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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

May Birds

As winter's chill began to thaw and overwintering seabirds started staging and pointing themselves north, four months of slow-paced birding gave way to a nervous anticipation for the spring songbird migration. Like many birders, May is the month that I wait for all year.

It isn't just a return of birds that I haven't seen, in some cases, for 6 months that arouses my passion for nature, but also the quickening pace of all the seasonal changes. By April crocuses have emerged and a large number of wildflowers, shrubs and trees are fully flowered. Our resident bird species are either already on nests or have started their breeding cycle. In our backyards and city parks the long absent sound of serenading birds is slowly climbing towards mid-May's concordant dawn chorus crescendo.

May finally arrives and with it thousands upon thousands of birds on a
seemingly endless conveyor belt of south winds. Some species flying from as far as the southern end of South America. They stop off to refuel, rest, entertain legions of fired up birders, then continue to their breeding grounds (a small number will actually breed locally). To give you an idea of the relatively rapid change in songbird activity in Brooklyn, here are my monthly totals for this year:

Number of Species Observed

February: 81
March: 99
April: 138
May: 188

The percentage increase of bird species from February to May is 132%! This year May was particularly good. Ideal weather conditions coupled with high bird numbers added up to one of my most memorable months of birding in Brooklyn. I usually tally just under 50 year species during the month of May, this past month, however, I saw an all time high of 64 year birds. That's not to say that I spotted 14 "life" birds (many of those I would likely see at some point during the year), just that they were all here at once, so to speak. My most productive day was on May 2nd, when my friend Keir and I were scouting for our "Big Day". On that day I added 18 year birds.

Some of the highlights from the month of May were Kentucky Warbler (a bird that hung around Prospect Park for at least 4 days), a singing Chuck-will's-widow (I posted about it here), a Mississippi Kite (a Brooklyn life bird, also posted about here), a Least Bittern at Plum Beach and a rare spring sighting of Lark Sparrow in Green-Wood Cemetery.

Late-May is a good time to look for flycatchers, especially the confusingly similar empidonax flycatchers. During spring migration it is easiest to use vocalizations to separate the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Acadian Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher and Willow Flycatcher...that is if they decide to cooperate and honor you with a song. Fortunately, I got lucky last month and was able to identify all of the expected empids. Among them was an Alder Flycatcher, only my second one for Brooklyn in over 20 years, the first being just last year. In both instances the birds were calling from the wooded hillside of Prospect Park's Lookout Hill not far from the Maryland Monument.

Towards the end of the month I began to focus my efforts along the coast hoping to find shorebirds and marsh birds. The recently completed "coastal storm risk reduction" project at Plum Beach by the Army Corp of Engineers seems to have had the side effect of helping shorebirds at that location. I didn't find anything really unusual at Plum, but there was an increase in general abundance of shorebird species from the previous few years, in particular, turnstones, Sanderlings and Dunlins. On the last day of the month my friend Heydi's sharp hearing picked up the dry, whisper-like song of a Nelson's Sparrow on the marsh side of Plum Beach. We subsequently located this lovely, orange-faced marsh sparrow perched on a small hummock of dead grass. They are fairly common here, as well as, the closely related Saltmarsh Sparrow during their south-bound migration.

With most of the birds now settling in on their breeding grounds, I don't expect to see much in the way of new species over the coming few weeks. If I'm lucky I might be able to add 1 or 2 more year birds before some of the shorebirds and early breeding songbirds begin their southbound trek in July.


NYS Total: 230
Kings Total: 229
Added in May: 64

166) Solitary Sandpiper (Prospect Park, 05/01/14)
167) Eastern Kingbird (Prospect Park, 05/01/14)
168) Warbling Vireo (Prospect Park, 05/01/14)
169) Blackpoll Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/01/14)

170) Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
171) Great Crested Flycatcher (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
172) Veery (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
173) Blue-winged Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
174) Common Yellowthroat (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
175) Magnolia Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
176) Blackburnian Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
177) Chestnut-sided Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
178) Black-throated Blue Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
179) Scarlet Tanager (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
180) Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
181) Orchard Oriole (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
182) Baltimore Oriole (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)
183) Blue Grosbeak (Green-Wood Cemetery, 05/02/14)
184) Glossy Ibis (Floyd Bennett Field, 05/02/14)
185) Broad-winged Hawk (Floyd Bennett Field, 05/02/14)
186) Lesser Yellowlegs (Floyd Bennett Field, 05/02/14)
187) Summer Tanager (Prospect Park, 05/02/14)

188) Nashville Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/03/14)
189) White-crowned Sparrow (Prospect Park, 05/03/14)
190) Least Tern (Plumb Beach, 05/03/14)
191) Least Sandpiper (Hendrix Creek, 05/03/14)

192) Kentucky Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/05/14)
193) Chuck-will's-widow (Prospect Park, 05/05/14)

194) Red-eyed Vireo (Green-Wood Cemetery, 05/07/14)
195) Canada Warbler (Green-Wood Cemetery, 05/07/14)

196) Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Prospect Park, 05/10/14)
197) Eastern Wood-Pewee (Prospect Park, 05/10/14)

198) Least Flycatcher (Prospect Park, 05/10/14)
199) Swainson's Thrush (Prospect Park, 05/10/14)
200) Tennessee Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/10/14)
201) Cape May Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/10/14)
202) Bay-breasted Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/10/14)
203) Wilson's Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/10/14)
204) Lincoln's Sparrow (Prospect Park, 05/10/14)
205) Indigo Bunting (Prospect Park, 05/10/14)
206) Tricolored Heron (Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park, 05/10/14)
207) Clapper Rail (Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park, 05/10/14)
208) Semipalmated Plover (Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park, 05/10/14)

209) Mississippi Kite (Green-Wood Cemetery, 05/11/14)
210) Black-billed Cuckoo (Green-Wood Cemetery, 05/11/14)

211) Least Bittern (Plumb Beach, 05/17/14)
212) Little Blue Heron (Plumb Beach, 05/17/14)
213) Ruddy Turnstone (Plumb Beach, 05/17/14)
214) Semipalmated Sandpiper (Plumb Beach, 05/17/14)
215) Short-billed Dowitcher (Plumb Beach, 05/17/14)
216) Common Tern (Plumb Beach, 05/17/14)
217) Black Skimmer (Plumb Beach, 05/17/14)
218) Marsh Wren (Plumb Beach, 05/17/14)
219) Seaside Sparrow (Plumb Beach, 05/17/14)
220) Willow Flycatcher (Floyd Bennett Field, 05/17/14)
221) Gray-cheeked Thrush (Floyd Bennett Field, 05/17/14)
222) Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Prospect Park, 05/23/14)
223) Mourning Warbler (Prospect Park, 05/23/14)

224) Acadian Flycatcher (Prospect Park, 05/24/14)
225) Bicknell's Thrush (Prospect Park, 05/24/14)
226) Lark Sparrow (Green-Wood Cemetery, 05/24/14)

227) Olive-sided Flycatcher (Prospect Park--Vale of Cashmere, 05/25/14)

228) Alder Flycatcher (Prospect Park, 05/26/14)

229) Nelson's Sparrow (Plumb Beach, 05/31/14)

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