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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rare Brooklyn Bird

Last Saturday the city was buffeted by brutal north-west winds. Meteorologists reported 50mph gusts. I foolishly decided to bird along the coast. At times I felt like if I jumped up in the air the wind would carry me away. On Sunday I stayed away from the coast and looked for birds in Prospect Park. The decision paid off as Heydi and I found a rare winter visitor.

On Friday afternoon there had been a pair of male Ring-necked Ducks at the tiny opening in the ice on Prospect Lake, so Heydi and I met there at around 9am. A scan of the rush hour-like crush of waterfowl revealed only the expected species; Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck and American Coot. No Ring-necked Duck. Disappointed, we stood at the edge of the lake contemplating the next location. Then we heard an uncommon flight call of a bird passing overhead. My first thought was that it sounded like an American Pipit, but more trilly and chattery. After a moment, it dawned on me - it was the chittering flight call of a Common Redpoll. Heydi played the sounds off of her iPhone to confirm and it clearly was a redpoll. We really would have liked to have seen the bird, so decided to walk around the park checking likely locations to see if there were any more of these tiny finches with the red cap. Perhaps the previous day's powerful north-west winds had carried some flocks into the five boroughs.

The Common Redpoll is an irruptive species usually only found in the far northern parts of the state. The last time I saw one in Prospect Park was on December 6, 2007. That was the same winter that a juvenile Northern Goshawk was hanging around the park.

Sweetgums and River Birches are good spots to look for these birds. An acrobatic species, they can be found hanging upside down extracting seeds from sweetgum balls or the small cones on the birches. We scanned these trees as we walked along Wellhouse Drive towards the bird feeders on Breeze Hill.

The bird feeders were busy, but only with the expected winter visitors and resident birds; Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch and House Sparrow. After about 30 minutes I suggested that we continue our search along the Lullwater. There is a path on the opposite side of the road from the feeders that descends the ridge towards the skating rink then meanders along the edge of the slow moving Lullwater. This winter someone has been putting mixed bird seed along this pathway, which has attracted a nice mix of species.

There were several small flocks of birds feeding along the walkway and we had only gone a few yards when Heydi exclaimed, "There's a redpoll on the ground in front of us!" Sure enough, feeding at one of the little piles of seeds along with Black-capped Chickadee, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, American Goldfinch and House Sparrow was a single Common Redpoll. I texted Peter, to get the word out, then called Doug, Shane and Rob. Rob lives close to that end of the park and arrived with his wife, Tracy, very quickly. Doug texted me a little bit later to let me know that there was also a redpoll on the bird feeder at his parent's house. They live about 1 mile directly south of the lake in Prospect Park. I wondered out loud if that could have been the bird we heard flying out of the park at 9am.

Throughout the week others began reporting Common Redpoll sightings at Montgomery, New Rochelle, Westchester; on Long Island at Jones Beach, Teddy Roosevelt Nature Center, Hither Hills SP and Montauk; in Brooklyn at Floyd Bennett Field and Plum Beach and at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens. So I guess it has become an irruptive year.

After we looped through the Lullwater, we ran into photographer Peter Boc at the feeders. I told him about the redpoll and he captured some great photos of this tiny bird.

I'm assuming that Merlins are particularly fond of redpolls because we had another interesting sighting in Prospect Park on Sunday. As we were walking across the Nethermead Meadow towards Center Drive I mentioned the "Merlin" perch near the end of the Fallkill Falls path to Heydi. As I've pointed out in past postings, a maple tree at this location is a favorite perch for overwintering Merlins. On Sunday there were actually three of these small falcons perched at that spot, and surprisingly close to each other. I suppose when there is a glut of prey available that these normally aggressive raptors are more tolerant of each other.


Anonymous said...

Interesting sightings. And THREE merlins in one tree - wow! To be honest, I've heard a lot abt kestrels in NYC, but not much abt merlins.

Ben C. said...

Rob, That *is* an excellent day out birding. The 3 Merlins alone would've been a treat but first hearing and confirming the call of Common Redpoll and then seeing 1 and taking a set a wonderful photos is a great day indeed. is down for maintenance but my first find of Common Redpoll was early on in my birding "career" around 1999 feeding on a group of birches over an iced-over Pond at the SE corner of Central Park.

Keep blogging!

Ben Cacace
Manhattan, NYC

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope