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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Prospect Park in the snow

Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

The Brooklyn Bird Club held a scheduled walk in Prospect Park today. According to their website, the focus would be early migrants. Mary said that I should mention how everyone "wussed out" because of the weather. Peter and Mary were the only ones to show up and, after a call from Peter, I joined them. It was a great day of birding highlighted by 4 very cooperative American Woodcocks on Lookout Hill.

Peter and Mary were walking past a birdy area in the park known as "lamppost J249". It's a habitat at the southern base of Lookout Hill. As the first elevated landform and forested area encountered by birds flying north across Brooklyn it's always a good spot for birds in the spring. Mary wanted to stop there and look at some Fox Sparrows. While looking at the sparrows she noticed a woodcock sitting in the snow. Moments later she found a second. By the time I arrived, a third was seen. They were all sitting very close together. A fourth was spotted landing several yards up the incline from the trio.

Three American Woodcocks (Scolopax minor)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

I've seen woodcocks before but never so close or for such an extended period of time. The birds were mainly just sleeping and preening but would occasionally walk a few feet or probe the snow for insects. They probably have the most unusual gait that I've ever observed in the bird kingdom. It's difficult to put into words but Sean Sime gave me a pretty good description; "It's as if their feet are independent from their body and that there is a pendulum swinging back and forth inside of their body." Coupled with their cryptic, leaf-litter feather pattern I suppose the wavering completes the illusion of dead leaves moving in the wind. Unfortunately, the strategy doesn't really work against an all white background.

Napping & eating

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Woodcock walking and feeding

(Video credit - Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library)

During the rest of the afternoon we speculated about whether last night's ice and snow storm had forced a large number of migrating American Woodcocks to land in Prospect Park. I surmised that there were probably a lot more of them than we were able to see.

We decided to walk through the Ravine towards the Upper Pool. Several yards passed the Nethermead Arches I stopped Peter and Mary in their tracks. There was a Red-tailed Hawk perched near the right side of the path and I didn't want to scare it off. It was eating something. Mary asked what it was eating. I said, "a woodcock". She chuckled and said, "no really" and focused her bins on the hawk. I wasn't joking, he was really eating a woodcock.

As we left the hawk to eat in peace Peter asked, "so how many woodcocks do you think are in the park today?" Mary responded, "one less".

One less

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Other interesting sightings today were Ring-necked Duck (9), Hooded Merganser (13 females in Lullwater), Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser (rare in Prospect Park), Northern Flicker (4), Eastern Phoebe (5) and Rusty Blackbird (2). A Pine Warbler seen on Breeze Hill is an over-wintering bird, not an early migrant. A Yellow-rumped Warbler spotted by Peter and Mary would, in all likelihood, also fall into that category as they aren’t usually seen until mid-April.

Finally, I was very happy to see "Alice" standing in the nest that she and "Ralph" have been using for the last 4 years. For the sake of the woodcocks, I hope that they are all long gone by the time our resident Red-tailed Hawk's offspring fledge.

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Prospect Park, 3/17/2007
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Ring-necked Duck
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Coot
American Woodcock
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pine Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch

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

1 comment:

LauraHinNJ said...

The woodcock pics are a treat - thanks!

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