Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Past Weekend's Trips

Over the Memorial Day weekend, in addition to my Sunday "Birding in Peace" at Green-Wood Cemetery, I also co-led a tour in historic Mt. Olivet Cemetery on Saturday. With tours at All Faiths Lutheran Cemetery, Green-Wood Cemetery and now Mt. Olivet Cemetery, it appears I've become the go-to person for leading birding trips in the city's quietest green spaces. I certainly can't complain as the residents are very, um, low-key. Anyway, the majority of the warblers seemed to have moved on to their breeding grounds, although there were still some late arrivers and lingerers seen over the two days.

Mt. Olivet Cemetery is less than a quarter the size of Green-Wood Cemetery, but it still held a surprisingly high number of bird species. I did a quick walk around before the people arrived and found several singing birds that weren't the usual residents - Eastern Wood-Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Swainson's Thrush, Brown Thrasher and American Redstart, to name a few. Without question, the highlight of the walk was a very cooperative Blackburnian Warbler. This vivid songbird usually forages near the tops of trees, but we were able to take advantage of one of the high ridges to get fairly close to this bird. There was also a Yellow Warbler gleaning insects from the oak's leaves, but clearly this guy here got all the attention.

We began the Sunday tour at Green-Wood Cemetery under white skies and hazy conditions. We could hear fog horns down in the harbor. This would likely explain an almost complete lack of birdsong for the first 45 minutes. As the haze slowly lifted, the birds gradually became more vocal. The makeup of warblers in the cemetery was what one might expect at this time of year; little diversity, with an increase only in Blackpoll Warblers. The number of female warbler has also gone up.

I never get bored seeing the antics of Cedar Waxwings and it is now their moment in the sun. Arriving at the tail-end of the Spring migration, there are now dozens of these social birds in roaming flocks throughout the cemetery. It's easy to locate them as their wheezy, thin whistles seem to pierce right through my brain. I'm always surprised that their vocalizations can be heard over NYC's larger flying creatures ... airplanes and helicopters.

After the tour ended I walked over to "The Flats" to check in on the Red-tailed Hawk nest at the top of a pine tree. The female was standing up on the edge of the nest, looking intently down inside of it. This is usually a sign that an egg (or eggs) have hatched. If this is the case, we should be able to see fuzzy, white heads within the next couple of weeks. The young should then be ready to make their maiden voyage by late-June or early-July.

Finally, the most interesting observation on Sunday came early in the walk. As we walked beneath the canopy of Copper Beeches at Forest Ridge, I heard the croaking call of a Common Raven from the direction of the Steinway mausoleum. I ran out into the open and spotted the raven circling near the top of a tulip tree. We watched for a few minutes then realized that there were two. Continuing our walk towards Crescent Water we discovered that there were, in fact, four ravens in the tree! Common Ravens are not known to be a flocking species, so I speculated that it was a family unit. That was confirmed when we saw one of them bringing some unidentified food to, then feeding the others. Beginning with a nest on a water tower in Queens in 2010, Common Ravens have been gradually repopulating New York City. It's unclear when or why they disappeared from the Big Apple, but I suspect they were unjustifiably persecuted, like many large birds, as pests. This large, extremely intelligent animal has been written about in myths and folklore from Greco-Roman antiquity to Viking culture to the indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest. In nearly all cases, they are depicted in a positive way. The various Pacific Northwest culture's legends of the raven share many characteristics, one is that it is a keeper of secrets. I wonder what they know about New York City that has led them back to their ancestral grounds.

A big thanks to Evan Rabeck for the use of his photos for this posting.

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Location: Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Maspeth, Queens
Date: May 27, 2017
Species: 41 species

Double-crested Cormorant (1.)
Laughing Gull
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee (1.)
Least Flycatcher (1. Heard vocalizing, then observed hawking from oak tree.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (1.)
Eastern Kingbird (2.)
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
House Wren
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher (1.)
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Magnolia Warbler (1.)
Blackburnian Warbler (1.)
Yellow Warbler (1.)
Blackpoll Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow (1.)
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole

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

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Location: Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn
Date: Sunday, May 28, 2017
Species: 48 species (+1 other taxa)

American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid) (1.)
Green Heron (1.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1.)
Laughing Gull
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1.)
Northern Flicker (1.)
Monk Parakeet
Eastern Wood-Pewee (1.)
Eastern Phoebe (1.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (3.)
Eastern Kingbird (2.)
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Fish Crow (1.)
Common Raven (4. Calling frequently, all four perched in tulip tree. One, apparent adult, appeared to feed the other three.)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (1.)
Barn Swallow (1.)
House Wren
Gray-cheeked Thrush (2.)
Swainson's Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing  15
Common Yellowthroat (2.)
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler (2.)
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler (1.)
Wilson's Warbler (1.)
Chipping Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager (2.)
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard (1.), Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, House Sparrow

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