Friday, March 31, 2006

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Early morning at Big Egg Marsh

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for a satellite view of the refuge-

Last night the wind was pretty steady out of the south and southwest. All three of us were optimistic that we’d see an influx of early migrants. We got a jump on the day by heading out to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge at dawn.

It happens to me every year around this time; migration-impatience. It’s only March 31st but I’ve begun checking weather reports, as well as, birding lists from states south of New York City (maybe I'll be able to see what's coming). I should probably just keep my binoculars in the drawer for another two weeks. Yeah, that’ll happen.

Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)


(Photo credit - Rob J)

There were some promising signs of spring at Jamaica Bay. The early arriving Tree Swallows have already claimed the best nest boxes. Pairs of chittering swallows darted back and forth low over the West Pond trail and fearlessly perched seemingly within arms reach. An Osprey was standing on the perch above the West Pond nest. Another one was heard chirping in the sky nearby. Two more were over the East Pond. We hadn’t seen any Glossy Ibis around the pond until we were returning to the parking lot. A small flock of six or seven individuals were seen arriving and descending towards the shoreline.

Osprey on nest at JBWR

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Carolina Wrens were in breeding mode and sang loudly from perches throughout the gardens and near the Visitor’s Center. Small numbers of Horned Grebes scattered around the waterways have molted into their impressive, chestnut and gold breeding plumage. A Laughing Gull flying towards the West Pond was a first for us this season. Pretty soon their calls will become the dominant sound along the shore, replacing the winter sound of Ring-billed Gulls.

While walking the trail along the West Pond a pair of dowitchers flew overhead towards South Marsh. At first we assumed that they were Long-billed Dowitchers based on the date. They weren’t calling and we never relocated them on the ground in the marsh. At home we all compared the status of Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitcher at this time of year. Short-billed have been recorded as early as 20 March. Long-billed have only been recorded in the spring three times since 1976, however, they are occasionally recorded on Long Island in the winter. Short-billed Dowitcher has also been recorded in the winter. The bottom line is that, without the benefit of close scrutiny (or a voice), we’ll only ever know the surname of the birds we glimpsed today.

-Click here for an article on dowitcher comparison-

Also of note today was my first Pine Warbler sighting of the season. Another great sign of spring was the tinkling of bell calls of tiny Spring Peepers concealed around the edges of Big John's Pond.


Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

- - - - -

Big Egg Marsh & JBWR, 3/31/2006
-
Red-throated Loon (Bay off Big Egg Marsh.)
Horned Grebe (Several in breeding plumage.)
Great Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis (Several at West Pond.)
Snow Goose (4, West Pond.)
Brant
Wood Duck (4 or 5, flyover.)
Gadwall
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Osprey (2, West Pond. 2, East Pond.)
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Killdeer
American Oystercatcher
Greater Yellowlegs (4, West Pond.)
Dunlin
dowitcher spp.
Laughing Gull (1, flying over West Pond, calling.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Monk Parakeet (Several around nests along Avenue I.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (South Garden.)
Northern Flicker (Several.)
Eastern Phoebe (Several.)
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow (Common.)
Black-capped Chickadee (1, South Garden.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1, South Garden.)
Carolina Wren (Several singing.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Several.)
Gray Catbird (2 or 3.)
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler (2, Big John's Pond.)
Pine Warbler (1, Big John's Pond, female.)
Eastern Towhee (South & North Gardens.)
Field Sparrow (1, East Pond near East Garden.)
Savannah Sparrow (Next to Visitor's Center.)
Swamp Sparrow (South Garden.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose Mute Swan American Black Duck Mallard Herring Gull Rock Pigeon Mourning Dove Downy Woodpecker Blue Jay American Crow American Robin European Starling Northern Cardinal Song Sparrow Red-winged Blackbird House Sparrow

Eco-Logic Radio Show

Here's a bit of gratuitous self-promotion. This is my first participation in a real radio show (college radio doesn't count), so I hope I don't say anything too controversial...just kidding. It should be an interesting show. And, yes, that's my real last name.

From: Ken Gale
Sent: Thu, 30 Mar 2006 23:58:21 -0500
Subject: Birding radio show - broadcast, internet-streamed and podcast

Hi, folks,

On Tuesday morning, April 4, 2006 11 AM, I'll be doing a one-hour radio show on birds and birding. I've been producing and hosting Eco-Logic, WBAI-FM's environmental show, for nearly four years and the last birding show I did was Sept. 2002 (although I've covered Project Safe Flight and a few other bird-oriented political issues in between). That 2002 show was a little Manhattan-centric. This time, my panel will include Alexei Kondratiev from Queens, Rob Jett from Brooklyn and Manhattanite Alan Messer, current president of the Linnaean Society. We'll talk about birds and birding, relating being in nature with protecting it. Please tell other bird lists about the show.

The WBAI signal (99.5 FM) is transmitted from the Empire State Building and gets out to New Haven, CT; East Hampton, L.I.; the Pocono's of PA; Trenton and Princeton, NJ and Putnam County, NY. There is a live stream as well and the connection is easy, even with a dial-up modem (it's what I use). Just go to the Eco-Logic web site (below). If the equipment at the station is working, the show will be archived for 90 days on http://www.archive.wbai.org.

Happy bird-day,
Ken

Ken Gale
http://www.comicbookradioshow.com/eco-logic.html

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Other Red-tailed Hawk updates

Below are a couple of NYC nesting Red-tailed Hawk updates:

"Subject: Greenwood Red-Tails..Good news
Date: 3/25/06 3:18 PM

I was in Greenwood briefly today. As I passed the vicinity of the nest, I heard a strange sound I'm not familiar with. Following the sound towards a pine tree I witnessed the redtail pair mating! 
 
Hopefully they will be productive. Im holding a good thought. :-)
 
Marge"


The following is about an annual nesting pair in Inwood Hill Park at the northern end of Manhattan:

Inwood Hill Park & Hudson River

(Photo credit - Google Earth)

"Subject: Inwood Hill RT nesting
Date: 3/27/06 12:09 PM

Saturday 3PM. Binocular view of still-leafless Inwood Park Hill from north across the Spuyten Duyvil showed a Red Tail Hawk nest still high (and inaccessible) on the ridge in last year's location. With the telescope, Barry and I saw a hawk on the nest. She was very tawny-pale on head and shoulders. (As in Pale Male pale?).

Rita Freed"

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Two early spring insects

Sean and I rode our bicycles around Prospect Park in the afternoon. The activity was part exercise and part birding (well, a lot of birding).

Honeybee and Star Magnolia

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I still haven’t seen or heard my first Pine Warbler of the year but did make some other spring observations. At the Rose Garden, above the Vale of Cashmere, I stopped to photograph a Star Magnolia tree. The buds have begun opening and I wanted to get a pre-bloom image. As I was getting ready to take the photo a Honeybee flew into the blossoming flower. Pollen was visible on his pollen baskets. Also seen today were several Mourning Cloak butterflies.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A small flock of Ring-necked Ducks remains on the Upper pool.

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/28/2006
-
Pied-billed Grebe (2, Prospect Lake.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (1, Duck Island.)
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck (12, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk (1, on nest. 1, perched near West Is.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull (1.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (Approx. 10.)
Tree Swallow (1, over Prospect Lake.)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren (Singing on Lookout Hill.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Several.)
Hermit Thrush (1, Vale of Cashmere.)
Cedar Waxwing (3, Ginkgo next to Terrace Bridge.)
Fox Sparrow (A few.)
Swamp Sparrow (1, phragmites at edge of Peninsula Meadow.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch (4, Vale of Cashmere.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (Common.), Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Are we there yet?

Japanese Magnolia bud

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Yesterday I took a slow bicycle ride around Prospect Park. My route was an indirect meander from the north end of the park, through the woodland trails, along the edges of the meadows and ending at the lake.

Recent wind direction and temperatures were (unfortunately) typical of this time of year. I missed out on the first, very brief south winds and migrant push. Actually, I think it was more of a nudge than a push. I haven’t seen my first Pine Warbler of the season yet and was hoping to locate one today. I did not.

Red-breasted Nuthatch and Black-capped Chickadee tussling

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At the Vale of Cashmere somebody has placed a scattering of shelled sunflower seeds on the five bulky, stone balusters surrounding the pond. White-throated Sparrows, chickadees, titmouse and cardinals (the expected winter suspects) were busy eating or storing the seeds. One selfish cardinal attempted to claim a baluster as his own but unrelenting chickadees were way too fast to be intimidated or chased away. Of the other winter visitors, at least two sapsuckers and one Brown Creeper remain in the park. A flock of boisterous crows near Flatbush Avenue were mobbing some unseen predator. I assumed that it was a Red-tailed Hawk until I heard the shrill, sustained “kee-ya, kee-ya, kee-ya” of a Red-shouldered Hawk. Rather than chase down the hawk I followed him with my ears as he flew towards the north end of the park. During the most recent Christmas Bird Count I believe a record number of Red-shouldered Hawks were recorded within New York City.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The cold temperature and heavy, gray overcast sky overwhelmed most of the subtle signs of spring. Patches of daffodils radiated from isolated pockets at the park’s woodland edges. Phoebes hawking for insects along the edges of the lake and Lullwater were the only apparent avian sign of spring migration. On Prospect Lake an approximate total of fifty Ruddy Ducks and Northern Shovelers remain of the several hundred that overwintered. I checked the Long-eared Owl roost and, after spending 76 days in Brooklyn, he appears to have headed back north.

Daffodil pistil and stamens

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Another migratory observation was of dozens of Song Sparrows now present in the park. There are always some Song Sparrows residing in the park but in recent days their numbers have noticeably jumped. I watched one at the edge of the Lullwater behaving in a way that I’ve never observed. He was sallying, with fluttery wings, a short distance into air, much like a phoebe hawking for insects. I assumed that he was feeding on small clouds of flies that are now visible around the area. When I returned home I read in “The Birder’s Handbook” that he was more likely displaying for a nearby female. Other hormonally transfixed birds were Fox Sparrows performing their sweet, melodic warble from perches along the Lullwater and the Peninsula.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/25/2006
-
Northern Shoveler (Approx. 25, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-necked Duck (11, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck (Approx. 25, Prospect Lake.)
Red-shouldered Hawk (Mobbed by crows & calling near Vale of Cashmere.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1 on Ravine nest.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1 female, Vale. 1 male, Peninsula.)
Eastern Phoebe (6, between Lullwater and point.)
American Crow (Approx. 12 mobbing hawk.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (1, Vale of Cashmere.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1, Vale of Cashmere.)
Brown Creeper (Ravine, near Lower pool.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (4, Terrace Bridge.)
Northern Mockingbird (Peninsula Meadow.)
Fox Sparrow (3, Vale of Cashmere. 4, Lullwater.)
Song Sparrow (Common.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (Common.), Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Fordham hawks update

Rose with rat and banded leg

(Photo credit - Thomas Raj)

I received the following update from Chris Lyons regarding the Red-tailed Hawks nesting at Fordham's Rose Hill campus. He also included the above photo taken last year. It shows that Rose was banded at some point in time. Chris is checking with Chris Nadareski, Wildlife Biologist and Peregrine Expert for NYC Department of Environmental Protection. He may have banded Rose the year she nested on a fire escape. It's a long report but, as always, I enjoy Chris' writing:

"Coming in to work this Monday (3/20), I was eager to check out the nest on Collins Hall, because it was on 3/21/2005 that I first saw Rose sitting regularly in the now-abandoned tree nest by the library. The previous two weeks, I'd seen plenty of evidence that they were serious about this new nest, and watched them add a fair bit of material to it; Rose ripping slender flexible branches from oak trees, and Hawkeye snipping fresh green shoots from coniferous trees. Hawkeye, it seems to me, has a particular fondness for adding this type of branch to the nest, a normal behavior of nesting Red-Tails that he takes to extremes. Last year, somebody got a shot of the old nest from a cherry picker used to prune the campus trees, before Rose had laid her eggs. The bottom of the nest was heavily lined with evergreen branches, perhaps 20 or more, of varying lengths. The theory is that they help control feather mites, since the incubating female can't do much preening to keep those little buggers in check. If this theory is correct, Rose should be having no problem with feather mites.

Rose (?) earlier this month

(Photo credit - Richard Fleisher)

I'm hoping this added insulation will mean that the eggs won't be adversely affected by the pigeon spikes the nest was built on, as may have happened last year with Pale Male and Lola's unhatched clutch. Though building-nesting Red-Tails are not so rare as was once thought, this is only the second nest I've heard of that is built on pigeon wire, and almost certainly the first nest Hawkeye and Rose have built on pigeon wire.

However, it may not be the first nest they've constructed on a building. Still trying to find some way to confirm that Hawkeye and Rose are the same Red-Tails that built a nest on an apartment building fire escape on Creston Ave. in the Bronx, only few blocks away from Fordham. They successfully hatched young there in 2004, only to have their young taken away, and the nest dismantled, due to fears that some local kids might harm the chicks (or try to make pets of them). Studying pictures of the Creston Ave. female, I'm almost convinced it's Rose, but still trying to find out if that female was banded. Rose has a silver metal band on her right leg--and there's a good chance Chris Nadareski banded the Creston Ave. female. Reading the numbers on the band would be very difficult, but far as I'm concerned, if I can confirm that female was banded, it's almost a certainty that it's the same female sitting on Collins Hall right now--and no reason to think she changed mates in the interim.

Rose (?) earlier this month

(Photo credit - Richard Fleisher)

If this can be confirmed, it means these two built a nest on a fire escape adjacent to a tiny Bronx park in 2004, then in an oak tree next to a university library in 2005, and then inside a triangular pediment on top of a different university building this year. If they succeed in getting young off this spring, they'll have performed one hell of a hat trick. Three different nests, three sets of eyasses (though they didn't get to see the first brood fledge), in three consecutive years. Pale Male may have consistency and longevity on his side, but Hawkeye and Rose win the prize for versatility and flexibility.

But first, they've got to get this year's eggs laid and hatched. I saw strong evidence over the course of this week that Rose has started laying her clutch. On Monday morning, I saw Hawkeye in the nest--possibly giving her a break, assuming she spent all night sitting on an egg. Later, I saw Rose there--it's fairly easy to tell them apart, if you can get a good look at the head of the incubating bird. Rose's head is a much richer brown.

On Tuesday, I saw Rose on the nest in the morning--later in the day, I saw both of them out of the nest--and then they copulated on the steeple of Fordham's University Church, an 1845 Gothic Revival gem, and long a favorite perch of theirs, which is right next to Collins Hall. Nobody seemed to mind them doing this--I was probably the only human present at the time who even noticed. But I couldn't help wondering if this church wedding meant that divorce was now out of the question for the pair. Not sure what canon law has to say about this."


Fordham University Church

(Photo credit - Sean MacCarthy)

"As is usually the case with these situations, it's often difficult to tell if either bird is sitting in the nest. I don't think it's necessarily that they're trying to hide, either--it's just that you can only see them if they stick their heads up for a look around, or if they're sitting in such a way as that their tails stick out over the edge of the sticks, or if they get up for a stretch, or to turn the eggs. Judging by how often I saw one or the other in the nest, I'm pretty sure there are some eggs by now. However, if Rose isn't finished laying her clutch, they may be delaying serious incubation, to keep the eggs from hatching too far apart. This delayed incubation can make it tricky predicting a hatching date, and had me seriously confused last year.

As of today, I'm pretty sure Rose has been in the nest all the time, with Hawkeye standing guard when he's not hunting. It was fairly warm at lunchtime, and there would have been no danger in leaving one or two eggs unattended for a bit, but she was sitting faithfully all the same. So maybe there'll be hatchlings around a month from now, or maybe it'll be a bit longer--and maybe not at all, of course. I hope they laid enough branches on top of those spikes. It was on 5/9/05 that I first saw two white fuzzy heads poke up out of the old nest. They were about a week old then, I estimated. Hawkeye and Rose seem to be working on a very similar schedule this year, but it's a very different situation. Here's hoping for a hat trick."

Friday, March 24, 2006

Meet the Ravine hawks

Ravine nest long view

(Photo credit - Rob J)

This afternoon I only had about an hour to spend watching the ravine Red-tailed Hawk pair. I brought my spotting scope with me.

It seems silly but, as I think back to previous year’s hawk nest vigils, I remember each species of tree that I used as my front row seat. The first year I had a hefty log to use as a seat at the base of a Norway Maple. The following year Big Mama and her mate chose a European Beech north of the zoo for their nest. I chose the trunk of a mature Black Cherry tree that came down during a storm. Each year the pair seemed to move higher up and, in 2004, they built a nest in the penthouse of a towering Tulip tree on Payne Hill. That season I found my best seat yet on a wide, sloping buttress at the base of an elm tree. The following year I gave my behind a rest as “my“ hawks didn’t breed. This year I’ll be monitoring the ”new“ Red-tailed Hawk family from the base of a huge oak tree.

Ravine Red-tailed Hawk male?

(Photo credit - Rob J)

As I walked up the hill towards ”the spot“ I heard a grey squirrel squealing an annoyance call. That usually means one thing and I scanned the trees for a predator. I spotted one of the red-tails perched in an oak about fifty yards south of the nest. With my bins I saw the head of his (or her) mate seated on the nest. I brushed away the leaf litter and old acorns at the base of the oak and plopped down. The sky was overcast for the hour that I monitored the nest so I couldn’t take any decent photos. I think I also arrived after their lunch break as both hawks were inactive from 1:30pm until about 2:15pm. At that time the hawk that the squirrel was concerned about took flight and made ascending circles over Quaker Ridge while gradually sliding north.

Ravine Red-tailed Hawk female?

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Last year I remember a few aggressive encounters on Payne Hill between the two pairs of hawk. Perhaps the Ravine pair won out in a territorial dispute that drove Big Mama and her mate to search for a new domain. Today was my first real introduction to the hawk pair with the penchant for pine trees. The light was terrible and I didn’t notice any distinguishing characteristics on the perched bird and all I ever saw of the other was her head.

For nearly an hour the hawk incubating the eggs sat motionless while staring off to the west. I sat nearly motionless staring off to the north, at her. There was a cloud of insects flying around in front of the nest. She snapped at one of the flies. That was the extent of her activity while I was observing. I wondered if she was thinking about her future family. Do hawks daydream and if they do what would it be? Maybe she was using her acute vision to follow the movements of a distant rodent. Perhaps she wasn’t thinking of anything, but merely meditating on her eggs. I pondered these world-changing issues until my butt told me it was time to leave. As I was standing I briefly stumbled and flushed a woodcock. Apparently, the entire time that I was watching the hawk nest, he was sitting camouflaged in the dried leaves about two yards to my left. He took off, wings twittering, flashing me his rusty, rear then disappearing near the Lower Pool.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) male flowers

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/24/2006
-
Red-tailed Hawk (2. One on nest, one perched nearby.)
American Coot (2, Lower pool.)
American Woodcock (1, Quaker Ridge.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee (4 or 5 in Ravine.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Ravine.)
Brown Creeper (1, Ravine.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (4 or 5, Ravine.)
Fox Sparrow (1, Ravine.)
American Goldfinch (Several in Sycamore near Litchfield Villa.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Hawks and willows

Crocuses

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At lunchtime yesterday I took a run into Prospect Park. I was looking for a way to get a clear view of the Ravine Red-tailed Hawk nest. When I arrived a hawk was sitting on the nest, although all I could see was an obstructed view of her head. From the opposite ridge I located a spot at the base of an oak tree that looked really good. It affords a view through the trees and it doesn’t appear that it will be blocked when the trees leaf out. Next time I’ll bring my scope and digiscope some photos of the nest.

Ravine pine tree nest

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I don’t know this pair of red-tails very well and have given them only passing notice over the years. They nested at the top of a conifer within the Quaker Cemetery (in Prospect Park) in 2002. When 2003 rolled around they decided to move a short distance north, to the top of a conifer in the Ravine. They’ve continued to use that nest every year. I sat for about 15 minutes and didn’t see any interactions between her and her mate. I had limited time so I left and walked over to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I’ll spend more time starting this weekend.

Forsythia (Forsythia spp.)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The garden’s collection of pussywillows and willows are at a beautiful stage of growth. Their fuzzy buds are opening to reveal tiny, multi-colored florets. I was especially captivated by the Black willow. Crocuses are blooming in large patches along the west side of the garden and Forsythias are moments away from a brilliant, yellow explosion.

Japanese Pussy Willow (Salix gracilistyla)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Black Pussy Willow (Salix gracilistyla var. melanostachys)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I decided to exit the garden from the north gate. That way I could walk into the park near Grand Army Plaza and check the forest leaf litter for American Woodcock as I headed home. They’ve begun migrating and some have already started courting. Woodcocks are strange looking birds with eyes placed farther to the back of their head than the front. During courtship the males make a nasal “peenting” call that always makes me smile. Their brown, black and rust cryptic plumage make them virtually disappear in dried leaves. Years ago I almost stepped on one but noticed it when my boot was about six inches from the motionless bird.

There is a fenced off area on Payne Hill that had extensive leaf litter. In past years I’ve found as many as four woodcocks in that spot. Unfortunately, people have cut holes in the fence and use the area for illicit activities. The underbrush and leaf litter is now almost non-existant and the soil badly compacted. I was grumbling to myself about the problem as I walked parallel to the fence. I hoped that I might find a woodcock in the drift of leaves that have piled up at the base of the fence. I wasn’t even looking through the fence when, from the corner of my eye, I noticed a small orange ball. A woodcock was standing behind the fence in a bare patch of soil, probably wondering where all the leaves went. I called Sean on my cellphone and sat down on the grass so that I wouldn’t scare the bird. After we watched him for a few minutes I crawled up to the fence and shot some photos through my bins. They aren’t very good photos but you get the idea of the unique look of this bird.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) on Payne Hill



(Photo credit - Rob J)

Another interesting observation today was of dozens of male American Robins passing through the park. I'm sure many of them will also establish breeding territory in Prospect Park. As sweet as robins seem I've seen many brutal territorial fights between the males once the females arrive.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/21/2006
-
Ring-necked Duck (11, Upper pool.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1, sitting on Ravine nest.)
American Coot (2, Lower pool.)
Killdeer (Long Meadow.)
American Woodcock (Payne Hill behind fence.)
Eastern Phoebe (3, the pools.)
American Crow (3.)
Black-capped Chickadee (Common.)
Tufted Titmouse (1.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (3, Midwood.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (3.)
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch (3, Rick's Place.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin (Common.), European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird

Monday, March 20, 2006

Green-Wood Cemetery hawks update

I just received the following optimistic report from Marge regarding another set of Brooklyn Red-tailed Hawks:

"Hi Rob
 
Joe Borker and I went birding today in Green-Wood. We had some nice early migrants: Pine Warbler (very bright plumage, gorgeous) and Phoebe. The Pied-billed Grebe is still on Sylvan Water.
 
We saw the usual red-tail activity. Three hawks circling around. We have the one lone red-tail hanging around all the time. We went towards Ocean Hill and the old nest and we watched a red-tail bring in new nesting material. We found him/her sitting in the nest. WOW.. something we havent seen. This is promising. We don't believe a mated pair is there now, but we are keeping our fingers crossed something good may happen.

You may want to come in and take a look at these red-tails to see if you can ID any of them.
 
Any news of Big Mama?
 
Marge"


I might have time this week to pedal over to the cemetery and check things out. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Long Island's east end

Looking east from Shinnecock Inlet to Montauk Pt.

(Photo credit - Google: "Google Earth" is so cool!)

Yesterday Shane, Doug and took an early morning drive from Brooklyn out to the east end of Long Island. Our primary goal was to locate a Yellow-headed Blackbird that has been seen in recent days. The bird has been lingering among the flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds at the horse farm in Montauk. From that location our strategy was to work our way back west stopping at various ponds and coastal habitats.

We had an auspicious start to the day when, within ten minutes of parking at the horse farm, I spotted the blackbird. At around 7:30am it was flying with a single Red-winged Blackbird from Roosevelt Park on the north side of the road towards the horse farm. It was never relocated after that point.

At Montauk Point it was a bit sad to see that the teeming rafts of wintering waterfowl had mostly dispersed, although there were still some small mixed flocks of scoters remaining. At the overlook next to the concession building a dauntless kestrel was attempting to stay perched in powerful north winds. The gusts persisted for the entire day making viewing on the bay side of the east end downright frigid. One of the highlights from the bay side was a Red-necked Grebe seen from Culloden Point. Still primarily wrapped in his winter plumes we could see patches of rusty red feathers on the sides of his neck.

Across from Montauk Lake inlet, in Block Island Sound, we scoped a distant flock of eiders. When the flock took flight there appeared to be many more individuals than we had originally presumed. We estimated that there were likely five thousand birds present.

Osprey on nest

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The last time I visited Hook Pond there were thousands of geese present. Yesterday all that remained were several Mute Swans. Continuing west we made a quick stop at Napeague where we found an Osprey already checking out his (or her) nest near Cranberry Hole Road. Along the beach at Sagaponack was a flock of 90 to 100 Bonaparte's Gulls. For the second time in less than a month Shane located a Black-headed Gull among the more common seabirds. Also at Sagaponack Lake was a breeding plumage Lesser Black-backed Gull. There was nothing noteworthy to report at Mecox Bay and we drove off towards Shinnecock Inlet.

Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

From the base of Ponquogue Bridge we spotted several American Oystercatchers, my first for the year. In the bay, midway between Shinnecock and the main land was another large flock of Common Eiders. While we were parking the car at the inlet we spotted the flock streaming south, through the inlet and out over the ocean. The only other observation of interest at this location was a pair of “Ipswich” Sparrows nibbling on grass seed near the parking lot. From the inlet we drove slowly along Dune Road hoping to locate a bittern. We struck out on that account but did spot a Clapper Rail scurrying around in the grass next to the road. I stepped out of the car for a better look and he dove into a hole in the grass and, as they often do, completely vanished.

"Ipswich" Sparrow



Note the new feathers coming in on its forehead
(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe (Culloden Pt.)
Great Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (5.)
Great Egret (5.)
Brant
Gadwall
Northern Pintail (Roosevelt Park.)
Common Eider
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Osprey (Napeague. On nest near Cranberry Hole Rd.)
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel (Montauk Point.)
Peregrine Falcon (Dune Road.)
Clapper Rail (Dune Road.)
Killdeer (6 or 7, Horse farm.)
American Oystercatcher (4, Shinnecock.)
Black-headed Gull (Sagaponack.)
Bonaparte's Gull (90-100, Sagaponack.)
Ring-billed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Sagaponack.)
Great Black-backed Gull
Hairy Woodpecker (Horse farm.)
Black-capped Chickadee
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird (Horse farm.)
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher (Montauk.)
Savannah "Ipswich" Sparrow (2, Shinnecock Inlet.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Yellow-headed Blackbird (Horse farm.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Marching towards Spring

Multiflora Rose

(Photo credit - Rob J)

March is an odd month in New York in that it lies somewhere between the dusk of Winter and the dawn of Spring. While teasing signs of Spring’s reawakening begin to appear, the cool, dormant months linger like an ice cream headache.

My friend Alex just sent me a reassuring e-mail about the Ravine hawk’s nest:

“Hi Rob. Maybe you heard this from Shane, but it seems clear that the Ravine nest is active. On 3/15 there was a bird sitting in the nest at 7AM; I spent about twenty minutes in the area and it didn’t leave during that time. I checked again in the afternoon and it was still on the nest. As I watched, another hawk (adult) came down to the nest. It may have brought material or food; I couldn’t see clearly enough to be sure, but it looked like there was a hand-off. It flew off quickly, leaving the other bird sitting in the nest.“

As soon as I read his note I grabbed my bins and bicycle and headed into the park. I am not very familiar with this pair as I’ve spent most of my time over the last few years following Big Mama and Splittail. This other pair has chosen nest sites that are difficult to monitor. For the second year their nest is at the top of a very large pine tree in the Ravine. When I arrived I put my bins on the nest and saw the head of a Red-tailed Hawk looking down at me. The location is surrounded by many mature deciduous tree and once they leaf out it will be impossible to watch the family. I feel a little better now knowing that at least one of our resident pair of hawks is nesting. I’ve spotted another pair several times outside of the park perimeter and above 8th Avenue in Park Slope. Most buildings in the neighborhood are only three or four stories tall. There is one tall apartment building on President Street where I last saw one of the hawks but have been unable to find any signs of a nest.

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I was surprised to find that the Long-eared Owl is still present in the park. I thought that he would have headed north by now. Most of the Northern Shovelers that overwintered on Prospect Lake have departed with only a couple of dozen remaining. Ruddy Ducks have also started to leave. Of the ones sticking around many of the males have acquired their deep rusty-brown feathers and sky-blue bills. I spotted my first Eastern Phoebe of the season near the Fallkill Falls. This unassuming little flycatcher is the symbolic front runner of the northbound migration. I smiled at the sight of this tail-pumping bird and muttered ”Yeah“. He responded with a squeaky, ”FEE-be“.

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Cardinals, Song Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos were some of the land birds I noticed practicing their spring melodies from exposed perches. The trilling call of the juncos reminded me that the similar sounding Pine Warblers should appear in force within two weeks. Early arriving male Common Grackles have staked nesting claims in conifer stands around the park. Their loud, metallic ”kh-sheee“ song competed with the repetitive ”konk-a-reee“ of nearby Red-winged Blackbirds

American Elm (Ulmus americana)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I noticed that Cornelian Cherry shrubs have begun to flower. Forsythias shouldn’t be far behind. Other flowering plants that I noticed today were American Elm, Red Maple and Pussywillow. Maybe Sunday I’ll take a walk over the the Botanic Garden for more flower photos.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/16/2006
-
Wood Duck (1 male, cove near skating rink.)
Northern Shoveler (approx. 24.)
Ring-necked Duck (13, Upper pool.)
Bufflehead (3, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck (approx. 24.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2; 1 hunting over Quaker Ridge, 1 on Ravine nest.)
Merlin (1, Nethermead Meadow.)
American Coot (approx. 12.)
Ring-billed Gull
Long-eared Owl (1.)
Hairy Woodpecker (1, Lookout Hill.)
Eastern Phoebe (1, Ravine near Fallkill Falls.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (1, near West Is.)
Hermit Thrush (1, near Fallkill Falls.)
Fox Sparrow (Fairly common.)
Swamp Sparrow (1, near West Is.)
White-throated Sparrow (Common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Fairly common.)
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch (3, near Rick's Place.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan (2.), American Black Duck (3.), Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow (A few dozen.), Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Pussywillow (click image for larger size)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Road Trip to Rochester

I’m sorry for such a late report, it’s been a weird week. That said, here’s a brief rundown of our 24 hour run to Rochester and back.

New York State

(Photo credit - Google)

What began as just a couple of us driving up to the Rochester area ended up as seven people in two cars. We were hoping to locate several boreal species that are unlikely to be found within the five boroughs of NYC. Our target species were Tundra Swan, Golden Eagle, Northern Hawk Owl, Bohemian Waxwing, White-winged Crossbill, Common Redpoll and Evening Grosbeak. In addition, we would try to find a vagrant Varied Thrush that has been reported in Webster County Park, along the shores of Lake Ontario.

I’ve never been to that section of New York State and looked forward to exploring the mostly flat, farmland habitats, marshes and lakes.

Brook in Selkirk Shores State Park

(Photo credit - Rob J)

After picking up a friend of Sean’s in the Syracuse area we headed farther north. Our itinerary was to bird along, Baum Road in Hastings, Hagen Road in Boylston (also Frazier Rd.; Maltby Rd.), Tug Hill/Ontario Lake, Selkirk Shores State Park in Richland (and the north end of Cayuga Lake), Derby Hill, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, Cayuga Marsh and Webster County Park, Webster. We would end our road trip in Lyndonville where a Northern Hawk Owl has been residing for most of the winter.

European Larch (Larix decidua)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Larch new growth

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We were four for eight by the time we began driving back to Brooklyn at 9:00pm. It may sound like the 24 hour trip was unsuccessful, however, there was one incredible event that more than made up for the missing birds.

The time and conditions were such that huge numbers of
Snow Goose had begun migrating north throughout the morning hours. For 7:00am until approximately 9:30am skeins of Snow Goose were moving across the sky of North Oswego county. It was an amazing spectacle to see seemingly unending threads of geese streaming from one end of the horizon to the other. At one point we passed a farm field that appeared to be covered by snow. We pulled off the road and watched the mass of white snow morph into a honking, flapping mass of feathers. There were several locations during the morning where we stopped the cars just to marvel at the swarms of geese. Towards the end of the day the masses of Snow Geese were supplanted by huge flocks of Canada Geese.

Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens - click images for larger size)





(Photo credit - Rob J)

Snow Goose migration map (click image for larger size)

(Map courtesy of Nebraska Game and Parks Commission)

-Click here for more info Snow Goose Migration-

And, by the way, my nemesis bird, the Golden Eagle, continues to evade me.

- - - - -

Rochester, NY, 3/11/2006
-
Red-throated Loon
Great Blue Heron
Snow Goose
Ross's Goose
Mute Swan
Trumpeter Swan
Tundra Swan
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Canvasback
Redhead
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin
American Coot
Killdeer
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Shrike
Horned Lark
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Eastern Bluebird
American Tree Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Eastern Meadowlark
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
White-winged Crossbill
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

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

Sunday, March 12, 2006

In Memoriam



While on a marathon, 1,000 mile birding road trip yesterday I received some very sad news. Arleen O'Brien, friend and naturalist, passed away at home. She was extraordinarily enthusiastic about birds, nature and life in general. You may want to take a look at her website, "Bird Joy". Well known around the New York City birding community, she will be missed.

“Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

Gilda Radner

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope