Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring Changes

Wednesday marked the Vernal Equinox and the official start of Spring. From this point forward our days become longer and the nights shorter. The effects of the recent increase in daylight hours can be seen in both the flora and fauna around NYC.

The more I've learned about the birds and nature around New York City, the more I question the logic of our yearly calendar. If I took the time to research it, I'm certain to find a silly political or spurious historic reason why the year should begin in the middle of Winter. For birding year listers or twitchers, it's actually helpful to have 2 Winters in one calendar cycle; if you miss a Winter bird in January/February, you have a second chance in December. In March, however, dormant flowers begin to emerge, trees start to bud and flower, and most important, migrating birds start to arrive in our backyards and parks.

Flocks of blackbirds began moving into the area a couple of weeks ago. Large flocks of robins have also been showing up. However, for me the official start of the Spring season (and the REAL commencement of the new year) occurs when the first Eastern Phoebes arrive. There were a few scattered reports from Brooklyn last week of phoebes, but I spotted my first one in Green-Wood Cemetery on Sunday. Hawking for insects from low perches around the Crescent Water, I recognized this new arrival's soft chip note even before I put my bins on him. Phoebes get their name from the male's raspy "fee-bee" song. From this point forward the migration will begin to pick up steam, with more and varied species of birds passing through the city.

Birds that overwintered in NYC have suddenly rediscovered their songs. Fox Sparrows have taken to flying to high perches and ringing out their clear, whistled singsong serenade. Juncos, who have been silent all Winter, are now trilling loudly for females from treetops. In Green-Wood Cemetery mockingbirds are competing for the attention of the opposite sex with complex mimics ranging from local bird sounds to random machinery.

One unexpected sighting in Green-Wood Cemetery over the weekend was of an Eastern Meadowlark. This species is usually seen on open fields around New York City during migration, however, it appears this individual has overwintered in the cemetery as it has been observed in the same area since January. Historically they bred locally, but as grassland nesters, urban development and reforestation of previously cleared areas has limited their breeding success. My friend Tom observed this male bird singing from the top of a cedar tree. Perhaps he'll find a female migrating through the area to settle down with. Unfortunately, the grass along the Hill of Graves where he's been foraging gets mowed regularly during the nesting season.

Look for daffodils this weekend, and if we get sustained South winds, expect more migrant birds to be arriving.

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