Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Birding in Peace

This past Sunday I led the inaugural "Birding in Peace" dawn birding tour at Green-Wood Cemetery. It was a brisk start to the new series, but the hardy souls that turned out for the morning walk weren't disappointed.



When I left my apartment for the walk over to the cemetery it was still dark. A dazzling Full "Worm Moon" seemed to cast shadows almost as easily as my neighborhood's streetlamps. To say that it was merely cold, would probably be delusional. My phone's weather app said, with the windchill, that it felt like 18° F. In addition, overnight the time was pushed ahead an hour for Daylight Savings Time. I was concerned that none of the 20 people registered for the trip would show up either due to frostbite concerns or because they overslept. My fears were unfounded, though, as one by one people bundled against the cold began arriving at the cemetery's locked entrance gate before the 7am scheduled start time.

When the security patrol let us into the still closed cemetery, it was amazingly silent. This part of the city definitely sleeps. Other than the small security crew, we were the only people in the nearly 500 acres. Not even the garrulous Monk Parakeets above the main archway were making a sound. Among the target species I was hoping to find was a peculiar little bird and early migrant - the American Woodcock. My loop route would include stands of pines as their cryptic plumage allows them to nearly disappear in plain sight within blankets of dried pine needles. More often than not, they are "seen" when inadvertently flushed; you catch a glimpse of something flashing in the corner of your vision and hear the distinctive whistling of their wings. If you're lucky, you follow the brown blur as it drops down a safe distance away where you can focus your bins in on their plump body and freakishly long bill.

It actually felt pretty comfortable once out of the wind, strolling in the wind protected dells or on the leeward side of the cemetery's many ridges. At Cliff Path, overlooking the Sylvan Water, the sun was warming the hillside and treetops. It was bustling with bird activity. We spent several minutes watching a mixed flock of Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and White-throated Sparrow. Overwintering Fox Sparrows are feeling the pull of Spring and have begun serenading the females. Another fairly active area was at a pair of bird feeders between the Crescent and Dell Waters.

Red-tailed Hawks are in courtship mode and we observed two different pairs soaring over the "Flats", as well as, nice close views of a very pale one perched across from the legendary magic tree on Cypress and Vine Avenues. An immature individual was also seen a few times. I assume he/she is one of last year's offspring. We also had great views of a female Merlin perched above Cypress Avenue.

It was on the return leg of the walk along Forest Avenue that we had the aforementioned, typical woodcock experience - zip, blur, whistle-whistle. We twice flushed a "timberdoodle" but I was never able to get good looks for the group. Here's a podcast about the courtship ritual of this interesting bird.

I led the group passed Pine Hill hoping for one last chance for a close look at a woodcock. We didn't find one, but a nice consolation prize was my first Eastern Phoebe of the season. This tail-pumping insectivore is one of the earliest harbingers of the Spring songbird migration. He darted around in front of us for several minutes, moving from shrub to low tree branch to headstone and even a stop sign, in search of bugs to eat. I hope he manages to find enough to eat to survive the snowstorm.

If you're interested in joining one of our dawn walks this Spring you can sign up here. Don't hesitate as they are filling up fast.

Good birding.

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Location: Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn
Date: March 12, 2017, 7:00am
Protocol: Traveling
Distance: 4.0 miles
Comments: Inaugural Green-Wood Cemetery "Birding in Peace" tour.
Species: 31

Canada Goose
Mallard
Turkey Vulture (1.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4.)
American Woodcock (1. Flushed from edge of Forest Ave. near Duncan Phyfe.)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2.)
Downy Woodpecker
Merlin (1, perched above Cypress Ave.)
Monk Parakeet
Eastern Phoebe (1.)
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Fox Sparrow (12.)
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

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