Saturday, March 31, 2007

Birding Link

Eastern Gray Squirrel in River Birch

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)


A friend wrote to me the other day and asked if I knew of any information on birding in Slovenia. I sent her the link to "Where Do You Want To Go Birding Today?".

I've been using Tina MacDonald's encyclopedic website for many years. For some strange reason I never managed to add it to my links section. Well it's there now.

Oh yeah, and there actually is a fair amount of information available on birding in Slovenia.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Green-Wood Cemetery update

I received an e-mail from Marge earlier in the week. She's been away from the Red-tailed Hawks in Green-Wood Cemetery for a while, but just returned to track them down. Here's her report:

"Date: March 27, 2007 8:02:16 PM EDT
Subject: Greenwood Cemetery Update

Hi Rob,

[ ... ] Now for Big Mama & Jr. We have, as of yet, found no nest. I have witnessed displaying behavior between the both of them such as the impressive aerial displays and talon grappling. I saw Big Mama in a pine tree in the valley between the Hill of Graves & Ocean Hill, Jr. was flying back and forth to her. Joe & I on Sunday saw Big Mama with nesting material in her talons, but she flew out of our sight line and towards the Ft Hamilton side of the cemetery. Joe & I asked a cemetery worker if they had witnessed any large hawks. He told us he saw the pair in the same vicinity mentioned on a small island between the Hill of Graves & Ocean Hill. You will remember that area, that is where Baby Huey flew into the large Linden tree. Joe & I walked around that entire area but could not find a nest. It remains to be seen if they have a nest or they are just going through the motions due to hormonal activity. We will keep monitoring and hoping. They were late last year, but they still had their old nest, which no longer exists. In any event, the good news is that they are still active in Green-Wood.
 
All the best,

Marge"

Monday, March 26, 2007

Red-tailed Hawks and spring changes

I waited until about 2:00pm before walking up to Prospect Park. The position of the sun at that time casts a bright spotlight on the Ravine Red-tailed Hawk nest. Hopefully, I’d be able to confirm any incubation activity.

Alice checking out her nest

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

I set my tripod up near the intersection of two footpaths. There were lots of people strolling in the park due to the unexpectedly clear skies and mild temperature. New Yorkers are rarely shy and a few individuals stopped to ask me what I was looking at. Lucky for them, it doesn’t take much prodding to get me to share my excitement with strangers. I really enjoy seeing the expressions on their faces as they peer through my scope at an animal that most park patrons have only seen in photos.

Alice arrived at the nest about 15 minutes after I set-up my scope. She flew in low from the direction of the Midwood. A few minutes later Ralph appeared. Alice then left the nest and they began to ascend over the woodlands of Quaker Ridge. They circled each other a few time then Ralph, with his feet hanging down, plummeted towards the Ravine. He pulled up at the last minute and perched near their nest tree. His mate didn’t return immediately. It was close to 10 minutes before she returned and, instead of landing directly on the nest, she did something curious. She flew a spiral pattern around the nest tree from approximately its midpoint, ascending to the top of the tree then into the nest. It was almost as if she was inspecting the tree before returning to the nest.

After she landed on the nest she stood at the east edge, looking down. Perhaps I’m just personifying, but it appeared as if she was looking back and forth, with great interest, at something within the nest. She stood looking down for, what seemed like 5 minutes, before easing herself down, presumably on eggs. I tried to stay focused on the inactivity at the top of the pine tree. After a little over an hour I decided to walk down to the lake.

River Birch catkins

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

There is still a nice mix of waterfowl species on the lake, including the male Red-breasted Merganser that was first reported on the 17th. I was standing at the edge of the lake taking photographs of the newly emerged flowers on a River Birch tree. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a duck but ignored it. It wasn’t until I looked up (and he was swimming away from me) that I realized the merganser had been paddling around only a few yards away.

Crocus


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) and fly

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Some other flowering plants I noticed today were crocuses, daffodils and Cornelian Cherry. When I think back to my postings over the last few years I’ve probably repeated this early progression every year; snow-drops, witch-hazel, river birch, crocus, daffodil, cornelian cherry. As the park’s landscape management office continues to replace invasive, non-natives with native wildflowers, shrubs and trees, I’m sure that my notes and observations will reflect the change. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a place that didn't experience seasons.

Pied-billed Grebe (click to enlarge)


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

I decided to walk around the lake, counter clockwise, towards the skating rink. The sun was low in the sky and casting a warm, golden hue on the east side of the water. At the small cove on the south side of Three Sister’s Island were two Pied-billed Grebes. One bird remained hugging the edge of a patch of phragmites that bordered the shoreline. The other bird was swimming slowly between her and where the cove opened out into the lake. It was as if he was patrolling that tiny patch of water. At one point, when he was at the opening of the cove, he faced the other bird, opened his stubby, little wings, tilted them forward and emitted a moaning, “cowp, cowp, cowp”. He was courting her! I couldn’t believe that he allowed me to observed from so close. Pied-billed Grebes are usually very shy but I guess the pull of the breeding season was stronger than his fear of me.

Twelve years ago my friend Jerry and I discovered a Pied-billed Grebe with one chick in the lake near the skating rink. That was the last time any have nested in Prospect Park. Considering the large number of paddle-boats in the lake during warm weather, I’m amazed that any would have chosen to stay in Prospect Park.

On my way out of the park I stopped in the Ravine. It was 6:20pm and Alice was on the nest. I walked around the area again looking for a better viewing perspective, but didn’t find any. At about 6:30pm Alice began to call for her mate with a high-pitched, chirping whistle. I guess she was either hungry or needed to stretch. She called several times but, by the time I left, Ralph hadn’t returned to relieve her and take over the incubation duty.

Daffodiles in the Midwood

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/25/2007
-
Pied-billed Grebe (7 or 8, Prospect Lake and Lullwater.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Brant
Ring-necked Duck (6.)
Bufflehead (2.)
Red-breasted Merganser (Male, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk (2, one on nest.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Breeze Hill.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (4-6.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3.)
Carolina Wren (Singing near lamppost J249.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Fairly common.)
Hermit Thrush (1.)
American Robin (Abundant.)
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Blue Jay, American Crow (2.), European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Hawthorn - bud and thorn

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Bufflehead

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Planting trees at Dreier-Offerman Park

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

This morning John, Peter and I worked with a group of people planting trees and shrubs at Dreier-Offerman Park, near Coney Island Creek. We arrived a little earlier than the rest of the group and did some light birding at the park. After lunch we also checked out the coast of Coney Island near the Brooklyn Cyclone's "Keyspan Park".

Dreier-Offerman Shoreline (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

The most obvious seasonal change was the increase in abundance of robins. They were all over the soccer fields, baseball fields and undeveloped grassy areas. There were also several Killdeer flyovers (one flock was 7 birds), as well as, one foraging in the grass between the recreational fields. On the coastline facing Staten Island we observed a fair number of Bonaparte's Gulls flying back and forth. A Common Loon close to shore had nearly completed the transition to breeding plumage. In the weedy underbrush that borders most of the park, were several decent sized mixed sparrow flocks. I heard Fox Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows and juncos singing. The trilling songs of the swamps and juncos made me think of Pine Warblers and spring migration.

Bird's nest fungus - Nidulariaceae (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

We worked through the morning then drove the short distance to "Nathan's" in Coney Island for lunch. It felt weird to eat a Nathan's hotdog before the start of baseball season. After lunch we took a short stroll down the boardwalk and out on to the fishing pier to scan the bay. There was an odd looking bird sitting on a jetty east of the pier so we walked down the beach to get a closer look. Along the way we spotted our first Laughing Gulls of the season. Three were sitting in the sand among a flock of Ring-billed Gulls. The adult Ring-billed Gulls are looking really sharp with bright white head feathers, crisp red orbital rings and matching gapes. John spotted several Purple Sandpipers on the third stone jetty east of the fishing pier. We counted them, then recounted and came up with 19 individuals. With all the recesses between the boulders it's quite possible that there were many more. I checked my records and it was the largest flock of purples that I've seen in NYC.

Located slightly south of the Verrazano Narrows, Dreier-Offerman Park is along a route that would seem to make it ideal as a stopover for migrating birds. It's at the large end of a waterway funnel that leads north into the Hudson River. I've only been to the park a few times but each time was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of birds. Perhaps with today's plantings and future restoration projects it will become even more attractive to migrating birds in need of food and rest.

Looking north towards Verazanno Bridge (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Coney Island "Parachute Jump"

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

-Click here for the Parachute Jump history-

- - - - -

Dreier-Offerman Park & Coney Island, 3/24/2007
-
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Great Cormorant
Brant
Gadwall
Canvasback
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Killdeer
Purple Sandpiper
Dunlin
Laughing Gull
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
American Crow
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Fox Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fordham Red-tailed Hawk update

Hawkeye on the nest (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Christopher Lyons)

I just received my first report of the season from Chris Lyons, the Fordham hawkwatcher:

"From: "Christopher Lyons"
Date: March 21, 2007 10:04:48 AM EDT
Subject: Hawkeye and Rose--incubation has begun

I've known since early March that Hawkeye and Rose were going to use the same nest as last year--the one inside the pediment on top of Collins Hall, on the Fordham Rose Hill Campus, here in the Bronx.   It was around then that I started seeing fresh pine boughs, and other new material added to the nest, and co-workers told me they'd seen the hawks engaged in pulling branches off trees and adding them to the nest.   I never really thought they'd change the location, after getting off three chicks last year--they have found a spot easily as amenable to their breeding objectives as Pale Male and Lola's 5th Ave. Townhouse has famously been, and they haven't had to deal with people carting their nest away and otherwise meddling with their business--though they had their nest and their chicks taken from them at a nest-site outside Fordham, almost three years ago, as I managed to learn during their last breeding cycle.

Rose on cross (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Christopher Lyons)

Rose and Hawkeye (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Christopher Lyons)

Rose typically begins incubation sometime around March 20th, and she's right on schedule this year.  On Monday, March 19th, I saw her copulate with Hawkeye on the crucifix on top of the Martyr's Court dormitory, which is immediately adjacent to Collins Hall.  I'm sure they've been exchanging genetic information for weeks, but this was the first time I'd caught them in the act, and I even got a few (bad) pictures snapped.  Hawkeye had just seen off another Red-Tail, which may have been one of their fledged young, judging by the plaintive calls it made.  Rose was waiting for him on the cross, and they finalized the year's nuptials.  Later, I saw her on the nest. 
 
Yesterday, March 20th, they caught me napping--I went over to check the nest after leaving work, and saw one of the hawks (presumably Rose) squatting high over the nest--in the kind of posture that may indicate she was in the process of laying an egg.  If she'd been incubating a finished clutch, she would have been lower, and difficult to see.  I didn't have my camera out and ready (stupid, stupid!), and it took me a few minutes to set up the tele-extender, which gives me about 18x magnification, with image stabilization.  Out of the corner of my eye, while I hastened to get my equipment up and running, I saw that there were now two hawks on the nest--then one flew off, and the other settled in low.   I managed to get one good shot of the remaining hawk's head, before it disappeared--the dull coloration, and white streaking on the crown clearly indicate that it was Hawkeye, but that's not all--I got pictures of the other hawk, back on the Martyr's Court Cross--and the metal band on the leg (evident when I digitally enlarged the image), along with the richer coloration on the head, clearly proved this was Rose. 
 
So I feel quite confident in saying there must be at least one egg on the nest, and that laying started in the last few days, perhaps even yesterday.  Rose leaving the nest doesn't prove anything, one way or the other--female Red-Tails frequently leave their eggs unattended in the early stages, particularly when they aren't finished laying, since they delay serious incubation until the clutch is finished. 
 
However, I can conceive of no reason why Hawkeye would swoop in to give her a break if there were no eggs in the nest.  He had already seen at least one egg, and his instincts told him it was time to let Rose stretch her wings and preen a bit, while he held down the fort.  Quod erat demonstrandum."


I was glad to learn that the most famous pair of Red-tailed Hawks are back on their 5th Avenue nest. D. Bruce Yolton has some info and great photos on his blog, "Urban Hawks".

Monday, March 19, 2007

More about woodcocks


(Photo credit - John Ascher)

I received the following e-mail yesterday from my friend Peter:

"Date: March 18, 2007 8:05:39 PM EDT
Subject: Woodcocks in Prospect Park

Apparently there was a mini fallout of woodcocks Saturday. Mike Zablocky saw three at Three Sisters Island, we saw four at lamppost J249, plus the ravine edible makes it at least 8. We'll never know the exact number.

A birding friend, John Lloyd, paints Prospect Lake scenery on the Peninsula with another artist friend. The snow kept both artists from their usual Peninsula spot so they moved all their equipment under the big ginkgos between the Wellhouse and the lamppost J249 spot. At about 4:30pm, a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk suddenly swooped down from out of nowhere barely missing the canvas that John's friend was painting. The hawk was pursuing .... guess what?... a sitting woodcock! The woodcock was behind the artists and it flew like crazy out of the woods and over the lake towards Three Sisters! The Red tailed didn't bother chasing.

It seems like woodcocks are prized delicacies for these red-taileds.

Peter"



(Photo credit - Sarah T.)

Aldo Leopold wrote a wonderful essay called "Sky Dance". It's about the annual April spectacle of woodcock courtship. It can be found in a collection of his writings called "A Sand County Almanac". Here's an excerpt:

"Knowing the place and the hour, you seat yourself under a bush to the east of the dance floor and wait, watching against the sunset for the woodcock’s arrival. He flies in low from some neighboring thicket, alights on the bare moss, and at once begins the overture: a series of queer throaty peents spaced about two seconds apart, and sounding much like the summer call of the nighthawk.

Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird flutters skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter. Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there resumes his peenting."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Another good urban nature blog

City Island (click for detailed view)

(Photo credit - Google Earth)

Here's another really good New York City birder's website. "City Island Birds", by Jack Rothman, has a lot of great information about a frequently overlooked section of the city (including by yours truely).

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Prospect Park in the snow

Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

The Brooklyn Bird Club held a scheduled walk in Prospect Park today. According to their website, the focus would be early migrants. Mary said that I should mention how everyone "wussed out" because of the weather. Peter and Mary were the only ones to show up and, after a call from Peter, I joined them. It was a great day of birding highlighted by 4 very cooperative American Woodcocks on Lookout Hill.

Peter and Mary were walking past a birdy area in the park known as "lamppost J249". It's a habitat at the southern base of Lookout Hill. As the first elevated landform and forested area encountered by birds flying north across Brooklyn it's always a good spot for birds in the spring. Mary wanted to stop there and look at some Fox Sparrows. While looking at the sparrows she noticed a woodcock sitting in the snow. Moments later she found a second. By the time I arrived, a third was seen. They were all sitting very close together. A fourth was spotted landing several yards up the incline from the trio.

Three American Woodcocks (Scolopax minor)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

I've seen woodcocks before but never so close or for such an extended period of time. The birds were mainly just sleeping and preening but would occasionally walk a few feet or probe the snow for insects. They probably have the most unusual gait that I've ever observed in the bird kingdom. It's difficult to put into words but Sean Sime gave me a pretty good description; "It's as if their feet are independent from their body and that there is a pendulum swinging back and forth inside of their body." Coupled with their cryptic, leaf-litter feather pattern I suppose the wavering completes the illusion of dead leaves moving in the wind. Unfortunately, the strategy doesn't really work against an all white background.

Napping & eating


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Woodcock walking and feeding

(Video credit - Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library)

During the rest of the afternoon we speculated about whether last night's ice and snow storm had forced a large number of migrating American Woodcocks to land in Prospect Park. I surmised that there were probably a lot more of them than we were able to see.

We decided to walk through the Ravine towards the Upper Pool. Several yards passed the Nethermead Arches I stopped Peter and Mary in their tracks. There was a Red-tailed Hawk perched near the right side of the path and I didn't want to scare it off. It was eating something. Mary asked what it was eating. I said, "a woodcock". She chuckled and said, "no really" and focused her bins on the hawk. I wasn't joking, he was really eating a woodcock.

As we left the hawk to eat in peace Peter asked, "so how many woodcocks do you think are in the park today?" Mary responded, "one less".

One less

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Other interesting sightings today were Ring-necked Duck (9), Hooded Merganser (13 females in Lullwater), Common Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser (rare in Prospect Park), Northern Flicker (4), Eastern Phoebe (5) and Rusty Blackbird (2). A Pine Warbler seen on Breeze Hill is an over-wintering bird, not an early migrant. A Yellow-rumped Warbler spotted by Peter and Mary would, in all likelihood, also fall into that category as they aren’t usually seen until mid-April.

Finally, I was very happy to see "Alice" standing in the nest that she and "Ralph" have been using for the last 4 years. For the sake of the woodcocks, I hope that they are all long gone by the time our resident Red-tailed Hawk's offspring fledge.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/17/2007
-
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Ring-necked Duck
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin
American Coot
American Woodcock
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pine Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Friday, March 16, 2007

Waterfowl of Prospect Park

Here is a mix of waterfowl photos from Prospect Park.

Male and female Hooded Merganser

(Photo credit - Sarah T.)

Northern Shovelers

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

American Black Duck

(Photo credit - Sarah T.)

Bufflehead

(Photo credit - Sarah T.)

Northern Pintail

(Photo credit - Sarah T.)

Ring-necked Duck (male and female)


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Ruddy Duck

(Photo credit - Sarah T.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Phoebes, Snowdrops and Witch-hazel

Forsythia bud

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)


I took a break this afternoon at around 1pm and walked up to the park. The Red-tailed Hawks should be on eggs soon and I wanted to check in on last year’s nest site. In the years that I’ve been watching the breeding red-tails of Brooklyn I’ve noticed that mid to late-March in when they begin tidying up their nests. By the end of the month they should be sitting on eggs.

There didn’t appear to be any hawk activity at last year’s nest but I took a reference photo, to be certain. I spotted “Alice” above Center Drive, near the Nethermead Arches. She had just taken off from a perch near the road. As she slowly circled and gained altitude I could see a large bulge in her crop. I guess she just finished eating her lunch.

I took a route around Quaker Ridge from the Midwood to the Quaker Cemetery and through the Ravine hoping to catch a glimpse of our resident pair of red-tails together. The only sighting was of Alice early in my walk.

The climax of spring migration is still approximately two months away, but there were several noticeable seasonal changes taking place in our local parks.

I heard, then saw my first Eastern Phoebe of the season. Sporting fresh (and very green) plumage, the flycatcher was doing what he does best; darting from a bare branch, snatching an insect from the air, then returning to his perch. There were two in the cemetery and a third in the Midwood.

Unlike the phoebes, Common Grackles have arrived in greater numbers. Many have already begun setting up house in their annual communal roosts around the park.

Cardinals, Red-winged Blackbirds, juncos and Song Sparrows have suddenly become very vocal. Woodpeckers, the percussionists of the woods, have begun tapping out their pronouncement of the spring season. Drumming out signals to defend their patch of woods and attract a mate, each individual seems to have their own, unique tempo and timbre. A pair of Downy Woodpeckers in the Midwood chased each other while squawking a loud “kikikikikikik”. A Red-bellied Woodpecker clinging high up on the side of a tulip tree tapped a short, steady beat, interspersed with brief “churrs”. A female on an adjacent tree seemed disinterested.

Midwood panorama

Click and drag image to change view

The Midwood looks as if a tornado has torn through the forest. As part of the woodland restoration project, several Sycamore Maples and Norway Maples have been cut down by maintenance crews leaving large holes in the canopy and tangles on the ground. I shot a 360 degree panorama and plan to create more over time to track the transition.

Witch-hazel

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Snowdrops (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Patches of Snowdrops have emerged from the woodland’s leaf litter. As I laid on my side to take a ground view photograph of the flowers, I noticed the distinct aroma of onions. I’m not sure if it was from the Snowdrops or just clumps of wild onions beginning to sprout. Witch-hazel, another early bloomer, has brightened patches of the park with their yellow, spindly petals.

The weather has called for lower temperatures and snow but I don’t think that it will slow the transition that the longer days have set in motion.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 3/14/2007
-
Ring-necked Duck (6.)
Bufflehead (1.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1, "Alice".)
Ring-billed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.)
Downy Woodpecker (6.)
Hairy Woodpecker (2.)
Eastern Phoebe (3.)
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper (1, Quaker Cemetery.)
Carolina Wren (1, north end of Midwood.)
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle (Near carousel.)
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow

Big Year Presentation

Sean Sime (one third of "Team Wunderschmucks") will be giving a presentation on his overview & analysis of last year's Big Year in New York State. The presentation is free and open to the public. There will be lots of great photos and Sean's unique perspective on the 2006 pursuit of birds in New York State. The following is from The Linnaean Society of New York:

Lectures / Programs of The Linnaean Society of New York
Admission to all lectures of the Linnaean Society is free. Come join us as we listen and watch informative presentations! At regular meetings the Society presents speakers on natural history topics.

Unless another venue is noted, programs are held in the American Museum of Natural History, usually in the Lindner Theater; please enter at West 77th St. between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.

March 27, 2007 (7:30 p.m.)
A ONE-YEAR SEARCH FOR THE BIRDS OF NEW YORK STATE
Sean Sime, The Linnaean Society of New York, Photographer

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Jones Beach and Long Beach

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

At this time last year Sean, Shane and I made our mad, 24 hour dash to about a dozen locations in Northwestern and Central New York State. We covered about 1,200 miles. On Saturday I spent about 6 hours birding with Shane at Jones Beach and the inlet at Long Beach. It was a big difference. We met at my place at 6am, 6 hours later than last year, returned home while it was still light, didn’t have a “must see” list for the day and didn’t mind if we missed seeing a bird.

Shane wanted to check out the Smith’s Longspur at Jones Beach again, as well as, say hello to some folks who drove down from Niagara to see the bird. Willie D’Anna is a resident “guller“ from the Niagara area and helped both Shane and Sean find some great birds last year. I just like going to the beach in the winter and didn’t mind checking out both species of longspur, the numerous Horned Larks and whatever else was around.

Atlantic Purple Sea Urchin found near Jones Inlet (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

-Click here for more info on sea urchins-

We were the first people to arrive at the Jones Beach nature center, just after first light. The parking lot was still closed so we parked at the Coast Guard Station and walked across the road to the Smith’s Longspur’s spot next to the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center.

The first thing that I noticed when I got out of the car was bird songs; lots of bird songs. Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows were singing from exposed perches all around the Coast Guard Station. I thought to myself, ”it’s that time of year already“.

Facing the ocean, we focused our bins south when Shane noticed a huge flock of scoters streaming west. The line of dark birds loosely followed the gentle, sloping curves of the onshore sand dunes before falling out of sight behind the dunes. During the first hour of the day we witnessed approximately 3,000 scoters flying passed. By the time other birders arrived the scoters had all but vanished. Perhaps they were massing in preparation for spring migration to their tundra breeding grounds.

Finding the longspur wasn’t as easy as the two other times I saw it. Rather than feeding out in the open, it was sticking to an area south of the nature center. Denser grass hummocks and deeper swales in that area made it very difficult to observe. Most of the birders that had arrived were standing in the southwest corner of the parking lot, facing south. Doug, who came by to help a friend find the Smith’s Longspur, had walked to a spot on the boardwalk loop trail between the center and the ocean. Within a relatively short time he called Shane on his cellphone to let everyone know that he had found the bird. Shane told the rest of the group and a parade of people carrying spotting scopes and cameras with giant lenses sped down the boardwalk.

Because I had already seen this rarity twice I was more inclined to watch the people or a flock of about 125 Snow Buntings in the area. Many of the buntings had molted into their bright, white breeding plumage. The nervous flock rarely sat to feed for more than several seconds. They kept taking off and flying, en mass, in undulating, swirling patterns above the swales. Their brilliant, white feathers had the effect of a school of herring flashing their silvery sides as they twisted and turned to avoid an unseen danger.

Just after Shane and I arrived and the nature center parking lot I noticed a single lark circling above us. As I watched, he ascended as he circled. As one point, he was so high that, when I put my binoculars down, he appeared as a tiny dot in the sky. Suddenly, he folded his wings and, like a falcon zeroing in on its prey, he plunged towards the earth. At the last moment he opened his wings to slow down, and landed in the sand to our right. During the entire flight he made a barely audible (to me, anyway), high-pitched tinkling call. I watched this performance happen two more times when Doug’s friend, Jim, pointed out that it was courtship behavior. Most Horned Larks nest far north of New York City but small numbers do actually nest along our coasts.

Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

-click to learn more about Horned Larks-

By about 11:00am we decided to leave and drive to the inlet at Long Beach. We parked at the Hempstead Town Beach parking lot and walked east, along the beach to the inlet. A short distance for the shore were dozens of Horned Grebes. Horned Grebes are a common winter sight along New York’s coastline, but there was an unusually high abundance on Saturday. At the inlet I was amazed to see even more grebes. I watched a pair that seemed to be involved in a courtship ritual. As they faced each other, bobbing in the surf, they quickly turned their heads from left to right. It was not like the exaggerated movements of a Western Grebe, but more subtle. Also seen in the inlet was a single Red-necked Grebe and Razorbill.

So it appears that some of the early birds are already preparing for the nesting season.

- - - - -

Jones Beach; Long Beach, 3/10/2007
-
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe (Abundant.)
Red-necked Grebe (1, Jones Inlet.)
Great Cormorant
Brant
Gadwall
Northern Shoveler
Greater Scaup
White-winged Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer (2, Nature Center flyover.)
American Oystercatcher (3, Jones Inlet.)
Sanderling
Dunlin
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Flicker
Fish Crow
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow (1, Long Beach.)
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur (At least 5 near T. Roosevelt Nature Center.)
Smith's Longspur (Southwest side of T. Roosevelt Nature Center.)
Snow Bunting (Approx. 125 near T. Roosevelt Nature Center.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow

A couple of changes

I've added a feature to the sidebar on the right of this page called "New Links". When I find a new and interesting website or blog it will be added to that location. After a month, I'll remove it and place it in the appropriate link category. I might leave the newer ones highlighted in a different color, I haven't decided.

Also, I've changed the archives links (the list was getting way too long) to a pulldown menu.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ridgewood Reservoir

Like Andy Goldsworthy (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

About a month ago I was contacted, through my blog, by an artist named Jennifer Monson. At the same time she also wrote to the Brooklyn Bird Club looking for volunteers to assist with a breeding bird census at the RIdgewood Reservoir. Jennifer is the president of an interesting organization named "iLand". She is working on a collaborative project about the reservoir known as “iMap”.

-Click here for more info about iLand projects-

I had never heard of the Ridgewood Reservoir and immediately went online to research the location. The reservoir is located at the south end of a 4 mile stretch of green in the borough of Queens. Starting at the east end, the various habitats consist of Forest Park, Victory Field, Forest Park Golf Course, about a dozen cemeteries, Highland Park and the reservoir. I grew up about 2 miles from Ridgewood and have driven passed the area on the Jackie Robinson Parkway thousands of times but never knew that the reservoir existed. When I looked at the satellite image of the reservoir I was intrigued by the habitat’s potential.

I agreed to help out so Heidi scheduled a time when she, Steve and I could meet with Jennifer and her associates at the Ridgewood Reservoir. I really didn’t know what to expect as the maps and satellite images lack detail. “Forgotten NY“ has a page on the area’s history here.

-Click here for more info on Highland Park-

Before the others arrived Steve, Heidi and I took a short, cursory walk down one of the paths. On the way back I spotted a Mourning Cloak butterfly flitting about, reminding me that spring wasn’t too far off. Back at the parking lot we observed a pair of courting Red-tailed Hawks diving and circling each other, another sure sign that spring is approaching. I’ve made a note of the location and will look for their nest in the cemeteries and Forest Park.

Ridgewood Reservoir overview map (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Google Earth)

Ridgewood Reservoir outline (click to enlarge)


The reservoir was built on one of the highest points in the borough. Decommissioned in 1990, it was left to be reclaimed by nature. There is a one mile running and cycling path that borders an 8 foot chain-link fence surrounding the old structures. A pair of parallel paths bisect the reservoir, dividing it into three distinct basins. The walls built to retain the water are constructed of stone blocks and are pitched at about a 60 degree angle.

Before we went behind the fence I was astonished to see that a birch forest was growing up from the bottom of the southern-most reservoir. I was expecting to see a lake habitat. The path around the basins is approximately 20 feet above the new forest’s floor, giving one somewhat of a birds-eye perspective of the trees. Walking north, we entered the old facility at a path between the subterranean forest and a pond. The center reservoir is partially filled with water and ringed with phragmites. A pair of Ring-necked Ducks and a few Mallards were the only birds that we observed in the water.

Reservoir bog (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

There are remaining stretches of the original, wrought-iron fence at the edges of the path. Like much of the habitat, however, it is slowly being swallowed up by bittersweet, multi-flora rose and other vines. Climbing down into the southern basin was difficult and we used a rope that had been affixed to a tree but some neighborhood kids. I felt like I was entering a lost world. The habitat was reminiscent of a bog with a damp, spongy ground and patches of small, grassy hummocks. Most of the city’s constant background sounds were blocked out by the high, enclosing berm. Species of mosses and lichens were abundant on decaying logs. Heidi pointed out some British Soldier lichen. Turkey tail mushrooms ringed tree stumps. The majority of the trees were yellow birch but we found one cluster of about 10 to 12 Winged Sweetgums, trees that I have only seen as single plantings around the city. The density of the woodlands, a lack of trails and stretches of ankle deep water made navigating difficult, but fun. We had started off relatively late in the afternoon so we didn’t have much time to explore. The third basin seemed to be the driest habitat but exploring it would have to wait for another time.

Fences surrendering to vines (click to enlarge)


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

British Soldier lichen

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

We scanned the center lake for waterfowl one more time then continued back towards the cars. As we passed two guys on dirt bikes tearing up a stretch of parkland outside of the reservoir I worried about the fate of this unique habitat. Would the city try to ”improve“ it? I think that it would be an ideal location for an outdoor laboratory. Watching and exploring an evolving patch of urban landscape that has escaped development for decades would be an invaluable educational tool. I have been told that, a few decades back the area was regularly birded. In the late 70’s the crime in that area made it dangerous, though, and it was ultimately forgotten about by the New York City birding community.

Slug eggs?

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

-Click here for more info on lichens-

Prospect Park and the Hudson River

Corkscrew Willow (Salix matsudana ) on Peninsula

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Northern Shovelers (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

2/24/2007

There’s been a Northern Pintail reported on Prospect Lake for several days. All of the pintails that I’ve seen up to this point in my life have been shy birds that remain far from shore. People have told me that the bird in Prospect Park seems pretty tame so I thought I’d walk over to the lake and take some pictures. Also, March is the month when Red-tailed Hawk’s courtship behavior peaks. I was hoping to observe Ralph and Alice “bonding”.

The Red-tailed Hawk's aerial courtship displays are pretty spectacular, looking somewhat like mock combat. During the performance the pair slowly circle each other at high altitudes, occasionally breaking off and launching into roller coaster-like dives and ascents. They'll frequently call each other using either their familiar "keeeer" call or short, high chirping whistles. Part of the aerial ballet also involves the smaller male suddenly diving towards his mate from high altitudes. As he approaches the female she'll turn over in mid-air, and present her talons. Sometimes they will even lock talons and spin towards the ground before splitting apart.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk on Lookout Hill

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

On my way to the lake I caught a glimpse of the adult Red-tailed Hawks descending from the air above Breeze Hill. They quickly disappeared into the forest of Lookout Hill. I didn’t see them again. At the narrow path between the Nethermead Meadow and the Maryland Monument I spotted the young, pale faced red-tail. He was perched high in a locust tree and within striking distance of the Breeze Hill feeders.

About one third of Prospect Lake was still unfrozen. The opening in the ice concentrated the ducks into a fairly small area. I thought that would make it easy to find the pintail, but it wasn’t. My friend John had his easel set-up next to the lake and was painting a landscape. He and another artist had sprinkled dry oats at the edge of the water to attract ducks. I suppose the cold weather had limited the lake’s food supply as the overwintering American Coot were behaving like human habitualized Mallards, walking right up to the two artists. Coots look very odd out of the water. Their green feet have large, flat, lobed toes that look like Wile E. Coyote’s foot after an anvil is dropped on it.

A Coots eye view (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

John asked if I was looking for the pintail. He said it had just been there, feeding on the ground in front of him, but somehow managed to vanish. I walked around the edge of the lake along the Peninsula scanning the water but couldn’t locate him. I stuck around for about an hour scanning and rescanning the lake. The sun was setting and I was getting ready to give up when John pointed out that he was suddenly right in front of us. Northern Pintails aren’t known to be tame “park” birds but I guess they’ll make an exception for a free handout of oats during a cold day. He seemed perfectly happy feeding among the coots, Mallards, geese and swans.

Pintail and friends


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Earlier, when I was still looking for the pintail, all the gulls that had been standing on the ice suddenly took flight. I quickly scanned for a hawk or falcon and spotted a young Red-tailed Hawk flying across the lake from Three Sisters Island. I ran over to where he perched hoping to get a photograph. This hawk wasn’t the pale faced juvenile that I’ve been seeing around the park. His face was much darker with very defined, dark malar stripes and a broad supercillium. He also wasn’t very tame and took off when I approached the Gingko tree where he had perched.

Also of note was a Great Blue Heron flying low across the lake. Two great blues have been found dead in the park this winter. One had starved to death and we’re still waiting to hear about the second. I hope this third one survives or has the sense to move farther south.

* * * * * * *

2/25/2007

Mary called me late this afternoon to tell me that she spotted a Red-necked Grebe on Prospect Lake. Small, inland urban lakes are not the typical habitat for that particular species of grebe. They are sometimes found along coastal New York City in the winter, but Prospect Park has had only a few sightings. The first one that ever saw just happened to be in Prospect Park. I was a beginner birder and was spending the day in the park. At one point during my stroll I was walking towards the lake along the Lullwater. An older gentleman was on the Terrace Bridge that I was just about to pass beneath. He must have noticed my binoculars as he yelled to me, “There’s a Red-necked Grebe on the lake.” Well, at that time, I wouldn’t have known a Red-necked Grebe from a redneck, but it sounded interesting so I ran up to join him. The man’s name was Bob Bains and he was kind enough to point out the bird and give me a brief tutorial on grebes and why it was such an unusual sighting. We’ve become friends over the years and have birded together quite a bit.

By the time I got my act together and pedalled over to the lake it was pretty late in the afternoon. There was a thick cloud cover hanging over the city so scanning for anything on the opposite side of the lake was challenging. Mary had already left the park but there were two other birder’s present who I didn’t know. I told them about the grebe and we began scanning the lake. I also mentioned the Northern Pintail, who wasn’t so tough to locate this time. In fact, he acted like he was looking for a handout. I found the Red-necked Grebe tucked in close to the edge of Three Sisters Island. He was very difficult to identify. He had his head tucked under his wing so all I could see was his brown body and white rump. Where I was set-up on the Peninsula was about 50 yards from the edge of the island. I really wanted to take a photograph, just for documenting purposes, but the sleepy grebe wouldn’t lift his head up! I began scanning back and forth across the edge of the island looking for, well, anything that wasn’t sleeping. That’s when I noticed the Red-tailed Hawk perched on a downed tree trunk eating a coot. There were plently of ducks, coots and grebes (there were also Pied-billed Grebes on the lake) close to the hawk but they didn’t seem to be concerned. I guess that they realized the hawk was already busy eating so they were safe...for the time being. Michael, one of the other birders, had just begun to leave when I spotted the hawk. I yelled for him and he came running back. He was very glad that he did as he’d never witness a Red-tailed Hawk feasting on an oat-fattened coot.

Red-necked Grebe on Prospect Lake


(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

-Click here for more Red-necked Grebe photos-

* * * * * *

2/26/2007

Ivory Gull location map

(Photo credit - Google Earth)

As I mentioned in my brief posting on Monday, Sean and I drove up to Piermont Pier to look for an Ivory Gull that had been reported. As the gull flies, I think that Piermont is only about 25 miles from downtown Manhattan and on the west side of the Hudson River. I don’t think the tiny hamlet of Piermont knew what hit them when the Ivory Gull was posted on the Internet. They had already gotten used to the idea that people from out of town were coming in to see a Snowy Owl. What they didn’t realize was that most birders in New York State (and possibly the country) had never seen an Ivory Gull.

Ivory Gull on telephone pole

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

When Sean and I arrived at the pier there were already about 30-40 people present. The gull wasn’t difficult to find as it sat perched at the top of a telephone pole near the end of the pier. On the south side of the pier is a cluster of rotting, wooden pilings. I’m not sure if they are the remains of a ship or an old extension of the pier. Whatever it is, the Snowy Owl likes it. It’s a safe place to roost at night and a great vantage point to launch an attack on an unsuspecting duck. Ed Coyle told me that he had seen the Ivory Gull chase the owl off of a duck that it had killed and was eating. Snowy Owls are very large and, I would think, pretty intimidating to smaller birds. As gulls go, the Ivory Gull is pretty small, but what they lack in size they make up for with aggression.


(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

Many gulls are difficult to identify for a number of reasons, not the least of them being that they are all variations of black, white and grey. However, if one knew nothing about gulls and an Ivory Gull flew over one's head, it would be noticed as something special. When I returned home I looked up information on the ivory and was very depressed by what I read. When I was standing on the pier looking at that blindingly white bird, I thought that I might never have the opportunity to see one again because their normal range is so remote. Then I learned that I might never see another one because they have become one of the most critically endangered species in North America with their population dropping by 80%.

-Click here for more info on Piermont-

-Click here for more on the Ivory Gull's decline-

02/24 - 02/26
-
Pied-billed Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Canvasback
Greater Scaup
Bufflehead
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk
Great Black-backed Gull
Ivory Gull
Snowy Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
White-throated Sparrow

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow

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