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Saturday, January 31, 2004

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Botanic Gardens and Prospect Park with Karen A., Shale B. and Marty S.

When we located the saw-whet owl she was sleeping in the same Eastern Hemlock that she has been roosting in for over a month. The white splattered walkway and accumulation of dark grey pellets betrayed her attempt to stay hidden. Her body compacted and feathers fluffed up against the cold, she looked like a down-covered baseball. When I put my binoculars on her I noticed that she had a small mouse clutched tightly in her talons. She opened her eyes to thin slits to take a quick look at us then settled back to sleep. We only stayed for a few minutes then left to pick up something hot to drink. On our way back to the car we took one more look and noticed that she had devoured the mouse. She was slowly preening her breast and belly feathers, occasionally lapsing into a momentary nod in the middle of smoothing a plume.
- - - - -
Botanic Gardens, 1/31/2004
Northern Shoveler
Common Merganser (6, Prospect Lake near Three Sisters Is.)
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk (2 immature, 3 adult.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Northern Saw-whet Owl (BBG.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Nethermead Meadow.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2; Breeze Hill feeder, BBG.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
Northern Mockingbird (BBG.)
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Purple Finch (5, Center Dr.)
American Goldfinch (3, Center Dr.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Prospect Park with Shale B., Marty S., Janet S., Gail and Ex

This winter's deep freeze continues to concentrate most of the bird activity in Prospect Park to a few locations. The single bird feeder on Breeze Hill and any south facing slopes with exposed patches of ground are the best spots to find the birds. Our winter Pine Warbler has been MIA from the Breeze Hill feeder for the last few days and I just hope that it found another source for food. Four Rusty Blackbirds continue to feed with a mixed flock of birds in the leaf litter on the slope behind the skating rink. Quaker Ridge, along Center Drive has also been a good spot and today I located one unexpected treat.

Starting in the late fall the park's Sweetgum trees were a magnet for flocks of goldfinches and a few siskins. As the majority of the finches moved on I noticed that the blackbirds and chickadees continued to try and extract every last morsel from the spiky balls. Now it seems like mostly chickadees and their acrobatic skills can find any food in these trees. Along Center Drive from the Quaker Cemetery to the Midwood, however, there are a number of sweetgums that still seem to attract a small number of goldfinches. While scanning a flock of about 8-10 goldfinches in a sweetgum above the bridle path I spotted a single male Common Redpoll. The flock took off before the whole group got on it but I managed to relocate it a few minutes later in another sweetgum within the Quaker Cemetery.

While walking towards the Nature Center with Steve and Heidi I noticed something odd. A small brown rodent, possibly a hamster, was sitting (apparently dead) on a manhole cover near the Binnen Waters. I pushed it with my boot to turn it over to see if it had a tail but, not only was it frozen solid, it was completely bonded to the steel cover. I had been seeing so much hawk activity throughout the day that the dead rodent conjured up a bizarre image in my mind. A red-tail sees the rodent, swoops in for the easy meal, grabs the immovable creature in its talons and ends up face down in the snow. Hey, it could happen...
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 1/25/2004
Cooper's Hawk (Immature, Breeze Hill. Rob J., Steve N., Heidi S.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3 adults, 1 immature.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (4.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2.)
Northern Mockingbird
American Tree Sparrow (Breeze Hill feeder.)
Chipping Sparrow (2; Breeze Hill feeder, 9th Street park entrance.)
Fox Sparrow (Approx. 12.)
White-throated Sparrow (Abundant.)
Dark-eyed Junco
Rusty Blackbird (4, Breeze Hill slope behind skating rink.)
Purple Finch (3 females, Quaker Ridge.)
House Finch (1.)
Common Redpoll (Male, feeding in sweetgums on Center Dr.)
American Goldfinch (Approx. 12.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Monday, January 19, 2004

Prospect Park

The Red-tailed Hawk lovefest continued in Prospect Park this afternoon with both pairs frequently vocalizing and displaying. Near the Nethermead Meadow a Merlin briefly interrupted one pair by aggressively diving at the much larger raptors. It's possible that the falcon was just protecting her hunting area. As I watched her from Center Drive it appeared that she was hunting back and forth along the edge of Quaker Ridge where there was much passerine activity between the road and bridle path.

At the Breeze Hill feeder a "gang" of Red-winged Blackbirds were monopolizing the single feeder. All of the smaller birds were intimidated by them as they would only move out of the way for the Blue Jays. Thankfully they are messy eaters and spilled plenty of seed to the ground for the other birds. When a Pine Warbler showed up at the feeder I was surprised by the tiny bird's courage as he tried to squeeze in between the blackbirds. He was ultimately unsuccessful and ended up feeding on the ground below the feeder with the juncos, white-throats, fox sparrows, cardinals and a single chipping sparrow.

Feeding in the leaf litter along the slope of Breeze Hill behind the skating rink were four Rusty Blackbirds within a flock of White-throated Sparrows.

Also, I've noted in my day list that I spotted a single crow today. I'm not sure what their abundance is like in other city parks but I find it a little disturbing that the ubiquitous flocks of the past seem to have practically disappeared from Prospect Park.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 1/19/2004
Canada Goose (15, flying over Long Meadow.)
Red-tailed Hawk (5, 4 adults & 1 immature.)
Merlin (Nethermead Meadow.)
Ring-billed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker (6.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (2, Breeze Hill & Quaker Cemetery.)
Hairy Woodpecker (2, Rick's Pl.)
American Crow (1.)
Black-capped Chickadee (4, Rick's Pl.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2, Breeze Hill feeder.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1, Breeze Hill feeder.)
Hermit Thrush (Lullwater.)
Pine Warbler (Breeze Hill feeder.)
Chipping Sparrow (Breeze Hill feeder.)
Fox Sparrow (approx. 20; Vale, Quaker Ridge, Breeze Hill feeder.)
White-throated Sparrow (Abundant.)
Dark-eyed Junco
Rusty Blackbird (4, Breeze Hill slope behind skating rink.)
Purple Finch (3, Vale of Cashmere.)
House Finch (8, Vale of Cashmere.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Herring Gull, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Prospect Park

As I walked along the bridle path at the edge of Quaker Ridge I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk flying north across the Nethermead Meadow. As it flew towards the Ravine I noticed that it was carrying a large branch in its talons. It's only January 17th, there's snow on the ground and finches in the trees, could they actually be preparing to nest already?

On New Years Day a group of us watched one of the red-tailed pairs playing in the sky over Breeze Hill. They were circling and calling while the male would occasionally drop his talons and hover above the female's back. I guess they were already beginning to feel the pull of a new cycle.

I tried to follow the hawk with the branch this afternoon and walked the path above the Midwood towards the Boulder Bridge. I stopped across the stream from the old nest in the Ravine pine tree to see if that was the nest he was working on. After a few minutes I heard their familiar "keeeer" call and saw a pair circling just above the tree tops close to the Boulder Bridge. Could the male have been directing his mate to a new nest to test her approval? They descended into the top of a large oak and perched next to a new nest on Payne Hill. Suddenly another adult Red-tailed Hawk flying through the woods aggressively dove towards them. The pair held their ground and she veered off at the last moment flying towards the zoo.

The pair at the new nest didn't appear to be the pair from last year's north zoo nest as the male and female were about the same size (the north zoo female is much larger than her mate). I decided to walk over to the north zoo to see if there was any work being done on last year's nest. I didn't notice any hawks in the area but there was definitely some new construction on top of the old nest. As I walked back across Nelly's Lawn I spotted "my" pair sitting side-by-side in their favorite tuliptree overlooking the meadow and the north zoo woods. Now it truly feels like a new year has begun.

Also of note today was a Pine Warbler continuing to frequent the Breeze Hill feeder and a single Pine Siskin at the top of a Tulip tree in the Ravine.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 1/17/2004 - 11am to 3pm
Wood Duck (Male, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler
Red-tailed Hawk (5; 4 adults, 1 immature.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2, Breeze Hill feeder.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (4.)
Hermit Thrush (1, behind Music Pagoda.)
Northern Mockingbird (2.)
Pine Warbler (Breeze Hill feeder.)
Chipping Sparrow (Breeze Hill feeder.)
Fox Sparrow (8, Quaker Ridge & Breeze Hill.)
White-throated Sparrow (Abundant.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Large flock at Nelly's Lawn.)
Purple Finch (Approx. 12, Vale of Cashmere.)
House Finch (3, Vale of Cashmere.)
Pine Siskin (1, tuliptree in Ravine with small flock of goldfinches.)
American Goldfinch (Approx. 20, Ravine and lamppost 249.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (2), Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Jones Beach & Pt. Lookout with Steve N.

I thawed out enough after Saturday's Croton Point "expedition" to be able to lend a hand on the waterfowl count. Steve and I were assigned all water west of the Jones Beach tower up to Jones Inlet. After covering the required areas we took a drive over to Pt. Lookout just to add a few more birds to our personal day list.

It was a beautiful, calm, clear morning to be walking along the beach. There was barely a ripple on the ocean but, unfortunately, much of the usual diversity of waterfowl seemed to be somewhere else. At the top of our tally list was, expectedly, Brant with Red-breasted Merganser coming in second. As we walked to the jetty spotting some Horned Lark and Snow Buntings kept the conversation a bit more interesting as up to that point it was primarily, "hey, look, some more mergansers." Also, among a flock of Dunlin on the jetty were a few Purple Sandpipers.

The highlight of our day was at Pt. Lookout. A flock of 10 Harlequin Ducks were hanging out close to the rocks in the usual location and a pair of drake Redheads were among a large flock of American Black Ducks nearby. The best bird of the day, however, was seen a short distance east of the jetty where the harlequins congregate. Steve first spotted what appeared to be a female eider. It stayed fairly close to us and, with the help of Sibley's and another birder who joined us, we all agreed that it was a first winter female King Eider.

In all, it was a great day for waterfowl but, unfortunately, the best birds of the day were on the "wrong" side of the inlet for our count.
- - - - -
Jones Beach & Pt. Lookout, 1/11/2004
Common Loon (Jones Beach)
Horned Grebe (Jones Beach)
Great Cormorant (Jones Beach)
Great Blue Heron (Jones Beach)

Canada Goose (Jones Beach)
Brant (everywhere)
Mute Swan (Jones Beach)
American Black Duck (both locations)
Mallard (Pt. Lookout)
Redhead (2 drakes, Pt. Lookout)
Greater Scaup (both locations)
King Eider (fem., Pt. Lookout)
Harlequin Duck (10, Pt. Lookout)
Surf Scoter (Pt. Lookout)
Long-tailed Duck (both locations)
Bufflehead (Jones Beach)
Common Goldeneye (Jones Beach)
Red-breasted Merganser (both locations)

Northern Harrier (Jones Beach)
Black-bellied Plover (Jones Beach)
Sanderling (Jones Beach)
Purple Sandpiper (Jones Beach)
Dunlin (both locations)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Northern Flicker (Jones Beach)
American Crow
Horned Lark (Jones Beach)
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Jones Beach)
Northern Cardinal
American Tree Sparrow (Jones Beach)
Song Sparrow (Jones Beach)
White-throated Sparrow (Jones Beach)
Snow Bunting (Jones Beach)
House Sparrow

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Croton Pt. Park and George’s Island with NYCAS members

At 7am this morning the temperature was 1 degree, the wind was out of the north at 14mph and the wind chill was -13. Despite the arctic conditions 7 intrepid (or insane) souls met for a New York City Audubon Society field trip to Croton Point Park. We also drove to George's Island, a short distance north of Croton. In addition to the expected Bald Eagles there were a few other highlights to reports.

Today's frigid, dry air created a dreamlike "sea smoke" effect over the water. As small flocks of Bufflehead, merganser and other waterfowl emerged from or disappeared into the warm shroud of fog someone in the group described the image as looking like a Japanese watercolor.

Acting on a tip from Irene Warshauer's report on eBirds, we began the morning by checking for a Tundra Swan near the Croton railroad station. It seemed like an auspicious start to our day as, even in the the low mist, the small swan's profile was fairly easy to pick out. Thank you Irene.

Our next stop was George's Island where we hoped to locate our first Bald Eagles of the season. Before even getting out of our cars we spotted an adult and immature perched in the trees. Our combined excitement seemed to make the air temperature rise. As we began to see others flying in it got even warmer. When we spotted a flock of Eastern Bluebirds near the southeast corner of the parking lot it got downright balmy.

Back at Croton Point Park the idea of walking the entire trail over the landfill would have been, in my opinion, an exercise in masochism. There were reports of Rough-legged Hawk and a pair of Short-ear Owl on the meadow but we opted to only walk a short distance as the exposed location was brutally cold. We did manage to flush one harrier, however.

The primary goal of the regular winter NYCAS trip to Croton Point Park and George's Island is to locate and observe Bald Eagles. On the drive to Croton from George's Island we spotted a single immature eagle flying low over route 9. We located a couple more as we entered the park and, during the course of the day a few more adult and immature birds. Probably the most interesting experience was watching an adult eagle repeatedly "buzzing" a Bufflehead near the edge of the ice. I never realized that Bald Eagles ate waterfowl but I looked it up when I returned home and learned that they are, in fact, on their menu. As we watched this drama unfolding, Louise pointed out a bird feeding a few feet away from us. On the complete opposite end of the size spectrum, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet was "stalking" prey that were so tiny that they were invisible to our eyes.

Another interesting behavior that we observed today was both species of nuthatches feeding on the ground within flocks of sparrows. At one point I had approached within a yard of a Red-breasted Nuthatch before I noticed it.

Also of possible interest was an Eastern Towhee...not a bird I would expect to see in arctic-like weather.

- - - - -

Croton Pt. Park/George’s Is., 1/10/2004
Mute Swan
Tundra Swan (Near Croton Pt. Park)
American Black Duck
Common Merganser
Bald Eagle (approx. 14)
Northern Harrier (Croton Point Park)
Red-tailed Hawk (Croton Point Park)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Both locations)
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker (Croton Point Park)
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Croton Point Park)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Croton Point Park)
Brown Creeper (Croton Point Park)
Carolina Wren (2, Croton Point Park)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (2, Croton Point Park)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird (6, George's Is.)
Hermit Thrush (Croton Point Park)
American Robin (Croton Point Park)
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Towhee (Croton Point Park)
American Tree Sparrow (Common)
Fox Sparrow (Croton Point Park)
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow (Abundant)
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch