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Friday, June 29, 2007

Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area & Prospect Park

The Gatekeepers

Sean and I haven’t been out birding together for a long time. The last time was in April when we went to Marine Park looking for a Mew Gull. After he and his wife moved to New Jersey, we’ve really just shared birding experiences over the telephone. Friday we finally worked out our schedules so that we could spend the morning in the field.

Sean wanted to try to photograph some Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows. He suggested that we try the Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area as it is likely the best opportunity to find one of these colorful birds. Many people associate sparrows with uninteresting “little brown jobs”, but one look at a sharp-tailed sparrow would change that perception. I really enjoy the flora and fauna of marsh habitats, especially the mosquitos and green flies. Actually, I’m usually oblivious to the insects until I’m covered in welts and miserable. Most of the morning was overcast and cool, so the insects weren’t a problem. After a visit to the marsh we planned to head over to Prospect Park where Sean would take some documenting photos of the Acadian Flycatchers.

Sean looking for sparrows

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea)

I had never been to the Oceanside marsh and was really impressed with the number and tameness of the birds. There were Yellow-crowned Night-Herons everywhere that didn’t seem the least bit concerned with our presence along the facility’s boardwalks. Tree Swallows were flying back and forth nonstop, throughout the salt marsh. Several times individuals would fly routes that seemed to pass within inches from my head. Intellectually, I knew that they wouldn’t hit me, yet I still jerked my head out of the way every time.

Osprey family

A pair of Ospreys nesting on a platform adjacent to one of the boardwalks were caring for three young hatchlings. Like the herons, they were incredibly tolerant of humans and didn’t react when people walked directly beneath their nest. I watched in awe as one adult arrived with a large fish and patiently pulled off small pieces and gently fed it to each offspring. One my way back to the trailhead I spotted a Clapper Rail bathing on the opposite side of a narrow channel. Rails are generally skittish birds that vanish into dense marsh grass at the slightest hint of danger. In this case, though, he ignored me and continued his preening rituals uninterrupted. At that point, Sean was at the opposite side of the marsh, sprawled across the wooden boardwalk on his stomach. For most people, that might be a concern, but I just assumed that he was composing a photograph, or drunk (just kidding).

Clapper Rail keeping an eye on us

There were several Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows in the area. We located a few by their airy, high-pitched version of a Red-winged Blackbird’s song. The sound was an interesting contrast to the deep, guttural “quocks” and “squawks” of the nearby herons and egrets.

Salt-marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus)

(Photo Credit - Sean Sime)

We were pressed for time so, after a couple of hours, headed into Brooklyn.

I lead Sean to the general vicinity of the Acadian Flycatcher nest, but didn’t point it out. We are both ear-birders, and I thought it might be fun to see how long it would take him to find it. Within only a minute or two we heard the first “PEET-sah”. Locating the nest was easy for him. Not much of a challenge. While we were taking photos I heard one of the fledgling Red-tailed Hawks in the distance. He was crying for food again. I walked away from Sean to look for the hawk. I imitated his whistle and he got a bit closer. To my left, a Blue Jay also started imitating the young hawk. It’s curious that a small songbird would mimic a top predator. Wouldn’t it attract the very bird that they would want to avoid?

Like Thursday, I never got a clear view of the Red-tailed Hawk, just some moving leaves and branches near the top of a tuliptree.

In the comments section, birderbf said...

"Airy version of the Red-winged Blackbird's song? That was the Seaside Sparrow. The Sharp-taileds sing "tchk-tsssssssss""

I stand corrected. There was at least one Seaside Sparrow present and I probably just confused the two, especially since I don't encounter either sparrow very often. (Note to self, try to stay away from the lame excuses.)

- - - - -

Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area, 6/29/2007
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Osprey (2 adults, 3 hatchlings.)
American Kestrel
Clapper Rail
American Oystercatcher
Laughing Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Least Tern
Black Skimmer
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Marsh Wren
Yellow Warbler
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow
Common Grackle

Other common species seen (or heard)
Canada Goose, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Fish Crow, Northern Mockingbird, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird

Prospect Park, 6/29/2007
Red-tailed Hawk
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Acadian Flycatcher
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle


birderbf said...

Airy version of the Red-winged Blackbird's song? That was the Seaside Sparrow. The Sharp-taileds sing "tchk-tsssssssss"

MNSA is always a fun place to go, regardless of what's singing and what's not.

Rob said...

Thank you, I stand corrected.

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