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Monday, February 21, 2005

Staten Island birding

Sporting a new, smaller cast I was anxious to get out and do some birding. Shane suggested that we check out a few Staten Island locations in search of winter species. Our targets were winter waterfowl, gulls, owls and, with any luck, siskins or repolls. The route Shane planned, along the southeast edge of the island, would take us from Miller Field to Great Kills Park, Blue Heron Pond Park, Wolfe's Pond Park and, lastly, Conference House Park.

I think the weather forecasters were way too optimistic regarding warmer temperatures as the northwest wind made for a blustery morning at the coast. We had hoped to find Horned Lark, Snow Bunting or longspur feeding in the stubby grass at Miller Field. The field, unfortunately, was devoid of birds and we had to settle for one Snow Bunting flying over us while we scanned Lower New York Bay from the adjacent beach. The water held some of the expected seasonal species (Red-throated Loon, Horned Grebe, Great Cormorant, American Black Duck, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser), although in seemingly lower numbers than in the past few weeks.

Our next stop was at Great Kills Park. We would check the short grass fields, a small stretch of woods, the protected waters of Great Kills Harbor and finally walk the beach of Crooke's Point from the harbor around to the ocean. I'd like to say that the birding was great at Great Kills but it was, at best, fair. The cold wind blasting across the harbor had the limited waterfowl and gulls in the area hugging the opposite shore. Shane spotted an accipter flying into a short stretch of woods near the boat trailer access. We relocated it perched at eye-level and watched it from the car. It was a large immature Cooper's Hawk. The hawk seemed agitated as he puffed out the feathers on his head and nape like porcupine quills.

The feeders and tiny pond at the closed Nature Center seemed like an oasis for robins, sparrows, blackbirds and House Finches. The Red-winged Blackbirds monopolized the mixed seed feeders.

The southern end of Crooke's Point faces Raritan Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. There were about 500 gulls west of the point, unfortunately there was nothing unusual to report. A small flock of Greater Scaup in the area included at least two Lesser Scaup.

As we walked along the beach near the end of the point I noticed something very curious. It was a set of parallel tracks that began at the waters edge. The tracks were about a foot apart and reminded me of turtle tracks. The trail continued to the high water mark where there was a stretch of ice. On the ice was a small patch of blood. The tracks then continued in an arc and back into the water. I kept thinking that it was a turtle because of the apparent drag mark between the opposing feet. What turtle would drag itself out of the water to rest on ice? Oh yeah, a harbor seal "turtle". On close inspection we could actually make out flipper marks created by the mammals nails. Was the blood caused by a collision with a ship? I think there would have been more of a mess on the ice if it was caused by a meal. I hope it survives.

Seal tracks

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Wolfe's Pond was completely frozen over so any expected waterfowl had moved on to open water. There were plenty of gulls in the area but, as with the other locations, they were only ring-billed, herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

We met Mike Shanley at the Blue Heron Pond visitor's Center. He very kindly gave us a quick tour of the park and some tips on Staten Island birding. While we were walking the Ravine Trail we heard the high, repetitive "keeyuur, keeyuur, keeyuur" call of a Red-shouldered Hawk reverberating through the woods. Red-shouldered Hawks are not known to breed within the five boroughs but this individual sure sounded like he had claimed his territory. We saw a second buteo fly over the area but were not certain if it was a red-shouldered.

Throughout the day some of the birds reminded us of the lengthening days by tuning up for their spring songs. Red-winged Blackbirds at Great Kills belted out "kon-ka-reeeee" while perched on tall phragmite stalks. Song Sparrows practiced their clear, sweet musical notes from the safety of tangled shrubs. In the woods at Blue Heron Pond Park male juncos trilled from perches high in the trees. The sad, yodeling cry of a Common Loon at the Arthur Kill seemed out of place during such frigid conditions.

Common Loon at Arthur Kill (Gavia immer)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

One other noteworthy observation was of Ground Pine. I was told that these miniature "pine trees" are found in very few places in New York City. I suppose the tremendous foot traffic in most wooded parts of the city would trample these delicate club-mosses.

Ground Pine (Lycopodium obscurum)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more about Lycopodium-

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Various Staten Island locations, 2/20/2005
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Great Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Canada Goose
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk (Blue Heron Pond.)
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Monk Parakeet (Flying over Hylan Blvd. at Reid St.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Towhee (Great Kills Nature Center.)
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting (Beach at Miller Field.)
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

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