Saturday, December 01, 2012

Brooklyn Birding Updates

I haven't posting anything about my bird sightings lately because Robin and I went out of town. We spent several days in New Orleans enjoying food, sites and sounds, then flew up to Annapolis for Thanksgiving with family. I didn't even bring my binoculars as I decided to take a break from birds. It did make me a little anxious whenever I received a text message describing some great bird sighting in Brooklyn. The best was of an Evening Grosbeak seen at the Prospect Park bird feeders for about a week. When I returned to New York I tried to make up for lost birding time.

Prospect Park, Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Green-Wood Cemetery

Saturday morning I left my home just before sunrise and headed up to Prospect Park. If the Evening Grosbeak was still visiting the bird feeders at Breeze Hill, I was certain I'd find it. I ended up staring at the assemblage of 5 feeding stations from 6:45am until 9:45am. Heydi joined me shortly after 7am and, during the course of my vigil, several other birders came and went. The feeders were hoppin' with a constant stream of Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch and House Sparrow. The ground below the feeders was crowded with Mourning Doves, White-throated Sparrows and a half dozen very fat squirrels. When a tree trimming crew parked their truck and wood chipper on the roadway directly behind us and started up their chainsaws, Heydi and I gave up on trying to find the grosbeak and walked across the park to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

For reasons that elude me, the botanic garden was nearly devoid of birds. In fact, the only highlight that comes to mind was warming up to a cup of hot chocolate at their cafe. Undeterred, I suggested we make our way over to Green-Wood Cemetery. Certainly all the healthy conifers and crabapple trees there would attract some hungry winter finches.

We probably spent 2 hours wandering the hills and valleys of Green-Wood Cemetery. The lack of birdlife there was actually amusing. It was as if all the birds we had been seeing throughout the month of November decided to leave Brooklyn all at once. The one exception was a male Belted Kingfisher, which has been spending his time hunting for fish around the cemetery's four lakes. There has been a female kingfisher hanging around Prospect Park's waterways, maybe we should introduce them to each other.

Coney Island and Coney Island Creek

Another unusual species that was being reported a lot when I was out of town was Cave Swallow. This species is normally found in Texas, Mexico, and the Caribbean. For reasons that I don't understand, fall and winter vagrants sometimes reach the East and Gulf Coasts. When they are seen it is nearly always along the coast. With most of the trains now running out to Coney Island, I decided to go looking for swallows there early Sunday. It would be my first visit there since Super Storm Sandy hit. I didn't know what to expect.

I was disappointed to see that the Dunkin Donuts at Stillwell Avenue, like all the stores at the station had suffered extensive damage and was closed. The businesses along the boardwalk, however, seemed to be relatively unscathed and most were open. You should take a ride down to Coney Island and give them your business, they could use it. The Steeplechase Pier suffered some damage and was closed to the public. A noticeable amount of sand has been redistributed from the beach, the most obvious sign being that the slides at the playground next to the pier now end in a 5 foot drop. Not too much fun for the kiddies.

On the walk to the Western end of the beach I encountered the expected flocks of Ring-billed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. A fair number of Laughing Gulls were also still around, but I expect most will have headed South by mid-December. Four young Black Skimmers were also still hanging around. The Christmas Bird Count is on December 15th this year and it would be nice if the skimmers stuck around until then, but I wouldn't count on it. I'm guessing that many of the individuals from the huge flock that I observed here in late-September are already enjoying the warm weather in Mexico and Central America.

Seabirds and sea ducks out in the bay were scarce. I expected to see flocks of scoters and, possible, eider, but there was very little activity. Common Loons were fairly, well, common, with about 10 or 12 seen along the walk to the Western-most jetty. There were several Red-breasted Mergansers in the area, but not the huge numbers that accumulate here by mid-Winter
. One species that never lets me down is Purple Sandpiper. This arctic breeding shorebird spends the Winter at Coney Island and at low-tide is easy to find feeding on rock jetties. I only found 2 on this visit, but there should be many more by the end of December. They are also fairly common along the rocks below the promenade along Gravesend Bay.

Coney Island Creek Park, on the North side of the peninsula, lost a lot of its dune habitat from the storm. I don't know if the city has any plans to restore them, but they should because it is a vital buffer from storm surges. The distance from the dunes to the beach is about half of what it had been prior to Sandy. The one positive aspect that I noticed was that all the trash that had accumulated along the shoreline adjacent to Leon Kaiser Park was washed away. It seemed like much of it was pushed up onto the grass field there and that parks workers were in the process of cleaning it all up. A small flock of Brant were manicuring the grass now that all the large pieces of flotsam were removed.

I didn't find any Cave Swallows or anything else unusual. It seems like the Winter season is just beginning in earnest, so there's still plenty of time to find the unexpected.

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