Birdathon 2006

Yesterday I participated in the 2006 Birdathon here in Brooklyn. The goal is to see (or hear) as many bird species as you can from midnight to midnight. I visited six sites and racked up 100 species. I’m not sure, but that’s probably my personal one day record.

Canada Geese with four goslings entering bay at Breezy Point

I left my apartment about 6:00 A.M. As soon as I walked out of the building I immediately heard something very unusual for this area at this time of year: crickets. Very loud crickets in fact. However after three repetitions, the crickets suddenly shifted into a Titmouse call which suggested revealed the true culprit: a Northern Mockingbird perched in the trees in front of the Brooklyn Museum.

It was a little cloudy, and not the best day for birding. Winds have been North and East for the last six days or so. For Spring migration you want exactly the opposite. I picked several common city species (European Starling, House Sparrow, Canada Goose, American Robin, and Mourning Dove) just walking along Washington Ave, before I even got to Prospect Park. After a quick stop at McDonalds to grab some breakfast (and check off the Ring-billed Gulls in the parking lot), I entered the park near the carousel at Empire Blvd. from where I strolled down to the Music Pagoda adding Gray Catbird, Common Grackle, and Song Sparrow to my list. I decided on a quick trot down the horse path to Rick’s Place. This yielded Eastern Towhee, Northern Parula, Veery, Mallard, and House Wren (much less than I’d expect on this path with better winds.) I then walked down through the Ravine and over to the edge of the Lower Pool where I picked up Black-throated Blue Warbler. I walked back up to the Nethermead where I found a couple of Baltimore Orioles. I then walked down Center Drive to Lookout Hill, mostly being surprised by the complete lack of birds along the way. I walked around Lookout Hill where I heard Blue Jay and Wood Thrush, and spotted White-throated Sparrow and Rock Pigeon. There I met up with my group for the day: Elizabeth, Peter Dorosh, and Sandy Paci.

We worked the top of Lookout Hill and the Butterfly Meadow for about half an hour and picked up a few more birds: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Laughing Gull, Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Kingbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Common Yellowthroat, American Goldfinch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-eyed Vireo, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Downy Woodpecker, and Ovenbird. However it was relatively slow, so after a quick stop at a bodega for coffee, we decamped for Jamaica Bay around 8:30 A.M.

Great Black-backed Gull and Brant were obvious just riding down the Belt Parkway. By the time we reached Jamaica Bay at 9:00, the sun had come out. White-eyed Vireos were singing in the parking lot. Tree Swallows were, as usual, everywhere, along with a scattering of Barn Swallows. Just within the parking lot we had several flyovers including Forster’s Tern and Glossy Ibis. One Belted Kingfisher flew over us quite high, the only one we’d see all day. Walking around the South Garden we picked up Red-eyed Vireo, American Crow, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler (very common), Carolina Wren, House Wren, Blue-headed Vireo, and Blackpoll Warbler (my first of the year),

Walking along the West Pond trail, we easily spotted Glossy Ibis. With the aid of a scope, we also picked our first Yellow-crowned Night-herons. Great and snowy egrets were also present. Two Ospreys were sitting on the nest, and feeding in the mud flats in front of the nest were several Least and one Pectoral Sandpiper.

At Bench 3 we started scanning the West Pond. As well as the usual Mute Swans, Mallards, and American Black Ducks, we identified Wood Duck, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, and American Coot. Continuing along the mudflats on the other side of the trail offered up Semipalmated PLover, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and four Short-billed Dowitchers needling in the mud.

Heading out the Terrapin Trail, a single American Redstart flitted across the path, the only one we saw all day. From the end of the Terrapin Trail we could see Laughing Gulls, Brant, Black-bellied Plover, Common Terns, as well as more Willets and Least Sandpipers.


Walking back and then continuing the loop around the West Pond, I picked out a lone Marsh Wren calling. Finally Peter spotted a Great Blue Heron flying out over the bay, a bird that had surprisingly evaded us up till then. Walking back through the North Garden, we added House Finch and Chimney Swift.

We left the refuge about 1:00 and headed down Crossbay Blvd. to pick up lunch at Mike’s Deli; but first at Sandy’s suggestion we made a quick stop at the American Legion Hall to scan the football field where we added two Killdeer to the list. Then, after picking up an Uncle Carmine (Sopreesata and Provolone with sweet peppers and olive oil), it was across the bridge and West to Fort Tilden.

We ate lunch at Fort Tilden, during which time I spotted a Black-throated Green Warbler. (Hint: don’t try to pick up your binoculars while eating an Uncle Carmine.) Peter went to the park office to get a day pass for the Breezy Point parking lot, while Sandy and I walked over to Riis Landing to look for Peregrine Falcons. We were unsuccessful with the falcon–in fact, we were unsuccessful with raptors the whole day. Osprey was the only one we saw. However we did add Least Tern to the list. We also ran into another team for the first time. The “Wandering Talliers”–Rob Jett, Doug Gochfeld, Shane Blodgett, and Rafael Campos–had also come to that site to look for the Peregrine that nests on the Marine Parkway Bridge.

Rob Jett, Doug Gochfeld, and Rafael Campos

We rejoined Peter and drove down to the Fisherman’s Parking Lot. About a dozen Northern Gannets were diving in the sea very close to shore. The Wandering Talliers spotted a Common Loon. (We’d had one earlier in Queens driving between Jamaica Bay and Fort Tilden, but we were trying to stick to the official Brooklyn circle, which is not quite contiguous with the borough boundaries. For instance, Fort Tilden is really part of Queens County but counts as Brooklyn for birding purposes.) Still Fort Tilden was the least productive site of the day. We didn’t get much there, and what we did was repeated at other sites.

We drove down the road to Breezy Point, and made the loop around the point. At the bay entrance, we again encountered the Wandering Talliers who had recognized a Bonaparte’s Gull hanging out with a flock of terns. They also picked out a “Scoter sp.”; i.e. one of the three local Scoter species flying too far away to be more conclusively identified. We walked down the beach and around the point. The Talliers didn’t so they missed several good shorebirds and a very close White-winged Scoter that could be identified with binoculars. You didn’t even need a scope. Other birds at Breezy Point included Purple Sandpiper, Piping Plover, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, and hundreds, possibly a thousand Sanderlings. Peter also found a Nashville Warbler, though nobody else in the group was able to relocate it.

Sanderlings and other birds at Breezy Point

We had about 45 minutes left before Peter (our driver as well as trip leader) had to leave, so decided on Floyd Bennett Field for our final stop. It seemed like the best chance to pick up some raptors, which had been noticeably absent all day. Sadly it was a bust. We got no new species there. However, we did run into Mary Eyster’s team; and since Peter had to go home about then and Mary didn’t, I defected to Mary for the last couple of hours of daylight.

We talked about various possible sites for our last stop of the day, including returning to Jamaica Bay for another sweep around the West Pond, but we settled on Owls Head Park in Bay Ridge. This wasn’t hugely productive–this location is better in the morning after Northwest winds–but we did find two more birds for the day: Indigo Bunting and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The latter is quite unusual for this time of year.

We got a little lost coming home, but we happened to run across Greenwood Cemetery about 15 minutes before they closed so we popped in for one final bird: Monk Parakeet, my 100th bird of the day!

We adjourned to Mary’s house for pizza and beer. The tentative count for the day was 150 species in Brooklyn, of which I personally saw 100. That number will probably rise a little after a few more people report in. Here’s my personal day list:

  • Common Loon (Breezy Point, Fort Tilden)
  • Northern Gannet (Breezy Point, Fort Tilden)
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Snowy Egret
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron (Jamaica Bay)
  • Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Jamaica Bay)
  • Glossy Ibis (Jamaica Bay)
  • Canada Goose (Jamaica Bay)
  • Brant (Jamaica Bay)
  • Mute Swan (Jamaica Bay)
  • Wood Duck (Jamaica Bay)
  • Gadwall (Jamaica Bay)
  • American Black Duck (Jamaica Bay, Breezy Point)
  • Northern Shoveler (Jamaica Bay)
  • Mallard (Jamaica Bay, Breezy Point)
  • Green-winged Teal (Jamaica Bay)
  • White-winged Scoter (Breezy Point)
  • Osprey (Jamaica Bay)
  • American Coot (Jamaica Bay)
  • Black-bellied Plover (Jamaica Bay)
  • Semipalmated Plover (Jamaica Bay)
  • Piping Plover (Breezy Point)
  • Killdeer (Jamaica Bay)
  • American Oystercatcher (Jamaica Bay, Fort Tilden, Breezy Point)
  • Willet (Jamaica Bay, Breezy Point)
  • Spotted Sandpiper (Breezy Point)
  • Sanderling (Breezy Point)
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper (Jamaica Bay)
  • Least Sandpiper (Jamaica Bay)
  • Pectoral Sandpiper (Jamaica Bay)
  • Purple Sandpiper (Breezy Point)
  • Short-billed Dowitcher (Jamaica Bay)
  • Laughing Gull (Jamaica Bay, Breezy Point, Owl’s Head)
  • Bonaparte’s Gull (Breezy Point)
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Common Tern (Fort Tilden, Breezy Point, Jamaica Bay)
  • Forster’s Tern (Fort Tilden, Jamaica Bay)
  • Least Tern (Fort Tilden, Breezy Point)
  • Black Skimmer (Breezy Point)
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Mourning Dove
  • Monk Parakeet (Greenwood Cemetery)
  • Chimney Swift (Jamaica Bay)
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Jamaica Bay)
  • Belted Kingfisher (Jamaica Bay)
  • Downy Woodpecker (Prospect Park)
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Owl’s Head)
  • Great Crested Flycatcher (Jamaica Bay)
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • White-eyed Vireo (Jamaica Bay)
  • Blue-headed Vireo (Jamaica Bay)
  • Red-eyed Vireo (Jamaica Bay)
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow (Jamaica Bay)
  • Fish Crow (Jamaica Bay)
  • Tree Swallow (Jamaica Bay)
  • Barn Swallow (Jamaica Bay)
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Carolina Wren (Jamaica Bay)
  • House Wren (Jamaica Bay)
  • Marsh Wren (Jamaica Bay)
  • Wood Thrush (Prospect Park)
  • American Robin
  • Gray Catbird
  • Northern Mockingbird (Brooklyn Museum, Breezy Point)
  • Brown Thrasher (Jamaica Bay)
  • European Starling
  • Northern Parula
  • Yellow Warbler (Jamaica Bay)
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler (Jamaica Bay, Prospect Park)
  • Magnolia Warbler (Jamaica Bay, Prospect Park)
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler (Jamaica Bay, Prospect Park)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler (Jamaica Bay, Prospect Park)
  • Black-throated Green Warbler (Jamaica Bay, Fort Tilden)
  • Blackburnian Warbler (Jamaica Bay, Prospect Park)
  • Blackpoll Warbler (Jamaica Bay)
  • Black-and-white Warbler (Jamaica Bay, Prospect Park)
  • American Redstart (Jamaica Bay)
  • Ovenbird
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Scarlet Tanager (Prospect Park)
  • Eastern Towhee (Jamaica Bay, Prospect Park)
  • Savannah Sparrow (Breezy Point)
  • Song Sparrow (Jamaica Bay, Prospect Park)
  • White-throated Sparrow (Prospect Park)
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Indigo Bunting (Owl’s Head)
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle (Prospect Park)
  • Boat-tailed Grackle (Jamaica Bay)
  • Brown-headed Cowbird (Prospect Park)
  • Baltimore Oriole (Jamaica Bay, Prospect Park)
  • House Finch (Jamaica Bay)
  • American Goldfinch (Prospect Park)
  • House Sparrow

There were a few other birds seen by different members of the group that I missed including Little Blue Heron (Jamaica Bay) and Green Heron (Prospect Park).

I think the key yesterday was the coastal sites. The East winds had pushed a lot of sea birds in. Probably the winning strategy within Brooklyn would have been

  1. Dreier-Offerman
  2. Plumb Beach
  3. Breezy Point
  4. Jamaica Bay
  5. Owl’s Head

Nobody did that run though. Maybe next year if the winds are similar I’ll give it a shot. On the other hand, that could change completely with a South wind. Prospect Park was surprisingly quiet yesterday. With different winds, it might have rivaled Jamaica Bay.

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