Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Little Brooklyn Birding after a Break

I think I've mentioned a few time in recent weeks that the month of June and much of July could be considered the slack tide of bird movements around NYC. It's mostly a good time to follow the progress of any local breeding birds, or to look for emerging butterflies. I hadn't done much of either, but last weekend I dusted off my binoculars and began looking around for our local Red-tailed Hawk fledglings, as well as, any southbound shorebirds.

The low-tide cycle at Plum Beach was relatively early in the morning on Saturday, so I headed over there just after sunrise. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, but it certainly seems as if the mudflats have increased in area since the Army Corp of Engineers created the new jetties to protect the parkway. Unfortunately, there weren't many shorebirds foraging there in the morning. There were the usual, locally breeding American Oystercatchers, including a new banded individual with the code "EL". I wonder if he is related to "C6", who has been returning every spring for the past 4 years. There were also a small number of Semipalmated Plovers and Semipalmated Sandpipers. In all, we tallied 8 species of shorebirds over a couple of hours. I was hoping to find a Saltmarsh Sparrow on the marsh side of the dunes, but I guess they didn't breed there this year. By September there are usually a good number of these marsh sparrows stopping off here on their way south.

Heydi and I also made a run over to Gerritsen Creek where the pickings were also pretty slim. One unexpected observation was of a fledgling Yellow-crowned Night-Heron spotted standing on the western shoreline. I didn't think that this species nested in Brooklyn, but the bird was still young enough that it had a crown full of spiky, down feathers. Just before we left a flock of shorebirds was seen flying north up the creek from the direction of Plum Beach. I managed to get my scope on them and ID'd the birds as Greater Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitchers. They touched down on the exposed shoreline across from the nature center for a few seconds, spooked, then took off again, heading west over the treetops and apartment buildings. All three of the young Osprey from the nest platform on the east side of the creek have fledged, including the "runt" of the brood. It was also interesting to note that there were good numbers of young Boat-tailed Grackles out with family groups foraging along the west side of the creek.

On Sunday my wife and I took a walk through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. My main objective was to try and locate the recently fledged Red-tailed Hawk pair from the pine tree nest in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden section. I also really enjoy the flowers at this time of year and the insects that they attract. In fact, I'll pretty much look at anything with wings. I was hoping to spot some interesting butterflies or dragonflies while there.

I haven't been to the garden since they completed the Native Flora Garden expansion and wanted to check it out. They did a beautiful job and it was bursting with flowering asters, milkweed and other native wildflowers. I looked around for some butterflies to photograph, but the flowers were mostly dominated by Honey bees and bumble bees. I also spotted a single Banded Longhorn beetle enjoying the nectar.

From there we headed across the Cherry Esplanade and over towards the hawk nest. Along the way I was surprised to hear the melodic "Oh Sweet Canada, Canada" song of a White-throated Sparrow. These sparrows overwinter in Brooklyn and NYC, but in July should be on their breeding grounds in extreme northern New York State and across Canada. I considered the possibility that a very talented mockingbird had fooled me (it wouldn't be the first time), so decided to playback the song off of my iPhone. Within a second of me playing the song a male White-throated Sparrow flew out of a cherry tree and perched in a shrub next to me. It was the real deal and very peculiar that this bird would still be in Brooklyn. I put my phone away and continued towards the hawk nest.

We didn't find any signs of the hawks right away, but within a few minutes I heard the incessant alert calls of several robins coming from the direction of the Magnolia Plaza. As we got closer I then heard the whining cry of a begging Red-tailed Hawk fledgling. Somebody was hungry and wanted to be fed...now!

My wife and I had been scanning the mature spruce trees that border the walkway below the Celebrity Path for several minutes before we finally spotted the source of the calls. A very large (presumably female) fledgling with a very dark, thick belly-band was perched next to her pale headed father. He didn't appear to be too interested in delivering lunch and mostly just stared down at the gathering humans below. At one point the young hawk was so determined to get her parent's attention that she began tugging at his breast feathers with her beak. He eventually tired to this game and took off, soaring in slow, ascending circles above the garden. His recently fledged offspring followed along but couldn't keep up as the adult gained altitude. As the young bird flew back to a perch near the Japanese Garden, her father was joined by his mate and the two flew off to a perch on the antenna tower near the southern end of the garden.

We had just started walking towards the Lily Pool terrace when I heard the raspy call of a fledgling robin. After a short search I spotted this tiny bird sitting out in the open. It was in direct line of sight of the antenna tower and about 100 yards from where the young raptor had been perched. I was very concerned the little thing would become a hawk snack, so hopped over a low hedge and herded the robin into the cover of some shrubs. Unfortunately, the adult continued to call it from across the foot path and the fledgling tumbled back out into the open. I moved it back into the underbrush and it came back out. This went on for a few minutes until the parent flew over to feed in within the protection of some dense ivy. I felt like, at least this time, the young robin would be safe from the hawks. It doesn't always work out so well for baby robins.

The weather forecasts call for some north and northwest winds over Friday evening, which could bring some southbound shorebirds into the area this weekend. Provided that we don't get hit with thunderstorms, I'm planning on heading to Brooklyn's coastal areas. With a little luck I'll have something good to report.

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Dates: 07/19/14 and 07/20/14
Locations: Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Gerritsen Creek and Plumb Beach
Species: 66

Greater Scaup (8.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (5.)
Great Egret (2.)
Snowy Egret (1.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (4.)
Osprey (3.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Clapper Rail (1.)
American Oystercatcher
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover (4.)
Spotted Sandpiper (1.)
Greater Yellowlegs (3.)
Willet (5.)
Least Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper (20.)
Short-billed Dowitcher (12.)
Laughing Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Least Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Black Skimmer
Chimney Swift
Belted Kingfisher (1.)
Peregrine Falcon (1.)
Willow Flycatcher (2.)
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch (1.)
House Wren
Carolina Wren (1.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow (1.)
Common Grackle (1.)
Boat-tailed Grackle
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

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

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