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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ridgewood Reservoir tour

I never thought I’d ever get this posted as my Internet connection has been going down 5 to 10 times a day since Monday.

Tuesday I gave a tour of the Ridgewood Reservoir and surrounding habitats to Glenn Philips, the Executive Director of The New York City Audubon Society, and Erin Woodard, their new Natural Areas Initiative Program Manager. I was only able to spend about an hour with them as Glenn and Erin had prior commitments, plus I was meeting Shane for a trip out to Montauk Point in the afternoon.

The area was fairly quiet with respect to the local breeding birds, although we did see a family of Carolina Wrens chattering and flitting about in the understory adjacent to basin three. There was also a White-eyed Vireo prattling on with his impatient demand, “Quick give me the beer check”. As I expected, Glenn and Erin seemed very impressed by the three basin’s varied habitats. Glenn seemed especially intrigued by some of the flora and took a lot of photographs. As we reached the forest floor of basin #1, Glenn pointed out a freshly emerged Red-spotted Purple butterfly drying in a pool of sunshine. I tried to entice the lazy insect with an outstretched finger tip, but he wasn’t interested and flew to a pokeweed leaf a few feet away.

The old pump house has had its windows bricked up and the doors are secured with thick, steel plates. I stuck my camera lens through a small hole in one of the steel plates and guessed at an exposure. My experiment worked and I had my first look at the interior. I noticed a stairway that descends to a lower level. That’s most likely where the pumps machinery resides, or used to reside.

Much of the forested areas in the basins are too dense and overgrown for a short survey, so I lead them on a route close to the edge of the impoundment, where the scattered saplings and understory is relatively sparse. In several areas away from the edges, where the ground is perpetually damp, I showed them large areas matted in emerald mosses. A few weeks ago I had a dream that I went to the reservoirs and found bulldozers working in that basin. Most of the trees had been cleared and, like an area carpet in one’s home, a single rectangular patch of green remained, exposed to the sun at the center of the clearing. I called Heidi on my cellphone and told her that I could see the moss turning to brown as it baked in the sun. Hopefully, that image will remain only as a bad dream.

On our way back to the access point, I spotted a pile of feathers on the ground. It appeared to be the remains of a raptor kill. Spotted rust, black and white flight feathers and a single, yellow foot were all that remained of the prey. The rusty color made me think that it might have been from a woodcock. I picked up three primary feathers to examine at home. Later that day, I received an email from Erin. In it she suggested that the remains we found could have been a kestrel. I looked through some field guides and online images and, unfortunately, I think she is correct. Would a Red-tailed Hawk kill and eat a kestrel? I’ve seen kestrels harassing the larger predators on a number of occasions and believed that they were too maneuverable to ever be caught. Then it occurred to me that another species of predator could have killed the falcon. My friend Carrie used to work at the airport for an organization that used birds of prey to chase potentially hazardous flocks of birds from the runways. Among her arsenal of raptors was a very feisty American Kestrel. One day, while working along side one of the runways, the small falcon perched on top of a small stand of shrubs. Before Carrie had a chance to react, she watched in horror as a feral cat sprung from the shrubs, grabbed the kestrel and killed it. I have seen feral cats at the reservoir, so that is one other possibility.

I would have like to have stayed another hour, but had some packing to do at home. Shane, Sean and I had registered for a two and a half day whale watching trip that was leaving from Montauk Point that evening. That story and lots of photos will be posted tomorrow (provided my Internet service isn’t interrupted...again).

Ridgewood Reservoir, 8/14/2007
Wood Duck (5 males, 1 female.)
Laughing Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Carolina Wren (2 adults and 2 juveniles.)
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler (1.)
American Redstart
Northern Cardinal
Chipping Sparrow (1 juvenile.)
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

1 comment:

Yojimbot said...

Makes sense that it fell victim to a feral cat. Young kestrels will perch on fence posts overlooking fields. A perfect place to be ambushed by a cunning feline.

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