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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Songs in the Midwood

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I was eating breakfast on Thursday morning when I received a call from Philip. He was in Prospect Park and spotted a Mourning Warbler in the Midwood. I had work to do but figured that I could pedal into the park, find the warbler and ride back quickly.

Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Mourning Warblers are beautiful, delicate songbirds that aren’t so much rare as rarely seen. Unlike most of the warblers, who spend their time foraging in the mid and upper story, the mourning is a solitary bird that stealthily moves about on the ground. The south and west side of the Midwood forest is carpeted with a layer of invasive Goutweed. I expected that the Mourning Warbler was most likely foraging beneath the green covering.

Mourning Warbler (Oporonis philadephia)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Arriving at the Midwood I was immediately struck by the abundance and variety of bird songs filling the air. The forest bird’s exchanges overpowered the constant drone of urban ambient sounds. Above the bridle path a Tennessee Warbler delivered his rapid-fire, tireless song. A Blackburnian Warbler high in the top of a Tuliptree took long breaks between his thin, rising melody. In the shrubs near the ground the burry, predictable phrases of Black-throated Blue Warblers contrasted the jumbled chattering of Canada Warblers. On the ground, the staccato, “teacher, teacher, teacher” from two or three Ovenbirds competed for attention with sheer volume. A background accompaniment of “cheerily, cheerio, cheerily, cheerio” from dozens of robins seemed like a metronome for the surrounding songsters. With my eyes closed and ears focused I also identified in the surrounding woods Eastern Wood-Pewee, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Eastern Towhee. Finally, it was that morning of sensory overload that I dream of every spring.

I circled the Midwood several times without locating the Mourning Warbler. On my last go round I ran into Gil and we decided to walk down the bridle path. If we didn’t find the bird, we both had to leave the park. At the southwest corner of the Midwood I propped myself up against my bike’s toptube and starred into the woods. Periodically we see something moving beneath the Goutweed. It was usually either a chipmunk or a Common Yellowthroat. Finally, a small yellow bird flew in front of us, dropped into the ground cover and began gleaning insects from the undersides of the Goutweed leaves. It was the Mourning Warbler. He even allowed us long views by perching in the open atop a tree stump. Nice.

It’s 48 hours later and my experience today was much different. There were hardly any birds singing in the Midwood. Perhaps they headed north on last night’s southwest winds. Oak trees have all dropped their catkins. Maple’s dropped theirs weeks ago and are now laden with winged seeds. European Elms, still filled with their round, flat seeds, have attracted lots of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. I heard their sweet melodies and metallic squeaks throughout the park. Black Cherry and Black Locust trees are now flowering and attracting an assortment of insects and songbirds. Warbler variety and abundance may have subsided, however, thrushes have taken their place. It seemed as though there were Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush and Wood Thrushes throughout all the park’s wooded habitats.

Near the Rose Garden I heard a large number of robins making alarm calls. I told Shane that there must be a Red-tailed Hawk close. We spotted him perched in a large locust tree surrounded by ornery robins. They were making close passes at the hawk's head so I presumed that he had raided one of their nests. The hawk made a short flight to an adjacent tree and we saw a tiny, juvenile cottontail dangling from his talons. I suppose that’s just one reason why rabbits give birth to so many offspring each year. Between all the chipmunks and rabbits present in the park I think the two hatching hawks in the Ravine will be well fed.

English Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) "crimson cloud"

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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Prospect Park, 5/20/2006
Great Egret
Red-tailed Hawk
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
House Wren
Winter Wren
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Canada Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole

Other common species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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