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Friday, February 25, 2005

Red-tailed Hawks follow-up

Ring-billed Gulls at Prospect Lake

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I ran into Linda by the lake on Wednesday. She doesn't know her way around Prospect Park very well and was hoping she might run into one of the local birders. I remembered her from the trip that I lead in Croton Point Park in January. She reminded me that I also met her and her boyfriend at Shawangunk NWR in February of 2004. Like me, she seems to really enjoy nature during the winter months.

I pointed out a flock of Ring-necked Ducks and Hooded Mergansers on Prospect Lake then offered to track down the park Red-tailed Hawks for her. We checked the pine tree next to West Drive where Gayle had witnessed some recent nest building activity. There were no hawks in that area. We then walked north along the edge of the Long Meadow towards the ponds. Most of the snow has melted on the baseball fields and the outfields were saturated and muddy. It made me think of Spring migration and that the Mets home opener is only 47 days away.

Baseball Fields

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Despite the recent, brief thaw the Upper Pool is still mostly frozen. There is a sliver of open water at the north edge of the pond. I spotted a young Cooper's Hawk bathing in that spot earlier in the day.

Cooper's Hawk bathing

(Photo credit - Rob J)

As were were scanning the Upper Pool we heard the harsh cackle of the Ring-necked Pheasant near the Lower Pool. We slowly approached the source of the alarm call when I grabbed Linda's arm and stopped her from walking and farther. A few yards ahead of us a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was perched on the top of the four foot fence that encloses the pool. There were a few people walking right passed him but he seemed too focused on the pheasant to be bothered. The pheasant was hiding motionless within the dried stalks of Cattails that ring the pond. The hawk flew up to a perch in a Gingko Tree above the tempting bird then, a few minutes later, to an oak tree immediately to our right. I guess he was trying to get to a better vantage point for his attack. Suddenly the pheasant cackled, flew from the Cattails and bolted across the pond into the underbrush of the peninsula between the two pools. The hawk followed close behind and perched in a Black Cherry tree above the frightened ring-necked. The relentless hunter tried several times to drop down onto the pheasant but was unable to get the right angle. His quarry stood still beneath the bare branches of a grouping of small shrubs. After a few awkward attempts the young hawk gave up and returned to a perch in the Gingko Tree. Standing with his back to the pheasant he scanned the Long Meadow for easier prey. I wonder if a Red-tailed Hawk could actually take down a pheasant as they are pretty much the same size and weight. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

I brought Linda up to Payne Hill to check on Big Mama and Split-tail's nest. We walked up a small incline and to the base of the Elm Tree where I watched the nesting pair last year. After only a few minutes of waiting the pair began circling their nest woods. At one point Big Mama landed on the nest. She seemed to be examining the nest, perhaps to give it her final approval. They remained in the woods at Payne Hill for a short while then flew in ever widening circles above their territory. At one point a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in from the north and followed closely behind Big Mama. He made a few half-hearted attempts to intimidate the much larger raptor but she just ignored him. The sharpy veered off to the east and descended rapidly towards the Midwood forest.

Also, I just received the following note from my friend Peter:

"I saw 1 or 2 [Red-tailed Hawks] bringing nesting material to the top of the Ravine pine. No change of address labels needed."

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 2/23/2005
American Wigeon (4, Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (approx. 150, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-necked Duck (15, Prospect Lake.)
Hooded Merganser (5, Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck (approx. 50, Prospect Lake.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (1, chasing Red-tailed over Payne Hill.)
Cooper's Hawk (Taking a bath at edge of Upper Pool.)
Red-tailed Hawk (2 adults, 1 juvenile.)
Ring-necked Pheasant (Being pursued by young red-tail at Lower Pool.)
American Coot (approx. 10, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Breeze Hill feeder.)
Fox Sparrow (4, Breeze Hill feeder.)
White-throated Sparrow

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck (Several, Prospect Lake.), Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee (4, Breeze Hill feeder.), Tufted Titmouse (3, Breeze Hill feeder.), American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow (1, Breeze Hill feeder.), Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Monday, February 21, 2005

Staten Island birding

Sporting a new, smaller cast I was anxious to get out and do some birding. Shane suggested that we check out a few Staten Island locations in search of winter species. Our targets were winter waterfowl, gulls, owls and, with any luck, siskins or repolls. The route Shane planned, along the southeast edge of the island, would take us from Miller Field to Great Kills Park, Blue Heron Pond Park, Wolfe's Pond Park and, lastly, Conference House Park.

I think the weather forecasters were way too optimistic regarding warmer temperatures as the northwest wind made for a blustery morning at the coast. We had hoped to find Horned Lark, Snow Bunting or longspur feeding in the stubby grass at Miller Field. The field, unfortunately, was devoid of birds and we had to settle for one Snow Bunting flying over us while we scanned Lower New York Bay from the adjacent beach. The water held some of the expected seasonal species (Red-throated Loon, Horned Grebe, Great Cormorant, American Black Duck, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser), although in seemingly lower numbers than in the past few weeks.

Our next stop was at Great Kills Park. We would check the short grass fields, a small stretch of woods, the protected waters of Great Kills Harbor and finally walk the beach of Crooke's Point from the harbor around to the ocean. I'd like to say that the birding was great at Great Kills but it was, at best, fair. The cold wind blasting across the harbor had the limited waterfowl and gulls in the area hugging the opposite shore. Shane spotted an accipter flying into a short stretch of woods near the boat trailer access. We relocated it perched at eye-level and watched it from the car. It was a large immature Cooper's Hawk. The hawk seemed agitated as he puffed out the feathers on his head and nape like porcupine quills.

The feeders and tiny pond at the closed Nature Center seemed like an oasis for robins, sparrows, blackbirds and House Finches. The Red-winged Blackbirds monopolized the mixed seed feeders.

The southern end of Crooke's Point faces Raritan Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. There were about 500 gulls west of the point, unfortunately there was nothing unusual to report. A small flock of Greater Scaup in the area included at least two Lesser Scaup.

As we walked along the beach near the end of the point I noticed something very curious. It was a set of parallel tracks that began at the waters edge. The tracks were about a foot apart and reminded me of turtle tracks. The trail continued to the high water mark where there was a stretch of ice. On the ice was a small patch of blood. The tracks then continued in an arc and back into the water. I kept thinking that it was a turtle because of the apparent drag mark between the opposing feet. What turtle would drag itself out of the water to rest on ice? Oh yeah, a harbor seal "turtle". On close inspection we could actually make out flipper marks created by the mammals nails. Was the blood caused by a collision with a ship? I think there would have been more of a mess on the ice if it was caused by a meal. I hope it survives.

Seal tracks

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Wolfe's Pond was completely frozen over so any expected waterfowl had moved on to open water. There were plenty of gulls in the area but, as with the other locations, they were only ring-billed, herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.

We met Mike Shanley at the Blue Heron Pond visitor's Center. He very kindly gave us a quick tour of the park and some tips on Staten Island birding. While we were walking the Ravine Trail we heard the high, repetitive "keeyuur, keeyuur, keeyuur" call of a Red-shouldered Hawk reverberating through the woods. Red-shouldered Hawks are not known to breed within the five boroughs but this individual sure sounded like he had claimed his territory. We saw a second buteo fly over the area but were not certain if it was a red-shouldered.

Throughout the day some of the birds reminded us of the lengthening days by tuning up for their spring songs. Red-winged Blackbirds at Great Kills belted out "kon-ka-reeeee" while perched on tall phragmite stalks. Song Sparrows practiced their clear, sweet musical notes from the safety of tangled shrubs. In the woods at Blue Heron Pond Park male juncos trilled from perches high in the trees. The sad, yodeling cry of a Common Loon at the Arthur Kill seemed out of place during such frigid conditions.

Common Loon at Arthur Kill (Gavia immer)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

One other noteworthy observation was of Ground Pine. I was told that these miniature "pine trees" are found in very few places in New York City. I suppose the tremendous foot traffic in most wooded parts of the city would trample these delicate club-mosses.

Ground Pine (Lycopodium obscurum)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more about Lycopodium-

- - - - -

Various Staten Island locations, 2/20/2005
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Great Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Canada Goose
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk (Blue Heron Pond.)
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Monk Parakeet (Flying over Hylan Blvd. at Reid St.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Towhee (Great Kills Nature Center.)
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting (Beach at Miller Field.)
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Friday, February 18, 2005

Interesting nesting development

I just received an interesting e-mail from my friend Gayle regarding the park hawks. Either there is a third pair or one of the nesting pairs is moving into new digs:

"Hi Rob hope the arm is getting better fast.

Question for you...Every morning this week around 9am [...] I have been watching a large female red-tail hanging out in a tree south of the Band Shell where there is a little valley. She is often there looking out over Prospect Park West to the movie theatre where all the yummy pigeons hang out. Both yesterday and today I saw both a male and a female (big difference in size!) perched in a tree right across the street from the bus station on Prospect Park Southwest. Twice the male took twigs and flew over to the horse riding ring into the top of a pine tree right there on West Drive. I also saw both of these hawks fly into the pine tree yesterday. So...who are they? Are they the Ravine hawks? Are they newbies to the Park? Am I just imagining this? Have you seen this? [...]


Just by their size difference it sounds like Big Mama and Split-tail. The Ravine pair are pretty close to each other in size. I have read that red-tails sometimes build more than one nest before settling on one. I have watched Mama & Split working on the same nest as last year a few times this winter (could have changed their mind for whatever reason). Maybe the Ravine male found a new mate as he does seem to prefer pine trees. I'll have to check it out.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Birding again?

I'm completely psyched. I went to the doctor today and he removed my stitches, replaced my cast with a much smaller one and gave me my elbow back. It may not seem like much but being able to bend my arm is a really big deal. Not only can I tie my shoes but I can also hold a pair of binoculars! I'll have to take it easy at first but I can't believe that I can get back to birding again...and so soon. I hope to post a birding report by the end of the weekend.

My elbow

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

An early spring?

I walked across the park today on my way to the Botanic Gardens. Big Mama and Split-tail were circling high above the woods at the northwest edge of the park. Crossing the Long Meadow I scanned the sky and noticed that as the hawks circled they were gradually drifting over Payne Hill and to the east, towards the Botanic Gardens. I mumbled to nobody in particular, "I'll meet you there".


(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Snowdrops-

The temperature was in the mid fifties and, with the lengthening days, it felt more like spring than mid-February. In the Midwood all the snow has melted and Snowdrops are emerging in patches throughout the forest floor. As I passed the back of the zoo I spotted two male House Sparrows involved in a bill-to-bill jousting match. Perhaps they are feeling the pull of the vernal equinox and were trying to claim their territory or harem.

I entered the Botanic Gardens at Empire Boulevard and was greeted by a small flock of nagging Blue Jays. Big Mama and Split-tail had beat me to the gardens. The jays were making a vain attempt to chase them from their perch in a large oak tree. The Red-tailed Hawks ignored them and the four jays gave up without a fight.

Witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The flowers on the early blooming Witch-hazels looked like tiny, exploding fireworks among all the other brown, dormant shrubs. Crocuses impatiently pushed aside the leaf litter, and bathed in the unexpected warmth.


(Photo credit - Rob J)

As I strolled through the gardens I searched the base of all the conifers for signs of owls. I was about to give up when I noticed something interesting. Since my surgery I've been extremely careful when walking on uneven ground (don't want to trip and fall on my arm). I was watching my feet while walking down a muddy incline when I noticed something that looked like an owl pellet. Then I realized that at the base of a cedar (that I hadn't even looked at) there were eighteen to twenty oblong pellets. The tree's branches are nearly impenetrable making it very difficult to find a perched bird. I saw spots of white wash splashed on some of the densely packed sprays but couldn't see any owls in this perfect hiding place. Maybe I'll go back one day as the sun is setting.

Owl pellets

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on owl pellets-

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Cabin fever

I was experiencing a bad case of cabin fever and needed to get out of the house, if only for a short walk. Luckily one of my winter coats has a sleeve big enough to accommodate my cast. After a brief struggle with the coat I strapped on the bulky foam rubber protector I have to wear on my arm. I thought that a short walk over to the hawk nest would be easy and if my arm bothered me I was still pretty close to the house.

As I walked passed the Litchfield Villa I heard a Red-bellied Woodpecker nearby and instinctively grabbed for my binoculars with my right hand. There was nothing around my neck and for a brief moment I was confused. Oh yeah, my arm, I can't use my bins. This was the first time I've been in the park without binoculars since September 2003, when I had my previous wrist surgery. I figured that it wasn't a big deal because I didn't needed bins to check on the hawk nest.

Standing beneath Big Mama and Split-tail's nest I could see some recent additions to the structure. Long strips of bark hung over the side of the nest and flapped in the wind like brown streamers. Last year they began using bark in their nest, presumably as a replacement for the ripped newspapers that Split-tail liked to collect. Neither hawk was near the nest so I decided to take a walk towards the adjacent Sullivan Hill and Battle Pass. I frequently see them hunting in those areas.

Pigeon feather

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I stopped beneath a large oak tree and surveyed the trees to the north of their nest. The bare branches of the winter woods usually makes easy work of locating them, even without binoculars. As I stood in the silent, dimly lit woods a white feather slowly drifted through the air in front of me. It landed in the leaf litter and I bent over for a closer look. I was surprised to find that the tip of the plume was stained red with blood. I looked in the oak above me and spotted a hawk tearing into a pigeon. The lighting was terrible but the silhouette against the gray sky was unmistakably a Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk silhouette

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Friday, February 11, 2005

Funny owl story

A temporary birding speed bump

Until I'm back in the saddle, so to speak, I may just be passing on some interesting stories and photos. Below is a great owl story that I just received from my friend Roberto Cavalieros:


Last year I was visiting my brother in Brasilia; we had just returned to his house from a road-trip when I heard flapping upstairs; this female Burrowing Owl had somehow entered the house and layed an egg on the couch!! It later left through the windows we opened but left its egg on the couch...


Owl in the rafters

(Photo credit - Roberto Cavalieros)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Newlyweds in the Bronx?

Here is a Bronx Red-tailed Hawk nesting update that I just received from Chris Lyons. It may seem a little long but I really enjoyed it:


I have no updates about the Van Cortlandt Park red-tail nest, except to say that the nest is still there, and looks to be in good condition, and hasn't been taken over by Great Horned Owls. Don't get to visit very often, so don't know if the hawks are visiting the nest, or adding any sticks to it. In the meantime, I have another nesting situation to report.

I work in the Walsh Library at Fordham University's Rose Hill Campus in The Bronx, and yesterday morning (Monday, 2/7/05) [ ... ] I happened to notice a bulky mass of sticks in a tree where I had not seen any such mass the previous week [ ... ] . Then I saw a Red-tailed Hawk fly out of it. Then I noticed another Red-tailed Hawk was still in it. Then I saw the other hawk fly back. Then I saw what I'm pretty sure was copulation going on, right in the nest. Apparently nobody told them Fordham is a Jesuit University.

Now there have been Red-tailed Hawks seen around Fordham for years, mainly immature birds, and the occasional adult (there are also some Peregrine Falcons in the area, possibly a pair, but no idea where they might be nesting). The University is directly across from Bronx Park, a noted haven for wild raptors (as well as the location of the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens), and the university itself has a very large number of stately trees, not to mention an enormous and largely fearless squirrel population--just one patch of grass in front of the library may have thirty or more squirrels, of both the grey and black color phases, scampering across it at one time. Now that I think about it, I haven't been seeing a lot of squirrels around the library in recent days. Or any, actually.

[ ... ] Getting back to yesterday, there was considerable nest-building activity going on throughout the day, though neither hawk was present as I left that evening. It should be said that the human activity around the nest was considerable (and largely unaware of the hawks, of course), and that the nest is not well hidden at all. It seemed like the larger of the two birds was doing most of the stick gathering and nest-building while I was watching, but the smaller bird brought sticks as well, and seemed to take considerable interest in the work being done. It seems reasonable to assume the larger more active bird was the female, but I didn't have my binoculars, and didn't get the best possible looks. I was afraid to approach them too closely, since they obviously knew I was watching them (as most people in the area were not). As I've said before, in my experience, most raptors know the difference between people who are ignoring them and people who are taking an active interest in them, and they greatly prefer the former.

So anyway, today (Tuesday, 2/8/05) I haven't seen either bird at all, in spite of taking every possible opportunity to observe the nest [ ... ]. The nest seems mainly complete, though the upper rim could probably use some more sticks. I have some questions as to whether the nest is sufficiently well-anchored to survive a big storm--it's in the crotch of a thick diagonally leaning branch in an oak tree, about sixty feet off the ground, and not wedged into the crotch of the tree trunk, as I have seen in the case of other Red-tailed Hawk nests. But what do I know? I couldn't build a nest like that to save my life. It's remarkable to actually see what I've only read about; the hawks shaping flexible living branches, ripped from nearby trees, into a bowl-like structure, though not without making many errors, and wasting many sticks, which fall to the well manicured lawn below. The instinct is strong, but the experience may be lacking here.

I'd hazard a guess that this is the first nesting attempt for this pair, and that one or both of them may be immature red-tails I've observed hunting on the campus in recent years, who have now claimed the campus as their breeding territory. If it is a first breeding attempt, there's a very good chance it won't succeed. This might explain the seemingly unsuitable nesting site. There are any number of potential complications attending to nesting in the spot they've chosen, though perhaps not as many as are involved in nesting on a fifth avenue co-op. [ ... ] Vehicles of various types do pass along the narrow blacktop road next to the tree, though usually at very slow speeds. Many interesting scenarios present themselves. But none may materialize. It depends on the hawks.

I wouldn't care to speculate on whether their absence today means they've given up on this location because they became uncomfortable with an increased amount of attention, or whether they're simply off hunting, and will resume nesting activities in the coming days and weeks. If they can't cope with being gawked at by people, this is definitely the wrong place for them to nest. There are some other, much larger and more secluded trees on the campus that would afford them more privacy, and perhaps more protection from the elements. But it's their decision to make.

More reports when and if there is more to report.


A blog speed bump

As of tomorrow my posting will have to slow down for a while. My left arm will be in a cast for three weeks seriously slowing down my birding. I'm hoping to be able to use my small binoculars with one hand to keep an eye on the Red-tailed Hawk nest. I'll see how that goes...

Good birding,


Sunday, February 06, 2005

Shinnecock and Bayville

Retreating tide

(Photo credit - Rob J)

There have been weekly reports on various online birding groups about Shinnecock Inlet on Long Island. It is apparently a regular winter hotspot for seabirds with an ocassional rarity observed. Shinnecock Inlet was a breach in one of Long Island's southern barrier beaches. It occurred during a hurricane in 1938 but was subsequently maintained by the Army Corp of Engineers and jetties built. In addition to the fishermen, many birds have taken advantage of the opening between the ocean and the bay.

Shane, Ron and I met at 6am and drove the one hundred or so miles for a day of coastal birding. On our way home we also planned on stopping in Bayville, on the northshore of Long Island, to look for a reported Barrow's Goldeneye.

It seemed a lot colder than the fifty degree weather forecast. Shane seemed to be the only one who was dressed for the cold weather. Once on the island we stopped at a couple of pull-offs that face Shinnecock Bay before heading to the inlet. There wasn't any unusual waterfowl or gulls on the bay, although Shane did locate a Red-necked Grebe.

-Click here for more info on Long Island birding-

The receding tide was flowing quickly south through the inlet. Looking a little like an amusement park ride numerous loons, scoters and mergansers whizzed passed us riding the rip current. Thundering waves curled in on themselves at the entrance to the inlet. As Ron and I walked south on the jetty Shane went the other way towards the bay. A few minutes later Ron spotted him waving us back. Resting on the jetty in front of two parked cars was an adult Iceland Gull. I've only seen these arctic visitors from a distance and this individual allowed us long, detailed observation. Unlike most gulls there were no black feathers anywhere on his body. His relatively small bill and rounded head gave him a gentle, soft appearance that was accented by pale, yellowish eyes. Bubble-gum pink legs and feet contrasted the dark, hard granite jetty on which he rested. I took a few photos then we began working our way west. A short distance down the road and on the bay was a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Iceland Gull at inlet
(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Iceland Gulls-

We stopped at Ransom Beach, in Bayville, on our way home and located the reported Barrow's Goldeneye. It was feeding within a flock of approximately 150 Common Goldeneyes about 400 yards offshore. Most of the male Common Goldeneyes were performing courtship displays for prospective mates. They would stretch their neck out then snap their head backwards onto their back. Amusing to me but, I'm sure, very serious to them. Interestingly, the Barrow's Goldeneye would approach a female and just stretch his head straight up. It was obviously not the dance that the Common Goldeneyes were attracted to and the hens merely ignored him and went about their business. It reminded me of the Wood Duck in Prospect Park that has already begun his annual, fruitless exercise courting a female Mallard.

-Click here to see Common Goldeneyes court-

-Click here to see a goldeneye comparison-

- - - - -

Shinnecock Inlet & Bayville, 2/6/2005
Red-throated Loon (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Common Loon (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Horned Grebe (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Red-necked Grebe (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Great Cormorant (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Great Blue Heron (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Canada Goose (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Brant (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Mute Swan (Bayville.)
American Black Duck (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Mallard (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Greater Scaup (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Surf Scoter (Shinnecock Inlet.)
White-winged Scoter (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Black Scoter (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Long-tailed Duck (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Bufflehead (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Common Goldeneye (Bayville.)
Barrow's Goldeneye (Bayville.)
Red-breasted Merganser (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Northern Harrier (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Red-tailed Hawk (Queens.)
Black-bellied Plover (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Sanderling (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Dunlin (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Ring-billed Gull (various.)
Herring Gull (various.)
Iceland Gull (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Great Black-backed Gull (various.)
Rock Pigeon (Shinnecock Inlet.)
Mourning Dove (Shinnecock Inlet.)
American Crow (various.)
American Robin (various.)
European Starling (various.)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

A couple of rare visitors to Brooklyn

I spoke with Marty yesterday and we tentatively planned on meeting in Prospect Park. It was a lazy morning and I didn't get out of the house until about 10am.

Today was the beginning of a warming trend around the city and the park was thawing out under dazzling, blue skies. The opening in the ice on Prospect Lake is growing and with it a more diverse population of waterfowl. I caught up with Marty, Shale and Karen on the south side of the lake. They were also checking out the birds around the open water. I counted 150 Northern Shovelers and only a handful of Ruddy Ducks. Swimming among the common species was a single, male Ring-necked Duck. I always look forward to seeing these sleek, black and white winter visitors but this year they have been few and far between.

Ring-necked Duck

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

My cellphone rang and it was my friend Janet on the other end. She was excited about something but there was a lot of static on the line and I couldn't understand her. I finally walked to a spot were I could hear and she told me that she was standing on the Gil Hodges Bridge looking down on a Thick-billed Murre! The bird was apparently paddling around only about 100 yards from the beach. When I announced the find to Marty, Shale and Karen, Shale offered to drive out to the area. While we were walking to the car I called Shane and a few other friends with the news and directions.

Before even getting to Shale's car Shane called to tell me that he had already arrived at the bridge and the bird was still present. He also located an Eared Grebe nearby; another New York City rarity.

Thick-billed Murre

Photos courtesy of Janet Zinn - click for more of her photography

Horned Grebe and Eared Grebe

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It's amazing how the chain of communication in birding now works. Tom Fiore was riding his bicycle across the bridge when he happened to look over the side and spotted the murre. He ran into Janet and her husband, Alan, and pointed it out to them. Janet called me, I called four other people and, shortly thereafter, the information was posted on the Internet. Within 48 hours dozens of birds were able to observe two interesting birds that are rarely seen close to New York City.

Gil Hodges Bridge and Rockaway Inlet

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The Thick-billed Murre was remaining within the water beneath the bridge and a red buoy that was about fifty yards from the shore. Murres typically spend most of their time diving for marine invertebrates but this individual never dove in the two hours it was observed on Saturday. I hope it isn't sick.

Another, unfortunate, sign of changing times relates to homeland security. Any birders standing on the bridge were questioned by the police and told that they were forbidden to loiter on the Gil Hodges Bridge. They were also adamant about not allowing any photographs to be taken of the bridge. I just hope the Thick-billed Murre doesn't do anything suspicious, although his behavior has been a little odd.

- - - - -

Prospect Park & Rockaway Inlet, 2/5/2005
Common Loon (Rockaway Inlet.)
Horned Grebe (Rockaway Inlet.)
Eared Grebe (Rockaway Inlet.)
Brant (Rockaway Inlet.)
American Black Duck (Prospect Park.)
Mallard (Prospect Park.)
Northern Shoveler (Prospect Park.)
Ring-necked Duck (Prospect Park.)
Bufflehead (Rockaway Inlet.)
Red-breasted Merganser (Rockaway Inlet.)
Ruddy Duck (Prospect Park.)
Red-shouldered Hawk (Rockaway Inlet.)
Red-tailed Hawk (Prospect Park.)
Merlin (Rockaway Inlet.)
American Coot (Prospect Park.)
Ring-billed Gull (Prospect Park.)
Herring Gull (Prospect Park.)
Great Black-backed Gull (Prospect Park.)
Thick-billed Murre (Rockaway Inlet.)
Rock Pigeon (Prospect Park.)
Mourning Dove (Prospect Park.)
Monk Parakeet (Flatbush & Avenue "R".)
Blue Jay (Prospect Park.)
American Crow (Prospect Park.)
Fish Crow (Rockaway Inlet.)
Tufted Titmouse (Prospect Park.)
American Robin (Prospect Park.)
European Starling (Prospect Park.)
Northern Cardinal (Prospect Park.)
Fox Sparrow (Prospect Park.)
Song Sparrow (Prospect Park.)
White-throated Sparrow (Prospect Park.)
Red-winged Blackbird (Prospect Park.)
House Sparrow (Prospect Park.)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Breezy Point

Late this afternoon Shane and I drove out to Breezy Point hoping to get a glimpse of the reported Thick-billed Murre. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful.

-Click here for info about Thick-billed Murres-

The ocean has changed considerably since earlier in the week. It was churning like an angry noreaster was blowing through the area. The huge swells and whitecaps made spotting a small alcid all but impossible. The numerous ducks and loons in the area seemed to be enjoying the turbulence and bobbed on the swells or dove beneath the crashing waves.

Rough surf at Breezy Point

(Photo credit - Rob J)

One positive sighting was of a Lesser Black-backed Gull. It was standing at the edge of the shore on the bay side of the point among the three common gull species. A Herring Gull was next to him and the size difference was what first drew our attention to him.

-Click here for info about Lesser Black-backed Gulls-

If you plan on taking a trip to Breezy Point please note that there is still quite a bit of snow on the Fisherman's Road. It's not too bad, just slow.

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Breezy Point, 2/3/2005
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Northern Gannet (1 adult seen near Silver Gull Beach Club.)
Great Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (Flying over dunes near end of Fisherman's Rd.)
American Wigeon (3, bay side of point.)
Surf Scoter (Several.)
White-winged Scoter (1 male near Silver Gull Beach Club.)
Long-tailed Duck (Abundant.)
Red-breasted Merganser
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull (On bay side beach within a mixed gull flock.)
Great Black-backed Gull
Mourning Dove
American Crow
American Robin
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Snow Bunting (Approx. 100 between Fisherman's Rd. and jetty.)
American Goldfinch