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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Last Weekend Roundup

The old saying, "March comes in like a lion, but goes out like a lamb" seems a little inaccurate this year. There were a few mild days scattered throughout the month, but the weather over the last two days might be better characterized as an angry, rabid lamb on steroids. Despite the turbulent weather, there were signs that the spring transition is moving right along on schedule.

On Friday I was able to spend a short time in Prospect Park. Near Grand Army Plaza the Okame Cherry trees are in full bloom, while at the edge of the Rose Garden, Star Magnolias (the first magnolias to flower) have fanned open their white blossoms. All the other magnolias will follow suit in another week or two. Below the Rose Garden, near the Vale of Cashmere, I followed around an Eastern Phoebe as it hawked for insects from low perches. Phoebe numbers have increased a little over the last week, but we shouldn't see a real abundance of these small flycatchers for probably another month.

Both Nelly at the "Nelly's Lawn" nest and Alice at the "Ravine" nest were incubating eggs. I watched Nelly for about 15 minutes and saw her mate, Max, fly to the nest with a meal. She must have been very hungry because she grabbed the fresh kill and took off before Max was seated on the nest. Once at her favorite perch in Elizabeth's Tuliptree, she quickly began plucking her meal of a starling.

Mourning Doves are relatively early nesters and I found several nests around the park. One had built a nest at the edge of the Long Meadow right next to the sidewalk. There's virtually no cover for the pair until the young maple they chose for their nest site leafs out. A male robin was perched in the tree above the dove, singing for a mate.

The weather on Saturday was sunny, but chilly. I spent most of the day wandering around Green-Wood Cemetery. The wind was blowing in from the east-north-east, so there was little chance we'd see any new migrants. Heydi was hoping to see a Black Vulture and, while I'm always hopeful, in the back of my mind it seemed unlikely. By afternoon the wind had started to move to the south. After checking on Big Mama near Linden Avenue, we sat down at the Hill of Graves and watched the south sky for migrants. A single Turkey Vulture soared passed, following Ocean Hill. We also spotted three Red-tailed Hawks kiting at different altitudes above the cemetery. Could it have been the males from each of Brooklyn's three nests, peacefully sharing their overlapping territories?

Late-March and early-April is when snipes are migrating. For several years, my friend Steve and I used to go out looking for them on the first weekend in April. We'd travel to several locations around Brooklyn and Staten Island, trying to find as many as possible. I think it began as a joke after a conversation we had regarding the old "Snipe Hunting" prank. The difference for us, however, was that we actually found some of these skittish birds (we didn't shoot them, of course). Anyway, it had been several years since I went searching for snipe and decided that an overcast, drizzly Sunday would be the perfect time to walk around a muddy marsh.

I caught up with Heydi at the Marine Park Saltmarsh and we headed over to Four Sparrow Marsh. Four Sparrow Marsh is not a location to explore if you don't like getting wet & dirty. From Flatbush Avenue, it would take a bit of determination to even find the place. If one is persistent and finds the water, there are no trails, or even a hint of any. If one then figures out how to access the marsh and foolishly decides to push ahead, the tide would need to be dead low to get anyway. There is decades of flotsam ranging from planks and docks to boat hulls peppering the mud and marsh grass. It's a perfect location for a wary bird to rest unnoticed. A few minutes into our walk and the first Wilson's Snipe took off flying, several yards to our left. A couple of minutes later, another one. By the end of our walk we had scared up ten. I feel bad that we spooked these birds, but we were never even close to any of them and practically tiptoed through the marsh. I suspect that many just circled around behind us and ended up back where they started.

We also spent a little time birding at Dead Horse Bay. At the bay we spotted two Northern Gannets, which are usually seen out on the ocean and rarely close to shore. The tens of thousands of scaup in the flock that overwintered on the bay has been reduced to just 65 birds. In addition, the remaining Horned Grebes have begun molting into breeding plumage. One individual looked as if has completely morphed from its drab gray winter plumes to the red, gold and brown of spring. Within a couple of weeks most of the Horned Grebes that overwintered will depart for their northern breeding grounds and songbirds from the south will start to arrive around NYC in greater numbers and diversity.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Any other good snipe hunting spots you can recommend?

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