Thursday, September 26, 2013

Green-Wood Cemetery Hawkwatch

The highest point in Brooklyn is generally accepted as being Battle Hill, in Green-Wood Cemetery. In fact, by studying some of the old maps of the cemetery (and simple observation), I've figured out that the highest point is actually the hill where the old reservoir was located, about 150 yards to the North of the Civil War monument on Battle Hill. A few years ago I decided that it would be a good spot for a Fall hawk watch given its wide view of the open sky and location along the terminal moraine. During a day in late-Fall last year I counted 83 Red-tailed Hawks passing over the cemetery. Last week's North-West winds inspired me to spend Sunday on the hill hoping for a nice selection of passing raptors.

In addition to a steady, not too strong North-West wind, a mix of puffy, fair weather clouds are the most desirable conditions for a Fall hawkwatch. Picking out soaring raptors against a perfect, cloudless blue sky is extremely difficult. Scattered cumulus clouds add contrast to the background so one can spot a distant hawk passing from white to blue. During most of the morning on Sunday, it was a cloudless sky. In addition, at times the wind was so strong that songbirds heading South (and there were quite a few) appeared as nothing more than high-speed blurs. At one point, while scanning the horizon, I picked up a Ruby-throated Hummingbird heading my way. With the strong tailwind, he seemed to pass by my perch on the hill in mere seconds.

The first raptors of the day were a pair of American Kestrels. The two birds flew in very low and tried to grab a meal on the hillside a few yards to my right. I'm not sure if they were headed for a small flock of House Sparrows or the abundant dragonflies that were patrolling the grass. Either way, they were unsuccessful and ended up just fighting with each other as they made wide circles over Reservoir Hill and Battle Hill. Throughout the day I spotted several more kestrels heading South. I even saw one while I was walking up 9th Street late in the afternoon. He seemed to be following 6th Avenue towards the cemetery.

By about three o'clock in the afternoon the winds began to die down a bit and some cumulus clouds broke up the robin's-egg-blue background. That's when we began to see some Broad-winged Hawks. Most were relatively close as they passed directly overhead and seemed to be coming from the direction of the Bishop Ford High School antenna tower. One bird was being harassed by a seemingly cloud-sized flock of starlings over Ocean Hill. These hawks can sometimes be seen in huge flocks as they migrate South. Sunday was not one of those days and we counted a paltry 7 individuals.

One species that we had hoped to see on Sunday was Bald Eagle. They seemed to be getting reported around Brooklyn a lot this year, so it seemed reasonable that we'd catch one passing over the cemetery on migration. Ironically, at around 5pm we received a text from Keir, who was on his way to meet us. Coming into the cemetery from the opposite side of Ocean Hill, where we can't see, he spotted a juvenile Bald Eagle heading South. Cue trumpet with wah-wah mute.

If the winds are right, I may try again this weekend. So far the forecasts call for North winds Friday night, switching to the South on Saturday.

Click here to see Hook Mountain's hawk watch tallies for this season.


Date: Sunday, September 22, 2013
Location: Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn

Turkey Vulture (2.)
Osprey (1.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (8.)
Cooper's Hawk (1.)
Broad-winged Hawk (7.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
American Kestrel (8.)

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