Saturday, December 01, 2012

Yellow Birds

I really wanted to find an Evening Grosbeak in Brooklyn before the year was up. Towards that end I pedaled into Prospect Park every chance I had this week, even if it was just for an hour.

It is unlike me to just focus on one spot to find a bird, so I'm not sure what made me change my MO. I was riding around the park and heading directly to the bird feeders on Breeze Hill. I'd sit there watching the feeder birds for a little while, then head back home. On Thursday I had a little more time and decided to mix things up a bit. Starting at the North end of the park I circled around the Vale of Cashmere, then went across Nelly's Lawn to the Long Meadow. I walked down the center of the Long Meadow where I could scan the short grass for birds and still have a view of the sky and treetops at the edge of the narrow field.

At a bare patch of lawn below the rise near the Tennis House I spotted four Eastern Bluebirds. They were uncharacteristically scratching in the ground out in the open like a group of sparrows. I watched them for a moment or two then cut across the grass to the sidewalk and continued heading South. Two birders that I didn't know where coming my way and I noticed that they didn't seem to see the bluebirds. When they caught up with me I pointed out the beautiful birds. The couple said that they were visiting from Boston and asked if bluebirds were residents in the park. I said "No, and it's sort of odd to see 4 of them just sitting out on the grass like sparrows." Those words had just left my lips, when a Merlin appeared out of nowhere, blasted into the flock, grabbed one of the bluebirds and flew off with it, plucking it while flying. Without missing a beat I said, "Make that 3."

I eventually made my way to Breeze Hill and the well stocked bird feeders. Peter Colen was there when I arrived. When I told him the story about the Merlin and bluebirds, he showed me a photo he had taken earlier of a Merlin sitting in a tree at that exact location. I guess she had been scoping out a meal from her high perch for a while and that unfortunate bluebird turned her back for just long enough for a surprise attack to be successful. I'm a little conflicted by this experience in that I understand that it is part of the natural world, but I really do love bluebirds. On the other hand, Merlins are just amazing hunters and to see them in action is truly an incredible experience.

I gave up on watching the feeders relatively quickly and the two of us decided to try and locate a Yellow-breasted Chat that had been seen in the area. An unusually large member of the wood-warbler family, chats are a hardy species that sometimes manage to survive New York City winters. They are a skulky bird that are more often seen when it is least expected, not when one goes looking for it. It is for that reason that both Peter and I were pleasantly surprised to find the bird after only a very short search. The brilliantly yellow fronted individual stood out like a beacon on a dark night. He was spotted on a path that leads from Breeze Hill down to the Lullwater. The bird then flew across the hill towards the bird feeders where it briefly fed on multiflora rose hips (must know the health benefits of vitamin C). It eventually headed in the direction of the Terrace Bridge. There is a lot of shrubby underbrush in that general area and I suspect that the bird is working a circuit from the feeders to the bridge to the south-facing ridge along the Lullwater and back.

A walk around the park's lake and waterways didn't yield anything else of note, so I began heading back home. As Peter and I walked through the Ravine towards the Esdale Bridge, I decided to make a right turn and follow the stream through the lower section of the Ravine. A few yards into the path a bird near the top of a tuliptree caught my attention. I didn't have any impression on the species, just that there was a bird. I focused my bins and excitedly shouted to Peter, "EVENING GROSBEAK!" I finally got my bird and, even better, it was a bright yellow male. He was casually feeding on the seeds of the tuliptree next to a cardinal. We watched the bird for about 15 minutes when it began calling and flew off in the direction of the Long Meadow.

1 comment:

Yojimbot said...

Watch out for the Grosbeak Mr. Merlin.

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