Friday, April 27, 2012

Prospect Park, Floyd Bennett Field & Green-Wood Cemetery

Every year, shortly after April's first trickle of migrating warblers appear, I get irritably impatient for mornings of blaring dawn choruses and colorful, hyperactive songbirds dancing in the treetops. The spectacle predictably commences by early-May, but that knowledge does little to quell my restlessness. That said, we did see a few new birds over the weekend, plus, a private tour that I led in Green-Wood Cemetery yesterday revealed some new migrants.

Prospect Park

Like most of the birders in the northeast, Heydi, Paige and I concluded that Friday's overnight South winds would bring some new migrants into Prospect Park and the surrounding area. We arranged to meet at Grand Army Plaza at first light to start our birding at the park's north end. A short walk from the plaza, the Vale of Cashmere's tall surrounding trees and year round water source is usually a good draw for migrating birds. We've experienced many incredible Spring dawn fall outs at this spot. It was not the case on Saturday. Even the recent influx of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Hermit Thrushes seemed to have moved on. At the south end of the Vale I did notice one new season arrival. Hopping around in the shrubs low to the ground was a striking Common Yellowthroat. For the most part, however, it was a pretty quiet morning. In addition to a scarcity of Hermit Thrushes the recent rush of Ruby-crowned Kinglets had also flown off on the South winds.

Another new warbler for us for the year was Yellow Warbler. We walked the entire perimeter of Prospect Lake and heard our first one on Three Sisters Island. A second one was heard then seen high in the canopy within the Ravine. Chimney Swifts have also begun to arrive, although in very small numbers. One very conspicuous Spring newcomer is House Wren. Their energetic, bubbly song was heard throughout the park with at least 5 individuals seen. In coming weeks they'll be found nesting in streetlight fixtures and tree cavities in all the city's parks. Savannah Sparrows were observed migrating through Prospect Park with a few at Breeze Hill, the South side of the lake and on Lookout Hill.

Maybe we'll see a fallout with the next round of South winds ... and hopefully that will happen on the weekend.

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Prospect Park
Apr 21, 2012, 6:29 AM - 10:29 AM
51 species

Wood Duck (2.)
Hooded Merganser
Ruddy Duck (7.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (1.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (2.)
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot (1.)
Laughing Gull (3.)
Chimney Swift (1.)
Northern Flicker (3.)
Blue-headed Vireo (1.)
American Crow
Fish Crow (4.)
Tree Swallow (4.)
Barn Swallow (5.)
House Wren (4.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2.)
Hermit Thrush (1.)
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher (1.)
Louisiana Waterthrush (1.)
Black-and-white Warbler (2.)
Common Yellowthroat (1.)
Northern Parula (2.)
Yellow Warbler (2.)
Palm Warbler (2.)
Pine Warbler (1.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (15.)
Eastern Towhee (4.)
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow (4.)
Swamp Sparrow (2.)
White-throated Sparrow
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Mute Swan, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Floyd Bennett Field

After a less than stellar early morning in Prospect Park, Heydi and I decided to head to Floyd Bennett Field. We were hoping to find some dabbling ducks at the "Return a Gift Pond", more specifically, a Blue-winged Teal. Upland Sandpipers had been reported migrating through NYS, so we figured that the grasslands at Floyd Bennett would be the best place to search for one in Brooklyn.

Our first stop was at the Cricket Field, where any chance of finding birds was quashed due to a guy running a gasoline-powered remote control car through the grass. The "Return-a-Gift" Pond was depressingly devoid of birds, waterfowl or otherwise. We decided to walk through the tree, shrub and phragmite habitat of the North Forty towards Mill Basin, then walk the shoreline towards Raptor Point. The sweet fragrance of blooming Autumn Olive trees pervaded the entire north end of Floyd Bennett. Birds were few and far between, but we did come across several Question Mark butterflies. Apparently there was a hatch-out of these anglewings in the area as we ultimately spotted them all over Floyd Bennett Field.

Another fascinating, non-bird observation was of a mantis egg case. I noticed this small, beige sphere attached to a bare shrub. I recognized it as a mantis ootheca from a distance, but wasn't sure what the structure was dangling off of the bottom. As we got closer, I realized that it was actually dozens, if not hundreds, of mantis nymphs emerging. Periodic breezes would carry off some of the mantids to begin their new lives. Others were climbing out onto the twigs adjacent to their nursery. I'd come across many of these egg cases in the past, but never been fortunate enough to witness the nymphs hatching. We wondered which species this was and I presumed that it was Chinese Mantis as this introduced species is very common around New York State. I tried asking the young mantis, but they weren't talking. They were lucky that it wasn't a very birdy day, or later in the migration as I'm sure flycatchers, warblers and other insectivores would have devoured most of them.

Throughout the course of the late-morning and early-afternoon we noticed lots of Double-crested Cormorants migrating. We counted flocks with as few as 8 individuals and as abundant as 57. By 2:30pm we had tallied over 200 cormorants flying overhead. We didn't find any shorebirds at the end of Archery Road or at Dead Horse Bay. A flock of five Forster's Terns were new for the year, but otherwise it was a very slow day for Spring birds at Floyd Bennett. In addition to the Question Marks, we spotted seven other species of butterfly, which made it the most butterfly-y day so far this year.

Here's a short slideshow of images from Floyd Bennett Field on Saturday:


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Floyd Bennett Field
Apr 21, 2012 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM
38 species

Brant
Ring-necked Pheasant (1, heard.)
Double-crested Cormorant (206, Several flocks, ranging from 8 - 57 birds in each.)
Turkey Vulture (1.)
Osprey (2.)
American Kestrel (1.)
Laughing Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Forster's Tern (5.)
Tree Swallow (7.)
Barn Swallow (2.)
House Wren (1.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1.)
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler (5.)
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow (6.)
Savannah Sparrow (7.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (2.)
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch (2.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker (2.), Blue Jay, American Crow (2), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, House Sparrow

8 Butterfly species

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)
Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)
American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)
Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)
Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Green-Wood Cemetery

Wednesday morning I led a private tour of Green-Wood Cemetery. The morning alternated between sunny and warm and overcast and nippy. When I left the house it was a brisk 40 degrees, so I wasn't too optimistic that there would be a lot of bird activity. A Northern Parula singing in an oak tree near the bus stop gave me some hope that, perhaps, some new birds had come in overnight.

The group I was meeting at the cemetery had actually "Won" me at a fundraising auction. Maybe I should elucidate. Every year David Parsons Dance organizes a gala event which features silent and live auctions. Over the years my wife and I have seen many great Parson's Dance performances and also attended their gala. This year she suggested to their executive director that they add one of my tours to their auction. I suspect that my tour didn't elicit as much bidding excitement as say "Ten Day Adventure of a Lifetime for Two to Hong Kong and Thailand - Includes Air and Accommodations", but I was happy to do my part to raise money for the arts.

My optimism after hearing a parula singing on 5th Avenue slowly diminished as we made our way up Syringa Path towards Battle Hill. I expected to find songbird activity within a row of oak trees, but most have already lost their dangling, golden catkins where warblers would be probing for insects. Most of the Norway maples had also bloomed early this year and now sprinkle the ground with pale green jimmies. From the edge of Battle Hill I spotted a lone Chimney Swift fluttering back and forth above 5th Avenue like a giant, brown butterfly. After checking the highest point in Brooklyn we continued south, towards the Pierrepont memorial. Along the way we spotted our first House Wren of the day and a few Chipping Sparrows. At the fringes of the chipping flock a Field Sparrow sang his simple, bouncing song from the top of an azalea shrub.

The Dell Water is surrounded on three sides by a steep ridge. At the edges of the pond are a pair of Weeping Willow trees that usually attract a fair amount of Spring songbirds. Today there were only a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and a single Palm Warbler. A Red-bellied Woodpecker called his mate while clinging to the opening of a nest cavity that he had excavated in a Black Cherry tree. As we continued our walk towards the Crescent Water a singsong phrase near the top of a tree caught my attention. A small, gray bird was hopping around between the tops of a maple and black cherry. The ascending phrases of his whistle was distinctive and we watched our first Warbling Vireo of the year. Some of these warbler-like birds will stay and nest around NYC, usually near water.

We spent a few minutes watching a Great Egret hunting for fish at the edge of the Crescent Water before picking up our pace and heading towards Big Mama and Junior's new nest.

We heard, then saw a pair of Eastern Towhees on the hillside above the Catacombs. Above them a Blue-headed Vireo sang his lazy song from a Sweetgum tree. Several yards from the Catacombs I heard the "zoo-zee, zoo-zoo-zee" song of a Black-throated Green Warbler and persuaded the group that it would be worth the steep walk up Ocean Hill to find the source of the song. It took a minute or two, but we spotted this brilliant yellow-faced bird with the black bid foraging low in a tree adjacent to Stephen Whitney's chapel. Everyone got great views of this very cooperative songbird.

We only spent a few minutes checking on Big Mama and Junior's nest at the "Hill of Graves". This year the cemetery's resident Red-tailed Hawks have relocated their nest about 50 yards north of their old nest. It appeared to be Junior sitting on the nest, so we couldn't see any of their young. A tiny downy feather clung to the side of the nest. Walking back toward Battle Hill we kicked up green clouds of pollen as we passed through patches of red Sheep Sorrel. This pretty, but invasive herb has been flowering in nearly every grassy area I've encountered in the past couple of weeks. According to some health food websites it is not only edible, but has anti-cancer properties. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has more reliable information on these claims here. I would tend to rely on MSKKC before eating Sheep Sorrel. I'm just sayin'...

I think that there are more mockingbirds in Green-Wood Cemetery per acre than any other city park. Throughout our walk I was constantly reminded of this as I "translated" the mimicked songs of these birds every few minutes. Occasionally one would fool me by performing a near perfect imitation of a Spring migrant, but an extended listen would erase any doubts as they sang their way through a mashup of various species. I guess they do so well in Green-Wood Cemetery because the neighbors here rarely complain.

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Green-Wood Cemetery
Apr 25, 2012, 8:00 AM - 11:00 AM
40 species

Double-crested Cormorant (2, Flyover.)
Great Egret (1.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1, On nest.)
Laughing Gull (8, Flyover.)
Monk Parakeet
Chimney Swift (4.)
Belted Kingfisher (1.)
Northern Flicker (5.)
Blue-headed Vireo (2.)
Warbling Vireo (1.)
Barn Swallow (2.)
Tufted Titmouse (2.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1.)
House Wren (3.)
Hermit Thrush (6.)
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow Warbler (1, Heard only.)
Palm Warbler (1.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (5.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (1.)
Eastern Towhee (5.)
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow (1.)
White-throated Sparrow
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose (4.), Mallard (2.), Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove (4.), Red-bellied Woodpecker (3.), Downy Woodpecker (1.), Blue Jay, American Crow (1.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, House Sparrow

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