Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Of Birds and Moths

Over the weekend Heydi and I birded Marine Park and Dead Horse Bay in search of shorebirds, terns and, for that matter, any unusual migrants that might pass through our field of view.

Sunday began for me at around 5am. I planned on pedaling the approximately 7 miles to the Marine Park Saltmarsh Nature Center, so wanted to leave enough time for a good breakfast before heading out. Heydi and I met up near her place at around 7am then went over to the marsh overlook behind the center. From there we scanned the shoreline and exposed wooden pilings for birds. A Royal Tern had been spotted there earlier in the week. My wife joked that it was probably the one from last August in search of sports bras. Unfortunately, it didn't have the courtesy to wait around until Heydi and I arrived. Harumph. Anyway, from there we checked out the marsh grass for Saltmarsh Sparrows and shorebirds feeding within the network of muddy drainage channels. I spotted a single Saltmarsh Sparrow as it skittered just above the tops of the grass before disappearing into the vast carpet of green. There were also a few Semipalmated Plovers and Sandpipers in the vicinity. It was getting close to 9am when we decided to head over to Floyd Bennett Field and Dead Horse Bay. Heydi hopped on the Q35 while I hopped on my bike.

The flag in front of Aviator Sports was lifeless on its pole and the air at Floyd Bennett Field felt like it was on fire. After a brief break at Aviator for cold drinks and water bottle refilling, we agreed to skip over the scorching grassland and instead walk over to Dead Horse Bay. Passing the summer camp's pool area I spotted a mound of melting "snow" deposited by the indoor ice rink's Zamboni. I scooped out a handful and packed it against the back of my neck. If the mound had been large enough I would have sprawled out on it and made snow angels.

Heydi suggested that we walk passed the community gardens and check for butterflies at the border of buddleia shrubs. There were some butterflies present, but diversity was low. Perhaps it was even too hot for these pollinators. At the southern edge of the garden, which is dominated by dried irises and fennel, Heydi spotted a tiny moth called the Chickweed Geometer. My close vision isn't as good as it used to be, so had I been alone would have definitely overlooked this tiny pale-yellow and pink moth. I chased it around for a few minutes trying to take some photos, then we continued towards Flatbush Avenue and the Dead Horse Bay trailhead.

Dead Horse Bay is due East of Plum Beach and across Plum Beach Channel. During low-tide there are fairly extensive mudflats at Plum Beach where shorebirds can feed. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of human activity there, including unleashed dogs, disturbing the birds. Some of the migrating shorebirds will fly across the channel to rest and feed along the glass strewn and much less busy shoreline of Dead Horse Bay.

A small mixed flock of shorebirds were feeding along the northern shoreline towards the Flatbush Marina. It consisted of Semipalmated Plover, American Oystercatcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling and Semipalmated Sandpiper. The most numerous species was Semipalmated Plover.

On the water and fairly close to shore was a female Black Scoter. This individual has been present since, at least, July 14th. Close by was a Common Loon, which is also very unusual to see over-Summering in Brooklyn. The two birds are never very far away from each other and give the impression of a curious avian "Odd Couple" (I wonder which one would be Oscar). Heydi mentioned to me that the scoter did not appear to be able to fly very well. From the photo it looks as though her feathers are either extremely worn or there are new ones coming in. Perhaps she is experiencing a delayed molt, in which case, she won't be able to fly until the new feathers have completely grown in. With regard to the Common Loon, I have no clue why this bird, who breeds in extreme northern New York State and across Canada, would opt to remain in Brooklyn. Maybe to keep his little friend company.

Many of the sumac trees that line the Dead Horse Bay trail were covered with these pretty yellow and red caterpillars. Neither Heydi nor myself had ever noticed them before. We found it interesting that they were only feeding on the leaves of the sumacs and any adjacent shrubs or wildflowers were untouched. When I got close to take a better look, they would raise their heads in alarm and freeze. It was easy to research this caterpillar's identity as sumac seems to be a preferred host plant. In fact, I found some referring to the Spotted Datana as the "Sumac Caterpillar". If you follow the previous link you'll find that the adult moth form of this native species is not nearly as pretty or interesting as the brightly colored caterpillar. I couldn't find any information regarding whether this insect is considered a pest, so perhaps not.

My bike route home cuts across the Parade Grounds between Caton Avenue and Parkside Avenue. It's usually a very busy spot on weekends as it contains several soccer fields, football fields, baseball diamonds and tennis courts. I either walk my bike here or ride very, very slowly. As I was heading north across the Parade Grounds on Sunday I noticed two teenagers staring down at something on the pavement. I looked down and spotted a large, bright green caterpillar. It was a Polyphemus moth caterpillar. I was so excited that I hopped off my bike in front of them and grabbed my camera. While I was taking some photos I explained to the pair what it was they were looking at and described the huge, beautiful moth that it turns into. They smiled and walked away, mumbling something in Spanish. I'm guessing it was something like, "That guy is weird." I've only seen this caterpillar once before, in Green-Wood Cemetery and I've never seen the adult moth.

If I left the caterpillar anywhere in the Parade Grounds it would have been flattened by the end of the day. I picked it up, stuck it in my bike trunk and continued riding to Prospect Park. At a dense, brushy area, not far from the lake, I released him/her. I was thinking about going back and looking for its cocoon. At this point in the year, the pupa may overwinter and not hatch until next Spring.

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Location: Marine Park Saltmarsh Nature Center
Date: Aug 5, 2012 7:41 AM - 9:01 AM
Species: 31 species

Canada Goose
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Osprey (3.)
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer (1.)
American Oystercatcher
Greater Yellowlegs (5.)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (8.)
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Forster's Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Monk Parakeet
Downy Woodpecker (1.)
American Crow (2.)
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
House Wren
Marsh Wren (1.)
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Saltmarsh Sparrow (1.)
Song Sparrow (4.)
Indigo Bunting (1.)
Red-winged Blackbird

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Location: Dead Horse Bay
Date: Aug 5, 2012 10:34 AM - 11:50 AM
Species: 21 species

Brant
Black Scoter (1, First spotted 7/14/12.)
Common Loon (2.)
Double-crested Cormorant (5.)
Semipalmated Plover (35.)
American Oystercatcher (3.)
Spotted Sandpiper (1.)
Ruddy Turnstone (6.)
Sanderling (3.)
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Forster's Tern
Rock Pigeon
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
American Redstart
Eastern Towhee

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