Friday, May 15, 2015

Not Such a Big Birding Day

Last Saturday was "Global Big Day". In the northeast of the US mid-May is generally considered the climax of spring migration. Every spring for over 15 years I've participated in some form of bird-a-thon or spring big day, including a solo effort on bicycle. I think I speak for everyone involved around New York City that the Big Day was a Big Bust.

I was part of a team scouring Kings County that included Heydi Lopes, Keir Randall and Shane Blodgett. After a multitude of emails, texts and phone conversations we chose our locations and schedule based on what we thought would maximize species. Some of us even scouted areas ahead of the date in search of nesting birds, any lingering winter bird and possible rarities. Unfortunately all the planning in the world can't anticipate a paucity of land birds due to the combined effect of fog, cloud cover, east winds and cooler temperatures. It made for the worst final total that I've ever experienced for a big spring day. My best guess for all the MIA species is that many birds left on the south winds between that Thursday evening and Friday evening. Consider that during a scouting run in Prospect Park on Thursday for 3 hours beginning in the late morning I tallied 76 species, which included 21 species of warbler. On the Big Day our team spent over 4 hours in the park beginning at around 7am and counted a mere 57 species with a paltry 9 species of warbler. Missing from the expected songbirds list were flycatchers, grosbeaks, tanagers and a few sparrows. Note also that, as a team of 4 decent ear birders, the almost silent canopy made for a very frustrating morning. In addition, in a borough with at least 3 resident pairs of Red-tailed Hawks (and a few of their lingering offspring) we didn't encounter one of these raptors until late in the afternoon at Floyd Bennett Field.

It wasn't all bad news, however. An early morning low-tide allowed us to visit coastal habitats before heading into Prospect Park. We normally don't do very well with shorebirds, but at Plum Beach the sandspit and mudflat held a nice mix of birds. Our final shorebird total was 15 species. Probably the best being a breeding plumage White-rumped Sandpiper at a little visited watering hole in Floyd Bennett Field that I've named "Raptor Point Pond". It is interesting to note that Heydi's favorite American Oystercatcher, "C6", had just returned to Plum Beach. I believe that this is at least his fifth breeding season in Brooklyn.

Another highlight was spotting a pair of ravens that have been hanging around Brooklyn for the last few years. Last month Heydi and I watch the pair collect nesting material from the shoreline at Bush Terminal Park then flying off to the northwest. I subsequently biked around Red Hook unsuccessfully searching for their nest. When we found them at Bush Terminal Saturday they were just noisily flying around the south end of the park. Eventually one scored a meal and we watched it eat a pigeon from on top of a street light. This was the first time we've added this species to our big day list.

We finished the day with 108 species. This is nearly 20 species lower than our previous worse day, although I did manage to add 15 new species to my Brooklyn year list.

I'm not sure why the birding gods we in such bad humor on Saturday, but clearly something was up. I went back to the park the following Tuesday and, in 2 hours less time spent on the Bird Day, had 18 species of warbler for a total of 71 species! I suppose the moral of the story is that no matter how thorough the planning and skilled the team members, the birds need to show up. Next year...


Date: 05/09/15
Locations: Brooklyn Army Terminal--Pier 4; Bush Terminal Piers Park; Dreier-Offerman Park; Floyd Bennett Field; Gravesend Bay--Middle Parking Lot; Green-Wood Cemetery; Plumb Beach; Prospect Park; Salt Marsh Nature Center at Marine Park; Veterans Memorial Pier
Species: 108
Checklists: 12

1) Brant
2) Canada Goose
3) Mute Swan
4) Wood Duck
5) American Black Duck
6) Mallard
7) Greater Scaup (1.)
8) Red-breasted Merganser (2.)
9) Ruddy Duck (1.)

10) Ring-necked Pheasant (2.)

11) Red-throated Loon (1.)
12) Common Loon (2.)
13) Horned Grebe (1.)
14) Red-necked Grebe (1.)

15) Double-crested Cormorant (5.)
16) Great Cormorant (1.)

17) Great Egret (2.)
18) Snowy Egret (2.)
19) Green Heron (4.)
20) Black-crowned Night-Heron (18.)
21) Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (1.)

22) Osprey (2.)
23) Red-tailed Hawk (1.)

24) Clapper Rail (4.)

25) American Oystercatcher (5.)
26) Black-bellied Plover (7.)
27) Semipalmated Plover (7.)
28) Killdeer (3.)
29) Spotted Sandpiper (1.)
30) Greater Yellowlegs (1.)
31) Willet (2.)
32) Ruddy Turnstone (3.)
33) Sanderling (12.)
34) Purple Sandpiper (5.)
35) Least Sandpiper (6.)
36) White-rumped Sandpiper (1.)
37) Semipalmated Sandpiper (2.)
38) Short-billed Dowitcher (11.)
39) American Woodcock (7.)

40) Laughing Gull
41) Ring-billed Gull
42) Herring Gull
43) Great Black-backed Gull
44) Least Tern (3.)
45) Common Tern (4.)
46) Forster's Tern (3.)
47) Black Skimmer (50.)

48) Rock Pigeon
49) Mourning Dove (6.)

50) Great Horned Owl
51) Chimney Swift

52) Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1.)

53) Red-bellied Woodpecker (1.)
54) Downy Woodpecker (4.)
55) Hairy Woodpecker (4.)
56) Northern Flicker (2.)

57) American Kestrel (1.)
58) Monk Parakeet (2.)

59) Eastern Kingbird (4.)

60) White-eyed Vireo (1.)
61) Warbling Vireo (10.)
62) Red-eyed Vireo (1.)

63) Blue Jay (4.)
64) American Crow (1.)
00) crow sp. (4.)
65) Common Raven (2.)

66) Northern Rough-winged Swallow (2.)
67) Tree Swallow (2.)
68) Barn Swallow

69) Black-capped Chickadee (1.)
70) Tufted Titmouse (1.)
71) White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)

72) House Wren (3.)
73) Marsh Wren (1.)
74) Carolina Wren (2.)

75) Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (5.)
76) Wood Thrush (3.)
77) American Robin

78) Gray Catbird
79) Brown Thrasher (1.)
80) Northern Mockingbird (1.)

81) European Starling

82) Cedar Waxwing (9.)

83) Northern Waterthrush (1.)
84) Blue-winged Warbler (1.)
85) Black-and-white Warbler (1.)
86) Common Yellowthroat (4.)
87) Cape May Warbler (1.)
88) Northern Parula (5.)
89) Yellow Warbler (7.)
90) Blackpoll Warbler (10.)
91) Yellow-rumped Warbler (6.)
92) Canada Warbler (2.)

93) Eastern Towhee (2.)
94) Chipping Sparrow (2.)
95) Field Sparrow (1.)
96) Savannah Sparrow (4.)
97) Song Sparrow (1.)
98) White-throated Sparrow (7.)

99) Northern Cardinal (1.)

100) Red-winged Blackbird (1.)
101) Common Grackle
102) Brown-headed Cowbird (9.)
103) Orchard Oriole (2.)
104) Baltimore Oriole (6.)

105) House Finch (1.)
106) American Goldfinch (8.)

107) House Sparrow

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