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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Birding on Staten Island

This is my first spring since 2002 that I’m not spending most of my birding time with Split-tail and Big Mama. I miss being a fly on the wall to their everyday activities while they raise a family. I keep thinking that maybe I’m wrong, maybe they found another, secret nest location. On Saturday morning I ran into Raphael at the Vale of Cashmere. After we watched the juvenile hawk fly over our heads he remarked that on several occasions he has seen a pair of adults Red-tailed Hawks together in the north end of the park. He sparked a glimmer of hope in me that maybe Split-tail is alright and that I might still be able to track them down.

With no hawks to follow I’ve returned to more typical birder behavior. At the end of January Shane and I realized that we had started to accumulate a longer than usual year list of bird sightings. I’ve always preferred taking the time to observe bird behavior than to just chase birds for the sake of another check on my bird list. Perhaps this year is different because the hawks are no longer a part of my life. Shane and I have begun to pay more attention to the bird reports and go after the unusual sightings. Our very loose goal is to see 300 species in the state before the year ends. I think our personalities and skills compliment each other as we’re doing better than I expected. I ended last year with 274 species. On Friday I was up to 155 species but ended the weekend with 170.

Saw Mill Creek

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I met Shane in front of my building at 5:30 this morning to go to Staten Island. He has been wanting to hear some rails calling from the marshes at Saw Mill Creek and the best time is at dawn. Also, there have been some interesting birds reported recently from Great Kills and Clove Lake. With a little luck we hoped to track them down and add them to our growing year list.

Saw Mill Creek is a marsh habitat in the northwestern section of the island. It overlooks the Arthur Kill, Praill’s Island and Praill’s River. There is also a large power substation and defunct railroad track bordering the area. It is one of the only remaining wetlands in New York City and it is in danger of being ruined by the building of a NASCAR track on an adjacent parcel of land. Despite public opposition and environmental concerns, it appears that money hungry politicians and developers might force it on New Yorkers.

As we drove slowly down River Road we heard the high, trilling song of several Swamp Sparrows. A nearby mockingbird did impersonations of rails, a kingfisher, cardinals and other unidentified neighborhood residents. Within moments of arriving Shane excitedly pointed out the odd, mechanical “kidick, kidick, kidick, kidick” song of a Virginia Rail. We walked down the railroad track scanning the grass and mud while listening for more rails. As the morning progressed the dominant voices in the marsh were the harsh squeaks and rattles of the abundant Boat-tailed Grackles. While returning to the car I spotted a Black-crowned Night-Heron walking down the road. He looked like he was just arriving to work at the substation.

-Click to hear a Virginia Rail-

-Click to learn about Virginia Rails-

Our next stop was Great Kills Park. A Blue Grosbeak had been reported and it would be a nice addition to our day trip. Blue Grosbeaks are very rarely seen in Brooklyn, however they are a rare but regular visitor to Staten Island. I hadn’t seen one in many years. We parked at Lot E. Scanning the edge of the road we decided to check an area next to a wind break created by phragmites and shrubs. It had gotten very windy and cold. In less than 3 minutes I spotted the bird as it flew across from the other side of the road. At one point it returned to the shrubs adjacent a jogging trail. I watched a runner approach and then stop and look down at the brilliant, blue bird. He saw me with my binoculars and walked over to talk. He asked if it was a blue cardinal. I thought it was a very good characterization so I said, “Almost”.

Blue Grosbeak (Guiraca caerulea)

Seen at Great Kills early this morning
(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Blue Grosbeaks-

When we returned to the car I told Shane that I knew where we could find some Wilson’s Snipe. He was concerned that we wouldn’t see any this year. Two years ago, while on our annual “Snipe Hunt”, Steve Nanz and I discovered a small fresh water pond where there were at least a dozen snipe. Shane pulled on his boots and we walked to the hidden pond. We’d had good luck to that point so it shouldn’t have surprised me that we quickly found two snipe resting along the muddy shoreline. Then we were off to meet Mike Shanley and Seth Wollney at Clove Lakes Park.

Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

In addition to just spending some time birding with Mike and Seth the possibility of finding a reported Kentucky Warbler at Clove Lakes was irresistible. I was impressed by the amount of forested area in the park. A stream running through the center of the park also seemed to be a good draw for bird-life. It was along a wooded rise next to the stream that we first heard the rich, rolling “churry, churry, churry” of the Kentucky Warbler. It was foraging on the ground within a large tangle of Multiflora rose. We waited him out and he eventually made an appearance. He has a brilliant yellow underside and olive upper body. A unique black crown and mask looks to me like the painted tear streaks of a sad clown. While we were looking for the Kentucky Warbler we also spotted a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Black-throated Green Warbler.

Kentucky Warbler (Oporornis formosus)

This was taken at the Botanic Garden in April. 2003
(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

I’ve begun to realize that Staten Island has a myriad of habitats to explore. My friend’s in Brooklyn would never forgive me if I began spending my free time on the island.

- - - - -

Saw Mill Creek, Miller Field, Great Kills, Clove Lakes Park, 4/24/2005
Common Loon (Several flyovers.)
Northern Gannet (Several dozen off shore at Great Kills.)
Double-crested Cormorant (Several large migrating flocks.)
Great Blue Heron (Clove Lakes.)
Great Egret (Saw Mill Creek.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Saw Mill Creek, Clove Lakes.)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Saw Mill Creek.)
Glossy Ibis (Several flyovers.)
Brant (Miller Field.)
Gadwall (Saw Mill Creek.)
Red-breasted Merganser (Great Kills.)
Osprey (Saw Mill Creek.)
Merlin (Saw Mill Creek.)
Ring-necked Pheasant (3, Great Kills.)
Virginia Rail (Saw Mill Creek.)
Killdeer (Saw Mill Creek, Miller Field, Great Kills.)
American Oystercatcher (Great Kills.)
Wilson's Snipe (2, Great Kills.)
Laughing Gull (Great Kills.)
Ring-billed Gull (All locations.)
Great Black-backed Gull (Miller Field.)
Northern Flicker (All locations.)
Eastern Phoebe (Clove Lakes.)
Blue-headed Vireo (Clove Lakes.)
Tree Swallow (Saw Mill Creek.)
Barn Swallow (Saw Mill Creek.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Clove Lakes.)
Carolina Wren (Clove Lakes.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Clove Lakes.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Clove Lakes.)
Northern Mockingbird (Saw Mill Creek, Clove Lakes.)
Brown Thrasher (Great Kills.)
Yellow Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Pine Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Palm Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Northern Waterthrush (Saw Mill Creek.)
Louisiana Waterthrush (Clove Lakes.)
Kentucky Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Common Yellowthroat (Saw Mill Creek.)
Blue Grosbeak (Great Kills.)
Eastern Towhee (Saw Mill Creek.)
Chipping Sparrow (Miller Field.)
Savannah Sparrow (Saw Mill Creek.)
Swamp Sparrow (Saw Mill Creek, Clove Lakes.)
White-throated Sparrow (Clove Lakes.)
Common Grackle (Saw Mill Creek.)
Boat-tailed Grackle (Saw Mill Creek.)
Brown-headed Cowbird (Saw Mill Creek, Great Kills, Clove Lakes.)
House Finch (Saw Mill Creek.)
American Goldfinch (Clove Lakes.)

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

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