Sunday, October 31, 2004

Nest building already

Autumn Japanese Maple

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Yesterday Nancy Tim told me that during the week she spotted Big Mama and Split-tail collecting branches in the trees on Payne Hill. They then proceeded to add some new material to last year's nest!

Today, while on a field trip for the "Nature of New York" class that I'm taking, I took a brief detour to show everyone the nest tree. While standing near Rick's Place we heard the familiar "keeeer" of the Red-tailed Hawks. A pair were circling each other just above the tree tops of Payne Hill. A few minutes later I walked up the short rise towards the Tulip tree that they used for their nest last year. As I approached the base of the tree I spotted Big Mama just as she flew from a branch next to the nest. We walked up to the top of the rise where I sat and watched them last year. Through an opening in the yellowing foliage we could see that their nest had some new construction on it.

After three years and three locations it appears that Big Mama and Split-tail have finally found a tree that they like.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Brooklyn Bird Club trip to Ft. Tilden and Riis Park

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

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

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

Yellow White-lipped Snail

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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

A bad photo of a Royal Tern

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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

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

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

A lone Snow Bunting



(Photo credit - Rob J)

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

Thorny elaeagnus (Elaeagnus pungens)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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

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

- - - - -

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

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

Friday, October 29, 2004

Friendly hawks

Late this afternoon I walked over to the Long Meadow. There was a mixed flock of sparrows feeding at the edge of a chainlink fence that separates a restoration area from the grass meadow. As I stood next to the fence watching about a dozen juncos and Chipping Sparrows a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk decided to join me. As he perched on a fence post a few feet away from me all the sparrows disappeared into the underbrush. His iris was wide opened as he searched back and forth for prey. After about five minutes he spotted something behind me at took off right towards my head. I felt a breeze from his wings.

Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Duck!

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Many hawks in Prospect Park this afternoon

Elm Tree near the pools

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The Purple Gallinule hasn't been seen for four days. There's been some speculation circulating that it was eaten by one of the hawks in the park. After witnessing one of the Red-tailed Hawks making a low pass towards it on the 16th I've started to think that it may be true. I had also heard some rumors that three birders found a pile of feathers near the skating rink over the weekend. It appeared to be the remains of a predator's kill. The two sides of my brain are fighting with each other. While accepting the necessary cycles of life, death and survival in the natural world I'm still saddened that a directionally challenged young bird may have died, essentially, because of a wrong turn.

I looked for some feathers near the skating rink but didn't find any. I crossed over the Terrace Bridge, scanned the water for signs of the gallinule then continued to the end of the Peninsula. At the point a tiny Winter Wren made a short "chit-chit" call while twitching up and down on his toothpick thin legs. He watched me closely as I walked passed his tangle of fallen branches. The water purslane and waterlilies where the gallinule had been feeding has thinned out. Either the changing weather or a variety of hungry ducks has trimmed it back.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It was very quiet in the woods on the point until a Blue Jay began sounding a frantic alarm. I looked around in the cherry tree where he was perched but could not find the object of his panic. He flew closer to the opening across from the skating rink where I spotted the cause for his alarm. Perched in a birch tree was a very large bird of prey. Her large size and white spots on her back made me think that it was a Red-tailed Hawk. Then she spread her long banded tail and began to preen. It was the largest juvenile Cooper's Hawk that I'd ever seen. I tried to turn it into the rarer Northern Goshawk but it lacked a broad supercillium and the bands on its tail were the wrong shape. It was the closest that one of these woodland predators has ever allowed me. I was close enough to take a detailed photograph. I looked down at the preview on my camera and when I looked back she had already silently flown off through the woods.

There are still lots of White-throated Sparrows in the forested sections of the park. Along the edges of the fields and meadows were fairly large flocks of Chipping Sparrows and juncos. I slowly crept up on a nervous flock at the Nethermead Meadow. The small birds have the habit of disappearing behind leaves when they are flushed into the shrubs or trees. The yellow face of a lone Savannah Sparrow help me find the one unusual bird in the flock.

What I thought was a piece of trash in the middle of the Nethermead Meadow began to move. He then made a piercing, "dee-dee-dee, dee-dee-dee" and I realized that it was a Killdeer. I've seen them flying over the park many times but I think this is the first time that I've observed one walking around on one of the fields.

Killdeer on the Nethermead Meadow

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I ran into Raphael on Center Drive. He was one of the birders that found the pile of feathers near the skating rink. He reassured me that they were too large to have been from a gallinule. Some of the feathers were also black. There's no black feathers on a gallinule. I'd like to believe that our rare southern visitor finally figured out that he needed to head south before it got too cold.

While I was speaking with Raphael a Red-tailed Hawk began flying south across the Nethermead. He was quickly followed by another. Eventually there were three Red-tailed Hawks hunting together over Lookout Hill and the Nethermead. I parted company with Raphael and walked west, towards the Long Meadow.

At the lower pool a Merlin was perched in the bare branches of a dead tree that's usually reserved for finches. As I approached the Picnic House Big Mama flew out of the woods of Payne Hill. While I was watching her gain altitude above the north end of the Long Meadow I noticed a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk already circling the area. Just as I witnessed on the Nethermead, other hawks began leaving the woods and ascending above the meadow. There were two adults and two juveniles slowly circling above the meadow in close proximity to each other. The adult at the top of the group dangled his feet down like he would do during courtship.

I haven't done a survey of the two hawk families in many months. Today there were clearly seven hawks in the air at once. Of the seven, three were juveniles which means that two are unaccounted for. As the trees loose their leaves it makes finding the perched hawks much easier. Over the next month I'll be looking more closely for young birds and will keep you posted.

-----

Prospect Park, 10/27/2004
-
Pied-billed Grebe (2, Lullwater. 3, Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Wood Duck (3, Prospect Lake.)
American Wigeon (3, Upper Pool. 4, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal (2, Three Sisters Island.)
Ruddy Duck (Upper Pool.)
Cooper's Hawk (Juvenile, Peninsula.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4 adults, 3 juveniles.)
Merlin (Perched at edge of lower pool.)
American Coot (4.)
Killdeer (On Nethermead Meadow.)
Ring-billed Gull
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (Several.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
Winter Wren (1, Peninsula.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Still fairly common.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Still fairly common.)
Hermit Thrush (Several, Peninsula.)
Magnolia Warbler (Nethermead Arches.)
Palm Warbler (Binnen Waters.)
Common Yellowthroat (Picnic House.)
Chipping Sparrow (Fairly large flock on Nethermead.)
Savannah Sparrow (Within mixed sparrow flock on Nethermead.)
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
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, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Woolly Bears and Weather

Robin and I took a short walk through the park today. On the way home we crossed paths with a Woolly Bear Caterpillar looking for a place to hibernate for the winter.

Woolly Bear (Isia isabella)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Some people believe that the Woolly Bear can predict the weather.
-click to learn more about Wooly Bears as meteorologists-

Saturday, October 23, 2004

A Long Day on Staten Island

Shane and I took a whirlwind birding tour of Staten Island today. We left Brooklyn just before sunrise and headed to the northwest section of the island. Our plan was to explore the marshes, creeks and kettle ponds near the Arthur Kill at Mariner's Marsh Preserve and Saw Mill Creek Park. After that we'd head southeast to Great Kills Park, Wolfe's Pond Park, Mount Loretto and Conference House Park. The plan was to arrive at Great Kills when the tide was low to check for any remaining shorebirds along the coast. We found out late in the day that we probably would have been much better off starting in the south. We still had a good day with a highlight or two to report.

I'd never been to Mariner's Marsh and, with overwintering waterfowl arriving, we thought that we might find some interesting ducks in the kettle ponds. As we began walking a loop trail we noticed dozens of robins flying in all directions overhead. It appeared that we were seeing a huge push of migrating robins. They were perched in the trees, flying passed in large flocks and feeding on the abundant Autumn Olive berries. We spotted smaller flocks of migrating blackbirds but there were easily several hundred robins moving through the area during the first hour of sunlight. The kettle ponds were disappointing as we only observed Mallard, black duck and Pied-billed Grebe. The surrounding grass, shrubs and low trees were active with both species of kinglet, as well as, Yellow-rumped Warbler. Flocks of White-throated Sparrows tried to remain hidden as they scratched in the leaf litter protected by a tangled underbrush. We heard the harsh cackle of a Ring-necked Pheasant and he eventually showed himself in the stubby grass of the baseball fields near the trail's end.

Saw Mill Creek Park

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Saw Mill Creek Park is an interesting place. It's not so much a "park" as it is a protected saltmarsh habitat intersected by a defunct railroad line. It is a strictly industrial neighborhood dominated by a power substation and a former waste disposal facility. The only vehicles that passed us on the road were dump trucks and other large haulers. I birded there once during spring migration and was impressed by the diversity of wildlife. Shane and I thought that today there was a slim possibility that some of the marsh birds might still be hanging around. We walked down the railroad tracks for a short distance then took a detour through the marsh grass. We avoid the mud and stayed on a course through the spongy, peat sections. It's beautiful habitat but the only birds that we spotted were a trio of Great Egrets and one Red-tailed Hawk.

Railroad Trail

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We didn't do much better walking along the beach at Great Kills, although we did see a fairly large flock of Forster's Terns and both red-throated and Common Loon. We watched a small Forster's Tern with a tiny fish in his bill being chased by the larger Laughing Gull who in turn was being pursued by the even larger Herring Gull. The tern dropped the fish and its silver sides shimmered in the sun as it tumbled towards the water. The Laughing Gull snatched it out of the air seconds before the fish regained his freedom.

On a trail through a small wooded stretch of Great Kills the mix of birds were pretty much the same as earlier in the day: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, catbird, mockingbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler and White-throated Sparrow. At Wolfe's Pond we added several Great Blue Heron and Great Egret to our day list, as well as, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer and Ruddy Turnstone.

Non-breeding Black-bellied Plover

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We never actually birded at Mt. Loretto. Right after we parked the car we ran into Chris, Lauren and another local birder who told us that we'd probably do better at the nearby Conference House Park. It was getting late in the day and the sky had clouded over so we really didn't expect to find much avian activity at our final destination.

Overlooking Raritan Bay, Conference House Park contains forested habitats, beaches, meadows, a pond and a small wetland. There is also an expansive lawn in front of the Conference House that rolls down to the shoreline.

Pholiota species mushroom

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It was beginning to get too dark to bird in the woods so we walked out onto the beach. At a wide section of beach, set back from the shore, is a section of tree trunk-sized driftwood, flotsam, drying goldenrod, mugwort, mullen and other assorted grasses. The center of the area holds a pond surrounded by phragmites. Most beachgoers would likely avoid this section but as birders it looked like a potential treasure chest. As we walked through the tall grass birds began flushing up all around us. Within a few minutes we identified Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow and (of course) both kinglets. At the edges a phoebe hawked for insects. The birds began to settle down and I noticed a different looking bird flying low to my right. Its tail was flashing white outer feathers. When it landed on a piece of drift wood it stretched its neck out to watch us over the top of a clump of grass. A bold white eye-ring gave us our first clues to its identity and when we moved to get a better look it turned out to be a Vesper Sparrow; always a special bird to see.

Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)

(Photo credit - © AJ Hand)

We circled the pond then headed back to the car. Before leaving Shane suggested that we walk around the Conference House and check the edges of the lawn for bluebirds. I'm glad we did as we found four brilliantly colored Eastern Bluebirds perched above a section of pokeweed. I wanted to take a photo but they were a bit shy and flew off behind the house.

One thing that I love about birding is that it seems like there's always one last bird before you go home.

-----

Various Staten Island locales, 10/23/2004
-
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Brant
Wood Duck
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-necked Pheasant
Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Forster's Tern
Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Tree Swallow
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird (Conference House Park.)
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow (Conference House Park.)
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (Mt. Loretto.)
Dark-eyed Junco
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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

New York City Rare Bird Alert

There doesn't seem to be a reliable online resource for the weekly New York City "Rare Bird Alert" so I've decided to post it here. Each week, as it is sent out, I will paste it into my blog. If an online page becomes available I will add a link. Thanks to Tome Burke, Andy Guthrie and all the reporters for making this service possible:

RBA
* New York
* New York City, Long Island, Westchester County
* October 22, 2004
* 04.10.22

- Transcript
hotline: New York City Area Rare Bird Alert
number: 212-979-3070

to report sightings call:
- Tom Burke (212) 297-4804 on weekdays
- Tony Lauro (631) 734-4126 for Long Island

compiler: Tom Burke
coverage: New York City, Long Island, Westchester County
transcriber: Andrew Guthrie

BEGIN TAPE

Greetings! This is the New York City RBA for Friday, October 22nd at 5 p.m.

The highlights of today's tape are PURPLE GALLINULE, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT and LARK, CLAY-COLORED, GRASSHOPPER and
VESPER SPARROWS.

The Prospect Park immature PURPLE GALLINULE, usually providing very nice views as it feeds in low vegetation along the Lullwater, was still present this morning. The Lullwater flows into the northeast corner of Prospect Lake at the south end of Prospect Park. The bird frequents the 100 yard stretch between the Wollman Skating Rink and Terrace Bridge, and can often be seen from the rental boat launch area adjacent to the Wollman Rink parking lot. The GALLINULE does disappear for short periods into the taller reeds bordering the Lullwater but feeds on the lower green mats of floating vegetation, which can also be viewed nicely from the east side of the Peninsula. Other migrants seen in Prospect lately have included MERLIN, NORTHERN PARULA, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, WHITE-CROWNED, LINCOLN'S and FOX SPARROWS, and a few PURPLE FINCHES.

Asurprising fall migrant for Jones Beach was a YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER found Sunday at the West End Coast Guard Station area. The bird was seen feeding, often on the ground, on either side of the rest rooms building, usually in the flower beds, but also on the roof of or on the cement surrounding the building. This warbler, still present at least to Wednesday, is of the white-lored race albilora.

On Tuesday, a second YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER was found on the Point Lookout side of Jones inlet; this one was at the spoil dump at the north end of the parking lot at the Point Lookout beach club, the entrance to which is right across Lido Boulevard from the end of the Loop Causeway.

Also in the Jones Beach area, an immature LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was on the east side parking lot at Field 2 Sunday, a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT and a VESPER SPARROW were seen near the Field 2 dumpsters Monday, and a DICKCISSEL was in a Zach's Bay sparrow flock last Friday. There were still a few sightings of RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, in this superb year for that species, and an AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER continues with the shorebirds gathered in Jones Inlet.

At Robert Moses State Park Saturday, a group of sparrows found along the northwest side of Parking Field 5 contained a DICKCISSEL plus single LARK, VESPER, and GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS, with the latter two still there Sunday. An immature AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER was present for a few days, at least to Sunday, in the small vegetated circles in Parking Field 2 adjacent to the eastern side of the concession building. A YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT was also just west of the entrance to Field 2 Sunday. A CLAY-COLORED SPARROW was at Gilgo Sunday.

In Central Park there was a late CHIMNEY SWIFT Sunday and an immature RED-HEADED WOODPECKER at Cherry Hill Sunday and Monday. Sixteen species of WARBLERS last week included two CAPE MAY WARBLERS at the Pinetum, with one lingering there for 12 days at least to Wednesday. Other warblers featured NASHVILLE, NORTHERN PARULA, MAGNOLIA, BLACK-THROATEDS BLUE and GREEN, a BAY-BREASTED Sunday, BLACKPOLL Monday, BLACK-AND-WHITE, AMERICAN REDSTART and a WILSON'S Monday. SPARROWS included lots of CHIPPING lately and some WHITE-CROWNED. BALTIMORE ORIOLE and RUSTY BLACKBIRD were seen Monday and a few PURPLE FINCHES have been appearing.

Out east last Saturday, a GRASSHOPPER and two VESPER SPARROWS were at Nappeague, but only one COMMON EIDER could be found at Montauk Point. On Thursday at the now open Georgica Inlet there were two WHITE-RUMPED and nine PECTORAL SANDPIPER, plus two ROYAL TERNS, with a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT along East Lake Drive.

A PINE SISKEN flew over Marshlands Conservancy in Rye last Monday.

To phone in reports, on Long Island call Tony Lauro at 631-734-4126, or on weekdays call Tom Burke at 212-297-4804.
This service is sponsored by the Linnaean Society of New York, www.linnaeansociety.org, and the National Audubon Society.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Gallinule and hawks

I feel like I've been neglecting the Red-tailed Hawks. My curiosity for all the other fascinating seasonal changes has briefly lead me away from my "friends". While watching the Purple Gallinule today seven of the local Red-tailed Hawks breezed in to interrupt the afternoon's focus. I also recently watched a pair of Red-tailed Hawks hunting above me in the Bronx Botanical Gardens. Last night I received an e-mail from my friend Janet with a report of her observations of the Red-tailed Hawks in the Green-wood Cemetery. Maybe I should take these experiences as a subtle reminder. I wonder how all the young from this year's broods are surviving? Are they even all alive?

Gallinule food

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I walked over to the end of the Peninsula at around 1pm. Steve was taking some photographs of the gallinule and there were a few other birders hanging around. Sean arrived with his camera a few minutes later. It's always nice to see a rare bird in the local park but it's even more satisfying when it's a relatively tame individual. There have been trucks and back-hoes working nearby and an electric boat giving lake tours passing by every fifteen minutes yet the gallinule seems unfazed and continues feeding. The steady stream of birders arriving at the water's edge have been able to get unusually close looks at this seemingly domesticated young bird. It's given me an opportunity to study this bird for long, uninterrupted stretches.

Sean and I were curious what he was eating so we used a long branch to drag a section of water-primrose onto the shore. Underneath some of the leaves we found minute, freshwater snails. I suppose that as long as the lake doesn't freeze he has little competition for the Brooklyn escargot. When he is feeding he habitually twitches his tail straight up. He also holds his wings down which allows his tail to fit perfectly into the notch created between his secondary and tertial wing feathers. We wondered if the flashing, white undertail feathers acted as some sort of warning for predators trying to sneak up from behind.

Hawk food





(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

Warm air rising off of the exposed concrete slab of the dry skating rink creates a convenient lift for the hawks. Breeze Hill, adjacent to the rink has been hit by southwest winds all day, also creating a perfect updraft. At one point there were five hawks hanging in the air above our section of the park. I said that I hoped none of them had any interest in the gallinule. A few minutes later one of the juvenile Red-tailed Hawks that had been kiting over the rink began to descend in our direction. He seemed to be watching the gallinule who was, as usual, feeding out in the open. He flew thirty feet over the small bird's head then ascended to a perch in a Pagoda tree. His perch had a straight shot at the hungry gallinule. I began to imitate the call of a Red-tailed Hawk hoping to distract him from the small bird. He took off from his perch and headed right towards the Purple Gallinule. Fortunately the gallinule headed for cover and the hawk veered off at the last moment. From within the protection of the phragmites the gallinule made a soft, crying call.

Through the afternoon we had more Red-tailed Hawk sightings in that area, as well as, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a Cooper's Hawk and one Osprey. Would the inexperienced gallinule be able to avoid the unrelenting predators? We began to wonder if he could even fly as we had only observed him walking around. Eventually, at about 2pm we saw him flying across the water towards the skating rink. His exceptionally long toes hung down and nearly skimmed the water. I hope that he regains a sense of direction soon and heads south on the next northwest winds. Brooklyn may be a nice place to live but not for a Purple Gallinule.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 10/16/2004
-
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Brant (40, Flying over Peninsula towards lake.)
Wood Duck
Northern Shoveler
Ruddy Duck
Osprey
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk (4 adults, 3 juveniles.)
Purple Gallinule (Upper Lullwater across from rink.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Common Yellowthroat
White-throated Sparrow

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

Birding in Iraq!?

A birder, now soldier, stationed in Iraq continues his birding. Check it out:
http://birdingbabylon.blogspot.com/

Purple Gallinule update

The juvenile Purple Gallinule has generated quite a bit of excitment around the city. Is this what it takes to get people to leave Manhattan for a visit to Brooklyn? ;-) He was still present this morning and my friend Steve sent me the photo below. You can see the metallic coloration coming in on its wings, back and neck.

Another view of Big Foot

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Friday, October 15, 2004

Virginia Rails in odd locations

Continuing with a theme of unusual fall bird behavior I received the following story from a friend the other day:

********

Date: Tuesday, October 12, 2004 7:25 PM
From: Gerald Layton

Fellow birders,

While working out at a gym on 5th Avenue and Union Street someone yells, "Hey, there is a bird in the gym." I rush over and the manager says, "Jerry can you catch this bird?" Yeah, sure I'll give it a try. It's jumping up and flying into the large mirrors that line the wall...of course knocking itself silly after several attemps. Approaching the bird and seeing only a portion of its body because it was obscured by the machinary I said, "Oh, it's a starling." Wrong! A closer looks...whaaaat...oh my god, holy sh*t! It's a VIRGINIA RAIL! It flies out onto 5th Avenue, I chase it one block; it flew several blocks toward Flatbush Avenue and I gave up. What's the deal with Virginia Rails and entering stores, hallways and groundfloor entrance ways? This is the third time I've heard of this behavior in our area. Anyone have any theories? You never know what or where a migrant is going to show up. Check your bathrooms.

Jerry


********

This was not the first time that I've heard about Virginia Rails showing up in odd places. Last year a local birder was dropping off his dry cleaning when he found a rail in a laundry basket inside the store. He captured the bird in a shirt, carried it a few blocks to Prospect Park and released it. A few years earlier a woman walking down Flatbush Avenue near Marine Park spotted one walking into a photography store. Then there was this story about the uninvited guest at a wedding in Prospect Park:

-click here then scroll down to see a feathered party crasher-

-click here to learn more about Virginia Rails-

Thursday, October 14, 2004

"Anything can happen this time of year"

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

Juvenile Purple Gallinule

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

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

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

Must be tough finding shoes for those feet!

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

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

Sean lying down on the job

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-click to learn more about the Purple Gallinules-

-----

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

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

Monday, October 11, 2004

A Good Northwest Wind

It was a very productive day in Prospect Park. The northwest winds brought lots of songbirds through the area, particularly sparrows. Flocks of White-throated Sparrows seemed to have invaded the area. I even found some in the dead leaf piles between the parked cars on my block early this morning.

Merlin looking for sparrows

(Photo credit - Rob J)

One of the young Red-tailed Hawks hunting

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We concentrated our efforts on sunny spots in the wind breaks and were rewarded with a nice mix of migrants. Both species of kinglet were seen in good numbers and we tallied a surprising 13 species of warbler. An Orange-crowned Warbler seen at 7:30am by Shane was a first for the year for Prospect Park. An unusual third fall sighting of Red-headed Woodpecker occurred at the north end of the Midwood near the Locust stands of Payne Hill.

Some of the various sparrow species migrating through Prospect Park:

White-throated Sparrow

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

White-crowned Sparrow

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Chipping Sparrow

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Field Sparrow

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

- - - - -

Double-crested Cormorant (35, flying in formation over lake.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Three Sisters Island.)
Wood Duck (4 near skating rink, 1 Duck Is.)
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal (3, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck
Osprey
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk (3 or 4.)
Merlin (Chasing Red-tailed Hawk over Nethermead.)
Ring-billed Gull
Chimney Swift
Red-headed Woodpecker (North end of Midwood.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Vale of Cashmere.)
Hairy Woodpecker (Heard on Quaker Ridge and Midwood.)
Northern Flicker (Fairly common.)
Eastern Phoebe (Several.)
Blue-headed Vireo (3 or 4.)
Red-eyed Vireo (3 or 4.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Concert Grove.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2 or 3.)
Brown Creeper (Concert Grove.)
House Wren (Long Meadow near 5th St.)
Winter Wren (4 or 5.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Common.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Common.)
Hermit Thrush (Fairly common.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Orange-crowned Warbler (Near Terrace Bridge.)
Nashville Warbler (2.)
Northern Parula (Butterfly Meadow.)
Magnolia Warbler (2, Butterfly Meadow & Midwood.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Several.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Common.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (2.)
Palm Warbler (Fairly common.)
Black-and-white Warbler (2.)
Ovenbird (2, Lookout Hill & Midwood.)
Northern Waterthrush (End of Peninsula.)
Common Yellowthroat (Several.)
Wilson's Warbler (3; near Terrace Bridge, Thumb, Sparrow Bowl.)
Scarlet Tanager (2, East Wood Arch.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Sparrow Bowl.)
Indigo Bunting (3 or 4.)
Eastern Towhee (Several.)
Chipping Sparrow (Fairly common.)
Field Sparrow (Near Terrace Bridge.)
Savannah Sparrow (Labella Point behind rink.)
Swamp Sparrow (Several.)
White-throated Sparrow (Abundant.)
White-crowned Sparrow (2; Near Terrace Bridge, Sparrow Bowl.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Several.)
Common Grackle (Flyovers plus a few at Sparrow Bowl.)
House Finch
American Goldfinch (Fairly common.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, 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

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Interesting bird in Prospect Park

Sean and I stood in the center of the Midwood forest watching a hungry Blue-headed Vireo chasing down a tiny, indigo butterfly. He caught it three or four times but the desperate insect kept escaping. It eventually fell into the leaf litter where it tried to hide but the sharp-eyed songbird found it. Standing within a jumble of dead branches he held the butterfly in his beak and slapped it side to side against a twig. Backlit by low, late afternoon sunlight, we could see the butterfly's wing scales drifting in the air like bits of pollen. He knocked off its wings then quickly devoured the butterfly. We walked to the spot where he was feeding and found one of the wings lying on a maple leaf.

Remains of a meal

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sparrows are now migrating through the area. We located a mixed flock of Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos on the Nethermead Meadow. The skittish birds would feed in the grass beneath the oak trees for short bursts then fly for cover in the low branches.

Chicken Mushroom in Midwood (Laetiporus sulfureus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-click to learn more about the Chicken Mushrooms-

At the edge of the Peninsula Meadow is a small overgrown area of Mugwort. A fairly large flock of House Sparrows has been hanging around that spot and feeding on the abundant seeds. The thick cover also offers protection from predators. A couple of nearby puddles are convenient for drinking and bathing. I like to scan flocks of common birds looking for something different but don't usually find anything out of the ordinary. Today we were lucky and spotted a Dickcissel in that particular flock. Somewhat similar in shape and behavior to the House Sparrows this bird's yellow facial markings and breast feathers, along with chestnut wing patches made it hard to miss. We watched it for about forty-five minutes until a Sharp-shinned Hawk bombed the Mugwort patch and the flock vanished.

-click to learn more about the Dickcissel-

On my way out of the park I spotted another flock of Chipping Sparrows and juncos. A Vesper Sparrow within the group was too large to hide in the short grass like his more compact flock mates.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 10/5/2004
-
Double-crested Cormorant (Flock of about 20 flying over.)
Northern Shoveler (Several, Prospect Lake.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Peninsula Meadow.)
Cooper's Hawk (Flying over Peninsula and Lookout Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (Flying over Lookout Hill.)
Chimney Swift (Probably several hundred.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (Several.)
White-eyed Vireo (Juvenile, Butterfly Meadow.)
Blue-headed Vireo (Midwood.)
Red-eyed Vireo (2.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3 or 4.)
Winter Wren (Butterfly Meadow.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Several.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray-cheeked Thrush (Midwood.)
Hermit Thrush (2, Midwood & Maryland Monument.)
Wood Thrush (1, Midwood; 2, Maryland Monument.)
Gray Catbird
Nashville Warbler (Nethermead.)
Northern Parula (Payne Hill.)
Magnolia Warbler (Peninsula Meadow.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (2, Payne Hill.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Payne Hill.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (8-10, various locations.)
Palm Warbler (4, Peninsula Meadow.)
Black-and-white Warbler (Payne Hill.)
American Redstart (2 or 3.)
Ovenbird (Midwood.)
Common Yellowthroat (Several.)
Scarlet Tanager (Ravine.)
Indigo Bunting (4, Sparrow Bowl; 2, Butterfly Meadow; 4, Peninsula Meadow.)
Dickcissel (Peninsula Meadow, also seen by Peter Dorosh.)
Eastern Towhee (Nethermead.)
Chipping Sparrow (40-50.)
Vesper Sparrow (Long Meadow across from Band Shell.)
Swamp Sparrow (2 or 3.)
White-throated Sparrow (Fairly common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Fairly Common.)
Baltimore Oriole (In cypress tree next to Terrace Bridge.)
American Goldfinch (Fairly common.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Midwood), Blue Jay, American Crow (2), Black-capped Chickadee (Midwood), Carolina Wren, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Sunday, October 03, 2004

A day trip to Sandy Hook, New Jersey

A view of Coney Island and Manhattan from Sandy Hook

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Breezy Point and Sandy Hook are like the two halves of a permanently open lock allowing the tides of the Atlantic Ocean to flow in to and out of Raritan Bay and New York Harbor. Breezy Point is at the end of the Rockaway Peninsula to the northeast and Sandy Hook juts off the New Jersey highlands to the southwest.

-click to see a map-

Sandy Hook's varied habitats and location along the Atlantic Flyway sometimes attracts a large concentration of migrating birds. Clear, cool weather and northwest winds are a good combination for fall migrants so Peter, Tom and I took a trip across Staten Island and into New Jersey optimistic that we'd find some interesting birds. Thompson's Park, in Monmouth County, is about 10 miles from Sandy Hook. They have extensive grasslands and it has a reputation for good birding so we stopped there first before heading over to the shore.

-click to learn more about the Thompson's Park-
-click to learn more about the Sandy Hook-

We walked a trail along the edge of a field planted with corn and flushed up Lincoln's, Swamp, White-throated and Song Sparrows. There were also a few Indigo Buntings in the area. Overhead large flocks of blackbirds were on the move. Cattails within the wet meadows were releasing their feathery seeds to the wind.

Cattail in the early morning sun

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The birding at Sandy Hook was fairly slow as we explored overgrown gardens, short grass fields, woodland edges, coastline, salt ponds and salt marshes. We stopped at the Sandy Hook Audubon Center where they told us about a Connecticut Warbler sighting near what is known as the boyscott camp area. Like the Baird's Sandpipers and Eastern Phoebes we had seen earlier in the day, Connecticut Warblers are late migrants and are usually seen towards the end of the fall migration.

Connecticuts are a shy, skulking species usually found foraging on the forest floor. The bird we eventually located, however, behaved in a manner more suited to a pigeon. I imagine that the poor bird was exhausted and near starvation as it fed non-stop with complete disregard to our presence. I lied down on my belly to watch it feeding and, at one point, it was inches from my face. Connecticut Warblers are considered large and chunky by warbler standards but when it was close to my face it looked tiny, delicate and vulnerable.

Photographer with very cooperative Connecticut Warbler

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Connecticut Warbler approaching my feet

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A Connecticut Warbler with only eating on his mind

(Photo credit - Rob J)

There were a number of Merlins and Sharp-shinned Hawks in the area and I feared that by foraging in the open the warbler wasn't long for this world. Scott Elowitz, a photographer who we met there, wrote me that he stayed for 3 1/2 hours and the warbler was still there at the end of the day. Had this 15 gram bird just flown the entire length of the Hudson River, crossed Raritan Bay then collapsed, tired and hungry on this sand spit? I hope he makes it to his destination in the Amazon basin.

Before leaving Sandy Hook we stopped at an area called Spermaceti Cove. We walked the western shoreline to the back of the saltmarsh looking for sparrows. Above the edge of the beach a flock of twelve Royal Terns folded their wings back and plunged into the water one by one. The individuals that returned with a speared fish were pursued by the lazy ones in the flock attempting to steal their meal. In the saltmarsh Tom was able to call out a Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, moments later it was joined but his more colorful cousin - a Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

It was a very long day but I came home exhilarated by the experience. There were several highlights but I'll never forget the moment that I was nose to beak with a Connecticut Warbler.

Leaves of three, leave me be

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Thompson Park & Sandy Hook, NJ, 10/3/2004
-
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Wood Duck (Thompson Park)
Black Vulture (Thompson Park)
Turkey Vulture (Thompson Park)
Osprey
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Thompson Park, Sandy Hook)
Cooper's Hawk (Thompson Park)
Red-tailed Hawk (Thompson Park)
Merlin
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Dunlin
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Royal Tern
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Red-eyed Vireo
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Carolina Chickadee (Thompson Park)
Brown Creeper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Parula
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
American Redstart
Connecticut Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Indigo Bunting (Thompson Park)
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow (Thompson Park)
Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow (Thompson Park)
Swamp Sparrow (Thompson Park)
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Thompson Park)
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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

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