Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Weekend's Birds & Blooms

The weather for Saturday's trip in Prospect Park started off cool and foggy, but we still managed to observe some interesting birds, some of which were recently arrived Spring migrants.

I was optimistic that some new birds had dropped in overnight because on my walk to meet the group at Grand Army Plaza I heard or saw Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler and Eastern Towhee. I suppose an ambivalent weather forecast scared some folks into sleeping in as only 4 people showed up for my tour. The 5 of us ended up seeing some really good birds. The morning began in the relative quiet at the Vale of Cashmere. A lone Ruby-crowned Kinglet sang his sweet, chattering song in a Black Cherry tree above our heads. A few minutes later, a Winter Wren began to serenade us from within a tangle of underbrush near the top of the ridge. We never did see that tiny wren with the big sound, but were satisfied just having been able to share his song.

The morning was colder than expected and we headed for the shelter of Sullivan Hill's woodlands when it started to shower. Thankfully, the rain didn't last very long, but identifying birds in the treetops against a white, overcast sky was, at times, exasperating. As we moved south through the park's wooded areas, the slow song of a Blue-headed Vireo drew my attention towards Payne Hill. On the hillside overlooking the Long Meadow, there was a small mixed flock of birds feeding within some oak trees. What at first seemed to be a single Blue-headed Vireo turned out to be several. They were the first of the year for most of us.

Overnight South winds are the ideal conditions when looking for arriving Spring migrants. Friday night it was coming out of the east, so I didn't expect a fallout of birds. By late in the morning, however, the wind shifted to the south and we did see some interesting flyovers. The first was a Great Blue Heron, followed by a pair of Great Egrets. A high flying Common Loon was seen over the north end of the park with a second, lower bird near the Terrace Bridge. When we were scanning Prospect Lake a flock of 30 Double-crested Cormorants seemed to be considering dropping in, but instead ended up continuing north.

Tree Swallows we moving through the area by mid-morning and I wanted to head down to Prospect Lake to look for other swallows. Mixed swallow flocks are common around the lake during migration and it wouldn't be unusual to see three or four different species at once. Once at the lake we spotted a couple of dozen swallows skimming back and forth, snatching up insects low above the water. The majority were Tree Swallows with a smaller number of Barn Swallows. We quickly spotted several Northern Rough-winged Swallows in the mix. There are two "brown" swallows that are fairly common around our area - Bank Swallow and Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Both birds are mainly just brown on the upper surface of their body and white on the underside. The bank has a dark brown band across its chest, whereas the northern rough-winged has a very pale brown throat. My friend Peter likes to say that the rough-winged looks like it has "a 5 o'clock shadow". Picking out swallow species from a fast moving flock requires patience. I tell beginner birders that if they want to learn how to use binoculars, find a flock of swallows and try to identify all the different species. If they don't get dizzy and fall over, they'll become proficient at aiming their bins in no time.

In the wooded areas at the south end of Prospect Park (Peninsula woods and Lookout Hill) we discovered that flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers had moved into the area. Up to that point I had seen a few of these common wood-warblers, but on Saturday it was clear that large numbers were beginning to flood through the city. Within the next couple of weeks you'll be certain to hear many birders say, after bringing their bins up to their eyes, "Just another yellow-rump".

Over the past week more butterflies have begun to appear around New York City. The most numerous, so far, has been Cabbage Whites. These European natives were introduced to Canada and have become naturalized in much of North America. Also seen this week was my first Question Mark of the season. A very ragged individual was circling and landing on a Hackberry tree in Prospect Park. The wings were so beat up that I couldn't be certain of the identification until I examined the photos on my computer.

Here is a slideshow of some of this past weekend's blooms:


Location: Prospect Park
Observation date: 4/17/10
Notes: Linnaean Society field trip.
Number of species: 50

Ruddy Duck
Common Loon (2, flyover.)
Double-crested Cormorant (30, flying over Prospect Lake.
Great Blue Heron (1, flyover.)
Great Egret (2, flyover.)
Peregrine Falcon (Flying near Empire antenna tower.)
Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
BLUE-HEADED VIREO (5.)
Tree Swallow (25.)
NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (7, flying around Prospect Lake.)
BARN SWALLOW (8.)
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren (Singing at the Vale of Cashmere.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (25.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (2.)
Hermit Thrush (10.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (75.)
Pine Warbler (3.)
Palm Warbler (12.)
Eastern Towhee (8.)
Chipping Sparrow (4.)
Swamp Sparrow (3.)
White-throated Sparrow
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
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, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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