This was my Big Day, on foot through Prospect, Green-Wood, and then down to Bush Terminal Park. Train to park, bus home. In chronological order.
Yard Birds: seen from apartment or on way to subway
Osprey (on nest)
In Prospect Park:
OvenbirdYellow-billed Cuckoo (thanks to Dennis, Kristin, Bobbi)
Baltimore OrioleRose-breasted Grosbeak
Common Yellowthroat (m&f)
Black & White Warbler
Warbling VireoHouse Wren
Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Blackpoll WarblerCommon Nighthawk (Thanks to Monica)
Canada GooseGreat Egret
Red-tailed Hawk (3 at once)
Bush Terminal and surrounds:
Crow (American or Fish)
Double Crested Cormorant
Not that the day’s over…
Yesterday’s bone-cold weather created an interesting phenomenon that made it look like the Upper Harbor was smoking. The combination of very cold air, zero on the Fahrenheit scale and feeling even colder because of the wind, and the warmer water made for a kind of low level fog clumping and billowing on the blue harbor. It moved slowly, or so it seemed from up here on the Harbor Hill Moraine.
On Saturday, we walked down the hill to Bush Terminal Park, which abuts the harbor. It was half sunny and half cloudy when we began from 6th Avenue, but we could see that the New Jersey distance had greyed out. At 2nd Avenue a few pieces of snow started to pummel us, mixed with grit from a pile of dirt in an empty lot. It tasted awful. At 1st Avenue, visibility was about two blocks. By the time we got to the park entrance, the mini blizzard drove at us hard. But it passed quickly, first Jersey City becoming visible, then Manhattan. By the time we walked back up hill, the sun was shining in a blue sky.
There was only one car in the park’s parking lot. We saw nobody in the micro-blizzard, but as it cleared a half dozen people on the larger pier became visible. They had spotting scopes. Our people, the only ones out on a cold day, searching for ducks and gulls: the Brooklyn Bird Club. I’ll be leading a walk for them March 26.
In addition to an entire dead Common Loon on the rocks of the jetty pier at Bush Terminal Park, there was this wing. I looked at it and was at a loss for what it might be. It didn’t hit any of the song bird possibilities, and this time of year those are much reduced. But luckily AMNH’s Paul Sweet was there.He called it as female Ruddy Duck. (I hadn’t even thought of the ducks.) It may very well have been killed by a Peregrine. In devouring the breast meat of their prey, these falcons leave the wings like parenthetical marks around the corpse. (As you know if you eat chicken, birds are most meaty on the breast. The drumsticks are scant, although this looks well stripped.)
Ruddy Ducks are wee things. The original regional Peregrine lineage, now extirpated, were also known as Duck Hawks and seem to have run larger than the birds we see now, which are of mixed heritage from the breeding and hacking program set up after the scourge of DDT.
A Common Loon (Gavia immer) dead on the rocks at Bush Terminal Park. Paul Sweet, of the American Museum of Natural History, was there and showed us the prominent ridge of the sternum, which should have been smothered in fat and muscle. This suggested to him that this fish-devouring diver probably starved to death. Sometimes they swallow fishing tackle and other human detritus that prevents then from getting any food down. It’s a fate I wouldn’t wish on a fisherman. (Nah, just a slow tightening of monofilament around the wrists until the hands fall off.)
[Update: Paul sent me this link for more information about loon mortality.]
In Scotland some years ago, excitement among my British van mates gathered as they discussed seeing a Great Northern Diver. What is that, I asked? Turned out to be “our” Common Loon, which, I think you’ll agree, is a lesser name.
I remember first hearing the haunting calls of these birds as a boy in Ontario. They don’t nest around NYC, so I hadn’t heard one in a while, but a few years ago in Lewis Bay, on Cape Cod (where they don’t nest either, as far as I know), I saw and heard one. It sent shivers up my spine.
Loons are winter visitors to our waters. We should treat them better. This is the first I’ve seen this year.
I haven’t been getting out and about as much as I’d like. In the last month or so, I’d only seen Ravens twice. Two separate instances of a single bird.
They aren’t always together, but the Bush Terminal birds are usually seen in some kind of airborne proximity. These birds work together well in pairs and through the year. As you may know, they are very social animals. And nesting season is not too far away.
So, I was a little worried. Could one of them have been defeated by the city? But I shouldn’t worry based on limited intelligence. These birds have proved themselves survivors in an unlikely environment. On Saturday, I saw a report of two Ravens at Bush Terminal. On Sunday I saw two there myself. They were distant, one perched with a beakful of food on one of the warehouses, the other flying north towards it.
If these are the same birds, and it surely seems like they are, with great fidelity to Brooklyn’s coast, this will be their second breeding year here. Go to it, great corvids! Onwards, o pioneers!
Now, it so happens I went specifically to BTP to see if I could see the Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) that has been flying back and forth from there to the 59th Street Pier recently. This is a large (smaller only than the Great Black-backed) pale species that lacks the typical black wingtips of other Larus gulls. Its wings are grayish, but of such paleness it looks like a ghostly white, especially this individual. Melville would like this white. They’re birds of the far north who sometimes wander down to our latitudes and beyond. Glaucous is from the Greek for gleaming or silvery; Athena, who will make another appearance in a post this week , was Glaukopis, the bright-eyed one.
From the shore, I saw the bird bathing and then flying south. It’s worth looking for if you haven’t seen one: they seem to carry the misty air of the Arctic with them.
Published December 27, 2015
Tags: Brooklyn, Bush Terminal, Climate
Nothing quite says “harbor” like a foghorn. This freakishly warm December has been producing intense fogs in the archipelago of New York City. Up here on the Harbor Hill Moraine, visibility has often been reduced to less than an avenue block away. It’s just about an avenue now as I write; a large antenna on the corner of 40th and 5th Ave is my marker of that distance. The harbor, six avenues away, is completely shrouded, represented only by the long boom of the occasional foghorn. At just after 6 this morning, a very loud horn repeatedly boomed. I assume it was one of those appalling, floating environmental crimes known as cruise ships.
For these photos from the other day, I was down at Bush Terminal Park. It cleared rapidly after these shots, but the uphill cloud — fog is basically a cloud at ground level — settled on the apartment surrounds well into the afternoon.