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Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Birds & Blooms

Within the last week there has been an acceleration of plant growth, as well as, the appearance of more butterflies and other species of insects. This annual cycle is perfectly timed with the arrival of migratory birds. Some of these birds will stay in New York City and raise a family. The vast majority will continue northward, to breeding grounds within Canada's boreal forests, the arctic tundra or various habitats in between. The climax of bird migration is still a few weeks away, but the increase in species diversity and abundance over the last week has been profound. On April 10th I observed 45 species of birds in Prospect Park. Yesterday that number jumped to 64 species.

Last Saturday I lead a Brooklyn Bird Club trip to Green-Wood Cemetery. It is a good time of year to look for migrating raptors and the cemetery has a few excellent vantage points along the terminal moraine for scanning the sky. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate and there were fierce winds blowing in from the north. In fact, early on in the trip we watched a frustrated Common Loon struggling as it attempted to fly north. The bird eventually turned around and headed back south. Rather than waste everyone's time scanning for non-existent migrating hawks, I decided to lead the group on a songbird walk. Northern Flickers were seen in good numbers, as well as, a few other Spring migrants. We tallied Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler and Palm Warbler.
At the edge of the Crescent Water, below Samuel Morse's monument, we watched a Common Yellowthroat foraging for insects in a very curious manner. The pond is surrounded by a low, stone coping wall. The yellowthroat was clinging to the wall's vertical interior above the water while picking insects from small cracks and crevices in its surface. He looked more like a nuthatch or creeper than a warbler.

Heydi and I have volunteered to help the New York City Audubon Society with their annual shorebird survey. Shorebirds are just beginning to migrate through NYC, so we decided that Plum Beach, with its extensive flats at low-tide, would be a good Brooklyn location to monitor. We went early Sunday morning despite the fact that it would be high-tide (low-tide was at 1am), hoping to find some new migrants. Strong winds off of the ocean and a storm system moving up the coast raised the tide to the highest I've ever seen at Plum. The internal marsh habitat was completely flooded, looking more like a lake than a wetland. Several oystercatchers were noisily flying back and forth across the dunes looking for dry land. They were the only shorebirds we encountered. The strong wind and extreme high-tide had also pushed a few Surf Scoters very close to the shore, but most birds that morning were few and far between. We didn't fare very well at Floyd Bennett Field or Marine Park, either. It was just too windy for birds.

I finally got my first real taste of Spring migration in Prospect Park yesterday. There were lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Palm Warblers foraging in the treetops and on the ground. In addition, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers suddenly seem to be everywhere, hyperactively probing the flowering trees for insects. The first Yellow Warblers have appeared in the park with several seen along the edges of the waterways. A single Prairie Warbler was singing his buzzy, ascending scale from a perch at the edge of Prospect Lake near Three Sisters. A short distance from the warbler, I flushed my season's first Spotted Sandpiper as it teetered along the lake's crumbling coping wall. In all, I tallied 7 species of warbler in the park. Meteorologists are forecasting south winds on Friday and Saturday, so I expect that there will be a very good showing of new birds over the weekend ... rain or shine. So get on your rain gear and get into the parks!

Here's a slideshow of some recent flowering plants around Brooklyn:

Date: 04/20/11
Location: Prospect Park (Lullwater, Midwood, Peninsula Meadow, Prospect Lake, Ravine, Upper Pool, Vale of Cashmere)
Total Species: 64

Wood Duck (2.)
Gadwall (2.)
Northern Shoveler (8.)
Ruddy Duck (40.)
Pied-billed Grebe (1.)
Double-crested Cormorant (7.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (5.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
American Coot (3.)
Spotted Sandpiper (1.)
Laughing Gull (4.)
Ring-billed Gull (10.)
Great Black-backed Gull (1.)
Monk Parakeet (1.)
Chimney Swift (1.)
Belted Kingfisher (2.)
Northern Flicker (21.)
Blue-headed Vireo (10.)
Blue Jay (6.)
Tree Swallow (5.)
Barn Swallow (15.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (1.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (7.)
Brown Creeper (4.)
Carolina Wren (1.)
House Wren (3.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (19.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (29.)
Hermit Thrush (15.)
Yellow Warbler (8.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (97.)
Pine Warbler (5.)
Prairie Warbler (1.)
Palm Warbler (64.)
Black-and-white Warbler (5.)
Northern Waterthrush (1.)
Eastern Towhee (6.)
Chipping Sparrow (13.)
Field Sparrow (2.)
Savannah Sparrow (1.)
Swamp Sparrow (7.)
White-throated Sparrow (64.)
Dark-eyed Junco (6.)
Rusty Blackbird (2.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird (7.)
American Goldfinch (12.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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