Posts Tagged 'birding'

Ravens Again

Corvus coraxA pair of Ravens (Corvus corax) sailed on the stiff breeze along the shore of Bush Terminal the other day. This is where I and others have seen and heard them off and on since New Year’s Day. They have an almost floppy wing action, exacerbated by their long finger-like primary feathers. Several hours later on a return visit, a single Raven was seen and heard in the distance.Corvus coraxIt’s thrilling to see these big boisterous birds. They are about the size of Red-tailed Hawks, so substantially bigger than their corvid cousins, the American and Fish Crows. Unlike Crows, they were not regulars in the city until quite recently. But they now breed within the city limits; the first known nest was in Queens; as far as I know, a Brooklyn nest has not been located, even though there was ample evidence of nest material gathering. Ravens with young were seen by others here at Bush Terminal, and in Chelsea in Manhattan this spring and summer. The same birds? I haven’t seen more than two. Occasionally one will fly overhead here at the top of the moraine. A fellow birder photographed three on the Green-Wood entrance gate on Saturday.

The old warehouses along Brooklyn’s coast may act somewhat like cliffs, pushing up the winds to let the birds coast along them. (A pair of Peregrines did the same thing soon after the first sighting of Ravens that morning.)

I have a lot of questions about these birds. How many pairs are in the city? Where do they nest and roost for the night? Two youngsters were seen in Bush Terminal this year; what happened to them? What are they eating? Ravens are generalists when it comes to food, but tend to eat a lot of carrion in the country, via roadkill and hunter by-product; the youngsters especially need lots of protein. I am now reading Bernd Heinrich’s Mind of the Raven to raven-up.IMG_3976Thinking about Ravens got me to writing this about the captives in London.

Canada Warbler

Cardellina canadensisNow, that’s an eye-ring!Cardellina canadensisCardellina canadensis.Cardellina canadensisHeading to the northwestern flank of South America for the winter.

On Plumb Beach

IMG_3902Plumb Beach is off the Belt Parkway between Sheepshead Bay and Flatbush Avenue. The Parks Dept.’s website calls it Plumb; Parks Dept. signs on site call it Plum; it is supposed to be named after Beach Plums (Prunus maritima). It has a unexpected history, although perhaps not for Brooklyn’s wild edges, capped more recently by tragedy. In the supposedly more savage natural world, it is one of the premier places for Horseshoe Crabs in the spring. It was surprisingly quiet on a recent late afternoon. But that may have been explained by an enormous NYS Envirnonmental Police vehicle and armored-vest (!) wearing rangers on patrol.Danaus plexippusMonarchs (Danaus plexippus) are starting to show up on the shore in preparation for flightward south.Leucophaeus atricillaThis Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) is already well out of breeding plumage. Charadrius semipalmatusThere were two Semipalmated Plovers (Charadrius semipalmatus) scoottling along the shore. Other notable birds were pair of Oystercatchers passing offshore and two Snowy Egrets rising briefly from the marsh.sharkA two-foot “sand shark” as I would have called them in my youth, missing a big chuck from the side of the head, the gills. Fraternal or by-catch? Holler if you know the species.

Young Night-herons

Nyctanassa violaceaA pair of Yellow-crowned Night-herons (Nyctanassa violacea) nested on Governor’s Island this year, a first — in ages, at least. I haven’t seen the nest, but I did run into this youngster over the weekend at Bush Terminal Park. No idea where the natal spot was, of course; YCNH also nest in Jamaica Bay, and there may be ones nesting at Bush Terminal (an adult was visible in a nearby Cottonwood).Nycticorax nycticoraxAt least six Black-crowned Night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) were in the area as well; the tall Cottonwoods could easily have hidden more. Here’s one of the youngsters. Note the shorter legs and the different color and pattern of the feathers in comparison to the YCNH. Check out the adults of both species from the same spot from a previous visit.

Earlier last week, at Valentino Pier off Red Hook, three BCNH flew by in the gloaming, along with a Great-Blue. The harbor is quite herony.

Morning’s Heronry

Nycticorax nycticoraxJust before Bush Terminal Park opened yesterday morning, we had a trifecta of herons. There were three Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) the adult above, and two juveniles.Nycticorax nycticoraxOne of the youngsters stuck around as parent and sibling (?) flew off “kwoking” to this Cottonwood:Populus deltoidesThis tree also hosted a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) — barely seen at center left — and, presently, this Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea):Nyctanassa violacea.

White’s Selborne

Have you read Richard Mabey’s rousing defense of nature writing? You should. I’ll wait here until you return.

Mabey quite rightly marks the beginnings of nature writing in English with Gilbert White (1720-1793), the British country parson whose Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne I’ve finally come around to reading. Mostly: I picked up a Folio Society edition of 1963 which eschews the Antiquities section. This copy was only a little musty — that perfume of bibliophiles — and I found it with my nose in Barter Books, in Alnwick, UK, earlier this year.

It’s said that White’s book has never been out of print. I can report that it is entirely readable, which you can’t say about every 18th C. classic. It is epistolary, a series of letters to two correspondents. One evidently pillaged White’s work for a tome of his own. He has some felicitous phrases that I can’t get out of my head: “a gentleman, curious in birds”; “the generation of eels is very dark and mysterious”; worms are “much addicted to venery”; “happening to make a visit to my neighbor’s peacocks”. I, too, after all, go about “in pursuit of natural knowledge.” And his “annus historico-naturalis” is what my blog has been about for five years now.

White was of course a product of his time and place. A lot of birds and other animals get killed in these pages by White or his neighbors. Before the availability of good optics, this was often the only way to see a wild animal up close. But even the rarities are blown out of the sky, and, boy, does this gets wearisome for the soul, particularly now that so many bird populations are at historic lows.

White was curiously obsessed with the question of where the local swallows and martins went in the winter. He knew that some bird species migrated, down through Spain at least, but he was pretty sure the local swallows took cover underground nearby, hibernating through the cold months. This was an old idea; I think it was Aristotle who bottled it orgininally. This line of thinking wasn’t completely wrong: at least one species has been found to hibernate in this world, but it isn’t a swallow, nor found in Europe (it’s the the Common Poorwill, a North American species). Young Swifts can go into a state of torpor during short cold spells, powering down body temperature and metabolism, but Aristotle and White were way off on the swallow hibernation thing.

But then, that’s the glory of science: it can change as new evidence is discovered. This is why it’s different from belief. White of course came before the banding (or ringing, as they say in the UK) of birds. He reported what he saw, and he makes a good case within the limits of his observations.

Gather Ye Terns While You May

Sterna hirundoGather in the optical sense, of course. Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) have been breeding in New York Harbor for the last few years, a new and exciting development in a world where the environmental/ecological news is usually bad. They use the abandoned piers on Governor’s Island, with some help from friendly bipeds (cf. NYC Audubon) who have been spreading gravel to make the nesting sites more welcoming. (One must also assume there are not so many feral cats on GI. Ground nesters are particularly vulnerable to the plague of feral cats infesting the nation.) The birds, old and young, will be heading south within a month or so; the adults are also in the process of losing this striking breeding plumage. So enjoy them along the harbor edges while you can for this season.

If your binomial senses are tingling over the scientific name of this species, you probably recall that several swallow species are in the genus Hirundo, which is Latin for swallow. Sterna is simply Latin for tern; so this is a “tern swallow,” no doubt because of the swallow-like forked tail, which is actually more pronounced in some other tern species.


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