Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Big Flight of Birds

Last Friday evening a cold front moved into the area leading me to believe there would be a good movement of South-bound birds coming through the city. I thought coastal Brooklyn might be the best spot to find a few incoming species. That turned out to be the understatement of the year.

As the sun was coming up Saturday morning, Heydi and I were walking into Calvert Vaux Park in Brooklyn. Birds seemed to be dropping out of the sky everywhere. The walk through a weedy path between 6 Diamonds Park and Calvert Vaux flushed hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows. I was overwhelmed by the volume of birds and movement, not knowing where to look first. Calvert Vaux Park is on a relatively small, man-made peninsula that borders Coney Island Creek and juts into Gravesend Bay. Frequently, South-bound birds will pile up there before crossing the water to continue their journey. During the 4 hours we spent there we experienced an incredible, nearly non-stop movement of birds.

I wanted to check out the large, grass soccer fields before any players arrived, hoping to find an Eastern Meadowlark. A vocalizing American Kestrel circled the field before coming to rest atop a tall street light. Feeding primarily on insects, such as crickets, it is a favorite perch for these small, colorful falcons. I've photographed them on these lampposts many times in the past. Walking clockwise around the field, I commented that we were certain to find meadowlarks. No sooner had those words left my mouth that an Eastern Meadowlark flew in and perched atop a planetree. It called a few times before flying down to the grass where it nervously fed for several minutes.

Throughout the morning we found that the most abundant species were Yellow-rumped Warblers and White-throated Sparrows. I'm sure that any estimates we made were extremely low given the impossible task of counting these quick moving, hungry birds. At one point, I lifted my gloved hand to shade my eyes from the low, early morning sun. A Yellow-rumped Warbler, presumably chasing an insect, headed directly towards me and momentarily perched on the edge of my hand. The White-throated Sparrows, which tend to stick to the edges of weedy habitat, were difficult to judge flock size as many birds fed in the dried leaf litter beneath dense plant growth. There were several times when I thought I was seeing a flock of 10 or 20 individuals, until a passing raptor would cause the whole flock to take flight revealing three times the number of birds. We also tallied the highest number of White-crowned Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows that I've ever experienced in a single day in NYC. The highlight of the morning, however, was seeing (and hearing) several good sized flocks of Pine Siskins. I estimate that there were around 200 feeding on thistle and other dried seeds around the peninsula. It was one of the few times since I've been birding that I observed more siskins than the related goldfinches, which are usually common at this time of year. There were also a good number of Purple Finches seen and heard. I spoke with my friend Keir during the morning, who was also birding along the coast at Floyd Bennett Field. He described a similar scenario of birds flying all over the place. He shot a short video of the bird activity along the North 40 trail, which you can see here. One of the reasons the birds were moving so quickly was that there was also a lot of raptors on patrol. A pair of Cooper's Hawks made there presence felt during the late morning with this large, adult bird perching on a telephone pole between two baseball fields.

In the afternoon we birded at Green-Wood Cemetery where we heard only a few siskins. Bird activity at the cemetery was also very good, but not nearly as impressive as at the coast. Both species of kinglets were everywhere with the tiny Golden-crowned Kinglet frequently seen feeding on the ground. I nearly stepped on this individual foraging in the grass next to the Dell Water. It is interesting to note that Hermit Thrushes were abundant at Green-Wood and we also counted probably my single day high for Winter Wrens.

Early in the morning at Calvert Vaux Park we came across this Woolly Bear Caterpillar. Legend has it that the width of the central reddish-brown band is an indicator of the coming Winter's severity. If the band is narrow, it will be a harsh Winter. If the band is wide, like this individual, the season will be mild. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that the bands mean anything of a meteorological nature. In fact, the previous weekend Rich, Heydi and I came across one who was completely black! I don't actually mind the cold, so a normal Winter would be alright by me, although I'm not sure how the Woolly Bears feel about that.

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Location: Dreier-Offerman Park, Kings
Date: Oct 13, 2012 7:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Species: 56 species

Brant
American Wigeon (5.)
Great Blue Heron
Cooper's Hawk (2.)
Laughing Gull
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker (4.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (4.)
Northern Flicker (10.)
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe (7.)
Blue-headed Vireo
Tufted Titmouse (4.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush (8.)
Gray Catbird
Palm Warbler (15.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (100.)
Black-throated Green Warbler
Eastern Towhee (2.)
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow (3.)
Savannah Sparrow (15.)
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow (4.)
Swamp Sparrow (20.)
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (10.)
Dark-eyed Junco
Eastern Meadowlark
Purple Finch (10.)
House Finch (25.)
Pine Siskin (200.)
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose (20.), Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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Location: Green-Wood Cemetery, Kings
Date: Oct 13, 2012 12:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Species: 50 species

Ruddy Duck
Great Blue Heron
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker (4.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (8.)
Northern Flicker (50.)
American Kestrel
Monk Parakeet (Resident species.)
Eastern Phoebe (13.)
Blue-headed Vireo (2.)
Tufted Titmouse (3.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
Brown Creeper
House Wren
Winter Wren (10.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush (30.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Nashville Warbler
Common Yellowthroat (5.)
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler (2.)
Palm Warbler (25.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow (2.)
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow (15.)
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (6.)
Dark-eyed Junco
Indigo Bunting
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

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