This past Sunday morning, as I have mentioned in my last two posts, was the Queens County Bird Club‘s field trip to Kissena Park.  The trip, held yearly in autumn and led by Eric Miller, one of the best birders in Queens, focuses on finding migrating sparrows and other birds that might be attracted to the large expanses of brush and weedy fields for which Kissena Park is known to birders.  Seeing as my previous visits to Kissena Park this year had not netted me a Ring-necked Pheasant, a species for which the park is known, and because I hadn’t been on a trip with the QCBC in quite some time, I decided to show up and join the fun.

My eagerness to join the trip, which was to start at the early-for-QCBC time of 7:30 AM, led to me standing out on Queens Boulevard awaiting the Q46 bus at a little after six in the morning.  The bus came, I road it to 164th Street and traded it for a Q65 bus which dropped me off at Kissena Park, but not quite where the club was meeting.  In the predawn light I made my way through some good brushy habitat scattering an assortment of sparrows before me, pleased that it seemed like there had been a good push of migrants overnight which would make the field trip fruitful.  My thoughts were interrupted by a female Ring-necked Pheasant (known to non-Americans as a Common Pheasant) bursting out the brush and nearly giving me a heart attack!  What a way to get a year bird!  Later in the trip we would get better looks at a couple more pheasants, including this nice male.

I soon arrived in the parking lot by the velodrome where we were scheduled to meet and tracked down Eric, who was pleased to regale me with tales of birds he had seen recently in Kissena Park that I had not, including Grasshopper Sparrow and Blue Grosbeak, both of which would be new birds for Queens for me.  Alas, we were not to see either species during the trip, but once everyone arrived we rapidly got going on the day list, adding White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Nashville Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Flicker, Gray Catbird, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Merlin, Northern Flicker, Canada Goose, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Winter Wren, and a host of other species in the first hour of our exploration of Kissena Park.  The sun was shining, the air was cool and crisp, the fall colors were everywhere, and we were out birding!  What more could we want?

Well, while wandering through the weeds and brush Eric got a call from George, a late-arriving member of the QCBC, who reported he had Eastern Meadowlarks in the grassy infield of the velodrome.  Having never seen meadowlarks in Queens before I sped up, wanting to make sure to get to the birds.  Because of my greediness for the sighting I had a large cottonwood tree blocking my view when the cry of “Red-headed Woodpecker!” went up from the group.  The bird flew past and disappeared from view as rapidly as it had appeared and I did not see it.  It was not refound.  Sigh.

The Eastern Meadowlarks, on the other hand, were easily spotted and throughout the morning we would spot them flying past and landing high up in trees after being flushed by dogwalkers or joggers.  Once the disturbance passed the meadowlarks would return to foraging on the ground until the next dogwalker or jogger went past.

While the Eastern Meadowlarks were great I was just as pleased to get lousy looks at Vesper Sparrow, another new bird for me for Queens, which was spotted a bit later in the company of a Field Sparrow and a bunch of White-throated Sparrows.

Once nice thing about the QCBC is that our trips, though bird-centric, often involve discussions about and identifications of plants, butterflies, snakes, dragonflies, turtles, and anything else from the natural world that crosses our path.  So the Clouded Sulphur and Green Darner below were both identified by club members without me having to page through field guides, a much nicer way to figure out a bug identification!

All-in-all the trip was a nice way to spend a morning and enjoy the outdoors.  We spotted well over fifty species and, just as importantly, had a great time doing it!  Now if I could only track down a Blue Grosbeak or a Grasshopper Sparrow in Queens…ah well, the Eastern Phoebe below will have to do.

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.