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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Weekend Trips Recap

This past weekend I added a Saturday tour to the Green-Wood Cemetery "Birding in Peace" series. The back to back early morning walks yielded a nice selection of the expected Spring migrants, plus a couple of unexpected bonuses.

Saturday started off rather cool with white, overcast skies, so the birds weren't very active early on. One nice surprise was crossing paths with a male Blue Grosbeak near the intersection of Landscape and Oak Avenues, about 50 yards away from Horace Greeley. The stocky, deep blue bird is related to the cardinal and, I suppose appropriately, was foraging on the ground with one of his bright red cousins. Blue Grosbeaks are fairly scarce around Brooklyn as they nest primarily south of New York.

Warblers and other colorful songsters are the primary quarry for birders during the month of May, however, some interesting flycatchers are also arriving in the area. At the Sylvan Water early Saturday morning we watched a pair of Eastern Kingbirds chasing each other around. The screeching quality of their songs always seems to my ears like they're grousing about something. More than likely, it's really just their courtship vocalizations. I have a lot of respect for Eastern Kingbirds as they are one of the few species that have no problem taking on a Red-tailed Hawk...pretty impressive considering that, on average, they weigh about 4% of the red-tail's mass. I've seen kingbirds flying after our resident hawks and pecking on the back of their head.

Most of the flycatchers that we see around Brooklyn during migration or nesting over the summer, are fairly plain with plumages that are variations of olive or grey. The Great Crested Flycatcher, with its yellow underside, is one exception. We heard then spotted a few on both Saturday and Sunday's walks. Most are just passing through the area, but I have found a few pairs nesting in the cemetery over the years.

Also seen at the Sylvan Water was Spotted Sandpiper - one on Saturday, then a pair on Sunday. Ever since the cemetery has removed the coping wall at the edge of the pond and replaced it with a more natural, sloping shoreline we've seen an increase in shorebird species stopping off to rest and refuel here. In addition to the Spotted Sandpiper, other shorebirds seen here are Killdeer, Wilson's Snipe, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs.

Warblers still continue to be the birds of the moment with 14 species seen at the cemetery this weekend. Yellow-rumped Warblers, to nobody's surprise, were the dominant species. A close second seemed to be the Black-and-white Warbler. Northern Parulas were heard singing from the trees throughout the cemetery, to the point that I imagined hearing them when trying to fall asleep at night. There was also still a good number of Ovenbirds in the area making their emphatic "tee-cher, tee-CHER, TEE-CHER" song as they strolled through the understory. We also heard, then spotted a couple of Black-throated Green Warblers. Its buzzy "zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee" reminds me of the theme to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"...well, sort of. Always a crowd pleasers, and seen both days, was Hooded Warbler. On Saturday I found one singing at Forest Dell in a tree above Duncan Phyfe. For the group on Sunday he made an appearance at the Dell Water, although it is quite possible that it was a second individual. Hooded Warblers aren't actually rare, just really nice to see.

Two other colorful songbirds seen and heard in good numbers over the weekend were
Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Baltimore Oriole.

Without a doubt the best bird in the cemetery this weekend was a Summer Tanager. This species breeds south of New York City, but we do see the occasional stray during migration. Thankfully, the birding gods were good to us and this dazzling, strawberry-red bird gave great looks to participants on both tours. On Saturday's walk, I nearly bungled the identification, at first pointing out what I thought was the more common Scarlet Tanager. In my defense, it was terrible lighting and the bird was partially obscured. Anyway, when someone innocently asked why it wouldn't be a Summer Tanager I began describing the differences: "Summer doesn't have black wings; summer has a more peaked head; summer has a larger, horn-colored bill ... hey, wait a minute!" The bird flew down to a lower perch in a crabapple tree above the beehives at the edge of the pond giving us great looks. On Sunday he wasn't present right away, but after we circled the pond once, he returned to his favorite spot next to the hives. In fact, according to the Audubon field guide website, "This bird apparently has no fear of stinging insects, often raiding wasp nests and occasionally becoming a minor nuisance around beehives." Thankfully he doesn't eat much and will have moved on by the end of the month.

Finally, as I was wrapping up Sunday's tour I received a message that somebody had just located a Kentucky Warbler in Prospect Park. This skulky species of the understory is another bird with a breeding range that is primarily south of New York City. Of the thousands of songbirds that migrate through our area in the Spring, you'd be lucky to see one a year. I explained the sighting to the people in the tour as we headed towards the cemetery's main entrance and recommended that anyone who could, should try and make the short run up to Prospect Park's north end. Four people decided to drive their cars over and I hopped on my bicycle, high-tailing it up to the area in the park known as the Vale of Cashmere. The bird had moved from the Vale to a spot a short distance away, but we all eventually got to see this rarity. It was a nice way to end a really good weekend of birding.


Dates: Saturday, May 6, 2017 and Sunday, May 7, 2017
Location: Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn
Species: 75

Brant (3.)
Canada Goose
Wood Duck (2.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (1.)
Great Egret (2.)
Green Heron (2.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (1.)
Osprey (1.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1.)
Spotted Sandpiper (2.)
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel (1.)
Monk Parakeet
Great Crested Flycatcher (2.)
Eastern Kingbird (3.)
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1.)
House Wren
Swainson's Thrush (1.)
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Northern Waterthrush (2.)
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler (1.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Prairie Warbler (3.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (1.)
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow (1.)
Eastern Towhee
Scarlet Tanager (2.)
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting (1.)
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

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