Friday, April 11, 2008

First Green-Wood excursion

Thursday we treated ourselves to our favorite decadent lunch from Blue Apron Foods and had a picnic in the car at Green-Wood Cemetery. Then it was out into the sunshine for a long jaunt (and my first sunburn of the year) around this beautiful, absolutely giant, and historic burial ground. Around and down, up and over - we found ourselves getting quite the workout with all those hills.

I wish I had consulted a map before heading over there, but I take comfort in the idea that I can visit Green-Wood Cemetery many times in my life. The roads wind around many hills and wend into many valleys before flattening out at the cemetery's far edges. On top of that, I just didn't know where to look for birds. Early in my adventure, I saw a lot of easy targets: robins hopping about on the ground and singing cheery songs, starlings whistling up in the trees, and mockingbirds atop headstones, singing profusely. I also saw one eastern phoebe pumping its little tail and being indecisive about which branch was most comfortable and one house sparrow.

I had the distinct feeling there were thousands of birds around me and I just couldn't see them. Sometimes I feel like such a noob. To make matters worse, a nice lady in a Jeep drove up and asked, "See anything good?" and I replied, "Not yet," which on one hand shows my endless optimism, but on the other hand made me feel a little bit pressured and incompetent because I really hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary. Only after I walked a good distance away did it even occur to me that the woman and her companion must also have been birdwatchers (duh) and I could have had a more productive and less awkward response ready (Not yet. Have you?) I have so much to learn!

I saw a mockingbird doing a funny thing with its wings -- run, run, run, stretch a little. Run, run, run, stretch a little. Was he perhaps trying to show a female how broad and bright his wing bars were? In any case, it was an interesting display.

One neat thing about the cemetery is that it plays host to a colony of monk parakeets, who have built a complex nest on the roof of the main gate. I have seen these birds on Ocean Parkway around 18th Avenue and on the campus of Brooklyn College as well. They are noisy and ostentatious. I watched several parakeets return to the nest with new furnishings - twigs and longish grasses, it looked like. I had read that sometimes hawks terrorize the colony, so I made sure to have a look around. I saw something resembling a red-tailed hawk far off, flying away from the gate toward Park Slope. The parakeets were safe for now.

Also by the gate I saw rock doves and three common grackles. After a bathroom break, Chrissy and I felt refreshed and ready for more walking. We visited the mallard pair on the koi pond and then had a sit in the cool, dark chapel. Relaxing music played softly from invisible speakers. That was lovely.

We headed over to a nearby pond and sat on a shady bench to watch the fountain for a few minutes. Some Canada geese dotted the pond's edge, and shortly the mallard pair flew in from their koi pond vacation. I'm glad I stayed put for a few minutes on that bench, because soon I noticed a white dot in a tree across the water. Through my binoculars, I could see that the white dot was surrounded by blue, and yet, the whole picture didn't resemble a blue jay at all. This bird had a different sort of a crest and a big bill. I started to get excited and curious. I watched it flop onto the water and recover itself gracefully a few times - fishing, presumably. I couldn't quite see whether it had caught anything. I took note of a lovely rufous shade on its flanks and a sort of bow-tie area on the chest. My very first belted kingfisher! I had expected it to be smaller from looking at pictures.

We knew it would take ages to find the car, and I had to pick up the kids at 3:00, so my birdwatching adventure ended there. But it's nice to go out with a bang and a new bird after feeling so silly. Next time, I will try to buy a map at the gate!


AKA Bird Nerd said...

I've tried birding a few cemeteries, but didn't see much. It was rather dead. :-)

If you do a golf course - keep low.

Belted Kingfishers are really fun to watch. We see them quite often living on the water.

Whenever you can add a lifer to your list, you've done well! Congratulations.

Rob Jett said...

Mockingbird behavior is fascinating. The first time I saw one flashing his wing patches was at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. It evoked images of a scene on an aircraft carrier from an old, black-and-white WWII film. The mockingbird was sending out semaphore messages with handheld flags. Maybe we should pay closer attention, it might just be semaphore code! "S O S - N E E D M O R E I N S E C T S"

Very nice report.