completely changed to their basic plumage. In the center of the flock were two brown birds - a Dunlin and a Semipalmated Sandpiper. One of the Sanderlings had a grossly deformed, broken leg. It didn't seem to slow the bird down at all though as he hopped at full speed with the useless leg sticking out to the side.

Dunlin with a flock of Sanderlings

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Getting a little closer

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Up close and personal

(Photo credit - Rob J)

After we left the Sanderling flock we walked the main Promenade of Riis Park checking the weedy edges for songbirds. It was in this spot that I located our second special bird of the day - a Philadelphia Vireo. The golden plover and vireo made nice bookends for a late-summer day of birding around the city.

Philadelphia Vireo

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

- - - - -

Fort Tilden, Riis Park, 9/20/2004
-
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden-Plover
Killdeer
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
(Budgerigar)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
White-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Tree Swallow
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Eastern Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, American Crow, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Hawkwatch at Hook Mountain above the Hudson River

Watching the wind, watching for hawks

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I have had a very difficult time writing this report. Each time I start to write I get stuck on an effective description of the Broad-winged Hawk migration spectacle. How does one convey in words, the energy and excitement generated by the sight of a swirling column composed of hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks? Even the photographs fail to capture the essence of these creatures spectacular southbound synchronicity. I try to visualize thousands of Broad-winged Hawks spread out over the boreal forests of Canada awakening one day and gradually flying towards an unconsciously predetermined staging area. Then, one day, when the wind and temperature are just right, these unrelated individuals lift from their roosts and start to move as a single unit, following an invisible highway of rising warm air.

Turkey Vulture

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We faced north on the top of Hook Mountain, 720 feet above the Hudson River, waiting for the arrival of the first Broad-winged Hawks of the day. Turkey Vultures hung on rising warm air on the south side of the mountain. A family of local Red-tailed Hawks hunted above the valley on the north side of the ridge.

Ron and other watchers

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Someone shouted that a kettle was approaching from the northeast and we all snapped our binoculars up to our eyes. Set off by blue sky with patches of vapor trails and wispy clouds, a tall column of black dots was gradually drifting in our direction. As it got closer I realized that it was made up of many more hawks than I could originally discern. Their wings were barely moving yet they managed to remain a tight unit. They followed the same long north/south ridge that carries them to their wintering ground every year. As they passed above us I could only capture a small portion of their numbers on my camera. It took five minutes for the whole flock to pass over us and continue in the direction of the city skyline on the horizon.

The first kettle of Broad-winged Hawks approaching

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A little closer

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Passing above us

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The official "counters" for that day tallied approximately 800 individuals in that single flock. By the end of the day over 1,300 Broad-winged Hawks drifted passed our perch above the river.

-click to see Hook Mt. hawk count summary-

Looking at insects during a lull

Black Swallowtail

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Convergent Ladybug Beetle

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Hook Mountain, 9/19/2004
-
Double-crested Cormorant
Canada Goose
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
American Goldfinch

Thursday, September 16, 2004

A Grey Morning in Prospect Park with Sean and John

I suppose we could have picked a better day for some early morning birding in Prospect Park. There was virtually no wind, and a thick, grey cloud covering made identifying tree top birds nearly impossible. We take what the weather gods hand us and we managed to eek out ten species of warbler and a single Chipping Sparrow.

Worm-eating Warbler eating a worm

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

We followed the wooded spine of the park and walked from the Butterfly Meadow at the south end up to the Vale of Cashmere near the north entrance. The few small flocks that we did encounter were moving quickly and feeding high in the trees. One highlight was watching a perched Worm-eating Warbler as it took a break from feeding to preen itself. Unlike most of the other warblers with their bold plumage statements, I've always enjoyed the subtle elegance of the worm-eating. Their understated buffy, earth tones and bold, black head lines that point like arrows to its long, spiky bill make them distinctive among their Parulidae relatives. True individuals.

Worm-eating Warbler foraging on the ground

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

At the Sparrow Bowl we scanned a large flock of feeding House Sparrows for anything different. Among the large, rounded birds was one juvenile Chipping Sparrow. The slim, spizella sparrow easily disappeared behind the other birds but its general rufus coloration and fine streaking was fairly easy to relocate. I think it may be the first fall chipping for the park.

The sky eventually cleared but it was just in time for us to leave the park and go to work. On the way out we spotted a trio of Monk Parakeets flying around the west side of the park. They perched briefly near the 9th Street entrance. I saw them perched again near the 5th Street entrance then they flew down my block and perched on an antenna across the street from my apartment. I felt like they were following me. After a moment they flew off in a southeast direction. I spoke with Sean later and he said that a flock of three Monk Parakeets flew over him on 7th Avenue. Weird.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 9/16/2004
-
Wood Duck (male and female, lower pool.)
Monk Parakeet (3, circling west side of park.)
Belted Kingfisher (2, Ravine.)
Northern Flicker
Red-eyed Vireo (2, Sparrow Bowl.)
Carolina Wren (Heard near Litchfield Villa.)
House Wren (Sparrow Bowl.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird (4.)
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler (Next to Upper Pool.)
Northern Parula (3 or 4, Rick's Place.)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (4-6; Center Drive, Rick's Place, Payne Hill.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Center Drive.)
Black-and-white Warbler (2, Sparrow Bowl.)
American Redstart (Fairly common.)
Worm-eating Warbler (Seen feeding at north end of Midwood and later on Payne Hill.)
Ovenbird (Payne Hill.)
Northern Waterthrush (Sparrow Bowl.)
Common Yellowthroat (Several.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (2, North end of Midwood & Sparrow Bowl.)
Chipping Sparrow (Juvenile bird feeding with a flock of House Sparrows.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird (Sparrow Bowl.)
Baltimore Oriole (Aralia Grove.)
American Goldfinch (Flyovers.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (2, Center Drive near Nethermead Arches.), Blue Jay, American Crow (2.), Black-capped Chickadee (Heard in Midwood.), Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Birding from Sunrise to Sunset

Shane and I wanted to see how many species of birds we could locate during the course of a single day. He planned out a route that would attempt to maximize the variety of habitats found in Brooklyn and Queens. The idea was to search for all the land birds, shorebirds and everything in between.

It was still dark when I left my house. I walked into Prospect Park, passed the silent 3rd Street playground and headed for the north section of the Long Meadow. Crickets were chirping and rousing American Robins made muted "tut, tut, tut" calls. A rosey strip of sky began to illuminate a darkened meadow encircled by a string of pearl street lamps. A brown bat flutter back and forth above my head zeroing in on a large moth. I met Shane at the Rose Garden and we slowly worked our way south, through the wooded sections of the park.

Sunrise over the Long Meadow in Prospect Park

(Photo credit - Rob J)

There wasn't much songbird activity until we arrived at the Butterfly Meadow on Lookout Hill. The overgrown wildflower meadow attracted a flock of goldfinches that alternated between foraging out of sight in the thickets and noisily flying up to the surrounding oak trees. After a short while a small mixed flock of warbler and vireo began flying into the meadow and trees. We stayed just long enough to tally about a dozen species. We had to keep moving. I noticed that along the edges of the roads, walkways and fields clumps of pink tipped smartweed were rippening just in time for arriving sparrows.

On a rotting log near the end of the Peninsula a spot of neon orange caught our attention. It was a bracket fungus that was so brightly colored that it looked artificial.

Cinnabar-red Polypore (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus)

-click to learn more about the Cinnabar-red-
(Photo credit - Rob J)

We circled Prospect Lake then quickly returned to the car to head towards the grasslands of Floyd Bennett Field. From there the plan was to stop at Breezy Point then, lastly, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge for shorebirds as high tide wasn't until the end of the day.

A quick stop at the driving range on Flatbush Avenue found a few Killdeer at a mud puddle at the facility's south edge. It was then on to Floyd Bennett Field. Shane was much more focused than me on our day's goal. I tend to get easily sidetracked. At Floyd Bennett my distraction was a huge flock of migrating Tree Swallows. I could have spent hours watching the circling, swarm of approximately 5,000 birds but we were on a schedule. All the pilings in front of the Coast Guard Station seemed to be occupied by Common Terns. We patiently searched every single bird but could find no other species of tern. On the center runway we stood and talked for a while with Ron and Jean Bourque. During that break Shane noticed a flock of shorebirds flying overhead and three species of raptor. It was then time to pick up lunch and drive over to Breezy Point.

Large flock of Tree Swallows at Floyd Bennett Field

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Yellow White-lipped Snail (Cepaea hortensis)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At Breezy Point we had hoped to locate a Common Loon that had been hanging around, a Black Skimmer and a few shorebirds. We walked to the bay side of the point and immediately spotted the loon. A little farther down the beach a flock of stubby-legged skimmers lined up like soldiers along the shoreline. With the tide slowly creeping up Shane decided that it was time to head east to Jamaica Bay.

Just as we had experienced at Floyd Bennett, Tree Swallows were swarming Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. On close inspection we noticed that the flocks were almost entirely made up of brownish, juvenile birds. The West Pond was where we had hoped to tally a long list of wading birds and waterfowl. Thankfully, the birds cooperated. With winter approaching the waterfowl quantity and diversity has increased considerably since my last visit. As an added bonus for our day a rare Red-necked Phalarope was present near bench #11.

More Tree Swallows at Jamaica Bay

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Young Pied-billed Grebe on West Pond

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Young Yellow-crowned Night-Heron on Swallow nestbox

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We were running out of time so we didn't bird the refuge's gardens and headed straight for the East Pond in search of shorebirds. The water level was still unusually high limiting the numbers and diversity of shorebirds. From the Raunt we spotted a very young, dark Clapper Rail at the edge of the Phragmites across the water. Not far behind him was a racoon out for an evening stroll. Shane was a bit disappointed by the lack of shorebird turnout but I remained upbeat. There were hundred of Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, night-herons and Great Blue Herons arriving at the pond for their nightly roost. Shane did a quick tally and had one white stretch along the shoreline at 179 Snowy Egrets! It would be dark soon so we practically ran to the south end of the pond. Shane searched desperately for one last species. I closed my binoculars and watched the orange and pink sky return to a sliver above the horizon then vanish. Then, just as I began the day, I listened to the crickets rattling and chirping their nightly chorus.

Sunset on East Pond at Jamaica Bay

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We ended our day with 110 species, one unidentified flycatcher and one escaped parakeet that thought it was a starling.

Key: Prospect Park (1), Floyd Bennett Field (2), Breezy Point (3), JBWR (4)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, Floyd Bennett, Breezy Point, JBWR, 9/11/2004
-
1) Common Loon (3)
2) Pied-billed Grebe (4)
3) Double-crested Cormorant (1, 2, 3, 4)
4) Great Blue Heron (1, 4)
5) Great Egret (2, 4)
6) Snowy Egret (4)
7) Little Blue Heron (4)
8) Tricolored Heron (4)
9) Green Heron (1, 4)
10) Black-crowned Night-Heron (2, 4)
11) Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (4)
12) Glossy Ibis (4)
13) Canada Goose (1, 2, 4)
14) Mute Swan (1, 4)
15) Wood Duck (1)
16) Gadwall (4)
17) American Wigeon (4)
18) American Black Duck (1, 4)
19) Mallard (1, 2, 4)
20) Blue-winged Teal (4)
21) Northern Shoveler (4)
22) Northern Pintail (4)
23) Green-winged Teal (4)
24) Ruddy Duck (4)
25) Osprey (4)
26) Northern Harrier (4)
27) Sharp-shinned Hawk (2)
28) Cooper's Hawk (4)
29) Red-tailed Hawk (1)
30) American Kestrel (2)
31) Merlin (2, 4)
32) Peregrine Falcon (Marine Parkway Bridge)
33) Clapper Rail (4)
34) Semipalmated Plover (2)
35) Killdeer (Flatbush Avenue golf driving range)
36) American Oystercatcher (4)
37) Greater Yellowlegs (2, 4)
38) Lesser Yellowlegs (4)
39) Spotted Sandpiper (1)
40) Sanderling (3)
41) Semipalmated Sandpiper (4)
42) Least Sandpiper (4)
43) White-rumped Sandpiper (4)
44) Short-billed Dowitcher (4)
45) Red-necked Phalarope (4)
46) Laughing Gull (4)
47) Ring-billed Gull (2)
48) Herring Gull (2, 3, 4)
49) Great Black-backed Gull (2, 3, 4)
50) Common Tern (2, 4)
51) Forster's Tern (4)
52) Black Skimmer (3, 4)
53) Rock Pigeon (1, 2, 3, 4)
54) Mourning Dove (1, 2, 4)
---) Budgerigar (Escapee, Floyd Bennett Field)
55) Monk Parakeet (Avenue I)
56) Chimney Swift (1)
57) Ruby-throated Hummingbird (7 counted in Prospect Park)
58) Belted Kingfisher (1, 4)
59) Red-bellied Woodpecker (1)
60) Downy Woodpecker (1)
61) Northern Flicker (1, 2, 4)
62) Eastern Wood-Pewee (2)
63) Least Flycatcher (2)
64) Eastern Phoebe (4)
65) Eastern Kingbird (4)
---) empidonax sp. (1, 2)
66) Red-eyed Vireo (1, 2, 4)
67) Blue Jay (1, 2, 4)
68) American Crow (1, 2, 3, 4)
69) Tree Swallow (2, 4)
70) Barn Swallow (4)
71) Black-capped Chickadee (1)
72) Tufted Titmouse (1)
73) Red-breasted Nuthatch (1)
74) White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
75) Carolina Wren (4)
76) Veery (1)
77) Swainson's Thrush (1)
78) American Robin (1, 2, 3, 4)
79) Gray Catbird (1, 2, 4)
80) Northern Mockingbird (1, 2, 4)
81) Brown Thrasher (2)
82) European Starling (1, 2, 3, 4)
83) Cedar Waxwing (1, 4)
84) Northern Parula (1)
85) Yellow Warbler (1, 4)
86) Chestnut-sided Warbler (1)
87) Magnolia Warbler (1)
88) Black-throated Blue Warbler (1)
89) Black-throated Green Warbler (1)
90) Black-and-white Warbler (1)
91) American Redstart (1)
92) Ovenbird (1)
93) Northern Waterthrush (1)
94) Common Yellowthroat (1, 4)
95) Canada Warbler (1)
96) Scarlet Tanager (1)
97) Northern Cardinal (1, 2, 4)
98) Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1)
99) Eastern Towhee (2, 4)
100) Field Sparrow (2)
101) Song Sparrow (1, 4)
102) White-throated Sparrow (1)
103) Red-winged Blackbird (1, 2, 4)
104) Common Grackle (1, 4)
105) Boat-tailed Grackle (4)
106) Brown-headed Cowbird (2)
107) Baltimore Oriole (1, 2)
108) House Finch (2, 4)
109) American Goldfinch (1, 2, 4)
110) House Sparrow (1, 2, 3, 4)

Friday, September 10, 2004

Prospect Park with Shane and Elyse

Shane and I had tentatively agreed to meet in Prospect Park at dawn this morning. We both slept late, however, and I didn't get into the park until 8am. So much for planning. It was just as well, though, as migrating land birds were only seen in small, isolated pockets around the park. One of the most active locations was on the Peninsula near the "Thumb". A flock at that location consisted of a few Black-and-white Warblers, redstarts and four Yellow Warblers. There was also a pair of Downy Woodpeckers within the flock. When one of the woodpeckers landed next to me I grabbed my camera only to discover that I left the battery at home in the charger. It's for that reason that I'm only posting a couple of photos today, courtesy of my friend Steve.

We were both very surprised to hear the "pure sweet Canada Canada Canada" song of a White-throated Sparrow in the woods of the Peninsula. These chunky, round birds are common winter residents that don't usually arrive until later on in the fall. Their song usually makes me think of winter. I hope his early arrival isn't any kind of indication about this year's snowy season.

Elyse joined us while we were watching a flock of goldfinches feeding on the wildflowers on the Butterfly Meadow. An unidentified empidonax flycatcher was hawking for insects from an oak tree above the meadow. What I think was a Black Swallowtail (I can't believe I forgot the camera battery) was feeding on the purple flower clusters of a nearby Buddleia.

American Redstart


(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

For a few hours we meandered around the woods and waterways at the south end of the park. When Shane departed Elyse and I continued north through the Midwood forest, Rick's Place and up to the ornamental ponds of the Vale of Cashmere. I think that American Redstart was the most common species seen today with Black-and-white Warbler coming in a close second.

Throughout the morning we never encountered any large numbers of migrants. I could be wrong but it seems like I've managed to miss a majority of the migrating songbirds. Perhaps they were moving on days when I had to work or rainy days when I stayed indoors. Maybe the numerous consecutive days of east winds had them traveling farther inland. Whatever the reason it seems like I've seen less southbound migrants so far this fall than during this period in previous years.

It's interesting to note that today was the first time in probably over a year that I didn't see or hear one of the resident Red-tailed Hawks. They are around, though, because my friend Peter spotted two on Lookout Hill this morning.

Canada Warbler


(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 9/10/2004
-
Green Heron (Duck Island.)
Wood Duck (3, upper Lullwater & Prospect Lake.)
Solitary Sandpiper (upper Lullwater.)
Chimney Swift (approx. 12, feeding over Prospect Lake.)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (2, Binnen Waters & edge of Quaker Ridge.)
Belted Kingfisher (Pagoda Pond.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Center Drive at Quaker Ridge.)
Least Flycatcher (Rick's Place.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (2, Butterfly Meadow & Lullwater.)
Warbling Vireo (2, Peninsula.)
Red-eyed Vireo (several.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3 or 4.)
House Wren (Singing next to upper Pool.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Quaker Ridge.)
Veery (Peninsula.)
Swainson's Thrush (Steps near Nethermead Arches.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Parula (4 or 5.)
Yellow Warbler (4, Peninsula.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Midwood.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (2, Peninsula & Vale of Cashmere.)
Blackpoll Warbler (Peninsula.)
Black-and-white Warbler (Fairly common.)
American Redstart (Fairly common.)
Ovenbird (Behind Maryland Monument.)
Northern Waterthrush (2, upper Lullwater.)
Common Yellowthroat (Several.)
Canada Warbler (Quaker Ridge.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Female, Quaker Ridge.)
White-throated Sparrow (Singing on Peninsula!)
Common Grackle (A few.)
Baltimore Oriole (Quaker Ridge.)
House Finch (Several.)
American Goldfinch (approx. 15-20, Butterfly Meadow.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (several including juvenile on Peninsula.), Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Heard on Quaker Ridge.), Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Monday, September 06, 2004

A Week in the Catskills

Driving up to Windham


(Photo credit - Rob J)

While this blog is primarily focused on New York City's nature my wife and I visited family in upstate New York this week and I thought I'd share some of my backyard observations from there.

We didn't really plan on doing any formal birding, it was mostly a time to relax and catch up with family that we hadn't seen in a long time. I always had my binoculars close at hand and was frequently distracted by the wildlife activity in my mother's backyard. The weather was cool and clear and an assortment of fall wildflowers ringed the small pond in their backyard. The pale blue Common Wood Aster were abundant all along the edges of the roadways and forests. Delicate orange Jewelweed seemed to be flourishing anywhere that there was a little moisture. It's also the season of allergies and stalks of goldenrod dotted every meadow and field.

Common Blue Wood Aster (Aster cordifolius)


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)


(Photo credit - Rob J)

One flowering plant that seemed to be everywhere was the Japanese Knotweed. Its clusters of fragrant white flowers are lovely but the adverse effect this invasive species is having on the local environment is pretty ugly.

Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum)

-click to learn more about this invasive plant-
(Photo credit - Rob J)

I was hoping to see some lingering warblers or other songbirds that hadn't yet begun their trip south. Outside of a small number of local breeders it appeared that most had already departed. I was surprised to see that a few hummingbirds (probably my mother's backyard breeders) were still present. While they occasionally fed on the abundant Jewelweed flowers they mostly fought over drinking rights at my mother's feeders. They all appeared to be either females or juvenile male birds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Other regulars to the backyard were a family of chickadees, numerous goldfinches, both species of nuthatch and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. While watching the sapsucker, we noticed a hummingbird perched nearby. Suddenly, the hummingbird charged the woodpecker and chased him from his freshly excavated sap holes. I would never have imagined that a three gram bird could intimidate a fifty gram bird. I guess it's like the elephant and the mouse.

Black-capped Chickadee


(Photo credit - Rob J)

I thought I spotted another hummingbird feeding at an extensive section of purple phlox. When I got closer I realized that the bird was actually an insect masquerading as a hummingbird.

A necter-sipping imposter (Hemaris thysbe)

-click to learn more about the hummingbird moth-
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Every day at dusk a lone Eastern Phoebe would visit the backyard. He would perch, tail bobbing, on one of the now vacant Tree Swallow houses. Periodically he would swoop down across the pond, grab an insect then return to his perch.

Eastern Phoebe at dusk


(Photo credit - Rob J)

While on a short walk around the neighborhood we came across a small flock of juvenile Eastern Bluebirds. They were voraciously feeding on elderberries. As we approached they all flew to the telephone lines above the shrubs and wouldn't return to feeding until we had moved on.

Young bluebird


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Since purchasing a digital camera I've found that it is very useful as a learning tool. I frequently come across plants, insects or animals that I am unfamiliar with. I snap a few photos and research them when I get home. It's a lot easier than trying to sketch them. Two new items for me this past week were the Yellow Slug and Silky Dogwood (at least I think it's dogwood). Please post a comment if my plant identification is incorrect.

Yellow Slug

-click to learn more about snails and slugs-
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum)?


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Before returning home we spent a couple of days with my youngest sister and her family.

American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)

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

This past spring they had the opportunity to watch the daily activities of a cardinal family. The cardinals had built their nest in a shrub right outside their livingroom window. They eagerly awaited the hatching of the eggs, observed regular feedings and, finally, the fledging of the offspring. They were so touched by the experience that the family joined a local chapter of the Audubon Society. Since Uncle Rob is the nature "expert" we took a nice hike at a local refuge. My four year old nephew is very excited about seeing birds and pointed out all sorts of discoveries. I hope he never loses that excitement.

A very young birder


(Photo credit - Rob J)

We always send the kids nature and birding related gifts. When we arrived my niece presented me with an excellent drawing of a bird at its nest. It's displayed on our refrigerator but I also decided to share it with the world.

Bird at its nest


(Sketch by Leila Thomas)

- - - - -

Windham, NY and Barrington, RI, 8/31 to 9/5
-
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Osprey (Near Cooperstown)
Cooper's Hawk (Near Cooperstown)
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Wild Turkey
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern (Barrington)
Forster's Tern (Barrington)
Chimney Swift (Barrington)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Canada Warbler
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Chipping Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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

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