Saturday, April 12, 2008

Piping Plovers and Fledgling Owls

I went out with Peter Dorosh and several other folks today on a Broolyn Birding Club trip to several parks in Queens and Brooklyn. It was a beautiful spring day and it got better as the day went on, eventually warming up to t-shirt weather. The birds warmed up progressively, too, and we had a lot of activity and variety. In Alley Pond Park we were directed to a Great Horned Owl nest, where the two young owls have now fledged. One was perched out on a branch in the was fluffy and cute like all young owls, but nearly as large as an adult. The combination of the lethal talons and the fluffy exterior were reminiscent of a Doberman in a bunny suit.

The warblers were busy and we had Yellow Rumped, Pine and Palms, as well as both type of Kinglets, Towhees, and lots of sparrows. Later in the day we went to Rockaway beach, a strangely neglected section of Brooklyn waterfront. As with many spots along the Long Island coast, there are roped off areas here to protect the endangered Piping Plover. These birds started to come in a couple of weeks ago, but this was the first I'd seen. In contrast to the owl they are small and unassuming, and blend beautifully with the gravelly sand of the beach. In the summer you might see cages over spots in the dunes - these are predator cages that are intended to protect the plovers from birds and animals that might attact them or their young.

We also had a group of American Oystercatchers on the beach, calling and flying and courting on the shore. It's great to see behavior from these birds that normally are colorful but relatively stationary. We ended the day at Floyd Bennett Field, which was full of sparrows, Brandt, and juncos. We saw about a dozen field sparrows (one of my favorites). Mary Eyster accidentally started up a Killdeer, and we got to see another breeding behavior...the broken wing routine. Killdeer nest on the ground, and if a predator approaches their nest, they flop away from it dramatically as if they have a broken wing. When they've drawn the intruder far enough away, they shake off the false affliction and fly off. Mary was careful to move away from the possible nest area, and we watched as the Killdeer circled around back where we assumed it was nesting. At the end of the day we had seen 81 species, and had our first taste of spring.

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