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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Last Weekend's Birds

Last weekend I did a little spring birding at Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, Coney Island, Coney Island Creek Park and Gerritsen Creek. Like the previous weekend, my Saturday birding agenda kicked off at pre-dawn. I like to be where the birds are when the sun comes up, so was walking into Prospect Park just as the sky was lightening from black to navy. Robins, cardinals and House Sparrows had already been singing for 30 minutes. The annual mockingbird at the end of my block must be late to arrive as I haven't heard his 3am concert. I was optimistic that there would be a nice mix of warblers and other migrant songbirds vocalizing in the park at this early hour and couldn't wait to get started.

I was kind of hoping to find something really interesting before 6am. That way I could use my Twitter account like an alarm clock for any followers who opted to sleep in on a beautiful spring morning. Luckily for them that didn't happen, though, and my first tweet didn't go out until 6:28am. We were standing at the Lily Pond, just upstream from the nature center when we spotted a Louisiana Waterthrush. I heard the weak trill of a Palm Warbler and the high-pitched rising scale and chatter of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I would hear several through the morning. We noticed some activity in the trees at the back of the pond and walked over for a closer look. Within a moment or two we spotted Blue-headed Vireo, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler in the trees at the edge of the pond. After about 20 minutes we headed towards the nature center. Standing near the concrete "duck feeding station" I heard the raspy "skeow" call of a Green Heron, but couldn't see the source. Mustering my best impression of the "skeow" call, I was shocked with the bird flew up from the edge of the water and headed directly towards me. My first thought was how narrow this small wading bird looked straight on, sort of like a dart. My second was whether I should duck as he looked like he was coming right at my head. At the last moment he ascended into a tree above and behind me. I never realized I was so gifted at calling in Green Herons, but I think I'll leave that talent off of my resume.

Green-Wood Cemetery was the next stop after 2 good hours in Prospect Park. There were lots of both species of kinglets present, but for the most part the cemetery was fairly quiet. The one exception was the area around the edges of the Sylvan Water. A lone cherry tree at the southeast edge of the pond was loaded with hungry warblers. Around a dozen Palm Warblers, a several Pine Warblers and a few Yellow-rumped Warblers chased down insects amongst the trees pink blossoms. A Northern Parula flew in from the shrubs across the road and joined the feeding frenzy. Teetering along the shore at the edge of the pond was a fifth warbler species - a Louisiana Waterthrush. By the time we left the cemetery it was late morning and the songbird activity was beginning to slow down. We decided to go to Coney Island to look for migrating seabirds and shorebirds.

One of our target birds at the shore was Northern Gannet. From the edge of the jetty at the end of West 37th Street we scanned back and forth across the water. There were lots of Brants and a couple of dozen Common Loons. A single Purple Sandpiper foraged for arthropods within the jetty's green-fringed boulders. It took about 15 minutes, but eventually a lone gannet was spotted soaring over the bay. A few minutes later we were scanning the water off the end of Stillwell Avenue. There were more loons in the water here, 19 to be exact, and a few Horned Grebes.

Coney Island Creek Park is at the northern end of West 37th Street. It has a narrow strip of trees and low vegetation adjacent to the sand dunes that border Gravesend Bay. On a good spring migration morning it attracts a surprising diversity of birds. Saturday was not one of those days. One surprise was spotting a pair of lingering Bonaparte's Gulls on the shore. I had been standing a shore distance from them for probably 10 minutes before I noticed. After a long, brutally cold winter of chasing gulls in this area, I was sort of done with "gull mode" and was focusing on everything else.

A short distance east of the park is the actually creek. It's usually a good spot to see a nice mix of waterfowl. A sand spit here is a great winter spot for gulls. Neither the spit nor the water held many birds. A single Red-necked Grebe remained in the area. Normally spotting the grebe would be a big deal. As a friend recently pointed out, this winter's irruption of Red-necked Grebes has New York birders a bit "grebed out". I was optimistic that I'd find my first Blue-winged Teal of the year on the creek, but I guess that will have to wait for another day.

My final stop during Saturday's long day was Gerritsen Creek, in Marine Park. The hope was to find a few wading birds, maybe a tern or two and a couple of shorebirds. One of the first year birds found on our walk down the west side of the creek was a Forster's Tern. The bird was perched on a wooden piling exposed by the low-tide. Later we spotted our first Snowy Egret of the season. Migrating Common Loons were relatively abundant and seen in multiple locations during the day. Unfortunately I also stumbled (literally) on this dead one along Gerritsen Creek's shore. I'd never seen one up close and was surprised to learn that the dark collar is actually an iridescent green color.

On Sunday I was at home getting ready to go to a fundraising event in Manhattan when I received this tweet:

I was about to hop on my bike and ride into the park to find this rare bird until I received this follow up.

In my addled mind it seemed as if there was still a question whether there was actually a Yellow-throated Warbler in Prospect Park, so I put my bike away and got ready to take a shower. I was in the bathroom when my phone chimed and the following message popped up:

I had about 10 minutes to spare, so re-dressed, grabbed my bins and bicycle and pedaled into Prospect Park. It wasn't difficult to find the warbler as there was at least a dozen people with their bins trained on it. I would have liked to linger and watch the bird for a while, especially considering that, if you're lucky, you only get to see one a year. I said hello to a few people, but really had to rush back home. When I bid everyone "good birding" and clipped into my pedals, my friend Dennis captured the sentiment of spring migration craziness when he said to me, "And here we are again..."


Dates: April 9, 2014 - April 13, 2014
Locations: Coney Island Beach--35th St. Overlook, Coney Island Creek Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, Prospect Park, Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park--Southwest
Species: 85
Checklists: 7

Wood Duck (3.)
Northern Shoveler (1.)
Ring-necked Duck (1.)
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Common Loon (19.)
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe (2.)
Northern Gannet (1.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret (2.)
Snowy Egret (1.)
Green Heron (1.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (2.)
Osprey (1.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
American Coot
American Oystercatcher (3.)
Killdeer (2.)
Purple Sandpiper (1.)
Wilson's Snipe (1.)
Bonaparte's Gull (2.)
Laughing Gull (3.)
Great Black-backed Gull
Forster's Tern (1.)
Belted Kingfisher (1.)
Red-headed Woodpecker (1.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1.)
Monk Parakeet (5.)
Eastern Phoebe (27.)
Blue-headed Vireo (2.)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (2.)
Tree Swallow (7.)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper (6.)
Winter Wren (1.)
Carolina Wren (2.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (15.)
Hermit Thrush (16.)
Brown Thrasher (2.)
Cedar Waxwing (2.)
Louisiana Waterthrush (1.)
Northern Parula (1.)
Palm Warbler (20.)
Pine Warbler (11.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (14.)
Eastern Towhee (1.)
Chipping Sparrow (3.)
Swamp Sparrow (1.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Rusty Blackbird (3.)
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow

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