Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's Sparrow Time

Most of the warblers have passed through the city on their southbound migration. The exception being Yellow-rumped Warblers and Palm Warblers, which are still being seen in fair numbers. With most of the botanics going to seed, it makes sense that sparrows are now being seen in increasing numbers.

I wasn't able to do any birding over the weekend, but managed to squeeze in a little time on Tuesday afternoon. Sean called me Tuesday morning to say that in his town in New Jersey he had heard a tremendous number of bird flight calls passing overhead the previous night. He was heading out to see what had dropped in that morning and recommended that I do the same. My route through Prospect Park at this time of year skirts the edges of all the wooded areas and I concentrate most of my efforts in and around the park's fields and meadows - sparrow habitat.

As I headed towards the fenced off area at the South end of the baseball fields I heard lots of Golden-crowned Kinglets. Some were foraging in the trees, but many were actually hopping around in the grass, gobbling up some tiny, unseen invertebrates. Several phoebes are still around and hawked for insects from low perches. At the south end of the ball fields a huge, swirling flock of sparrows moved like a wave through a stand of linden trees. A group of cawing crows near the edge of the fencing seemed to have spooked the little birds. I waited for the sparrows to settle down and return to the grass. The birds eventually started to make their way back to the freshly seeded section of lawn. The flock was primarily composed of Dark-eyed Juncos with a slightly small number of Chipping Sparrows. As I scanned the birds it became, at times, a little frustrating because the birds were routinely being spooked by, first, a Red-tailed Hawk, then a Merlin made several passes over the area and, just in case the small songbirds weren't paying attention, a Cooper's Hawk buzzed them.

Before I left the house I had received a text message that Rob Bate had spotted a Vesper Sparrow by the ball fields. Vesper Sparrows have been declining as a breeding species in New York State and is uncommon along the coast during migration, making it a very desirable find in New York City. When I was circling the perimeter of the fenced off area I ran into Larry and Shari, who had also gotten word of the rare sparrow sighting. A few minutes later we were joined by Peter, who was on his lunch break. We searched through the juncos and chippings looking for the oversized sparrow. At the north edge of the fence we scanned a small group of Savannah Sparrows. After only a few minutes, I spotted the Vesper Sparrow as it perched on top of the fencing. Rob arrived just as the three other birders were departing and we continued to scan the approximately 500 sparrows in that area for any other rarities that might have been overlooked. We found a single White-crowned Sparrow, but nothing out of the ordinary. Just as I was about to give up I spotted a second Vesper Sparrow. At one point the two birds were feeding together. Tom Stephenson, who had been trying to photograph an Orange-crowned Warbler at the other end of the park, joined Rob and I at "sparrow central". After several minutes we left the fenced in area and walked north along the Long Meadow towards the "Sparrow Bowl". As soon as we arrived I spotted another Vesper Sparrow feeding near a badly worn stretch of grass. This was the first time that I've even seen more than one Vesper Sparrow in a single day! The total sparrow count for Prospect Park for the day (including birds that I didn't see) was 7 species, far short of our 13 species sparrow fallout on October 23rd of last year, but a great afternoon, nonetheless.

Check out the song of the Vesper Sparrow

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Location: Prospect Park
Observation date: 10/19/10
Number of species: 37

Wood Duck (9.)
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Sharp-shinned Hawk (2.)
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Merlin
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe (2.)
Blue-headed Vireo (2.)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet (12.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush (6.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler (5.)
Chipping Sparrow (200.)
Vesper Sparrow (2 individuals seen at fenced area on baseball fields. 1 seen at Sparrow Bowl.)
Song Sparrow (4.)
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (3.)
Dark-eyed Junco (300.)
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay (3.), American Crow (14.), Black-capped Chickadee (2.), American Robin, European Starling, House Sparrow

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