Posts Tagged 'Green-Wood'

Brooklyn Update

PrunusWhen my plane descended into LaGuardia last Monday, there were a lot of gray/brown still-wintering trees in evidence. I’d just come from southern-most Texas, where spring was fully in motion, but things are stirring here, too.Polygonia interrogationisQuestion Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) amid the weeping cherries, which were throbbing with honeybees, and an occasional bumble.Bellamya chinensisThe nacreous heart of a Chinese Mystery/Trapdoor Snail (Bellamya chinensis). Who doesn’t like saying “nacreous heart”?Mergus serratorI don’t think I’ve ever seen a Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) out of the water. Note those large feet, set rather far back, and good for diving. Quiscalus quisculaTotally fell for the Great-tailed Grackles down south, but the Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) still has a place in my heart. Falco peregrinusYou may know that I live between two Peregrine falcon scrapes. (Geography is relative.) There is something going on in the 55 Water Street location, either a youngster already or an adult moving. And there this one — note the band/ring — is perched on the construction site across the street from the House of D. Keeping an eye on the home front amid the grooming.Gownus CanalThe Superfund Gowanus Canal. Habitat.Megaceryle alcyonA male Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) was fishing in that industrial toilet, diving for the little fish that come in with the tide. Prunus

Green-Wood is Red-Head Country

Melanerpes erythrocephalusThe Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) who came to stay? An unusual species for Brooklyn, this bird over-wintered in Green-Wood, and quite locally, too: this is the same tree — snags are perfect habitat for them — I photographed it in back in January. Melanerpes erythrocephalusYou can see how the red feathers of the head have really come in since January, as the bird has aged out of its first year plumage. Not completely, but getting there. The mature birds look like flags, solid bands of red, black, white. Red-headed males and females look alike, by the way, which isn’t the case with our other, more familiar woodpecker species (Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Yellow-bellied, and Northern Flicker).Melanerpes erythrocephalusThis species was not recorded as breeding in the city in either the first or second state breeding bird atlases. Those surveys, in fact, generally showed a substantial decrease in the species in the state over the twenty years between surveys, after what is presumed to have been a big drop off since the 19th century. Bull cites an 1881 report of “great numbers” of these woodpeckers, outnumbering the Northern Flickers, at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn; but “nothing remotely resembling these fall flights has been reported in the northeast since the early 1880s.” It is always startling to be reminded that not only were there more species, but the numbers of species we know were greater before our time. (There are records of recent breeding on other parts of Long Island.)Melanerpes erythrocephalusWho doesn’t love a redhead?

Hairy Nest?

Picoides villosusA female Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus). Less common in our area than the smaller but otherwise very similar Downy Woodpecker. I find that the best way to differentiate these species is to look at the bill/head size ratio. Note how this bird’s bill is almost as long as her head; the Downy’s bill length is smaller than its head length.Picoides villosusAnyway, it was with some surprise that I saw this bird fly to this hole. I didn’t know they nested in the city of five boroughs. Picoides villosusThe 2nd Atlas of Breeding Birds in NY State, surveyed in the mid-Oughts, had a confirmed Hairy nest in Brooklyn (Prospect Park), but the first (mid-1980s) had none in NYC. cavityThis bird was probably just scouting this hole and cavity, which she went all the way into. No sign of a male in the ‘hood at this time. It’s too early for young ‘uns, but the woodpeckers are definitely carving up the trees in preparation (this hole does not look all that fresh). Melanerpes carolinusFor instance, this Red-Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), pecking out a cavity at a nearby tree.

After yesterday’s depressing post, you may wonder how I can go on. Because I must! B’damn, that’s what makes me human, I think. Says that optipessimist Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”


Sayornis phoebeOne of the earliest arriving birds of Spring is the Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe). I saw one yesterday in Green-Wood. Sayornis phoebeThere was much tail-wagging on the part of the bird, a characteristic of the species when it is perched, and rejoicing on mine (also characteristic of the species). The American Woodcock is an even earlier arrival — I saw my first a week or more ago in Bryant Park and two yesterday in Green-Wood — but it is rather more subtle bird, staying close to cover. It is the spy, in warm brown camouflage, while the Phoebe is the scout of spring.

Redheads and Other Excitements

Aythya americanaA pair of Redheads (Aythya americana) in Green-Wood. The male, in front, sports that beacon of a head. These two, along with two slightly smaller female Ring-necked Ducks (Aythya collaris), very craftily kept their distance from me as I circled the blob-shaped Valley Water twice, as I aimed for the best distance and light.Aythya americana, Aythya collarisHere’s the male again with one of the Ring-neckeds. Redheads are rare in our waters, and rarer still in our local freshwaters. Both they and the Ring-neckeds are divers, but they will rest in small ponds during migration. I was interested to discover that many female Redheads lay their eggs in the nests of other Redheads, ten other species of ducks, and even herons and Northern Harriers (!). Aythya collars, Aythya americanaRing, Red, Red, Ring.

While observing these ducks, I happened to glance away, and then looked up as I heard a splash. Two American Black Ducks landed (watered?), one with a Red-tailed hawk hot on its tail. Not exactly a duck hawk, one of the old names for Peregrines, the Red-tail missed as the duck took shelter underwater.Anas rubripesIt came back up noisily.Buteo jamaicensisThe hawk perched briefly nearby before flying off to try its luck elsewhere. As big as Mallards, our largest wild ducks, the Black Duck would have made a substantial kill for the raptor.


Falco columbariusIn the last week, I’ve seen 9 raptors, nearly half of them while I was walking down various streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. My best day was Sunday, when I saw five birds of four different species in Green-Wood. This Merlin (Falco columbarius) was the highlight. Merlins are falcons, just slightly larger than Kestrels. I was a little surprised to see this one — male, as the wings are slate blue/grey — since I usually see them during migration periods. But even then not always. They don’t seem to have taken to cities as well as Kestrels, but are beginning to make inroads. Kestrels are cavity-nesters, and they find decaying 19th century cornices a fair substitute for old tree holes. Merlins re-purpose other hawk and corvid nests for their own, assuming those birds don’t return.

There are three subspecies of Merlin in North America (our is the Taiga), six in Eurasia. The name comes not from the Arthurian necromancer (who stems from this Welsh chap Myrddin), but the French name for the bird, esmerillon. The birds are also known as Pigeon Hawks, something reflected in their binomial, as columbarius means pigeon-like; they are about the same size as pigeons and are supposed to look like pigeons when flying. These birds, more specifically their European co-specifics, were known as Lady Hawks during the Medieval period, when falconry was the rage, for they were flown by women.

These falcons characteristically perch on lookouts for long time periods, waiting for likely birds (House Sparrow, Waxwing, etc.; a pigeon is too big) to pass by. They attack from the horizontal or below, not above like their big cousins the Peregrines. This one gave us very good looks from the top of its tree and was still there when we left.

Red-Headed, Nearly

Melanerpes erythrocephalusMelanerpes erythrocephalusAn uncommon visitor to Brooklyn, this Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) has been hanging out in Green-Wood Cemetery this winter. This is a juvenile bird, on its way to getting the bright red head of an adult. The adult bird looks like a flag: red, black, & white. Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Downy, Honeylocust

Picoides pubescensThe sound was like typist behind a closed door, in an office with thick carpets. It was subtle. In the clamor of the city, we must strive to hear the subtle sounds, and Green-Wood, wind-swept atop the moraine, is a fine place for the subtleties. This Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) was pecking away at Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) pods still hanging on the tree, looking for invertebrates that had burrowed into the pods. The seeds inside the pods reverberated to the tapping, making that pleasing, nostalgic sound.

The red patch on the nape tells us this is a male. Our smallest woodpecker, the Downy is the woodpecker species I see most outside of our greenswards, in the ‘hood itself.

Primary Colors



Oxyura jamaicensisA female Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis). Preening here, and rather successfully keeping her usually upright tail, a helpful field mark for this small duck, submerged.Oxyura jamaicensis


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