Fall is well upon us. You can’t tell by the thermometer, I know, but it is.
I went to Prospect Park today after learning that a Great Cormorant had dropped in. These birds, though common in the grand scheme of things, are relatively rare on fresh water any distance inland in New York, and those that do turn up tend to come with the harsh winds of winter. My first Great Cormorant was almost bought at the price of my toes. A nice, simple, warm Great Cormorant, I thought, would be a well-deserved treat and a shiny addition to my borough list.
I got a late start, but that was ok; the bird had been around for several days, it might have the courtesy to wait until I had my breakfast. Fueled, I made my way into the park at 15th street and headed down towards the lake.
I wasn’t even in sight of the water when I stopped to watch a Blue Jay make away with acorns, and heard the tell-tale squawk of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Needless to say, I was thrilled. These little guys are among my favorite birds, and they’re shaping up to have a big irruption this year. Reports of them had been trickling in from all over the five boroughs throughout September, and I’d kept on missing them. Now a pair descended from the canopy and made their way around the trunk of the oak, close enough that if I had arms just twice as long I could have grabbed one (except that I’d be confined in a freak show as the Amazing Gorilla Woman instead of out birding.)
Only when the pair had gotten their fill of bark insects and flown away could I bring myself to continue on to the lake.
On the water, two typical birds of winter had made their entrance – the Northern Shoveler, which always strikes me as an oddly dignified duck despite its outsized beak, and the drab eclipse-plumaged Ruddy Duck. Neither were present in anything like the numbers that I’ll no doubt be seeing in January, but they were definitely there.
And the egrets were definitely gone. This year, haunted by the forlorn hope that the Western Reef-Heron would turn up one more time, it was an especially sad transition. The warblers, so much smaller and yet so much pluckier, were still in evidence though; two Yellow-rumped and a Magnolia Warbler turned up keeping company with a lovely pair of White-throated Sparrows, one with a white crown and one in tan.
I only saw two cormorants as I made my way up the side of the lake; one was an obvious immature Double-crested Cormorant, sitting only a few yards off shore. The other, perched on a snag off the island near the paddle-boat rentals, seemed bigger, heavier, but it kept its back to me. My only hope, without the cash on hand to rent a paddle-boat, was to go all the way around the lake to the peninsula and try to get a look at it from there. I doubted that the bird would be so obliging as to sit still; I’d already kept it waiting while I fed my face and ogled nuthatches. But I couldn’t very well not try.
Up the Lullwater I trekked. It had never been so long before. Besides the urgent desire to see the other side of that cormorant, I also had an urgent desire at this point to see a water fountain, and I knew that there was one near the boathouse.
With that need slaked, the trip down to the peninsula was a bit quicker, although I couldn’t resist stopping for the ever-popular male Black-throated Blue Warbler. Then I passed the concrete ‘beach’, looped through the woods, and emerged at the gazebo just across the lake from where I’d last seen the cormorant. That might not, I told myself sternly, even be there any more. And that might be a Double-crested anyway.
It was, and it wasn’t.
The Great Cormorant seemed disinclined to move at all in the unseasonable 80-degree heat; it sat panting, occasionally twisting its head to regard a boisterous Mallard and doing little else. Why it didn’t just plunge into the lake I don’t know. I certainly felt like it.
Since the day was going so well, I decided to walk up through the Nethermead trails and hit the dog beach, which often features oddball ducks that don’t care to hang out with the unruly mob on the lake – I had a Ring-Necked Duck there this spring. The woods were fairly quiet, though I did trip over one more flock of warblers. And the beach didn’t disappoint; in with a small flock of mallards near shore was a lovely female/eclipse American Wigeon, my third year bird for the day.
Overall, a great use of a day off.
Rock Dove Columba livia
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
American Robin Turdus migratorious
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
American Coot Fulica atra
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Northern Shoveler Anas acuta
American Black Duck Anas rubripes
Double-crested Cormorant Phalocrocorax auritas
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
White-throated Sparrow Zonotricha albicollis
Magnolia Warbler Dendroica magnolia
Osprey Pandion halietus
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina
Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroica caerulescens
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Palm Warbler Dendroica palmarum
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapullus
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Great Cormorant Phalocrocorax carbo
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia
Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea
American Wigeon Anas americana