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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Ivory-billed Woodpecker found

There has been extraordinary news that a previously thought extinct woodpecker was actually located in Arkansas. Here is a National Geographic report:

-Click here to see the movie-

A seasonal first

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens ) at nest cavity

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I can finally say without hesitation that the spring warbler migration has begun: I just had my first Philip Paine sighting of the season. Phil is well known around Brooklyn and Staten Island birding circles for his wealth of knowledge of North American Wood-Warblers. If you need to know anything about warblers Phil is the person to ask. He is also excellent at locating said birds. The only thing that could be construed as slightly eccentric is that he is only interested in warblers. If you encounter him in the field and he asks what birds you’ve seen that day, don’t even mention sparrows, hawks or waterfowl. If it’s not a warbler, it’s not a bird. By closely monitoring bird reports in southern states he knows exactly when to go out looking for warblers. He is the only birder that I know who disappears once the migration is over. If you happen to see him on the last day of the fall migration he’ll shake your hand and say, “See you next year”. I once ran into him on the subway during the summer and didn’t recognize him. He no longer had the glazed eyes and hyperactive demeanor of a crazed birder on a mission.

Fallen cherry petals on Goutweed

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 4/28/2005
Ring-billed Gull
Northern Flicker
Blue-headed Vireo (Payne Hill.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Midwood.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Several.)
Hermit Thrush (1, Payne Hill.)
Wood Thrush (Midwood.)
Northern Parula (Midwood.)
Yellow Warbler (Midwood.)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Ravine.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)
Pine Warbler (2, Payne Hill & Midwood.)
Prairie Warbler (2, GAP entrance to park.)
Palm Warbler (Several.)
Black-and-white Warbler (2.)
American Redstart (Adult male, Midwood.)
Ovenbird (Ravine.)
Eastern Towhee
White-throated Sparrow
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

South Winds

After my early morning physical therapy session I took a walk through Prospect Park. I was optimistic that last night's south winds helped carry large numbers of migrant songbirds into the park. Other than increased numbers of Blue-headed Vireos, the quantity and variety of bird species hadn't dramatically changed. I did manage to add two new species to my year list; Warbling Vireo and Purple Finch. Maybe tomorrow the weather will help transport more of our feathered friends on their way to their northern breeding grounds...

More Redbud

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus)

Seen feeding behind the Music Pagoda (thanks Elyse)
(Photo credit - Rob J)


The garden in front of the Litchfield Villa
(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 4/26/2005
Double-crested Cormorant (Approx 20 in several flyovers.)
Great Egret (Upper Pool.)
Wood Duck (Drake & hen, Upper Pool.)
Spotted Sandpiper (Prospect Lake.)
Ring-billed Gull
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Blue-headed Vireo (approx. 15-20, various.)
Warbling Vireo (Singing in sycamores at Music Grove.)
Tree Swallow (A few over lake.)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (1, Upper Pool.)
Barn Swallow (~20, over Prospect Lake.)
House Wren (1, Peninsula. 1, Ravine.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Fairly common.)
Hermit Thrush (Common.)
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher (Lullwater.)
Blue-winged Warbler (Ravine.)
Northern Parula (Lullwater.)
Yellow Warbler (Upper Pool.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)
Pine Warbler (1, Lullwater. 3, Peninsula.)
Prairie Warbler (Ravine.)
Palm Warbler (Fairly common.)
Black-and-white Warbler (~8 - 10.)
Eastern Towhee (2 or 3.)
Chipping Sparrow (8, Nellie's Lawn.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (1, Ravine.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch (Behind the Music Pagoda.)

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

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Birding on Staten Island

This is my first spring since 2002 that I’m not spending most of my birding time with Split-tail and Big Mama. I miss being a fly on the wall to their everyday activities while they raise a family. I keep thinking that maybe I’m wrong, maybe they found another, secret nest location. On Saturday morning I ran into Raphael at the Vale of Cashmere. After we watched the juvenile hawk fly over our heads he remarked that on several occasions he has seen a pair of adults Red-tailed Hawks together in the north end of the park. He sparked a glimmer of hope in me that maybe Split-tail is alright and that I might still be able to track them down.

With no hawks to follow I’ve returned to more typical birder behavior. At the end of January Shane and I realized that we had started to accumulate a longer than usual year list of bird sightings. I’ve always preferred taking the time to observe bird behavior than to just chase birds for the sake of another check on my bird list. Perhaps this year is different because the hawks are no longer a part of my life. Shane and I have begun to pay more attention to the bird reports and go after the unusual sightings. Our very loose goal is to see 300 species in the state before the year ends. I think our personalities and skills compliment each other as we’re doing better than I expected. I ended last year with 274 species. On Friday I was up to 155 species but ended the weekend with 170.

Saw Mill Creek

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I met Shane in front of my building at 5:30 this morning to go to Staten Island. He has been wanting to hear some rails calling from the marshes at Saw Mill Creek and the best time is at dawn. Also, there have been some interesting birds reported recently from Great Kills and Clove Lake. With a little luck we hoped to track them down and add them to our growing year list.

Saw Mill Creek is a marsh habitat in the northwestern section of the island. It overlooks the Arthur Kill, Praill’s Island and Praill’s River. There is also a large power substation and defunct railroad track bordering the area. It is one of the only remaining wetlands in New York City and it is in danger of being ruined by the building of a NASCAR track on an adjacent parcel of land. Despite public opposition and environmental concerns, it appears that money hungry politicians and developers might force it on New Yorkers.

As we drove slowly down River Road we heard the high, trilling song of several Swamp Sparrows. A nearby mockingbird did impersonations of rails, a kingfisher, cardinals and other unidentified neighborhood residents. Within moments of arriving Shane excitedly pointed out the odd, mechanical “kidick, kidick, kidick, kidick” song of a Virginia Rail. We walked down the railroad track scanning the grass and mud while listening for more rails. As the morning progressed the dominant voices in the marsh were the harsh squeaks and rattles of the abundant Boat-tailed Grackles. While returning to the car I spotted a Black-crowned Night-Heron walking down the road. He looked like he was just arriving to work at the substation.

-Click to hear a Virginia Rail-

-Click to learn about Virginia Rails-

Our next stop was Great Kills Park. A Blue Grosbeak had been reported and it would be a nice addition to our day trip. Blue Grosbeaks are very rarely seen in Brooklyn, however they are a rare but regular visitor to Staten Island. I hadn’t seen one in many years. We parked at Lot E. Scanning the edge of the road we decided to check an area next to a wind break created by phragmites and shrubs. It had gotten very windy and cold. In less than 3 minutes I spotted the bird as it flew across from the other side of the road. At one point it returned to the shrubs adjacent a jogging trail. I watched a runner approach and then stop and look down at the brilliant, blue bird. He saw me with my binoculars and walked over to talk. He asked if it was a blue cardinal. I thought it was a very good characterization so I said, “Almost”.

Blue Grosbeak (Guiraca caerulea)

Seen at Great Kills early this morning
(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Blue Grosbeaks-

When we returned to the car I told Shane that I knew where we could find some Wilson’s Snipe. He was concerned that we wouldn’t see any this year. Two years ago, while on our annual “Snipe Hunt”, Steve Nanz and I discovered a small fresh water pond where there were at least a dozen snipe. Shane pulled on his boots and we walked to the hidden pond. We’d had good luck to that point so it shouldn’t have surprised me that we quickly found two snipe resting along the muddy shoreline. Then we were off to meet Mike Shanley and Seth Wollney at Clove Lakes Park.

Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

In addition to just spending some time birding with Mike and Seth the possibility of finding a reported Kentucky Warbler at Clove Lakes was irresistible. I was impressed by the amount of forested area in the park. A stream running through the center of the park also seemed to be a good draw for bird-life. It was along a wooded rise next to the stream that we first heard the rich, rolling “churry, churry, churry” of the Kentucky Warbler. It was foraging on the ground within a large tangle of Multiflora rose. We waited him out and he eventually made an appearance. He has a brilliant yellow underside and olive upper body. A unique black crown and mask looks to me like the painted tear streaks of a sad clown. While we were looking for the Kentucky Warbler we also spotted a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a Black-throated Green Warbler.

Kentucky Warbler (Oporornis formosus)

This was taken at the Botanic Garden in April. 2003
(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

I’ve begun to realize that Staten Island has a myriad of habitats to explore. My friend’s in Brooklyn would never forgive me if I began spending my free time on the island.

- - - - -

Saw Mill Creek, Miller Field, Great Kills, Clove Lakes Park, 4/24/2005
Common Loon (Several flyovers.)
Northern Gannet (Several dozen off shore at Great Kills.)
Double-crested Cormorant (Several large migrating flocks.)
Great Blue Heron (Clove Lakes.)
Great Egret (Saw Mill Creek.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Saw Mill Creek, Clove Lakes.)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Saw Mill Creek.)
Glossy Ibis (Several flyovers.)
Brant (Miller Field.)
Gadwall (Saw Mill Creek.)
Red-breasted Merganser (Great Kills.)
Osprey (Saw Mill Creek.)
Merlin (Saw Mill Creek.)
Ring-necked Pheasant (3, Great Kills.)
Virginia Rail (Saw Mill Creek.)
Killdeer (Saw Mill Creek, Miller Field, Great Kills.)
American Oystercatcher (Great Kills.)
Wilson's Snipe (2, Great Kills.)
Laughing Gull (Great Kills.)
Ring-billed Gull (All locations.)
Great Black-backed Gull (Miller Field.)
Northern Flicker (All locations.)
Eastern Phoebe (Clove Lakes.)
Blue-headed Vireo (Clove Lakes.)
Tree Swallow (Saw Mill Creek.)
Barn Swallow (Saw Mill Creek.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Clove Lakes.)
Carolina Wren (Clove Lakes.)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Clove Lakes.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Clove Lakes.)
Northern Mockingbird (Saw Mill Creek, Clove Lakes.)
Brown Thrasher (Great Kills.)
Yellow Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Black-throated Green Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Pine Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Palm Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Northern Waterthrush (Saw Mill Creek.)
Louisiana Waterthrush (Clove Lakes.)
Kentucky Warbler (Clove Lakes.)
Common Yellowthroat (Saw Mill Creek.)
Blue Grosbeak (Great Kills.)
Eastern Towhee (Saw Mill Creek.)
Chipping Sparrow (Miller Field.)
Savannah Sparrow (Saw Mill Creek.)
Swamp Sparrow (Saw Mill Creek, Clove Lakes.)
White-throated Sparrow (Clove Lakes.)
Common Grackle (Saw Mill Creek.)
Boat-tailed Grackle (Saw Mill Creek.)
Brown-headed Cowbird (Saw Mill Creek, Great Kills, Clove Lakes.)
House Finch (Saw Mill Creek.)
American Goldfinch (Clove Lakes.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, American Black Duck, 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

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Brooklyn Bird Club Field Trip


(Photo credit - Rob J)
Photographed in the Lullwater near the Nature Center

I had been watching the weather reports over the last two days and assumed that today’s trip would be cancelled. I was scheduled to lead a tour of Prospect Park for the Brooklyn Bird Club but “scheduled“ thunderstorms seemed to have other ideas. I was pleasantly surprised to wake to grey, but dry conditions. Six birders donned their rain-gear and met me at Grand Army Plaza. Despite terrible light conditions we managed to spot several migrants new for the park’s year list. We also had great views of one more southern species ”overshoot“.

The north end of the park down to the Ravine was fairly quiet, bird-wise. The juvenile male Red-tailed Hawk who has taken up resident was perched atop a pine on Nellie’s Lawn. As we were watching he took off flying in our direction. He passed low over our heads and through a flurry of white, cherry petal snow drifting down on us.

In the Ravine we located a Louisiana Waterthrush foraging along the stream’s edge. A short distance downstream an Indigo Bunting flew nervously towards the water. I suppose he wanted to bathe and drink but was spooked by other birds in the area and flew off.

We ran into Bill near the Lily Pond who informed us that there was a lot of bird activity on the Peninsula. Up to that point we had encountered only very few Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers. As we approached the Peninsula we spotted Peter up ahead waving at us to come quickly. Knowing Peter, it was something very interesting. In a cluster of Black Cherry trees near the entrance to the woods was a female Summer Tanager. A rare but regular migrant, their breeding range is south of New York City. This individual was yet another example of a bird that overshot its range. I wonder why we’re seeing so many overshoots this season.

-Click here for more about Summer Tanagers-

By about 10:30a it was beginning to lightly drizzle. We decided to call it a day and I walked back towards my end of the park with a woman named Nhu.

Nhu is a relatively new birder so I gave her some birding advice as we headed north and out of the park. I told her, sort of half-joking, that there’s always one last bird and that I make sure to turn around and check the park before I leave. At the entrance to the Ravine I was going to turn left, towards Fifth Street, and she would continue straight to Grand Army Plaza. At that junction I noticed some sparrows on the edge of the sidewalk ahead of us. I put my bins on them. Between two twitchy Song Sparrows was a chunky sparrow with a distinct eye-ring. I began getting excited and explained to Nhu that this was a very special bird to see in the park. Two people walked passed and flushed a mixed flock of sparrows that was larger than I had anticipated. In addition to the song and Vesper Sparrows were chipping, savannah, White-throated Sparrows and one Dark-eyed Junco. The Vesper Sparrow broke from the flock and flew through a chain-link fence at the edge of Payne Hill, its flashing, white outer tail feathers helped to confirm its identification. We stood against the fence and watched it forage for seeds. It lingered there for long enough that I could point out to Nhu the bird’s unique eye-ring, streaked breast, finely streaked crown, white submoustacial stripe, rusty shoulders and white outer tail feathers. She seemed pleased but I was downright delighted by the chance find.

Like I said, ”There’s always one last bird“.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 4/23/2005
Common Loon (Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant (Prospect Lake.)
Wood Duck (3, flying over Nellie's Lawn.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1 juvenile, 1 adult.)
Spotted Sandpiper (Edge of lake on Peninsula.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Flicker
Blue-headed Vireo (Peninsula.)
Tree Swallow (A few over the lake.)
Barn Swallow (Several over the lake.)
House Wren (Heard singing in Ravine.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Fairly common.)
Hermit Thrush (1, Ravine.)
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Parula (Ravine.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)
Pine Warbler (1, Behind Upper Pool.)
Prairie Warbler (Heard singing on Peninsula.)
Palm Warbler (Common.)
Black-and-white Warbler (Several.)
Louisiana Waterthrush (Ravine, at edges of stream.)
Summer Tanager (Peninsula, female.)
Indigo Bunting (Ravine at edge of Ambergill.)
Eastern Towhee (Ravine.)
Chipping Sparrow (1, Peninsula. ~6, Payne Hill.)
Vesper Sparrow (Payne Hill and sidewalk at edge of Long Meadow.)
Savannah Sparrow (Payne Hill and sidewalk at edge of Long Meadow.)
Swamp Sparrow (Peninsula.)
White-throated Sparrow (1 fairly large flock on Payne Hill.)
Dark-eyed Junco (2, Payne Hill.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird (Several.)
House Finch (Singing in Pines near Grand Army Plaza.)

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

Friday, April 22, 2005

Early morning in Prospect Park

I went out at 5:30 this morning as the weekend looks like it will be a washout. I'll follow-up with a full report tonight.

Worm-eating Warbler

Foraging near the Ravine stream
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

"Rumps" and "Pumps"

My friend Kimberly always refers to this time of year as the invasion of the "Rumps" and "Pumps". "Rumps" is her short name for Yellow-rumped Warbler. "Pumps" is her nickname for Palm Warblers because of their incessant tail-pumping behavior. In the short time I was out today I observed an abundance of both species. In the woods the leaf litter was dominated by another push of White-throated Sparrows, as well as, Hermit Thrushes.

While standing at the Butterfly Meadow on Lookout Hill I spotted a migrating Broad-winged Hawk flying overhead. Another new species for me this season was a lone Common Yellow-throat near the Wellhouse. He caught my attention with his raspy, "chit, chit" call.

Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

-Click here for more info on Wood Warblers-

Oak catkins

Flowering just in time for the warblers
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Red tulip

A bee's eye view
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Weeping Higan Cherry

Taken at the Vale of Cashmere
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Petals as confetti

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sycamore tree flowering

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 4/21/2005
Broad-winged Hawk (Flying over Lookout Hill, heading north.)
Belted Kingfisher (Ravine.)
Northern Flicker (Common.)
Blue-headed Vireo (3, Lookout Hill. 1, Neathemead.)
Barn Swallow (1, Nethermead.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Fairly common.)
Hermit Thrush (Abundant.)
Northern Mockingbird (3.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Abundant.)
Pine Warbler (1, Lookout Hill.)
Palm Warbler (Abundant.)
Black-and-white Warbler (1, Lookout Hill.)
Louisiana Waterthrush (1, Ravine. 1, Lullwater cove.)
Common Yellowthroat (Lookout Hill behind Wellhouse, at about 12pm.)
Eastern Towhee (2, Lookout Hill. 1, Ravine.)
Chipping Sparrow (10, Nellie's Lawn.)
Swamp Sparrow (1, Ravine. 1, Midwood.)
White-throated Sparrow (Abundant.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird (4, Nethemead.)
American Goldfinch (Fairly common.)

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

Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae)

It seems like all the park's hemlocks are infested with Wooly Adelgid
(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Wooly Adelgid-

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Yellow-rumped Warblers

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata)

Perched in a cherry sapling on Payne Hill
(Photo credit - Rob J)

I took a quick walk around the park late this afternoon and it looked as if the Yellow-rumped Warbler Express blew in last night. I noticed the black and yellow birds feeding on the ground and in the trees during my entire walk from the Vale of Cashmere to the Maryland Monument. At the Maryland Monument a Prothonotary Warbler zipped passed low to the ground and heading north.

Most of the park's Norway Maples are now adorned with pale, green flower clusters. Perhaps that's why my eyes have suddenly begun to itch.

Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

These flowers are just beginning to open
(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Why you shouldn't plant Norway Maples-

Redbud (Cercis canadensis) buds

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I took two photos near the Picnic House. A Redbud sapling caught my eye as it is just beginning to erupt with thousands of fuschia-red buds. Not far away, in a small patch of daffodils, I spotted a wildflower that I've never seen in the park. Thank you Mary for help with its identity.

Spring Snowflake (Leucojum Vernum)

I found this among some daffodils near the Sparrow Bowl
(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 4/19/2005
Great Egret
Red-tailed Hawk
Northern Flicker
Blue-headed Vireo
Barn Swallow
Winter Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch

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

Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus octandra)

Growing next to Vale of Cashmere ponds
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and flowering update

My wife and I took a walk to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens today. Here are some photos from the day. I'll post a complete report later:

Black-crowned Night-Heron

An annual visitor returns to the Lily Ponds
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Cherry buds (Prunus "Kanzan")

These are the trees that border the Cherry Esplanade
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Grape-Hyacinth (Muscari Latifolium)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Lilac buds

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

These were growing in the native flora section
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Weeping Higan Cherry (Prunus subhirtella "Pendula")

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Yoshino Cherry

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Audubon trip in Prospect Park

Common Violet

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I decided to take a break from all those “boring” birds like Swainson’s, Yellow-throated and Prothonotary Warbler to lead a trip for NYCAS in Prospect Park. The weather was perfect to spend the day outdoors but less than ideal for a new push of migrant songbirds. We still had a fairly nice sized day list and one new year bird for myself, as well as, others in the group.

Some overwintering species are still present such as Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, American Coot, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper and White-throated Sparrow. I was hoping to locate a sapsucker but I guess they’ve moved north. A Common Merganser remains on the lake but the last of the Ring-necked Ducks has departed.

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A singing Winter Wren at the Vale of Cashmere was the first time that I’ve heard one in Brooklyn. I’ve heard their explosive songs on their breeding grounds but never when they’re passing through Prospect Park.

The young male Red-tailed Hawk that’s been hanging around the recently available adult female was spotted near Battle Pass. He had a freshly killed chipmunk in his talons. Mice and rats don’t bother me but the chipmunk “cuteness factor” kept me from watching him eat breakfast.

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)

Sunning outside his burrow on the Peninsula
(Photo credit - Rob J)

Most of the warbler sighting were in the southern section of the park from the Lullwater to the Peninsula woods. A Northern Parula that’s been observed for a week remains within the vicinity of the back of the Music Pagoda. Several Pine Warblers were observed along the Lullwater and Peninsula, as well as, a smaller number of Palm Warblers.

A lone Chimney Swift flying back and forth above the lake was a first sighting for me this season.

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Lesser Celandine-

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 4/16/2005
Pied-billed Grebe (Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant (Prospect Lake.)
Great Egret (Prospect Lake and Lullwater.)
Northern Shoveler (~4, Prospect Lake.)
Common Merganser (Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck (~15-20, Prospect Lake.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1, juvenile. 1, adult.)
American Kestrel (Above Stranahan Statue.)
American Coot
Laughing Gull (2, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Chimney Swift (1, flying over Prospect Lake.)
Northern Flicker (Common.)
Tree Swallow (~4-6, Prospect Lake, one pair copulated briefly.)
Barn Swallow (~4-6, Prospect Lake.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Lily Pond.)
Brown Creeper (Near East Wood Arch.)
Winter Wren (Vale of Cashmere.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Ravine.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Several.)
Northern Parula (Behind Music Pagoda.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Breeze Hill.)
Pine Warbler (~6-8, between Lullwater & Peninsula.)
Palm Warbler (4 or 5, between Lullwater & Peninsula.)
Chipping Sparrow (In conifer next to Nature Center.)
Swamp Sparrow (Peninsula.)
White-throated Sparrow
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch (4 near G.A.P., one pair copulating.)
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, Hairy Woodpecker (1, in nest cavity.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Azalea buds

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A Swainson's Warbler in NYC

Swainson's Warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii)

Photographed near Forest Park water hole
(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

It has been an unusual start to the spring songbird migration. There have been numerous sightings around the five boroughs of southern warbler species. Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warblers breed in states south of New York but on occasion overshoot their range and end up in city parks. When they do show up it is mainly at the end of April and they are few and far between. For reasons that I don’t think we’ll ever know there have been several individuals of both species seen in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island this month. The most unusual arrival, however, has been of a Swainson’s Warbler in Forest Park, Queens. Bull’s Birds of New York State describes this species as a “very rare” migrant overshoot.

Unlike most of the other North American Wood-Warblers the Swainson’s Warbler is understated in coloration and markings. It skulks around on the ground foraging for worms and insects under the leaf litter. Within their typical range I’ve been told that they are not easy to watch. I’ve never seen one and recent Internet reports describe an individual that is very accommodating allowing long periods of observation.

-click to learn more about the Swainson's Warbler-

Shane was working at the airport in Queens and agreed to pick me up if I took the subway to Forest Hills after work.

American Smoketree buds (Cotinus obovatus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We arrived at Forest Park at about 4:30pm. Al Ott was present with four other birders and told us that we just missed the warbler. It had flown off about 30 minutes before we arrived so he took us to the spot where it was last seen. We walked up the rise from the water hole to search the forest’s thick leaf litter north of the swampy habitat. We were talking for about 10 minutes when I swear I watched the Swainson's Warbler emerge from under the leaves. It was only about twenty feet from where we were standing. Is it possible that it had been taking a siesta under the leaves? It hadn't flown in to that spot. I had been watching the small opening in the forest as we talked and it was exposed enough that I should have noticed it.

As reported by others, the olive-brown and gray bird appeared to be relatively tame. Most birds that feed in the leaf litter grab the leaves and toss them out of the way. The Swainson’s Warbler, however, gently lifted each leaf, peered underneath it for food then placed it back down. We stayed for about forty-five minutes and the whole time it remained in close proximity to our group. One behavior I hadn’t seen reported online is its curious habit of quivering the rear of its body. The head remained motionless but the tail and rear moved so quickly that it looked like it was shivering. The Dunn and Garrett "Warbler" guide only makes brief mention of this behavior. One guess would be that it functions to flush up insects. I located a study of their foraging behavior online where the biologist describes the unusual vibrating and how it may help in finding food.

-click to learn how they forage-

There’s always something new...

Tuliptree bud (Liriodendron tulipifera)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Curious hawk story

I just received the following interesting story from my friend Mary:

[...] I also wanted to tell you a hawk siting, that maybe you will be interested in (or at least amused by). About a week ago, I was walking up the broken path to the Boulder Bridge (along the edge of the Midwood) when I noticed a Red-tail on the ground very close to the path. It was approaching some stuff on the ground, which turned out to be a tied up plastic bag of garbage, I guess. The hawk was inspecting the bag (this surprised me because I didn't know they were scavengers), and then it sort of jumped back, and I saw that the bag was stuck in one of its talons. Suddenly the hawk flew up across the path to a snag, with the bag dangling from its foot (it looked sort of amusing, but I was a bit concerned). Once it was up there, it was pulling something that actually looked like guts out of the bag. And it was also occasionally tugging at the plastic to free itself I suppose. I was getting late for work, so I decided I had to leave, and that the hawk would probably be ok. As I crossed the bridge I saw Peter over near the Tulip Tree nest with his clipboard [...]. I told him about the hawk, and my slight concern about it being stuck. But then I figured if a hawk can pull apart a squirrel, it can tear a plastic bag. I'm sorry but I really don't recall whether it was an adult (I had seen at least 4 Red-tails that day), and I don't recall exactly what day it was (but Peter might since it was his "inspection" day). So reading your blog hawk mystery, I thought this incident might be connected. Something could have been in the bag, I suppose, that was harmful/fatal.


According to "The Birder's Handbook" their diet is 85%+ rodents but "offal" is also listed. Offal is defined as "viscera and trimmings of a butchered animal often considered inedible by humans"...yum. I've never witnessed our local Red-tailed Hawks eating anything but live prey and I'm curious how he knew what was in the plastic bag.

Tuesday late day

Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)
Prospect Park, April 2003.

When I received a report of a rare, Yellow-throated Warbler at the Vale of Cashmere I ran to the park. I never did locate the bird but did have some other nice observations as I searched the surrounding area.

Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)

(Photo credit - Rob J)
This is one of my favorite park trees. Its finally beginning to bud.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

(Photo credit - Rob J)
This tattered butterfly was circling me at the Vale of Cashmere.

-Click here for more info on Painted Ladies-

Hawthorn spp.

(Photo credit - Rob J)
A week ago this tree had only tiny buds.

Honeysuckle spp.

(Photo credit - Rob J)
My nose led me to this shrub in the Ravine. When the flowers fully emerge I may be able to figure out the species.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Green-Wood Cemetery hawk update

I just received the following update from Janet Schumacher:

Hi Rob--

I went to Green-Wood on Saturday to check the nest. Unfortunately it looks empty but it is so huge that I know early in spring I also thought it was empty last year.

I was getting ready to leave G-W, disappointed that I hadn't even seen a redtail, when a shadow fell over me and I looked up & saw two redtails. One definite adult but maybe the other one wasn't an adult--it was fairly high. They were catching a nice breeze but then wound up going down the other side of the hill.


Monday, April 11, 2005

Sadness and Hope

Japanese or Saucer Magnolia

(Photo credit - Rob J)

After having the honor of observing Big Mama and Split-tail raise three broods in three years I can say with certainly that their nest on Payne Hill has been abandoned. I don’t think that I will ever know the real cause and can only speculate on what has happened.

March 29th was the last day that I saw Split-tail and Big Mama together. It was also the day that I first observed the juvenile spending a lot of time within their territory. There is a huge difference in size between the adult and young hawk. I haven’t witnessed any sexual activity between them but the small juvenile has been seen bringing sticks to the nest on many occasions. On Saturday and Sunday I walked the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and checked every deciduous tree that was large enough to hold a Red-tailed Hawk nest. I watched the large adult, who I believe is Big Mama, hunting above the gardens. She was usually accompanied by the small juvenile, who is likely a male. I circled the Long Meadow twice, looking for anything that remotely resembled a hawk nest. Their first nest was near the 3rd Street playground. I checked the stretch of woods in that area but found nothing. Their second nest was in a European Beech behind the zoo. I covered that area, as well as, the adjacent Battle Pass and Aralia Grove. I’ve circled Payne Hill, the site of their third nest, and the Midwood many times yet I never saw a new nest or two adults.

Female Red-tailed Hawks do a majority of the incubating but the male will occasionally give her a break. She calls her mate with a loud chirping whistle when she gets hungry. He either brings her food or takes over incubating the eggs so she can hunt. I read through previous year’s journals and found that from mid-April to mid-May the two hawks communicated frequently and loudly. These last few weeks have been depressingly quiet within their territory. The only observations of a hawk at the nest was of the juvenile, who seemed a little unsure of what he should be doing.

Perhaps Split-tail has met an unfortunate end. I remember when one of Central Park’s Red-tailed Hawks was found poisoned. It is also possible that Big Mama has decided to pick a new, younger mate. Unfortunately, he may have come along a little too late in the season to continue breeding. “Elizabeth’s Tuliptree” is a towering tree at the north end of Nelly’s Lawn. It was Big Mama and Split-tail’s favorite perch. I would often see them perched there together as the sun was going down. Yesterday, at about 6pm, the juvenile hawk was perched near the top. I sat on the grass and waited to see what would happen next. Within about ten minutes he was joined by Big Mama.

Big Mama and Junior

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Springtime brings buds, bugs, birds and breeding. It also brings hope. Could this pair still breed? Could another nest be hidden away somewhere? Maybe not, but there’s always next year. Even with the prospect of Big Mama not raising any young this year I’m sure that unfolding events in the lives of these fascinating creatures will continue to enlighten me.

Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus Stolonifera)

Seen in the Lullwater below the Terrace Bridge
(Photo credit - Rob J)

This past weekend Mourning Cloak butterflies have been joined by Cabbage Whites and some unidentified anglewing butterflies. Star Magnolia buds have exploded into white exclamations and Saucer Magnolia buds have begun to unfold into fragrant, pink dishes. A few more migrants have begun entering the south end of the park with much song bird activity in the Peninsula Woods. Some of the early breeders are on nests, such as the Common Grackles, Canada Geese and the Mute Swans (with their mountainous nest pile).

Mute Swan on nest

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 4/10/2005
Pied-billed Grebe (Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant (Prospect Lake.)
Great Egret (Prospect Lake.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (4, Duck Is. 1, Lower Pool.)
Northern Shoveler (1, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-necked Duck (2, Upper Pool.)
Common Merganser (Prospect Lake.)
Ruddy Duck (~30, Prospect Lake.)
Cooper's Hawk (Juvenile, Lullwater.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1 adult, 1 juvenile.)
American Coot (5, Prospect Lake.)
Laughing Gull (3, Prospect Lake.)
Great Black-backed Gull (4, Prospect Lake.)
Belted Kingfisher (Upper Pool.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Payne Hill.)
Northern Flicker (Fairly common.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (~10. Peninsula & Vale.)
Hermit Thrush (1, near Litchfield Villa.)
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing (6, Peninsula.)
Northern Parula (Binnen Waters.)
Pine Warbler (4, Peninsula.)
Palm Warbler (4, Peninsula. 3, near Third St.)
Swamp Sparrow (Peninsula.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch (Several in Elm near Maintenance Garage.)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker (Payne Hill.), Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee (4-6.), Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Camperdown Elm

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Camperdown Elms-

Unknown shrub

(Photo credit - Rob J)