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Saturday, April 12, 2008

BIrds are on the move

Today was the first day since last year's migration that I observed what could be termed a "fallout" in Prospect Park. Last weekend there was a reasonable variety and abundance of migrant songbirds in the park. By Thursday, many of those individuals had departed and there was very little bird activity. The overnight change was profound.

I was scheduled to lead a Linnaean Society field trip today in Prospect Park. I'm guessing that, due to rain forecasts, many people chose to pull the covers over their heads and go back to sleep. Bad choice. The three people who showed up, plus two people from Queens who joined me later in the day, made the right choice. We tallied 68 species of birds and one Red Admiral butterfly.

In the sky above the park, there were some obvious signs that birds were on the move. Early in the morning, we spotted a flock of four Great Egrets. Later we spotted three separate Great Blue Herons, a small flock of cormorants, a single Common Loon and two Turkey Vultures.

On the ground, Hermit Thrushes were seen in every wooded area that we visited. Towhees were seen or heard in several locations scattered through the park. Pine Warblers have gone from a couple here and there, to a couple of dozen. Thursday, I observed two or three Palm Warblers, today they were virtually commonplace. To get an idea of the palm's abundance, at one point I counted six within a tiny, open patch in the Midwood. Yellow-rumped Warbler numbers had increased, but were still relatively low, at least for yellow-rumps. There was a single Louisiana Waterthrush foraging along the edge of the water in the Ravine. We also counted a lone Blue-headed Vireo. A birder acquaintance that we spoke to very briefly when we started our walk tracked us down in the Ravine. She excitedly told us that she observed a Hooded Warbler in the Midwood. Unfortunately, we were not able to relocate the striking, yellow and black songbird.

One unusual, early sighting was of a Northern Parula. It was singing and feeding among a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers on the Peninsula Meadow, near the edge of the lake. The flock was foraging within a hophornbeam tree that has sprouted long, dangling, yellow catkins. According to "Bull's Birds of New York State", this would be an extreme inland date. April 27th 1994 is listed as the previous date. (*I was just informed by a friend who is a biologist at the AMNH, that NYC and Long Island are, technically, coastal, not inland.)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet numbers have also increased. So far this spring, Golden-crowned Kinglets have outnumbered ruby-crowneds by, I'm guessing, 5 to 1. A good number of both species have arrived, but ruby- crowns seem to have caught up. We also counted two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

Sparrows were also seen in a greater variety and abundance than early in the week. There were several Savannah Sparrows feeding on the grass at Payne Hill, the Nethermead Meadow and a tiny strip of grass behind the Nature Center. We also counted a few Field Sparrows and small flocks of Chipping Sparrows. Swamp Sparrows were observed throughout the park from the time we entered at Grand Army Plaza until the time we all departed. They were feeding on the ground in such varied habitats as the Vale of Cashmere, the woods of Payne Hill, the Midwood, the Lullwater and the Peninsula Meadow. Early in the morning, I watched one singing from a perch at the top of a stubby, leafless shrub in the Vale of Cashmere. At the time, some locations seemed to me unsuitable or incongruous for a Swamp Sparrow, and then I remembered something my friend Pete told me. Last year at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, I second-guessed my identification of a bird because the habitat was "wrong". He pointed out that, "On migration, all bets are off." When a migrating bird is hungry and tired, they'll stop to feed, regardless of the neighborhood.

After meandering from the north end of the park to south, we returned to the Vale of Cashmere. Our final bird of the day was a Rusty Blackbird calling (singing?) from within a Weeping Higgin Cherry Tree. The parks department hasn't yet turned on the water for the ornamental pond and fountains. This has created the perfect muddy, leafy puddle for a hungry rusty. It was a rare treat for me to spend time listening to their rusty-hinge vocalizations. The sound was reminiscent of the Blue Jay's "rusty clothes line" call.

Many of the local species, such as robins and mourning doves, were already sitting on nests. Near Sullivan Hill a Tufted Titmouse flew across the trail in front of us carrying nest material. We followed him to a cavity about 8 feet up in a small beech tree. His mate sat on a perch opposite the nest tree whistling a song of encouragement. The small, gray bird collected bits of moss found on the forest floor for the nest’s base. A dropped a piece just below the cavity’s entrance was suspended on a tiny branch and looked like an emerald green “Welcome” mat.

At some point today my PDA fell out of my coat pocket and I retraced my steps hoping to find it. As Diana Teta and I were walking along the Lullwater, back to the lake, a calling Red-shouldered Hawk flew across the water ahead of us, up the west ridge and disappeared into the woods on Lookout Hill. Unexpected and wonderful, yes, but, strangely, didn't quite make up for my lost PDA. It sucks relying on technology. I know, I know; I used a database to create my day list, a word processor to write this report, an Internet connection to post this online and a cellphone to tell my friends the location of the birds in Prospect Park. It's hard to go back to pencil and paper. Anyone have a PDA they don't need?

Prospect Park, 4/12/2008
Common Loon (Fly over.)
Double-crested Cormorant (4, fly over.)
Great Blue Heron (3, fly over.)
Great Egret (4, flying together over park.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Wood Duck (Male & female, Upper Pool.)
American Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck (1, Lower Pool.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-shouldered Hawk (Calling & flying over Lullwater into Lookout Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
American Kestrel (Perched on Bald Cypress at Terrace Bridge.)
American Coot
Laughing Gull (2, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-billed Gull
Belted Kingfisher (Lullwater.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (5.)
Hairy Woodpecker (3 together in Lullwater.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (Several.)
Blue-headed Vireo (1, between Vale of Cashmere & Rose Garden.)
Tree Swallow (1, flying above Ravine.)
Tufted Titmouse (Carrying nest material into a tree cavity.)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper (2.)
Carolina Wren (2.)
Winter Wren (1, Midwood.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1, Midwood. 1, Endale Bridge.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Common.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Common.)
Hermit Thrush (~20-30.)
Gray Catbird (2, Lily Pond.)
Northern Mockingbird (1, Meadowport Arch.)
Northern Parula (Singing in hornbeam tree at edge of Peninsula Meadow.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Fairly common.)
Pine Warbler (Common.)
Palm Warbler (Common.)
Louisiana Waterthrush (1, edge of Ambergill in Ravine.)
Eastern Towhee (Fairly common.)
Chipping Sparrow (Fairly common.)
Field Sparrow (1, Payne Hill. 1 Midwood. 2, behind Nature Center.)
Savannah Sparrow (4, Payne Hill. 2, Nethermead Meadow. 2, behind Nature Center.)
Fox Sparrow (1, singing at Vale of Cashmere.)
Song Sparrow (Common.)
Swamp Sparrow (Fairly common.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Rusty Blackbird (1, Vale of Cashmere.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

Other common birds seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"


Mona said...

found your blog courtesy of a shout out on pd berger's site. love to see the signs of spring finally! and i'm a huge predatory bird fan. i lose it every time i see one in central park. maybe i'll learn more about these feathered friends by visiting your Site. thanks!

nsc said...

Rob, I would have loved the opportunity to join you. Next time, you might consider adding your Linnean walk schedule to your blog ahead of time as I always enjoy your written commentary. Great posts. Should be a fun season! Neal.

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