Yesterday morning’s walk to the farmers market brought some good bird sightings! It started with a Red Bellied Woodpecker battling with a starling for access to a cavity in a London planbe tree in McGolrick park. We’ve seen a lot of woodpeckers in the neighborhood but they are always a treat and this is a particular favorite of mine with the vivid red head (not sure why its called red bellied as its belly is cream colored) and spectacular black and white speckled wings.
Later as we returned from the market Jen saw something small brown rooting around in the undergrowth which turned out to be a Hermit Thrush!
I’ve only seen these in more dense cover in wooded areas of Prospect and Owl’s head parks so this was a real surprise. They are similar to Robins but smaller and more reclusive. They scratch around in the leaves for insects and have a unique habit (among thrushes) of bobbing their reddish brown tail at regular intervals.
As we turned to leave the thrush to his chitinous breakfast I looked up and saw what at first appeared to be an owl in the tree overhead. It turned out to be a very fluffed up Red Tailed Hawk who had been watching the Thrush and probably thinking of its next meal.
Audubon’s 113th Christmas bird count is taking place through January 5th. Jon and I were honored to be among the participants counting birds this past Saturday in Floyd Bennett Field.
Not only were we in the company of renowned New York birders, like Rob from City Birder, and saw birds we’d never imagined to visit Brooklyn, we were taking part in a very important action for wildlife conservation in our own great city.
According to the Audubon website:
Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.
We definitely weren’t braving any extreme weather, it was a perfect sunny day in the wide open fields, but we did overcome our fear of being the bottom men, in my case, the only lady, on the totem pole.
“Are you sure they want us? I mean – we don’t know anything!” I kept asking Jon the week before. But by the end of the day, we’d learned a lot and I hope that in 40 years I have the stamina, patience and a hat with my name on it, like our trip leader Ron, who soldiered us through the day with an endless supply of information and energy. This will not be our first and only bird count.
It was confusing at first, the quick identifications in the cricket field, where we were looking for a flock of Horned Lark made my head spin. I kept elbowing Jon, “what are we looking at?” Bird names shouted, binoculars flew and just as I’d focus, the bird had flown away and the team had moved on.
I got an exciting email from K, who works at Martin Luther School in Maspeth. Yesterday, what she believed was a hawk joined the students for lunch, enjoying a freshly hunted seagull. After taking a look at the photo and seeing the distinct eye marking and dark head, I believe that this is a Peregrine Falcon.
Why is this bird so awesome? “The Peregrine is renowned for its speed, reaching over 322 km/h (200 mph) during its characteristic hunting stoop (high speed dive), making it the fastest member of the animal kingdom.” (Wiki.) What a sighting! It might be suspicious to lurk around the school grounds with binoculars, but I need to get a look at this bird! Great shot, K!
In a span of a few days we saw some pretty cool birds in McGolrick Park. After we went on an epic birding expedition to Owl’s Head Park in Bayridge, Brooklyn, we took a stroll through McGolrick to pick up veggies at the Farmers Market. Of course, I left the big lens at home.
We call that lens the anti-bird lens because when we don’t bring it we end up seeing awesome birds, like the time in Pennsylvania when we saw the Pileated Woodpecker, which is a giant woodpecker. But I’d rather see the bird than take its picture.
On Sunday 10/14/12, we saw a Black Throated Blue Warbler pissing off a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. It seemed as if the sapsucker was trying to stick food into little holes he made in the tree and the little sneaky warbler was just going right up and stealing the food. What a little jerk!
Yesterday, 10/17/12, on my morning coffee walk through the park (I have a serious addiction to Variety cappuccinos) I saw a little brown creeper and a yellow rumped warbler.
Keep your eyes open and let us know what interesting birds you spot around Greenpoint this Fall.
The fun part about birding is finding a bird when you aren’t even looking for one. I was admiring a beautiful tree in McGolrick Park which Jon identified as a Willow Oak when we saw some rustling on one of the branches. At first I thought it was a woodpecker because it was pecking at the branches but upon closer inspection we identified it as a White Breasted Nuthatch. It was pretty twitchy and fast, and according to All About Birds, “they get their common name from their habit of jamming large nuts and acorns into tree bark, then whacking them with their sharp bill to “hatch” out the seed from the inside.”
On our way back from morning coffee Jon caught sight of the cutest little plump warbler in the grass. Warblers are basically the most difficult birds to identify, there is even a group called the Confusing Fall Warblers. We think it was a Mourning Warbler. We found this photo from Marie Winn’s Central Park Nature Blog
What a birdy morning coffee walk!
Have you seen any interesting birds in Greenpoint lately?
Jon and I have been slacking on our bird watching. But today we saw three amazing birds in our Greenpoint backyard. The most beautiful of which was a Baltimore Oriole. Up until now, I believed the most gorgeous bird to be the Cardinal, but the Oriole wins this beauty contest hands down. I have never in my life seen such a striking shade of orange. The damn bird gave me goose bumps. It was such a stunner.
We also were lucky enough to spot a Yellow Warbler (left) and an American Red Start (right), all while we were eating lasagna for breakfast!
Keep your eyes open for lots of cool birds visiting Brooklyn as their migrations begin.
Have you seen any unusual birds in Brooklyn? What is your favorite bird?
The party is over folks; my landlord has taken away one of my simplest pleasures, watching and listening to the birds who grace my feeder daily and keep my hyperactive cat “Bean” out of trouble.
Remember this music video I made to the house finches? There won’t be any more of those.
Today two Gray CatBirds (Dumetella carolinensis) visited. They are really beautiful, all matte grey, with a reddish underside, a long tail and little black hat on their head. Their call sounds like a cat and they were going nuts over the suet.
Then I heard repeated banging on my door. It was my landlord. ”No birdfeeder!”
I should have acted like a catbird; according to Wiki, they “are not afraid of predators and respond to them aggressively by flashing their wings and tails and by making their signature mew sounds. They are also known to even attack and peck predators that come too near their nests.”
Ever notice a huge bird with a 4ft wing span and a red tail soaring overhead and freaking out the pigeons? It could be Wilbur or one of his kin, a Red-Tailed Hawk, or to be fancy: Búteo jamaicénsis. If you’re at the farmer’s market at McCarren on Saturday, pay attention to the stadium lights near the running track; there is a big red-tailed hawk’s nest on the platform. On Christmas day, one swooped only a few feet away from us there. There have also been reports of red tailed hawk hanky panky at Winthrop (aka McGolrick) Park recently. Red tailed hawks have needs, too.
On a recent morning my backyard looked like a murder scene, feathers were scattered all over the tree branches. A big bird was likely the culprit. Then, the day after Christmas (after Santa gave me a butt kicking pair of birding binoculars), we woke up very early to see Wilbur sitting in that same tree, at the same level of my third floor walk-up.
“Get up! Get up!” I screamed at 7am, “You have to see this!” I was as excited as if a polar bear had shown up in the yard (but less scared). Wilbur hung out for a few hours, picking at a pigeon carcass. Every time a little squirrel balanced on the telephone wires I tensed up, hoping Wilbur wouldn’t notice.
To learn more about our honorary backyard visitor, I talked to Peter Dorosh, President of the over 100 year old Brooklyn Bird Club. Peter, a 5th generation Brooklyn native, has birded his entire life, has been a member of the club for over 30 years and he is a bird genius.
Wilbur is an adolescent red tailed hawk, which you can see from his white breast and streaky brown chest chest. Red Tails are birds of prey, raptors that are members of the Buteo family, which kill and eat mostly small mammals (squirrels and rats) and sometimes other birds. When I asked whether we should guard our chihuahua’s and other miniature pets from red tailed hawks, Peter said, “it won’t happen, pets are too large.”
Wilbur might not be a boy because Peter explained, “you can’t tell unless you see the mates side by side,” with females a bit bigger, but “single birds are ‘fuhgettabouit’ as we say in Brooklyn.”
Living in the city is tough for these raptors who suffer from “habitat loss and pollution, or flight obstacles,” like crashing into reflective windows and can also die from eating poisoned pigeons or rats, Peter said.
Wilbur also might not be here to stay, even though I hope he is. He might be just passing through, like many other raptors during seasonal migrational periods. When I asked Peter how many red tailed hawks there are in Brooklyn, he said it’s hard to tell, but there aren’t many since they are predatory and territorial and require a lot of habitat. He asked his friend Rob Jett, the City Birder, who said there are “at least 3, but more likely 5 pairs, plus their offspring from this year. Probably around 15 to 18 individuals.”
How lucky we are to have seen Wilbur in our own Greenpoint back yard! (Check out Brooklyn Early Birds for a list and photos of more birds we’ve spotted since I got my magical binoculars!)
Red tailed hawks aren’t the only amazing birds of prey we may see in Brooklyn or nearby. Peter listed others to look out for: “broad wing hawk, red-shouldered hawk, American kestrel, Merlin, peregrine falcon (a stronghold resident in NYC which it breeds in very densely percentage wise), Sharp-shinned hawk, Coopers hawk, Northern Goshawk (rare), Great Horned Owl, Long-eared owl, Northern Saw-whet owl, Barred Owl (Central park), Snowy Owl (reported on 12/17 Brooklyn Xmas Count, Barn Owl (Jamaica Bay), Short-eared owl, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Northern Harrier, Osprey, and Rough-legged Hawk ( in mid winter most times).
On Saturday 1/28/12, join Greenpointers and Brooklyn Bird Club, as club president Peter Dorosh brings us on guided Winter Bird Walk. We will meet at Veronica People’s Club at 9am and begin looking at shore birds on the river then head to McCarren and McGorlick Parks. Bring your own binoculars and the kids! This event if FREE and you will have an opportunity to become a member of the Brooklyn Bird Club (membership fee is $20) or donate $5 to a local bird conservation fund. RSVP on Facebook. We hope to see you there!