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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

"Birding in Peace" - Spring winding down

The official start of summer this year isn't until Wednesday, June 21st. During this weekend's Spring dawn tours in Green-Wood Cemetery it seemed like the Spring migration was already waning. I'm not complaining, though, as we still got to see and hear lots of cool birds, plus one extraordinary event.

One sign that the warbler migration is tapering off was the arrival of a couple of species associated with the tail end of the northbound push. First was the apparent ever-present, high, lisping "tsit tsit TSIT TSIT" song of the Blackpoll Warbler.  Male blackpolls typically pass through NYC late in the migration, with the females coming up behind them, at migration's end. On both Saturday and Sunday we were seeing an abundance of this tiny, black and white warbler, along with many of the more plainly plumed females. Some local birders begin to cry when the female blackpolls arrive. Cue the melancholy music. Canada Warblers also start to show up late in the songbird migration, so I shouldn't have been surprised to see several in the cemetery over the past weekend. The weather for Saturday's tour wasn't ideal for scanning treetops for diminutive, colorful warblers, but we persevered and managed to add a couple of new birds to the overall species total for Green-Wood's first dawn bird walk series. Sunday was crisp and clear making the hunt much easier. We ended the weekend with 16 species of warbler.

At this point in the migration we're also starting to see a greater diversity of flycatchers. We didn't see or hear any of the always challenging empidonax flycatchers this weekend, but did manage to tally four other species. Great Crested Flycatcher is the only colorful flycatcher that we regularly see around Brooklyn and NYC. With its yellow underside and loud "whee-eep" call, they tend to be fairly easy to find. There seems to be at least two pairs in Green-Wood Cemetery acting amorously. They nest high up in tree cavities, so locating an active nest this season will require a lot of luck. Eastern Kingbirds have settled into their annual breeding cycle, but I've also been hearing two other species of flycatcher around the cemetery lately: Eastern Wood-Pewee and Eastern Phoebe. The pewee is a new arrival, but phoebes generally pass through early in the spring migration, then disperse. At least one is still hanging around and calling a lot in the area near William Poole's final resting place.

Another nice highlight this weekend was the sight (and sound) of the amusingly social Cedar Waxwing. Their diet consists primarily of fruit, which is probably why they don't start their breeding season until much later than other songbirds. In the spring and summer they frequently feed on insects. Watching large flocks of these colorful birds acrobatically snatching bugs out of the air and interacting with each other is the best reality show, in my humble opinion.

Finally, on Sunday we had a very interesting experience. At around 8:30am I was leading the group around the northeast corner of the Sylvan Water. Walking behind a row of mausoleums our view of the water and surrounding grass was partially blocked. I heard a very loud trumpeting-like sound. It seemed so strange and incongruous that I momentarily thought there was a person at the waters edge making silly noises. People in the group asked what was making the odd sound. I walked towards the water and scanned for a moment, saw nothing, then one of the participants, Heidi Clevins, spotted what she described as a massive, gray bird heading over the trees towards the northeast. Nobody was able to get their bins up in time, but she described the color as being gray, "almost the color of a Little Blue Heron”. When people asked whether it was a large heron or egret, I explained that, no, those species mostly make deep, guttural sounds. Unbelievably, I thought it sounded like a Sandhill Crane! We called up the vocalization on a smartphone and played it. It sounded exactly like what we had just heard. I was just winding up the tour, so after seeing everyone off at the main entrance, several of us spent a couple more hours scouring the cemetery hoping to find this prehistoric looking bird with a wingspan of over 6'. We never did find it, but the excitement and initial burst of adrenaline is part of what makes birding so much fun. Maybe next time we'll have more luck.


Dates: Saturday, May 20, 2017 and Sunday, May 21, 2017
Location: Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn
Species: 72

Wood Duck (1.)
Great Blue Heron (1.)
Great Egret (2.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2.)
Spotted Sandpiper (3.)
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel (1.)
Monk Parakeet
Eastern Wood-Pewee (1.)
Eastern Phoebe (1.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (4.)
Eastern Kingbird (3.)
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
American Crow
Common Raven (1.)
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
White-breasted Nuthatch (1.)
House Wren
Gray-cheeked Thrush (2.)
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher (2.)
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Tennessee Warbler (1.)
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler (2.)
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Canada Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow (1.)
Song Sparrow
Summer Tanager (2.)
Scarlet Tanager (3.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting (1.)
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole (1.)
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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

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