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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Ridgewood Reservoir and Green-Wood night walk

Before I get to my post, I want to give major props to Jose Reyes of Time-Warner cable. Three field technicians couldn't fix my month-long Internet problems so they dispatched Jose, who is an engineer. One of the first things he told me was, "I'll make sure that, when I leave here, your service will be back on." He kept his word.

Unlike last year, when most of my birding and nature exploring was recreational, 2007 has taken me outdoors for specific goals. In February, I began making regular visits to the Ridgewood Reservoir as part of the ongoing bird/nature survey. Once I became sucked up into that project, I spent a good bit of my free time creating a short video about the reservoir. In addition, during the month of September I spent about 4 hours during each of several early mornings helping biologists with a migratory bird research project. I've had less time to post, but some new streamlining of my workflow should help speed future updates.

On Saturday, September 29, I went back to Ridgewood Reservoir with Heidi, Steve and several other birders to continue the fall migration survey. We were all optimistic that there would be a big southbound push of migrant songbirds as there was a brief overnight cold front in the area.

When everyone arrived, we split into two group. Steve lead a group around basin 1 and the northern habitats. I took a group around basin 3 and the south end.

I've just begun scrutinizing the northern end of basin 3 which, for the most part, is dry. The end closest to Vermont Avenue seems to be on a slight decline and there are some signs that it is flooded seasonally. The understory is dominated by assorted grasses and there are few woody plants. Also, there is a clear, and very surreal border between the locust and grey birch woodlands. It looks almost as if an invisible fence was constructed to prevent the two trees from commingling.

From the start of our walk there were signs that the cold front had made a difference in the bird movement. Several sharpies were seen hunting among the reservoirs woodlands. Broad-winged Hawks soared overhead along with Osprey, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and kestrel. Magnolia Warblers were suddenly seen in fairly high numbers, followed closely by an increased presence of Common Yellowthroats. I was pleasantly surprised to find small groups of Blue-headed Vireo. There was a flock of 4 feeding close together in the locust trees. Their "old" common name was Solitary Vireo. Maybe somewhere along the line someone decided that they weren't very solitary.

Much of the understory at the north end of basin 3 is blanketed with dense stretches of mugwort and japanese knotweed. Where the invasives haven't taken hold we found a nice assortment of goldenrod and aster species. We also found the remains of some old homeless encampments. Plants have grown up through makeshift living quarters indicating that they had been abandoned for a long time. A collection of baby strollers might have been humorous in another context, but juxtaposed with the basin's isolation and wildness it felt like the setting for a scene in an Alfred Hitchcock film. Years of rain water running into the basin had pushed sediment up around the stroller's wheels. I imagine that, given enough time, they would eventually disappear into the soil. A single White Snakeroot plant was growing in one overturned stroller's sunshade. I walked through the center of the stroller formation and, for reasons I can't explain, made a conscious effort not to move any of them.

A small flock of Wood Ducks continue on the lake of basin 2 but has increased by one bird. The Pied-billed Grebes that have been present for a month have increased from 3 to 5 individuals. We started to wrap up the morning at 10:30AM, by which time we had tallied 51 species of birds, 11 of which were warblers.

At 5:30PM I rushed down to 5th Avenue to catch the bus to Green-Wood Cemetery. Historian Jeff Richman was leading another night tour of the cemetery. Dressed in a top hat and trailed by a pair of musicians playing 18th and 19th century music on accordion, he always puts on a great show. The weather forecast called for a cool and clear evening, perfect for the harvest moon. I planned on taking some night photos, so I brought along my tripod and spotting scope.

When I arrived at the cemetery's ornate, Gothic Revival entrance, I was met by Joe Borker. I noticed that he had something small and brown in his hand. Apparently, a Swainson's Thrush had crashed into a window and was still stunned. Joe, who has done a lot of bird banding, knew how to handle birds and carried it away from the crowds arriving for the tour. It would have probably been stepped on. Marge was there with her son, Jean Luc. Jean Luc loves birding and nature, so Joe patiently showed him how to hold the thrush. When he released the bird it decided to stayed perched on his hand for a moment, then flew off towards the safety of a planting of shrubs and flowers.

There were about 50 people in the tour, a little too many for my taste (especially when they are all playing with flashlights), so I walked slowly and remained at the back of the crowd. Joe has lead the historic tour many times, so he gave me a synopsis at each landmark. There were several stops along the route where I noticed bats flying low over our heads. I only had one battery for my camera, so I couldn't waste power trying to catch a bat in flight. I also noticed that there were still some active fireflies. It seemed late in the season to see them flashing, but then again it has been feeling more like the dog days of summer than October. After dark, I shot some very long exposures of the tour group. In one photo the green, luminous trail from a firefly can clearly be seen.

At the end of the tour, I set up my scope and focused on the moon. I had read that, during migration, birds can sometimes be seen flying passed the moon's illumination. Sure enough, within seconds I spotted a few birds. Some were actually circling around in one spot. They weren't bats, but they were fluttering around, acting as if they were catching insects. Maybe some birds that don't normally feed at night are able to grab insects when they are migrating over a bright urban center such as New York. I tried to take some photos through my scope. I thought it would be interesting to see the trails of the birds in front of the moon, but a breeze was making the tripod move too much. I'll have to try it again sometime when there's no wind.

Ridgewood Reservoir, 9/29/2007
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestral
Laughing Gull
Pied-billed Grebe
Wood Duck
Chimney Swift
Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue-headed Vireo
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red Breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Pine Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Scarlet Tanager
Lincoln's Sparrow
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Common Grackle

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow

1 comment:

Pamela said...

I've been told there are warblers and vireos in our area. I have not seen them.

The strollers were downright creepy.

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