Archive for the 'Fieldnotes' Category


The RambleThis is American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) country. Actually, this time of year, practically anywhere is American Woodcock country: backyards, bars, porches, Park Avenue medians, DUMBO parking garages. Yes, I’ve heard cases of them appearing in all these places. I’ve written a poem in which I refer to them bombarding us during the migration seasons; I’d link to the poem if only the swines would publish it already.Scolopax minorKen Chaya spotted this bird in the shade of a tree. Scolopax minorThe two of us circled along the path to try to get a better view, this time with the sun behind us. Success.IMG_1276Soon enough, the Central Park Effect — I believe they use small goat-skin drums to signal the news — had the bird bookended.Scolopax minorBut, considering all the human attention, it was actually a couple of squabbling squirrels that made this bird jump into a better position for our eyeballs and lenses.Scolopax minorThis enormous beak is used to probe in soft damp earth for worms and other delights. Technically a shorebird, they prefer woods and adjacent meadows as their habitat.

The night before, a few of us had gone out to Floyd Bennett Field to witness the courtship ritual of these birds, also known as Timberdoodles. After sunset, the males come out into open meadows and start to vocalize a sound described as “peent” or “beent,” but with more of a wet buzziness to it. Then they fly around twittering, both vocalizing some more and creating sounds with their wings. This is said to really impress the ladies. You can barely see because it’s become so dark, but the sounds are, on a good night, all around. Note the huge eyes on these birds; they do their best work at night.

My friend Gabriel Willow will be doing a field trip for this “sky-dance” on April 18th for NYC Audubon. I’m doing one of my Listening Tours for Brooklyn Brainery this weekend, when we also hope to hear spring peepers (it’s sold out — but check out their other classes and always keep a weather out here for other field trips).

And by the way…

Setophaga pinusSayornis phoebeIt’s spring! A Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus) and Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) herald the season in Central Park today.

Wash Your Rocks

RocksOne of the earliest disillusionments is the transformation of the beautiful seashell or river rock into something rather dull once it has dried out. Whence the magic of the beach-combing discovery, the footloose, and probably bare-footed, sojourn along the edges of the ocean/pond/lake/stream/river, where the gleaming thing captured our eye? I understand that shell collectors oil their shells for best effect and photographs. I just used water here.





As I understand it (but I’m no Governor of Florida or New Jersey), the problem is one of light, or rather our perception of light. When light hits a water- or oil- covered surface, it bounces back with some uniformity. Things look shiny and new, gleaming and jewel-like. When light hits a dried-out surface, all the gnarliness of that surface means the light will be scattered helter-skelter, looking dull and so over its celebrity.

Signs and Meanings

SalixHamamelisEranthis hyemalisSturnus vulgaris“‘You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles.'” ~ A.C. Doyle.

Raptor Wednesday

Falco sparveriusA rumor of an American Kestrel being heard and seen on Montague Street had my falcon-senses tingling Saturday. Exploring one of the alleys south of Montague, I faintly heard one of the birds, almost subliminally, just enough to make me look up: the little jet sliced the sky in half. Around the corner — voilà! — this female Falco sparverius was perched atop St. Borromeo. This is a fine falcon perch; the accretion of droppings up there suggest other birds like this venue, too.

This was one of three Kestrels sightings I had in the last week. (This could be the same bird I saw in Brooklyn Bridge Park.) Another female was in Green-Wood. News this morning of a pair in Red Hook suggests this, the most common of city raptor species, are getting busy.

The Pigeon’s Eye

Columba livia


CorvusThere are two species of crows here and along the East Coast: the American and Fish. It is hard to tell them apart by sight, but their voices are distinctive. Since this one wasn’t vocalizing, I can’t be sure which one it was. Fish Crows (Corvus ossifragus), as their name suggests, are usually associated with bodies of water. CorvusThis bird was photographed at Floyd Bennett Field, part of the Jamaica Bay NRA, where I have heard both species. Not sure what’s being eaten here; has a look of carrion. Corvus brachyrhynchosCloser to home, I often see or more usually hear American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) over my neighborhood. Corvus brachyrhynchosOn Saturday, I watched three gathering nest material around Joralemon St. Two of the birds were picking up sticks from some kind of wintery vine that had crawled up the side of a house and reached over the top. The third bird was… what, acting as lookout, scout? Crows often maintain multi-generational family units, with a yearling or two sticking around the help the parents with raising a new generation. It is rare to see a lone Crow — “one is for sorrow” according to the old rhyme, but pshaw to that!; look closer, that lone black bird could be a Raven. Corvus brachyrhynchosThe Crows returned to this spot several times over a few minutes, suggesting the nest location was close. But the blocks of Brooklyn present a fortress wall to those who would explore the inner wildernesses of collective backyards. IMG_0955However, there was an unusual break in the street front around the corner, and we saw the crows flying into the conifer here in the background. One of the spring-blooming Witchhazels (Hamamelis) is flaring yellow.


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