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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Unusual Migrants

Paige emailed me the other day. She mentioned doing some birding over the weekend in Green-Wood Cemetery and listed some of the species. It included a Red-eyed Vireo, which piqued my interest.

Red-eyed Vireos aren't particularly rare in New York City on migration, in fact, some breed in our city parks. What is unusual is for one to show up in March as they generally don't begin to arrive until May (although they are rare in late-April). Anyway, I didn't doubt that Paige saw a vireo as she is a good birder, but more often than not, an off-schedule migrant ends up being a vagrant from another part of the country. There are likely several reasons for anomalous bird movements, but weather patterns are thought to be one factor.

When walking in Green-Wood Cemetery I try to take a route along the tops of the north-south ridges. The area where Paige saw the vireo is just below a ridge called Ocean Hill in a section called the "Flats". It is on the opposite side of the cemetery from where I entered. I took my time getting there, taking photos of flowers along the way and carefully scanning any flocks of songbirds encountered. I had just passed Samuel B. Morse's monument when I received a text from Peter Dorosh about a sighting of two Black Vultures over Prospect Park. Unlike Turkey Vultures, which are seen regularly on migration, Black Vultures are quite rare, in fact, I've never seen one in New York City. For reasons that are unclear, so far this year there have been four sightings of Black Vultures in Brooklyn ... none of them by me. When I read Peter's message, I thought, "Oh great, I've missed them again". Green-Wood Cemetery is a very short distance to the south of Prospect Park, so I guess I hadn't been looking up at the right time. Resigned to accepting my new jinx bird, I even received a text message a few minutes later from Heydi gently pointing out my "loser" status. I was still heading towards the "Flats" but decided to stick to areas where I could see large sections of sky.

Elms, maples, magnolias, crabapples and cherries have begun to blossom. This week the Red Maples have really caught my eye. Most of the mature tree's flowers are out of my camera's reach, but I spotted one with low hanging branches and stopped to take some pictures. I was standing with the sun at my back, when I noticed a very large shadow sliding across the meadow. Turning around, I looked up without my bins and saw three large, black birds slowly soaring in from the south. At first, I just thought that they were Turkey Vultures. When I put up my bins, I was shocked to see three Black Vultures. I couldn't believe it. Marge had called me earlier and said she was leading a 1pm tour of the cemetery. It was 12:45 and I thought she might be there, so I called her cellphone. She had just parked near the entrance and I told her to quickly scan the sky as the vultures were heading her way. Within seconds she yelled, "They're right over my head!" I love it when I can share a good bird sighting. Here's a distant view of the three vultures flying over (I guess you'll have to take my word that they are really Black Vultures):

Right after the vulture sighting, Tommy, one of the cemetery's security guards, tracked me down. He said that there was a Bald Eagle eating a carp at the edge of the Sylvan Water. I have no reason to doubt Tommy, but a Bald Eagle seemed a little improbably, but so did three Black Vultures. When we arrived at the pond, he pointed out a beautiful Osprey perched in a mature sycamore maple. At least he got the head coloration correct ... kind of. I walked up to the top of an adjacent ridge and sat down below the Osprey hoping to take some flight photos. Well, I guess he was full from eating that huge fish, because he stayed on that branch for an hour and I had to settle for a photo of a sleepy, perched Osprey.

With all the excitement, I nearly forgot the main reason why I went to the cemetery; to look for Paige's vireo. I actually did spend a long time searching the "Flats" and along the edge of Ocean Hill, but didn't find the vireo. The nice thing about birding, though, is that you never know what you'll stumble on when you start exploring your backyard.

Note - Shai Mitra has an interesting discussion about the expansion of Black Vultures in New York on the NYS Birding list here.


Location: Greenwood Cemetery
Observation date: 3/24/10
Number of species: 33

Great Cormorant
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Monk Parakeet
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow


Starz723 said...

I can attest to the fact that they were definetly Black Vulture. I got great looks at their field marks. They few towards me and above me. Thanks to your alert Rob. I had'nt seen a black vulture since 2005 in Hollywood, Fl. I had the entire group of tourists gawking without bins at "vultures".. Wow,, Vultures, they exclaimed.. They never saw them before! I told them what they were looking at were "rare vultures" for Brooklyn, NY and a first for Green-Woood cemetery as flyovers. One person made me laugh. He said...are they the vultures you see in old western movies that are eating the dead carrion as the wagon trains forge westward? I never knew we could ever see them here, especially right now. I said, you'd be surprised what we see, thats why birding is such a great hobby and so much fun.
Marge Raymond

Matthew said...

That osprey was there Thursday morning as well. Must be good fishin' in those pools.

wallbird said...

By a coincidence we were in Green-Wood on the very same day as you. However, the only birds we saw were American Robins (but there were a lot of them.)

Samantha said...

I was there right after the last blizzard, so not alot of bird activity - but massive gaggles of geese. I'm pulling out my greenwood map - planning a route for when this rain stops!

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