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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Rare Bird & A Distressed Bird

As I'd mentioned in a previous posting, biologist Ron Pittaway has forecast that this winter we'll be seeing various species of "winter finches" moving into our area. The species not typically seen around New York City, or at least not seen in abundance, that we should expect to see in our parks and at our backyard feeders are - Pine Grosbeak, Purple Finch, Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin and Evening Grosbeak. The siskins have already arrived and I've been observing them in good numbers nearly everywhere I go. I even had a flock fly over Robin and I while we relaxed on the roof last month. The crossbills feed on pinecone seeds, so I've been concentrating my efforts at Green-Wood Cemetery, where there are many mature, cone-laden conifers.

This past Saturday I spent 6 hours wandering Green-Wood and the effort eventually paid off. The highest concentration of conifers is in an area called "The Flats", which is below the ridges of the terminal moraine and runs parallel to Fort Hamilton Parkway. I decided to first walk up Ocean Hill, where there are also a good number of pines, before heading down to The Flats. At around 8:45am I had just ducked under the low branches of a yew tree to scan for owls when we heard the dry chirps of an incoming flock of White-winged Crossbills. It took Heydi and I a moment to locate the flock but eventually spotted a flock of about 25 White-winged Crossbills in a pine tree next to Stephen Whitney's copper-roofed chapel. The flock eventually took off towards the "Catacombs". We tried to follow the fast moving flock in an attempt to take some photos. A short time later we saw the chattering flock flying near the Crescent Water.

We ultimately realized that chasing after a single flock of crossbills was an exercise in futility, so returned to our game plan which was to walk The Flats, scanning the abundant conifers in that area. At around 10:15am we heard a calling Red Crossbill, then spotting a single bird as it flew over us near the "Valentine" angel on Cypress Avenue. At around 11:30am we heard a loud "jip, jip, jip, jip, jip" call coming from the top of a towering tulip tree. The bird was a long distance off and neither of us were certain, at first, what it was. Moving a little closer, we were elated to find that it was a Red Crossbill. It was more than a little ironic that we had been focusing our search exclusively on evergreens only to finally find this winter finch in a deciduous tree. The bird was very cooperative and remained long enough that we were able to take a few photos. It then flew a short distance to a spruce tree where it continued to call for a few minutes. It only stopped very briefly to feed on the tree's cones. During the excitement I managed to send out a text alert to the local birders. Tom Stephenson was the first to respond and said he would be there shortly. In the meantime, the bird decided to fly off in the direction of the Catacombs and Ocean Hill.

By the time Tom arrived the bird was gone, so we headed up Grape Avenue in an attempt to track down both crossbill species for him. Near Cedar Dell we ran into Cindy Cage, who had also responded to my text alert. The four of us spent several hours zig-zagging our way through the cemetery in the hopes of stumbling on these wandering northern birds. We scoured The Flats, the ridge above William Niblo, Steep-side Path and the ridge at Horace Greeley, but the crossbills eluded us. A consolation prize for the effort, however, was finding a pair of Eastern Bluebirds next to Horace Greeley.

As we descended Steep-side Path and approached the Sylvan Water, I noticed something odd along the shore on the West side of the lake. It appeared to be a lump of dark brown feathers. It seemed too small to be a Canada Goose and it wasn't moving. I wasn't sure if it was a sleeping or deceased bird. It was definitely a bird, but I couldn't see its head. As we got closer I realized that it was a Double-crested Cormorant. The pale throat and breast indicated that it was a juvenile bird and, by its behavior, something was wrong with it. They are seldom found far from the water and this individual was a few feet up on the shore. I approached the bird slowly to see if there was an obvious injury. It remained lying down and allowed me to walk right up to it. Backing off, I called Bobby Horvath to see if he could come by for the rescue. Bobby had his hands full rescuing oiled waterfowl in the Rockaways and recommended Sean Casey, a local wildlife rescuer. Sean was great. He arrived very quickly with an assistant and was able to capture the cormorant. The poor bird had a fishing hook impaling his left foot. The foot appeared swollen and I assume was infected. Cormorants are diving birds that rely on underwater speed to catch fish. This bird was likely unable to feed very well and, in addition to the infection, was probably malnourished. Thankfully, this bird now has a good chance of recovery and release back into the wild. I'll post an update as soon as I know anything.

People like Sean and Bobby are true saviors for the diverse animals around New York City and Long Island. Nobody becomes a wildlife rehabilitator to make money. They do it for the satisfaction of knowing they can make a difference. If you'd like to make a donation to Sean's organization, click here. I'll also be adding his information to my Wildlife Rescuers page shortly.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Great post and so glad you were able to get Casey to come and save the bird. His poor foot looked awful swollen. Looking forward to an update. Hope to get those crossbills before the winter is over. I did get a better view of the winter wren the next day but no crossbills.
Great birding.