Thursday, February 18, 2010

Prospect Park in Winter

I spent three hours in Prospect Park on Valentine's Day morning. Most of the expected winter birds were seen, as well as, one unusual visitor.

The winter birdlife in Prospect Park is, in general, fairly predictable and uneventful. If one spends a few hours meandering through the park's meadows, woodlands and waterways, a couple of dozen resident species of birds will be observed, along with 12 to 15 regular winter visitors. Winter is sometimes the best time to study bird behavior as most of the species are concentration in just a few locations. This season's unusual number of snow storms and cold weather has covered the ground in most of the park and frozen a majority of the waterways. I've found myself skipping over much of the park's usual birdy areas in favor of the bird feeders on Breeze Hill and the small open section of Prospect Lake near West Lake Drive.

The lake has been pretty much the same, lately. Mostly Ring-billed Gulls on the ice and the common waterfowl crowded into a small opening in the ice.

In the woods between the Lullwater and Breeze Hill, Peter has been maintaining several seed and suet feeders.Working the feeders are Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch and American Goldfinch. On the ground below the feeders you can find Mourning Dove, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and, of course, squirrels.

The south slope of Breeze Hill has been a busy location for birds this winter. It's wooded hillside is protected from the wind and warmed by the sun. Attracting the birds here are fruiting shrubs dotting the rise and an exposed leaf litter. In addition, the edge of the Lullwater beneath the hill has had tiny openings in the ice allowing the birds to drink and bathe. I've noticed that large flocks of European Starlings and American Robins have been blanketing the park's Pagoda Trees to feed on the trees green seed pods. A pair of these trees are also at the edge of the water in this location. As Heydi and I slowly made our way along the lower path, we heard a chickadee make a high-pitched alarm call, then all the birds scattered. An adult Sharp-shinned Hawk landed in a tree at the edge of the Lullwater. She briefly scanned the area, then took off flying towards the Peninsula Woods.

The birds slowly returned to the trees and shrubs along the hillside. Down the path, near the Terrace Bridge, a mixed flock of birds fed on some cracked corn placed in the center of the path. There were Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco. A cardinal joined the flock, chasing most of the smaller birds away. A Blue Jay landed in the center of the corn and scared all the birds except for one brave Rusty Blackbird, who timidly jabbed at the corn with her long, sharp bill. It's rare to see these beautiful, pale-eyed blackbirds in Prospect Park. These birds are rapidly decline throughout North America. I wish there was something I could do to help other than just posting my sightings.

A juvenile Cooper's Hawk buzzed the area and all the birds headed for cover. Unlike the previous Sharp-shinned Hawk, this raptor stuck around for a few minutes. Perhaps she was hoping to snatch an unwary sparrow, but there wasn't a bird in sight as this large accipiter sat perched in full view. Heydi and I walked back down the path to try and take some photos of the young bird. She was very cooperative and we ended up walking away while she was still sitting in the tree.

Winter in New York City must be a difficult time for all wildlife. The small songbirds need to be vigilant at all times or risk becoming a meal for one of the park's many raptors. Consider this; during one three hour walk in Prospect Park I observed 3 Red-tailed Hawks, 1 Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1 Cooper's Hawk and 1 Merlin. That's a lot of predators in a very small piece of real estate.

Location: Prospect Park
Observation date: 2/14/10
Number of species: 44

Wood Duck
Northern Shoveler
Ruddy Duck
Great Blue Heron
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Merlin
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Hermit Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
Fox Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Rusty Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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