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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brooklyn Weekend Birds

While I didn't find any new year birds over the weekend, there was still some interesting observations to report.

The weather has remained unseasonably mild this month, extending the season for some insects. As I walked around Green-Wood Cemetery, I was surprised by the number of crickets that were still singing. In addition, Green Darner dragonflies are still relatively abundant and patrol territories around many of the open, grassy areas. Around the edges of the Crescent Water pond I spotted lots of Yellow-legged Meadowhawks. The bright, crimson dragonflies nearly become invisible when perched among the autumn red foliage of a small weeping cherry tree.

The leaves on the Sweetgum trees have turned a shade of flame orange that seems to illuminate the surrounding landscape. The tree's fruits have begun ripening, sprinkling tiny, white seeds into the leaf litter below. It sounds and looks like a light dusting of snow. The side of these spikey balls that face the sun have turned brick red, while the shaded side remains green. Hundreds of hungry chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, siskins are now targeting these trees for the short lived windfall. White-throated Sparrows, Fox Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos scratch the ground beneath the trees.

I was surprised to see blossoms on some of the cemetery's hundreds of azalea shrubs. The mild weather has coaxed fresh blooms on these, nearly century old shrubs. A few of the roses have also begun flowering, but I suspect that these might just be autumn blooming species. I also spotted new buds on some magnolia trees.

There were a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches making alarms calls on the hillside above the Valley Water pond. These tiny birds aren't really capable of scaring anything other than, maybe, a mosquito, but it doesn't stop them from trying. A Red-tailed Hawk perched in a beech tree was the object of their ire. It was a juvenile hawk and she was dining on a freshly killed squirrel. I wondered if she was the survivor from Junior and Big Mama's recent family. It's difficult to be absolutely certain. She seemed unfazed by my presence, so is likely one of our city raptors and not a passing migrant.

I watched the hawk for a few minutes then continued walking up the hill. Several yards from the tree, I flushed a woodcock, who was certainly very happy that the hawk had caught a squirrel and not him. Later in the morning, while walking with Joe B. near the Crescent Water, I spotted another woodcock in the leaf litter below Samuel Morse's monument. A third was seen flying over the rock pile, while a Cooper's Hawk soared just behind him. This woodcock was also lucky because, judging by the raptor's bulging crop, he wasn't hungry and continued flying in the opposite direction from the timberdoodle.

On the ridge above the Sylvan Water I found an old owl roost. I say "old" because there wasn't any signs of whitewash or pellets, just some squirrel remains. They were probably within the regurgitated pellets, along with some fur, but the elements have washed away all but the largest parts of the skeleton. I spotted them at the base of a large pine tree, which would be a reasonable place for an owl roost. Later that day, as the sun was beginning to set, Marge and I spotted the silhouettes of our resident Great Horned Owls. They were perched side by side at a new roost. Perhaps they are starting to scout for a new nest location. I'd like to think so, anyway. Trying to think like owls, Marge and I scanned the surrounding trees for potential sites. A nearby Tuliptree looked promising. In another month we should know for certain if they will try again.

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