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Friday, November 11, 2011

Ants, Bats, Birds and More

Here's a brief roundup of some interesting observation over the past week:

November is typically the month when unusual species show up around New York. Over the weekend Heydi and I spent a lot of time exploring Green-Wood Cemetery, Coney Island, Floyd Bennett Field, Dead Horse Bay, Spring Creek and Marine Park hoping to find something rare. We also took a ride over to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to chase a rare Eared Grebe.

With ornamental cherry trees and hawthorns still holding lots of fruit, it was no surprise to find plenty of Eastern Bluebirds and Hermit Thrushes sticking around. Bluebirds have been seen in good numbers around NYC this season from Central Park to Floyd Bennett Field. This particular bird was feeding on the invasive porcelain berry vine. Another highly invasive species that robins and other birds seem to really enjoy is Asiatic Bittersweet. So many birds feed on the fruit of these two vines I can't imagine that conservationists could ever eradicate it from the landscape. On a positive note, I did notice that landscape designers have planted the native American Bittersweet along Highline Park in Manhattan.

In addition to robins, bluebirds and Hermit Thrushes feeding on cherries in Green-Wood Cemetery, there has been a sudden influx of Cedar Waxwings. These hardy birds always seem to find an abundance of fruit to hold them through even the most harsh winters. There is a stand of ornamental cherry trees at the end of my block where they can usually be found feasting in mid-Winter.

Heydi and I spent about 90 minutes scanning the bay surrounding Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge's West Pond for a reported Eared Grebe. We eventually located it within a flock of the more common Horned Grebe. The bird was very far off shore and, while identifiable, I would have preferred much closer looks. On the way back to the parking lot I stumbled on this Woolly Bear caterpillar. Legend has it that the width of the orange band is a predictor of the coming winter's severity. The wider the center band, the milder the winter. Conversely, the narrower the band the more severe the winter. If this fuzzy fellow is correct, then we should be in for a very mild winter. If only...

The bay off of Coney Island was pretty quiet. I had expected that overwintering seaducks, such as Long-tailed Ducks, scoters and eiders would have arrived, but it's still early, I guess. There were still a few dozen Laughing Gulls present on the beach among the Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. Most should be gone by the time the Christmas Bird Count rolls around. One nice surprise was to see a small flock of Black Skimmers still hanging around the beach. Many of them were juvenile birds, presumably from the large breeding colony across the bay at Breezy Point. Like the Laughing Gulls, they should be gone by mid-December.

One very interesting observation was of an Eastern Red Bat in Green-Wood Cemetery. This tiny mammal was flying back and forth above a short stretch of roadway near the catacombs. It was darting and diving at some kind of insect, but they were too small for me to tell what they were. I recently learned that red bats migrate at around this time of year. Marge went back to the spot the following day but the bat was gone.

Here is a really unusual November sightings for me. While walking through Green-Wood Cemetery I noticed a fairly large patch of grass shimmering. Walking over I realized that it was a 4' by 6' swarm of insects. They looked like termites and I assumed that they were alates emerging to mate. It wasn't until I got home and looked closely at the photographs that I realized they were actually ants, possibly red ants. Like termites, ants have a reproductive caste that briefly fly, mate, then loose their wings. This is known as the nuptial flight. When I returned to the spot about an hour later, they had all dispersed and/or died. Maybe this is what the bat was eating. Here's a short video of the ant "orgy":

1 comment:

Starz723 said...

I went back yesterday (11/13/11) to the spot where we previously saw the bat and I saw "several" bats this time. I did see a lot of insects in the air. I am not sure why I would see more bats in the same exact spot. Something to ponder. WE need to check this spot regularly to see if they could possibly be roosting nearby or are they migrating and just like that area. Once again, it was daytime, but closer to dusk.

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