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Friday, October 28, 2011

Last Weekend's Birds

When my interest in birds began, about 20 years ago, my observations were usually limited to what I could find around my local park. I didn't really think about seasons or environments. Over time, I started to expand my explorations to other patches of green in the boroughs. Eventually, I learned that there are seasonal movements of bird families associated with specific habitats. My decisions on where to bird have become less random and more date specific. It is for that reason that I decided to spend last weekend in the open, grass and scrub habitats of Calvert Vaux Park (aka Dreier-Offerman Park) and Floyd Bennett Field.

Friday and Saturday evening weather reports called for north-northwest winds, so Heydi and I planned on being out in the field by sunrise. I hoped to observe flocks of birds descending after a long night's flight.

As the sun came up at Calvert Vaux Park, the most obvious overnight change was the arrival of lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers. These black, white and yellow songbirds were literally everywhere. At one point we watched a flock of several dozen take off from the western tip of the park peninsula and fly across Gravesend Bay towards Norton Point.

Calvert Vaux Park is primarily open meadows surrounded by a narrow, scrubby border dominated by mugwort, knotweed, Autumn Olive shrubs, sumac and ailanthus trees (there's probably some native species in there, as well). As we walked the perimeter of the fields we observed mixed flocks of Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Common Yellowthroat, Blackpoll Warbler, Palm Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco feeding on grass seeds and smartweed at the edge of the border. The nervous, hungry birds would constantly flush, darting for cover in the tangled, weedy border. Patrolling kestrels, Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks kept the small birds on edge.

I spotted this dead Sora rail in the grass near the western end of the park. These small rails are not usually found in grassland habitats, but rather, concealed in the thickets of marshes. They are more often heard than seen. This robin-sized bird travels as far as South America from northern Canada, sometimes crossing the Gulf of Mexico. I couldn't see any outward signs of trauma on the bird and perhaps it just succumb to the harshness of long distance travel. Here's a photo of a very-much-alive Sora that stopped off in Prospect Park several years ago:

We continued to see hundreds of small songbirds flying into and out of Calvert Vaux Park during the early morning hours. One unexpected surprise was the arrival of several Eastern Meadowlarks. Across the water, along the sandy shore of Coney Island Creek Park was a flock of 125 Black Skimmers. Fisherman walking down the beach would occasionally flush the flock. The flying mass of bold black and white birds would twist and turn low above the water before coming back to rest where they started after the fisherman passed.

At Floyd Bennett Field we mostly explored the open grass at the cricket field, as well as, the weedy berms that surround it. We also spent time scouring the plots at the community gardens. A diversity of sparrow species were seen throughout Floyd Bennett with a single Vesper Sparrow being the highlight. An abundance of Yellow-rumped Warblers, at first amusing, eventually became annoying. Each time I spotted bird movement I would jerk my binoculars to my eyes only to find that it was yet another yellow-rump. One nice warbler discovery at the community garden was an Orange-crowned. Neither of us had seen one yet this year.

A frequently overlooked species around the city during migration is the American Pipit. This streaky, sparrow-like birds of open country breeds in arctic and alpine tundra. Many overwinter as far south as Central America. They can be heard flying overhead at this time of year making a high-pitched ""pip-it, pip-it" call. The best place to find them around Brooklyn is Floyd Bennett Field as they feed in dry, stubbly grass fields. Over the weekend we spotted approximately 50 of them on the cricket field. Snow Buntings and Horned Larks should be arriving soon.


Date Range: Oct 22, 2011 - Oct 23, 2011
Locations: Dreier-Offerman Park and Floyd Bennett Field
Number of Species: 68

Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Green-winged Teal
Greater Scaup
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
American Kestrel
Wilson's Snipe
Black Skimmer
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Brown Creeper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing

Tennessee Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Blackpoll Warbler
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler

Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

Red-winged Blackbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

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