The Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) is a species in deep trouble. According to the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, the species has shown “chronic long-term and acute short-term population declines,” more so than any other species we see. The numbers are startling, with a population plummet from 85-95% over the last century. The reason for this isn’t definite; although I would hazard that the 80% reduction of wooded wetlands in their southeastern wintering grounds goes a good way to explaining the crisis. Climate change in the north is also telling: the wet boreal summers are drying out. Another aspect is cultural: none of the blackbird species are seen as cute celebrity-charismatics; and, in fact, some, like the Red-winged Blackbird, are considered pests, and efforts to eradicate them must inevitably kill some of this species as well. Few have paid any attention to the decline until recently.
This year marks the centennial of the last Passenger Pigeon; who the hell wants to live through another species’ disappearance? The IRBWG’s Spring Migration Blitz is an effort to survey the birds as they make their way to their boreal breeding grounds. The survey begins this month; New York state’s portion lasts from March 1-April 31. Keep an eye out for these birds (there’s good ID help on their site) and report on ebird.I photographed this female last month in Prospect Park, where the lack of leash law enforcement continues to stress all species. She was still sporting her basic (non-breeding) plumage.
A Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) was patrolling some of the un-iced water in Stranahan-Olmsted-Vaux’s park over the long weekend.This is a male. Male birds are typically more colorful than females, but this isn’t the case with this species. M. alcyon females have a rusty band below the blue collar-like markings, the “belt” of their common name.They are fishers of… well, fish, small ones, and also crustaceans, reptiles, amphibians, even berries on occasion. They have a distinctive rattling cry. This one was silent as he flew back and forth over the rather narrow patch of open water. When perched, he did this bobbing movement where, tail cocked, head lifted, he rose up and down. What was this about? They nest in burrows up to six feet long in earthen banks, next to water if possible. Prospect Park lacks the required terrain for nesting, but these birds can be seen during migration. This one in January is unusual: hanging around over the winter is only possible as long as there is open water to fish in: the birds plunge into the water to capture prey. Something I noticed most strongly after the fact, as I reviewed my photos: the white spots before the eyes, giving the bird a “bright-eyed” look indeed, when in fact their actual eyes are quite dark. Why should this be so?
Get a load of the schnoze on this Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata). This is one of the dabbling duck species, straining tiny crustaceans, plankton, and seeds from the surface of the water. These long bills have comb-like filters on them. This is a male, but not yet in full breeding plumage, which, like the large bill, is quite distinctive. They will be on Prospect Lake all winter if the water isn’t frozen.Shovelers will often cluster together in scrums and spin about with their bills in the water, stirring up the pot, as it were.
This male Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea), in his subdued non-breeding plumage, was capturing wasps on Lookout Hill during fall migration. These birds are usually pretty high up in the trees, but this one was acting like a flycatcher not so far above eye-level.
Published October 9, 2013
Tags: Brooklyn, Prospect Park, trees
I spotted a snouty silhouette in the Lake the other day.It was a turtle of a type I’ve never seen before. The snout suggests some kind of softshell, although the shell doesn’t look so typical for those turtles. I queried Twitter and there were suggestions it’s in the Apolone genus, creatures that live in our South and Midwest. In which case, it would be another victim of the PPT (Pernicious Pet Trade) and the irresponsible consumer who dumped it here. Another suggestion was that it’s the Chinese softshell, P. sinesis, perhaps originating in a Chinatown fish market. But the eyes seem like they are in the wrong place for that. So it remains a mystery… your Testudinal expertise is welcome. The length of this critter is 6-7″. Softshells get their name from their shells, which are unlike the hard bony cases of the turtles we’re more familiar with up here. The face, with its pyramidal snout, is obviously different, too. And on this specimen, the claws are almost fully webbed so that they look more like paddles than feet.
Not exactly going anywhere at the moment.
A time fraught with hazards. This warbler didn’t make it. Perhaps it was taken by one of the Merlins scouring the air over the park lately, for raptors are on the move, too.But also a time of new life, as a Common Yellowthroat in his first year makes his way south, towards the Southeast, Florida, or beyond into Central America. Will he survive? Will he come back this way in the spring, black face mask in full among the reeds and bushes, loudly giving his telltale “witchity witchity witchity”?
A male Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) in fresh breeding plumage, which he will sport until early next summer.
An ant wrestles with a lepidoptera wing. An aerodynamic challenge.