Friday, January 02, 2009

First Ride of the New Year

I can't believe another year is behind me. The good news is that it's the start of 12 more months of urban nature discoveries. This year I've decided to combine my New York City birding and nature exploring with as much cycling as possible (excluding blizzards, hurricanes and tornadoes). New Year's day I just did a little walking around Prospect Park in the blustery weather, but on the 2nd I hopped on my bicycle early in the morning. I rode south, to Gravesend Bay, then over to Dreier-Offerman Park. It was pretty cold and I got hit with some snow and freezing rain on my way back.

On New Years Day most of the bird activity seemed to be centered around Peter's feeders on Breeze Hill. Perhaps the cold weather and an abundance of raptors were keeping the little birdies more cautious than usual. There were the expected collection of woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice and goldfinches on the feeders. On the ground beneath were Mourning Doves, White-thoated Sparrows, juncos and a single Fox Sparrow. At the north end of the Nethermead Meadow a juvenile red-tail feasted on a freshly caught squirrel. About 50 yards to his west sat a female Merlin. She was at a favorite location above the bridle path. Horse hooves turn over the soil and sparrows dart in and out of the woods to forage along the path edges. Frequently, before they can react, the Merlin will cut through the flock like a bullet and there will be one less bird in the flock. There were two other juvenile Red-tailed Hawks on the east side of Lookout Hill. One was the pale-headed individual that I've been seeing for a couple of months. A much larger, red-brown headed juvenile chased him away.

On Friday, January 2, I packed my bins and pedaled towards the water. I've discovered a new route along 6th Avenue. I turn off at 68th Street, passed Owl's Head Park to the 70th Street pier. That's where the bike path begins and follows the coast towards the Verrazano Bridge and Bensonhurst Park.

There's usually a lot of gulls on the pier, but the wind was apparently too strong for them as there were only a few scatter Ring-billed Gulls. It was high-tide and I noticed a lot of wooden debris being pushed into the rocky coastline. I scanned the water as I pedaled slowly along the promenade. One round piece of wood caught my eye. I appeared to have eyes, whiskers, ears and a snout ... the Harbor Seal looked around for a moment before tipping his head back, then slipping silently under the choppy water. At just under 5 miles to the tip of Manhattan, he was the most "urban" seal I've ever witnessed.

The boulders that line the water's edge were glazed with a coating of ice. In some spots green seaweed tinted the white veneer. Purple Sandpipers have returned to Brooklyn for the winter season. I counted 14 of these hardy shorebirds feeding on the rocky edges of the borough. South of the bridge the wind was pushing waves of seawater up over the retaining wall and onto the pedestrian path. Gulls, cowbirds, starlings and Brant intermingled on the grass median between the highway and bikeway. Scaup and Common Goldeneye flocks calmly rode the rough surf like the chop was nothing more than gentle swells.

Most of the bird activity at Dreier-Offerman Park was confined to the protected cove on the peninsula's south side. The strong winds kept nearly all passerines hunkered down, so after only a short time I headed back north.

There were several highlights to this, otherwise unbirdy day, but the trip back along the coast wasn't one. It began to snow, followed by a brief sleet interlude. Getting pelted in the face with ice isn't my idea of fun, so thankfully it didn't last very long. Sixth Avenue is interrupted at 37th Street by Green-Wood Cemetery, so I have to ride down to 5th Avenue, around the cemetery, then back up at 24th Street. The good news is the detour takes me passed the Aladdin Bakery. The aroma along that stretch is so amazing that all I want to do is ride faster so I can get home and make some toast. As I passed the main entrance to the cemetery I noticed something unusual on the tallest spire. Big Mama was perched on the point, scanning the hillside. The normally bustling Monk Parakeet nests just below the Red-tailed Hawk's feet were uncharacteristically quiet.

Location: Gravesend Bay
Observation date: 1/2/09

Brant
Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Greater Scaup (approx. 150.)
Bufflehead
Common Goldeneye (7.)
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck (1.)
Purple Sandpiper (14.)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
European Starling
House Sparrow

*****

Location: Dreier-Offerman Park
Observation date: 1/2/09

Brant
Canada Goose
Gadwall
American Wigeon (2.)
American Black Duck
Mallard
Bufflehead
Red-breasted Merganser
Pied-billed Grebe (1.)
Great Blue Heron (2.)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher (2.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit (4.)
American Tree Sparrow (1.)
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

*****

Location: Prospect Park
Observation date: 1/1/09

Cooper's Hawk (1.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4.)
Merlin (1.)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Fox Sparrow (1.)
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

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Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope