The reservoir's historic structures & ecosystems are an opportunity to create a unique environmental education center for our children & their future.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ridgewood Reservoir

Lately, I’ve been having trouble getting my postings up on time. Usually, the first thing that I do when I get home is to upload my photos and enter my day list into my computer. I’ll also enter a basic list of notes into my journal software. In the past it took about a day to piece together the words, images and some links for a blog. Suddenly, I feel like I’m regressing to my grade school days of “my dog ate it-I was absent that day-I left it at home” line of lame excuses. I promise, it won’t happen again ;-)

On Saturday I participated in the second survey of the Ridgewood Reservoir, in Queens. There were six of us and we divided up into two teams to cover different areas. We were looking for signs of current or past breeding birds. All six of us are interested in other areas of nature, so we would be making some other observations, as well. I was the only person to remember to bring a pair of Wellies, so my team would cover the impoundment we call “The Bog”. There had been a lot of recent rain storms so I expected the bog to be very wet.

A lot has changed since our first visit on March 3rd. The most notable was the constant noise and activity by flocks of Common Grackles. They nest in communal roosts, so they usually do everything in distinct, boisterous extended families. There are a lot of conifers in the surrounding cemeteries, just what the grackles prefer. The phragmites that ring the center, “lake” impoundment were ringing with the “konk-a-reee” of Red-winged Blackbirds.

Swarm of midges (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

As we walked around the top edge of the reservoir, Gerry and I noticed that there were scattered swarms of tiny insects hovering in place. We guessed that they were midges and they were emerging just in time for migrating songbirds to eat. I checked my photos when I got home and they did appear to be midges.

At the center of the reservoir we spotted a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk perched high above the three manmade craters. The blackbirds did their best to chase him off, but he seemed unfazed and continued to hunt within the area.

Young Red-tailed Hawk (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Gerry, Heidi and I rappelled down into the bog using an old cable somebody had conveniently placed along the edge of the retaining wall. Once inside I was glad to have my boots, in fact, a kayak was nearly necessary. Last month we found very little bird life inside. Today we found a fairly good number of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Palm Warblers, White-throated Sparrows and other land birds feeding among the birch trees. We didn’t see a lot of flowering plants in the submerged birch forest. There were several pussywillow shrubs blooming near an open area at the center of the bog and the Norway Maples were just beginning to nudge their pale-green flowers out into the world.

Norway Maple flowers opening

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Pussywillow species (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Along the top edge of the reservoir were several very large Eastern Cottonwoods. I don’t remember ever noticing their hefty, raspberry colored catkins on any trees around Brooklyn. Later in the morning we climbed a dirt trail to a high plateau above the reservoir. The top was ringed with cottonwoods, their branches laden with the striking flowers. When we scanned southeast from the summit we were pleasantly surprised by an expansive view of Jamaica Bay. I don’t know if the “mountain” is man-made or natural. It appears to be the highest point in Queens. Perhaps it was created by the fill excavated from the reservoirs.

Eastern Cottonwood (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

As we hiked down from the hill Steve called on his cellphone. He was at the edge of the lake watching a Horned Grebe in nearly complete breeding plumage swimming in the lake. Horned Grebes are very common over-wintering seabirds along the coast of New York. Unfortunately, they all usually head off to their breeding ground before morphing from their dull gray basic plumage to their beautiful red and gold courtship attire. We hurried off to meet Steve and the rest of his team.

The grebe had the namesake golden horns flaring off the sides of his head. He would frequently dive under water searching for fish and, when he returned to the surface, the tufts would be slicked back like a bad ‘50s hairstyle. He was pretty far away but I managed to digi-scope a few photos.

Horned Grebe

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

On our way out we stopped along a grassy rise between the reservoir and the road. Several Cabbage White Butterflies and bees were feeding slowly along the tops of the grass and scattered dandelions. I remember getting excited at the sight of a Mourning Cloak Butterfly during our last visit. As we get closer to mid-May, the activity and energy within the wildlife of New York City will increase exponentially. I can’t wait.

View the inside of the bog

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Ridgewood Reservoir, Queens, 4/21/2007
Horned Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Wood Duck
Ring-necked Duck
Hooded Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Laughing Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Northern Flicker
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pine Warbler
Palm Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow