Thursday, January 27, 2011

Birds at Floyd Bennett Field

Saturday morning began as the coldest day so far this year. At 17 degrees, with windchills near zero, I made sure to wear extra layers and carry a pair of glove warmers so I didn't end up with frostbite. I suppose I could have just stayed indoors all day, but there were still lots of birds to be found in Brooklyn this month.

As usual, my partner in crime was Heydi and we were heading to the coast. We've both been to Floyd Bennett Field several times this month trying to find Lapland Longspur, a winter rarity. In addition, she needed to locate Snow Buntings for her year list. Having learned the unique, trilling flight call of the latter I'm certain that if one is even just passing overhead, I'll find it.

We decided to check Dead Horse Bay to look for seaducks before trekking around the snow at Floyd Bennett. The last time I was there a few thousand scaup were hanging around the cove near the Flatbush Marina. With that many waterfowl together, it's possible to find something other than scaup in the group. On Saturday, however, the scaup were no longer present, nor were any other ducks, so we headed back across Flatbush Avenue and into Floyd Bennett Field.

The last time that I was at Floyd Bennett I spotted a flock of 6 Snow Buntings on the sidewalk next to the bus shelter. They were foraging on the seeds of some type of low plants growing up through the cracks in the pavement. Whatever the plants were, they seem to really like it because, as Heydi and I approached the bus shelter on Saturday we saw the same flock of 6 buntings feeding on the sidewalk. Snow Buntings are not an easy bird to find in Brooklyn, so this was a good thing. We walked around to the south side of the shelter using it as a blind to take some photos of these white songbirds. Check out Heydi's January photos here.

We left the Snow Buntings and headed towards the Cricket Field to look for the Horned Larks flocks and, hopefully, a longspur. Along the way we stopped to get a closer look at an unusual raptor that was being harassed by crows near Ecology Village. The slender buteo turned out to be a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. Adult red-shoulders are distinctive but the brown-streaked juvies can be difficult to identify when perched. Their relatively long tail gives them an accipiter-like appearance.

Snow still blanketed most of the open fields making it difficult for Horned Larks and other winter birds to find forage. At the small field next to Aviator Sports there was enough vegetation sticking up out of the snow and ice that a flock of about 90 larks fed close to the parking lot. Heydi and I scanned and rescanned the birds, but didn't find any longspurs.
The Cricket Field is usually the best spot to find these visiting arctic birds, but for weeks the grass has been sealed in by a hard, white, crusty shell. We decided to check out the Cricket Field, anyway. Our silly optimism wasn't enough to make bird with pickaxes appear on the field, so we turned around after only a few seconds. As we passed the parking lot at Aviator Sports Heydi pointed out a small, sparrow-like bird that had just landed on the pavement. I rolled down my window, focused my bins and calmly said, "It's a longspur." It was my fifth visit to Floyd Bennett Field this month looking for longspurs, so I guess the lesson is that persistence pays off.

Date: 01/22/2011
Location: Floyd Bennett Field
Total Species: 32

Brant
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Bufflehead
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Horned Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Red-shouldered Hawk
Merlin
Great Black-backed Gull
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Northern Mockingbird
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, American Crow, European Starling, House Sparrow

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