Friday, March 04, 2011

Buds, Flowers and Songs

Longer days and a few warm periods have triggered some subtle changes in the landscape and soundscape around Brooklyn.

Last weekend was one of the few instances this winter that I didn't spend hours searching the bay and creek around Coney Island for winter birds. Instead, on Sunday I wandered around Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park looking for signs of Spring.

Some tree species have already begun sprouting buds. I'm not 100% certain of the this species, but the buds on these twigs look to be some type of elm. It is possibly an English Elm (Ulmus procera).


Red Maples buds and flowers are a favorite late-Winter treat for our local Eastern Gray Squirrels. Look for bits of chewed twigs and partially eaten buds littering the ground beneath the trees. I wonder if they taste like maple syrup.

I usually associate the appearance of catkins on many of our hardwood trees with songbird migration. Maples and oaks flowers attract insects just about the same time when warblers and other songbirds are streaming through our area. It is in these trees where one can find many of the colorful wood-warblers foraging for insects. Early-March is not the time to look for warblers, but I did spot an early flowering hickory in Green-Wood Cemetery. I'd never seen a Shagbark Hickory tree in Brooklyn before Sunday, which is odd considering this species distinctive bark. I'll be sure to collect some of the nuts later in the year.

When approaching Breeze Hill from Wellhouse Drive in Prospect Park, I noticed an unmistakable din in the air. From as far away as the Maryland Monument I could hear dozens of birds singing and warming the chilled Winter air. Birds don't need calendars, they feel the lengthening days and react with song. A small flock of Red-winged Blackbirds near the bird feeders were the most vocal species. Alternating between a musical "conk-a-reee", low mumbled "checks" and high, piercing "seeet", the tiny group's chatter gave the illusion of an entire marsh filled with birds. House Finches perched near the edge of the Terrace Bridge produced a more subtle refrain of whistled warbles. I heard the bright trills of a single Song Sparrow's coming from a patch of phragmites below the ridge. Several of the overwintering White-throated Sparrows near the bird feeders have started warming up with abbreviated versions of their melodic "Oh-sweet-canada-canada". Cardinals and robins have also begun adding their refrain to the slowly intensifying chorus of bird songs. In coming weeks I will post my recommendations for learning to identify our eastern songbirds by ear.

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