Posts Tagged 'Prospect Park'


American Robins (Turdus migratorius) arrive early, or they never go very far, especially in a mild winter. Last week, they were already feeding their young. There’s plenty of time for a second brood this season. Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula), on the other wing, are late arrivals. Last week, this one was only then weaving her hanging nest.Here’s another (there are a good number of them in Prospect; fall will reveal nests in trees you’ve passed everyday). Here the bird is gathering material from what looks like… a Robins’ nest.

Here’s how Peterson’s describes B Oriole nests, which are open at the top, rarely at the side: woven of plant fibers like milkweed and Indian hemp, hair, yarn, string, grapevine, bark; Spanish moss in the South; lined with hair, wool, fine grasses, cottony materials. Cornell adds: horsehair, fishing line, cellophane. Males help gather material, but don’t weave (got to save some energy for all that belting of song?). The nest can take a week to complete, longer in rainy weather. It looks precarious and improbable, especially when bulging with 4-5 eggs (on average) and a bird on top of those.

Vigilance Against Poachers

Yesterday, some bird poachers were interrupted in Prospect Park by Park Rangers and park staff. Earlier, one of the poachers actually walked through a group of birders with a caged American Goldfinch in one hand and a glue stick (used to trap birds, a variation on bird lime; very nasty stuff) in the other.

It’s illegal to kill, capture, trade, etc. migratory birds and bird parts, including feathers, nests, and eggs.

Also recently: several people were caught wet-handed stealing turtles from the park. Meanwhile, over in the BBG Wedding Venue, a patch of ramps, no easy thing to propagate, was raided. Ironically, the BBG has posted on foraging for ramps, when what they should have done is say onions and leeks and scallions are more than good enough for all you cooking needs.

What unites all these thefts from the natural commonwealth? Money, of course! One of the bird catchers evidently admitted he was paid to capture the bird for the other. The turtles were probably headed for the market. I know of five people whose “business model” is actually teaching people to forage in the city.

If you see such destructive greediness in the wild commons, call the Park Rangers 718-421-2021; Park Enforcement Patrol (less effective): 718-437-1350; and/or 311. Here are the numbers for NY state DEC’s Environmental Conservation Officers. If you’re elsewhere, put the local authorities on your phone.

Prospect 150

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Prospect Park. Of course, the park was not finished when it opened, and it has remained a work-in-progress ever since.

When I first started birding I lived two long blocks away from the 3rd Street entrance, where The Panthers watch over the road; like all the ornament of the entrances, these were added a generation after Olmsted and Vaux. As you can imagine, I have quite a lot of posts here tagged Prospect Park.

The park suffered along with the city in the 1960s and 1970s. Among other follies, a junior Parks Department functionary, who later became Parks Commish, had the underbrush in the Ravine cleared out to deny cover to the Cong, or at least their local equivalent.

The long term results of that foolishness were being repaired when I first arrived in Brooklyn in 1993. The Ravine was then closed to the public and in the midst of a massive reclamation effort, shoring up the terrain and planting native understory species. This included repairing the Ambergill Falls, which had been smothered in runoff from the denuded hills. The original plans for the park had been lost, or thrown out by Robert “Ozymandias” Moses, so old postcards and stereographs were used to recreate the Boulder Bridge and the falls.

By then neoliberalism reigned, and the Prospect Park Alliance had taken over, to beg from our overlords. The democratic city no longer had the political will to do the job; now we were to depend on the whims of philanthropy. Please sir, may I have some more?

I’ve been going into the park now for nearly a quarter century, from the days of the Behind the Fences Tours, a few of which I led. There are, if I am not mistaken, still a few trees that survive from Olmsted and Vaux’s era. There certainly was one when I first came into the park, a magnificent White Oak on the Long Meadow’s edge near 3rd Street. It succumbed in my time, as I will succumb in others’ time.

Because it is a living complexity, the park ceaselessly reveals the unexpected. If your eyes, ears, and nose are open, you will experience something new. I expect a revelation on my next visit. In the meanwhile, I will on occasion re-post some of my old Prospect Park blogs throughout this sesquicentennial year.

Raptor Wednesday

A scrum of noisy Starlings on the ground suddenly ceased their jabbering. I looked around the sky and the trees. Nothing out of the ordinary, but my raptor senses were activated. I was a few yards from the 9th Street/PPW entrance to Prospect Park. I don’t know if this female Kestrel (Falco sparverius) had spooked the Starlings, but there she was. I’ve seen these little falcons on that same antenna before. Such relic roof-toppers are a good place to look for Kestrels here in Brooklyn. Nineteen century cornices to nest in and twentieth century antennas to perch on.  (Ruins of ancient civilization.)Then she dropped down a story to land on this curlicue, where the whole park was splayed out before her.

Another month of raptor rapture. Highlights of March included, amidst 105 sightings: a young Bald Eagle passing by overhead while I was in Prospect Park (the third Baldie Ive seen overhead in Brooklyn over the years); the return of the Peregrine, or at least a Peregrine, to St. Michael’s church, a sight not seen since 2/8; two Merlins at once in Green-Wood; the juvenile Northern Goshawk, sparring with a Red-shouldered Hawk. And a week on the Middle Peninsula of Virginia, abutting the Chesapeake, where Bald Eagles and especially Osprey were hard to avoid. Our basecamp on the Piankatank River overlooked an occupied Osprey nest platform; walking out on the dock brought two more occupied platforms in view. A solo Osprey perched frequently on one of the dock’s pilings.  There being less Wednesdays than raptor sightings, I have a backlog of pictures to get up here.

More Than Four and Twenty

Accipiter gentilis III

The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds (2000-05) had 130 confirmed Goshawk nests in New York state, with 170 more possible and 54 probable, a decrease from the First Atlas (1980-05). But there are no records of such for the NYC-Long Island area, which lacks the extensive tracts of forest that makes up the species’ usual habitat. They are known to be very defensive around their nests. Bad years for Snowshoe Hares and Ruffed Grouse can send Goshawks further afield. Young birds in general tend to get off-track, wandering in search of their own territory or, during migration, just getting confused. There’s plenty of food here in Prospect, of course, but lots of dangers, too: mammals poisoned by rodenticide, abandoned fishing line and hooks, off-leash dogs (Goshawks are known to crash into the underbrush and hot-foot it after prey), and the deadliest of all, humans (there was a drone flying over the Peninsula, most definitely not a model airplane field).

Accipiter gentilis II

This is a juvenile. Goshawk adults, who settle into their plumage by their third year, have blue-grey backs and gray fronts. They’re unmistakable; I’ve never seen one. These yearlings, on the other wing, look like they could be mistaken for a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. This is a bigger bird than a Cooper’s, but sizing can be tricky without something to compare it to. It so happened that while I was watching this bird atop Lookout Hill, a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) appeared. (I’d heard that these two had been seen sparring earlier.) The Gos chased it across the butterfly meadow. This Gos is Buteo-sized.
Note this long Accipiter shape. And these first two pictures give a good view of the brown patch on the auricular, underneath the eye to the right. The partial dark malar mark, which Wheeler says most juveniles will have, is a little harder to see underneath the eye.

Bill McKibben remembers the lessons Jonathan Schell drew from the 20th century. “Violence is the method by which the ruthless few can subdue the passive many. Nonviolence is a means by which the active many can overcome the ruthless few.”


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