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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Weekend Roundup

I've gotten a little behind on my postings. Well, it is the height of Spring migration, so can you blame me if I end up burning the candle at both ends?

On Monday, May 10th, Doug, Heydi, Shane and I did our annual Spring Big Day. Like last year, most of our observations took place in Brooklyn, with an end of day visit to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Our first bird was tallied at around 3:30am, the last at around 8pm. More about that in my next post. In the meantime...

We had a marathon weekend of birding in Prospect Park. Beginning at 6am on Saturday, Michael Brams, Paige Linden, Heydi Lopes and I spent most of the day in the park. On Sunday, minus Michael, we spent about 11 hours scouring the park. It was, without question, the most birdy two days Prospect Park has experienced this Spring. Our total for the two days was 93 species, which included 22 species of warbler.

North winds finally shifted to the south overnight on Friday. Coupled with milder temperatures, it made for an excellent flight night for northbound migrants. But by early Saturday, the winds began coming in from the north-northwest and had picked up in intensity. Our strategy was to start our day at first light at the north end of Prospect Park. We would head to the Vale of Cashmere, which is in a natural depression, out of the wind and surrounded by trees. When Heydi and I arrived at the "Vale" the sun was just beginning to strike the tops of the trees on the eastern slope. Birds were beginning to move and there was song everywhere.

We stood near the center of the decorative ponds and faced up into the sunlit treetops. A weeping cherry tree that drapes over the pond attracted a steady stream of warblers and Scarlet Tanagers. We listened to the machine-gun-like song of a Tennessee Warbler running non-stop up and to our right . A Common Yellowthroat making its "chit" call foraged within a short stand of phragmites that have taken hold inside the ponds. The high-pitched songs of both Blackburnian Warbler and Bay-breasted Warbler rang out from a pair of Black Cherry trees across the water from us. As the early morning progressed and the sun warmed more of the trees that ring the Vale of Cashmere, we found an increasing variety of songbirds alternating between a feeding frenzy and the most intense avian concert of the year. The "Vale" is just a tiny part of Prospect Park's over 500 acres, yet after only about 90 minutes we walked away having seen 18 species of warbler: Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson's Warbler and Canada Warbler. The day was still young.

With the wind blowing across the park from the northwest, I decided it would be best to just stick to the leeward side of the hills and ridges. After leaving the Vale, we visited my favorite puddle - a muddy section of the bridle path between Rick's Place and Payne Hill. I think one of the reasons that birds like to drink and bathe in this spot is that there is a lot of vegetation on either side of the path, plus low hanging branches above. This provides the birds with a safe spot to escape to or preen in after a dip in the water. I've also found that if I drag a large branch over the the puddle's edge, birds immediately use it as a perch to check the safety of the water before descending to it's edge.

The puddle was also pretty active and we spent a little time there before heading down into the Midwood. New arrivals in the park included several, intensely blue Indigo Buntings. Compared to the previous weekend, there were a lot more Magnolia Warblers and Canada Warblers mixed in with the other migrating songbirds. Canada's are relatively easy to find as the tend to forage in the understory. They also have a unique song that consists of an opening "chip" followed by a loose jumble of notes . Our route continued from the Midwood along the Lullwater, then up to the south slope of Lookout Hill. I had to leave by midday, but Michael, Paige and Heydi continued birding for a few more hours. I received a text message later that day. The trio ended up back at the Vale of Cashmere where they found a Mourning Warbler. These skulking ground feeders are not so much rare as rarely seen. It's always a treat to find one of these beautiful birds.

We encountered so many birds on Saturday's route that we decided to repeat it on Sunday. It was overcast in the morning, but at 6am in the Vale of Cashmere, there was still a very good showing of birds. The highlight there was finding the Mourning Warbler from the previous day. We would go on to find two more before the day was over. The second was found a few hours later in the Lullwater. We had stopped at a small, wooden overlook above a cove when I thought I heard a very brief segment of the mourning's song. Scanning the underbrush, we eventually spotted the bird when it hopped up into the lower branches of a viburnum shrub. The third individual was seen at around 2:30pm when it flew across the path in front of Heydi and I. We were several yards north of Rick's Place.

When approaching the stream behind the Music Pagoda we discoved a catbird behaving very oddly. It was slowly hopping back and forth on the trunk of a recently fallen tree. With its head down and puffed out feathers we at first thought it was in distress. As we watched the bird we finally realized that there was a female catbird watching from above and that this male was trying to impress her with his courtship dance:

Another interesting early morning discovery at the Vale was that of a calling Olive-sided Flycatcher. These relatively large, mostly gray flycatchers are fairly drab, but I love their song. It is usually described "Quick, three beers". Judge for yourselves . In addition to Olive-sided Flycatcher, in the afternoon, Heydi and I heard both an Acadian Flycatcher and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher calling at the Vale.

We also had a very good sparrow list for Sunday, adding towhee, savannah and white-crowned to the previous day's tally.

While we still may have a couple of weeks of migration left, I don't think that we'll see the abundance and diversity of species that we experienced over the past weekend.

Here's is a brief slideshow of some of the weekend's birds. Most of the photos were taken by Heydi:

Date Range: May 15, 2010 - May 16, 2010
Locations: Prospect Park
Total Number of Species: 93
Total Number of Checklists: 2

Species Name               15-May     16-May

Canada Goose X X
Mute Swan X X
Wood Duck 2 --
Mallard X X
Common Loon -- 1
Great Egret 1 --
Green Heron 1 1
Red-tailed Hawk 4 2
Spotted Sandpiper 2 2
Laughing Gull X --
Herring Gull X X
Rock Pigeon X X
Mourning Dove X X
Chimney Swift X X
Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker X X
Downy Woodpecker X X
Hairy Woodpecker 1 --
Northern Flicker X X
Eastern Wood-Pewee 2 1
Least Flycatcher 1 --
Empidonax sp. 2 --
Eastern Phoebe -- 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1 2
Eastern Kingbird 2 2
White-eyed Vireo 1 --
Blue-headed Vireo 1 --
Warbling Vireo 6 6
Red-eyed Vireo 4 4
Blue Jay 2 X
American Crow 1 X
Barn Swallow 8 X
Black-capped Chickadee 2 --
Tufted Titmouse X 2
White-breasted Nuthatch -- 1
Carolina Wren 2 1
House Wren 4 4
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1 --
Veery 3 5
Gray-cheeked Thrush 2 3
Swainson's Thrush 10 8
Wood Thrush 2 2
American Robin X X
Gray Catbird 15 20
Northern Mockingbird 1 --
European Starling X X
Cedar Waxwing 2 5
Tennessee Warbler 2 3
Nashville Warbler 3 2
Northern Parula 8 10
Yellow Warbler 1 2
Chestnut-sided Warbler 4 5
Magnolia Warbler 12 25
Cape May Warbler -- 2
Black-throated Blue Warbler8 8
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3 4
Black-throated Green Warbler 3 2
Blackburnian Warbler 6 4
Prairie Warbler 1 --
Bay-breasted Warbler 4 5
Blackpoll Warbler 12 12
Black-and-white Warbler 8 10
American Redstart 15 15
Ovenbird 8 12
Northern Waterthrush 6 6
Common Yellowthroat 8 10
Wilson's Warbler 3 4
Canada Warbler 10 12
Scarlet Tanager 5 10
Eastern Towhee -- 1
Chipping Sparrow X 1
Savannah Sparrow -- 2
Song Sparrow 1 1
Lincoln's Sparrow 3 3
Swamp Sparrow 1 1
White-throated Sparrow X 5
White-crowned Sparrow -- 1
Northern Cardinal X X
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3 5
Indigo Bunting 2 9
Red-winged Blackbird X X
Common Grackle X X
Brown-headed Cowbird X X
Orchard Oriole 1 1
Baltimore Oriole 12 8
American Goldfinch X X
House Sparrow X X

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