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

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Another morning at Ridgewood Reservoir

May 19th

(my posts from this last week are a little out of order, but I've noted the actually dates in the subject)

Yellow-billed Cuckoo (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

I had a feeling it was going to be a productive morning at the Ridgewood Reservoir. As we crossed the street from the parking lot towards the reservoir I spotted a cuckoo in a Black Cherry tree. Cuckoos are solitary birds that I usually only locate either through their calls or, as in this case, by pure luck. The bird at the reservoir was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and he just happened to fly through my field of view and land.

White-eyed Vireo (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

The songbird migration has slowed noticeably as the abundance and diversity of wood-warblers has declined. Replacing them is a greater variety of flycatchers. Today our group observed or heard Eastern Wood-Pewee, Willow Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher and Eastern Kingbird. In addition, there were two or three White-eyed Vireo present in a location where we observed them last time. White-eyed Vireo have one of my favorite songs. I suspect that it might have something to do with the mnemonic that many birders use for this tiny bird’s vocalization - “Quick, bring me the beer check”.

Pink honeysuckle (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

The profusion of crabapple and sassafras flowers that adorned the edges of the trails and basins during our last visit have had their moment in the sun and been dispersed. Autumn Olives are the prevalent bloom of the current flowering cycle with black cherry and locust trees coming up quickly. I noticed a pink honeysuckle shrub near the reservoir that stuck out among the city’s ubiquitous pale-yellow and white varieties.

Autumn Olive (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Jennifer and I climbed down into the “bog” enclosure to survey any breeding species in that habitat. American Robins seemed to be all over the place. In one location we found two active nests that were separated by approximately 40’. We were fortunate to see a feeding at both nests within seconds of each other; one nest had three hatchlings while the other had two. Apparently, robins are very tolerant of their neighbors. Every year, during the early spring, I witness ferocious attacks and aggression between competing males, such that, it’s hard to believe that they would ever coexist peacefully.

Jennifer and I quietly approached the nest cavity where, two weeks ago, Steve and I had witness a pair of Black-capped Chickadees hard at work. The hole is in a birch stump only a few feet above ground and, if there was a bird on a nest, I didn’t want to alarm. I peaked in from around the back of the stump, but couldn’t see anything. Jennifer, who is much shorter, looked in from the front. I saw her break into a smile and I motioned her to walk away from the stump. She told me that there was a chickadee sitting on a nest and, despite our attempt at stealth, was aware of our presence and was craning its neck to peer out at her.

Many of the warbler sounds from our visit on May 5th have subsided, but there were still plenty of birds to hear. With the arrival of Chimney Swifts, the early morning sky is now filled with their
cheerful, chattering calls. Chimney Swifts are one of the few birds who have benefitted from human development. They begin arriving during mid-May and take advantage of our building's various vents, shafts and chimneys for their colonial nests. Then, one day in the fall, I notice that they've vanished as suddenly as they appeared in the spring.

Warbling Vireo’s up-slurred song was heard everywhere within and around the reservoirs. From high perches surrounding the basins, several Baltimore Orioles produced their detached but rich whistles all morning (and probably the afternoon). I was very pleased to hear a Wood Thrush singing from within the reservoir’s yellow birch forest. It indicated the possibility of a breeding pair, but selfishly, I just love listening to their rich, self-harmonizing vocalizations. Donald Kroodsma, author of “The Singing Life of Birds”, describes the thrush’s singing ability during this excellent interview on Voice of America Radio.

As I noted in a previous posting, one of the morning’s highlights was sighting a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk perched in the adjacent cemetery. At the time, we did not know its identity, but Steve’s photos help track down that info.

On Monday, Steve, Heidi and I will be going back to the reservoir before sunrise. We plan to listen for the calls of rails, nightjars and frogs. It’s easier to figure out which frogs are present by listening than it is to slog around in the lake ... as much as I enjoy tromping around in muck.

- - - - -

Ridgewood Reservoir, 5/19/2007
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Red-shouldered Hawk (Juvenile)
Red-tailed Hawk
Laughing Gull
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (2)
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee (In nest cavity)
House Wren
Wood Thrush (Singing in south-most basin)
Gray Catbird
Nashville Warbler
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Canada Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Swamp Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Common species seen (or heard):
Mallard, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow

Friday, May 11, 2007

Ridgewood Reservoir

Saturday, May 5th

Japanese Crabapple

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

I went back to Ridgewood Reservoir with Steve, Heidi and Janet. We spent several hours surveying nesting and migrating birds.

Much has changed since our visit two weeks ago. The first, most obvious change we noticed was a large flock of Chimney Swifts twittering back and forth above the three basins. They are now present all over the city. The previously rowdy flocks of Common Grackles have quieted down and settled in to raising their young. Their screeching sounds have been replace by a sublime mix of songbird chips, warbles, trills and tweets.

The pale-green blooms of maples and elms have been scattered to the wind and been supplanted by an explosion of both subtle and grand colors. Japanese Crabapples crowed the two paths that bisect the reservoir. Bright yellow Sassafras flowers have opened around the borders of the basins. In the "New York City Tree Guide" the author writes of Sassafras, "It colonizes untended, disturbed land with other fast growing species such as sumac, black cherry and ailanthus, preparing they way for forest climax species such as oaks, hickories and sweetgums." It is a perfect description for the transition occurring within the once water-filled enclosures.

Sassafras sapling (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Sassafras bloom

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Steve and I went down into the southern-most basin to look for nesting birds. Unlike the northern basin, which is a Yellow Bird bog, this one is dryer. The birches have been replaced by Black Locusts. A swamp at the south end of the impoundment attracted a nice mix of songbirds. Nearby we heard the rich, ringing song of a Hooded Warbler.

Black Locust forest in south basin (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Reservoir south basin swamp (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

There were plenty of robins nesting in the area but one pair of birds that we stumbled on was a nice surprise. Steve was shooting a photograph when I comment on a pair of chickadees perched above his head. When we began to walk away from that area, the chickadees returned to hollowing out a cavity in a tree stump that we had been standing near. They were carrying away small pieces of wood in their tiny bills.

Chickadee at nest cavity (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

On our way out we took a route that was thick with underbrush and difficult to navigate. As I pushed my way through a tangle of knotweed, tree branches and honeysuckle shrubs an woodcock burst from the ground beside me. There was no easy path through the thicket for the bird and he struggled in an odd, nearly vertical helicopter-like flight pattern. He dropped back down a few yards away.

I’ll be back in two weeks and can’t wait to see the next set of changes in the cycle.

- - - - -

Ridgewood Reservoir, 5/5/2007
Double-crested Cormorant (4)
Ruddy Duck (1)
American Woodcock (1)
Chimney Swift (30)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (1, heard only)
Northern Flicker (3 were there more?)
Eastern Kingbird (1)
White-eyed Vireo (2)
Yellow-throated Vireo (1)
Blue-headed Vireo (2)
Warbling Vireo (6)
Black-capped Chickadee (4, one pair PR B (probable breeding, excavation of nest hole)
House Wren (2, PR P --pair observed in suitable habitat)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (8)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (2)
Hermit Thrush (3)
Wood Thrush (1)
Gray Catbird (25 plus)
Brown Thrasher (2)
Cedar Waxwing (2)
Northern Parula (4)
Yellow Warbler (20)
Magnolia Warbler (4)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (2)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (7)
Blackburnian Warbler (1, heard)
Prairie Warbler (1)
Palm Warbler (4)
Black-and-white Warbler (20)
American Redstart (8)
Ovenbird (4)
Northern Waterthrush (2)
Common Yellowthroat (8)
Hooded Warbler (1)
Indigo Bunting (1)
Eastern Towhee (6)
Swamp Sparrow (6)
White-throated Sparrow (30)
Common Grackle (10, PR one carrying nesting material)
Brown-headed Cowbird (2)
Baltimore Oriole (5)

Other common species seen (or heard):
Mallard (5), Mourning Dove (6, one pair PRD - probable breeding--copulation), Blue Jay (4), American Robin (35 plus, Confirmed Breeding CO NE, bird on nest), European Starling (1), Northern Cardinal (5), Song Sparrow (1), Red-winged Blackbird (50--probably more), American Goldfinch (20), House Sparrow (1)