Friday, October 11, 2013

A Shift in Migration Birds

Last weekend I noticed a profound shift in the groups of birds migrating South through Brooklyn. Up until last weekend we had been seeing a lot of warblers stopping off in our area to rest and refuel before continuing to their wintering grounds. It is fairly typical that by this time of year we'd experienced our first frost, the insect numbers plummet, and flycatchers and wood-warblers numbers noticeably drop off (except for the half-hardy Yellow-rumped Warbler, which virtually inundate our area around now). We now begin the next phase of Autumn migrants.

There are still many sources of fruit for the fruit-eating birds, such as, thrushes, tanagers and waxwings. In Green-Wood Cemetery, fruiting dogwoods have attracted hundreds of birds. In addition, grasses have gone to seed, creating a food source for many sparrows. Last Saturday the latter group became the target for Heydi, Tom and I as we spent from dawn until early afternoon searching Brooklyn's sparrow haunts.

After a sunrise run into Prospect Park where we successfully relocated the Sora that had spent the week near the lake, we headed over to Plum Beach. That location is a tiny remnant of the dune and marsh habitat that once dominated coastal Brooklyn. Here's a link to an animation I created of the Brooklyn coast from 1891 to present. Anyway, we were hoping to find several sparrow species associated with this type of habitat: Le Conte's Sparrow, Nelson's Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sparrow and Seaside Sparrow. Le Conte's is very rare around Brooklyn, but last weekend was the right time of year to search (Doug spotted one here on 10/08/08,  and Heydi and I spotted one across Plum Channel on 10/6/12), plus a cold front had just moved through the area, increasing the chances of new birds moving into our area.

I love wetland habitat, especially early in the morning. The sounds are great; gulls randomly crying as they stand along the edge of the beach. The whistling cry of plovers as they pass overhead. The happy, gurglings call of Marsh Wrens as they perch, legs splayed, from stalks of tall marsh grass. The loud "kek, kek, kek" of Clapper Rails as they strut, hidden from view, through their muddy domain. I even enjoy the smell of the salt air wafting over the marsh and mixing with the slightly sulfurous fragrance of the mud and grass.

We spent nearly 2 hours at Plum Beach surveying the birds. Nelson's Sparrows seemed to be all over the marsh. Our official count was 10 individuals, but I'm sure there were many more (Plum Beach is one of the best places in Brooklyn to find this species during Fall migration). We also spotted a single Seaside Sparrow and one or two Saltmarsh Sparrows. Our highlights here were Clapper Rail, Black-bellied Plover, Peregrine Falcon (chasing a pigeon over, then through the trees that border the marsh), Marsh Wren, Nelson's Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow. We were also pleasantly surprised to see a flock of 8 Blue-winged Teal swimming around in the high-tide flooded marsh.

From Plum Beach we headed East along the coast to the Marine Park Saltmarsh Nature Center on Gerritsen Creek. Keir had spent most of his morning here and we'd been texting back and forth comparing our sightings. His highlight had been a Dickcissel, which Tom had never seen in Brooklyn. That was part of our motivation for going there, plus, it is just a really good place to look for sparrows. There is marsh grass habitat close to the creek and longer grass in an upland area, plus an open field dominated by low shrubs, grasses and wildflowers...perfect for several species of sparrow.

As we walked along the trails at Marine Park, dozens of sparrows popped up from the grass and took flight. Swamp Sparrows were now migrating and were the most abundance species we encountered, and by a wide margin. There's a large field off the Eastern-most trail. It's bordered by 2 baseball fields to the North, East 38th Street to the East and a buffer of mature deciduous trees at the edge of the golf course to the South. The field used to be dominated by mugwort and other invasive plants, but has been replanted with native grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and a few saplings. It is perfect habitat for sparrows. In fact, it was so active, that we almost forgot about looking for Keir's Dickcissel. As we slowly worked the South end of the field I spotted a rare Clay-colored Sparrow among the numerous Savannah, Song, Swamp and White-throated Sparrows.

After a little over 2 hours birding at Marine Park, I was beginning to run out of steam, but thought there was a chance for something unusual at Green-Wood Cemetery. Tom was spent, so Heydi and I continued without him. As it turned out, he didn't miss anything. We experienced much of what we'd seen earlier with regard to diversity and abundance of sparrows, with the exception of many more Chipping Sparrows.

With Winter closing in, I noticed that some of our overwintering species had started arriving over the past week. More specifically: Brant, Northern Shoveler, American Coot, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Merlin, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, White-throated Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco. It's too bad that we won't be seeing all the Winter finches that migrated South last year.

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Date: 10/5/13
Locations: Green-Wood Cemetery; Plumb Beach; Prospect Park; Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park
Species: 71

Brant
Blue-winged Teal (8.)
Double-crested Cormorant (3.)
Great Egret (1.)
Snowy Egret (1.)
Green Heron (1.)
Osprey (1.)
Clapper Rail (1.)
Sora (1, Prospect Park at dawn.)
Black-bellied Plover (4.)
Greater Yellowlegs (1.)
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher (1.)
Northern Flicker (Abundant.)
American Kestrel (1.)
Merlin (1.)
Peregrine Falcon (1.)
Monk Parakeet
Eastern Phoebe (7.)
Blue-headed Vireo (1.)
Red-eyed Vireo (1.)
Black-capped Chickadee (2.)
Brown Creeper (1.)
House Wren (1.)
Marsh Wren (1.)
Carolina Wren (1.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird (1.)
Northern Mockingbird
American Pipit (1.)
Cedar Waxwing

Northern Waterthrush (1.)
Nashville Warbler (1.)
Common Yellowthroat (3.)
Northern Parula (2.)
Magnolia Warbler (2.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (2.)
Palm Warbler (30.)
Pine Warbler (2.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)

Eastern Towhee (1.)
Chipping Sparrow (20.)
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (1.)
Savannah Sparrow (Abundant.)
Nelson's Sparrow (10.)
Saltmarsh Sparrow (1.)
Seaside Sparrow (1.)
Song Sparrow (3.)
Swamp Sparrow (Abundant.)
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (1.)

Scarlet Tanager (6.)
Indigo Bunting (1.)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose (1.), Mute Swan (2.), American Black Duck (8.), Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull (1.), Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove (24.), Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker (2.), Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow

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