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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Prospect Park

Outside of looking in on the hawks once and a couple of hours of “insect-watching” with Steve, I really haven’t done much exploring around Prospect Park since the City Birding Challenge back in mid-May. Early Wednesday morning I spent a some time birding in the park with my friend, Orrin.

I cycled into the park as I had only a couple of hours before I needed to get back and it helps me to cover more ground.

It felt good being on my bike in the park. The park’s western roadway begins a long descent towards Prospect Lake near the Bandshell at 9th Street. At around that point I usually change gears for a short burst of speed, then stop pedalling. That begins a 3/4 mile freewheel passed the 15th Street park entrance, the west edge of the Quaker Cemetery, the southern base of Lookout Hill and, finally, the start of Wellhouse Drive at the edge of Prospect Lake. I usually turn onto the drive, but today I continued letting gravity carry me towards West Island for a total distance of nearly 1 mile.

It’s not that I’m a lazy cyclist so much as a lazy birder. As I’m coasting along that route I’ll listen for bird songs and calls. On Wednesday morning there was a Chipping Sparrow trilling from the top of a pine tree near 15th Street. Over the last few years they’ve begun nesting in the park. There’s a very healthy stand of pine trees near that location that was planted about 7 years ago. I’ve read that chippies prefer conifers and, prior to the growth of that stand, there weren’t many healthy pines in the park. Farther down the road, near the cemetery, I heard a small flock of Cedar Waxwings whistling as they flew over the road. Near Lookout Hill I’m usually going too fast to hear anything except the air rushing over my ears.

I walked my bike to the edge of the lake, to the left of tiny West Island. A mixed flock of some of the park’s resident “handout habituated” Mallards, black ducks and hybrids were sleeping on a log floating near the island. At 7:00AM the temperature was already hovering at about 82 degrees F. There was a mist slowly drifting across the lake and a pinkish haze in the atmosphere that gave the impression of a sultry August morning. I had been staring out over the lake for only a few minutes when Orrin arrived. We didn’t have a planned route and meandered, almost automatically, along the lake’s edge towards Lookout Hill.

The removal of several Norway and Sycamore Maples, and planting of numerous native trees, shrubs and wildflowers, has transformed the rise behind lamppost J249 from a sparsely vegetated, eroded hillside into a dense, profusion of green. From the base of Lookout Hill, Orrin and I slowly made our way towards the Maryland Monument and zig-zagged along the paths that lead to the Butterfly Meadow at the Hills summit. Along our route we heard or saw several Baltimore Orioles, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo and Carolina Wren. I heard the “round-up” chattering call of an adult wren to its young, but was unable to location the precocious fledglings in the dense underbrush.

As we approached the Ravine and Nethermead Arches I heard the begging call of a Red-tailed Hawk. It made me smile as I recalled previous year’s fledgling hawks. This is the period of time when the adult red-tails gradually stop providing meals to their offspring. Eventually, the young raptors will let hunger teach them to fend for themselves as they begin hunting. Within the next few weeks, the sad, whistled calls near their nest woods will start to fade.

The first call that we heard came from behind the protective fencing on Quaker Ridge. We scanned the trees and underbrush but never found its source. Walking towards the Midwood, I heard the cries of the second fledgling, from the opposite side of the Ravine. We walked up the hill towards the Boulder Bridge looking for the hawk. Orrin spotted him as the young bird flew across the ridge and into the Midwood. His calls lead us to the base of a towering Tuliptree. Unlike other Red-tailed Hawk nesting territories around the city, Alice and Ralph chose a very natural setting. The huge, mature oaks, maples and tuliptrees in the area make finding the fledglings very difficult. Frequently, I’ll know the exact tree that they are calling from, but cannot see them through the dense foliage. This bird appeared to be very pale-headed, like his father, Ralph. We had several minutes of obscured views then continued on our way.

Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens)

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

We had been in the park for 2 hours and where heading toward the park’s exit. On our way out I heard a Wood Thrush singing and we began walking towards his sound to look for possible fledglings (and hoping that they wouldn't be Brown-headed Cowbirds). Along the way I heard a bird call that I didn't recognize. It was just a single, sharp note. After about five minutes of looking we spotted an empidonax flycatcher. Shortly after, he accommodated us with a clean, explosive "PEET-sah". It was an Acadian Flycatcher and we watched him for a few minutes as he hawked for insects from between 3 feet and 10 feet above the ground. Then I saw something that I never imagined I'd see in Prospect Park. He flew to a branch in a Maple tree ... about six inches above a nest! In the nest was another Acadian Flycatcher. They greeted each other, then the (presumably) female left the nest very briefly. She only flew a few feet away where she snatched an insect and returned to the nest.

Acadian Flycatcher on nest

We didn't see any signs of hatchlings but I’ll keep close watch of the nest from a safe distance so that I don’t disturb them. These small, drab flycatchers haven’t nested within New York City’s borders for several decades. I’ve learned that there are some recent indications that they may be trying to reestablish themselves in the city.

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Prospect Park, 6/27/2007
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Across from Boathouse.)
Osprey (Circling the Upper Pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1 fledging “crying for adult” on Quaker Ridge; 1 in Midwood.)
Laughing Gull
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Acadian Flycatcher (2. Breeding pair in Midwood. Female on nest.)
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Wood Thrush (Singing is Midwood.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Several - Lookout Hill, Center Drive, Upper Pool.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (3 or 4.)
American Goldfinch

Other common bird 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, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

1 comment:

Pamela said...

awww, lovely flycatcher.
I had a willow flycatcher in my yard today. First time I've had one... well first time I've seen one.

We've added a water feature to our yard and I think some of these birds are attracted to it.

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