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Thursday, October 07, 2010

A Sparrow, a Tern and a Grosbeak

I had a couple of free hours on Tuesday and Wednesday so did a little birding in Brooklyn. In that short period of time I was extremely lucky and came away with three new birds for the year.

Last year, at around this date, the grounds department of Prospect Park reseeded a large section of grass on the baseball fields and erected a fence around it. The resulting protected grassy habitat attracted an amazing array of birds. Local birders were hoping the fence would be set back up this autumn, but the park management opted, instead, to fence off a smaller area at the south end of the baseball fields. I decided to check it out late in the day on Tuesday.

As I approached the fence I flushed a small flock of birds that I hadn't noticed feeding in the grass. Several Chipping Sparrows landed on the fence and stared back at me. As I scanned the line of birds I spotted a Clay-colored Sparrow among the more common species. Farther down the rectangular stretch of fencing a flock of 18 nervous Savannah Sparrows also hopped up into the snow fencing. I didn't have my camera with me, so here is a photo of a Clay-colored Sparrow taken by my friend Sean back in 2004.

Yesterday I went down to Dead Horse Bay hoping to find an American Golden-Plover. Heydi saw a pair there on Saturday within a flock of Black-bellied Plovers. I biked down on Sunday, but only the Black-bellied Plovers were still present. I figured that I might get lucky on the second try.

At the trail intersection I took the northern-most trail with brings you right into Dead Horse Bay proper. Grasshoppers and crickets seemed to be popping up from the grass with every step I took. It was low tide and, unfortunately, there weren't any golden-plovers. There was just a single Semipalmated Plover and several Brant. I decided to walked down the beach to Dead Horse Point and around to the Mill Stone Trail.

There's a small rocky outcropping and some remnant wooden pilings near the point. A small flock of oystercatchers were sleeping, feeding or squabbling with each other around the pilings. I watched them for a while then headed around the point towards the bridge. I was scanning a small flock of Laughing Gulls on the beach between Dead Horse Point and the Gil Hodges Bridge when I heard an unfamiliar bird call. I looked around for the source of the harsh, throaty cries and spotted two very large terns circling the water to my right. They were Royal Terns and I quickly started fumbling for my camera. I only managed to shoot a few seconds of the birds heading away from me, across the water in the direction of Kingsborough Community College.

Here's that terrible video:

I may not have found the plovers, but this was the first time that I'd ever seen Royal Terns in Brooklyn, so I wasn't the least bit disappointed.

Back across Flatbush Avenue, I headed into Floyd Bennett Field and walked towards the community garden. I birded the garden starting at the southern end, working my way towards the opposite side. The birding had been rather slow, with only a few of the expected species present. I had just started walking into row "D" when I noticed a large, buff-colored bird flying into the base of a Butterfly Bush. I walked back out to the parking area to try and find the bird. As I approached the shrub it flew back out on the opposite side. I continued back into the garden and it hopped up onto a fence surrounding one of the garden plots. I was shocked to see that it was a Blue Grosbeak! It joined a mixed flock of House Sparrows and goldfinches then disappeared into a grape arbor.

After the community garden I briefly walked the field where the Buff-breasted Sandpipers had been for nearly 3 weeks. Unfortunately, they appear to have finally departed. In fact, even all the Killdeer are gone and the only birds left on that field was a flock of Mourning Doves.

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