Check out City Birder Tours, and Green-Wood sponsored tours on their calendar pages here.
Celebrate your inner nerd with my new t-shirt design! Available on my Spreadshirt shop in multiple colors and products.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Is Big Mama back?

I recently received an e-mail from my friend Janet. I'm hoping that Big Mama has returned to her former territory at the north end of Prospect Park.

"I noticed an adult redtail sitting in the usual tulip tree at North end of Nellie's meadow. Is that one of your pair or just simply great real estate & another hawk moved in?

I really missed not having the redtails in Green-Wood this year--I always used to see several & very surprising not to see any. Last weekend saw a redtail circling overhead in different parts of the cemetery. I wonder if they are some of Prospect's brood. [...]


I'm not sure why both the Green-Wood Cemetery pair and the north park pair had an unsuccessful year. Perhaps it's merely cyclical and 2006 will have lots of young Red-tailed Hawks back in the middle of Brooklyn.

Happy Thanksgiving

Hoping everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving break.

Heron at sunset on Quiet River

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Looking for the Red-tailed Hawks

Looking north across Prospect Lake at Lookout Hill

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It has been a long time since I used my bicycle to try and track the Red-tailed Hawks in Prospect Park. I feel like I can finally put behind me the exasperating three years since my cycling accident. My last orthopedic surgery appears to have restored my damaged wrist. It felt really good gliding along the park’s roads and paths listening for evidence of the hawks and searching their favorite places.

The nest that Split-tail and Big Mama built in the Tulip tree on Payne Hill still looks solid and usable. After checking out the nest I headed towards the Midwood. A young couple was walking up the bridle path that rises out of the forest towards Rick’s Place. While I was looking in their direction an adult Red-tailed Hawk soared out of a tree just a few feet behind them and disappeared into the Midwood. I told the couple what had just happened and they seemed disappointed that they hadn’t turned around at the right moment.

I circled around the woods a few times trying to locate the hawk. A tiny Winter Wren perched atop a pile of rotting logs chipped incessantly while bobbing up and down, stubby tail pointing skyward. I assumed that he was agitated by the presence of the hawk but I could not find him as he vanished into the dried, brown canopy. I felt like my hawk tracking skills were a little rusty and just continued south through the park.

Among the park’s annual winter visitors I noticed that the goldfinch numbers are on the rise. They seemed to have timed their arrival with the opening of the sweetgum fruits. Most of the sweetgum balls have yet to open and release their abundant stash of seeds. However, I noticed that the fruits at the very top of the trees have started to turn brown and open. A pair of sweetgums adjacent to the Butterfly Meadow were loaded with chattering American Goldfinches. White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos assembled on the ground beneath the trees and took advantage of the hurried diners spilled leftovers. Another flock of goldfinches, desperate for a drink, kept landing in a shallow puddle at the edge of the Nethermead Meadow. It was at the intersection of two footpaths and close to the road. Despite constant interruptions by humans the flock would land, quickly drink, fly up to a large oak tree then repeat the process every minute or so.

I pedaled around the perimeter of Prospect Lake checking for winter waterfowl and the Red-tailed Hawks that like to, well, eat them. Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Duck numbers are increasing, as are coots. Near the skating rink, across from Duck Island, I spotted a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk perched at the top of a birch tree. People like to feed the ducks nearby and I suppose that he is aware of the easy targets. I continued my tour around the lake and rode up to Breeze Hill. In the trees facing the Peninsula four Blue Jays were making a racket. I assumed a raptor was close and searched the trees but found nothing.

I wheeled my bicycle passed the Fallkill Falls and the Upper Pool towards the Long Meadow. Near the wildflower meadow a Red Bat fluttered by my head so close that I involuntarily ducked. The mild weather has enabled small pockets of insects to extend their season. The bat was taking advantage of the late run and swooped back and forth above the Upper Pool snatching up bugs.

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

As I pedaled north along the Long Meadow I spotted a familiar winter silhouette. Perched at the top of a large Ginkgo Tree was a female Merlin. Every winter the park is host to one or two Merlins. Apparently that Gingko Tree is a prime spot to launch an attack against unsuspecting songbirds as I’ve seen it being used since 1997. I leaned back on the top tube of my bike and watched her against the darkening sky. Every few minutes she would take off, fly around the Upper Pool, behind a hill with a stand of mature Elm Trees then back to her perch in the ginkgo. People strolling by probably noticed the wide grin on my face and glanced up at the tree. Some people were genuinely curious about the falcon and stopped to ask me questions. I let them use my bins to get a better look and they were all impressed by the compact, powerful looking bird. One man told me that now he intended to bring binoculars to the park all the time.

Merlin in Ginkgo Tree

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Merlins-

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 11/20/2005
Pied-billed Grebe (2, Prospect Lake.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (Upper pool.)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Juvenile at Vale of Cashmere.)
Gadwall (Male, Upper pool.)
Northern Shoveler (approx. 25, Prospect Lake.)
Bufflehead (1, Upper pool.)
Ruddy Duck (32, Prospect Lake.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1 adult at Midwood, 1 juvenile on Duck Is.)
Merlin (Edge of Lower pool.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker (2.)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1, Sweetgum on Center Dr.)
Hairy Woodpecker (1 Lookout Hill; 1 Quaker Ridge.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (3, Breeze Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1, Breeze Hill feeder.)
Brown Creeper (South side of lake.)
Winter Wren (1, Midwood.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Several.)
White-throated Sparrow (Common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Common.)
American Goldfinch (Flock of approx. 30 at Butterfly Meadow.)

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

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A short walk in Prospect Park

Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A short walk in Prospect Park in spring-like temperatures yielded little bird activity. I walked along Center Drive checking the Sweetgum and ash trees for goldfinch flocks. It’s usually around this time of year that an occasional Pine Siskin can be found feeding among the American Goldfinches. The wind was blowing hard directly into the trees along the road’s border so I didn’t find any birds at all. Many of the Sweetgum fruits are still pale green and have yet to drop their miniscule seeds. Strong wind has caused all the ash trees to loose their clusters of single blade propellers.

-Click here for photos of Pine Siskins-

Hackberry Nipple Galls

(Photo credit - Rob J)

On a trip to Staten Island on the 5th of this month I noticed something curious. Walking through the woods in Conference House Park it appeared that all the hackberry leaves on the ground were spotted with tiny, green ring-shaped growths. I assumed that they were some type of insect egg. I had all but forgotten about it until I noticed the same thing in Prospect Park. I took some photographs and planned on researching it in the future. Purely by coincidence, while looking up information on oak trees, I stumbled on a photo that looked exactly like my hackberry growths. I learned that it is called “Hackberry Nipple Gall” and is caused by tiny insects called psyllids.

-Click here for more info-

In addition to the wind gusts keeping the bird activity to a minimum a large, adult Cooper’s Hawk and a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk were patrolling the park. I gave up on trying to locate one of our Red-tailed Hawks and began heading home. I ran into a woman on horseback that I’ve spoke with in the past. She mentioned that she hadn’t seen any of the Red-tails lately. No sooner had the words left her lips when one of the hawks flew over Lookout Hill, across Center Drive and into the woods surrounding the cemetery.

Phragmite seed "feather"

(Photo credit - Rob J)

One unexpected observation today was of blooming Witch Hazel shrubs next to the Picnic House.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 11/16/2005
Pied-billed Grebe (3, Prospect Lake.)
Great Blue Heron (Upper pool.)
Wood Duck (Lower pool.)
Northern Shoveler (approx. 20.)
Ruddy Duck (approx. 12.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Flying over Rick's Place.)
Cooper's Hawk (Lookout Hill.)
Red-tailed Hawk (Flying over Lookout Hill towards cemetery.)
American Coot (approx. 15-20.)
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
White-breasted Nuthatch (2 at Breeze Hill feeder.)
Carolina Wren (Peninsula, near point.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Several.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2.)
Hermit Thrush (1, Nethermead Meadow.)
Cedar Waxwing (4, flying over Nethermead Meadow.)
Fox Sparrow (1, Peninsula.)
White-throated Sparrow (Common.)
American Goldfinch (Fairly common.)

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

Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum simulans)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Another rare warbler in Forest Park

Black-throated Gray Warbler (Dendroica nigrescens) in Forest Park

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

I hadn’t planned on doing any birding on Sunday. When I received an e-mail alert that a Black-throated Gray Warbler was just seen in Forest Park I couldn’t resist running out. It’s about a one hour subway ride from my neighborhood in Brooklyn to my old stomping grounds in Queens. The report came in at approximately 2:00pm. Sunset would be at 4:30pm so I literally dropped everything and ran out the door.

It’s a long walk from the subway station to the “waterhole” in Forest Park so I practically ran the whole distance. There was no doubt that I was in the correct location as there were 20 birders standing around in the woods. I asked if the bird was still present and was told that it had been seen within the last hour.

Next to the small, muddy puddle that is the waterhole is a downed oak tree and a jumble of viburnum and other small shrubs. A pair of chickadees, a Winter Wren, several goldfinches, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a pair of Nashville Warblers were feeding in and around the patch of tangled understory. I had only been looking for the warbler for a few minutes when he obligingly hopped into the viburnum directly in front of me. He foraged for insects by probing into dried, curled up leaves still attached to their stems. His black and white head pattern reminded me of the chickadees that he was associating with. The setting sun made it too dark in the woods for my little camera to work effectively but there were other folks present with high end camera equipment. I’d never seen a Black-throated Gray Warbler anywhere, let alone New York City.

I don’t know why birds stray hundreds to thousands of miles from their normal boundaries. It always surprises me that they would show up in an urban center like NYC. I’ve heard theories that range from “making a wrong turn” or “getting caught up in a storm” to “expanding their range”. In the short time that I’ve been a birder I’ve been fortunate to observe several unusual extralimital species, including one “first” for the lower 48 states. The Black-throated Gray Warbler, oddly enough, was the second rare warbler seen in NYC this year. The first was a Swainson’s Warbler. Both were observed at the Forest Park waterhole.

-Click here for more info on Black-throated Gray Warblers-

- - - - -

Forest Park, Queens, 11/13/2005
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Winter Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Nashville Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Northern Cardinal
American Goldfinch

Friday, November 11, 2005

Jones Beach in the cold

West End 2 parking lot

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Joe, Sean, John and I picked the first frigid morning of the season to drive out to Jones Beach in search of a Cave Swallow.
Cave Swallows (Petrochelidon fulva) are a southwestern species and, for whatever reasons, has been observed in the northeast in increased frequency over recent years. On November 6th over 300 migrating Cave Swallows were observed near the western end of Lake Ontario!

A large, swirling flock of Tree Swallows fought the gusts and continuously circled the area. Unfortunately, as hard as we tried, we couldn't pull a Cave Swallow out the flock. I'm not very experienced at estimating the numbers of individuals in a single flock. We thought that there may have been around 500 birds total so I counted each one in a single photograph that I took today. I was surprised to tally a little over 500 in just one frame. With that in mind I would "guesstimate" that there were easily 1,000 Tree Swallows present.

Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) at Jones Beach

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Also at Jones Beach was a Clay-colored Sparrow feeding along the median strip. The cooperative bird gave us long looks.

Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

At Floyd Bennett Field, near the cricket field, we stopped to check out a flock of Horned Larks. The birds were nibbling on the seeds of plants growing up through cracks in the parking lot pavement. Sean was focusing his camera on one of the Horned Larks when a Lapland Longspur, unexpectedly, walked into the frame. The longspur seemed more wary than the larks and scurried around behind clumps of grass.

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) at Floyd Bennett Field

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

One other interesting observation today was of a leucistic Yellow-rumped Warbler next to the Coast Guard Station. I began referring to the stunning, mostly white warbler as the "rarely seen Snow Warbler".

"Snow Warbler" at Coast Guard Station

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Grass drawn circle

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Jones Beach, Floyd Bennett Field, Ft. Tilden, 11/11/2005
Northern Gannet
Wood Duck
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
Black-bellied Plover
American Oystercatcher
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Chimney Swift (Jones Beach.)
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Horned Lark (11, Floyd Bennett Field.)
Tree Swallow (1,000+.)
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Yellow-rumped Warbler (plus one leucistic individual at Coast Guard Station.)
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow (Jones Beach median.)
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur (Floyd Bennett Field.)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Pine Siskin (Jones Beach median.)
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Double-crested Cormorant, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, American Crow, Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Staten Island with the Brooklyn Bird Club

I joined members of the Brooklyn Bird Club today on a field trip to Staten Island. Shane was the trip leader. I'll post a complete report and species list by tomorrow...I hope.

Great Kills baseball fields early in the morning

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Great Black-backed Gull with Sea Skate

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Red Beard Sponge (Microciona prolifera) at Great Kills

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Blue Heron Pond Park

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Inky Cap mushroom (Coprinus sp.)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Wooly Bear caterpillar

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Large Milkweed Bug nymph (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on Dogbane (Apocynum sp.)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Belted Kingfisher

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Asiatic Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata)

(Photo credit - Rob J)