Sunday, October 26, 2008

Healing and Birds

I'm back. Sorry if my postings have slowed to a crawl in recent months. Sometimes my thoughts and good intentions are like unsorted stacks of paperwork on my desk. As the size of the piles grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine which items to toss, file or put to good use. Stagnation can become a problem, but that's a discussion for an entirely different type of blog. Here are some recent (and not so recent) updates.

Around New York City I've observed increased numbers of migrating kinglets, Chipping Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, sapsuckers, Red-breasted Nuthatch and some of our other winter visitors. My arm is now out of the sling and I've been going to physical therapy once a week. I've also started cycling again and am gradually building back up to 25 mile rides. September 28th was my first, relatively long, birding day with two free arms.

My old friend, the late Marty Sohmer, once told me, "The worst weather sometimes brings the best birds." With that bit of advice in mind, I met with my friend Paige that morning for some wet birding in Prospect Park.

We spent 2 hours birding during the peak of the day's rainfall. When I returned home, soaked to the bone, the sun promptly appeared. There appeared to be a pretty decent influx of songbirds around Lookout Hill, the Peninsula and edges of the lake. Unfortunately, the time spent between wiping my bins and actually using them to see the birds were brief. We did have one unexpected find that made up for the rain - a Least Bittern on Three Sister's Island in Prospect Lake. The bird was preening out in the open within the branches of a willow tree that juts into the water on the island's western edge. Cormorants can usually be seen drying their feathers in this location.

In 2006 a Least Bittern was located on the same island, but close to the shore on the southwest side within a stretch of phragmites. This is only the second time that I've seen a Least Bittern in Prospect Park. The first one I found on a foggy morning perched in a Black Cherry sapling on Payne Hill (not even close to this bird's typical habitat).

Before we arrived at the edge of the lake near the island, we spotted a pair of juvenile Red-tailed Hawks in a wooded stretch near the bridle path. At first, we only noticed one, then it flew to an adjacent tree where a smaller, presumably male hawk, had been perched. The second bird had a distinct white patch on its crown. I'm guessing that they were Alice & Ralph's offspring from this year.

The following weekend we went over to Green-Wood Cemetery for a couple of hours of birding. Warbler diversity seemed to have reached the seasonal peak, but there were still lots of songbirds passing through the area. Both species of kinglets had suddenly appeared in good numbers, as had several species of thrushes. Sparrows had taken their place on the annual south bound conveyor belt - Chipping Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos were the most abundant species. Many will remain through the winter. I spotted a Clay-colored Sparrow as we were walking up the road towards Battle Pass. These small, delicately marked birds are rare but regular migrants along the coast, so it's always a nice surprise to find one. They are generally found within flocks of the similar and related Chipping Sparrow.

Numerous fruiting dogwood trees were hubs of bird activity in the cemetery. At one point 4 Scarlet Tanagers feasted on the bright, orange berries just a couple of feet above my head. Yew trees were also a big draw. A flock of several dozen Cedar Waxwings blanketed one tree while we were standing on Mad Poet Hill.

Marge, Mike and I stumbled on a Great Horned Owl in the cemetery. None of the cemetery's regular birders had seen him or her in several months. It was an pleasant surprise. I am always vague about the location of owl roosts because these nocturnal birds have been so badly persecuted in the past and are sensitive to human disturbance. They are the best rodent control method ever invented, so I'd like to see more of them around the city and less poison traps.

I cycled over to Green-Wood a couple of more times since that day, but wasn't able to locate the owl. On those days songbird activity was very slow, not because there weren't any birds, but because at least 5 raptors were on the prowl. I counted one Red-tailed Hawk, two kestrels and two Cooper's Hawks.

Marge and I spent a couple of hours birding Prospect Park on the morning of October 14th. We found Ralph perched in a favorite spot atop the massive Tuliptree on Nelly's Lawn. I took a few photos and, as we were walking away, saw Alice flying from the back of the same tree. I was hoping to find some sparrows nibbling on the grass at the edges of the "Sparrow Bowl" near the Tennis House. Unfortunately, all the birds were hiding. Two very vocal Sharp-shinned Hawks were terrorizing the wildlife along that edge of the Long Meadow, although they seemed more interested in fighting with each other than hunting for little birdies.

Tomorrow I'll continue the update with some interesting sightings from Dreier-Offerman Park and Plum Beach.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

1 comment:

Yojimbot said...

welcome back...cool video of the sharpies!

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