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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Coastal Birding in Brooklyn & Queens

No fronts have moved through the area for four days and more south wind and hot weather was forecast for today. We accepted that the conditions were less than ideal for fall migration birding because it was the only day Shane and I both had off. We headed to coastal Brooklyn and Queens to see what we could find.

Wet Grass at Fort Tilden

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We arrived at Fort Tilden by first light and spent the next 7 hours birding Fort Tilden, Riis Park and Floyd Bennett Field. As expected it was slim pickings but there were still a few bright spots during the day.

Early in the morning there was still a haze over the ocean so it was tough to identify anything other than the obvious terns and gulls. A small flock of Black Skimmers were still present in front of the Breezy Point cooperative. They looked to be mostly young birds. Fairly large flocks of Blue Jays were flying parallel to the beach on their way south. Tree Swallows are also on the move. We scoped a “swarm” of several thousand in the air above Little Egg Marsh.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) & Milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

In Ft. Tilden we watched in amusement a lone Yellow Warbler feasting on an unexpected windfall. There was a mass of tiny, white flies in a stationary position between two tree tops. The warbler was flying from one treetop to the other through the center of the insects. He likely remained in the spot all day expending little energy while fattening up for the continuation of his southbound journey.

We counted 2 or 3 Merlins between Ft. Tilden and Riis Park. One Merlin, at the Riis Park parking lot, spent a few minutes aggressively flying back and forth between a crow perched in a tree at the edge of the lot and one perched on a steel sign. We drove next to him from a safe distance to see how fast he was flying. He reached about 30MPH before pummeling each crow.

Sanderlings at Riis Park (Calidris alba)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At the ocean’s edge, thousands of Sanderlings have assembled in distinct flocks. Periodically small groups would break off and fly down the beach, constantly growing or shrinking the size of each flock. A Peregrine Falcon, no doubt stalking his prey from his lofty perch atop the Marine Parkway Bridge, made several breakneck passes at the small sandpipers. Like a shoal of silvery herrings several hundred Sanderlings formed a tight-knit flying ball, ebbing and flowing in unpredictable directions as they eluded the predator.

-Click to learn more about Sanderlings-

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) at Fort Tilden

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I noticed that Monarch butterfly numbers have increased in recent days. Like their avian counterparts, these insects have an arduous journey south to their wintering grounds. I’m amazed that any of these diaphanous creatures complete the trip.

-Click to learn more about Monarch Butterfly migration-

Sparrow numbers were pretty low with Savannah Sparrow being the only species of any abundance. We spotted one Field Sparrow along the golf course fence at Riis Park. A single, juvenile White-crowned Sparrow was seen at Floyd Bennett Field in the community gardens, as well as, a Lincoln’s Sparrow. One sparrow caught our attention at the same location but remained hidden as it scurried around under rows of white eggplants and tomatoes. We settled in for a long wait and, eventually, a Vesper Sparrow gradually came out into the open. I was able to get very good looks from an adjacent plot. Ironically, as we were watching, the owner of that plot showed up to do some weeding. It’s a weekday and there’s nobody else working in the gardens. What’s the likelihood that, of the dozens of plots in the community gardens, someone needed to be right where we patiently waited 30 minutes for the sparrow to come out? At least she hadn’t arrived earlier. Oh, and yes, she did chase the sparrow away.

Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

- - - - -

Fort Tilden, Riis Park, Floyd Bennett Field, 10/4/2005
Great Egret (5 flying together over Riis Park promenade.)
Osprey (Ft. Tilden.)
Northern Harrier (Soaring over Little Egg Marsh, seen from FBF.)
American Kestrel 1, Ft. Tilden. 2, Floyd Bennett Field.)
Merlin (2 or 3 between Ft. Tilden and Riis Park.)
Peregrine Falcon (Riis Park, chasing Sanderlings.)
American Oystercatcher (2, Riis Park.)
Sanderling (approx. 2000, Riis Park.)
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Black Skimmer (35-40, Breezy Pt., seen from west end of Ft. Tilden.)
Monk Parakeet (Ave. I.)
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher (2, FBF. Chasing each other at end of Archery Rd.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee (2 or 3, Ft. Tilden.)
Eastern Phoebe
Red-eyed Vireo (Ft. Tilden.)
Tree Swallow (Many at Ft. Tilden. Several thousand seen over Little Egg marsh.)
Black-capped Chickadee (2, Ft. Tilden.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Riis Park, pines at rear of golf course.)
Brown Creeper (Ft. Tilden near visitor's center.)
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Yellow Warbler (Ft. Tilden.)
Magnolia Warbler (Riis Park.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Riis Park near golf course entrance.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)
Prairie Warbler (Ft. Tilden community gardens.)
Palm Warbler (Floyd Bennett Field community gardens.)
Common Yellowthroat (A few at all locations.)
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow (Riis Park, field at rear of golf course.)
Vesper Sparrow (Floyd Bennett Field community gardens.)
Savannah Sparrow (Common.)
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow (Floyd Bennett Field community gardens.)
White-crowned Sparrow (Floyd Bennett Field community gardens.)
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch (Floyd Bennett Field community gardens.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Double-crested Cormorant, Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, European Starling, House Finch, House Sparrow


John said...

Hi Rob,

Great blog! Love your photos.

May I use one of the Queens ones on You'll get photo credit and a link to your blog. Please email me: queens at

Bradley Sliva said...

Nice catalog of wildlife on the Fort Tilden site!

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