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Friday, September 11, 2009

Fall Warblers in Brooklyn

After a short summer break, I'm back to posting regular blog updates, with one change, however. My weekly species highlights took way too much of my time, so I decided to discontinue them, at least on a regular basis. I may periodically add them as time permits.

Last weekend I lead a trip in Prospect Park for the Linnaean Society of New York. Based on the date and weather patterns, I expected that we'd observe a fair number of southbound migrant songbirds, but was pleasantly surprised by a huge arrival of birds. At our first stop, the Vale of Cashmere, we spent at least 30 minutes standing in one spot scanning a mixed flock of birds that was moving back and forth through the trees and understory.

My neighbor, Martha, is a relatively new birder who moved to Brooklyn from California. When I invited her along on the trip she was very excited as many of the east coast birds were new to her. I explained that there should be some good birds around the park, but could not have predicted that it would be a fallout day. I'm not sure how the term "fallout day" originated, but it refers to days during migration when large numbers of birds appear overnight. For beginning birders, spending the day in the field on a fallout day can be overwhelming.

When we descended the stairway into the Vale of Cashmere I immediately spotted a few birds flitting about in a small shrub at the edge of the pond. There were several more in the Black Cherry tree above us. We stood at the bottom of the stairs counting Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, American Redstart and, on the ground at the opposite stairway, a pair of Northern Waterthrush. Higher up in the trees was an unidentified empidonax flycatcher (for the most part, I don't even bother trying to identify these confusing flycatchers if they aren't calling). We moved a few yards south of the stairs and yelled out the names of other songbirds feeding in a circuit around the decorative ponds. Occasionally, I would stop and give Martha some field marks and other identifying information on the warblers that we were seeing. I was a little conflicted about the situation for Martha. The deluge of birds might have been overloading her. Is it possible to see too many birds?

While we were at the Vale my phone kept beeping with texts from Peter. He was at the opposite end of the park, on Lookout Hill, experiencing similar songbird activity. Eventually, we left the Vale of Cashmere and began making our way south, through the Aralia Grove, the North Zoo Woods, Rick's Place and the Ravine. There were small pockets of birds all along the way, but nothing like the Vale ... yet. At a patch of Jewelweed near the edge of the Midwood, we picked up our first Ruby-throated Hummingbird. We would see several more by the end of the day. We found another small mixed flock of warblers along the side of Lookout Hill, just passed the Maryland Monument. There were also a couple of thrushes in the underbrush. Steve's group was coming from the opposite direction and we stopped to compare notes. He had seen a Philadephia Vireo near the south stairway, so we hurried in that direction.

It took us a long time to get to the top of Lookout Hill as there was another nice mixed flock of warblers foraging in the trees along the way. We added our first Magnolia Warbler of the day in this spot. The most common species of warbler of the day was easily American Redstart as they seemed to be just about everywhere we looked. At the Butterfly Meadow, on top of Lookout Hill, there was a small flock of goldfinches feeding on the sunflowers that dominate the field.

It was getting close to noon, so I decided to head back down the hill and over to the Nature Center for lunch. I usually give trip participants the option of ending the trip at the center or continuing for a little while longer. Anne and Heydi convinced me that there were more birds to be had at the Peninsula woods. I agreed, but mostly because I didn't like the idea of ending the day with "13" species of warbler. Joe Giunta's group was coming of the Peninsula as we were arriving. We exchanged information on what birds were seen where and when, then continued on our way. At the first patch of bird activity I spotted a Tennessee Warbler. A nice find, especially since I hadn't seen one during the Spring migration. Within a few minutes, another new bird for the day, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. By the time we looped around the south side of the Peninsula we had added 5 more species to our day list for a total of 55.

When I got home I started to think about Martha's dilemma. Sure it was a great day of birding, but with so many new species, it must have been difficult. She also had one major hurdle to overcome on Saturday. During the fall migration several species of wood-warblers appear in complete different plumage than when they were heading north. For example, the Chestnut-sided Warbler hasn't any chestnut feathers. In fact, most of his black plumage also disappears and the upper parts of his body are, primarily, green. Then there are the "Confusing Fall Warblers"; the Pine Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler and Bay-breasted Warbler. Like the chestnut-sided, these birds loose their colorful plumes and pattern, or in the case of the blackpoll, the black coloration, and appear mostly as drab, olivey birds. Identification isn't impossible, it just takes a good field guide and practice. I also began thinking about the status of the wood-warblers on the east coast versus the west coast. Of the 54 species recorded in the United States, the vast majority are only regularly seen in the Central to Eastern part of the country. Of the 15 species that we saw on Saturday only 3 appear regularly in California - Nashville Warbler, Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. A few of the others are recorded rarely on the west coast, but then that's one of the things that makes birding so much fun.

(Thanks to Steve Nanz for permission to use his photos.)

Location: Prospect Park
Observation date: 9/5/09
Notes: Linnaean Society trip
Number of species: 55

Double-crested Cormorant
Green Heron
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Empidonax sp.
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Carolina Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Swainson's Thrush
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Song Sparrow
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

1 comment:

Tina said...

Wow! What a wonderful day you had birding in CP. Some day I plan on coming into NYC and taking a bird tour. After reading Redtails in Love I am amazed Central Park had so many different birds live, visit and nest.
Just came across your blog while reading about warblers.
Neat post!

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