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Monday, March 16, 2009

Blooms & Birds

As the first explosion of blossoms unfolds, a new, early breeder arrives in our area.

In response to the increasing hours of sunlight, Spring Crocuses have emerged in increasing numbers. At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden the small flowers have created rolling blankets of purple umbrellas on the hillsides. Willows are now blooming, as well. While I was photographing the fluffy, squirreltail-like blossoms on a Japanese Willow a Honey Bee entered the frame. The unfurling flowers provide a much needed source of nectar for these insects after their winter hibernation. I noticed that the underside of the bee was completely covered in yellow pollen.

As I approached the Japanese Garden I was suddenly overwhelmed by a honey sweet fragrance that I couldn't place. There didn't appear to be any flowers blooming nearby, so I walked across the path towards the Shakespeare Garden. The smell subsided, so I walked back to the Celebrity Walkway, where the aroma returned. Bordering the path is a low, shrub with thick, leathery leaves. As I leaned down the scent of honey surged through my sinuses. At the base of the plant's leaves were tiny, inconspicuous flowers. The size of each flower seemed to belie its huge, Spring bouquet. The plant was Sweet Box and, while I may forget its name, the fragrance is forever embedded in my nose.

In Prospect Park I found another inconspicuous flower with a tremendous aroma. One of its common names is the rather poetic "Sweet Breath of Spring". Unfortunately, as lovely a name and scent this plant has, it is an invasive species in the honeysuckle family. The shrub I stumbled on will probably be removed by the landscape crew.

I spent several hours in Prospect Park on Sunday trying to document all the bird species present in mid-March. There was one very noticeable and noisy difference. Blackbirds.

Common Grackle is one of the earliest of the migrant species of birds that nest in the park. Flocks of these dark, iridescent birds have descended on Prospect Park virtually overnight. Most will nest in the scattered stands of conifers around the park. Arriving with the grackles were more Red-winged Blackbirds and the first Brown-headed Cowbirds of the season. Approaching the Lullwater from the Nethermead Meadow I heard a din of sounds created by the harsh "chack" of dozens of grackles blended with the choruses of frenetic red-winged's "conk-a-ree". Only a week earlier the noise in this area seemed to be restricted to a small flock of finches, a towhee and a few waterfowl.

Also along the Lullwater's paths were a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Golden-crowned Kinglet.

By the end of the day on Sunday I had tallied 50 species of birds in Prospect Park. By mid-May, that number should nearly double.

Location: Prospect Park
Observation date: 3/15/09
Number of species: 50

Wood Duck (2.)
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck (3.)
Bufflehead (2.)
Common Merganser (1.)
Red-breasted Merganser (1.)
Ruddy Duck
Pied-billed Grebe (1.)
Double-crested Cormorant (1.)
Great Blue Heron (1.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
American Coot
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1.)
Eastern Phoebe (1.)
Fish Crow (3.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (1.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (2.)
Eastern Towhee (1.)
Swamp Sparrow (1.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird (1.)
Purple Finch (6.)
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid), Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (1.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin (abundant), European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, House Sparrow

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