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Friday, April 20, 2012

Migration Heats Up

Over last weekend more birds began moving through the area and we had a big jump in the total number of species seen. Sunday's forecast looked promising as winds shifted to the south overnight. Birders from around the area crossed their fingers for a big weekend fallout.

Heydi and I had made up our minds that we had to find a Yellow-throated Warbler. Queens had located one of these southern overshoots in Alley Pond Park and, according to our records, there had to be one somewhere in Brooklyn, so why not Prospect Park. As usual at this time of year we began our day at dawn at the north end of Prospect Park and worked our way south. There were plenty of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Hermit Thrushes early on, but nothing unusual. In the Vale of Cashmere I heard the simple, bouncing ping pong ball trill of a Field Sparrow - my first of the year. As we made our way onto Nelly's Lawn I spotted a large, low flying waterfowl. It had an all white body, dark head, matching orange feet, legs and bill ... clearly a Common Merganser, which is rare for Prospect Park. We assumed by its direction that it was headed towards Prospect Lake, where we'd catch up with it later. It wasn't and we didn't.

The first couple of hours of the day were fairly productive with the greatest diversity of birds that we'd seen in the park so far this year. As we approached the top of Lookout Hill we spotted a nice mixed flock of songbirds near the stairway that ascends the hill from the Maryland Monument. A Blue-headed Vireo sang his lazy "where are you, here I am" melody while a tiny gnatcatcher whispered his barely audible insect lisps. There were also Pine, Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers within the flock. At one point I heard a familiar song that I couldn't place. It reminded me of the long slurs of a Louisiana Waterthrush song, but not exactly and its source was up in a tree, not where one would find a waterthrush. After a moment of searching Heydi and I shouted in unison, "Yellow-throated Warbler!" As she struggled for her camera, I fumbled for my phone. I wanted to get the word out quickly about this rare southern visitor. Unfortunately, the bird stayed only briefly and took off with most of the songbird flock.

Later in the morning we spotted a Louisiana Waterthrush and Rusty Blackbird, both predictably foraging along the edge of the water in the park's "Ravine". A walk through a very crowded Brooklyn Botanic Garden (it was free Saturday) didn't turn up anything unusual, although the blooms were gorgeous.

By mid-afternoon on Saturday the winds had shifted to the south. Like most NYC birders we were psyched that Sunday would be an even birdier day. That bit of optimism was short lived as the first hour of light on Sunday revealed much fewer birds. My guess is that many of the birds that had been present continued north Saturday evening. Migrants that had been south of the "Big Apple" either didn't travel very far or took the express and passed us over completely.

Sunday wasn't a complete bust, however, as we did have a couple of interesting experiences. The first occurred while we were still in Prospect Park. We had gone back up to Lookout Hill hoping that, somehow, the Yellow-throated Warbler had returned to the exact spot from the prior morning. It hadn't. On our way down the south side of the hill we ran into Rob and his wife, Tracy. As we were chatting Tracy pointed out a White-breasted Nuthatch in the tree above us. We all looked up and noticed that there were actually two on a large, horizontal branch. The female nuthatch was perched on the branch and rapidly fluttering her wings. The male was dancing in circles around her with his tail cocked in almost a vertical position. Their dance continued for about a minute when it suddenly ended with the male mounting the female. Who knew that these common birds performed such a lovely courtship dance?

The second event occurred when we were in Green-Wood Cemetery later in the morning. We were walking up the hill from Horace Greeley towards the Havemeyer family when we spotted a Turkey Vulture circling very low. The vulture then landed in a dead tree adjacent to the Havemeyer crypt. It's rare for a migrating vulture to stop and perch in Brooklyn so I assumed that there was a dead animal nearby. As we approached the perched bird we joked about not getting too close as the vulture's only form of defense is to vomit on the perceived threat. Not a pleasant thought. Thankfully this bird decided to fly off. On the road below the perch was a dead duck. By its nondescript brown plumage and pale blue bill, it looked like one of the many weird domestic/wild hybrids found on Prospect Lake or any city park's pond, for that matter. From a tree across the road I heard the whining alert cry of a vireo and assumed it had been upset by the sight of the huge, black vulture. We followed the sound and I was incorrect on both accounts. The alert cry was actually a mockingbird imitating a vireo and the cause of his angst was not the vulture, but a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk perched in a horsechestnut tree. The hawk had his eyes on the dead duck and could have cared less about the mockingbird diving at him. I was a little concerned that the hawk could get hit by a car if he swooped down and sat in the road eating it. I picked up the carcass by the leg and tossed it into the grass below the hawk. We watched and waited for a long time, but the hawk wasn't going to dine on the waterfowl until we left. On Wednesday I lead a tour in the cemetery and went back to spot looking for remains of the duck. This pile of feathers is all that was left:


Date: Apr 14, 2012 - Apr 15, 2012
Locations: Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park
Total Species: 71

Wood Duck
Ruddy Duck
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Coot
Laughing Gull
Monk Parakeet
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
White-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Louisiana Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Northern Parula
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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

1 comment:

Starz723 said...

The picture of the RT juvie is the same bird Ive seen over the past week. It does not seem to be Big Mama & Jr's offspring but a juvie that is passing through. This bird is much paler and his behavior is a lot more nervous than Mama & Jr's juvie that still hangs out on the flats (and perches) and whose plumage is darker. It seemed where ever I was in the cemetery, I spotted this hawk going from tree to tree. I think Jr may have been giving him a hard time, hence his nervousness and flying all over. I think the Coopers Hawk has now moved on from his wintering grounds at Green-Wood.
Marge Raymond

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