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Monday, November 24, 2008

Blue Fingers and Blue Birds

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.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-throated Loon (1, Prospect Lake.)
Pied-billed Grebe (4.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (2.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Merlin (1.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
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.)
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird (1.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (1. Feeding near Wellhouse.)
Eastern Towhee (1.)
Chipping Sparrow (1.)
Song Sparrow (8.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Purple Finch (5.)
Pine Siskin (1.)
American Goldfinch

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


Dillon said...

Hi Rob,

Good to meet you and thanks for your support. If anyone would like to see pictures we have some up here certainly was cold!


Starz723 said...

Rob..thats a marvelous video of the bluebird! You where in the right place at the right time.
Marge Raymond

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