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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Spring Sights & Sounds

On Sunday I did some birding in Green-Wood Cemetery and found more signs that Spring is knocking at the door.

Sitting at my kitchen table as the sun was coming up, I heard first one, then two, then a third cardinal singing from somewhere in my neighbors backyards. It was the first time this year that I noticed this resident species serenading at sunrise. Walking along the edge of Prospect Park on my way to Green-Wood Cemetery I heard a woodpecker hammering his Spring message. The fast, regular rhythm of the beat made me think that it was a Downy Woodpecker signaling for a mate. It's distant whinnying call confirmed my guess.

I entered the cemetery at 20th Street then walked across the long open ridge known as "The Hill of Graves", on my way to meet up with Heydi. There's a great view of the open sky along this hillside and I watched small flocks of migrating robins flying from south to north, calling as they passed overhead.

At the Crescent Water a lone male Wood Duck paddled around while calling for a mate. To my ears, his thin, high, rising "zeeeeeet" call is more reminiscent of a pet's squeaky toy than a duck.

The first decent-sized flock of birds that we encountered were down the hill from the Steinway family mausoleum. There were about 50 robins nervously feeding in the grass while nuthatches, titmice and woodpeckers occupied the trees above. Several Fox Sparrows called from the edge of the feeding flock. I've noticed over the past week that our overwintering Fox Sparrows have begun warming up their clear, musical whistles.

My main reason for deciding to go to Green-Wood Cemetery over the weekend was to look for migrating American Woodcock. I've found that the cemetery is the most reliable place to find these skittish "shorebirds" on migration. They usually begin to move through the area in early March.

I checked most of the expected locations, but didn't find a single one. Finally, as we came over a ridge near Charlotte Canter one of these inconspicuous birds shot out in front of us and, with wings whistling, disappeared towards Battle Hill. A few minutes later, while walking back towards "The Hill of Graves", we spooked a second one. This time I was able to follow it in my binoculars until it came to rest under a large conifer. We used a grouping of large headstones as blinds to try to get a closer look and, possibly, some photos.

The strategy worked as the woodcock couldn't see us as we peeked over the top of a mister Willis's granite monument. Then something funny happened. Heydi had been taking some photos when she whispered to me, "It moved." So I looked in my bins and said, "No, it's in the same spot." When I realized that we were looking in two different directions, I scanned the ground and figured out that there were actually two woodcocks on the ground ahead of us. A moment later a third one stood up and began slowly walking to the left, at which point Heydi whispered, "What is it doing?!" At first I wasn't sure what she was talking about, so I said, "What do you mean?" She replied, "Why is it walking like that?!" I tried to contain my laughter, understanding that the only times she had seen woodcocks was when they were either flying away or sitting quietly. You see, woodcocks have a very peculiar way of walking. They move as if they are either drunk or they have an internal pendulum that randomly swings back and forth. Rather than try to explain this crazy motion, here's a video from Cornell which shows their curious bobbing and swaying motion. This isn't just a foraging behavior, they do it whenever they are moving. Maybe we can start a new dance craze.

It was a rare opportunity to observe this normally heard-but-not-seen species, so we spent several minutes watching before leaving Green-Wood, mission accomplished.

There are three birds in this photo, can you pick them out?


Date: 3/4/12
Location: Green-Wood Cemetery
Species: 25

1) Wood Duck (1, Crescent Water.)
2) Mallard
3) Northern Shoveler
4) Cooper's Hawk (1.)
5) Red-tailed Hawk (1.)
6) American Woodcock (4.)
7) Herring Gull
8) Mourning Dove
9) Monk Parakeet
10) Red-bellied Woodpecker
11) Downy Woodpecker
12) Northern Flicker
13) Blue Jay
14) American Crow
15) Tufted Titmouse
16) White-breasted Nuthatch
17) American Robin
18) Northern Mockingbird
19) European Starling
20) Fox Sparrow (5.)
21) White-throated Sparrow
22) Dark-eyed Junco (50.)
23) Northern Cardinal
24) Red-winged Blackbird
25) Common Grackle

1 comment:

Yojimbot said...

cool post...took me a while, but I got all 3!

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