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Friday, October 31, 2014

A New Species for Prospect Park

On Monday, at around 1pm, I was in Prospect Park and had biked to the baseball field in the far south-east corner of the Long Meadow to check out a large flock of sparrows. There were so many birds flying in and out of the chain-link backstop that I could see them from the footpath 300 yards to the north.

As I got close, I noticed the white tail feathers flashing from dozens of juncos as they moved from the grass outside the ballfield, to a large puddle in the dug out area. Then I realized that most of the activity I saw from the distance was merely a large flock of House Sparrows. They were mostly perched in the diamond-shaped openings at the back of home plate, but a single bird perched at the very top of the backstop caught my eye. It was large, like the House Sparrows, but had a unique dark outlined auricular patch, rusty coverts and distinctive rusty edges to some of its flight feathers. My immediate impression was that the bird was a Lapland Longspur, but it seemed so unlikely that I tried turning it into something else. I'd seen longspurs many times in the past, but always at Floyd Bennett Field in the dead of winter and usually within flocks of Horned Larks. It just seemed like the wrong place to find one. When the bird flew to the ground and I got closer looks, I was certain it was a longspur so took out my phone to get the word out quickly.

My friend Sean texted me a few minutes later and asked if I could keep an eye on the bird for 15 minutes while he biked over. I wrote back that a Red-tailed Hawk had thoughtlessly flown across the field and flushed all the birds. I would try and relocate it and let him know. It only took a few minutes for the birds to settle down. The longspur returned to the infield to refuel on seeds after a long flight from its breeding grounds in the arctic tundra. Sean arrived about 10 minutes later and got great looks and several really nice photos.

This is the first record for this species in Prospect Park. Several other people were able rush into the park to see it before it disappeared.

Here's a photo that Sean took of the bird nibbling on grass seed in the infield, just short of home plate, although I'd call it a home run:

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