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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Green-Wood Cemetery

Took a late afternoon ride to Green-Wood Cemetery, before the rain came. I met up with Marge and, among other things, found an unusual mix of migrants and winter birds.

We planned to check on Big Mama and Junior's nest, as well as, the ponds, since waterfowl are still on the move. Mama and Junior are fairly late nesters compared to some of the other NYC breeding Red-tailed Hawks, who are already on eggs. The last two times I visited their nest it wasn't clear if they had done any work on it and they definitely weren't incubating yet. Marge & Joe had seen a lot of migrating red-taileds over the cemetery in recent days, something I've never noticed in the Spring.

When I arrived Marge had been watching a courting pair of Red-tailed Hawks in the air over the cemetery. About 90 minutes later we watched three soaring over the flatlands. The males were clearly smaller than the female that they were circling. One had a very pale head and barely visible bellyband. I'm guessing that it was Ralph. At one point the darker male hung his feet down above Ralph, in a gesture of aggression. Moments later he pulled his wings in and went into a dive, chasing him off towards Prospect Park. As we were watching, we spotted a fourth Red-tailed Hawk circling much higher. Big Mama broke out of the wide circle and glided to a perch on the Bishop Ford antenna tower. We were making one last loop of the cemetery when we stumbled on a pair of juvenile Red-tailed Hawks. One looked like a second year bird as his tail still had a lot of banding, but red plumage was coming in. It looked a lot like the bird in this post. At least two young birds have been hanging around the cemetery for a while, don't know if they are Big Mama and Junior's kids or Alice and Ralph's. One is very tame and allowed Joe to drive right up to it for a couple of nice photos. He's probably the one that's been harassing (and eating) the waterfowl on the Sylvan Water.

There was a great deal of bird activity along the ridge between Grove and Birch Avenues. It appeared to be mostly robins, but there were so many birds that we decided to check it out. We walked up the incline near Landscape Path and stopped to scan the robins for something different. In the conifers above us were nuthatches, titmice and woodpeckers. Mixing with the flock lower down were Blue Jays and juncos. There were, easily, 200 birds feeding within a radius of about 50 yards. We were standing beneath a pine tree that had lots of dropped cones scattered on the ground. I took one step to my right, when a bright red bird feeding on the ground caught my eye and stopped me. I couldn't believe it and said in a low, but forceful voice, "Marge, get over here, there's a White-winged Crossbill at my feet." This was the third time in less than 2 months that I've seen one in NYC after not seeing any here for 10 years. It was a life bird for Marge. And what a great experience. The bird seemed almost tame as it probed into the fallen cones for seeds near our feet. It flew off a few times, but kept returning to that spot. I sat down on the ground and shot some low res video. I found out later that it was the first record of this bird for Green-Wood Cemetery! Another interesting bird in this mixed flock (but not nearly as rare) was a Yellow-rumped Warbler. I'm not sure if it was an early migrant or just one that overwintered in the area, but they aren't normally seen in Green-Wood at this time of year.

After seeing the White-winged Crossbill I was perfectly happy to call it a day, but stayed a little longer, anyway. Hey, you never know what you might find...

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