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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Prospect Park hawk update with Sean S.

The lush, green canopy above Payne Hill acted like the stage for a Javanese shadow-puppet show. Drawn tight across the bright, backlit sky the leaf screen displayed what our binoculars could no longer view through the branches; the dancing shadows of Split-tail and Big Mama as they circled, climbed and dove above their territorial forest. The narrative of their performance were short bursts of hoarse "keeeer" or high-pitched chirps.

Spying on the hawk chicks through a narrow, leafy vignette we were once again astounded at their weed-like growth. One chick was standing on the edge of the nest preening his feathers and modeling his near adult sized body. Starting at the base of each flight feather he pulled his beak up the length of the shaft, zipping up their velcro-like barbules. In only three days his wing feathers have lengthened, his nape and back have grown a layer of brown plumes and his head and breast have sprouted scattered, spiky, brown feathers. Their heads and necks are still mostly covered in light gray down giving the impression of a shrunken head on a tall, broad body.

Gail walked up the hill to join us and pointed out that Big Mama was perched on a branch a few yards to the west of the nest. The mother hawk was close enough to keep tabs on her offspring but far enough away that she could relax and take a break from the now crowded nest. Split-tail called a few times then flew into the nest holding a small bird in his beak. Big Mama joined him at the nest to see what he brought their small family for lunch. He dropped the prey into the nest then quickly departed. We could see his shadow on the leaves as he circled above the nest tree. On the nest Big Mama was pulling morsels of meat from the bird and eating them herself as the chicks were not interested in food. They seemed to have discovered their wings and took turns stretching them out and awkwardly flapping. By the end of this coming week they should be entering the "flap-hopping" phase of development. Not long after that they'll be making their maiden flight.

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

While we were watching the nest a very bold and foolish squirrel came to visit us. Gail and Ex were sitting on one of the large buttress-like roots of the elm tree. Their dog, Pippi, was lying down beside them. As Gail unwrapped her breakfast sandwich the squirrel tiptoed over to beg for a taste. He didn't seem the least bit concerned about the dog and certainly not the hawks a short flight away. The girls gave in to his cuteness and tossed him a few crumbs. I've noticed that, unlike their counterparts at the perimeter of the park, the squirrels in the woods tend to be very cautious and unfriendly. This squirrel was the exception and stayed seated in a jumble of branches on the ground a couple of yards away from us. When the girls left I walked down the hill to check the perspective of the nest from the sidewalk north of the elm tree viewing spot. As I was walking back I heard Sean shout, "Hey, get out of here." His camera lense was very close to the elm tree and I noticed our friend the squirrel flattened out on the side of the tree next to Sean. Apparently, when he was looking through the viewfinder the image suddenly went black. When he looked up from the camera he saw the squirrel stepping across from the tree and onto the end of his lense. I think that rodent has a target painted on his back and Split-tail seems to have very good aim.

At Rick's Place Sean located a Wood Thrush sitting on a nest. It was in a small sapling not far from last year's nest.

As Sean and I were leaving the park we spotted all four adult Red-tailed Hawks circling the Long Meadow; one pair at the north end, the other pair to the south at the edge of the Quaker Cemetery.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 5/29/2004
Red-tailed Hawk (2 pairs of adults soaring over Long Meadow. 2 chicks in nest.)
Chimney Swift
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Next to Litchfield Villa.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (Heard calling on Payne Hill.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Heard calling on Payne Hill.)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (~4, Upper pool.)
Barn Swallow (2, Upper pool.)
Swainson's Thrush (2 near Boulder Bridge.)
Wood Thrush (Sitting on nest at Rick's Place.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird (Near 9th Street.)
Cedar Waxwing (Heard calling over Payne Hill.)
Yellow Warbler (Corner of 5th Street and Prospect Park West.)
Magnolia Warbler (Singing next to Litchfield Villa.)
American Redstart (Payne Hill.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (Singing at Payne Hill.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Prospect Park hawk update

Heidi S. is a friend of mine and a teacher at the Prospect Park Audubon Center. As part of the center's Middle School program I arranged to meet her and her class of 6th graders at the Red-tailed Hawk nest.

I arrived at Payne Hill at 4pm, set up my scope and lowered it to what, I guessed, would be kid's height. It's difficult to predict the hourly activities at the nest but I was hoping that the kids would arrive in time to see the fast growing chicks eating, preening or playing. It was late in the day with overcast skies but I still had great views of one of the chicks standing up and preening. I called Heidi to try and quicken the group's pace.

This is the third year that I've closely monitored the hawks in the park yet I'm still amazed at how quickly they develop. They are showing many changes since last Friday. Today they have a full set of short, adult feathers on their wings and their tail is composed of one thick, dark brown band that terminates in a narrow buffy band. Their heads are still light gray down but the feathers around their eyes are darkening and adult plumes have begun sprouting on their napes. I also noticed that they have started to loose their downy "leggings" exposing a strip of yellow skin on the backs of their legs. The upper parts of their legs are showing new, pale-rust colored feathers. For fifteen minutes I watched one of the chicks methodically preening his new wing feathers. Small patches of wispy, white down still peaked out from between his flat, shiny adult plumes. Big Mama was sitting in the nest working on her own feathers. I could only make out the top of the second chick's head in the far side of the nest. I was anxious for the kids to arrive as I didn't want them to miss this great experience. I finally heard the class nearby just as Big Mama decided to take a break and leave the nest.

I was a little disappointed that the chicks had begun to settle down just as the class was arriving. The one that had been preening sat back down to rest and the other was too far to the side to view. Eventually, one of the young hawks sat up and looked over the side of the nest. Trying to keep the scope pointed to the nest while seven or eight 6th graders jostled for a look was a challenge, but I didn't mind as they all seemed genuinely excited. I gave the kids some basic information about the hawks but most of them mainly wanted to find the nest in their binoculars or hog the scope. At one point a wide-eyed little boy looked up from the scope and excited announced, "It was looking at me!" They all had pencils and pads and, before leaving, sat down on a fallen tree to enter their observations into their journals. As they walked down the hill back towards the nature center they all shouted a big, "Thank you Rob." One boy with a digital camera, who had been very pensive for the hour, looked back at me and quietly said, "Thank you fellow amateur naturalist."
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 5/26/2004 - 4pm to 5pm
Red-tailed Hawk (1 adult, 2 chicks on nest.)
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Eastern Kingbird (Long Meadow, seen with Elliotte H.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Singing near Rick's Place.)
Blue Jay
Veery (Payne Hill.)
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing (Heard calling above Payne Hill.)
American Redstart (Heard singing on Payne Hill.)
Ovenbird (Heard singing on Payne Hill.)
Common Yellowthroat (Picnic House, seen with Elliotte H.)
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
House Sparrow

Friday, May 21, 2004

Prospect Park hawk update with Sean S.

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

We arrived at Big Mama's nest just in time for the late morning show. As Sean and I walked up the rise towards the viewing spot next to the elm tree I heard the close, whining "rreeea" of an agitated Red-eyed Vireo. I quickly scanned the trees as I assumed that he was alarmed by the presence of one of the Red-tailed Hawks. I couldn't find either hawk. As we were setting up our tripods, though, Sean chuckled and said, "We just walked underneath Split-tail." He was perched so motionless in a tree next to the sidewalk that he practically disappeared into the dark, brown bark. Sean quickly tried to focus his camera for a raptor portrait but the hawk flew down towards something on the ground between Payne Hill and Rick's Place. Moments later he flew up to a low branch in an oak tree with a chipmunk in his talons. Sean walked down the hill to get a closer photo. Split-tail seemed nervous by Sean's close approach. He alternately held down the small rodent in his talons, taking tentative bites at its belly and dangling its limp body from his bill while looking for a higher perch.

While Sean was photographing Split-tail I set my focus on the nest. Big Mama seemed to be feeding one of the chicks on the far side of the nest. The second chick was clopping around on the near side. When it began turning its rear end toward the edge of the nest I knew what to expect next. Whoosh! If someone passing the tuliptree didn't know that there was a hawk nest high above, the ever-growing Jackson Pollack creation on the sidewalk might cause them to look up. Both chicks were very active and showed significant changes in their plumage since Tuesday. They now have one to two inches of dark feathers sprouting in a double row along the trailing edge of their wings. Last Friday I noticed four or five tiny shafts emerging on their tails, today they seemed to have a full compliment of twelve puny, brown feathers.

Split-tail flew from his low perch and carried the fresh kill up to the nest. His mate had finished feeding their young so he just dropped the chipmunk in the nest and flew off. A flock of squawking starlings pointed the way to his perch behind us at the edge of the Long Meadow. The chicks settled down for a nap so Big Mama took a break, flying off towards Sullivan Hill.

Sean and I decided to take a walk to try and locate Big Mama, plus, I wanted to show him the Red-bellied Woodpecker nest that I found on Tuesday. As we were getting ready to leave we heard an unusual bird call in the tree above us. I believe that Sean quickly pegged it as some type of flycatcher. When a bright yellow empidonax flycatcher perched out in the open we said in unison, "Yellow-bellied Flycatcher." The bird was so brilliantly yellow that, without binoculars, it appeared more like a warbler than a flycatcher. We never got very far from the nest area. The woodpecker nest appeared to be empty but there was a lot of bird activity in the dense shrub and sapling growth along the rise above the Midwood. We ran into a couple of birders in that spot and stood around talking and watching a mixed flock that contained Red-eyed Vireo, Gray Catbird, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, American Redstart and Canada Warbler. Nearby we could hear the songs of House Wren, Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler and Baltimore Oriole.

We met Gil S. and walked with him towards Sullivan Hill in search of Big Mama. She managed to elude us but, before leaving the park, we stopped to check on the young hawks again. One of the chicks was awake and looking over the side of the nest. Through the scope we could see lots of flies buzzing around the nest. I suppose that the insects are attracted to the nest for the same reason that the two vultures were on May 12th; ripe meat. The nest tree is also still adorned with greenish-yellow and orange "tulips" which lure bees to the treetop. A bumblebee was flying around in front of the chick, attracting his curiosity. We laughed as the young hawk jerked and twisted his head trying to follow the path of the slow flying insect. When it passed over his head he snapped his bill at it but missed. I thought about "Itchy" and "Scratchy" from Big Mama's 2002 family and how they would chase butterflies and grasshoppers on the ground. I guess it's important practice for when they can no longer rely on their parents for meals.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 5/21/2004
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 2 chicks. Payne Hill.)
Spotted Sandpiper (Upper pool.)
Chimney Swift (Several flying above park.)
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Rick's Place.)
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Payne Hill.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Several.)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Upper pool.) [Sean S.]
House Wren (Rick's Place.)
Veery (Rick's Place.)
Swainson's Thrush (Payne Hill, Midwood, Rick's Place, Ravine.)
Wood Thrush (Singing in Midwood.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (Heard call on Payne Hill.)
Magnolia Warbler (Payne Hill.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Payne Hill and Ravine.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Payne Hill.)
Blackpoll Warbler (Several heard.)
American Redstart (Payne Hill.)
Canada Warbler (Payne Hill/Rick's Place.)
Scarlet Tanager (Ravine near Boulder Bridge.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (Rick's Place.)

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

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Prospect Park with Shane B.

I was in the park by 5:15am. I wanted to spend the first two hours of daylight walking from the north end of the park to the lake at the opposite end. It appears from the abrupt decrease in songbird abundance and diversity that the migration is winding down. I hope I'm wrong as bird numbers seem to be much lower than previous years.

I ran into Ed C. near the Maryland Monument and we walked out to the forested end of the Peninsula. When we were about ten yards from the wooden shelter opposite Duck Island Ed pointed out a large Snapping Turtle on the right side of the path. The turtle had likely hauled herself out of the lake to lay eggs. Laboring across a short stretch of leaf litter she was searching for an open patch of loose soil to dig a hole. Unfortunately, all of the paths are now edged with wood slatted snow fencing. The turtle was stopped by the fencing a mere 12" from the dirt on the footpath. With her face pressed up against the wood and wire fencing she looked like she was incarcerated (hunting ducklings without a license). I considered picking her up and lifting her over the fence but her massive jaws looked a little too intimidating. I tried pulling the fence up but she just sat, unimpressed by my effort. I gave up and started to walk away when I had an idea. I found a short, stout piece of wood and wedged it under the fence creating a small opening for her. I figured she then had a path to retreat to the water after she finished laying her eggs.

A Cerulean Warbler was singing at the edge of the Midwood near the Boulder Bridge at around 6am. I ran into Shane a little later and we were able to relocate it as it was still serenading the dark, humid woodlands.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 5/19/2004
Great Egret (Duck Is.) [Rob J]
Green Heron (Upper Lullwater.) [Rob J]
Black-crowned Night-Heron (2, Duck Is.) [Rob J]
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Vale of Cashmere.) [Rob J]
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Midwood, female in nest cavity.) [Rob J]
Eastern Wood-Pewee (3, Vale of Cashmere, Midwood, Lookout Hill.)
Least Flycatcher (Lookout Hill.) [Shane B]
Eastern Kingbird (Long Meadow, Nethermead, Peninsula.)
Warbling Vireo (2, Peninsula. 1, Midwood.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Several.)
House Wren (Singing from top of lamppost at Nethermead Arches.)
Gray-cheeked Thrush 50% (Vale of Cashmere.) [Rob J]
Swainson's Thrush (Several.)
Wood Thrush (2, Rick's Place. 1, Midwood. 2, Peninsula.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (~4, Midwood.)
Northern Parula (2 or 3.)
Yellow Warbler (Singing on Duck Is.) [Rob J]
Magnolia Warbler (Several.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (2.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (1, Rick's Place.)
Blackpoll Warbler (Fairly Common.)
Cerulean Warbler (Singing near Boulder Bridge from 6am-7am.)
Black-and-white Warbler (2.)
Ovenbird (2.)
Northern Waterthrush (Vale of Cashmere, Rick's Place.)
Common Yellowthroat (4 or 5.)
Wilson's Warbler (1, Rick's Place. 1, near Maryland Monument.)
Scarlet Tanager (1, Vale of Cashmere. 1, Midwood.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Several.)
Lincoln's Sparrow (Ravine.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird (Common.)
Baltimore Oriole (Vale of Cashmere, Rick's Place. Nethermead, Peninsula.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Prospect Park chick update

Big Mama seems to spend more time monitoring her chicks than in previous years. She used to leave the hatchlings for 20 to 30 minute stretches. When she was watching them she would usually perch in a nearby tree as opposed to actually on the nest. Perhaps she has become more cautious because there is a second pair nesting so close. It's also possible that she just has more room to hang around the nest as it is much larger than previous year's.

The two chicks are a lot more active compared to just four days ago. When I arrived one chick was looking down at me from the edge of the nest. Big Mama was relaxing on the east side of the nest. The second chick ambled over to his sibling and began play fighting. The two fuzzy birds gently bit at each others bills, like the hawk equivalent of a thumb fight. It was unusually hot and humid and after a few minutes of play the two chicks just sat with their mouths open, breathing hard.

I've been searching for an active Red-bellied Woodpecker nest cavity in the park for many years. I think I finally found one in a dead tree at the edge of the Midwood. Starlings are usually successful at bullying the woodpeckers out of their holes but this pair seems to be very aggressive. The last time I was in the park they were tirelessly defending their claim from the starlings, today I saw the female red-bellied peering out from inside of her hole.

One the Peninsula I watched a Warbling Vireo tearing small strips of white plastic from a bag caught in a tree. He carried the material into a Black Cherry tree where the tiny, gray bird disappeared into the green foliage. Finding their nests, even when I know which tree it's in, always seems like an exercise in futility.

The oaks have finished dropping their ticker tape catkins and, along with the elm's confetti keys, have collected in dry, brown piles at the edges of curbs. New, white flowers are now the places to look for small songbirds. Drooping white clusters adorning the black cherries, fragrant white blooms on black locusts and "ice cream cone" blossoms on the horsechestnuts seemed to be the hotspots today for feeding warblers. Blackpolls, redstarts and Magnolia Warblers were the only warblers seen or heard in decent numbers today (and in that order). I don't want to think that the migration is winding down but it sure seems like it. Maybe many birds have just passed us by on strong south winds. I'm trying to remain optimistic as I don't want to believe that songbird populations have dropped so noticeably.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 5/18/2004
Double-crested Cormorant (2, Prospect Lake.)
Great Egret (Three Sisters Island.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Duck Island.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3 Adults. 2 chick on Payne Hill nest.)
Laughing Gull (3 flying over lake.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee (2. Vale of Cashmere & Quaker Cemetery.)
Eastern Kingbird (Peninsula Meadow.)
Warbling Vireo (2 on Peninsula, 1 was collecting nest material.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Several.)
Fish Crow (Flying over lake.)
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
House Wren (2. Nethermead Arches and Quaker Cemetery.)
Gray-cheeked Thrush 50% (Vale of Cashmere.)
Wood Thrush (6. Midwood, Ravine, Peninsula.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (3, flying near Picnic House.)
Northern Parula (4 or 5.)
Yellow Warbler (Duck Island.)
Magnolia Warbler (Common.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (3 or 4.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Peninsula.)
Blackpoll Warbler (Abundant.)
Black-and-white Warbler (2.)
American Redstart (Common.)
Ovenbird (3.)
Northern Waterthrush (4. Vale, Payne Hill, Ravine, Peninsula.)
Common Yellowthroat (Several.)
Eastern Towhee (Midwood.)
White-throated Sparrow
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole (~6.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker (Male & female at nest cavity in Midwood.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Sunday, May 16, 2004

I received the following e-mail from my friend Janet. She has been keeping tabs on the Red-tailed Hawk nest in Green-Wood Cemetery:

Hi Rob--

Birded G-W today with Joe [B.'s] group. He brought his scope to check out the redtails.

The nest seems to be deeper and it wasn't easy to see the chicks. Probably there are two. They still look very white and fuzzy. Several times I thought that I saw a pretty big fuzzy wing poke up over the nest. And at least one of them spent some time looking around.

While we down on the flats pretty far away from the nest, the hawk that had been on the nest zoomed down fairly close to us. No growling. Then we moved further up on the hillside.

So they seem to be on schedule.


Saturday, May 15, 2004

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Prospect Park in a haze

A late morning walk, still feeling dizzy from the stellate nerve block. A little too hot for birds and birding but there were still some things singing and feeding.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 5/15/2004
Great Egret (In front of Nature Center.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3 adults, 1 chick. One eating a chipmunk.)
Chimney Swift
Eastern Wood-Pewee (Above bridle path behind Pagoda.)
Eastern Kingbird (Pagoda pond.)
White-eyed Vireo (Ravine.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Several.)
House Wren (Ravine.)
Veery (Ravine.)
Wood Thrush (A few singing in Midwood & Ravine.)
Gray Catbird
Northern Parula (Several.)
Yellow Warbler (2, Ravine. 1 Pagoda.)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Ravine.)
Magnolia Warbler (Several.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Fairly common.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (1, near Rick's Place. 1, Ravine.)
Blackburnian Warbler (Ravine.)
Prairie Warbler (Ravine.)
Blackpoll Warbler (Common to abundant.)
Black-and-white Warbler (Several.)
American Redstart (A few.)
Ovenbird (4 or 5.)
Northern Waterthrush (1, Ravine. 2, Payne Hill.)
Common Yellowthroat (Several.)
Scarlet Tanager (Female, Ravine.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Several.)
Swamp Sparrow (Rick's Place.)
White-throated Sparrow
Common Grackle (Abundant.)
Baltimore Oriole (Several.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Calling in Midwood.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Friday, May 14, 2004

Prospect Park hawk chicks

I took a walk over to Payne Hill to check on Big Mama's nest. It has been a little over a week since I confirmed a hatchling on the nest. I thought that perhaps they'd grown enough that I'd be able to get a better look at them.

I almost passed the hill that I usually walk up to the elm tree viewing point. The park's department has dumped large amounts of compost and dried leaves on the hill to try and combat soil compaction and erosion. In addition, all the bare shrubs and saplings on the hillside seemed to have been replaced with an explosion of dense, green foliage. The black cherry saplings where the Least Bittern humorously tried to camouflage himself on Good Friday would now easily hide the tiny wading bird.

The leaves on the trees surrounding the hawk's nest have almost completely enveloped it. I set up my scope on the south side of the elm tree where I found a small window in the leaves that frames the nest. Big Mama was fawning over her weeks old chicks. Using a razor sharp bill that easily tears through the tough skin of a squirrel she gently preened the downy feathers on one chick's head. I could only make out part of the young hawk's head but when she finished grooming it stood and waddled over to the west edge of the nest. It climbed to the edge of the nest, turned itself around and expelled a long, white stream onto the sidewalk below. I hope nobody was walking underneath. It sat back down and rested its chin on the edge of the nest. Mother hawk was now preening an unseen second hatchling on the east side of the nest. I could see her slow, gentle movements and, through openings between the sticks on the nest, wisps of her offspring's downy feathers.

On the chick that I could see clearly its hatchling down is now a light gray color. When it was waddling about with its "chicken wings" held out for balance I could see the emergence of dark feather shafts at their edges. Its stub of a tail was also showing four or five distinct shafts. I never observed more than just the head of the second chick but it seemed like its down was still much whiter.

I spent about one hour watching the nest and never observed any feedings. A fairly large mixed flock of songbirds on Payne Hill kept distracting me from the hawks. This year's nest is located along a prime stretch of park woods. As I expected, lots of birds move through this area making it a little more of a challenge from previous years for me to stay focused on the nest. In the short time I was stationed below the nest I saw or heard Red-eyed Vireo, Tufted Titmouse, House Wren, Gray Catbird, Blue-winged Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Common Grackle and Baltimore Oriole.

Before the trees began to bloom I noticed that I could see the Ravine Red-tailed Hawk nest from the Boulder Bridge. I brought my scope over to the bridge today to see if I could find an opening in the leaves. The view is now mostly obstructed but I was able to find a spot where I could view the nest. I focused my scope just in time for a lunchtime feeding. There are two chicks on that nest. With the two nests so close together I can't wait to see the interaction between the fledglings when they inevitably cross paths. I hope they play well together.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 5/14/2004
Red-tailed Hawk (3 adults, 4 chicks.)
American Kestrel (Chasing red-tail above Center Dr.)
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Acadian Flycatcher (Calling & flycatching in the Ravine.)
Red-eyed Vireo
Tree Swallow (Pools.)
Barn Swallow (Pools.)
House Wren (2, Payne Hill and Ravine.)
Gray Catbird
Cedar Waxwing (4-6, Ravine.)
Blue-winged Warbler (Payne Hill.)
Tennessee Warbler (Payne Hill.)
Northern Parula (Several.)
Yellow Warbler (Next to Litchfield Villa.)
Magnolia Warbler (Several on Payne Hill.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Fairly common.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Payne Hill.)
Blackpoll Warbler (Common.)
Black-and-white Warbler (3 or 4, Payne Hill.)
American Redstart (Fairly common.)
Ovenbird (4-6.)
Northern Waterthrush (3; Payne Hill, Ravine, Litchfield Villa.)
Common Yellowthroat (Ravine.)
Scarlet Tanager (Ravine.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (2; Payne Hill, Ravine.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse (2 copulating on Payne Hill.), American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

Hawk food

This morning I received an interesting e-mail from Mary E.:

"...Yesterday after you and Peter left I went up to the Ravine, and then to Rick's. I was told there was a Cape May, which I didn't find. But I did see two [Turkey Vultures] circling the hawk's nest. One of the parents came out to shoo them away. I assume that they were attracted by what seemed to be a fairly large carcass that I saw one of the hawks dragging back to the nest."

Hmmm, a lost poodle, perhaps?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Prospect Park songbird fallout with Shane B.

Last night's severe thunder storms must have forced flocks of migrating birds out of the sky as Prospect Park suddenly had a tremendous increase in song bird populations. Large numbers of Common Yellowthroats were flitting about everywhere and it seemed like we had to avoid stepping on Ovenbirds. In lower numbers but still pretty common were Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler and, surprisingly, Northern Waterthrush.

Thrushes were also observed is large numbers with Veery topping the list and Swainson's Thrush coming in a close second. With the arrival of mixed flocks of thrushes I used the opportunity to try and call out a Bicknell's Thrush. I realized that my chance of finding one was slim to none but I figured I had nothing to lose. I played an endless loop of Bicknell's songs and calls in the Midwood. At one point a gray-cheeked type thrush flew into a shrub near me, perched for a moment then took off. Since it never vocalized and I only had fleeting looks of the bird I really can't draw any conclusions, but it was a fun experiment.

I also had an interesting sighting near the waterfall at the upper pool. Mary Eyster spotted what appeared to be a female Baltimore Oriole above us. It was very dull and had extensive white on its belly, what Sibley's guide labels as a drab first year female. But here's the weird part, it had white wings! I've seen albinistic traits in various bird species but never something as uniquely uniform and beautiful. This brought up a question about semantics. I've heard people use the term "leucistic" to describe what I think is albinism in birds. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a definition for "leucistic" anywhere. Does anyone know what "leucistic" means and which term is the correct one to use for birds with respect to a lack of pigmentation?
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 5/11/2004
Double-crested Cormorant
Gadwall (Pair on Upper pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3.)
Spotted Sandpiper (4, edge of Peninsula.)
Ring-billed Gull
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Least Flycatcher (Lookout Hill.)
Great Crested Flycatcher (2, Lookout Hill & Lullwater.)
Blue-headed Vireo (Several.)
Warbling Vireo (3 or 4.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Fairly common.)
Tree Swallow
House Wren (2 or 3,)
Marsh Wren (Phragmites near West Island.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1.)
Veery (Common.)
Swainson's Thrush (Fairly common.)
Wood Thrush (Several.)
Gray Catbird (Abundant.)
Nashville Warbler (4 or 5.)
Northern Parula (Common.)
Yellow Warbler (Fairly common.)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Several.)
Magnolia Warbler (Common.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Common.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Fairly common.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (A few.)
Prairie Warbler (2.)
Bay-breasted Warbler (Lookout Hill upper meadow.)
Blackpoll (Fairly common.)
Black-and-white Warbler (Common.)
American Redstart (Several.)
Ovenbird (Abundant.)
Northern Waterthrush (Common.)
Louisiana Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat (Abundant.)
Wilson's Warbler (2, Peninsula & Lower pool.)
Canada Warbler (3.)
Scarlet Tanager
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting (Lookout Hill.)
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow (Sparrow Bowl.) [Peter D., Mary E., Rob J.]
Swamp Sparrow (3.)
White-throated Sparrow
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole (Several.)
Purple Finch (2, Bald Cypress near Terrace Bridge.) [Rob J.]
American Goldfinch (Several.)

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

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Brooklyn Birdathon with Shane B., John W. and Carrie W.

It's a couple of days late but I thought I'd post some highlights from this past Saturday's Birdathon. Shane, John, Carrie and myself ("The Wandering Talliers") were one of the Brooklyn teams competing against the four other boroughs. There was a cold east wind blowing over the ocean creating unseasonable low temperatures. It wasn't an ideal day for spring migration birding. We did, however, manage to top our team's total from last year by four ending the day with 124 species.

We began our day in Prospect Park as it is probably the best location for song birds in Brooklyn. Starting at 5:15am at the north end of the park, we spent 2 hours winding our way south through all the wooded areas. We tallied 16 species of warblers. At the south end we did a quick scan of the lake, hopped into Carrie's van which she had parked there at 5am, then headed off to the Marine Park Saltmarsh Nature Center.

Right after we got out of the cars at Marine Park we heard the squawking of a small flock of Monk Parakeets then spotted them flying past. Much of the areas wintering waterfowl has flown north leaving slim pickings in the duck category. We were very surprised, though, to see a pair of Common Merganser in the water right next to the nature center. I would normally expect to see them in fresh water and probably not at all on this date. The habitats here weren't as productive as last year but, in addition to the other two birds, we added our first sightings of Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis, Brant, American Black Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Ring-necked Pheasant, Clapper Rail, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Great Black-backed Gull, Forster's Tern, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Northern Flicker, Willow Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, American Crow, Brown Thrasher, Swamp Sparrow and Boat-tailed Grackle.

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Shane, John and Carrie probably thought I was a bit neurotic as I kept cracking the whip to stay on schedule and hit our other planned locations. Four Sparrow Marsh was next on our list for sharp-tailed sparrow and possible snipe. We put on our Wellies, slogged through the unusually wet marsh and found around six Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows but no snipe. We hoofed it back to the car, changed our boots, inhaled some chocolate doughnuts for strength and headed off to Floyd Bennett Field.

I'm glad I brought extra warm clothes as the open fields were downright cold. A couple of hovering kestrels didn't seem to mind the wind. Nearby, on field "C", a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage psyched us up and gave us a needed boost as I think we were beginning to feel the effects of the midday slump. A meadowlark sang for us at the far end of the field.

Back in the car, grab some lunch, eat while driving, park at the beach, get out the scopes...who said you're allowed to pee! As soon as we were on the beach John spotted a flock of Purple Sandpipers clinging to a rock jetty just east of us. It was a nice check on the day list as I expected that these winter visitors had already moved north. Offshore we were amazed by the sight of thousands of terns moving through the area. Focusing our scopes west towards Breezy Point revealed virtual clouds of the seabirds. Most of the birds were too far out for us to locate a rare visitor but closer in we could identify Common, Forster's and Least Terns, as well as, Black Skimmers.

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

We planned on ending our day at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge where we felt certain that we could pick up a number of new species. We also knew that if we waited until dusk we could find woodcock performing. We had a little time to kill so we decided to head over to Plumb Beach to try and find some shorebirds. The tide was still changing so, after trudging all the way to the end of the beach, the shorebird idea was mostly a bust. We did manage to locate a couple of Killdeer.

Jamaica Bay is like the icing on the cake or saving the best for last. We thought that we could add a number of shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl and, perhaps, some land birds. We'll so much for planning...most of the waterfowl was gone, warblers and other land birds were scarce in the gardens and we missed out on a Great Blue Heron. As the tide receded exposing the mudflats shorebirds began arriving in large flocks. Moving quick to out-race the sun we were able to identify Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Dunlin and Short-billed Dowitcher. The Red Knot's rosy color was exaggerated by the glow of the setting sun. We still had one bird to add to the list so we got comfortable on the picnic benches outside the visitor's center and waited. All we could think about was the food and beer waiting for us at Mary's house where we would be doing the compilation. Suddenly John said, "There it is." Shane and I didn't hear it. Then it did it again and this time I heard it. Shane was beginning to get antsy so we walked the length of the small field. Then we all heard a nice, loud, nasal "PEENT" followed by another and then another. Shane scribbled down American Woodcock and said, "Alright, get in the car."
- - - - -
Prospect Park (1)
Marine Park (2)
Four Sparrow Marsh (3)
Floyd Bennett Field (4)
Fort Tilden (5)
Plumb Beach (6)
JBWR (7)

1) Common Loon (1, 4, 5, 6)
2) Northern Gannet (5)
3) Double-crested Cormorant (1-7)
4) Great Egret (1, 2, 4, 7)
5) Snowy Egret (2, 3, 7)
6) Tricolored Heron (7)
7) Cattle Egret (4)
8) Green Heron (1)
9) Black-crowned Night-Heron (2, 3, 4, 7)
10) Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (3, 7)
11) Glossy Ibis (2, 3, 4, 7)
12) Canada Goose (1, 2, 4, 7)
13) Brant (2-7)
14) Mute Swan (1, 2, 7)
15) Gadwall (4, 7)
16) American Black Duck (2, 3, 4, 7)
17) Mallard (1, 2, 4, 7)
18) Greater Scaup (7)
19) Common Merganser (2)
20) Red-breasted Merganser (2, 5)
21) Ruddy Duck (7)
22) Osprey (4, 7)
23) Red-tailed Hawk (1)
24) American Kestrel (4)
25) Peregrine Falcon (5)
26) Ring-necked Pheasant (2, 4)
27) Clapper Rail (2, 7)
28) Black-bellied Plover (6, 7)
29) Killdeer (6)
30) American Oystercatcher (5, 6, 7)
31) Greater Yellowlegs (2, 3, 4, 6, 7)
32) Solitary Sandpiper (1)
33) Willet (2, 3, 6, 7)
34) Spotted Sandpiper (1, 4)
35) Ruddy Turnstone (7)
36) Red Knot (7)
37) Sanderling (5)
38) Purple Sandpiper (5)
39) Dunlin (7)
40) Short-billed Dowitcher (7)
41) American Woodcock (7)
42) Laughing Gull (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7)
43) Ring-billed Gull (1-7)
44) Herring Gull (1-7)
45) Great Black-backed Gull (2, 4, 5, 6, 7)
46) Common Tern (5, 7)
47) Forster's Tern (2, 5, 7)
48) Least Tern (5)
49) Black Skimmer (5, 6)
50) Rock Pigeon (1-7)
51) Mourning Dove (1-7)
52) Monk Parakeet (2)
53) Chimney Swift (1)
54) Ruby-throated Hummingbird (2)
55) Belted Kingfisher (4)
56) Red-bellied Woodpecker (1)
57) Northern Flicker (2, 3, 4, 5, 7)
58) Willow Flycatcher (2)
59) Least Flycatcher (2)
60) Eastern Phoebe (4)
61) Eastern Kingbird (1)
62) Blue-headed Vireo (1, 7)
63) Yellow-throated Vireo (1, 2)
64) Warbling Vireo (1, 2, 7)
65) Red-eyed Vireo (1)
66) Blue Jay (1)
67) American Crow (2, 3, 4, 5, 7)
68) Fish Crow (4, 7)
69) Tree Swallow (1, 3, 4, 5, 7)
70) Northern Rough-winged Swallow (1)
71) Barn Swallow (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7)
72) Black-capped Chickadee (4)
73) Tufted Titmouse (1)
74) Carolina Wren (7)
75) House Wren (1, 2, 4, 7)
76) Winter Wren (1)
77) Marsh Wren (7)
78) Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1, 7)
79) Veery (1, 7)
80) Swainson's Thrush (1)
81) Wood Thrush (1, 5, 7)
82) American Robin (1-7)
83) Gray Catbird (1-7)
84) Northern Mockingbird (1, 4, 5, 7)
85) Brown Thrasher (2, 4)
86) European Starling (1-7)
87) Cedar Waxwing (4)
88) Nashville Warbler (1)
89) Northern Parula (1, 4, 7)
90) Yellow Warbler (1, 3, 7)
91) Chestnut-sided Warbler (1, 7)
92) Magnolia Warbler (1, 4, 7)
93) Black-throated Blue Warbler (1, 2, 4, 7)
94) Yellow-rumped Warbler (1, 2, 4, 7)
95) Black-throated Green Warbler (1, 2, 7)
96) Blackpoll Warbler (1)
97) Black-and-white Warbler (1, 2, 4, 7)
98) American Redstart (1, 2, 7)
99) Ovenbird (1, 2)
100) Northern Waterthrush (1, 2, 7)
101) Common Yellowthroat (1, 2, 3, 4, 7)
102) Hooded Warbler (1)
103) Canada Warbler (1)
104) Scarlet Tanager (1, 2)
105) Eastern Towhee (3, 4, 7)
106) Chipping Sparrow (1)
107) Field Sparrow (4)
108) Savannah Sparrow (5)
109) Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow (3)
110) Song Sparrow (1-7)
111) Swamp Sparrow (2, 3, 4, 7)
112) White-throated Sparrow (1, 5, 7)
113) White-crowned Sparrow (1, 4)
114) Northern Cardinal (1, 5, 7)
115) Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1)
116) Red-winged Blackbird (1-7)
117) Eastern Meadowlark (4)
118) Common Grackle (1-7)
119) Boat-tailed Grackle (2, 7)
120) Brown-headed Cowbird (1, 2, 4, 5, 7)
121) Baltimore Oriole (1, 2, 5, 7)
122) House Finch (4, 7)
123) American Goldfinch (1, 5, 7)
124) House Sparrow (1-7)

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Prospect Park's new arrival

There was a celebration on Payne Hill today. Squirrels were nibbling away at clusters of disk-shaped elm fruits and spilling them down onto flocks of hungry White-throated Sparrows below. The sparrows were singing choruses of "pure sweet, canada, canada, canada", while scratching and dancing in the leaf litter. Chattering goldfinches tirelessly flew from the fresh fruits at the tops of the trees to clumps of the pale green confetti on the ground. Two Baltimore Orioles whistled and churred from the tops of a pair of oak trees while a party of warblers fluttered, munched and sang for the new arrival. On Big Mama's nest a small, downy head wobbled from side to side as it peered out over the flurry of activities. The proud parent stood back on the edge of the nest and tidied up a few out of place twigs.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 5/6/2004
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 1 chick seen in nest.)
Ring-billed Gull
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Yellow-throated Vireo (BBG, native flora section.)
Blue-headed Vireo (BBG, native flora section.)
Tree Swallow
House Wren (BBG, native flora section.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (BBG, native flora section. Payne Hill.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (BBG, native flora section.)
Wood Thrush (4 or 5, Midwood and Payne Hill.)
Gray Catbird
Nashville Warbler (6-8 between BBG, Midwood and Payne Hill.)
Northern Parula (Fairly common.)
Yellow Warbler (2. BBG, native flora section.)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Next to Litchfield Villa.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (3 or 4. BBG, native flora section & Payne Hill.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (2. BBG, native flora section.)
Prairie Warbler (Payne Hill.)
Palm Warbler (BBG, native flora section.)
Blackpoll Warbler (BBG, native flora section.)
Black-and-white Warbler (Fairly common.)
American Redstart (3. BBG, native flora section.)
Ovenbird (Fairly common.)
Common Yellowthroat (BBG, native flora section.)
Scarlet Tanager (2. BBG, native flora section.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Fairly common.)
Eastern Towhee (BBG, native flora section.)
White-throated Sparrow (Abundant.)
Common Grackle
Baltimore Oriole (3. BBG. 2, Payne Hill.)
American Goldfinch (Common.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Mallard (BBG, native flora section.), Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Prospect Park with Shane B. and Peter D.

Yesterday I spent about an hour at Big Mama's nest. I also took a quick look at the Ravine pine tree nest. I realized how spoiled I was in 2002 and 2003 when their nests were relatively close to the ground and had unobstructed views. Now that many of the trees surrounding the nests have sprouted leaves the Ravine nest is virtually impossible to see. Big Mama and Split-tail's is a bit more difficult to see but there are a few vantage points where I can still watch their activities. From 10am to 11am Big Mama was perched at the edge of the nest. Periodically she would look down into the nest and move her head from side to side as if she were counting her brood. I have no idea how many chicks there are but I think within a week they may be large enough to see their white, fuzzy heads.

Today I skipped the hawks and instead did some early morning birding. I started at the north end of the park at sunrise. As I walked across the Long Meadow I was surprised that by 5:30am the sun was already high enough that I could see clearly. Shane, Peter and I birded mostly the wooded areas with a quick stop at a recently drained section of the Lullwater. The temporary mudflat has attracted a lot of wading birds and a small selection of shorebirds.

The early morning is the best time to listen to the songbirds and as I type this report their whistles, trills and warbles are still ringing in my head. It was a very good morning for warblers. There still hasn't been a big fallout of migrants but we did experience the best day for songbird diversity in the park so far this season. The busiest section we encountered was a small stretch of woods at the north end of Sullivan Hill, across the road from Nelly's Lawn. Foraging for insects among the oak catkins were Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Pine Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Scarlet Tanager, Orchard Oriole and Baltimore Oriole. Another nice sighting today was two male Hooded Warblers, one in the Quaker Cemetery and another on Payne Hill.

It's also interesting to note that we observed numerous Common Loons flying north over the park.
- - - - -
Prospect Park, 5/5/2004
Common Loon (5 or 6, flyovers.)
Double-crested Cormorant (Flyover.)
Great Egret (8 in drained Lullwater, 1 flyover.)
Wood Duck (4 drakes on Duck Island.)
Turkey Vulture (Flying over Long Meadow.)
Red-tailed Hawk (4.)
Peregrine Falcon (Flying over Nethermead & Long Meadow.)
American Coot
Solitary Sandpiper (4, drained Lullwater.)
Spotted Sandpiper (3, drained Lullwater.)
Least Sandpiper (Flying out of Lullwater.)
Chimney Swift (Several.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Kingbird (Nethermead.)
Yellow-throated Vireo (Woods on Sullivan Hill.)
Blue-headed Vireo (Payne Hill.)
Warbling Vireo (2, Peninsula. 1, Ravine.)
Red-eyed Vireo (Woods on Sullivan Hill.)
Tree Swallow (2. Upper pool, using nest box.)
Barn Swallow (Several, Upper pool.)
House Wren (2. Lookout Hill & Quaker Cemetery.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Veery (Midwood.)
Swainson's Thrush (Vale of Cashmere.)
Hermit Thrush (Midwood.)
Wood Thrush (Several. Vale of Cashmere, Payne Hill & Midwood.)
Gray Catbird
Tennessee Warbler (Woods on Sullivan Hill.)
Nashville Warbler (2. Lookout Hill & Woods on Sullivan Hill.)
Northern Parula (Common.)
Yellow Warbler (Peninsula.)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (3. Payne Hill, woods on Sullivan Hill & Midwood.)
Magnolia Warbler (Payne Hill, Midwood.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Fairly Common.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Several.)
Pine Warbler (Very dull female, woods on Sullivan Hill.)
Prairie Warbler (2, Lookout Hill & Nethermead.)
Bay-breasted Warbler (Ravine above Boulder Bridge.)
Blackpoll Warbler (3, Midwood & woods on Sullivan Hill.)
Black-and-white Warbler (Common.)
American Redstart (2. Peninsula & woods on Sullivan Hill.)
Worm-eating Warbler (Vale of Cashmere at 6am.)
Ovenbird (Fairly common.)
Northern Waterthrush (2. Peninsula, Lookout Hill.)
Louisiana Waterthrush (2, Ravine below Nethermead Arches & Vale of Cashmere.)
Common Yellowthroat (Peninsula.)
Hooded Warbler (2. Quaker Cemetery & Payne Hill, both singing.)
Canada Warbler (Ravine.)
Scarlet Tanager (2. Lookout Hill & woods on Sullivan Hill.)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (2. Lookout Hill & Midwood.)
Indigo Bunting (Center Drive near Nethermead Arches.)
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole (Woods on Sullivan Hill.)
Baltimore Oriole (~10.)
American Goldfinch

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

Monday, May 03, 2004

Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, Jug Bay Natural Area, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and Sandy Point Park with Robin J. and Ed L.

Every year at this time my wife and I travel down to the Annapolis area for an extended weekend. Our stay culminates with Robin and my brother-in-law running in the "Governor's Bay Bridge" 10k race. Birds, crab cakes and microbrews were our main focus before the big race (but not necessarily in that order). We stayed in Edgewater near Annapolis and birded in four locations in Ann Arundel and Prince George's counties. We also took a longer drive south to the town of Sandgates in search of the legendary "Shrimpy" the Kelp Gull.

Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary, our first birding destination, has become one of my favorite spots to bird in that area due to its proximity to Annapolis and its varied habitats. Its 1,678 acres on the Patuxent River include farm fields, ponds, marshes and woodlands. We didn't experience the big fallout of spring migrants that I was hoping for but did have a few nice highlights to report.

From the beehive of activity at the Purple Martin houses next to the parking lot to a Ruby-throated Hummingbird collecting spider webs we observed many species already involved in breeding chores. A silo on the property was topped with one of the most extensive Osprey nests that I've ever seen. In the woodlands Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and tanager songs dominated the airwaves. Standing quietly at the edge of a swamp absorbing the song of a distant tanager we were apparently invisible to a mink on the hunt. Bounding along at the edge of the water without a care in the world the long, slender creature appeared as if he was coming to welcome us to his neighborhood. When he was only a few feet away he noticed the three of us and made a quick u-turn, disappearing into the underbrush. Following in his direction and deeper into the swamp we could hear the clear, ringing song of Prothonotary Warblers. "Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet. sweet", the brilliant, golden-yellow males sang from low perches in decaying tree trunks within the bog.

At the north end of Merkle is the Patuxent River Park Jug Bay Natural Area. Jug Bay is a complex of forested wetlands and tidal marshes. There are about 8 miles of hiking trail and boardwalks. We stopped off at Jug Bay on our way home and walked the short looped, Black Walnut Creek trail. Hooded Warbler are usually very conspicuous here, although on this day we only heard their songs. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers seemed to be singing from just about everywhere, making their thin, insect-like croons. As we stood on the boardwalk trail a pair above us were making various jumbled whistles and mewing sounds. We watched them for a few minutes and discovered that it was a mated pair working on a nest in a cypress. One bird was collecting mud from the edge of the river while the other pulled bits of lichens off of adjacent trees. It was wonderful watching those two chattering, hyperactive birds building a tiny nest on top of a branch. Every once in a while the female would sit down in it to test the fit. Her long, skinny tail would stick up like a spoon in a tea cup. We worked up an appetite watching those industrious little birds so we put away our binoculars and went in search of crab cakes.

On Saturday we had planned to bird at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Just south of Edgewater, SERC has 12 miles of undeveloped shoreline and 2,600 acres of mostly Eastern deciduous forest. It is primarily a natural laboratory used for ecological research but it does have hours where it is open to the public. Unfortunately Saturday wasn't one of those days. My brother-in-law called their security office, though, and they were kind enough to allow us to bird the grounds. When we checked in at the security office they took a driver's license and gave us a walkie-talkie "in case we got into any trouble". When we were walking the trail towards the water we heard one of the officers over the radio say, "Did the birders arrive yet, over". The response came back, "Yeah, they're here". Then, "Do you need me for anything?" The lieutenant replied, "Nope, I gave them a radio and took their license, 10-4." This was the most "official" birding that I've ever done. The woodlands were kind of quiet and, other than dozens of Common Yellowthroats calling and chasing through the grass, the water's edge was unproductive. We did have one surprise when we spotted a first year Bald Eagle looking for fish above the river. Watching the eagle and thinking about seafood motivated us to return the radio to security and go in search of more crab cakes.

After lunch on the Solomon Islands we drove to the small town of Sandgates, the home of "Shrimpy" the Kelp Gull. Discovered in 1998 this normally southern hemisphere gull has adopted Maryland as his home. He can usually be found on the dock behind the "Sea Breeze" restaurant. Unfortunately, we discovered that in the spring he migrates to parts unknown and returns in the fall. Instead we found a small group of Forster's Terns dock sitting for the season.

Sunday's race finish line is at Sandy Point Park, a 786 acre park on the Chesapeake Bay. Racers have to arrive by 6:00am for a bus ride to the start at the opposite side of the bridge. I had at least two and a half hours of birding the park before the two thousand plus runners returned. It was cool and gray with rain threatening to dampen the morning. As it turned out, we missed the rain but birds were few and far between. I began trying to make a deal with the birding gods. I attempted to bargain for one "good" bird over five "average birds". No deal. I guess I was being too greedy so I opted for a one over ten deal. That must have worked because as I crossed the parking lot, ignoring the calls of several Orchard Orioles, I spotted something on the beach. Sitting among a small flock of Ring-billed Gulls was a very large, orange billed tern. I'm not sure how rare they are in that part of Maryland but I was pleasantly surprised to be looking at a Royal Tern. I was so pleased I could think of nothing better to do than celebrate with a pint of ale and...a crab cake.

While we had some fine birding during our short stay in Maryland we did make some other interesting discoveries. Our crab cake tastings lead us to the unanimous conclusion that "G and M's" restaurant near the airport had the tastiest offerings. "Stoney's Kingfishers Seafood House" on Soloman's Island came in a close second, although I could be wrong, we may need to go back and check them all again.
- - - - -
Merkle WS, Jug Bay NA, SERC, Sandy Point Park
Common Loon (Sandy Point)
Double-crested Cormorant (various)
Great Blue Heron (various)
Black Vulture (various)
Turkey Vulture (various)
Canada Goose (various)
Mute Swan (various)
Mallard (various)
Osprey (various)
Bald Eagle (SERC)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Edgewater)
Red-shouldered Hawk (SERC)
Red-tailed Hawk (SERC)
Wild Turkey (SERC)
Killdeer (Edgewater)
Greater Yellowlegs (Jug Bay)
Laughing Gull (various)
Ring-billed Gull (various)
Herring Gull (various)
Royal Tern (Sandy Point)
Forster's Tern (various)
Rock Dove (various)
Mourning Dove (various)
Chimney Swift (various)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Merkle, Jug Bay)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (various)
Downy Woodpecker (various)
Hairy Woodpecker (Sandy Point)
Acadian Flycatcher (Merkle)
Eastern Phoebe (Jug Bay, SERC)
Great Crested Flycatcher (Merkle, Jug Bay, SERC)
Eastern Kingbird (various)
White-eyed Vireo (Merkle, Jug Bay, Sandy Point)
Yellow-throated Vireo (Merkle)
Red-eyed Vireo (various)
Blue Jay (various)
American Crow (various)
Fish Crow (various)
Purple Martin (Merkle)
Tree Swallow (various)
Barn Swallow (various)
Carolina Chickadee (various)
Tufted Titmouse (Merkle, SERC)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Merkle)
Carolina Wren (various)
Marsh Wren (Sandy Point)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (various)
Eastern Bluebird (Merkle)
Swainson's Thrush (SERC)
Wood Thrush (Merkle, Jug Bay, SERC)
American Robin (various)
European Starling (various)
Gray Catbird (SERC)
Northern Mockingbird (various)
Blue-winged Warbler (Jug Bay)
Northern Parula (various)
Yellow Warbler (Merkle)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (various)
Black-and-white Warbler (Merkle)
Prothonotary Warbler (Merkle)
Ovenbird (various)
Northern Waterthrush (Merkle, Sandy Point)
Common Yellowthroat (various)
Hooded Warbler (Merkle, Jug Bay, SERC)
Summer Tanager (Merkle)
Scarlet Tanager (Merkle, SERC)
Eastern Towhee (various)
Chipping Sparrow (various)
Field Sparrow (Merkle)
Swamp Sparrow (Merkle, Sandy Point)
White-throated Sparrow (various)
White-crowned Sparrow (Merkle)
Northern Cardinal (various)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Jug Bay)
Indigo Bunting (Merkle)
Red-winged Blackbird (various)
Eastern Meadowlark (Merkle)
Common Grackle (various)
Brown-headed Cowbird (various)
Orchard Oriole (Merkle, Sandy Point)
House Finch (various)
American Goldfinch (various)
House Sparrow (various)

Hawk casualty?

I just received a very disturbing e-mail from a woman I met in the park a couple of weeks ago. She was birding near the Vale of Cashmere and stumbled upon the decomposing remains of what she is convinced is a hawk. I hope that she is wrong. In the spring followers of Santaria sometimes leave unusual offerings at the bases of trees in the park (usually involving chickens or other birds) so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it's not one of our hawks. If the rain slows down I'll try to find it today.