Thursday, October 24, 2013

Last Weekend's Birds

Last weekend we spotted several good birds in Brooklyn, plus there was an overall marked increase in sparrow species, as well as, the arrival of some of our typical overwintering waterfowl species.

Floyd Bennett Field

Bob, Heydi and I arrived at Floyd Bennett Field on Saturday just as the sun was coming up. Thankfully our genius elected officials in Washington decided to end the government shutdown, so this National Park was open and we didn't have to sneak in. It was a little past 7am. In 10 days we return to local standard time and sunrise will be an hour earlier. Our first stop was the small field adjacent to the "Aviator Sports" facility. In the past, this has been a good spot for migrating Buff-breasted Sandpipers and Killdeers. The only birds present on that field Saturday were Mourning Doves, a few Herring Gulls and an American Crow yelling at said gulls.

From there we headed over to the cricket field, then walked the short distance to the Return-a-Gift Pond (theoretically, if you checked "Return a Gift to Wildlife" on your New York State tax return, some of that money went to the creation and maintenance of this small pond).

Neither the cricket field nor the pond held any birds, but the path along the way was loaded with birds. Yellow-rumped Warblers were all over the place, as were both species of kinglet, Song, Swamp and White-throated Sparrows. A pair of Cooper's Hawks were patrolling the area and I spotted two Northern Harriers in the distance, high above the main grasslands. As we were returning to the car I spotted a Blue Grosbeak in the grass at the edge of the pathway. It flew up into a tangle of vines and began making its high-pitched "tink" call.

Our next stop was at the Floyd Bennett Community Gardens. This 3 to 4 acre collection of garden plots is a magnet for migrating songbirds, especially sparrows in the Fall. We were hoping to find a Vesper Sparrow among the more common species. Tom had the same idea and we ran into him shortly after we arrived. With the extra pair of experienced eyes joining us, I was confident we'd find something good.

We split up into two groups and zigzagged our way through the dozens of rows of gardens. To a seemingly nonstop soundtrack of Yellow-rumped Warbler "pips" we counted Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco. There was also a single Nashville Warbler that appeared amazingly bright yellow for so late in the year. It wasn't until we arrived at the last garden plot of the last row that Tom spotted our prize - a Vesper Sparrow. Bob and I stood back and watched in amusement at Heydi and Tom's frustrated attempts at photographing this relatively large sparrow with bold, white eye-rings. As you can see by the photo here, the effort paid off.

At the North end of Floyd Bennett Boulevard there is a fenced in baseball field. This season it remained unused and it has become a great habitat for birds as grasses and wildflowers flourished in both the outfield and infield. We thought it might be another great spot to search for migrating sparrows. Unfortunately, when we arrived there was a group of dog owners who decided it would be a great spot for a private dog park. If you are wondering, no, dogs are not permitted offleash in Floyd Bennett Field. Enforcement is another story, however. We left the ball field and headed towards the edge of the water.

There is a narrow stretch of grass along the Eastern edge of Floyd Bennett. It overlooks Jamaica Bay and it is in this area where Heydi and I discovered a Le Conte's Sparrow last year. We thought it might be worth checking out again. Walking North along the path through knee-deep grass, several Palm Warbler, Savannah and Song Sparrows popped up in front of us. A few minutes into our walk I received a text message from Sean, so I stepped off the path and closer to the water to reply. Earlier I had tweeted about the grosbeak and Vesper Sparrow, so his note was just acknowledging that it seemed pretty "birdy". I typed back that it was really active, then looked up from my phone to see a Short-eared Owl sitting at the edge of the water. The bird flushed and started flying out over the water. I shouted to Bob, Heydi and Tom. Heydi managed to snap off a couple of shots. I then tweeted about the owl and waited for Sean to call. It took about 5 seconds. I answered the phone laughing. It was only about 10:15am and I could have ended the day then and there. We birders tend to be a greedy lot, so instead continued for another 3 hours, although we didn't find anything nearly as interesting as the grosbeak, vesper and owl.

Green-Wood Cemetery

Saturday night my wife and I went out to see a band that didn't go on until 10:30pm, so I slept late on Sunday. I decided to take it slow and just bird around Green-Wood Cemetery. Green-Wood is always a good spot for Fall sparrows and it's only a short bike ride away from my apartment.

I try to pick a line along the tops of the ridges as I wend my way through the cemetery. It allows me a view of the sky, so I can also check for migrating raptors. Almost immediately I spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk zipping through the treetops along the Hill of Graves. Just passed the Western end of the Hill of Graves I noticed a lot of bird activity near Meadow Hill. Robins, Hermit Thrushes and a single Scarlet Tanager were flying in and out of a Winged Euonymus tree. They were feeding on its abundant, orange-red berries. Several flickers joined in and a pair of phoebes hawked for insects from the top of the tree. On the grass nearby a small flock of juncos mingled with White-throated and Song Sparrows. I sat down in the sun at the base of a monument and watched dozens of birds for about 15 minutes. At one point I noticed a small sparrow in the shadow beneath the euonymus. I picked up my bins and was surprised to see that it was a Clay-colored Sparrow. Migrating primarily through the center of the country, this pretty sparrow now seems to be appearing more frequently in the East.

I continued walking, first over Pine Hill, then Forest Ridge and over to Central Ridge. There were lots of kinglets, Palm Warblers, and White-throated Sparrows along the way, but nothing unusual. I stood on Central Ridge and watched a Red-tailed Hawk coming in for a landing. He picked up speed as he pulled his wings tighter to his body and tipped downward. As he approached treetop elevation, he slowly pivoted his legs forward. I imagined him opening his feet and pointing his talons outward moments before hitting his target. I heard a small flock of Blue Jays making frantic "jeer, jeer, jeer" calls from the general direction of the hawk's landing and wondered if he made a kill. Several other raptors were in the area and by the end of my nearly 3 hour walk I counted a second Red-tailed Hawk, 1 Merlin, 1 Peregrine Falcon, 4 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 3 Cooper's Hawks.

The first of the season's Ruddy Ducks and Northern Shovelers have begun arriving and I suspect that in another couple of weeks there will be hundreds of them around Brooklyn.


Dates: 10/23/13 and 10/24/13
Locations: Floyd Bennett Field; Green-Wood Cemetery
Species: 63

Brant (90.)
Northern Shoveler (3.)
Ruddy Duck (2.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Osprey (1.)
Northern Harrier (5.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (6.)
Cooper's Hawk (7.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
Black-bellied Plover (6.)
Great Black-backed Gull
SHORT-EARED OWL (1, Floyd Bennett Field.)
Belted Kingfisher (1.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (4.)
Northern Flicker (54.)
Merlin (1.)
Peregrine Falcon (1.)
Monk Parakeet
Eastern Phoebe (10.)
Black-capped Chickadee (2.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1.)
Brown Creeper (1.)
House Wren (1.)
Carolina Wren (4.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush (6.)
Gray Catbird (2.)
Northern Mockingbird (4.)
Nashville Warbler (1.)
Common Yellowthroat (2.)
Palm Warbler (47.)
Pine Warbler (2.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (100.)
Eastern Towhee (4.)
Chipping Sparrow (6.)
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (1, Green-Wood Cemetery.)
Field Sparrow (3.)
VESPER SPARROW (1, Floyd Bennett Field.)
Savannah Sparrow (32.)
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow (5.)
Dark-eyed Junco (15.)
BLUE GROSBEAK (1, Floyd Bennett Field.)
House Finch (2.)
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose (15.), Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker (1.), Blue Jay, American Crow (60.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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