When one is trying to see as many birds as one can in a year without resorting to an automobile one must not only see as many as the expected birds as possible but must also chase the rarities that can be chased. Chasing rarities, of course, is normal for any big year, but when one is limited by the reach of a mass transit network chasing rarities can become a slow-motion exercise in futility. Not that the birds that I missed this past weekend were missed because of some defect in New York City’s fine mass transit system, no, I missed my two target birds the usual way, by sheer incompetence.
The two birds I really wanted to see this weekend were two birds I did not see during my New York State Big Year last year, a Western Grebe and an Orange-crowned Warbler. Western Grebes, you are probably not surprised to hear, tend to live in the west and are pretty rare visitors to New York. Orange-crowned Warblers, on the other hand, regularly come through the state in fall migration but tend to take a more western route north in the spring. Both have been reported from the south shore of Staten Island over the last week or so but Staten Island is so far out of the way from anywhere that I had no chance of getting there until this past Sunday.
But getting to Staten Island, well, it’s not exactly easy. From Queens I had to take my usual F train into Manhattan and then transfer to the 1 train. The 1 deposited me at the Staten Island Ferry terminal two minutes before the ferry sailed so I sprinted up the stairs and on board, not wanting to wait the half hour for the next ferry. And while I didn’t see any good birds on the free ferry ride I did see a rather famous landmark. Perhaps you recognize it?
From the ferry terminal on Staten Island I made my way to the S78 bus, which stops every fifty feet or so, and took it to Wolfe Pond Park, a place I had never visited. I got off the bus, dreading the walk along the road to the beach where the Orange-crowned Warbler was reputed to be spending time in the beach grass. A trail off the road into the forest seemed like it might head int he direction I wanted to go so I took it and found myself walking parallel to a small stream that led to Wolfe Pond. On the way a mix of year-round resident species and some migrants caught my attention. I watched Golden-crowned Kinglets foraging high above me and was pleased to see three species of woodpecker (Hairy, Downy, and Red-bellied).
Wolfe Pond itself was loaded with waterfowl. Everything from Red-breasted Mergansers to Mute Swans to Greater Scaup were swimming around and feeding. Two Great Egrets, still not terribly common this time of year, were a treat. But I was there for an Orange-crowned Warbler so I got on my mission. And looked. And listened. And looked. And couldn’t find the bird. I ran into a couple of other birders also looking for the bird and was somewhat heartened by the fact that at least they hadn’t found it either. Eventually I gave up and started down the beach. My plan was to walk south to Lemon Creek Park, where the Western Grebe had been reported offshore with regularity, find the grebe, and continue south along the shore until I got too tired to continue at which point I would walk inland to Hylan Boulevard and catch the bus back to the ferry terminal.
Along the way Song Sparrows sang from the vegetation along the beach and an occasional Killdeer flushed from ahead of me. Eastern Phoebes were everywhere along the beach and a pair of American Oystercatchers loafed on the beach with the three common gull species (Ring-billed, Great Black-backed and Herring). Then I spotted a very odd-looking gull with thin wings set too far back on its body. Holy moly a Northern Gannet! I quickly spotted several others flying north offshore. That is one cool bird to see from land!
Then I came upon an obstacle. Lemon Creek Park, is, apparently, named for Lemon Creek. And Lemon Creek, like most creeks, flows downhill. In this specific case downhill meant towards the ocean and directly across my path. To continue south along the beach I would have to find a way across the creek. Wading was impossible: the water was deep. So I walked inland until I came to Hylan Boulevard and used its bridge to get across the creek. It wasn’t a total loss though as I found a Belted Kingfisher and a Swamp Sparrow along the creek.
Back at the beach I looked for the grebe. I found a grebe, a Horned Grebe, but not the grebe for which I was looking. I knew the bird wasn’t north so I continued south under the illusion that the bird must have moved south. I never found it. When I got home that evening I did find this in my email inbox:
As previously posted, the Grebe continues throughout today, March 30th. Best viewing is from the Lemon Creek Pier, the bird has barely moved all week.
Sigh. Oh well.
I didn’t have any more really noteworthy bird sightings, except for a fly-by Great Cormorant, for the rest of the distance I traveled south, though American Black Ducks and American Wigeons became increasingly common in the surf and on the rocky beach as I continued along the shore. I did, however, come upon the remains of some kind of Stone Age civilization that I can only imagine went into irrevocable decline because of the psychic blow of missing out on the sighting of a rare bird (it was hard to see distant rare birds in those days before binoculars).
I think that, once these prehistoric beach dwellers heard that a rare bird from the west coast had been around for over a week and they had somehow missed it they all walked into the sea, preventing them from building even bigger monuments for future birders to find…or something like that…
While I missed my target birds I did add three species to my Anti-Global Warming Big Year list: Great Cormorant, Belted Kingfisher, and Northern Gannet. Staten Island might be the forgotten borough but the birding is good if you can get there.
Staten Island Mourning Doves
Too bad about not finding your target birds. It’s really frustrating when you take a long train/ferry/bus trip and don’t find what you’re looking for. I guess that’s why I have never been much of a rarity chaser.
I found much better birds…
I will be coming to New York in early June – the wife will be shopping and I will be birding Central Park
That’s pretty interesting to try to build a year list that way.-I am not participating in this project but at least I have started car pooling to work. That is a reduction of 300 miles a week traveled by car between two commuters.-Maybe I should start taking a bus to chase raritites-althogh we have a lousy public transportation system.I like the fact that you took pictures of doves and used public transportation-a reall workingmans birder.
I haven’t chased the Western Grebe, in part because I had such a horendous experience trying to chase the Western Reef Heron on Staten Island last year in desperation after missing it in Coney Island Creek.
I really should, though.
Thanks for such a wonderful information about the BIRDS, A birds is a beauty of nature. so safe birds safe nature…………
Thanks again for such a niceinformation
This is an IMPORTANT observation.
These past 10 years has seen the end of 90 percent of species frequenting our parkland in Westchester County NY.
Over 10 years now the hawks have killed everything . We lost 80 percent of our mallards, ALL our large woodpeckers are gone. Two weeks ago I heard a sound from years ago This one pathetic solitary woodpecker sound was silenced and the bird killed, carried off by a large, very large bird no doubt as feed for endless more predator birds. The special bushes housing the mockingbirds are empty, these wintering birds are now dead. Our chickadees once so numerous are being crushed by hawks. I SAW chickadees just swallowed by hawks as they fed, they have no sense of danger, the crows because of their devastation are no longer sounding alarms. Ten years ago we never saw a predator bird! Sure you’d see a hawk maybe driving around highways down south Jersey or somewhere far off, but never here, but not in back yards, not sitting in trees
Most important the crows, the millions and millions of crows because of their devasatation due to virus are no longer sounding alarms, these were essential early warning signals of danger from the sky or branch of the tree! I cannot understand how conservation societies permitted the release and encouraged uncaring people to place creatures that crush the lives of smaller birds in our cities, The pigeons are long gone and the red tails and their ilk have moved on to suburbs and parkland and cleaned us out. This has been occurring over the past 10 years, the numbers of predator birds that I have seen not only in the sky but on low branches on trees or whistling overhead in my ONE small location is astonishing. Our parkland not that many years ago was home to woodpeckers and large numbers of medium and smaller birds, today we have nothing left. These past years we were infested with perigrines, redtails, kestrels, large black hawks, today we have nothing left, ALL smaller birds and animals are gone. They could survive foxes, coyotes when they had NOT the ultimate killing machine from whom there is no defense. The few that survive the onslaughts must scatter to lesser favorable areas where existance is impossible. This was never seen 10 years ago, not here! When crows abounded, warning sounds were intense, without their offsetting influences the process of extinction is now firmly set in place.
We are a country of cities today There is no escape for birds enabling survival.
Even IF habitat was encouraged to the max the result would be that the astonishing numbers of predators would eventually simply fly there and continue the inevitable end for our lesser species. Today no defense exists against relentless proliferation of hawk attack.
So much has been lost, and the loss is now irreversible, the predators have set the stage for extinction, it is only a matter of time.
I’ve just read your comment and I must point out something very important: predators like hawks are at the top of the food chain, and their numbers are regulated by the availablity of prey not the other way round. If the numbers of hawks are too high they impact prey numbers quickly, can then find nothing to eat, then starve. There is simply no way that they can continue preying on birds that don’t exist.
Nature successfully regulates itself like this all the time – until a predator comes along that wants to disobey the rules by harvesting everything within its reach and continually expanding its numbers by taking as much available land as possible and growing its own food to the detriment of other species – and that predator is us. Hawks may have a very short-term impact on prey numbers (cycles can be measured in a few years usually), but the truth is that it’s the staggering numbers of humans on the planet and the way we have taken over so much habitat (grasslands, marshes, forests etc etc) and squeezed other species out that is at the heart of why birds are disappearing.
There ARE pressures on the planet. But the environment I frequented over 30 years was an incredible abundance of avian delight. And as a daily visitor I was able to observe 12 months of sensational birding activity. The numbers were astonishing! Therefore I can state with certainty what has happened HERE. And along the Bronx River, formerly brimming with species, now deserted, birds scattered or dead.
I have been concerned with what I saw, PERSONALLY over 10 years, my first letter to state.pa.us (because of an article regarding conservancy) in July 2005 is as follows:
Subject: our declining birds, the last nail.
All parks in my area have been decimated, due to ever growing numbers of predator birds. I cannot understand how conservation societies permitted the release and encouraged the loonies to place creatures that crush the lives of smaller birds in our cities The pigeons are long gone and the red tails and their ilk have moved on to suburbs and have cleaned us out.
In our small parkland were woodpeckers, jays, cardinals, the usual inhabitants. And mallards by the hundreds, we had over 100 SURVIVING ducklings 5 years ago. A pair of wood ducks managed 2 surviving young a few years ago.
Last year, nothing, our mallards became food for the next generation of buzzards. And the numbers of predator birds is to the moon. And it is they who have wiped us out. I wonder whether folks who have not witnessed or encountered the after effects of hawk predation realize what is to befall areas not yet affected.
it is only because I have been privileged over the past 25 years due to dog walking in areas where trees and ponds prevail that I can state with certainty what is happening. the loss of crows due to disease, along with the jays, has been nothing short of catastrophic. the figures MUST be in the millions as the vast groupings are now history and although they were considered pests they were first rate in attempted predator discouragement. Today on my walks I see no squirrels where a few years past there were hundreds, no chipmunks, not a single rabbit. On the nearby pond where these past 25 years mallards produced ducklings by the hundreds EVERY YEAR, not one duckling in TWO YEARS the mallards crushed as they nest or search acorns by hawks. This has been occurring over the past 5 years, the numbers of predator birds that I have see not in the sky but on low branches in trees or whistling overhead in my ONE small location is astonishing. This parkland not that many years ago was home to woodpeckers and large numbers of medium and smaller birds, today we have nothing left.
This summer I saw ONLY one pair of redtails rather than the many falcons kestrels and marsh hawks, two years ago we were infested with them, today we have nothing left, we have been cleaned out. You may choose to disregard this letter but this is what has happened, with increasing loss of protected (from predation by the killers) habitat, ALL smaller birds and animals are doomed, They could survive foxes, coyotes when they had NOT the ultimate killing machine, the hawk, from which there is today no defense. No protection in formerly favorable areas, NOT if today when hawks use these areas as cafeterias. The few that survive the onslaughts must scatter to lesser favorable areas where food is not abundant and they cannot survive winters there.
If you got this far, I am sure you disagree with what I have written, but I have seen the mallards shredded, the devastating losses of so many others fleeing the shrieking sounds and the calls of the young hawks for food, the unbelieveable size of the adults. Many birds COULD adjust to environmental pressures but NOT that of the predator birds.
I resent enormously what the zealots who have promoted the predator bird population have done.
and then the follow up, written recently after the future(for birds, particularly wintering birds) became clear:
Over two years ago extremely upset at the incredible numbers of lost birds (over the past 5-10 years) I began sending letters warning of the coming extinction. The NYT ran an editorial last summer …….
The material suggests that the environment is the culprit for our losses, but THAT IS NOT CORRECT at MY location! Most of the vast losses at locations in Westchester County NY are birds that are indigenous to the area, all our woodpeckers have been killed as food for hawks and offspring,. Two weeks ago I heard a sound I had heard hundreds of times years ago. But nothing for many years, I had even seen large woodpeckers mating maybe 10 years ago. I immediately searched the trees where this woodpecker sound was coming from. The only one I heard in years.
Maybe 15 or 20 seconds, then nothing. Then I saw why. A large bird, I could not identify it but it flew from the trees with that large woodpecker hanging dead in its beak. The silence in mornings is desolate, all our rabbits are now gone and once last summer I happened in a field in a county park and saw a tiny songbird flitting across the grasses and at that moment that TINY bird was swallowed by a hawk. They were everywhere killing everything, that horrible whistling and shrieking was last years only spring and summer sound.
That NYT editorial was NOT correct in analysis of extinction, BIRDS are becoming extinct not because of many people, loss of forest, habitat destruction. Birds today cannot survive the relentless proliferation of hawks. My granddaughter a few years ago loved to see birds at her feeder in her back yard. She noticed a hawk sitting in that tree with the feeder and then while outside that hawk began to pick off the chickadees as they flew toward the feeder or sat on branches, TOTALLY unaware of the danger. Is it so difficult for Audubon to understand that ALL birds need to nest and feed fledglings in order to perpetuate the species? And every male and female that predator birds kill (due to the astounding NUMBERS) is ending a species? No defenses exist against hawk attack. We are a country of cities today. There is no escape for birds enabling survival. Even IF habitat was hugely encouraged to the max the result would be that the outrageous numbers of predators would eventually simply fly there and destroy everything.
My granddaughter no more has bird feeders, she is SENSIBLE enough to remove them. She was 7 years old at the time, however have ADULTS gone insane placing feeders around setting up cafeteria arrangements for predators at the TOP of the chain?
People are responsible for most of this, the people that repopulated cities with predator birds, it is devastating to think of what has been lost, for years I saw what was happening and now the silence of springtime, the results of the vast killing field of birds.
and as a final VERY STRONG OPINION as to the outcome of our birds:
And the crow, THIS LOSS WAS IMPORTANT!!!!!! although disease is responsible but THIS WAS A TRUE CATASTROPHY and I am not sure folks realise this. These were perfect and intelligent creatures, the ONLY alarm for birds and animals unaware of the danger from the sky and the branch of the tree. And the screeching bluejay too. It is NOT loss of habitat, not here, it WAS the population explosion of the predators at the expense of the defenseless, the demise of the crow a MOST important factor! The losses now irreversible, it is only a matter of time.
I thought I would share with any interested parties a followup on the above.
Today, Saturday June 7, in the morning I visited my favorite parkland, mentioned above. We had for the first time in many years a mallard family, unusual in that the male mallard stuck real close to the female and the surviving ducklings, 2 of them. Although mallards remain together throughout their lives they sometimes take a break and let the moms do the raising of their offspring.
Today, I noticed the two ducklings alone in the water, calling for their mom. And this was strange as she was ALWAYS with them. I walked further down where they would lie together occasionally, beneath a tree. And there lie the feathers, the larger ones strewn about and the smaller tufts of white. These little ones wont make it, this mom was special in that HER GENETICS made her a good mom and now the hawks killed her.
What a way to start the day.
Sad indeed – but I’d be very interested to know which Hawk you think did this – you have Northern Goshawk there? And why wasn’t it a dog, feral cat, or fox?
I loved seeing this mom as this was a special mallard. As I mentioned earlier, we had in this park over thirty years hundreds of mallard ducklings. One year I counted over 100 surviving to adulthood!!Thirty years of eagerly getting out early every day to see such wonderful things. (with my dogs) getting my son to school. And I have come to RESPECT and ADMIRE the pluckiness of this bird enormously. Particularly the females who with such courage and determination withstood such horrific abuses of territorial agression and stayed with their ducklings. But this is GENETIC TRAIT!! not all females were so wired. Which makes the loss of this bird even MORE difficult. I have unbelievable stories to tell. Like the goose who so much needed to parent that (he she) abandoned its mate and became the lynch pin at the end of one mallard brood lineup, sailing up and down the waters for a couple weeks. And the duckling newly hatched with brothers and sisters who lost his face due to snapping turtle, his bill hanging sideways he could not eat and was starving, yet he was able to cry and his mom was frantic seeing this disfigured creature, hearing him as her own yet unable to recognize him. She could not understand. And so I have come to love them. I also saw one female so abused by males that she developed fungus and infection severe around neck and head, she was dying and one other female in a passing group left and tried to tend this bird, I KNEW it was the mom of this female and I was so moved. I saw so much you wouldnt believe. Perhaps one day I will write of mallards and crows (what fabulous creatures!!!!) and so much more.
Now, what happened to this mom and how do I know. Our parkland is not large, 161 acres surrounded by highways and housing, though we have a lake and small pond. We did have a couple foxes 10 years ago and I know they grabbed geese unable to fly, (broken wings, a few from swan agression at nesting time) our sole remaining swan now has taken up with a goose! imagine! but we saw them frequently in mornings around garbage and parking lots, our dogs knew they were around, they have not been seen in so many years. Our parkland has become seriously more developed with many nightime soccer fields, and biking roads. The foxes might have gone further south along the highway or perished. Wintertime, food is now scarce, as I wrote, our wintering birds and ducks have been descimated, rabbits extinct here. Stray dogs are a thing of the past, NONE. And leash law is enforced, lots of people walk dogs there now but no hunting types, this park is in a city. And NO dog could sneak up on a mallard, the little ones jumped in the water, the mom was stunned. Now over the years I saw how hawks kill ducks on the ground, they jump them from above easily grabbing them. If they kill the duck as food they pluck feathers immediately leaving them in batches, and then tearing it right there. If they have offspring as this time of the year, they grab the bird who struggling loses maybe 20 larger feathers and the soft undercoat and removing it from the spot airborne, entirely. I think it unlikely that a cat would do this, a cat would leave more carnage subduing a mallard and I have never seen this. Also, in that spot where the mallard rested on the ground, are trees where hawks SIT. We have asked rangers at the park entrance about taking down those spreading branches to give our ducks a chance. Some folks were concerned that the hawks would hit the swallows swarming the lake, I ALWAYS concern about the mallards.
Which hawk? I spoke to a local rehabber earlier, she told me it was likely a Coopers Hawk, I know peregrines and red tails are here. I see them slipping into trees everywhere. These little ones should not now survive in this park it has become a killing field, they have no chance. If they could be removed elsewhere, but where? Westchester County is infested with predator birds.
One other last concern..
We also have a female Wood Duck here, her mate has gone, but her days for sure are numbered. This is an incredible and wonderful event for all of us to see, she has 3 little ones remaining and they are beautiful. She definitely will not make it, she sits on rocks under a tree with large branches directly overhead. It is just a matter of time. Our hawk infestation is acute.
I will take pictures tomorrow, they are also over a week old. THEY can never survive without their mom.
There is one other VERY important observation to make here regarding the end stage for birds, what so many of us sought to continue and preserve. And what I as formerly uninterested party 30 years ago came to LOVE passionately.
The caretakers of what has been granted to all of us (survival of birds) have totally failed us. The earlier circumstance, the depletion of predator birds was the most IMPORTANT gift imaginable!
At historical times when people demanded more space at the expense of habitat, the PREDATORS shrank!! This was a blessing, enabling the EXPANSION of virtually everything with feathers!!!! How much MORE could GOD do to save us from ourselves?
It is all about the genetics of birds. And for sure everything else.
These hawks are killing the best, the most determined, the great moms, those whose genes are responsible for courage and continuation…..! The birds with the greatest potential for survival? Those who are fearful of attacks, who refuse to stay with a nest, who will not defend offspring, who easily let their young go down. Who lay their eggs without motivation. Is this so difficult to understand? The hawk attacks are bringing the ENTIRE BIRD SPECIES down with every mom they kill. And then you hear this stuff about one siberian tiger or whatever and the WHOLE WORLD?????
AUDUBON has failed us, how much we have lost.
I hope you are still birding. I am a Staten Islander and am impressed with your effort to bird the island. It is not easy to get around without a car. SI is the finest place on the East Coast to bird. During the 2007 year I put together a list of 249 species just on SI. Get in touch and i’ll show you around.
Lemon creek park has a very large number of cats. You expect some cats in an urban area. However some of the residents near the park leave bowls of food out for them. I have come across 4 soup/cereal bowls filled with cat food and chopped meat. Found the bowls during this winter when cats might starve to death or at least get hit by cars crossing the streets looking for food. So its not the hawks that are doing most of the killing. You can find the cat food near the entrances to the park about 2-3 feet into the tall grasses. So chances are pretty good the rangers caught them once before.
wife says(i just saw a cloud of feathers by the backdoor window). i went to look and found a coopers hawk(i think) standing in my backyard.it had a dove in its claws(still alive).for the next half hour,he jumped a few yards over, then back.i have a bad photo on my cell ,it shows horiz. stripes on tail.why didnt it fly up?how did he fly down and catch that dove when i have a huge pin oak overing my whole yard?