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Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

(After some technical difficulties - my Internet connection went down for a few days - I'm back online. I've also worked out some issues that slowed down my posting process.)

Black Locust

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Shane Blodgett and I went to the Ridgewood Reservoir, in Queens, yesterday morning before dawn. Our goal was to listen for nocturnal birds, as well as, any frogs that might be calling. Steve Nanz and Heidi Steiner (and little Veery, of course) met us there at 5:30AM.

When we arrived, it was not possible to listen for frog calls as the collective din of bird song (the dominant voices being robins) drowned out any, less enthusiastic vocalizations. We departed by 7:30AM and had identified two more species for our cumulative survey list; Ring-necked Pheasant and Common Nighthawk. A surprisingly diverse warbler list for this date included a singing Hooded Warbler, who has been present at or near the same location for at least 2 weeks. Besides Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat, there is a fair possibility of other warbler species breeding at the reservoir. I really enjoy being outdoors observing nature during any season. On the other hand, hanging around swarms of Mayflies (now present at the reservoir) is not very high on my list of fun activities. Of course, the warblers, flycatchers and dragonflies at the Ridgewood Reservoir probably wouldn't agree with me.

Kettle of Mayflies (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

A few minutes before the sun peaked over the horizon, we began noticing dragonflies emerging from the wall of phragmites that encircle the lake. My first impression was that the insects were craneflies by their slow, fluttery manner of flight. One landed on Shane's arm and we saw that they were a species of dragonfly. Steve is very familiar with our local dragonflies, but by the time he arrived, they were no longer migrating up from the lake habitat. We located several of the insects and he was fairly certain that they were Blue Dashers. He also explained that we were witness to the post-emergence maiden flights of a mass (flock?) of dragonflies. I wouldn't even venture a guess as to how many were taking flight for the first time. I'm just beginning to learn about dragonflies and Steve pointed out several other species seen in good numbers for the first couple of daylight hours.

Blue Dasher (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

While it was still dark, I noticed that something new was blooming and my eyes and lungs didn't like it. Within the last week I had been noticing that just about every locust tree was enveloped in clusters of white, dangling flowers. But I only began feeling an allergic reaction that morning. By 6AM the sun was out and we started a slow loop around the outside edge of the reservoirs. Along some stretches of the asphalt sidewalk that surrounds the reservoir, the ground was blanketed with billions of tiny, green specks. They were actually flowers and each one was so miniscule that the accumulating layer of lime looked more like pollen than petals. Could I be allergic? At home I learned that they were the blossoms of Climbing Bittersweet vines and their nearly invisible flowers are a mere 4mm wide. In some areas, they drape the reservoir's fencing in thick masses intertwined with Oriental Bittersweet, Poison Ivy and Multiflora Rose.


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Climbing Bittersweet

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

On the opposite side of the path from the fence, stretches of open ground were sprouting thickets of mixed grass. The tallest stalks were bending under the weight of new flowers. I've tried to identify a couple of the species from my photographs, but it hasn't been easy. It doesn't help that their florets are not even recognizable to me as blossoms. Then it occurred to me; grass flowers - grass pollen! I felt a little better knowing that it was likely the grass pollen that had been making my eyes itch. Who am I kidding? It didn't make one bit of difference, I closed the windows, turned on the air conditioner and looked at pictures of the grass flowers.

Grass florets (click for close-up)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

On our first night noise survey at the reservoir we got started a bit later than planned and only had a brief period of time for listening before daybreak. We hope to have time within the next 7 days to give it another shot.

Shane dropped me off at home and, from there, my wife and I cycled to Green-Wood Cemetery. The cemetery was having a special Memorial Day event in recognition of Civil War Veterans. It was the culmination of 5 years of research locating forgotten veterans buried at Green-Wood. In addition to our general interest in history, I was concerned about the red-tails that were still in the nest. Marge and I had been discussing the issue for the last month, I just did think I should post anything about it here.

As part of the event, there were many Civil War re-enactors playing different roles. Among the soldiers, wives and sharpshooters was an artillery unit. That unit had two authentic canons...which would be fired several times. I realize that urban Red-tailed Hawks have probably adapted to the noise and activity of a busy city, but canon blasts aren’t something that they (or we humans) hear everyday. Positioned only 400 yards from the two young birds, I was afraid that the noise might scare them right out of the tree.

Green-Wood Cemetery battery (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

My wife and I were seated in front of the podium, which was approximately 250 yards southwest of the nest. We were positioned so that I could watch the activities, as well as, Big Mama, who was perched at the top of a cedar tree opposite the nest. I also had a partial view of the nest. Bruce Yolton was taking photos on the hill right below the nest. When the first canon shots were fired, Big Mama was so startled that she looked as if a gust of wind swept her from her perch. She flew directly to the nest tree, where she stayed for the duration of the ceremony. From my ear's perspective, the noise level really wasn't too excessive, but the physical percussion was intense. The tremor caused by the exploding canons was so substantial that each firing caused dozens of the pendular fruits on surrounding linden trees to shake from their branches and spiral down on us like tiny helicopters.

After 4 or 5 canon volleys (over an hour period) we saw something amusing that, apparently, none of the dozens of media personnel present observed. During a presentation honoring a regiment of sharpshooters killed in the war, a re-enactment group in full uniform and with muzzleloading long rifles marched to an area behind the podium. There is a sprawling European Linden tree on the hillside, several yards behind the podium. On command, the soldiers loaded their weapons, pointed them towards the linden and fired. Seconds later, Junior flew out of the Linden Tree and off in the direction of the antenna tower. I lost sight of him when he flew behind some trees, but he didn't seem like he was in any hurry. He had been perched out of sight, but only about halfway to the top of the tree, so he was pretty noticeable when he flew.

Green-Wood Cemetery nest (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - D. Bruce Yolton)

After the ceremony we walked up the hill to the nest and met with Bruce. He told us that the eyass seemed to ignore the canon blasts. I wish I could have said the same about me. The young nestlings are now close to, or at, brancher stage. That is when they begin to climb around on limbs outside of the nest. It won’t be long before they make their maiden voyage. As we were walking towards the exit along the top of the hill, the "Blue Angels" streaked overhead in a "Missing Man" formation. It seemed like a fitting finale for the morning's Memorial Day event. Listen to an NPR broadcast about the event here.

Prospect Park nest (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - D. Bruce Yolton)

Bruce walked back to Prospect Park where we met and I brought him to Alice and Ralph’s nest. Had I just e-mailed him directions, it would have been unlikely that he'd find their well hidden nursery. Their nest's placement is more similar to one in a dense forest than most urban sites. Once at the nest, he was thrilled to have been able to see both eyass. It brought his total for young nestling Red-tailed Hawks seen this season to an amazing 14 individuals.

Bruce in the jungles of Brooklyn

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

My long day continued after I had given Bruce a brief tour of Prospect Park and pointed him towards the subway. You can see more of his photos and read his posting about the Prospect Park nest here.

Town cryer of 5th Street

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

As sunset approached, my wife and I climbed the stairs to our rooftop to relax, look out over lower Manhattan and drink a glass of wine. You would think that, after beginning the day birding at 4AM, I'd leave all my birding gear in the apartment, but I didn't. As the sky changed from blue to pink, I noticed a large, dark silhouette on the top of one of only two tall buildings across from Prospect Park. Looking through my scope I could tell that it was one of the juveniles red-tails. The relatively tall structure had always been a favorite perch for Big Mama when she called Prospect Park her home. Today it is being used by the pair of juvenile Red-tailed Hawks that were observed building a nest near the north end of the park. I focused my scope on the young hawk and snapped off a few very grainy images. Do you think she goes up to the roof to enjoy the sunset, too?

Red-tailed roost on Prospect Park West (click for close-up)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

- - - - -

Ridge Reservoir, Queens, 5/28/2007
Great Blue Heron (1, flyover.)
Great Egret (1, flyover.)
Canada Goose (~10.)
Wood Duck (2.)
Mallard (2.)
Ring-necked Pheasant (1, calling from within south-most basin.)
Laughing Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Calling from within north-most basin.)
Common Nighthawk (1, flyover.)
Chimney Swift (~12.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Willow Flycatcher (2 calling from within center, lake basin.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (1, calling near parking lot.)
Eastern Kingbird (3.)
Warbling Vireo (3 or 4 calling.)
Red-eyed Vireo (8-10 singing.)
Blue Jay (1.)
American Crow (2.)
Barn Swallow (3-5.)
Black-capped Chickadee (1 heard calling.)
Tufted Titmouse (1 heard calling.)
House Wren (1 heard singing.)
Wood Thrush (1 heard and seen at south-most basin.)
American Robin (Several hundred singing before dawn.)
Gray Catbird (15-20 seen or heard.)
European Starling (Several hundred roosting in lake edge phragmites. All departed by dawn.)
Cedar Waxwing (40-50.)
Blue-winged Warbler (1 heard singing in south basin.)
Northern Parula (1 heard singing.)
Yellow Warbler (6-10 heard or seen.)
Magnolia Warbler (1.)
Blackpoll Warbler (2.)
Black-and-white Warbler (2.)
American Redstart (~6.)
Northern Waterthrush (1, seen and heard singing.)
Common Yellowthroat (~4-6.)
Hooded Warbler (1, singing within the same location as 5/19 survey.)
Canada Warbler (1.)
Northern Cardinal (2. One adult male seen feeding female.)
Song Sparrow (3-5 seen or heard.)
Swamp Sparrow (1 heard.)
Red-winged Blackbird (~200.)
Common Grackle (~50.)
Brown-headed Cowbird (~20, mostly heard.)
Baltimore Oriole (2-4.)
American Goldfinch (1.)

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