Thursday, October 28, 2010

Birding Brooklyn's Coast

This past Saturday I led a trip for the Brooklyn Bird Club today to several coastal areas around Brooklyn. It wasn't a stellar day for birding given very strong north-west winds, but we still had some nice sightings. We started the morning at Dreier-Offerman Park (Calvert Vaux) then headed east to Plum Beach, followed by Dead Horse Bay then finished our day at Floyd Bennett Field.

Our first unusual sight of the day occurred at Dreier-Offerman. We had just parked the cars and were headed down the path when Michael Yuan spotted
an extremely cooperative Yellow-billed Cuckoo perched 3 feet off the ground and only about 15 feet away. It allowed ridiculously long, close looks before eventually flying across the path and into more dense cover. These cuckoos aren't considered rare in New York, they are just very secretive and are usually identified by their throaty "ka, ka, ka, ka, ka, kow, kowp, kowp, kowp, kowp" call . The main soccer fields were being blasted by cold winds off the bay, but there was still a few Killdeer and a Wilson's Snipe hunkered down in the grass. Killdeer are an expected species in this location, but finding a snipe sitting out in the open was unique. Snipes have beautifully camouflaged plumage and observations of them are generally confined to brief flashes of individuals flying away after accidentally stumbling on one. We didn't see a lot of sparrows at this park due to the high winds, but Yellow-rumped Warblers were abundant. In addition, on our way back to the cars, a very brightly plumed Nashville Warbler was spotted foraging a short distance from where we had seen the cuckoo.

I didn't plan on spending much time at Plum Beach. Nelson's Sparrow can usually be found in the marsh grass here, so I was hoping to locate one of these orange and gray birds for the group, then run to the next location. Previously known as the "Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow" it was once considered to be the same species at the "Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow" and collectively called the "Sharp-tailed Sparrow". Range, genetics and other factors contributed to splitting them into two distinct species. Just recently the two specie's common names were shortened to Nelson's Sparrow and Saltmarsh Sparrow (thank goodness, because saying "Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow" took waaay too much effort). Anyway, we found two Nelson's Sparrows at Plum Beach faster than you can say "Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow".

The trail from Flatbush Avenue to Dead Horse Bay was active with Yellow-rumped Warblers, a few chickadees and some sparrows. Before reaching the beach I spotted an Osprey hovering over the bay. I wondered about the kinds of toxic substances that would be present in any fish he might catch at Dead Horse. Fortunately, he didn't snag anything this time. It was pretty much the same for us birders - there were no birds at the bay.

It was noon by the time we got to Floyd Bennett, so there wasn't much sparrow activity at the community garden, just lots and lots of yellow-rumps. We did spot one male Purple Finch. The winter finch forecast calls for lots of Purple Finches this year. A single Cattle Egret remains on the main grasslands making this nearly two weeks since it was first spotted. We watched it drinking from a small puddle next to a NPS truck. At the Return-a-Gift Pond there were several Green-winged Teal, three Wood Duck and a single Northern Pintail.

There was a lot of raptor activity all day, with many Sharp-shinned Hawks seen at all locations. Other raptor species observed were Osprey, Northern Harrier, Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin and Peregrine Falcon.

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Location: Dreier-Offerman Park
Observation date: 10/23/10
Number of species: 38

Brant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Sharp-shinned Hawk (6.)
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon (2.)
Killdeer (3.)
Spotted Sandpiper
Wilson's Snipe
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Cedar Waxwing
Nashville Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch

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

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Location: Plum Beach
Observation date: 10/23/10
Number of species: 26

Brant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk (4.)
American Oystercatcher (4.)
Sanderling
Ring-billed Gull
Northern Flicker
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Nelson's Sparrow (2.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, American Black Duck, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, American Crow, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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Location: Dead Horse Bay
Observation date: 10/23/10
Number of species: 21

Brant
Double-crested Cormorant
Osprey
Sharp-shinned Hawk (2.)
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Black-capped Chickadee
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow

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Location: Floyd Bennett Field
Observation date: 10/23/10
Number of species: 43

Brant
Wood Duck (3.)
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal (14.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Cattle Egret
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk (4.)
Cooper's Hawk (2.)
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel (2.)
Merlin
Black-bellied Plover (14.)
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (3.)
Dark-eyed Junco
Purple Finch (1.)
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, House Finch, House Sparrow

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