Tag Archives: birding

Fall migration Is underway

Guest post by Leslie Day

day15On the next to last day of September 2015, I was walking in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights from the Heather Garden. Just before I got to Sir William’s Dog Run, my eye caught a movement high up in the northern red oak tree. Warblers! Knowing it’s migration time for insect- and nectar-eating birds—i.e. warblers, flickers, kinglets, hummingbirds—I never leave home without my trusty, light-weight pocket binoculars. Let me tell you, it is challenging keeping your binoculared eyes on moving warblers. The balletic pattern of one of the warblers foraging in the oak tree made me think REDSTART! These tiny birds—black and red males, gray and yellow females—flash their tails and dive up and down, in and out, gleaning insects from the leaves. I had spotted a lovely female redstart fanning her bright yellow tail and flitting, butterfly-like, from leaf to leaf.

Male black-and-white warbler.

Male black-and-white warbler.

There was another warbler with a different type of motion. Catching up to him with my eyes, I saw it was a male northern parula  warbler: a gorgeous little fellow with olive shoulders and a back, gray head, a bright yellow belly turning orange up by his neck, and a black necklace. What a find!

The next afternoon I met Kellye Rosenheim leading a tour for New York City Audubon. We met at the salt marsh of Inwood Hill Park. The park is located at the northernmost tip of Manhattan Island right next to the shipping canal that connects the Harlem River with the Hudson River at Spuyten Duyvil. So much to see there. The week before, birding with my friend Elizabeth White-Pultz, we saw a marsh wren and a pair of common yellowthroat warblers hanging out in the marsh grass, flowering goldenrod, and asters. Columbia University has their boathouse there with a new kayak dock that is used by the rowing crews and the public. Columbia has housed their boats up there since the late 1920s. Across the Harlem River you can see a giant blue and white C. In 1952, Robert Prendergrast, a Columbia medical student and coxswain of the rowing crew, painted the letter on the massive Fordham gneiss outcropping. From the marsh we walked up into the verdant hills of the park. Entering the deeply forested paths, we found black-throated blue warblers, male and female redstarts, northern flickers, and a white-breasted nuthatch.

Male wood duck.

Male wood duck.

Fall migration happens more slowly than spring migration, when literally hundreds of millions of birds take the aerial route known as the Atlantic flyway from their winter feeding grounds in South and Central America to their northern breeding grounds in the middle Atlantic states, New England, and Canada. Flying over New York City, they drop down in huge numbers into our parks to feed and rest. Sometimes they stay, nesting and raising their young until it is time to make their journey south in order to find food throughout the winter. And so it is that birds leave our area, not because it is too cold in winter—after all they are covered in a layer of down, just like our down coats that keep us warm and cozy in January, February, and March. But birds cannot find the food they need in the winter: insects and other invertebrates, fish, amphibians, small mammals. In addition to watching migrating warblers and other song birds, during fall migration you can join groups looking at migrating hawks, eagles, and owls; egrets, herons and shorebirds. And from the far north come our wintering birds, which are able to survive the cold months in New York City. Small flocks of tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, and black-capped chickadees descend on our wooded parks. And in autumn and winter we make way for ducks, geese, and swans! Wood ducks, northern shovelers, hooded mergansers, ruddy ducks, snow geese, brandt geese, and mute swans flock to our wetlands to find food when their summer territories freeze over. They are not alone. More and more, we are seeing bald eagles along our coast in winter.

And of course we have our year-round birds who are able to find seed, nuts, and dried fruit even in winter: blue jays, house sparrows, crows, starlings, pigeons, cardinals, downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, mallard ducks and Canada geese. And let us not forget our birds of prey that are here all year: red-tailed hawks, cooper hawks, sharp shinned hawks, peregrine falcons, American kestrels, great horned owls, saw-whet owls, and screech owls. New York City, as it turns out, is a birding haven throughout the seasons. So take a walk with or without binoculars and you will start to see our lovely and interesting feathered neighbors.

Leslie Day is a New York City naturalist and the author of Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City, Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City, and Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City, published by Johns Hopkins. Dr. Day taught environmental science and biology for more than twenty years. Today, she leads nature tours in New York City Parks for the New York Historical Society, the High Line Park, Fort Tryon Park Trust, Riverside Park Conservancy, and New York City Audubon. Trudy Smoke is a professor of linguistics and rhetoric at Hunter College, City University of New York and a nature illustrator. She is the illustrator of Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City. Beth Bergman is a photographer for the Metropolitan Opera who moonlights as a nature photographer. Her photographs have appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Newsweek, New York Magazine, Opera News, and Paris Match.

 

Comments Off on Fall migration Is underway

Filed under Birds, Ducks, Life Science, Nature, ornithology

Enjoying Nature During the D.C. Summer: Go Early, Go Often

by Howard Youth

The nation’s capital wears its thick cloak of green this time of year. The towering trees, the flourishing vines, the humidity. Tourists feel they’ve stumbled into a tropical city. But, no, it’s just Washington, D.C. in summer. A very exciting time and place for the naturalist. So, drink a lot of water, accept the sweat, and head out early to the city’s wonderful natural areas. You’ll be richly rewarded.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

In 1976, at the age of ten, I developed an interest in reptiles. Two years later, herons grabbed my attention. These alluring birds drew me into birding, a passion I keep to this day. In Washington, D.C. at this time of year, if you are up early and near the Potomac or Anacostia rivers, you are bound to see a heron of some stripe. When you watch one stalk the shoreline in search of frogs or small fish, it’s easy to agree with the many paleontologists who believe birds evolved from trim, predatory dinosaurs. One of the best heron-watching sites is Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Walk the boardwalk into the restored tidal marsh there, or stroll along the lily and lotus ponds. By July, herons dispersing from bay or coastal breeding areas augment the small number of herons present in the area through the breeding season. At Kenilworth, you will likely see the small green heron, the large, grumpy-sounding great blue heron, and the great egret. But others show up, especially in July and August, and these might include little blue heron, black-crowned and sometimes yellow-crowned night-herons.

From July into August, spotted immature black-crowned night-herons loiter around the National Zoo’s Bird House, having just left their nests in the trees. The zoo’s night-heron colony is just one example of how zoos around the world not only exhibit, but also attract, wild creatures. The zoo is open very early for walkers, joggers, and nature buffs. If you walk from the Connecticut Avenue entrance down to the bottom of the hill and back, you not only get a great workout, but you also have the chance to see wild gray catbirds, eastern chipmunks, woodpeckers, wood ducks, cardinals, white-tailed deer, and of course gray squirrels, including black-coated ones that descended from black phase gray squirrels released at the zoo last century. These black squirrels hailed from Ontario. In many parts of that Canadian province, most gray squirrels are black.

Summer in Washington means noticing those small creatures you might have missed in other months. Even if you close your eyes, you can’t ignore the city’s summer wildlife. Listen to the growing crescendo of buzzing annual cicadas, invisible but seemingly everywhere, or the chittering of chimney swifts catching insects high over the city streets. With the abundant heat and humidity, dragonflies and damselflies flourish, snapping up mosquitoes and other small flying insects. At dusk, you might see bats doing the same thing.

Sun-drenched stumps and rock walls may be adorned with five-lined skinks, small and shiny lizards. The females and young sport black stripes running down their backs and flashy blue tails. Males are gold with red heads. Green frogs and bullfrogs, snapping and painted turtles, and maybe even a snake or two will cross your path. Likely snakes include common garter snakes and black rat snakes. The northern copperhead, the only poisonous species in the area, is rare in the city and unlikely to be seen.

While spring in Washington boasts tree and shrub blooms—yoshino and kwanza cherries, dogwoods, mountain laurels, redbuds, azaleas—summer has colors all its own. Day lilies, herbs, meadow flowers such as asters and butterfly weed, and of course, ornamental crape-myrtles: these are plants you see coloring the view at the landscape level. If you don’t want to miss anything, remember that when it comes to appreciating nature, it pays to stop and look around at the small things. The unheralded jewelweed grows in clumps along waterways and moist woodland edges. Its tiny but spectacular blooms draw hummingbirds. The white and red clover and dandelions growing in the lawn attract many pollinating insects, and cottontail rabbits as well.

Growing up in the area, I spent many hours exploring the C&O Canal. If I imagine the tow path, it’s usually a still summer morning, with a bit of mist rising from the water, a dense overhang of American sycamore, tulip tree, and mighty oaks. Another persistent memory: Walking across the entrance bridge to Roosevelt Island, blue-backed barn swallows drifting over the water with a backdrop of tangled vegetation, a mix of vines, shrubs, and trees that made it easy for me to fall in love with tropical places. For if you spend July and August in Washington, D.C. you feel that the heat, and the bounty, of equatorial realms moved north for a spell.

youthHoward Youth is the author of Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C., published by Johns Hopkins Press.

Comments Off on Enjoying Nature During the D.C. Summer: Go Early, Go Often

Filed under Animals, Botany, Conservation, D.C., Kids, Life Science, Nature, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Travel, Washington