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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Weekend Update

Last weekend the arrival of more migrant birds created some noticeable changes in the status and abundance of the local bird populations. I also had a couple of very unusual sightings. Sunday I spent a few hours in Prospect Park, while Saturday I explored part of the Bronx.

I started out early on Saturday, heading up to Pelham Bay Park with my bike. I also pedaled around City Island, taking an essential seafood lunch break near the water's edge. My first unusual sighting came as I rode past the capped landfill that overlooks Eastchester Bay. A pair of Red-tailed Hawks were being harassed by a larger, black bird. A quick look through my bins revealed that the large bird was a Common Raven! I'd never observed one within NYC, only in Upstate New York. I learned later in the weekend that, while still rare,
over the last several years they have been reported with increasing regularity around Westchester and the Bronx.

The second odd sighting came from Prospect Park. When I was on my way to the Bronx I received a call from Doug Gochfeld. A group of birders on a Brooklyn Bird Club trip in Prospect Park spotted an American Bittern in the Ravine. I made it back to the park by 4pm and headed into the Ravine. What wasn't made clear to me in the morning phone call (but quickly became obvious) was that the bittern was perched 60 feet up in the top of a sweetgum tree! Bitterns are normally shy, retiring birds that use their streaked, tawny plumage to vanish into reeds or marsh grass. I've had experiences in the past where one was pointed out to me, but I still couldn't see it because they are so well camouflaged. American Bitterns have one of my all time favorite calls which is usually described as "onk-a-chunk" or "pump-per-lunk".

Sunday gave me a chance to catch up on the migration in Prospect Park, as well as, to check up on the hawk nests.

As I walked across Nelly's Lawn towards the Red-tailed Hawk nest, Max came flying out of the Vale of Cashmere and perched in Elizabeth's Tuliptree. He was making an unusual guttural, chattering sound. I got the impression that he was agitated. I set up my scope at the east side of the nest and had been watching for about 20 minutes when he flew into the pine tree and traded places with his mate. As I watched, he seemed uneasy, looking around frequently, his head feathers extended like porcupine quills. I'm not sure how to interpret the behavior. Perhaps he had a run in with one of the juvenile hawks lingering in the area or maybe this young bird was finally experiencing fatherhood for the first time. We should know very soon.

At least three Wood Ducks continue to hang around the Upper Pool. A late Ring-necked Duck was also present. The forested areas of Prospect Park are suddenly very active with Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Hermit Thrushes. Large numbers of these three species seem to have appeared virtually overnight. Another warbler that I observed for the first time this Spring was Black-and-white Warbler. I also heard, then saw my first Blue-headed Vireo. We are still a couple of weeks away from a fall-out of migrant songbirds, but it was nice to see some big changes. To give you an idea of the increase in birds beginning to stream through the city parks, on March 15th a long day resulted in a list of 50 species in Prospect Park. This weekend an additional 10 have arrived, but more important, the abundance of some of those birds has gone up from a few individuals to several dozen.

1 comment:

Silversalty said...

On my bike ride this evening as I stopped on the Sheepshead Bay walk bridge I noticed three black birds flying over. They were fairly high. I'd guess about 60 feet so I couldn't judge their size in terms of crow/raven. But I did make an effort to note the wing and feather characteristics. The "fingers" seemed long and the tail shape was definitely Clovis point like and not square or fan shaped. This, judging from the description on the web suggests they were Ravens, though the same descriptions says they don't often form groups.

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