Thursday, December 29, 2005

Bronx Christmas Bird Count

Barring any unexpected natural phenomenon within the next 24 hours, this will be my last post for 2005.

Mist on the Moors

(Photo credit - Rob J)

On Monday morning I was picked up at 6:00am by my friend Steve. We then proceeded to pick-up three other friends and head up to the Bronx. We would be spending the day at the New York Botanic Gardens tallying all the bird species. This would be the second time that I’d be lending a hand (or eyes and ears) to the folks compiling the Bronx leg of the annual Christmas Bird Count. It would be my first time covering every inch of the NYBG.

I would have preferred better weather but on Christmas Counts you take what you are given and make the best of it. It rained on and off (mostly on) for the entire day. Only once did we have an outright downpour and my new waterproof shell, thankfully, passed the test. There isn’t much you can do when your bins get blurry from raindrops other than to wipe them off and hope you don’t miss a great bird in the process. Flushing a Great Horned Owl in the woods made it worth the effort.

Berries and drips

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Black-capped Chickadees appeared to be the bird of the day as they were seen in very good numbers. We kept crossing paths with an adult Cooper’s Hawk who was doing her own bird survey of sorts. At one point, we stood on a bridge and watched her perched on a snag above the Bronx River. I noticed her wagging her tail from side to side. I read somewhere that hawks will wag their tail when excited. I guess the numerous little birds and a lack of competition roused her spirits.

Winterberries (Ilex verticillata)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Winterberry and other fruiting trees and shrubs created bright patches for my eyes and little oases for the birds. One very protective mockingbird chased a Hermit Thrush from “his” Winterberry shrub. The Scrooge had little respect for the holiday season or the fact that he was rude to the only Hermit Thrush in the entire park.

Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) preening

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

-Click here for more info on Brown Creepers-

We ate our lunch in the garden’s cafe. Our table was in the corner of the room, two large plate glass windows on either side of us. Interspersed between bites of food and complaints of the weather were announcements of various birds in the trees just beyond the glass. A Brown Creeper was spotted clinging to the side of a conifer as it preened its wet feathers. Moments later an opening in the clouds revealed a swathe of azure sky. The sun brightened and warmed the creeper’s resting place near the base of the tree. Steve suddenly jumped up, grabbed his camera and ran outside. Creepers are energetic little creatures that are rarely seen sitting still, let alone preening. Steve was able to take four or five photos before the clouds returned and closed off the patch of blue, returning the garden to shades of gray.

Bird's Nest mushrooms (Crucibulum vulgare)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Bird's Nest mushrooms-

- - - - -

Bronx CBC - New York Botanic Garden, 12/26/2005
-
Wood Duck
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Great Horned Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Fish Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
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, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

"Birding in the Rain"

Yesterday I participated in the Bronx leg of the Christmas Bird Count. It was the second worse weather conditions I've experienced during my nine years of CBCs. I'll post a complete report tonight. In the interim, here is an e-mail and great photo the I received from my friend, Roberto:

"On Sunday morning I went by Floyd Bennett field; it was shrouded in thick fog with a visibility of some 40-50 ft. By the northernmost runway was this peregrine perched on one of the signs. A very cool sight! Enjoy."

Floyd Bennett Peregrine in fog

(Photo credit - Roberto Cavalieros)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Injured Goose update

I just received the following note:

"Hi Rob,

Sgt. Prastaro went out and assessed the situation, which was just as you
said. The Snow Goose has a broken right wing; however, it is swimming fine
and foraging fine so it would be impossible to catch right now. What the
Sgt. has done has left his number with the groundskeeper who has been
keeping tabs on the goose. If the groundskeeper sees the goose weakening at
all he will call the Sgt. He felt bad that he could not do more, but I
remember being in the same place when I was a ranger. An injured but
healthy animal is very sad and frustrating. If the goose is still there
when the weather is warmer it sounds like they could try to catch the goose
using their canoes but this is also very difficult. If you don't mind
please keep an eye on the goose too and let me know if you think it is able
to be captured.

Thanks,

E.J."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Injured Snow Goose

I contacted E.J. McAdams, the Executive Director of New York City Audubon, regarding an injured Snow Goose at Green-Wood Cemetery. Below is his response:

"Rob,

The Brooklyn Urban Park Ranger Seargent Anthony Prastaro is going to check on the goose and see if he can capture it. If it is on the water, it is unlikely that anyone will be able to get it without injuring the bird. Once he is on the scene he will give me a call. I will send you an email once I hear from him. If you have further questions, please give me a call at the office [...].

E.J."


I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Pete Shen was part of the group that surveyed Riis Park and Fort Tilden on Saturday's bird count. One of their highlights was a Lesser Black-backed Gull at Riis. Pete was able to digiscope a few decent photos.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) at Riis Park



(Photo credit - Pete Shen)

-Click here for more info on Lesser Black-backed Gulls-

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas Bird Count at Floyd Bennett Field

First Light

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It’s hard to believe that the annual Christmas Bird Count has arrived. The count, to me, is the symbolic end of the birding year. For people who keep annual birding lists it’s sort of like the last chance to add another species. I’m already thinking about next year’s discoveries. Today was my ninth Christmas Bird Count, the last five of which were spent surveying Floyd Bennett Field, Dead Horse Bay and Four Sparrow Marsh. It’s one of the few days that I can be roused before dawn while my body is in winter hibernation mode. The last two years were the only times that I’ve had enough energy left to attend the dinner at the end of the day. Comparing highlights with one’s fellow birders and hoping for bragging rights for a “save” are just a couple of things that make the day long effort worth it. (A “save“ is a bird species that was only seen by one group of birders.)

Thin ice

(Photo credit - Rob J)

According to the National Registry of Historic Places Floyd Bennett Field encompasses 3,285 acres. That might explain my sore feet. Floyd Bennett’s acreage includes coniferous woodlands, deciduous tracts, marshland and coastline, however, grassland accounts for a majority of the habitat. We usually begin our day at first light by forming a line at the edge of one field and walking slowly to the opposite side. The point is to flush any birds that might be hiding in the grass and then writing it down on a tally sheet. It always makes me feel like a Redcoat in attack formation. In this case the enemy is the wild blackberry vines and briar hidden in the grass that try to trip me up and tear at my lower legs.

-Click here for the history of Floyd Bennett Field-

As we walk through the grass we ultimately flush up a flock of Eastern Meadowlark. The size of the flock fluctuates from year to year but, from what I’ve been told, meadowlark numbers have decreased considerably from decades past. Ring-necked Pheasants populations have also plummeted. I found a pair of pheasant wings at a kill site on one of the fields. She was likely the last one left. Floyd Bennett’s open areas attract a variety of winged predators. A Red-tailed Hawk or Cooper’s Hawk could have easily made a meal of her.

Pheasant wing

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The short, stubbly grass on a new cricket field had attracted a large flock of Horned Larks. We usually observe one or two dozen on the bird count but today there were sixty-seven. I love how they flatten their chubby bodies against the ground when they’re foraging for seeds. Their low profile makes them one of the few birds that can feed in the open on windy days without getting blown away. It also makes it a little difficult to count them. When you think you’ve tallied all of them another one suddenly appears in your field of view. On a dreary winter day the sight of their bold yellow and black face always brings a smile to my face.

Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

As we stood on the beach at Dead Horse Bay we counted 200 Greater Scaup a short distance from the shore. Horned Grebe have arrived in New York waters wrapped in grayscale, winter plumage, their golden ”horns“ absent until the spring. Several small flocks dove for food near the shore.

Rising ocean levels and the unrelenting scouring of wind, tide and time have exposed layers of the crumbling landfill once know as Barren Island. Examining the ground while walking along the shore of Dead Horse Bay is like graphing history. Long stretches of dark brown peat are revealed at low tide. It has likely taken hundreds of years to form the island’s peat substructure. Two hundred year old glass bottles, fragments of old porcelain and rusty iron pipes are interspersed with oyster, clam and mussel shells. In the late 19th to the early 20th century Barren Island was the home of Menhaden processing plants. It was the last resting place for dead horses from New York City. There Menhaden recovered fat and other products from the carcasses. There is a disturbing number of horse bones scattered among all the other debris adorning the beach. Most of the bone has been cut up but I found an intact tibia from one of the horses.

Horse tibia

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sean spotted a hawk perched atop a dead tree. A perched hawk is sometimes more difficult to identify than one in flight. When the hawk glided by above our heads we realized that we had a rare over-wintering Broad-winged Hawk in Brooklyn.

Four of the people in our group left just before sunset. Sean, Chuck and I decided to stay until dark, hoping for a glimpse of a nocturnal bird. Despite our best effort we couldn’t find any owls and, as always, our last bird for the day was the 4:30 Merlin.

Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope ) at Floyd Bennett

(Photo credit - Roberto Cavalieros)

- - - - -

Floyd Bennett Field, Dead Horse Bay, Four Sparrow Marsh, 12/17/2005
-
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Great Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snow Goose
Brant
Gadwall
Eurasian Wigeon
American Wigeon
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Long-tailed Duck
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin
Black-bellied Plover
Dunlin
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Horned Lark (67 on cricket field.)
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Hermit Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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

Bird Photos link

I'm still recovering from yesterday's sunrise to sunset Christmas Bird Count marathon. I'll post a wrap-up tomorrow. In the meantime, here is a link to my friend Janet's website. In addition to her beautiful local bird photographs she has other great international images. I'll add it to the permanent links section in the sidebar:

JCZinn Photographs

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Brooklyn Hawk update

Big Mama and her old mate Split-tail

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

I just received and interesting e-mail from my friend, Joe. He does a lot of birding in the Green-Wood Cemetery, which is a short distance from Prospect Park. His note is regarding the nesting Red-tailed Hawks in the cemetery and includes a sad finding.

Rob,

Hope all is well, I expect you are getting ready for the x-mas count. I'm helping Janet in her first year as leader of Green-wood. I was in Green-wood Saturday with Marge Hanover, a Green-wood regular, and we saw some Red-Tails that I thought you might be interested in.

Red-tails have been having trouble in Green-wood for the last 2 breeding seasons. The nest in Green-wood had a long successful record of fledging young for well over 15/20 years. Every year, like clockwork, the young fledged within a few days of June 5th. The last 2 breeding seasons have not produced any fledglings. Two seasons ago, which was a very wet, cold one, the two nestlings had just barely started to stand on the edge to exercise their wing muscles by the end of May. Very late in the season. [..] The young disappeared. The fledglings of all previous years remained in the cemetery by Fort Hamilton until at least October and are easily approachable. I looked and never found a sign of them. Neither did Janet. I don't think they fledged at all, certainly they did not survive long out of the nest.

This last breeding season, the pair was back on the nest. They had added material and we had a constant bird on the nest. All was looking good, then suddenly there was only one bird in the area and no one on the nest. I found the body of the female, going by size, in Dell water. Since then Green-wood has had almost no Red-Tails. Even this fall, when you expect wintering birds would arrive, no Red-Tails.

Marge and I were happy to see a high soaring pair by Fort Hamilton and McDonald this Saturday. They basically circled just over and across McDonald Ave, occasionally coming into the cemetery. We stayed in the area watching for a while and one of the times they were over the nest realized that one of the birds was immensely huge, even allowing for sexual size difference. Big Mama? Clean bird, heavy, well defined breastband. Tail very red viewed form the top, but from underneath showed a whitish tinge to the red. We started to go back over Ocean Hill when we came upon a third Red-tail low in a tree, about 15 feet up. We looked at him he stared back, unhappy but stayed until Marge's cell phone rang. He then flew off low the bare minimum, and landed about 40 feet away low in another tree. All the time looking like a cat, who doesn't want to been seen.

I'm going to go out on a limb here. I think Big Mama, if it was her and I think it was, is interested in Green-wood. Not that she would move, but she doesn't want the Green-wood nest occupied. She was not able to intimidate the established pair, but I think this third bird is one of her offspring, they do have similar breastbands and the same clean underwings. Perhaps it is the male from the previous year and without a mate, he is a little vulnerable to her pressure. Whatever the details, I think Big Mama is being imperialistic about Green-wood. The only parallel to my scenario is that the year before Red-Tails started to nest in Prospect, a young pair tried to construct a nest by 39th street and Fort Hamilton. They were driven off by the established pair by Ocean Hill. Should be an interesting season if I'm right.

Joe

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Prospect Park sounds

A Murder of Crows

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Prospect Park is a surprisingly quiet place considering that it is in the center of Brooklyn. Several years after I began birding I became more aware of the natural sounds around me. Sometimes I am able to filter out the background, human generated noises such as overflying jets or distant sirens. I find myself stepping around leaves, twigs and other detritus so that I can keep my focus on the sound of the moment. Today it was nearly impossible to walk quietly in the park. The partially melted, then refrozen snowfall created a crust of cracking, glass ice and crunchy, styrofoam snow. Park maintenance vehicles left narrow, nearly dry tracks on some of the paths and I found myself walking, as if on a balance beam, within these noiseless trails.

There are several Black Walnut trees in the park and I’ve learned to recognize the sound of a squirrel eating one of the nuts. It’s a sawing noise, like a rasp moving back and forth, quickly, in short strokes, across a piece of steel. I was curious about how they tasted as squirrels will expend a lot of time and energy to open one. Beneath one of the trees I found a pale green, freshly fallen tennis ball-sized fruit and stuck it in my coat pocket. At home I peeled away the hand-staining pulp and let the nut dry for two or three weeks. I assumed that it would be easy to open with a nutcracker. It was actually impossible. I took out my tool kit, grabbed a ball-peen hammer, placed the walnut on a brick and slammed it. It took several whacks just to get a small crack in it. A large pair of vise-grips finished the job. How did it taste? It was alright, but not worth a 20 minute struggle.

Today, while walking down Lookout Hill road, I heard a sound that has been missing from the park for a few years. It was the raucous yammering of a large flock of American Crows. Large crow flocks used to be a constant presence in Prospect Park but their numbers plummeted, possibly related to West Nile. Crows usually mob birds of prey so I thought that there was a possibility that a hawk or owl was farther up the hill. I backtracked and walked to the tiny meadow at the top of Lookout Hill. I was very surprised to see the top of an oak tree filled with crows. I counted 29 individuals. They weren’t chasing a bird of prey but rather talking among themselves. I sat down to watch them. There may have been two distinct families present as they kept splitting their numbers between two trees despite the fact that they could have all easily fit in one tree. Occasionally they would all lift off, fly out over the south edge of Lookout Hill then return to the two trees. I tried to figure out if there was any particular leader or signal for the move but they didn’t stay very long. After about 15 minutes the murder of crows lifted off and headed in a southerly direction.

-Click here for more collective nouns for birds-

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 12/10/2005
-
Great Blue Heron (Flying across Nethermead towards pools.)
Mallard
Bufflehead (1, Upper pool.)
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow (29, Lookout Hill.)
Black-capped Chickadee (Fairly common, Breeze Hill and other.)
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch (1, Breeze Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Breeze Hill. 2, near Picnic House.)
Hermit Thrush (Breeze Hill.)
Northern Mockingbird (5th Street.)
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Chipping Sparrow (1, Breeze Hill feeders.)
Fox Sparrow (2, Vale of Cashmere. 6, Nethermead Arches.)
White-throated Sparrow (Common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Fairly common.)
Red-winged Blackbird
American Goldfinch (Fairly common, Breeze Hill and other.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Looking for signs of owls

It was 20°F when I left my house. I decided that it would be a good day to search for signs of owls in Prospect Park and the botanic gardens. My decision wasn’t based on any local reports of owl sightings or intellectual reasoning. I was really just motivated by the season’s first sting of arctic bluster and the mental picture of a tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl hunkered down among the protective needles of a conifer. There weren’t any owls around that I was aware of but every year about this time I begin looking for signs of a roost.

I walked east across the Long Meadow near 3rd Street. When I left the shelter of the trees and walked out into the open I was blasted by a frigid north wind rolling down the mile long meadow. I spotted an adult Red-tailed Hawk rising up over the trees near the Vale of Cashmere. Despite the strong wind she effortlessly navigated into the gusts and patrolled the north end of the meadow. She circled close to me then dove across the field and down into the trees at the north end of Nelly’s Lawn. I had begun to follow her when she appeared in the air above Nelly’s Lawn and flew quickly towards the zoo. A moment later a juvenile hawk emerged from the north zoo woods and flew across the road towards Payne Hill. Rather than follow either hawk I decided to stick with my original plan to look for owls.

In the stretch of woods behind Sullivan Hill squirrels shoveled their noses into the leaf litter looking for hidden stashes. It felt good to be out of the wind but, unfortunately, it was also devoid of bird life. At Payne Hill I took a look at the old Red-tailed Hawk nest. Nothing seems to have changed. As I stood looking a nearby Blue Jay mimicked the high, raspy “keeeer” call of a red-tailed. For once, I wasn’t fooled. He’s been messing with my head for about a year but I can finally differentiate the thinner quality of his imitation.

I briefly scanned the bare branches of the trees in the Midwood then continued walking east towards the botanic gardens.

Japanese Beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, while free of the warm weather hordes of humans, was an oasis for wildlife. Flocks of robins and Cedar Waxwings gorged themselves on red hawthorn berries. A large flock of starlings occupied the tops of a pair of pagoda trees and feasted on translucent, green bean pods. Squirrels climbed up into dense Japanese Beautyberry shrubs and nibbled on its clusters of vivid purple berries. I spotted rabbit tracks in the snow beneath a Flowering Quince shrub where several quince had fallen. One looked like someone had stopped for a snack. As I searched all the garden’s conifers I came across several small flocks of Black-capped Chickadees. They seemed to be finding morsels to eat within the tree’s needles and the fragrant mats below.

One of the first places I looked was at a California Incense Cedar. Early last February I noticed about twenty owl pellets at the base of this tree. Today there were none, in fact, I couldn’t find signs of an owl anywhere in the garden. Maybe later in the season.

On my way back home I walked through the Midwood and on to Center Drive. In the Midwood several squirrels were squeaking their typical agitation sound. I searched the trees for a predator but didn’t find one. As I crossed the Nethermead Arches I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a Black Cherry tree on the south side of the bridge. I walked around behind him to get a closer look.

My first impression of the hawk was that he was tall and lean. His profile was very different from “Big Mama” who always gave the impression of being very wide and muscular. The “V” pattern usually seen on Red-tailed Hawk’s scapulars seemed somewhat subdued on him. The feathers that form the “V” are generally white with a central, dark brown wedge shape. This bird’s “wedges” were all bordered by rusty red. His underside also had a considerable amount of fine, red feathers from the throat to the belly and around to his flanks. His feathers were neat and clean and, on closer inspection, appeared to have sharp, fresh edges. Perhaps this is his first season with adult plumage.

I walked back to the bridge to take another look at the front of the hawk. As I was getting ready to snap a photo something across the road caught his attention. He jerked his head forward then took off in the direction of the Midwood (where the squirrels were very agitated earlier). I can’t be 100% certain but he looks like he might be a new tenant in Prospect Park.

Hawk and First Quarter Moon

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park & Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, 12/7/2005
-
Canada Goose
Gadwall (Upper pool.)
Mallard
Bufflehead (3, Upper pool.)
Cooper's Hawk (BBG.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1 adult, 1 juvenile.)
American Coot
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee (Fairly common.)
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper (BBG.)
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird (BBG.)
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing (BBG.)
Northern Cardinal
White-throated Sparrow (Common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Fairly common.)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Is Big Mama back?

I recently received an e-mail from my friend Janet. I'm hoping that Big Mama has returned to her former territory at the north end of Prospect Park.

"I noticed an adult redtail sitting in the usual tulip tree at North end of Nellie's meadow. Is that one of your pair or just simply great real estate & another hawk moved in?

I really missed not having the redtails in Green-Wood this year--I always used to see several & very surprising not to see any. Last weekend saw a redtail circling overhead in different parts of the cemetery. I wonder if they are some of Prospect's brood. [...]

Janet"


I'm not sure why both the Green-Wood Cemetery pair and the north park pair had an unsuccessful year. Perhaps it's merely cyclical and 2006 will have lots of young Red-tailed Hawks back in the middle of Brooklyn.

Happy Thanksgiving

Hoping everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving break.

Heron at sunset on Quiet River

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Looking for the Red-tailed Hawks

Looking north across Prospect Lake at Lookout Hill

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It has been a long time since I used my bicycle to try and track the Red-tailed Hawks in Prospect Park. I feel like I can finally put behind me the exasperating three years since my cycling accident. My last orthopedic surgery appears to have restored my damaged wrist. It felt really good gliding along the park’s roads and paths listening for evidence of the hawks and searching their favorite places.

The nest that Split-tail and Big Mama built in the Tulip tree on Payne Hill still looks solid and usable. After checking out the nest I headed towards the Midwood. A young couple was walking up the bridle path that rises out of the forest towards Rick’s Place. While I was looking in their direction an adult Red-tailed Hawk soared out of a tree just a few feet behind them and disappeared into the Midwood. I told the couple what had just happened and they seemed disappointed that they hadn’t turned around at the right moment.

I circled around the woods a few times trying to locate the hawk. A tiny Winter Wren perched atop a pile of rotting logs chipped incessantly while bobbing up and down, stubby tail pointing skyward. I assumed that he was agitated by the presence of the hawk but I could not find him as he vanished into the dried, brown canopy. I felt like my hawk tracking skills were a little rusty and just continued south through the park.

Among the park’s annual winter visitors I noticed that the goldfinch numbers are on the rise. They seemed to have timed their arrival with the opening of the sweetgum fruits. Most of the sweetgum balls have yet to open and release their abundant stash of seeds. However, I noticed that the fruits at the very top of the trees have started to turn brown and open. A pair of sweetgums adjacent to the Butterfly Meadow were loaded with chattering American Goldfinches. White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos assembled on the ground beneath the trees and took advantage of the hurried diners spilled leftovers. Another flock of goldfinches, desperate for a drink, kept landing in a shallow puddle at the edge of the Nethermead Meadow. It was at the intersection of two footpaths and close to the road. Despite constant interruptions by humans the flock would land, quickly drink, fly up to a large oak tree then repeat the process every minute or so.

I pedaled around the perimeter of Prospect Lake checking for winter waterfowl and the Red-tailed Hawks that like to, well, eat them. Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Duck numbers are increasing, as are coots. Near the skating rink, across from Duck Island, I spotted a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk perched at the top of a birch tree. People like to feed the ducks nearby and I suppose that he is aware of the easy targets. I continued my tour around the lake and rode up to Breeze Hill. In the trees facing the Peninsula four Blue Jays were making a racket. I assumed a raptor was close and searched the trees but found nothing.

I wheeled my bicycle passed the Fallkill Falls and the Upper Pool towards the Long Meadow. Near the wildflower meadow a Red Bat fluttered by my head so close that I involuntarily ducked. The mild weather has enabled small pockets of insects to extend their season. The bat was taking advantage of the late run and swooped back and forth above the Upper Pool snatching up bugs.

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

As I pedaled north along the Long Meadow I spotted a familiar winter silhouette. Perched at the top of a large Ginkgo Tree was a female Merlin. Every winter the park is host to one or two Merlins. Apparently that Gingko Tree is a prime spot to launch an attack against unsuspecting songbirds as I’ve seen it being used since 1997. I leaned back on the top tube of my bike and watched her against the darkening sky. Every few minutes she would take off, fly around the Upper Pool, behind a hill with a stand of mature Elm Trees then back to her perch in the ginkgo. People strolling by probably noticed the wide grin on my face and glanced up at the tree. Some people were genuinely curious about the falcon and stopped to ask me questions. I let them use my bins to get a better look and they were all impressed by the compact, powerful looking bird. One man told me that now he intended to bring binoculars to the park all the time.

Merlin in Ginkgo Tree

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Merlins-

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 11/20/2005
-
Pied-billed Grebe (2, Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (Upper pool.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Juvenile at Vale of Cashmere.)
Gadwall (Male, Upper pool.)
Northern Shoveler (approx. 25, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (1, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck (32, Prospect Lake.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1 adult at Midwood, 1 juvenile on Duck Is.)
Merlin (Edge of Lower pool.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1, Sweetgum on Center Dr.)
Hairy Woodpecker (1 Lookout Hill; 1 Quaker Ridge.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (3, Breeze Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1, Breeze Hill feeder.)
Brown Creeper (South side of lake.)
Winter Wren (1, Midwood.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Several.)
White-throated Sparrow (Common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Common.)
American Goldfinch (Flock of approx. 30 at Butterfly Meadow.)

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

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A short walk in Prospect Park

Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A short walk in Prospect Park in spring-like temperatures yielded little bird activity. I walked along Center Drive checking the Sweetgum and ash trees for goldfinch flocks. It’s usually around this time of year that an occasional Pine Siskin can be found feeding among the American Goldfinches. The wind was blowing hard directly into the trees along the road’s border so I didn’t find any birds at all. Many of the Sweetgum fruits are still pale green and have yet to drop their miniscule seeds. Strong wind has caused all the ash trees to loose their clusters of single blade propellers.

-Click here for photos of Pine Siskins-

Hackberry Nipple Galls

(Photo credit - Rob J)

On a trip to Staten Island on the 5th of this month I noticed something curious. Walking through the woods in Conference House Park it appeared that all the hackberry leaves on the ground were spotted with tiny, green ring-shaped growths. I assumed that they were some type of insect egg. I had all but forgotten about it until I noticed the same thing in Prospect Park. I took some photographs and planned on researching it in the future. Purely by coincidence, while looking up information on oak trees, I stumbled on a photo that looked exactly like my hackberry growths. I learned that it is called “Hackberry Nipple Gall” and is caused by tiny insects called psyllids.

-Click here for more info-

In addition to the wind gusts keeping the bird activity to a minimum a large, adult Cooper’s Hawk and a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk were patrolling the park. I gave up on trying to locate one of our Red-tailed Hawks and began heading home. I ran into a woman on horseback that I’ve spoke with in the past. She mentioned that she hadn’t seen any of the Red-tails lately. No sooner had the words left her lips when one of the hawks flew over Lookout Hill, across Center Drive and into the woods surrounding the cemetery.

Phragmite seed "feather"

(Photo credit - Rob J)

One unexpected observation today was of blooming Witch Hazel shrubs next to the Picnic House.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 11/16/2005
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Pied-billed Grebe (3, Prospect Lake.)
Great Blue Heron (Upper pool.)
Wood Duck (Lower pool.)
Northern Shoveler (approx. 20.)
Ruddy Duck (approx. 12.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Flying over Rick's Place.)
Cooper's Hawk (Lookout Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (Flying over Lookout Hill towards cemetery.)
American Coot (approx. 15-20.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
White-breasted Nuthatch (2 at Breeze Hill feeder.)
Carolina Wren (Peninsula, near point.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Several.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2.)
Hermit Thrush (1, Nethermead Meadow.)
Cedar Waxwing (4, flying over Nethermead Meadow.)
Fox Sparrow (1, Peninsula.)
White-throated Sparrow (Common.)
American Goldfinch (Fairly common.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (Fairly common.), Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum simulans)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Another rare warbler in Forest Park

Black-throated Gray Warbler (Dendroica nigrescens) in Forest Park

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

I hadn’t planned on doing any birding on Sunday. When I received an e-mail alert that a Black-throated Gray Warbler was just seen in Forest Park I couldn’t resist running out. It’s about a one hour subway ride from my neighborhood in Brooklyn to my old stomping grounds in Queens. The report came in at approximately 2:00pm. Sunset would be at 4:30pm so I literally dropped everything and ran out the door.

It’s a long walk from the subway station to the “waterhole” in Forest Park so I practically ran the whole distance. There was no doubt that I was in the correct location as there were 20 birders standing around in the woods. I asked if the bird was still present and was told that it had been seen within the last hour.

Next to the small, muddy puddle that is the waterhole is a downed oak tree and a jumble of viburnum and other small shrubs. A pair of chickadees, a Winter Wren, several goldfinches, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a pair of Nashville Warblers were feeding in and around the patch of tangled understory. I had only been looking for the warbler for a few minutes when he obligingly hopped into the viburnum directly in front of me. He foraged for insects by probing into dried, curled up leaves still attached to their stems. His black and white head pattern reminded me of the chickadees that he was associating with. The setting sun made it too dark in the woods for my little camera to work effectively but there were other folks present with high end camera equipment. I’d never seen a Black-throated Gray Warbler anywhere, let alone New York City.

I don’t know why birds stray hundreds to thousands of miles from their normal boundaries. It always surprises me that they would show up in an urban center like NYC. I’ve heard theories that range from “making a wrong turn” or “getting caught up in a storm” to “expanding their range”. In the short time that I’ve been a birder I’ve been fortunate to observe several unusual extralimital species, including one “first” for the lower 48 states. The Black-throated Gray Warbler, oddly enough, was the second rare warbler seen in NYC this year. The first was a Swainson’s Warbler. Both were observed at the Forest Park waterhole.

-Click here for more info on Black-throated Gray Warblers-

- - - - -

Forest Park, Queens, 11/13/2005
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Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Winter Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Nashville Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Northern Cardinal
American Goldfinch

Friday, November 11, 2005

Jones Beach in the cold

West End 2 parking lot

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Joe, Sean, John and I picked the first frigid morning of the season to drive out to Jones Beach in search of a Cave Swallow.
Cave Swallows (Petrochelidon fulva) are a southwestern species and, for whatever reasons, has been observed in the northeast in increased frequency over recent years. On November 6th over 300 migrating Cave Swallows were observed near the western end of Lake Ontario!

A large, swirling flock of Tree Swallows fought the gusts and continuously circled the area. Unfortunately, as hard as we tried, we couldn't pull a Cave Swallow out the flock. I'm not very experienced at estimating the numbers of individuals in a single flock. We thought that there may have been around 500 birds total so I counted each one in a single photograph that I took today. I was surprised to tally a little over 500 in just one frame. With that in mind I would "guesstimate" that there were easily 1,000 Tree Swallows present.

Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) at Jones Beach

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Also at Jones Beach was a Clay-colored Sparrow feeding along the median strip. The cooperative bird gave us long looks.

Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At Floyd Bennett Field, near the cricket field, we stopped to check out a flock of Horned Larks. The birds were nibbling on the seeds of plants growing up through cracks in the parking lot pavement. Sean was focusing his camera on one of the Horned Larks when a Lapland Longspur, unexpectedly, walked into the frame. The longspur seemed more wary than the larks and scurried around behind clumps of grass.

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) at Floyd Bennett Field

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

One other interesting observation today was of a leucistic Yellow-rumped Warbler next to the Coast Guard Station. I began referring to the stunning, mostly white warbler as the "rarely seen Snow Warbler".

"Snow Warbler" at Coast Guard Station

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Grass drawn circle

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Jones Beach, Floyd Bennett Field, Ft. Tilden, 11/11/2005
-
Northern Gannet
Brant
Wood Duck
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Merlin
Peregrine Falcon
Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer
American Oystercatcher
Dunlin
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Chimney Swift (Jones Beach.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Horned Lark (11, Floyd Bennett Field.)
Tree Swallow (1,000+.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Yellow-rumped Warbler (plus one leucistic individual at Coast Guard Station.)
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow (Jones Beach median.)
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur (Floyd Bennett Field.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Pine Siskin (Jones Beach median.)
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Double-crested Cormorant, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, American Crow, Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Staten Island with the Brooklyn Bird Club

I joined members of the Brooklyn Bird Club today on a field trip to Staten Island. Shane was the trip leader. I'll post a complete report and species list by tomorrow...I hope.

Great Kills baseball fields early in the morning

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Great Black-backed Gull with Sea Skate

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Red Beard Sponge (Microciona prolifera) at Great Kills

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Blue Heron Pond Park

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Inky Cap mushroom (Coprinus sp.)


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Wooly Bear caterpillar

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Large Milkweed Bug nymph (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on Dogbane (Apocynum sp.)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Belted Kingfisher

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Asiatic Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

My nemesis bird

The Basherkill before arriving at fire tower

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It seems that every birder, after a few years, finds that they have a jinx or nemesis bird. That is a species that, no matter when or where you go, you can never manage to observe. Despite meticulous planning and research that bird somehow manages to elude “capture”.

I’ve been birding for approximately 10 years. Over those years I’ve never been able to locate a Golden Eagle in the wild. My wife and I once spent a couple of weeks vacationing in the Pacific Northwest. Golden Eagles are fairly common there but, apparently, not for me. I kept crossing paths with other birders who would say things like, “Did you see those Golden Eagles that were just here?” No. I would even go to hawkwatches every year hoping to catch a glimpse of one.

View north towards Catskills

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Today Shane and I decided to drive up to the Shawangunks and meet with John Haas to help out with the hawkwatch. Our motivation had been the reports of multiple Golden Eagles at that location. The Shawangunks are a high ridge that runs north to south, just below the Catskill Mountains. Raptors follow this ridge on their southbound migration. The watch is held from the top of a fire tower and affords expansive views of Sullivan County and, on clear days, much farther. For topographic reasons that I don’t understand the top of the fire tower is always very windy. John explained that during the hawkwatch period there are some days when the wind exceeds 70mph. Today was one of those days.

Fire tower shadow

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Wind speed

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I suppose the conditions were not ideal as the hawks seen from the top of the tower remained very high and in low numbers. The most abundant species was Red-tailed Hawk and we tallied 24. John felt bad for us as he recounted fantastic hawk days on the tower and, recently, 5 Golden Eagles in one afternoon. I really didn’t mind much as it was pretty cool hanging out on the tower. We eventually gave up as the afternoon lull settled in and we accepted that we wouldn’t be seeing much more activity.

When I returned home I sat down at my computer to check my e-mail. The first message to catch my eye had the subject line “Rare bird in Prospect Park”. Three birders excitedly watched as a migrating Golden Eagle soared over the park at “11:10am”. So, my nemesis bird continues to elude me. I drove 200 miles to NOT see one when I could have walked 2 blocks to see one.

Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) at Eileen's house

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Shawangunk Hawk Watch, 10/30/2005
-
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snow Goose
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Wild Turkey
Common Raven
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Pipit
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting
American Goldfinch

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

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