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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Croton Point Park

Ice Fingers (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Today I lead a group of birder’s from the Brooklyn Bird Club on a field trip to Croton Point Park and the nearby George’s Island Park. Both parks are located on the shores of the Hudson River north of New York City. They are primarily known for overwintering Bald Eagles, but other winter specialities can also be found in these spots. Croton Point Park is approximately 36 miles north of Prospect Park, as the crow flies.

Several people had to cancel at the last minute so, with the small group that did come, it felt to me more like a casual day of birding than leading a trip. Just what I needed. Factoring in the peculiar winter weather we’ve had in the northeast, I wasn’t too optimistic that I would locate many winter species. The highest number of Bald Eagles that I’ve recorded in this area on a winter trip was 19. It’s also typical to observe Short-eared Owls, Northern Harriers, Great Horned Owl, American Pipits, Horned Larks and, on the water, a nice assortment of waterfowl. Croton Point is a good place to view Rough-legged Hawks during years when this species moves south in the winter.

There are several different habitats around Croton Point; Croton Bay (south of the point), the Hudson River, mixed hardwood forest and grassland. An extensive grassland that makes up the largest land mass of Croton Point Park is the result of a reclaimed, capped landfill. When one walks the north/south trail over the top of the man-made mountain it’s not unusual to see kestrels, harriers, short-eared, Savannah Sparrows and pipits.

We began the day at the end of the train station road near the train trestle that cuts across the east side of Croton Bay. It was brutally cold at 7:30am but we quickly shook off the chill when we spotted several adult Bald Eagles perched in the trees across the water. There were five eagles perched in the trees in a 100 yard stretch south of the highway. Before we left we watched a sixth eagle fly in from the north, chase off one of the birds and take his roost.

Young Red-tailed Hawk at Croton Point

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

We weren’t able to locate any owls in the park. The annual Great Horned Owl nest had blown down in a storm and a resident screech owl also lost his favorite roost to wind damage. I’m not sure if the unusual weather this year is to blame but the grassland on the mound was virtually devoid of bird life. There was a single Red-tailed Hawk surveying the area but pipits, owls and other winter birds were mysteriously absent. The grassy areas south of the mound were very active with mixed flocks of American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, both nuthatches, woodpeckers and other common species. We even located two Gray Catbirds, who are usually far south of this part of the country in late-January.

Ice Crust

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Geometric Patterns in Ice Crust (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Croton Bay was mostly open water with only a narrow strip of window-pane thin ice formations. The ice sounded like glass as it fractured under the subtle wave action beneath its surface. Normally, at this time of year, Bald Eagles would be seen standing on ice flows in the bay eating fish and being harassed by crows or gulls. The diversity of waterflow on both the bay and river was meager. Common Goldeneye are usually fairly common but there were very few seen today. Common Merganser, on the other hand, were seen in higher than normal numbers. From the southern end of the point we aimed our scopes across the river towards Hook Mountain. Several hundred mergansers could be seen in flocks stretching across the western horizon. I suppose large numbers remained in the area because of the extensive open water.

We spent almost the entire day at Croton Point Park, even bushwhacking through some areas that I’ve never explored in the 9 winters that I’ve birded the park. Before the sun went down we drove the short distance to George’s Island Park. I thought that we might observe some eagles coming in to roost. We didn’t, but as we were packing up our scopes to head back to Brooklyn, Kellie spotted something interesting. She’s like the Energizer Bunny in that, when everyone is exhausted and running on fumes, she’s still birding. This time she called out that there were some odd-looking black birds on the shore across the cove. I walked back from the car, focused my bins and said, “That would be a flock of Wild Turkeys.” On a stretch of beach colored red by the remains of the area’s former brick industry, were 8 Wild Turkeys. As they took turns sipping water from the Hudson River, we could hear their comical cackling and gobbling carrying across the cove. It wasn’t your typical ending to a winter bird trip along the Hudson River, but it was a memorable one.

-Click here for info on Croton Point Park History-

Where's Croton Point?

Click to Enlarge

Finally, I tried an experiment with 360 degree panoramas from the top of the mound at Croton Point Park. It probably would have looked a bit better if we had some sun.

360 degree view from the hill (click and drag image)

(Quicktime plug-in required)

The large body of water to the west is the Hudson River. The smaller body to the east is Croton Bay.

- - - - -

Croton Point Park & George’s Island Park, 1/27/2007
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Bald Eagle (10-12.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Wild Turkey (8, George’s Island Park.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

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


Mike said...

No owls at all? I'm surprised/concerned, especially if you couldn't find any. With hope, the short-ears will move in as the winter progresses. I heard that there's still a bit of tall grass this year, a welcome departure from last year's butcher job.

Rob Jett said...

The grass on the south end of the mound is still way too short. I think this is the first time in 9 years that I didn't find any species of owls. The screech and great horned could still be around, but Short-eared Owls haven't really been reported much anywhere. Galeville Airport has reported several but not nearly as many as in past winters.

Seph said...

Though not relevant to your post, I wanted to share that I stumbled across one of the Great Blue Herons apparently frozen to death among the reeds on the Peninsula in Prospect Park this morning. Not wanting to touch or move it I couldn't determine the sex, and it was partially covered by snow. The other of the pair was wading in the shallows nearby, apparently healthy, though I wonder if it will suffer the fate of its mate/companion/friend. I took some photos for a record and have spoken with the animal control officer in charge of Prospect Park, though I'm not sure they plan to do anything about it immediately.

Rob Jett said...

Thanks for the heads up. I suspect that the heron died of something other than the cold temperature. As long as there is open water and availabel food, Great Blue Herons regularly overwinter in New York State. According to "Bull's Birds of New York State", great blues "can be seen in almost every month." Dead birds should be sent to Ward Stone for a necropsy.

Unknown said...

I read your blog last weekend and on Friday morning my girlfriend and I rode the train up to Croton Point Park. I had with me a pair of cheap binoculars that were a gift a couple of years ago and a brand new Sibley’s Guide. It was my first time out as a birder.

I saw a couple of eagles, hawks, woodpeckers, gulls, and many other birds; some known and some not yet identified by me. I even got to see a deer and a coyote make their way over the big mound.