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Monday, March 22, 2021

A New Cemetery Couple

At first I thought that Green-Wood Cemetery's resident pair of Red-tailed Hawks were exploring rentals on the opposite side of the cemetery from their usual digs. They seemed to be eyeing the large conifers behind Horace Greeley. That's where Bald Eagle "Rover" frequently dines. Then, about two weeks ago the red-tails began nest building at that spot.

There is a towering tuliptree nearby that the amorous couple has been using for their construction material. I got a few shots of one of the hawks snapping off a sizable branch for the nest. While watching with a couple of friends we noticed that one of the birds was banded! A blue band is on one leg, a silver on the other.
The blue one really stands out, so I'm pretty sure I would have noticed it before. This individual is also distinctive for its very dark, thick belly band. Also new to me. I checked Evan Rabeck's Flickr page to see if he had any photos of the cemetery nest builders. He has photos of a different pair perched side by side. Neither is banded.
It has been about a decade, but we have seen two pairs of Red-tailed Hawks nest in Green-Wood Cemetery. One year there were three nesting pairs in adjacent Prospect Park! I guess it is a sign that there is enough food to support a relatively large community of local raptors. If you'd like to check out the new nest, there is a really good view from the hill at the south-east side of the intersection of Oak and Hillock Avenues.


I look forward to seeing fledgling hawks perched on the head of Horace Greeley sometime in the near future.

Monday, March 15, 2021

A Classic NYC Birding Book

My birding mentor was an iconic Brooklyn character named Marty Sohmer. Since passed, he was well known and loved within the local birding community. In addition to teaching me great identification tips and relating timeless birding anecdotes (plus really corny jokes), he told me about a great book on birding around New York City called "Enjoying Birds Around New York City". Published in 1966, the authors were Robert Arbib, Jr., Olin Sewall Pettingill, Jr. and Sally Hoyt Spofford. All three were very important ornithologists and conservationists in their own rights.

One of the best features of this publication is the section titled "A Bird Watcher's Calendar". Each month has a few paragraphs which describe the seasonal event one should expect to observe. As a scientist Mr. Arbib shows a surprising sensitive and poetic nature to his descriptions. The March section begins, "Often the month of hope denied". There is a similar section, "Calendar for a Big List of Birds" which recommends weekly locations to maximize one's year list of birds. This book has been out of print for a very long time. Fortunately I stumbled on a copy while in a used bookstore in (of all places) Chatham, MA. It's in great condition and think I paid $15 for it. I've seen used copies available online.
The title page makes it clear that this book wins the award for longest title ever. Thirty-nine words!
This is not just a book about where to bird in New York City, but also how to bird: seasonal fluctuations, habitat preferences, family groupings, species field marks & vocalizations, behavior, etc. There is also a brief discussion on resources, such as binoculars and field guides.
The species accounts may be a little dated with regard to some of the currently accepted common names. Harrier is listed as "Marsh Hawk", kestrel is "Sparrow Hawk" and American Crow is "Common Crow", to name a few. For me, that is minor given the quality of the pen and ink illustrations that accompany the species accounts. They really are beautiful.
Finally, in a world of Google Earth satellite images in the palm of our hands, I find the 17 hand drawn maps in the book to go beyond simple navigation tools. To me they are art and make having this 55 year old publication on my bookshelf worth it. Are there other birding books with good information? Certainly, but much of the information contained within its 160 pages are, unbelievably, still relevant and useful. As a bonus, it is also filled with lovely illustrations, "historic" hand drawn maps of birding hot spots and a peek into birding around NYC nearly 60 years ago. It would make a nice addition to anyone's birding library.


Saturday, March 13, 2021

New York City Rare Bird Alert

Below is the New York City Rare Bird Alert for the week ending Friday, March 12, 2021:

-RBA
* New York
* New York City, Long Island, Westchester County
* Mar. 12, 2021
* NYNY2103.12


MEW GULL+
FERRUGINOUS HAWK (extralimital)+
WESTERN TANAGER+
(+ Details requested by NYSARC)

GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE
KING EIDER
Common Eider
Red-necked Grebe
Common Gallinule
American Oystercatcher
Piping Plover
American Woodcock
Wilson’s Snipe
Willet
Razorbill
Black-legged Kittiwake
BLACK-HEADED GULL
Laughing Gull
Iceland Gull
American Bittern
Osprey
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK
RED-HEADED WOODPECKER
Eastern Phoebe
Common Redpoll
Red Crossbill
Pine Siskin
Vesper Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
Pine Warbler

If followed by (+) please submit documentation of your report electronically and use the NYSARC online submission form found at http://www.nybirds.org/NYSARC/goodreport.htm

You can also send reports and digital image files via email to nysarc44nybirdsorg

If electronic submission is not possible, hardcopy reports and photos or sketches are welcome. Hardcopy documentation should be mailed to:

Gary Chapin - Secretary
NYS Avian Records Committee (NYSARC)
125 Pine Springs Drive
Ticonderoga, NY 12883

Hotline: New York City Area Rare Bird Alert
Number: (212) 979-3070

Compiler: Tom Burke
Coverage: New York City, Long Island, Westchester County

Transcriber: Gail Benson

[~BEGIN RBA TAPE~]

Greetings! This is the New York Rare Bird Alert for Friday, March 12, 2021 at 11:00 pm.

The highlights of today’s tape are MEW GULL, WESTERN TANAGER, BLACK-HEADED GULL, GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE, KING EIDER, ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, winter finches and spring arrivals and more.

The immature MEW GULL visiting both Bush Terminal Piers Park and Prospect Park lake in Brooklyn the past couple of weeks was last reported at the lake on Tuesday, while the immature BLACK-HEADED GULL continued around Bush Terminal Piers Park at least through Wednesday.

Of the two Manhattan WESTERN TANAGERS, only the one at Carl Schurz Park was reported this week, this bird often spotted near the feeders located just inside the park off East End Avenue slightly south of East 86th Street.

A GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE was photographed on Tuesday in a field along Sagg Main Street in Bridgehampton.

The drake KING EIDER at Great Kills Park on Staten Island was seen on the beach there today, while of two KING EIDERS noted recently at Jones Beach West End, the young male was photographed in a COMMON EIDER flock off the West End jetty Monday, and the immature male KING wintering at Shinnecock Inlet was still present last Sunday.

Also last Sunday single ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS were spotted along the Meadowbrook Parkway at Jones Beach West End and in Amityville, while highlights that same day at Montauk Point included 4 BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES and 13 RAZORBILLS.

Also notable this week were a RED-NECKED GREBE seen again off Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx on Monday, the continuing COMMON GALLINULE at Mill Pond Park in Bellmore, an ICELAND GULL still around Randall’s Island Wednesday, and AMERICAN BITTERNS at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and along Dune Road. A RED-HEADED WOODPECKER was still out at Cedar Point County Park in Northwest Harbor last Saturday.

Besides some lingering PINE SISKINS locally, lower numbers of COMMON REDPOLLS did include 10 in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery yesterday, and 4 RED CROSSBILLS were spotted out in Georgica today.

Also lingering as well have been a VESPER SPARROW out at the Calverton Grasslands and a couple of LINCOLN’S SPARROWS in Manhattan at Bryant Park and in Central Park.

Peak numbers of AMERICAN WOODCOCKS are now displaying in appropriate habitat, and some new recent arrivals, replacing our departing waterfowl, have included AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, PIPING PLOVER, WILSON’S SNIPE and WILLET, LAUGHING GULL, OSPREY, and such early passerines as EASTERN PHOEBE and PINE WARBLER.

And, not to forget, the extralimital FERRUGINOUS HAWK was still up in the Orange County black dirt region Wednesday.

To phone in reports call Tom Burke at (914) 967-4922.

This service is sponsored by the Linnaean Society of New York and the National Audubon Society. Thank you for calling.

- End transcript
...Read more

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Spring Ear Birding Prep

This year the first day of Spring in New York City will be Saturday, March 20th. As an ear birder I always like to take a few days and refresh my brain by listening to the Peterson "Birding by Ear" bird-song identification guides. Whether new to bird vocalizations or a longtime aficionado, spending even a little time with the recordings to prepare for the waves of northbound songbirds is really helpful. If identifying birds by their calls and songs frustrates you, then now is the best time to start studying. With the right tools it much easier than you think.

There are several sources available to help you learn how to identify birds by ear, but the best I've found is the Peterson Field Guides series of CDs. These discs are not just reference recordings, but well organized lessons that use groups of similar sounding species, repetition and mnemonics to help you quickly learn sounds. Here on the east coast of North America you should purchase "Birding by Ear: Eastern/Central", as well as, "More Birding by Ear Eastern and Central North America". There are discs available for the west coast, too. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate digital downloads.

Below is a list of the tracks on which I recommend you concentrate. Obviously, there are many more common species in our area which you could add as you feel needed.

The colorful wood-warblers are the most important songbirds to learn. Once you've purchased the discs, use iTunes (or similar software) to import the following tracks:

Name Album Disc # Track #
Sing-songers Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 1 4
Warbling Songsters Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 6
Wood Warblers & a Warbling Wren Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 1
Warblers: Buzzy More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 1
Warblers: Simple More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 2
Warblers: Two-Parted More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 3
Warblers: Complex More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 2 4
Empidonax Flycatchers More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 1 4

Note that I included the empidonax flycatchers on the list as they are notoriously difficult to separate visually, but have very distinctive vocalizations.

The woodland thrushes are also incredible songsters, so I recommend the following tracks:

Name Album Disc # Track #
Thrushes Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 2
Thrushes More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 1 7


One family of bird vocalizations that I tend to neglect are the shorebirds. More often than not, during spring migration a group of calling shorebirds passing overhead are noted only as "flock of unidentified peeps". While their calls and songs may not be nearly as melodic as the wood-warblers, they are each unique and easily identifiable if you take a few minutes each day to study the recommended "Birding by Ear" tracks.

Name Album Disc # Track #
Shorebirds: Pairs More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 1
Shorebirds: Plovers More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 2
Shorebirds: Whistlers More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 3
Shorebirds: Peepers More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 4
Shorebirds: Other More Birding by Ear, Eastern/Central 3 5

In case you were wondering, I don't make any money promoting the Peterson Field Guide series. I have just found that their systematic approach to learning bird-song to be the best available. Our local populations of birds, as well as, overwintering species have already begun to sing, so don't procrastinate. If you spend even just 20 minutes a day listening during your commute, by the time all the warblers begin streaming through NYC I guarantee you'll be able to find some birds with your eyes closed.

Green-Wood Cemetery Birding Map

In an attempt to make navigating Green-Wood Cemetery a little bit easier, I modified the existing official map that is available on the cemetery's website. Using 1855 and 1901 maps, which shows the names of the various landforms, i.e. ridges, hills and valley, I overlaid these landmarks on the current map. My reasoning was that most birders haven't a clue what the names of the roads are in places like Central Park and Prospect Park, but they do know the geographic labels.

The file is very large (9686 × 13200 pixels) so if you have access to a large format printer, it should look very good. Download the full-sized map here.


Saturday, March 06, 2021

New York City Rare Bird Alert

Below is the New York City Rare Bird Alert for the week ending Friday, March 5, 2021:

- RBA
* New York
* New York City, Long Island, Westchester County
* Mar. 5, 2021
* NYNY2103.05


- Birds mentioned
PINK-FOOTED GOOSE+
MEW GULL+
FERRUGINOUS HAWK+ (Orange County)
WESTERN TANAGER+
(+ Details requested by NYSARC)

EURASIAN WIGEON
KING EIDER
Red-necked Grebe
Common Gallinule
SANDHILL CRANE
American Woodcock
Black-legged Kittiwake
BLACK-HEADED GULL
Iceland Gull
GLAUCOUS GULL
American Bittern
Great Egret
Black Vulture
Red-shouldered Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
RED-HEADED WOODPECKER
Tree Swallow
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin

- Transcript

If followed by (+) please submit documentation of your report electronically and use the NYSARC online submission form found at http://www.nybirds.org/NYSARC/goodreport.htm

You can also send reports and digital image files via email to nysarc44 (at)nybirds{dot}org.

If electronic submission is not possible, hardcopy reports and photos or sketches are welcome. Hardcopy documentation should be mailed to:

Gary Chapin - Secretary
NYS Avian Records Committee (NYSARC)
125 Pine Springs Drive
Ticonderoga, NY 12883

Hotline: New York City Area Rare Bird Alert
Number: (212) 979-3070

Compiler: Tom Burke
Coverage: New York City, Long Island, Westchester County

Transcriber: Ben Cacace

BEGIN TAPE

Greetings. This is the New York Rare Bird Alert for Friday, March 5th 2021 at 11pm. The highlights of today's tape are MEW GULL, PINK-FOOTED GOOSE, SANDHILL CRANE, WESTERN TANAGER, EURASIAN WIGEON, KING EIDER, BLACK-HEADED GULL, GLAUCOUS GULL, RED-HEADED WOODPECKER and more.

The immature MEW GULL visiting Brooklyn since late January did go missing for much of this past week being seen once back at Bush Terminal Piers Park last Sunday before reappearing again on Prospect Park Lake yesterday. More regular during this week was the immature BLACK-HEADED GULL spotted as recently as yesterday and today both on Prospect Park Lake and at Bush Terminal Piers Park the latter location also hosting a drake EURASIAN WIGEON all week. An adult BLACK-HEADED GULL also made a reappearance at Randall's Island last Sunday.

A PINK-FOOTED GOOSE first spotted back in late January out in Northport but unobserved since then is apparently still in the area as it was spotted with Canada Geese last Monday along Norwood Road in Northport just east of the Fuch's Pond Preserve. It has remained unknown as to where this flock roosts overnight.

A belated report from Thursday February 25th featured a SANDHILL CRANE flying west over Tobay Sanctuary.

Both Manhattan WESTERN TANAGERS were present this week. The one at Carl Schurz Park regularly visits feeders setup in the park just east of East End Avenue a little south of East 86th Street while the one downtown in the Chelsea area continues to be more elusive finding food where available between West 22nd and West 23rd Streets just east of 10th Avenue.

A drake KING EIDER was still present today at Great Kills Park on Staten Island and the female KING was still off Archery Road at Floyd Bennett Field last Sunday.

A BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE was spotted near a feeding whale off Robert Moses State Park last Saturday that day also finding a GLAUCOUS GULL still present at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. An ICELAND GULL was noted at Randall's Island as recently as yesterday with another still in the Brooklyn area last Sunday.

A RED-NECKED GREBE was spotted off Pelham Bay Park Monday, a COMMON GALLINULE remains at Mill Pond Park in Bellmore and AMERICAN BITTERNS continue along Dune Road west of Shinnecock Inlet.

This week ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK was noted at several locations along the Jones Island strip from Zach's Bay east to Oak Beach as well as out at the Calverton Grassland.

A RED-HEADED WOODPECKER continues along the Paumanok Trail near Jones Pond in Manorville this site on the west side of Schultz Road.

Some COMMON REDPOLLS remain in the area including about 20 seen last Saturday in Brooklyn at the Cemetery of the Evergreens west of Forest Park and PINE SISKINS are also now moving back through our area.

AMERICAN WOODCOCKS are now displaying locally and also noted recently have been arriving GREAT EGRET, some northbound BLACK VULTURES and RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS and more TREE SWALLOW and the extralimital FERRUGINOUS HAWK in the Orange County Black Dirt area was still present Thursday.

To phone in reports call Tom Burke at (914) 967-4922.

This service is sponsored by the Linnaean Society of New York and the National Audubon Society. Thank you for calling.

- End transcript
...Read more

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Signs of Spring in Green-Wood Cemetery

Our goals during this past Sunday's "Birding in Peace" walk was to look for signs of Spring, as well as, my favorite early migrant: American Woodcock. Most people think of the Eastern Phoebe as the earliest migrant in our area, but woodcocks frequently begin passing through in late-February.

As the snow retreats and bare patches of ground soften, Common Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) emerge. A great spot to look for these blooms is the open grass at Twilight Dell, along Central Avenue. They didn't disappoint this week and I expect that for this coming weekend's tour there will be a lot more poking their nodding blooms up through the soil.


Across the intersection from Twilight Dell is a new tree for me - Cherry Birch (Betula lenta). I never really noticed this native species before, but the low, dangling catkins caught my attention for the first time last winter. Birch beer can be made from this tree's sap. Maybe that could be another product for the Green-Wood Cemetery store! If you'd like to find this tree it is just off the south-west intersection of Central Avenue and Pine Avenue.
Turkish Filbert or Hazel (Corylus colurna), which are fairly common throughout the cemetery, are now covered with their long catkins. The nuts are edible, but apparently smaller, harder and more difficult to harvest than the Common Hazel, so probably best left for squirrels to dine on.
Witch-hazel is blooming throughout the cemetery. Not really a Spring bloom or even a sign of Spring. This example at Winter Walk is a cultivar: Jalena witch-hazel (Hamamelis × intermedia 'Jelena'). I've seen witch-hazel blooming in Brooklyn in the middle of Winter, when the Spring thaw is a distant dream. Always a nice splash of color on an otherwise drab landscape, though.
As the group circled the edge of Sylvan Water I spotted something moving under a white pine. I ducked down to get a better look and saw a Cooper's Hawk among a pile of white, downy feathers. Approaching slowly, the raptor spooked & flew off, dropping her prey at the base of a cherry tree: a female Wood Duck. It was the first time I'd been so close to this tiny waterfowl and was immediately struck by the beautiful, iridescent speculum.

The Cooper's Hawk had only flown a short distance, perching in an elm tree above the grave of Do-Hum-Me. By the robust size of this raptor, I assumed it was a female. She patiently waited for us to leave the area before swooping down to reclaim her breakfast. I learned from a friend later on that there was an unhappy male Wood Duck paddling around the Sylvan Water.
Finally, as we were looping back to the start of the walk I heard the low, twittering sounds of a woodcock's wings. I wheeled around in time to spot this odd, chubby little bird flying towards the leaf litter near the steep ridge below Cliff Path. Knowing where this cryptically plumed bird landed only gets you halfway there...actually finding it is a challenge. How quickly did you spot it in the photo? The American Woodcock's migration is just beginning, so if one is patient, knows where to look for them and can tell the difference between a plump bird and a pine cone, you may actually get to see one. Aldo Leopold wrote a great essay about their amazing breeding display. Read it online here.


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