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Monday, October 22, 2007

Fall and sparrows

I had about a hour to spare at the end of the day, so I decided to take a walk up to the park. It occurred to me that I might be able to set-up the Birdcam pointed at the Ravine hawk nest. When Alice and Ralph begin using it next season, I could take daily, time lapse photos. Anyway, I wanted to scout out the surrounding trees for ideas on how to attach the unit.

There was a film shoot setting up in front of the Picnic House and I stopped to check it out. As I was standing on the sidewalk I noticed some sparrows in the grass beside me. They were mostly just House Sparrows, but there was also a single White-crowned Sparrow. It reminded me that sparrows were migrating, so I decided to swing by the “Sparrow Bowl” to take a look around for a few minutes.

The grass had been recently cut, but there was still nice edge habitat with lots of seed-bearing grasses and other low forbs. I should have approached slowly, because I immediately flushed a large mixed flock of sparrows that had been feeding, hunkered down and hidden by the grass. Moving back, to what I thought was a safe distance, I sat down and waited for them to return. It only took a few moments, but the hungry birds flew out of the longer grass and shrubs surrounding the bowl. There were a lot more of them then I initially observed. Song Sparrows were the most numerous. At one point I counted 12 just in my bin’s field of view. A pair of Swamp Sparrows moused around the edge of the grass, never venturing far from the dense underbrush. There were also a pair of Field Sparrows eating seeds at a higher level than the Song Sparrows. I always under estimate the numbers of Chipping Sparrows in a flock as it is so easy for the tiny bird to vanish in the grass. I counted 10 among the Song Sparrows. While looking through the flock a small, warm colored sparrow perched on a black, wire fence behind the feeding birds. It was a Clay-colored Sparrow, a rarity around New York City. Every autumn there seem to be a few reports of this species showing up around the city. Similar in size and shape to the closely related Chipping Sparrow, it is a beautiful bird and, to my eyes, unmistakable. I spent about an hour watching the sparrows nervously feeding at the edge of the Sparrow Bowl.

The Brooklyn Center for Urban Education holds classes in the Tennis House, next to the Sparrow Bowl. While I was watching the sparrows, I heard an instructor speaking loudly to a group of youngsters. At one point, I heard him ask if everyone saw the hawk in the tree. I’m not sure if it was one of the resident Red-tailed Hawks or another species of raptor, but it explained why the sparrows were so jumpy.

Whenever I mention looking at sparrows to non-birders, they wonder why I would waste my time looking at such boring birds. I guess most people think of House Sparrows as being the only sparrow. Then I tell them about sparrows with pink bills or green backs or orange faces or yellow lores and they ask me where to see such exotic sparrows. I tell them to go to their local park and spend some time looking around at the urban wildlife. One never knows what they will find.

I never did make it over to the Ravine to scout out the hawk nest.

Prospect Park, 10/18/2007
Wood Duck (5 drakes circling above pools.)
Mourning Dove
Northern Flicker (Common.)
Blue Jay
Carolina Wren (1, Ravine.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Heard several.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1.)
Swainson's Thrush (1, Sparrow Bowl.)
Hermit Thrush (Several.)
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Common Yellowthroat (1, Fallkill wildflower meadow.)
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Towhee (3 or 4, Sparrow Bowl.)
Chipping Sparrow (Several, Sparrow Bowl.)
Clay-colored Sparrow (1, Sparrow Bowl.)
Field Sparrow (2, Sparrow Bowl.)
Song Sparrow (20-30, Sparrow Bowl.)
Swamp Sparrow (2, Sparrow Bowl. 1, Fallkill wildflower meadow.)
White-throated Sparrow (3-5, Sparrow Bowl. Abundant in Ravine woods.)
White-crowned Sparrow (1, adjacent to Picnic House.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Several, Sparrow Bowl.)
Common Grackle (Small flock between Upper and Lower Pools.)
House Sparrow

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

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