I don't remember when I heard my last cicada churring, they seemed to have just gradually vanished from the soundscape. Within the last 2 weeks there has been a profound change in the status of bird species in Brooklyn telling me that Autumn has truly arrived and Winter isn't far off. Most of our summer nesting birds have headed south, as well as, the early-fall migrants.
One of my favorite books about birds and nature around New York City is by biologist Robert Arbib. His 1966 publication has likely the longest title of any book in the history of publishing (or not):
"Enjoying birds around New York City: an aid to recognizing, watching, finding, and attracting birds in New York City, Long Island, the Upstate counties of Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland, and Orange, and nearby points in New Jersey and Connecticut"
Towards the end of the book is a section titled, "A Bird Watcher's Calendar For New York City And Vicinity". Each month has a short, precise paragraph that highlights that month's annual seasonal fluctuation. Here is how he describes October:
"This month brings cooler days and clear skies, and usually the first frost. The bird picture changes completely. Now the swallows, shorebirds, and herons are largely gone, and in their place come loons, cormorants, and flocks of waterfowl returning from the North. The southward hawk flight reaches its peak, with hawks over the ridges, and falcons, Osprey, and Marsh Hawk working along the beaches. This is the month for jays, flickers, late warblers, thrushes, and sparrows. Blackbirds gather in huge roosts, preparing to depart. There should be rarities, possibly a Western Tanager or a Yellow-headed Blackbird. Start keeping your feeders well stocked after the first frost."
Some of the bird species status and abundance has changed in the 45 years since this book was published, but his descriptions of the general ebb and flow of the seasons are still right on.
Savannah Sparrows. The second time I spotted a chunky Vesper Sparrow among the flock of slender, yellow faced savannahs. Other migrating sparrows that I've seen in recent days include Chipping Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Nelson's Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow.
I noticed an interesting arrangement of feeding stratum in this spot in the middle of the field. Sparrows nibbled on seeds in the grass, partially hidden from view. A few feet above them, a small flock of Eastern Phoebes used the fences to launch forays to capture moths and other insects flying just above the grass. From a dead snag in a tall tree at the north edge of the grass, a perched kestrel bided his time, waiting for just the right moment to swoop down on his preferred prey. This compact falcon might just be targeting the abundant dragonflies around the field, but would also dine on a tiny sparrow given the opportunity.
White-throated Sparrows have suddenly become a constant presence. Tiny, hyperactive Golden-crowned Kinglets can be found just about everywhere from treetops to grassy meadows and every in between level. I've been hearing their high-pitched "tsee, tsee, tsee" call all around the city from street trees to garden shrubs. Dark-eyed Juncos, another winter species, has also just begun to arrive in our city parks and backyards.
A stand of oak trees along the avenue down the street from my home has become noisy with flocks of Common Grackles feeding on acorns. Their annual visit tells me that winds blowing down from the north will soon be chilling New York City.
Brown Creepers. Probing the fissures in tree bark for insects, these beautifully camouflaged birds appear to be carved from wood. They always forage from the base of trees to the top, sometimes passing their seasonal neighbors, the nuthatches, who only seem to travel from the top of the tree to the bottom. Northern Flickers have arrived in large flocks and, along with migrating Blue Jays, now dominate the trees and fields of Green-Wood Cemetery. Another woodpecker, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, has also just arrived and I've been hearing their nasal cat-like mewing "neeah" call around both Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park.
On the lakes and ponds, migrant water birds are beginning to appear, joining the resident Mute Swans, Mallards and black ducks. In Prospect Park the first Northern Shovelers of the season have arrived as have a pair of Pied-billed Grebes. Four American Coots are the first of several dozen that usually spend the winter in Prospect Park. Despite efforts by ignorant city officials to eradicate Canada Geese from Prospect Park's waterways, the first of several hundred winter visitors are now gracing the lake.
When I look up at a south-bound "V" formation of honking geese I think about the unending cycle of seasonal change that all life is tied to. Apparently, some people just see it as another aspect of nature that needs to be controlled. John Muir once said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe."
Date: Oct 1, 2011 - Oct 14, 2011
Locations: Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park
Great Blue Heron
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow