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Friday, October 31, 2014

Sparrow Time

I've been seriously neglecting my blog over the past couple of weeks. That's not to say I haven't been birding or posting the regular, weekly features, I just haven't been writing any details about my latest observations. That said...

On Sunday, October 19th I led a trip for the Linnaean Society of New York to Floyd Bennett Field. The following weekend (last Saturday) I went back to lead a trip for the Brooklyn Bird Club. Warbler migration is over, for the most part, with only Yellow-rumped Warblers moving through in large numbers. We'll still see some lingering Palm Warblers for a bit, as well as, half-hardy species like Orange-crowned Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat, but now is really the time for sparrows.

The trip on the 19th followed an evening of north-west winds that were still gusting when the group met in front of Aviator Sports. It was so strong that I opted to forgo walking the edges of the open grassland and instead look for birds in windbreaks. It ended up being one of the birdiest days at this location that I can remember in a very, very long time. During the early morning there were hundreds of birds (mainly yellow-rumps and robins) passing overhead or dropping into the community gardens or North 40. On the larger end of the spectrum, we probably observed a couple of thousand Brant passing overhead throughout the day. In addition, there seemed to be a near constant stream of raptors with Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper's Hawks topping the list for abundance.

Overnight Yellow-rumped Warblers had suddenly become ubiquitous, with my best "guesstimate" being easily a couple of thousand seen. Their distinctive "chek" call was heard all day, no matter where we were at Floyd Bennett. Sparrow abundance and diversity were way up from the previous weekend. White-throated Sparrows were seen in fairly large flocks around the community gardens and the North 40 trails. Our sparrow highlights were a Vesper Sparrow and Clay-colored Sparrow, both along the weedy berm at the east side of the field opposite Aviator Sports and the soccer fields. The Clay-colored Sparrow was a cooperative individual that allowed good looks for everyone in the group.

It was an exciting day, but somewhat frustrating in that we didn't know where to look as there were so many birds moving around. One of the trip participants was visiting the United States from Denmark. It was his first trip to North America and was very lucky to have arrived just after a cold front carried such a tremendous amount of birds into the area. I believe that he said every bird we encountered, except for Rock Pigeon, European Starling and House Sparrow, were life birds! The fact the they all put on such a great show was even more exciting.

Last weekend's trip to Floyd Bennett Field was no less successful. The large number of White-throated Sparrows from the previous weekend subsided a bit but were replaced with a tremendous abundance of Dark-eyed Juncos. We also encountered a fair number of chipping, savannah, song and Swamp Sparrows.

That morning I arrived an hour before the scheduled meeting time so I could scout for birds. At the cricket field Heydi, Peter and I flushed an Eastern Meadowlark that had been at the edge of the grass. I also incorrectly identified three "American Pipits" that were hunkered down at the center of the field. When Heydi checked her photos later that day, they turned out to be a trio of Vesper Sparrows! In my defense, the light wasn't great, both species are brown, streaky birds with white eye-rings, plus it is a location that I would normally expect to see pipits. Up to that point I'd never seen more than one Vesper Sparrow at a time in Brooklyn. In fact, the thought of a "flock" of Vespers in Brooklyn is pretty ridiculous.

We ended up seeing a pretty diverse mix of sparrows by the end of the trip, but the highlight was a bird over 100 times the size of the largest sparrow.

I was leading the group back to the North 40 trail head when Heydi called me from the community gardens. She just spotted an adult Bald Eagle heading north, just west of us. I ran in the direction of Flatbush Avenue, hoping to find it for everyone. After scanning the sky for a few minutes and coming up empty, I started to lead the group back the other way. Within a few seconds, my friend Kevin says, "Is that an eagle sitting at the top of that tree?" Yes, Kevin, that would be a Bald Eagle. Apparently, as we were running west, he flew right behind us. Here's a really nice photo of the eagle taken by Peter Colen:

Many people don't realize there is much beauty and diversity among the sparrow family. To the uninitiated, the word "sparrow" conjures images of a little, brown bird eating crumbs of garbage from the sidewalk on a busy city street. That bird would most likely be a House Sparrow and even they may have some redeeming qualities. However, fall migration around Brooklyn and New York City brings a wide range of "little brown jobs" with an occasional, unexpected rarity, so I recommend taking the time to slow down and check out these seedeaters.

Below is a short slideshow of many of the sparrows seen throughout the year in Brooklyn. Most are not locally breeding birds, but are seen during migration or overwintering. That list is:

Eastern Towhee
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Nelson's Sparrow
Saltmarsh Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

Here's the combined species list for the two Floyd Bennett Field trips:


Dates: 10/19/2014 and 10/25/2014
Location: Floyd Bennett Field
Species: 73

Ring-necked Pheasant
Great Cormorant
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Woodcock
Laughing Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Eastern Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Winter Wren
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Rusty Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Purple Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard): Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Double-crested Cormorant, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

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