Saturday, June 21, 2008

awesome Green-Wood outing

Today was one of those days where the whole world was at our feet and there was so much to choose from in terms of stuff to do. We skipped the Mermaid Parade in favor of a long walk and picnic at Green-Wood Cemetery. The weekends-only Fort Hamilton Parkway entrance is just a short walk from our apartment, and we'd never made it quite that far into the place.

It's wonderful to find an oasis of near-quietude in the middle of a city. We didn't see another person for nearly an hour and a half! Sometimes the humid air carried strains of the ice cream truck song to us, but the traffic noise was mostly too far away. Beautiful!

Like my first trip to Green-Wood, the loudest birdsong around belonged to the northern mockingbird, and since they were abundant and loud, they were quite easy to find. A nice treat to see them in flight, too, because their bright white wing patches flash in midair.

I had some great sightings today. It was also my first time using my camera through my binoculars, so I have some interesting, if slightly blurry, photos.

The first great sighting happened right after our lunch of tuna sandwiches, oranges, and granola bars. We cleaned up and continued down Fir Avenue, until I spotted a mourning dove with its young offspring in the middle of the road. The young was about half the size of the parent, with the feathers looking untested. The adult took time to regurgitate into the juvenile's mouth several times. It seemed strange to me that this behavior happened outside the nest. The young one walked around just fine, but the parent sensed a threat in our presence and attempted to protect her baby by simply standing in front of it. I changed my viewing angle, she changed her position. I could still see the baby, so it seemed like a pretty ineffective action.

Eventually something spooked the adult and it flew away, leaving the baby unattended in the road. I sneaked closer a little at a time to get a good picture and to try to shoo it out of the road. After a minute, it moved into the grass and we continued our walk.

Chrissy is getting better at hanging back quietly when I'm focused on a bird, but also he's good at helping me find birds to watch. He'll say, "What's that?" about something I haven't even spotted, and then it's a learning experience for both of us. He's a great sidekick.

Later, on a headstone, I saw a pair of chipping sparrows with their bright rufous crowns. I don't see those guys very often, and they're one of the few kinds of sparrows I can identify, so that's why I mention it. I also saw some interesting house sparrow behavior, which included the male pushing his folded wings down and hopping away from the female, who then gave chase with her own little hops. Ah, love!

I knew from reading Rob Jett's The City Birder that the red-tailed hawk's nest is closer the the Fort Hamilton Parkway entrance than the front gate way over at 5th Avenue and 25th Street. But I didn't really have any idea where to look, so I was absolutely delighted when the birds made it really easy for me to find them. Chrissy and I were walking Central Road, I think it was, by this point, hearing lots of alarm calls, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a large brown bird with a brilliant red tail fly about 10 feet off the ground through the lower leaves of a large tree. It seemed like it had landed, because I couldn't see it fly out the other side, so I decided to stalk it and see if I could find it. I made my way carefully around the tree where I thought it might be perched, only to see it take wing from the ground, and this time with something white in its talons, and another hawk by its side!

The birds alit to a tree to the right of the path, where the brilliant-tailed one began de-feathering its pigeon. The other hawk had very light feathers on its face and not so red a tail at all, and hung back on a high perch a few feet away while the larger hawk did the dirty work.

It was at this time that two relentlessly brave northern mockingbirds caught up with the big hawk and began their harassing and haranguing routine. You can see the blur of a mockingbird in this photo. The larger hawk flew to a nearby tree to escape, but the mockers followed. The hawk ignored the mockingbirds squawking and darting at and bouncing off its big red tail repeatedly, intently focused on de-feathering the white pigeon. I could see with my binocs that the prey's eyes had already been gouged out. The whole display was very entertaining, and we watched the mockingbirds dive-bomb and bounce off of the hawk's tail for about fifteen minutes, until the hawk took off for higher ground, in this case a tall evergreen whose limbs were crowded with pine branches and needles. The smaller hawk followed, and the mockingbirds gave up. Perhaps they drove it far enough away from their territory or nest to feel safe. This sighting was so satisfying because of its content, participants, and length. Chrissy and I were fascinated to witness what must be pretty common for these birds' lives, but which seems so amazing to us.

After that, the rest of the day had to be fairly tame. I heard a lot of red-bellied woodpeckers, but could never find them. At the Valley Water, which was covered in lily-pads and other green stuff, I spotted a single double-crested cormorant in the water, swimming and diving about, ruler of the roost.

Perched on a lily-pad across the pond, I saw something shining blue, but it was the wrong shape for a kingfisher like the one I saw at that pond last time. I walked around the pond, greeting the family of Canada geese and their young as I passed, to get a closer look at the mysterious bird. It turned out to be a green heron sitting very still. Its featehrs must have caught the light just so, to make them appear blue. It posed for several photographs, and then we were on our way.

As we climbed a small hill toward the koi pond (which turned out to have been drained) at the community mausoleum, I stepped back for a moment because I saw a new bird. I believe my words were, "What the hell is that?" It was a light rufous color, like a hermit thrush's tail, but all over, and it looked very much like a mockingbird in terms of body shape and tail length, but with a long beak. After a minute my brain came up with a name, which turned out to be correct: my first brown thrasher!

On my next outing to the cemetery, I hope to visit the other glacial ponds, and now that I've got a map, that will be easy. I think I am going to like living between Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park, two Important Birding Areas. I'm also looking forward to getting the hang of using my camera and binoculars together.

1 comment:

AKA Bird Nerd said...

I don't know why raptors put up with the incessant harassment from birds like crows and mockingbirds.

One day, while on a bird walk, I noticed a young Northern Harrier being bothered by a few crows. After several moments (they were in the air) the Harrier turned on a crow and they floated to the ground. The crows went berserk. Within seconds over 100 crows had congregated above the kill and were expressing their displeasure over the murder. Talk about loud!

None of the crows would dare venture down to the ground, and gradually they dispersed. Northern Harrier 1 - Crow 0. It was a sight I'll never forget. We all have our limits. Here is a photo of the murderer shortly after the kill.

My son-in-law is nurturing a young birder - not yet 3 my granddaughter. Here she is on a recent bird hike at the Bangor City Forest.

I wonder where her inocs are?