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Monday, September 24, 2007

Where have the birds been?

The fall songbird migration seems to have stalled. My birding time has been somewhat limited this fall, but it appears that days birder's frequently describe as ones where "birds were dripping from the trees" haven't materialized. I went into Prospect Park on Friday morning as the sun was rising hoping to find that more birds had finally arrived. What I found was a thick layer of fog rolling across the Long Meadow. It was a pretty neat experience, but I would have preferred seeing thick flocks of birds. I was cautiously optimistic that weather conditions over the weekend would bring more southbound birds through the area.

(Northern Parula courtesy of Steve Nanz)
On Sunday there was a pretty good movement of songbirds through Prospect Park. It was easily the most productive day in the park that I've experienced this fall, which isn't saying much. Many of my birding friends and acquaintances have been expressing concern about the low turnout of birds. There are probably many conditions that influence the southbound migration patterns of neotropic songbirds. I’m hoping that there is a logical reason and that populations haven’t plummeted. By the end of a 3 hour walk in Prospect Park I had tallied 13 species of warblers. However, the only species seen in any abundance were Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler and Black-throated Blue Warbler. I didn't get into the park until 9AM (late by birding standards), so it's possible that it was more active at dawn. I’m trying to remain optimistic.

For the first official day of autumn, several White-throated Sparrows were seen moving through the park. By the end of October, these winter visitors should be common throughout the park. With Sunday’s temperature hovering near 80 degrees, their appearance seemed incongruous. I guess they know better than I do where they should be.

I spotted the pale-headed young female Red-tailed Hawk that has been hanging around the north end of the park. She was perched in "Elizabeth's Tuliptree" at the north end of Nelly's Lawn. Her juvenile, brown tail feathers have finally been replaced with those of a complete adult.

The floor of the park’s woodlands are now dapple with White Wood Asters. Scattered among the asters were White Snakeroot. The white umbels of the snakeroot are composed of dozens of minuscule white flowers, giving the impression of a single, large flower. I discovered that snakeroot is also a member of the aster family.

Prospect Park isn't the best location to see migrating raptors, but we did observe a single Osprey, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a pair of kestrels and several Red-tailed Hawks. The red-tails were moving around a lot so it was hard to tell the exact number. They may also have just been all local individuals and not migrants. While walking up Payne Hill towards Rick’s Place, a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk flew in from the trees on my left, dropped down to about 6 feet above the ground then continued into the woods of the Ravine on my right. A squirrel had flattened out against a branch in a small sapling on the hillside. Perhaps the hawk was aiming for him.

I met my wife in the park at noon and we walked to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, across from the eastern border of Prospect Park. Several varieties of asters and sunflowers were thriving in the decidedly unfall-like weather. At the native flora section, jewelweed plants have created a overgrown tangle of green and orange along the stream’s edge. We spotted two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds fighting over, what I presume was, feeding rights. During several confrontations, they made angry, high-pitched chittering sounds that seemed more comical than intimidating; but then again, I’m not a hummingbird. At the garden’s outdoor cafe, we found some available seating and placed our stuff on the table. A woman at an adjacent table stopped us from sitting on one of the chairs by saying, “Don’t sit there, the chair is already taken by a Praying Mantis.” A beautiful specimen perched on the chair back swayed slowly from side to side, a ploy used to blend in with surrounding plants. The camouflage didn’t work as he was on a grey, steel piece of furniture. I offered him my hand, which he graciously accepted, and I carried the huge insect to a rose bush a few yards from our table.

We cut across the middle of the park and exited at 9th Street and Prospect Park West. Waiting at the crosswalk for the traffic signal to change, I looked up and spotted a Merlin perched on a decorative, stone scroll above an apartment window. He was facing the park and had a perfect view of the playground with all the associated House Sparrows and starlings. I wondered if it was our annual visitor returning for another winter vacation.

From 9th Street we walked down to the main shopping avenue before returning home. As we turned onto 6th Street I noticed the shadow of a large bird moving across a stretch of blank, brick wall on Methodist Hospital. A Red-tailed Hawk appeared briefly as he passed over the street, chasing a flock of pigeons onto the roof of the building between 5th and 6th Streets. We hurried home and I ran up to the roof with my scope and tripod.

I didn’t see the red-tail from my roof, at least, not right away. After about 15 minutes, a large Red-tailed Hawk ascended from the building on 7th Avenue. She flew towards the tall apartment buildings near Grand Army Plaza, where she was joined by a second, small red-tail. For the next 30 minutes the two hawks put on a show for my wife, a neighbor and myself. They chased each other in mock battle, the smaller of the two occasionally dropping his talons when he was above the female. One perched at a favorite spot on the peak of a red, tiled roof several blocks from our home. Soaring together on the updrafts flowing towards Prospect Park, the two large raptors sailed back and forth across our roof and over to the towering Methodist Hospital building. Flocks of pigeons roost on the roof of the hospital and I assume that they were the red-tails attraction to the building. By sunset I could locate only one of the pair, as the larger, presumably female hawk vanished over the buildings to the east and into Prospect Park.

Prospect Park, 9/23/2007
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
empidonax sp.
Red-eyed Vireo
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Parula
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Palm Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Scarlet Tanager
White-throated Sparrow
Common Grackle
Purple Finch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Midwood.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

1 comment:

John said...

Fall migration has seemed slow to me, too. I thought it was just because I moved and had to learn new birding spots, but maybe it's not.

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