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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

80 car miles, 10 foot miles and 136 bird species

The number and diversity of bird species passing through the city parks is reaching its climax. Birders all around the city are invading the parks early in the morning in search of the colorful, the melodious and the rare avian visitors. The New York City Birdathon is intentionally scheduled in mid-May to take advantage of the explosion of species. This past Saturday Shane, John and I (The “Wandering Talliers”) teamed up once again for a dawn to dusk marathon to locate as many bird species as possible.

Our territory was the borough of Brooklyn. Shane has a very good understanding of the varied habitats and its associated families of birds. Our strategy was to figure out the maximum number of bird species likely in each location and to spend only a minimal amount of time trying to find those birds. It’s sort of like fishing; you’d waste a whole lot of time trying to catch a Marlin in Prospect Lake but catfish, sunnies and bass would be a short day.

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Prospect Park was the obvious choice for finding land birds. We’d go to Marine Park for rails, Marsh Wren and some coastal sparrows. At Floyd Bennett’s grasslands we could find American Kestrel, possible meadowlark or Bobolink and some waterfowl on the freshwater “Return-a-Gift Pond”. Fort Tilden would be a quick stop to try and relocate a Blue Grosbeak seen by Shane the day before. Breezy Point is a good place for Piping Plover, terns, gulls and anything on the ocean. We’d finish up our day at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge where we’d find various shorebirds, wading birds and, possibly, some waterfowl.

Great Egret (Ardea alba)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

We headed out to the Marine Park Saltmarsh Center at 4:45am and arrived at the parking lot just before first light. As we walked to the trailhead a snipe went whizzing past our heads. We knew that Clapper Rails would be easy to hear but didn’t expect to see one casually strolling through the grass. Marsh Wrens were heard singing from the phragmites and one perched in the open, straddling two stalks. Shane thought that this would be the likely spot for Seaside Sparrow but we were unable to find one. Instead, two Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows made an appearance. We spent a little under 2 hours here before heading to Prospect Park. Our list for Marine Park was Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis, Canada Goose, Brant, Mallard, Ring-necked Pheasant, Clapper Rail, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe, American Woodcock, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Forster's Tern, Black Skimmer, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Chimney Swift, Belted Kingfisher, Willow Flycatcher, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Marsh Wren, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird and House Sparrow.

At Prospect Park we parked the car at the skating rink lot. I walked to the edge of the lake across from the Peninsula woods and heard many different warbler songs. I had a feeling the park was going to be very productive. Northern Parulas seemed to be singing from just about every tree. Magnolia Warblers and Black-throated Blue Warblers had increased significantly overnight. On the Peninsula we “oohed” and “aahed” at a Bay-breasted Warbler foraging in a bright pool of sunlight. His black mask was beautifully framed by a chestnut crown and throat. We spent about three hours in Prospect Park and added 51 more species to our list. Our warbler list was now at 21 species as we headed off to Floyd Bennett Field.

Northern Waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

First year male Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

The weather forecast predicted rain but the day remained sunny and warm. It was almost too warm and we feared that the heat might slow down the birds a bit. At Floyd Bennett Field it didn’t take us long to find a kestrel. He was sitting a few feet above the grass on a thin stalk. Next we needed to find a Field Sparrow and I knew of two spots where they are usually found. There weren’t any at the first location but Shane quickly found one at the second spot. As we turned onto the north runway we spotted a male Northern Harrier hunting along the edge of the grass field. I told Shane to try and catch up to it. We matched speed with the raptor and, for a short time, watched the gray and white “ghost” as it effortlessly coursed up and down with the meadow’s contours.

Before entering Ft. Tilden to look for the Blue Grosbeak we pulled in across the road. The old Coast Guard property has a perfect view of the Marine Parkway Bridge and a Peregrine Falcon nestbox. The female falcon was perched in the open at the left edge of the aerie. We got back into the car and crossed the road into Ft. Tilden. As we walked towards the back of the soccer field a Ruby-throated Hummingbird buzzed passed us and stopped for a moment to drink from a cherry flower. A rugby match in progress next to the grosbeak spot made finding it impossible. We did a quick walk around the field, checked behind the baseball fields then returned to the car to drive to the next location.

By this point in the morning the three of us were running on coffee, yodels and Entenmann’s chocolate-chip cookies. The granola bars that I brought along seemed way too healthy and went uneaten. At the parking lot near the Silver Gull Beach Club we ran into some of the other Brooklyn birders. We compared some notes but kept our total to that point under wraps. They told us of a Common Loon nearby and we easily found it. Climbing a few jetties we made our way west and down the beach towards Breezy Point. Northern Gannets, Least Terns and Piping Plovers were our targets here and we easily found them. The day seemed to be going almost too well.

Shane had timed our arrival at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to coincide with the low tide. We got there a little early and decided to check the South Garden for a reported Sora rail. There were too many people near the rail spot so we agreed to circle the West Pond and return for the Sora later. The pond held a paltry 6 species of waterfowl, however, one was a Eurasian Wigeon. Illuminated by the late afternoon sun, his reddish head could be seen by the naked eye across the pond. Using our scopes to scan the phragmites on the opposite side of the pond I noticed something that looked interesting. My scope is, well, inexpensive so I could only make out what looked sort of like the head of a wading bird. Shane looked through my scope and decided to check with his “not inexpensive” scope. He was pleasantly surprised to find that my "sort of bird" turned out to be a Least Bittern. Delirious with exhaustion, sugar, caffeine and the thought that we found Brooklyn’s bird-of-the-day we returned to the refuge’s gardens. At the muddy hole where the Sora had been feeding we sat down at a wooden bench. The stealthy, cardinal-sized rail eventually walked out of the protection of the reeds and began foraging in the mud. He seemed oblivious to our presence and, at one point, was walking about 3 feet from my boots. I picked some day to forget my camera at home.

It was getting close to low tide so we continued back to the West Pond. At bench #1 I noticed a sparrow scurrying in the grass. Shane patiently tracked it down in his scope and announced that it was a Seaside Sparrow, which we missed at Marine Park. The drab bird with the bright yellow spot over his eyes perched in the open and sang his thin, buzzy melody. We threw our scopes over our shoulder and walked towards the Terrapin Trail. The end of the trail faces into the bay and a series of small islands where we hoped to add several shorebirds to our list. At the head of the trail a Tree Swallow was perched atop a mullen stalk, nearly at my eye level. He looked as if he was guarding the trail so, with Monty Python in mind (and a little delirium) I said, “Who would cross this path must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.” The swallow seemed unimpressed so I said, “What is your name?” Still nothing so I tried, “What is your favorite color?” At that point John may have thought I was losing my mind so we continued down the trail. The funny thing was, though, the swallow remained on his perch. We were so close I think I could have picked him up.

The shorebirds were pretty far away but still we were able to make out several Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, American Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone and Dunlin.

Two years ago we finished the day with 120 species. Last year we wanted to beat the previous total and ended up with 124 species. By sundown this year we counted 136 species. I’m afraid of what the other guys might want to attempt for next year.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)


Marine Park (1)
Prospect Park (2)
Floyd Bennett Field (3)
Ft. Tilden (4)
Breezy Pt. (5)
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (6)

- - - - -

Various Brooklyn Locations, 5/14/2005
1) Common Loon (4)
2) Northern Gannet (5)
3) Double-crested Cormorant (All.)
4) Least Bittern (6)
5) Great Blue Heron (4)
6) Great Egret (all)
7) Snowy Egret (1)
8) Green Heron (2)
9) Black-crowned Night-Heron (1, 2, 6)
10) Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (1, 6)
11) Glossy Ibis (1, 3, 6)
12) Canada Goose (All.)
13) Brant (1, 3, 4, 5, 6)
14) Mute Swan (2, 6)
15) Wood Duck (2)
16) Gadwall (6)
17) Eurasian Wigeon (6)
18) American Wigeon (6)
19) American Black Duck
20) Mallard (All.)
21) Northern Shoveler (6)
22) Bufflehead (Spring Creek.)
23) Osprey (2, 6)
24) Northern Harrier (3, 6)
25) Red-tailed Hawk (2)
26) American Kestrel (3)
27) Peregrine Falcon (4)
28) Ring-necked Pheasant (1, 3)
29) Clapper Rail (1, 6)
30) Sora (6)
31) Black-bellied Plover (6)
32) Semipalmated Plover (6)
33) Piping Plover (5)
34) Killdeer (1, 3, 4)
35) American Oystercatcher (1, 3, 4, 5 6)
36) Greater Yellowlegs (1, 6)
37) Willet (6)
38) Spotted Sandpiper (1, 2, 3, 6)
39) Ruddy Turnstone (6)
40) Sanderling (4, 5)
41) Least Sandpiper (6)
42) Dunlin (6)
43) Wilson's Snipe (1)
44) American Woodcock (1 & Shore Pkwy near exit 11N.)
45) Laughing Gull (All.)
46) Ring-billed Gull (All.)
47) Herring Gull (All.)
48) Great Black-backed Gull (All.)
49) Common Tern (1, 3, 4, 5, 6)
50) Forster's Tern (1, 3, 4, 5, 6)
51) Least Tern (1, 5)
52) Black Skimmer (1, 5, 6)
53) Rock Pigeon (All.)
54) Mourning Dove (All.)
55) Monk Parakeet (Avenue T.)
56) Yellow-billed Cuckoo (2)
57) Common Nighthawk (Park Slope.)
58) Chimney Swift (All.)
59) Ruby-throated Hummingbird (4)
60) Belted Kingfisher (1)
61) Red-bellied Woodpecker (2)
62) Downy Woodpecker (2)
63) Hairy Woodpecker (2)
64) Northern Flicker (2, 6)
65) Willow Flycatcher (1)
66) Least Flycatcher (2)
67) Great Crested Flycatcher (2)
68) Eastern Kingbird (2, 6)
69) White-eyed Vireo (3, 6)
70) Blue-headed Vireo (2)
71) Warbling Vireo (2, 3, 6)
72) Red-eyed Vireo (2, 6)
73) Blue Jay (All.)
74) American Crow (1, 2)
75) Fish Crow (3, 6)
76) Tree Swallow (1, 2, 3, 6)
77) Northern Rough-winged Swallow (2)
78) Barn Swallow (2)
79) Black-capped Chickadee (2)
80) Tufted Titmouse (2)
81) Carolina Wren (4, 6)
82) House Wren (2, 4, 6)
83) Marsh Wren (1)
84) Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (2)
85) Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2)
86) Veery (2, 6)
87) Swainson's Thrush (2)
88) Wood Thrush (2)
89) American Robin (All.)
90) Gray Catbird (1, 2, 3, 4, 6)
91) Northern Mockingbird (1, 2, 3, 4, 6)
92) Brown Thrasher (1, 2, 3, 4, 6)
93) European Starling (All.)
94) Cedar Waxwing (2)
95) Nashville Warbler (2)
96) Northern Parula (2, 6)
97) Yellow Warbler (1, 2, 3, 4, 6)
98) Chestnut-sided Warbler (2, 6)
99) Magnolia Warbler (2, 6)
100) Black-throated Blue Warbler (2, 6)
101) Yellow-rumped Warbler (2, 6)
102) Black-throated Green Warbler (2, 6)
103) Blackburnian Warbler (2)
104) Prairie Warbler (2)
105) Bay-breasted Warbler (2)
106) Blackpoll Warbler (2)
107) Black-and-white Warbler (2)
108) American Redstart (2)
109) Worm-eating Warbler (2)
110) Ovenbird (2, 6)
111) Northern Waterthrush (1, 2)
112) Louisiana Waterthrush (2)
113) Common Yellowthroat (1, 2, 3, 4, 6)
114) Wilson's Warbler (2)
115) Canada Warbler (2)
116) Scarlet Tanager (2)
117) Northern Cardinal (2, 4, 6)
118) Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1, 2)
119) Eastern Towhee (4, 6)
120) Chipping Sparrow (2, 3, 6)
121) Field Sparrow (3)
122) Savannah Sparrow (3, 6)
123) Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow (1)
124) Seaside Sparrow (6)
125) Song Sparrow (1, 2, 3, 4, 6)
126) Swamp Sparrow (1, 2, 6)
127) White-throated Sparrow (2, 3, 6)
128) White-crowned Sparrow (3, 4, 6)
129) Red-winged Blackbird (1, 2, 3, 4, 6)
130) Common Grackle (1, 2, 3, 4, 6)
131) Boat-tailed Grackle (6)
132) Brown-headed Cowbird (All.)
133) Baltimore Oriole (2)
134) House Finch (2, 6)
135) American Goldfinch (4, 6)
136) House Sparrow (All.)


Mike said...


Rob J. said... feet are still tired.

Marion Khonin said...

It's funny that the Monty Python scene actually had to do with swallows.

Rob J. said...

"An African or European swallow?"
"What? I...I don't know that! Auuuuuuuugh!"

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