Posts Tagged 'Floyd Bennett Field'

Borough Kestrels

Falco sparveriusThis male Kestrel zoomed up to the top of Green-Wood’s Gothic Revival gate while a Red-tailed Hawk circled overhead. Then it made an unsuccessful dive at a Monk Parakeet, a bird roughly its own size. I’ve noted Kestrels up there before.IMG_4706This one found the lights and goal posts of the football field at Floyd Bennett Field good for perching.Falco sparveriusHere the bird has just eaten… something. It must have been a beetle. Whatever it was, it dove down from the lights to pick it off the ground and then brought it up to the goal post (score!) to dispatch it quickly.Falco sparverius

Brooklyn Grasslands

IMG_4691A long-shot of the grasslands at Floyd Bennett Field. The telephoto lens condenses the space, as in a Kurosawa movie, and the grasses and scrubs hide the wide runway between the two separate patches before the woods. These colors were enhanced in their subtleness by the misty day.

Raptor Wednesday

The triumvirate:Buteo jamaicensisRed-tailed Hawk in Green-Wood.Accipiter cooperiiCooper’s at Floyd Bennett Field. Falco sparveriusAmerican Kestrel atop the Green-Wood gate. That’s a lightning rod next to this lightning bolt of a bird.

Sunset Spectacular


Cassin’s Kingbird & Co.

Tyrannus vociferansIn what seems to be only the second New York state record, a Cassin’s Kingbird (Tyrannus vociferans) has been hanging out next to Floyd Bennett Field’s community garden. The species’ usual habitat is in the Southwest and Mexico, so it’s a long way from home. The temperature was in the 30s when I saw the bird yesterday; the bird was hawking from pillar to post… for what, exactly? What insects is it hunting in this weather? Before Wednesday’s rain, the bird was reportedly eating yellowjackets. Get thee south, bird!Tyrannus vociferansThe white edging to the tail, blue-gray head, and white malar and chin are the important field marks. In flight, the yellow belly is bright as butter in the sun. The bird is named after John Cassin (1813-1869), curator at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.

Sialia sialisI also came across some Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis). Buteo lineatusAnd a juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), too young yet for the red-shoulders and chest, stalking the pine woods around the camp grounds.dhbAnd the view across Flatbush Ave. at Dead Horse Bay. Yeah, Brooklyn!

Area Closed

Falco sparveriusThe signs are back up at the grasslands at Floyd Bennett Field. This doesn’t stop everybody, but they are better than nothing. Stay off the grasslands. Leave them to the Kestrels (Falco sparverius). This is a male, with blue on the wing.Falco sparveriusThe signs are a handy perch. These birds hunt by hovering over the ground, facing the wind, scanning below. Three birds were present on both days of the weekend. These are minimal numbers; they move about a good bit. We watched one catch something, carry it to a post, and then eat it by bringing its bill to its extended foot. It was small and dark, perhaps a beetle.Falco sparveriusAmerican Kestrels are our smallest falcon, about the size of a Mourning Dove. There are a fair number in the city; in fact, they seem to be doing better in urban areas than in the countryside, where numbers are declining. One reason may be the removal of potential nest sites in the countryside, where the old trees they use are often cleared away. (You can put up Kestrels nest boxes to offer more options.) The city, at least this city, is full of potential nest sites: they favor unkempt cornices of 19th century buildings. (The featureless facades of glass and steel are useless for this, as other things.) Bob DeCandido’s survey found 75 nests in NYC, including 25 in Manhattan, including one I found on 17th St. Insects are a primary source of food, but they also hunt small mammals, birds, and other vertebrates. I first became aware of Italian Wall Lizards (Podarcis sicula) in the city when I saw a photograph of a Kestrel returning to its nest with one of the lizards dangling from its claws.

So the signs are up, but there’s little enforcement. Meanwhile, they were clearing away some dense habitat — great for sparrows, thrushes, Cat birds, etc. — next to the sports fields. Not sure what’s going on, but it wasn’t good the the animals.

Giant Caterpillar in the Night

Hypercompe scriboniaTraci spotted this big, burly, bristly 2.5″ caterpillar Saturday night. It was crossing the mowed median between Flatbush Ave. and the bicycle path at Floyd Bennett Field. As we approached, the ‘pillar rose up, its deep black eyes alert to hominid danger. Evidently, if we’d attempted to touch it, it would have rolled into a head-to-tail circle of spikes, but it isn’t otherwise toxic/allergic, as some of the hairy ones are. Hypercompe scriboniaThis is the caterpillar of the Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia). Some of the red intersegmental rings are visible here. I used a combination of the camera flash and Nate’s flashlight for these shots.

This critter, which over-wintered in this form (where, by Godwin?), was not heading towards Flatbush Ave (quite the opposite, in fact), a gauntlet of infernal combustion-driven death, so we just let it go on its way. It’s a nocturnal feeder, “broadly polyphagous” (hey, moi aussie!) according to David L. Wagner’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America. The leopard-patterned adult moth looks quite handsome. I’ve never seen one before. This was a first time for the caterpillar, too. The night is full of surprises.

Gifts of Sight and Sound

Sayornis phoebeSaturday was an epic day of nature exploration here in the wide world of the Borough of Brooklyn. In the morning, I took a friend and her mother birding in Prospect Park. We saw some 44 species of birds, a good-turn out for our visiting Virginia birder. In the late afternoon, I joined two other friends to explore Dead Horse Bay and the North Forty at Floyd Bennett Field. 50 species noted, with some overlap. All told, I spent about 9 hours walking, wandering, watching, and listening. return a gift pondThis is Return-A-Gift Pond at Floyd Bennett Field. Near sunset, there were 23 Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) hanging out here (another friend had counted twice as many earlier in the day; check out his picture of this same tree absolutely fruited with the birds).Ardea albaThis single Great Egret (Ardea alba) was completely outnumbered. Now, Night-herons, as their name suggests, do their best work after sunset. And after sunset, the spring peepers emerge. Vocally, that is. There are a few off-trail wetland spots in the North Forty, but the majority of these little frogs are right there at Return-a-Gift, throbbing the night with their calls. Even with the nearby sounds of Flatbush Avenue and frequent JFK jets blasting overhead, the sound of the massed frogs was profoundly impressive. I made a recording.

But this was not the only sound of twilight. The choral frogs were seconded by soloist American woodcocks (Scolopax minor) a-courting. We heard their “peent” calls on the ground and then the dry whispery twittering they do in the air. It’s the males, showing off — I suppose “sounding off” is a better description. It was all about the sound for us hominids, anyway, although we did see one in the sky, with the curve of the moon behind him, and then we saw one plummet back down to earth just above the lighter path in front of us a couple of times.woodpecker nestA male Downy Woodpecker scooted out of this nest hole complex, attempting to draw us away, we thought, so it was a command we complied with.

Something unexpected: I heard the briefest bit of what I thought was the crowing of a Ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). I haven’t heard this sound in something like 35 years (they were common around the house when I was in high school), but it is distinctive. The species was introduced to North America as a game bird; there was an effort once at Green-Wood Cemetery to release them there for ornamental purposes. They are generally wiped out by predators, including cats. Anyway, I wasn’t 100% confident that that’s what I heard, but later I had found out another birder had heard the bird there earlier, and that was enough for me.

Waiting for the fairly reliable Q35, our binoculars all packed away, we watched something with huge wings fly heavily across Flatbush above us in the nine oclock dark towards us the Bay. Egret, heron, the Owl of Minerva? Whatever it was, it was a great nightcap.

No pipeline in Jamaica Bay

There is a petition against the plan to put a natural gas pipeline through Gateway National Recreation Area, with a large metering facility at Floyd Bennett Field. These kinds of things do not belong in a place that was set up, to quote the original Congressional legislation, “to preserve and protect for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations an area possessing outstanding natural and recreational features. […]the Secretary shall administer and protect the islands and waters within the Jamaica Bay Unit with the primary aim of conserving the natural resources, fish, and wildlife located therein and shall permit no development or use of this area which is incompatible with this purpose.” The fossil fuel industries are well represented in the U.S. Congress, so I hope you will consider signing this to help block this bad idea.

Night Sights, Night Sounds

Red-winged Blackbirds at magic hour. Loud.

Last night we went to Floyd Bennett Field and looked to the wandering stars, which is what “planetes aster” meant in ancient Greek. Nate was trying out his brand new telescope. Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were visible, even with the glow of the city, JFK, and the sports field nearby. We could see three of the Galilean moons, but Saturn was the star of the show, so to speak, with its angled ring. Awesome, and I mean that in its traditional sense of being full of awe.

We heard something back on the path we’d just wandered through. It’s that time of year, that time of day. The sound is usually transcribed “peent” (you can listen here). It’s made by male Woodcock (Scolopax minor). There were three nearby, one right in front of us. Of course, in the quickly darkening night, “right in front of us” is quite relative. It was all about sound. After repeated peents, he flew high up overhead, tiny but relatively visible on the lighter horizon, and then fluttered down with specially adapted tail feathers extended to whistle-twittering in the wind. The link to the sound recording includes the whole process. Then, back on the ground, he started peenting again. Then once more up into the air again. Repeat. It’s a display for the local females, but since “display” suggest the visual, perhaps performance is a better term, since the sounds dominate. (And remember, the dark thrum of Flatbush Avenue and the Belt Parkway provide the backdrop to all this.)

Passing Return-A-Gift Pond from the runway side, we listened to the frogs. More than a few, but not a thunderous chorus.

Turning out, our astronomer spotted the Moon just rising, a fat orange blob cut off at the top by low cloud. It was just past full and quickly disappeared behind the clouds, but that third of a sphere of sun-ripened, perceptually-distorted Moon made it look like we were standing on a whole other world.


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