Once a person becomes interested in birds and birding, the next stage on the risky road towards obsession is "listing". For many of us, it's not enough to merely be able to identify birds. We need to keep a list of the bird species that we've seen - a "lifelist".
A lifelist is the what, when and where of birds that one has observed for the first time. Some people also create subsets of bird sightings, such as, a "year list", "city list", "state list" or "country list". One of the final stages towards obsessive aviaphilia is graduating to the level of "twitcher". A twitcher (or ticker) is a birder who actively seeks out new birds, or ticks, on their lifelist. I think that most birders are content to observe many of the same birds year after year, and it is always exciting when a "rare" bird shows up in ones neighborhood, but there are some truly driven people who will spend large sums of money and time to increase the length of their lists. At 745 species, Sandy Komito of New Jersey holds the current North American "year list" record. I'm not certain how much money he spent chasing down all those birds, but it was probably a lot. This brings me to the main subject of this post - "Jinx Birds".
In my short time as a birder I've heard numerous anecdotes by more experienced folks about their jinx bird. It seems like everyone has, or has had, one. This is a bird species that, no matter how well one plans, seems to always escape the view through your binoculars. Mine was the Golden Eagle. It took me 10 years to finally track one down. I couldn't even find one in the Pacific Northwest. A typical comment that I heard over that period was, "That's odd, there was one here just a few minutes ago." Generally, once that bird has finally been observed, the spell is broken and it is seen over and over again.
I have a birding friend, Kelly, who never managed to find a Great Horned Owl. She is a dedicated and very skilled birder, and, strangely Great Horned Owls are not particularly rare. In fairness, though, they do have the ability to hide in plain view. Kelly's jinx bird story, however, goes beyond frustrating.
Last Sunday we both participated in the Bronx/Westchester Christmas Bird Count. Towards the end of the day, the teams covering east Bronx all met at Greenlawn Cemetery. When I saw Kelly she said, "I finally found my Great Horned Owl." She then held out a white, plastic bag and said, "Wanna see?" Inside the bag was the remains of a dead Great Horned Owl that she had found while doing the survey. I felt bad and didn't want to point out the obvious, that dead birds don't count on a "life" list. She kept the owl to turn over to the state wildlife pathologist.
Before leaving I told her that I knew of several locations where I could "get" her a living, breathing Great Horned Owl. Her disappointment turned to optimism and we agreed to meet during the week.
Fast forward two days. As we were walking through the woods I suggested that we remain quiet, so as not to spook the birds. Within 5 minutes we were looking up at two Great Horned Owls. Kelly couldn't have been happier. Two owls, and they were both still alive! The mated pair were perched in trees several yards apart. The paler of the two birds sat, eyes closed, facing the low, winter sun. Several times he opened his eyes and looked down at me with a glaring expression which would intimidate even the bravest person. After a few minutes we quietly walked away to let them snooze undisturbed.
On Sunday, when I told Shane about Kelly's dead owl he said, kidding around, "Maybe it was the red-tails getting even for the dead hawk." We joked about an urban gang war or Mafia hit for turf control. Later on it occurred to me that animals don't practice revenge. It is a unique behavior invented and perfected by us civilized, "higher" forms of life. ...Read more
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Once a person becomes interested in birds and birding, the next stage on the risky road towards obsession is "listing". For many of us, it's not enough to merely be able to identify birds. We need to keep a list of the bird species that we've seen - a "lifelist".
Monday, December 29, 2008
On Sunday Steve, Shane and I joined several teams of birders spread out around Westchester and the Bronx for their Christmas Bird Count (for reasons of practicality, the annual Christmas Count occurs over a three week period). Steve is our team leader and I've been helping in his area for the last 5 years. Early in the morning we observed something I've never seen before and has had me thinking about since.
If you take the time to look closely, it's not unusual to periodically find small piles of feathers scattered around our city parks. They are, for the most part, the remains of an avian predator's kill. Between all the owls, hawks and falcons hunting around NYC's five boroughs these little, blood stained puffs are just a fact of life, especially during the harsher winter months. On Sunday, while scanning the trees within a stand of pines, we came across what looked like the outcome of a pillow fight. It wasn't a just a small cluster of tiny feathers. Large, medium and small feathers were nearly everywhere. At the edge of the scattered plumes was something both familiar and shocking; the tail of a Red-tailed Hawk. A short distance away was the hawk's carcass. Its body had been eaten leaving only the wings, legs and head attached to a stripped backbone. Steve, Shane and I began discussing what predator would be powerful enough to kill and eat a Red-tailed Hawk. Maybe a Great Horned Owl, although I'd never found any information that said these large owls would prey on red-tails. The hawk was relatively small, probably a male. We had seen a Cooper's Hawk in the area, but I don't think that even the largest female coops would be strong enough to take on a Red-tailed Hawk. A Northern Goshawk? I've become very fond of our city's red-tails, but I was more interested in solving the mystery than mourning the loss of one.
I began watching the Red-tailed Hawks around Brooklyn in the 1990s. It wasn't until 2002 that I started to observe them on a regular basis. Over that period of time I never experienced or read any accounts of the top of our food chain becoming prey. We pondered the idea of hawk cannibalism, but if it were a common phenomenon, I probably would have come across it before Sunday. During the course of the day Great Horned Owl became the top suspect, although we had absolutely no evidence other than they are great, big powerful predators. It is possible that the hawk was sick and died before it was scavenged by other animals.
Steve and I had to leave a bit early, so Shane decided to stick around and bird for a couple more hours. He called me later with some disarming news. After we had left he looped back around to the area of the hawk carcass. There was a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk standing over the remains of the dead adult raptor. His initial thought was that it could be an offspring of the deceased bird examining his parent's remains. Then the young bird yanked off one of the wings and flew off with it, no doubt to dine on the small amount of meat that could be found.
On Tuesday I was back in the Bronx and decided to see what was left. The plucked hawk feathers that had embellished the cushy carpet of pine needles had been whisked away by the wind. Some were nearby, trapped within the branches of small trees and shrubs. Perhaps by Spring some will be discovered by small songbirds and used as nest material. The hawk's carcass had been reduced to just the denuded head, vertebrae, ribs and feet. In another week all signs of the Red-tailed Hawk's existence will be gone. ...Read more
Friday, December 26, 2008
Floyd Bennett Field was New York City's first municipal airport. Built on Barren Island after combining it with several smaller islands, it is now owned and managed by the National Park Service. There are several historic hangers and other buildings on the property, but for participants of the annual Christmas Bird Count, it is mainly known for its 140 acres of remnant grassland. There are also some stands of conifers, as well as, coastal habitats along Jamaica Bay and Dead Horse Bay. Saturday's Brooklyn CBC was my seventh year helping out with the survey at Floyd Bennett (I missed out in 2002 due to a broken arm).
I've endured pretty much any weather conditions in the name of conservation without complaining, but this year was a test of will.
At 6:15am I walked six blocks to Gil's house, as he would be driving. There weren't any cars on the road so I walked down the center of 8th Avenue. A beautiful, light, crystalline snow fall made the air around the streetlights sparkle. The strong northeast wind made if feel like 15 degrees. I couldn't wait to feel the conditions out on the open grasslands.
Ron Bourque, of New York City Audubon, and his wife Jean have been the team leaders and keepers of Floyd Bennett Field for decades. We were to meet them at the main parking lot by 7am. When they arrived we found out that a total of 5 people had cancelled, for various reasons. In the back of my mind I assumed that it was all the same reason; the weather. That left Ron, Jean, Gil, Stanley and myself to cover all of Floyd Bennett, Dead Horse Bay and Four Sparrow Marsh. I was a little concerned because Jean was still recovering from a broken foot, plus, Gil and Stanley didn't appeared to be dressed warmly enough. As it turned out, Ron and I ended up walking the majority of the 140 acres by ourselves leaving no time for Four Sparrow Marsh or the North 40s.
I've never been to the Alaska, but after carefully crossing the ice encrusted runways and enduring the wind scoured fields on Saturday I imagined that it was similar to birding on the Aleutian Islands. The conditions didn't seem to deter some of the birds and we managed to find a couple of small flocks of Eastern Meadowlarks.
Much of the grassland was blanketed in snow and ice. We located a flock of Horned Larks that were feeding in an uncharacteristic manner. These arctic breeding birds are usually found foraging in open, stubbly grass fields. However, we found a flock of several dozen at the top of a dirt berm, stretching their necks to pluck seeds from the lower branches of Lamb's Quarters plants. They were sharing the food with White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows, American Tree Sparrow, juncos and a single Snow Bunting. It would have made an interesting photograph had the conditions been even slightly better.
After lunch we headed across Flatbush Avenue to Dead Horse Bay. Up to that point we hadn't observed anything unusual, in fact, many bird species we either missing entirely or just seen in low numbers. As we headed down the main path towards the water I spotted a very dark raptor hunting about the phragmites to our left. It had the coloration of a Turkey Vulture, but was clearly a hawk. When it stopped to hover in place, Ron and I blurted out in unison, "Rough-legged Hawk!" These hawks come in two color morphs, dark and light, this one being a very dark individual. Rarely seen around NYC, this was the second year in a row that we observed one on the Christmas Bird Count. Approximately the size of a Red-tailed Hawk, they have the unique ability to hover in place when searching for prey. Below is a short video that I located on the Cornell "Animal Behavior" website. It shows this unusual hunting strategy. Young Red-tailed Hawks will occasionally hover, but for the most part are much lazier hunters.
For a more complete analysis of this year's CBC, my friend Doug Gochfeld wrote up a really nice summary of the Brooklyn Count and posted it on the "Birdingonthe.net" website. Here is his report:
Subject: Brooklyn CBC report+
From: Doug Gochfeld
With count period coming to an end this evening, and not having seen anything posted yet regarding it, I figured I'd write up a quick recap of the Brooklyn Christmas Bird Count which took place on Saturday December 20. After a light snow for the first couple of hours of daylight it cleared up into some nicer (although still chilly) weather. I am not the compiler and I don't have all the numbers in front of me but I hope I hit on most of the highlights and "lowlights".
The biggest rarity of the count was a Blackpoll Warbler in the Spring Creek area, photographed by Steve Nanz. This represents a first count record, and from what I can gather a first record for New York State Christmas Counts, although I encourage anyone to correct me on that fact if I'm wrong. Spring Creek also produced a Yellow Warbler, another excellent find.
Great Egret (Marine Park??)
Little Blue Heron (immature at Jamaica Bay, 3rd count record)
Eurasian Wigeon (Marine Park)
Common Eider (Breezy Point)
Common Merganser (1 female at Jamaica Bay)
Rough-legged Hawk (Floyd Bennett Field, flying over Dead Horse Bay)
Clapper Rail (Marine Park, @ Plum Beach)
Killdeer (8 for Spring Creek)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (The usual adult at the Silver Gull Club picked up by both the Riis/Tilden and Breezy Point teams)
Black-legged Kittiwake (2 @ Breezy Point)
Snowy Owl (Jamaica Bay)
Orange-crowned Warbler (Jamaica Bay, Fort Tilden/Riis Park, Breezy Point)
Field Sparrow (5 @ Jamaica Bay, 5 @ Tilden/Riis)
sharp-tailed sparrow sp. (Jamaica Bay)
Seaside Sparrow (Marine Park, @ Plum Beach)
White-crowned Sparrow (Breezy Point)
Also Pine Siskin, Rusty Blackbird, Red-necked Grebe and I think Purple Finch were seen in multiple locations.
Hermit Thrush set a count high by more than 150%, with 30 beating the previous high count of 19.
American Pipits were seen by several parties with the high count being 70 for Spring Creek.
Common Goldeneye, Gray Catbird, and Brown Creeper were seen in only 1 location each and were present in lower numbers than usual.
Bad misses were Fish Crow, Boat-tailed Grackle, Chipping Sparrow and Redhead (not annual, but sufficiently regular to be a disappointing miss).
An observation that was shared by just about every party in the count as well as mentioned by some other counts around the area from that day was the large movement of Canada Geese flying over from East-to-West throughout most of the day (many of which were probably double or triple counted as they flew through multiple areas).
The only Count Week addition that I am aware of is Lapland Longspur at Floyd Bennett Field, which was present on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, as well as today, although there seem to be at least two individuals involved in today's sightings (as well as those from the beginning of the month).
Today the Longspur(s) were associating with a large number of Horned Larks (~130) and some scattered Snow Buntings (30-50) on a couple of different fields within the Base. Also at Floyd Bennett Field this afternoon was a good scattered gathering of sparrows near the Cricket Field including 3 continuing White-Crowned Sparrows (1 adult, 2 immature), 3 Fox Sparrows, 4 Swamp Sparrows, 2 American Tree Sparrows and higher numbers of Song and White-throated. Just before dusk at Floyd were over 1000 Gulls (mostly Ring-billed) roosting just off of the Boat Ramp Parking Lot.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
This could have been a story of terrible cruelty with a sad ending. Fortunately, there are some very good people in this world and one young eagle will have a good Christmas.
Today I received an email from wildlife rehabilitator Bobby Horvath. He was notified of an injured juvenile Bald Eagle on the beach on Long Island. I remembered a story from "Noreast.com" that was sent to me last month by my friend Christina. It was a short piece from November 20th about a Bald Eagle spotted hanging around the beach on Long Island. This is what eventually happened to the bird:
From: Robert Horvath
Date: December 24, 2008 12:32:10 AM EST
This guy came in last week. Immature male shot, still has pellet in abdomen. Also suffering from mild lead poisoning from eating something killed with lead shot. It's duck hunting season now and he was found at the beach nearby a legal hunting area. He was scavenging on undesirable fish caught and left on the beach by the surfcasters for over a month, which probably saved his life. We found pellets in the cage, as well, after he defecated. In addition he has an unknown sticky substance totally covering his feathers leaving him only partially flighted at the moment. Numerous baths in Dawn didn't have much affect, so we soaked the feathers with warmed cannola oil first, leaving on for 15 minutes and then Dawn wash after. It worked much better.
I tried catching him a few times, but he could glide from the tops of dune to dune while I had to run up and down them to no avail. Finally, on the day I caught him, he actually flew about 100 feet out, 3 feet above the water until exhausted. He ended up plummeting into and treading water just to keep his head above. I was able to net him when he got close to shore. We did x-rays, blood work and fecal sample so far. He's eating now and perking up and much stronger than last week. We hope his recovery is full and will be released upstate in an eagle wintering area where he can mingle with many others of his kind.
P.S.- anyone know hunters with extra deer meat our patient would be appreciative. We already have his rodent fish menu covered.
Bobby Horvath and his volunteers are state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitators. They receive no funds from the state, county, or federal governments and are dependent on donations and grants. Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation (WINORR) is in constant need of supplies for their day-to-day operations. They currently have a wish list of needed items:
paper towels, towels, baby blankets, bleach, baby wipes, cages (crates, bird cages, etc.) and animal carriers.”
If you would like to donate any items, you can contact Bobby or Cathy at (516) 293-0587 for information. If you’d like to make a monetary donation, checks can be made out to “Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation” and sent to:
202 N. Wyoming Avenue
North Massapequa, NY 11578 ...Read more
Friday, December 19, 2008
Tomorrow is the symbolic climax of a year of birding - the annual Christmas Bird Count. For the last several years, I've been part of the team that covers Floyd Bennett Field, Dead Horse Bay and Four Sparrow Marsh. Today's snow storm and tomorrow's predicted arctic blast should make for an interesting day in the field. In 2002, during the count I was forced to stay home nursing a broken arm. It was tough sitting inside wondering about all the great discoveries being made around the city. For those birders stuck inside tomorrow nursing a cold or worse, I know the feeling and you have my sympathy. Now get well and get birding. As always, I look forward to sharing my experiences in a couple of days.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I got a call from a friend the other night. She was a home making a salad, when she found something in the bowl that was bright green, but definitely not leafy.
The first words I heard were, "Hi Rob, I was making a salad and noticed a large, bright green grasshopper-like insect in it. I thought you'd know what it is." Hmmm, should I be flattered that someone thinks of me when they find an unidentified insect in their food? Anyway, I asked her what it looked like to which she replied, "It is large, green and has an odd cone-shaped head". Ah hah! A light bulb when off over my head. It's a conehead, I replied. "A conehead?" Yeah, they're a kind of katydid. I've never seen one before, but have a great book entitled, "The Song of Insects". There's a whole section on coneheads. They are a harmless group of insects that one is more likely to hear than see, especially during the summer months. I was a little jealous that she accidentally stumbled on one, because I've been unsuccessful trying to find them in the wilds of Brooklyn. It seemed perfectly content munching on her salad, so she took some photos and emailed them to me.
Oh yeah, as for the Dan Akroyd reference, check out this link. ...Read more
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Last Sunday, after riding a couple of laps around the park, I did a little birding. Peter was on Breeze Hill filling the bird feeders so we hung around watching the nuthatches, sparrows and goldfinches for a few minutes. As we were walking towards Lookout Hill, Steve texted Peter with a nice finding near Rick's Place - an Orange-crowned Warbler. I hadn't seen one since 2006, so it was a nice surprise, especially in December!
We were about a 15 minute walk from Rick's Place. I could have just hopped on my bike and been there in a minute, but didn't want to abandon Peter and another Brooklyn birder named Keir. (I probably heard Nelson Muntz in the back of my mind saying, "Ha ha, you have to walk.") When we arrived at the triangular patch of trees near the Boulder Bridge, Steve was no where to be found, neither were any birds. He caught up with us a few minutes later and described a mixed flock of sparrows, plus one bright yellow warbler, feeding in the leaf litter. We spread out looking for the flock and, hopefully, the warbler. Peter, Keir and Steve didn't seem to be having much luck near Rick's Place or Payne Hill, so I wandered over to the rise at the north end of the Midwood. Within a minute or so I spotted a large flock of sparrows, then the Orange-crowned Warbler. The olive and yellow bird was feeding, uncharacteristically, within the leaf litter. These birds typically forage low in the understory, but seeing one on the ground, and especially in a flock of White-throated Sparrows and juncos, seemed strange. I yelled for the others that I had found the bird.
Sunday was extremely windy. Where I found the flock was within the lee of the hillside between Battle Pass and the Midwood. The birds moved in short bursts along that rise for the 45 minutes that we observed them. The Orange-crowned Warbler was moving quickly as it fed, going from the ground, to shrubs and, occasionally, flying up to higher branches in the upperstory. It was the most hyperactive warbler I've ever watched.
During last night's torrential downpours I thought about that tiny bird. I remembered how small he looked, even next to a Song Sparrow. They are known to sometimes spend part of the winter in the Northeast, but it couldn't be easy. Most of the other Orange-crowned Warblers have migrated to tropical climates and I pictured him trying to stay warm and dry in Brooklyn. Maybe he found an overnight roost under the protection of a natural overhang or one of the park's manmade structures. I hope he survives long enough to continue south during a stretch of good weather. ...Read more
Sunday, December 07, 2008
I believe that enjoying birds and nature needs to be shared. Stumbling on a rare bird or discovering something wonderful in our urban landscape is always great. Passing on the sensation of wonderment or awe completes the experience for me. Implanting in others an appreciation for our planet's flora and fauna could start a positive change reaction.
I've written a few times about my attempt to find the cemetery Great Horned Owl for my friend Paige. As someone who leads local birding trips, I should know better than to ever consider that any bird is a "definite" (except for maybe pigeon, starling or House Sparrow). I successfully jinxed any attempt at sharing that owl with her. With that in the back of my mind, we set out on Saturday to see whatever birds were around. With a little luck, maybe an owl would be one of those birds.
I know of several Great Horned Owl nesting pairs within the five boroughs, so decided to pick one and bird the surrounding area. (Don't ask, I will not reveal owl nests or roosts)
It took me a while to orient myself in the park, but eventually found last year's nest site. The tree appeared to be unused, but it is still a little early in the season. By January there should be activity at the nest.
We hadn't seen many songbirds all morning when we came to a section of woods that was suddenly bustling with life. There were Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and Northern Cardinal feeding in the leaf litter below a stand of Sweetgum trees. Some goldfinches were in the treetops knocking seeds to the ground for the waiting birds as they fed.
About 45 minutes later I heard a pair of Blue Jays squawking out an alarm to the woodland creatures. I suggested to Paige that we find the jays as they were likely mobbing a bird of prey. We located the jays quickly as it's hard to overlook their bright blue plumage. It took a few more minutes to see the source of their ire. Screened by the dense needles of a pine tree was a Great Horned Owl. He had his back to us, but swiveled his head around to watch us, watching him. I set up my scope and let Paige enjoy close-ups of the bird for a few minutes.
We had left the owl and were a few hundred yards down the path when I thought I heard a distant, "Hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo". The two of us stopped and listened. Again, "Hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo". Then a second, higher set of hoots. It was sunny and around 10:30am. I didn't think Great Horned Owls called during the day. We walked the short distance back towards the source. Suddenly two Great Horned Owls flew out of the forest and circled close to each other above the trees. A third raptor flew off to their right. Neither Paige nor I had clear looks at the third bird. It seemed like the right shape and size for a Great Horned Owl, but I couldn't be 100% certain. There was a Red-tailed Hawk in the area, but he was still perched behind us. We waited around for a few more minutes, but they never called again.
It was a great experience finding the owls and even better knowing that I was able to share it with a friend who had never seen one. ...Read more
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
On Sunday I went to Jones Beach with my friend Peter. We thought that leaving at first light would give us some time to bird before the rain arrived. It didn't quite work out that way, but we did have a couple of outstanding experiences despite coming home drenched to the bone.
Before going to Jones Beach we stopped at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale. A Barnacle Goose was seen there feeding within a flock of Canada Geese. Peter had never seen one of these beautiful waterfowl and I had only seen one once before. It took us about 3 minutes to spot the barnacle. Even in the rain and greyness, the bird's all white face clearly stood out among a few hundred canada's white chinstraps. I wasn't able to take any decent photos all day due to the terrible weather, but here is a photo of a Barnacle Goose taken by my friend Steve Nanz. We went out to see this one at Eisenhower Park on Long Island back in January 2006.
After spending several minutes peering at the geese through the cemetery fence, we headed south to the Coast Guard Station at Jones Beach. Shorebirds can usually be found on a sand spit that hooks around a cove at that location. Waterfowl, loons and an assortment of gulls are also a good bet here.
There were lots of birds along the spit when we arrived. To stay out of the rain, we stood under the restroom's roof overhang while scanning the flock. The narrow stretch of sand was crowded with Brant, Black-bellied Plover, American Oystercatcher, Sanderling and Dunlin. When a small flock of plovers flew to the grass next to us we discovered that one was a golden plover.
At one point there was a lot of noise coming from the cove and all the birds flushed from the sand spit. A police boat was anchored near the cove, as well as, a small fishing boat moored to the dock closest to the spit. A pair of Zodiacs were slowly motoring out of the cove behind the spit. There were people on the boats holding metal pipes partially submerged in the water while banging the exposed ends with hammers. I noticed two dolphins as they broke the surface in front of the small boats. I'm guessing that the dolphins had become trapped in the cove at low tide and rescuers used the noisemakers to move the dolphins out into the bay and towards the inlet. Both mammals seemed pretty small, but one looked significantly smaller than the other. Parent and offspring, perhaps? Their dark, arched backs and triangular dorsal fins broke the surface every few yards as the pair headed West, towards the inlet and to the open sea; big fin, little fin, big fin, little fin. The happy scene momentarily made me forget that I was standing in the cold, blowing rain. Maybe they were Harbor Porpoises.
We drove to the concession in Field 6 to get something hot to drink. After some chowder and a little drying off, we headed out to the car. As we exited the concession building a Peregrine Falcon zoomed passed at nearly eye level. It was chasing a pigeon and circled around the building twice before heading west, towards the 200 foot high water tower. It returned a short time later with its smaller mate. The two chased the pigeons briefly, then headed towards the surf. They scared up a confusing ball of mixed shorebirds, but seemed to have one singled out. Separated from the flock, a tiny Sanderling didn't stand a chance. The male falcon slammed it, then snatched it out of the air. What happened next was something I'd never seen. The female flew above her mate, he flipped over and passed her the prey. This happened while they were only a short distance above the breaking surf. Amazing.
Check out this video clip of a Peregrine Falcon hunting along a mudflat. ...Read more
Monday, December 01, 2008
For Thanksgiving I went to visit family down in Annapolis, Maryland for several days. The stuffed turkey was nearly the only bird I focused on, so my bins remained in their case most of the week. I did, however, have an interesting bird-related experience on Thanksgiving morning.
The YMCA has an annual "Turkey Trot" to raise money for their Camp Letts facility. It's a beautiful, wooded property located on the South River in Edgewater, Maryland. They organize both a 5k and 10k run that draws a big crowd each year. I'm not a runner, but I always go over early in the morning to support family members who do run. During the race, I wander around the woods and river banks with my bins.
This year, before the start of the race, I noticed a flock of birds in a large tree that overlooks the finish line; very large birds. They were a mix of Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures. There were 33 sitting in a single tree and several more nearby. I hoped their presence wasn't some kind of eerie omen for the runners. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on their part.
After the starting gun, I wandered across the parking field to where the vultures were perched. Despite their huge size and scary appearance, they were pretty skittish and half of them took off. The leaf litter below their perch looked like a well used painter's drop cloth, and I won't even get into the pungent bouquet. I guess a biologist really needs to be dedicated to study these interesting creatures. To complete this fascinating Thanksgiving morning picture were their "songs". A good word to describe their vocalizations would be prehistoric. I wouldn't be surprised if they were used as sound effects in "Jurassic Park". As the vultures jostled for prime perching spots they made bizarre hissing sounds. A few times I also heard what sounded sort of like barking. Eventually, I realized that standing beneath a tree full of vultures was probably asking for trouble, so I headed back to the finish line.
I briefly searched the Internet for a collective noun for vultures. Crows have their "murder", quails have their "covey" and hawks have their "kettle", but what about the lowly vultures? Many years ago, my friend Jonathan Rosenthal suggested the expression, "a fester of vultures". Having spent a few minutes listening to and smelling the avian equivalent to a sanitation crew, it seems like a fitting poetic collective.
-click to hear a Black Vulture-
-click to hear a Turkey Vulture- ...Read more
Monday, November 24, 2008
I rode my bicycle to Dreier-Offerman Park (aka Calvert Vaux) this past Saturday. Artist Dillon de Give was performing a piece entitled "Hello, My Name is Dark-eyed Junco." According to the press release, the performance is "a response to the immanent installation of six artificial turf soccer fields scheduled to begin at Calvert Vaux Park November 24th. The renovation will significantly change the parkʼs natural habitat, which serves as a temporary and permanent home to a variety of birds". I wanted to support his effort, as well as, do some birding.
It was easily the most brutal day of cycling that I've ever subjected myself. When I woke up, the reported windchill was 12 degrees and the wind was gusting to 32 mile per hour. There were chunks of ice forming in my water bottle. The cold alone wouldn't have been too bad, but fighting the wind was a little frustrating; sort of like walking up a down escalator. The open grassland of the park, as expected, was pretty much devoid of birds. The cove at the south side of the peninsula was in a windbreak, so there was a good mix of waterfowl present, as well as, a chatty Belted Kingfisher. Alex Wilson gave a tour to several die hard birders prior to Dillon's piece. I didn't stick around for the performance as I thought it wise to head back home before frostbite set in.
Sunday the wind had died down and it warmed up to nearly 40 degrees...a virtual heat wave. It was brightly sunny and flocks of hungry goldfinches descended on nearly every sweetgum tree in Prospect Park.
I followed my usual route from the north end of the park towards Prospect Lake. Once on Wellhouse Drive, near the Peninsula Meadow, I ran into Gerry Layton and Rob Bates. They pointed out an Eastern Bluebird feeding on the opposite side of the road. It was an extraordinarily brilliant, blue bird. He was very cooperative, perching on low branches or vines, then dropping to the leaf litter at the edge of the road, presumably to grab insects. Then, in what struck me as a wonderful color theme, two other unlikely "blue" birds appeared in the same view - a Blue-headed Vireo and a Black-throated Blue Warbler. The vireo sometimes lingers late into the season, but the warbler just seemed bizarre. There are only six known winter records in New York State for this warbler. I hope he finds enough to eat, because if he doesn't hightail it down to the Bahamas soon, he might not survive the year. Also nearby was an Eastern Phoebe. November is usually the month for the unexpected and observing these, normally, warm weather species seemed to take some of the chill out of the air.
Before leaving the edge of the lake Rob and I decided to look behind the Wellhouse for birds. We were standing there for only a moment when a Merlin flew out of the woods like a bullet. She headed right towards a pair of cardinals feeding in a Szechuan Peppercorn tree. The cardinals screamed a short alarm and the falcon took off flying towards lamppost J249. We weren't certain if the raptor was successful as she vanished into the trees. Thankfully, she missed the bluebird and "blue" birds.
On my way out of the park, I spotted the pale-headed juvenile Red-tailed Hawk that I recently photographed in Green-Wood Cemetery. He was perched in a London Planetree at the 5th Street entrance to the park. He looked elegant and poised against the flame-orange setting sun.
This morning (Monday), I saw the hawk again at the end of my block. He was chasing pigeons. Perhaps he is the red-tail that I've been catching glimpses of when eating my breakfast. A neighbor across the courtyard feeds pigeons and there is now a sizable flock that comes in every morning. About a week ago I started to notice a large raptor stirring up the flock. Hmmm, my new best friend for life.
Location: Prospect Park
Observation date: 11/23/08
Number of species: 50
Northern Shoveler (~300.)
Red-throated Loon (1, Prospect Lake.)
Pied-billed Grebe (4.)
Great Blue Heron (2.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Great Black-backed Gull
Eastern Phoebe (1.)
Blue-headed Vireo (1. Feeding near Wellhouse.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3.)
Brown Creeper (1.)
Winter Wren (2.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (2.)
Eastern Bluebird (1. Feeding near Wellhouse and edge of Peninsula Meadow.)
Gray Catbird (1.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (1. Feeding near Wellhouse.)
Eastern Towhee (1.)
Chipping Sparrow (1.)
Song Sparrow (8.)
Purple Finch (5.)
Pine Siskin (1.)
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, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow ...Read more
Saturday, November 22, 2008
On Wednesday I took a quick ride over to Green-Wood Cemetery ... and, "No", I didn't find the you-know-what. Marge and I did come across a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk that neither of us recognized.
We spotted the young bird perched near the top of a pine tree on Ocean Avenue. He was a couple of feet below the top and almost hidden by the tree's needles. Like the adult named Ralph from Prospect Park, this bird had very pale head feathers. I looked through my photos of the four offspring from Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park, but they all had the typical dark heads. As I took photos of the hawk, we noticed Big Mama her mate, Junior, soaring high above the cemetery. The young hawk saw them, as well, and nervously watched them from his discreet perch. Perhaps they had tried to chase him from their territory earlier in the day.
I started to think about the year that Junior arrived in Prospect Park. He still had his youthful brown-banded tail feathers. Big Mama was in the process of building a new nest with her mate of three years, Split-tail. Junior decided to "help" and got into numerous fights with the older male hawk. Eventually, Split-tail split and Junior hooked up with Big Mama. The following year the pair moved their territory into the Green-Wood Cemetery. I wonder if this new, young bird in the cemetery is going to try and move in on Big Mama.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Between riding laps around the park's outer roadway and the rain drops, I managed to do a little birding in Prospect Park last weekend.
Most of the expected winter visitors have fallen into their daily routines; Northern Shovelers are swirling, face down in discrete circles on Prospect Lake; reclaiming a prime location, a pair of Bufflehead have returned and are diving at the Upper Pool, large flocks of twittering Dark-eyed Juncos are nervously feeding along the edges of the park's grass meadows and White-throated Sparrows are once again dominating the leaf litter of the woodlands.
There were a few, fleeting moments on Saturday when the sun broke through the clouds. I was on the Peninsula at one point and a blanket of golden leaves beneath the Ginkgo trees were blinding bright.
On Sunday, a Red-throated Loon stopped off at Prospect Lake. These loons are fairly common along the coast, but rarely seen on our park's inland waterways. I'm more accustomed to seeing them at a great distance, through a scope. The one in Prospect Park was occasionally seen swimming only a few yards from the shore. When viewed from so close, I wondered out loud how I could have ever confused it with a Common Loon. ...Read more
Thursday, November 20, 2008
In early December of 2006 I posted about a wayward hummingbird that showed up on Long Island. The tiny Rufous Hummingbird became an instant celebrity and homeowner Norm Klein entertained many of us with his daily writings. Unbelievably, two years later, his backyard was visited again by a Rufous Hummingbird. Was it the same bird? It's hard to say for sure, but it has been know to happen. Read about "Perdita", a Rufous Hummingbird that returned to North Carolina for 5 years in a row! Anyway, I thought you'd enjoy Norm's postings to Birdingonthe.net about this year's unexpected visitor:
Subject: Ilsa the selasphorus hummer
From: Norm Klein
Date: Sun, 09 Nov 2008
ILSA IS BACK! Hopefully, she will be around tomorrow and the next day and the next day... For those of you who haven't met her, she is a selasphorus hummer (possibly the same bird that visited us two years ago). First seen at 9:45am this morning and has been visiting the pineapple sage and the feeders every ten minutes. She will receive visitors at 21 Woodhull Place, Northport (red house fronted by three large evergreens). If she decides to accept our hospitality tomorrow and into the future, I will continue to post. " Here's looking at you, kid!"
- Norm K.
Subject: "Ilsa" chronicles: day 2
Date: Mon, 10 Nov 2008
"Ilsa" wasted no time getting to her private commisary this morning; and I do believe that she is here for the long haul. A little history: On the morning of November 26, 2006 a selasphorus hummingbird which we named Ilsa (more about this name at some future date) made her first appearance at our backyard. She left on January 29, 2007. In those 65 days we got to know our miniscule guest intimately. It was later concluded that she was indeed a rufous hummingbird. And she had journeyed 3000 miles just to visit our hummerble Northport backyard. Skip to the present; precisely 9:45am yesterday November 9, 2008, and who pops in but another selasphorus guest. We like to believe that she is original "Ilsa" and not some "Ilsa II." What are the odds that two different Ilsas would make that crazy journey and exit in the same little patch of Kleinville? So we think of her as original "Ilsa". But wbere was she hanging out last year? A mystery! If some are thinking that she is "Ilsa II", then this is a spectacular coincidence. I don't know how to solve this enigma. The future calls for her being banded; and then if she returns, we'll know for sure.
Enough for now!
- Norm K.
Subject: Ilsa chronicles: day 3
Date: Tue, 11 Nov 2008
"Ilsa" appeared this morning between 8 and 9 am, but unfortunately has not been seen since. I hope that she found some safe and food plenty place to spend the day. Perhaps she will reappear tomorrow, or/and the next day, or/and the days after that. I will keep the welcome mat out for her (fresh mix in the feeders) and the blooming pineapple sage. And I will keep the feeders going through Christmas. Also, I will continue to post for the rest of this week.
One of the disappointed birders who came by asked about the name "Ilsa", and since I promised to satisfy the curiosity of those who were not in the know before, I will only give you a clue. The day 2006 "Ilsa" appeared, I laughingly said to my wife: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine." And now you dear reader can fill in the dots. And I'd like to end with a toast to 2008 "Ilsa": "Here's looking at you, kid!"
Subject: Ilsa chronicles: day 4
Date: Wed, 12 Nov 2008
Ilsa was a no-show today. I am glad that some of you got to see the bird; and I feel kind of sad that some of you made the trip to Northport and were disappointed. But that's one of the kickers of birding. I keep on hoping that she will return; and so I keep the feeders going. I will continue to post the rest of this week. There was some excitement yesterday as a sharp-shinned hawk dwelt around the other feeders and froze all the locals. Also, a purple finch and a pair of siskins and a fish crow made an appearance. So all was not lost. It was also good to meet old friends and some new ones and to be reminded what a hardy and persistent group are birders. Happy birding!
Subject: Ilsa chronicles: day 5
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 2008
No good news to report about Ilsa today; but the weather might have something to do with it. Even Tom Burke is hopefuil that a cold front might possibly bring her back. Keep the faith!
Subject: Ilsa chronicles: day 6
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2008
So, Ilsa, the selasphorus hummingbird, has flown off one more time after only a two day+ stay; and sadly this is probably my last posting about her. I wish her well. As was said by a sentimental Rick: "We'll always have Paris."
Friday, November 14, 2008
(Deep breath) Now that my computer has a shiny, new harddrive and all my files have been restored, here's the condensed version of what I've been seeing around the neighborhood.
First, a big "Thank you" to Heydi Lopes for sending me a photo of a Horned Lark that dropped into Dreier-Offerman Park on November 1st. I saw Heydi at the park prior to finding the lark that morning. She was still nearby, so I hopped on my bike and tracked her down to let her know about this special bird. Luckily, it stuck around and she was able to take some really good photos.
November 2nd, Green-Wood Cemetery:[Read Full Post...]
It seems like whenever I make a concerted effort to find the Great Horned Owl, I never find it. When I'm not looking, its glaring, golden eyes home in on me like lasers from a roost somewhere above my head. Unfortunately, the former was the case when I went hunting for him with Paige recently in the cemetery.
The tremendous number of migrating Chipping Sparrows seen recently at Green-Wood were greatly reduced, but Hermit Thrush numbers have gone way up. One consolation prize was finding a woodcock. Usually, I find them by accidentally flushing them. After a split-second view, I never see them again. This time Paige relocated the well camouflaged bird sitting under the drooping branches of a pine tree. He kept one eye on us, but remained motionless in the tree's shadow.
As we were walking up Central Avenue, back towards the main entrance, one of the resident Red-tailed Hawks swooped in and perched in a tree close to us. It was a small male and, judging by unusual dark smudges on his face, I was pretty certain that it was Big Mama's mate "Junior". He had his eye on something on the ground and eventually took off from his perch to a spot several yards from where we were watching. He wasn't successful catching his prey, but it was nice to get close looks of him hunting.
November 3nd, Eastern Parkway "injured" hawk:
I was heading towards the subway when I received a call from fellow birder Edith Gorum. Her conversation was an odd "telephone game" situation. A guy on Eastern Parkway, near Washington Avenue, called Anne Lazarus at the New York City Audubon Society office. He found a hawk on the sidewalk near the Brooklyn Museum that appeared to be injured. Anne knew that I lived close to the museum, but didn't have my cellphone number, so she called Edith, who did. Edith explained the situation and wanted to give me the guy's number. I told her to just have him call me. A few minutes later I spoke to him and said that the best thing to do was stay put and call Bobby Horvath, a wildlife rehabilitator. In the meantime, I grabbed my bicycle and rode the short distance to Washington Avenue and Eastern Parkway.
There wasn't much I would be able to do, but if the caller needed to like, I figure I would stay until help arrived. Now I feel like I should be saying something like, "I'm not an actual doctor, but I play one on TV". It's great that many New Yorker show so much concern and compassion for wildlife and over the next week I'll create a link in the sidebar for what people should do if they find an injured animal. For now, though, a call to the city's 311 line should be a good start. Anyway, when I arrived, the guy (sorry, I forgot your name) was walking around with an empty cardboard box, scanning the trees. Apparently, the hawk took off. I explained about how hawks will "mantle" over their prey and perhaps he encountered the raptor moments after he had made a kill. Our city hawks won't usually take-off and leave their prey behind, even if people are very close. The good news was that the animal was not injured. I was curious about the bird and scanned the trees for a minute before I noticed a community garden a short distant from where the hawk was originally seen. Good place for a hawk, I thought. Sure enough, there was a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk perched in a large tree inside the garden. He had a very fat (and very dead) squirrel in his talons. The young hawk seemed awkward and unbalanced as he tried to get into a good position to eat his breakfast.
Two days later, I was walking down 9th Street to the "R" train station. Perched on an antenna atop a Brownstone between 6th and 7th Avenue was an adult Red-tailed Hawk. I love spotting hawks in unexpected places. It was overcast and I didn't have any bins with me, but the pale-headed bird looked like Prospect Park's "Ralph". I pointed him out to a couple walking down 9th Street. Their faces lit up and they were still watching after I walked away.
November 8th, Mt. Loretto & Conference House Park:
Last week I led a trip to Mt. Loretto on Staten Island for the Brooklyn Bird Club. The weather forecasts called for rain and lots of it. I began the trip at 6:30am figuring we would be able to get in a few hours before the thunderstorms hit.
I enjoy foggy weather, but apparently the birds at Mt. Loretto do not as there was very little activity. One highlight was spotting a male Merlin perched in a dead tree overlooking the south-most meadow. The tiny falcon was very cooperative and permitted long, studied looks. Eventually, a large Cooper's Hawk flew in from the north and out over the fields. It was a very hefty bird and probably weighed three times as much as the Merlin. Those kind of odds don't seem to matter much to the feisty little falcons. When the Cooper's Hawk disappeared over the trees behind the Merlin, he took off after her. I guess their pluck comes from the fact that they are very fast, agile birds of prey, and know it. I've seen one chase after a Red-tailed Hawk ... we're talking several ounces versus possibly a few pounds!
We didn't find many birds at Mt. Loretto, so I decided to bring the group over to Conference House Park, which is just a short drive down Hylan Blvd. Again, birds were few and far between. The only highlight was a brief look at an adult male Northern Harrier. The grey ghost was flying across the Arthur Kill from Perth Amboy to Staten Island. If I had to guess, I'd say that this grassland specialist was heading towards Mt. Loretto. By the time we finished our lunch, the rain had begun. After a brief stop at Great Kills, where the drenching rain commenced, I decided to call it a day. It might be alright for me to walk around in the pouring rain, but I wouldn't subject a group of people to my silliness.
We were on highway after crossing the bridge into Brooklyn when I noticed a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a street light. The hawk was on the overpass at Bay Ridge Parkway. I checked the map when I got home. The location is adjacent to McKinley Park, a spot where my friend Big Dave has been seeing a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk for about a year and a half.
November 9th, Floyd Bennett Field:
The storms moved out of NYC overnight and Sunday I woke up to crisp, clear Autumn sunshine. I was hoping to wrap up my physical therapy during the coming week and a long bike ride would be a good test of my recovery. I decided to head out to Floyd Bennett Field for some exercise and birding.
It's 9 miles from my front door to the entrance of Floyd Bennett Field. Add to several miles of riding inside the property, and it would be about a 25 mile day. If my shoulder held up, I would be ready to continue my recovery without a physical therapist.
My shoulder felt fine on the ride down. It was around 50 degrees with a west breeze blowing against my right side for most of the route. Once inside Floyd Bennett Field I rode to the cricket field, then headed to the "Return a Gift Pond", followed by a short stretch through the North 40. At one point I heard the buzzy calls of a Pine Siskin flock. The nervous flock approached from the direction of runway 6-24 and touched down briefly in an Ailanthus tree. I exited the North 40, rode north along the old runway and turned right onto 1-19. From there I coasted along the edge of fields "G" and "C", scanning for grassland birds. Near the edge of Field "C" I spotted the brilliant yellow underside of an Eastern Meadowlark. I fumbled to get my camera out and the nervous bird took off. It was followed by 15 more meadowlarks. When near the ground, Eastern Meadowlarks have an odd, stuttering flight pattern that looks like it would be very inefficient for distance travel. Do you think that they fly differently at higher altitudes during migration? I tried to find a video of meadowlarks flying, but came up empty. Perhaps I'll shoot one myself some day.
I my way out of Floyd Bennett Field I circled around the road behind the tree nursery. I found this Eastern Garter Snake warming up in the sun on the road. He looked very content and I hated to disturb the little one, but was afraid that he'd get run over by a car. It was the first time that I've ever found a native snake species within the five boroughs of New York City. When I picked him up, he quickly wrapped around my little finger.
Location: Floyd Bennett Field
Observation date: 11/9/08
Number of species: 35
Great Black-backed Gull
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Eastern Meadowlark (16.)
Pine Siskin (~40.)
Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
The following event information was just sent to me:
I am organizing an audience-interactive birdwatching theatre piece at Dreier-Offerman on Saturday November 22 to help call attention to what is happening. I would love to have some involvement from the birdwatching community!
If anyone is interested in participating, or learning more they can contact me at:
implausibot (at) yahoo.com .
There is a web page for the event here
thank you very much,
Dillon de Give
In the immortal words of Gilda Radner's character Roseanne Roseannadanna, "It's always something!"
This time it's a technical glitch. My computer's internal harddrive bit the dust last week. Not to worry, all my files are backed up to an external drive and tomorrow a replacement should be arriving by FedEx. If all goes as expected, it should be pretty quick to install and restore my documents. Once I'm back up and running I have some Red-tailed Hawk stories from last week, a trip I lead for the Brooklyn Bird Club to Staten Island (Mt. Loretto and Conference House Park) and a day of cycling and birding at Floyd Bennett Field. Thanks for your patience.
Monday, November 03, 2008
I decided to try something new to make the pages a little easier on the eyes. Since my posts can sometimes run a little long, I'm experimenting with "expandable post summaries". Let me know if you have any problems with your browser displaying the new expand/collapse feature.
Sunday, November 02, 2008
On Saturday I cycled to Dreier-Offerman Park and spent several hours birding the grassland and surrounding area. An early surprise (at least for me) was finding a Horned Lark feeding at the edge of one of the parking lots. During the course of the morning there were several flyovers of American Pipits. I observed two pipits feeding in the grass at one soccer field, but a flock of about 60 touched down very briefly. There were lots of sparrows around, the highlight being a Vesper Sparrow. Like every other time I've visited the park, I spotted at least one kestrel hunting over the grasslands.
Only recently have I begun to appreciate the diversity of grassland and coastal species supported by Dreier-Offerman Park's habitats. For those who had the opportunity to see it, this is the same area where Alex Wilson found the Western Reef Heron. An American Golden-Plover, not nearly as rare, was observed a week ago and I just learned that it is on the Audubon Society's "Watchlist". Eastern Meadowlarks are regulars at DO and Killdeer breed in the park. Dreier-Offerman (a.k.a., Calvert Vaux Park) is definitely unique among Brooklyn properties owned by NYC's Department of Parks & Recreation. Now for the bad news:
Beginning on Nov. 24, 2008, a large portion of Calvert Vaux/Dreier Offerman Park will be ripped up for the installation of artificial turf soccer fields. Ultimately, a vast area of the park will be covered with six artificial turf soccer fields. There have been no studies on the cumulative impacts of the fields on the existing bird populations. Nor has any info been provided on the cumulative temperature impacts of installing so much plastic in so concentrated an area.
The existing natural turf playing fields provide foraging area for a variety of birds and it would be a crime to lose them. So far, our pleas to the Parks Dept. are falling on deaf ears. We're going to need a huge outcry from the birding community to protect the birds that use this park.
On October 15, 2008 the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation sent out a press release entitled "New York Becomes Ninth City To Sign Migratory Bird Treaty":
"The Treaty, a partnership among The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), New York City Parks and Recreation, Audubon New York and New York City Audubon, is a commitment to restore, conserve and protect valuable bird habitat within New York City’s urban environment and to develop an informed public through education and training programs."
I guess that the parks department was just giving lip-service with that announcement, especially considering that the city owned grassland and next to non-existent and they are replacing natural turf with plastic turf at an alarming rate.
If you are as outraged by this development as I am and would like to help, you can contact Ida Sanoff at the Natural Resources Protective Association. You can also contact the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Atlantic Coast Joint Venture. Mitch Hartley is the North Atlantic Coordinator.
Click here to see a species list from Cornell's Ebird website.
Location: Dreier-Offerman Park
Observation date: 11/1/08
Number of species: 47
Great Black-backed Gull
Other commmon species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow
View Larger Map
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Picking up where I left off, I made a few trips on bicycle to Dreier-Offerman Park in the last couple of weeks. I also went (by car) to Plum Beach twice last weekend to look for sharp-tailed sparrows.
10/18, Dreier-Offerman Park
My plan was to ride southwest, to the Verranzano Bridge, then continue along the promenade to Dreier-Offerman Park. Purple Sandpipers should be arriving soon, so I thought I'd look for them along the rocky shoreline of Gravesend Bay. The low, autumn sunshine, however, was blinding on that 2 mile stretch, so went directly to the park instead.
Dreier-Offerman Park was extremely active with a nice mix of passerines along the weedy, disturbed habitats that edge the peninsula. New England, New York and Saltmarsh Asters brightened shrub islands and unmowed grassy patches on the periphery of the soccer and baseball fields. There was a kestrel hunting all morning above the short grass of the central fields. The falcon used the tall lampposts around the fields as a perch to scan the ground. A very large, female Sharp-shinned Hawk patrolling small, scattered stretches of woods along the park edges was also stirring up a lot of avian unease. Needless to say, birds were very skittish, but I did have some interesting observations.
The best experience of the day occurred late in the morning. I was scanning the small cove on the north side of the park when a flock of Pine Siskins flew into an Ailanthus tree to my right. A few moments later they dropped down to the edge of the water to bathe and drink. I have seen Pine Siskins around the city parks nearly every year, but usually it is just 1-3 birds within a goldfinch flock. At Dreier-Offerman I counted approximately 50 individuals in a flock comprised completely of siskins! When they perched in the tree, the chittering sounds and random choruses of several dozen "zreeeeeeet" just above my head was very cool and reminiscent of something usually found in the Adirondacks during winter.
Warbler diversity seemed to have been reduced to mostly large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Palm Warblers. In addition, there was a decently mix of sparrows around the park edges, the highlight of which was a Vesper Sparrow. I was walking through the grass and mugwort at the western tip of the peninsula when I flushed a large sparrow. It circled me then landed on a chunk of discarded asphalt at the edge of the water. The bird was cooperative and remained in the open for about a minute before scurrying like a mouse into the adjacent grass. Much less rare, but certainly a treat to see on a bright, sunny, autumn morning, was a male Eastern Bluebird. Other thrushes, such as Hermit Thrushes and robins were seen in good numbers, particularly around Autumn Olive trees, which are now laden with juicy berries.
The most birdy area in the park was at the southeast edge, within a stretch of trees below the berm.
10/22 & 10/23, Dreier-Offerman Park
On Wednesday I took a late afternoon ride to Dreier-Offerman Park. I was only planning to get some exercise and didn't really have time to bird. My bins were in my handlebar pack, just in case. The route took me straight down through Bensonhurst and Gravesend, then I'd loop around the park's inner roads and head back home.
A flock of Killdeer were noisily circling above the cove on the south side of the park. They gradually decended below the trees, presumably to roost at the water's edge. I flushed two Eastern Meadowlarks near a grassy patch at the tip of the peninsula. Their stuttering flight is unusual and distinctive. The edges of the soccer fields were littered with garbage from recent games and it annoyed me. When I cut across the roadway that bisects the fields, I scanned the trash and muttered expletives under my breath. Then one small, dark pile moved and my disposition changed. It was an American Golden-Plover sitting in the grass next to a white, painted goal line. I called a couple of friends to let then know, as these birds are rarely seen in Brooklyn.
Early the next morning I drove back to the park with my friend Marge. I wasn't optimistic that we'd find the plover, but it didn't hurt to look. Sure enough, the bird was nearly in the exact same spot on the south field. Unlike the prior evening, he was illuminated by bright sunshine. Golden-yellow on his upper-tail, rump, scapulars, head and to a lesser extend, facial patch really stood out. It was the first time that I was close enough to one of these birds to see the color. I've never seen one in breeding plumage and imagine that they are stunning. Guess I'll have to take a trip to their arctic breeding grounds. Adding to the excitement of the morning was an American Kestrel hunting from a lamppost above us.
Several people went back over the next few days trying to relocate the plover. It was eventually seen by my friends Tom and Alex early on Sunday morning.
10/25 & 10/26, Plum Beach
Shane and Doug have been birding a lot lately at Plum Beach. I was surprised to learn that both the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows have been seen there regularly. Shane offered to drive over with me on Saturday morning at dawn.
The weather was threatening rain, but even if it didn't, strong winds were gusting out of the southwest. We were hoping that the dunes would block some of the wind and the birds would stick their heads out of the dense marsh grass...even for just a quick look. For many people, when you say the word "sparrow" they probably think of nondescript, little brown birds. Sharp-tailed sparrows are not. Browns, grays and yellow-ochre patterns are distinctly, yet help them blend into an environment of sand and marsh vegetation. Their hissing, high-pitched song could almost be mistaken for wind rustling through the grass.
Despite wind and drizzle, we managed to see several Nelson's and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows. I went back the next morning with Paige. On Sunday there was little wind and lots of sunshine. The sparrows were very cooperative as we sat on the sand a couple of yards away from the marsh. Washed in golden, fall sunshine, we watched several of these lovely birds nibbling on vegetation close to the ground or in the dunes behind us feeding on the seed-bearing tops of the dune grass. At one point we observed a Savannah Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow perched on the grass side-by-side. I shot a short video, but the quality didn't do these beautiful birds justice, so decided not to post it.