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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dreier-Offerman Park & Plum Beach

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.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

1 comment:

Pamela said...

I've done very little birding this fall. BUT, some of the local birders saw a variegated flycatcher (from south america) not far from here on the snake river in September.

Of course I didn't get out there to see it. Darn.

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