When you think of bird poaching for the pet trade, your mind might leap to the decimation of parrots in the Neotropics or the smuggling of rarities from Asia. But common songbirds in the heart of a bustling metropolis in one of the world’s great alleged superpowers are not spared from human greed, either.

Via the Prospect Park bird blog, a disturbing report:

“Oddest thing in PP this evening — a couple (in their 50s) trying to capture orioles in a net attached to 20′ long pole.”

Capturing, harming, or possessing any of North America’s native songbirds without a proper permit is, of course, prohibited by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, along with various state laws. This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has come to light in Brooklyn.

Besides being a tragedy for the birds that are caught (many of which will die rapidly but horribly from improper care) and a massive stressor for those that are chased or disturbed, the illicit bird trade can spread diseases among various bird populations and even result in the introduction of invasive species to new ecosystems.

If you’re in Brooklyn and come across bird poaching or bird smuggling activity, Peter Dorosh and Rob Jett have assembled a helpful list of contact information here.

Anyone in New York State can use the DEC tip line to report harassment or capture of wild birds, as described here.

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So how busy is my new job keeping me?

So busy that I’m just getting around to blogging last Sunday’s walk through Prospect Park.

If you’re getting bored with my lackadasical postings, here are some things you can read instead:

there’s a very interesting discussion of seals that are visible from space in the comments thread of the previous post.
and a new contest to win a copy of The Life of the Skies at 10,000 Birds
and N8 writes encouragingly about a bird that’s one of my dead-list nemeses (birds that I’ve seen only as ex-birds, sadly not countable.)

Spring continues to sproing. The Pine Warblers that I met up with in Cape May two weeks ago are now in Prospect Park. The drake Pintail that Rob Jett found (thus embarassing my assertion that the duck Pintail had gone off in search of love) continues, and looking mighty snappy too, I might add. Albeit drake pintails pretty much always do. They’re the Brooks Brothers wearers of the Anatidae, to the Mallard’s Abercrombie and the Wood Duck’s Prada. (Hi, Kudla!)

And, even though the weather keeps wavering, the botanical world thinks that it’s spring too. Trees budding and flowers poking up everywhere. Good times. Hopefully soon I’ll dig out from the pile at work and get to enjoy it (although work is making me wistful to enjoy spring or what have you in Costa Rica or Kenya.) At least I’m going down to Central Park tomorrow to make a run at the Western Tanager.

Rock Dove Columba livia
American Robin Turdus migratorius
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
Bufflehead Bucephela albeola
Song Sparrow Melospizza melodia
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus
Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
American Coot Fulica atra
Northern Junco Junco hyemalis
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
Pine Warbler Dendroica pinus
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos

I’ve complained often enough about birds whose names don’t make good sense to the casual observe, so let me sing the praises of one that does. If you happen to look up in a tree in the northeastern US, say in Prospect Park on a lovely sunny morning, and you see a couple of ducks in a tree, there’s a better than excellent chance that they’re Wood Ducks. And so they were. They probably felt pretty good about staying in the tree, because if they’d gone down into the water they would have had to deal with the two pairs of extremely edgy Canada Geese disputing whether the Upper Pool was big enough for the four of them.

As the title implies, I saw a butterfly as well – I’m no expert, but I think it was a Mourning Cloak. And the turtles were out and sunning themselves. There was one slider – a big one – who had climbed up on a rock at the edge of the lake and died. Odd timing. I hope zie got to enjoy the morning, anyhow.

Oh, and the Eastern Phoebes are back. The Northern Pintail seems to be gone, as do most of the White-throated Sparrows.

Rock Pigeon Columba livia
American Robin Turdus migratorius
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Bufflehead Bucephala albeola
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Wood Duck Aix spansa
Brown Creeper Certhia americana
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapilla
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
American Coot Fulica atra
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
American Black Duck Anas rubripes
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe

Nothing says spring quite like getting the male Red-winged Blackbirds back. Their song, echoing from the weeds near ponds and marshes across the USA, always makes me feel like I’m home again and school has just let out for the summer – even when, like yesterday, the weather forecast calls for another overnight freeze.

Speaking of Red, the Red-tailed Hawks were, apropos of my last post, mighty frisky. As I circulated through the Ravine, past the Boathouse and around the lake, I kept looking up and finding two adult Red-tails soaring together. Toward the end of the trip, a younger Red-tail swooped in and scattered a large flock of Robins that I was scanning; when zie rose back into the sky, the two adults appeared and escorted hir out of sight.

The ducks are getting in migratory gear as well. The numbers of Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks were down (Ruddies never did achieve the numbers on the lake that I remember from years past) but Ring-necked Ducks were up, with a pair on the Upper Pool and several males on the lake. The Upper Pool also hosted a single Bufflehead, but there were no Mergansers of any kind anywhere to be found. The one female Pintail persists among the Mallards and Coots, but for how much longer? Surely she’ll be on her way soon.

Also persisting; two Pied-Billed Grebes (could this be the year that they nest in the park once more?), one Red-breasted Nuthatch, some White-throated Sparrows, and a lonely-looking Junco.

The day is not too distant when I see 2008’s first warbler, and then the first vireo, the first tanager, the first non-celebrity oriole. Spring always goes so fast. This year I want to suck all the juice out of it.

Rock Pigeon Columba livia
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
Bufflehead Bucephala albeola
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Fox Sparrow Passella iiaca
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
American Robin Turdus migratorius
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor
Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
American Coot Fulica atra
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum

Fair warning – no pictures today, as the Inimitable Todd is training to run a marathon, and was busy running in circles while I was bird-finding.

I started today’s birding with what I have come to think of as the traditional Prospect Park Hawk Taunt. As we rode along the lake looking for a likely place to lock up our bikes, a big hawk swooped through and scattered the Rock Pigeons and assorted gulls who were assembled for bread handouts along the shore. By the time we pulled over and regrouped, zie was gone. Still, this marks over three months that I’ve seen a raptor of one sort or another in that vicinity, like clockwork, every time I’ve been to the park. Obviously, the trees and sky along the south end of the lake and anywhere that ducks are being fed are worthy of birder attention.

And while you’re down there, take a close look at the American Coots. When I was down that way with Mike Bergin and Corey Finger, we encountered a one-legged Coot. Today, I saw another bird limping, one foot obviously inflamed, especially the rear toe. Coincidence – or incipient epidemic? Probably the former, but I’m awfully fond of the little devil chickens and if something is nipping at their toes I’d like to suss it out.

The Northern Pintail duck persists among the Mallards, throwing herself into the scrum for tossed carby bits – it seems like a bit of a come-down for such an elegant bird, but obviously it’s working for her.

Other highlights of the day included Swamp Sparrows and a Song Sparrow trying desperately to get a piece of the bread-crumb action — they must be very hard up at this point in the winter — a single Ring-necked Duck and two Pied-billed Grebes on the lake, and no less than three Red-tailed Hawks. Among those last, I was particularly grabbed by one that I found by following the calls of a very agitated squirrel. The squirrel sat on one side of a tree-trunk, frozen stiff, and on the other side the immature Red-tail perched in apparent unconcern. Staying very still, out of sight of the hawk? Good squirrel strategy. But why, in the name of Darwin, was the squirrel emitting low but very audible cries every few seconds? Are the park squirrels all so closely related that warning the others of the hawk’s presence, even at the risk of reminding hir that hey, there’s a squirrel in this tree, is a net benefit? Or do we just have a dumb squirrel on our hands here? On the third hand, Red-tailed Hawks are Buteos, and maneuvering close to trees is not their forte. Would the squirrel be doing the same thing if it were a Cooper’s Hawk on the other side of the trunk?

Last but hardly least, I was rewarded handsomely for my support of the Red-breasted Nuthatch when one landed on a bole a few feet from me. Still a treat to see!

Species List:

House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
American Coot Fulica atra
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Swamp Sparrow Melospiza georgiana
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
American Goldfinch Carduelis tristic
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
Tufted Titmous Baeolophus bicolor
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis

April 17, 1910, was a Sunday. If, on that day, you sat down with a copy of the New York Times and flipped to page 6, you would have seen the following:

BIRD-LIFE TRAGEDY IN PROSPECT PARK; Hermit Thrush, Rarest of Songsters, Slain by the Bloodthirsty Northern Shrike.LURED TO DEATH BY SONGVictim’s Own Sweet Melody Imitated by the Murderers — Sentenced to be Shot on Sight.

“A tragedy of bird life has upset the colony of feathered folk in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, for the great northern shrike, which appeared in the park last Winter on a trip down from Canada, has murdered the little hermit thrush, sole fellow of his kind, and the most highly prized songster in the colony.”

(if you have a .pdf reader installed, you can get the rest of the article here.)

An alert reader will first notice that the 1910 Times used thirty-five words to get across the same idea that the 2008 Post would have summed up with the headline CHEEP TRICK. But besides that, there are a couple of interesting details.

First, the anthropomorphism. On beyond the “murder” thing, the shrike is described as a “cannibal” multiple times in the article, in defiance of the fact that Shrikes and Thrushes are, in fact, two different sorts of bird altogether and that the one eating the other has about as much to do with cannibalism as the packet of soup bones in my freezer does. These days, this much is evident to six year olds and Creationists. Indeed, I feel rather foolish even pointing it out. It is hard for the modern reader not to suspect that the journalist responsible for this piece was not being just a little bit tongue-in-cheek. However, assuming that said author was not some member of a cult that makes a month-long celebration of April Fool’s Day, the Park Superintendent’s decision to have the Shrike shot speaks to a very surprising standard of wildlife management ethics.

But beyond that – in Brooklyn of the twenty-aughts, the Hermit Thrush is by no means “the rarest of songsters.” A day with a Hermit Thrush sighting in Prospect Park is a nice but relatively ordinary day. A sighting of a Northern Shrike, however, would get the mailing lists jumping. Has the Thrush’s population improved that much, or is its toleration for people and noise grown better (as seems to be the case with the Cooper’s Hawk)? Or is it merely that in these days of modern field guides and high-tech optics, we actually know a Hermit Thrush when we see one?

Things have improved for birders in Brooklyn since 1910. In some ways, they have even improved for Brooklyn’s birds – especially predatory birds, who for the most part no longer incur the wrath of the Parks Department just by getting dinner. But note the end of the article, and the touching story of how a mystery bird was identified for a local naturalist by a homesick German emigrant.

Yes, in 1910 it was entirely possible to do a year list in Prospect Park and not know what a Europen Starling was. That’s why they call it “the good old days”.

If you live in New York, you add warblers to your life list in April and May. If you live in New York and are totally hardcore, you also add warblers to your life list in September. Only if you are ridiculously lucky do you add warblers to your life list in New York in January.

I’ve always been ridiculously lucky. Except in Coney Island Creek, but what ya gonna do?

The Yellow-breasted Chat who lingered, for reasons best known to hirself (Chats are among the relatively few eastern warblers that are not sexually dimorphic,) in Prospect Park when the rest of hir kind* headed for Panama is also ridiculously lucky. It’s been a warmish winter, but the place is hopping with bird-eating hawks and the Chat’s favored food, bugs, aren’t exactly abundant right now. Still, staying here allowed the Chat to experience a pleasure this morning that probably few of its kind will ever know – namely ice-skating, as I watched it slip and slide across the frozen Binnen Waters to an open spot for a drink. If I had had a camera… well, if I had had a camera the bird probably would have stayed in the brush.

Even aside from the Chat, it was an excellent day of birding. Started slow, to be sure, but by the time I hit the lake even the sight of some idiot feeding bread to a Mute Swan that was taller than he was couldn’t dampen my enjoyment (It’s not that I don’t understand the impulse that makes people want to cram Wonder Bread into waterfowl, but its gotten to where if you go down to the water’s edge without carbs in hand, the Mute Swans start eying you like extras from The Sopranos. The Canada Geese do too, but the Canada Geese can just hurt you real bad, whereas Swans will kill you. And if I must be killed by a bird, it’s fucking well not going to be an invasive species.) Especially when the scavenging flock of pigeons and gulls got busted up by Prospect Park’s other overwintering superstar, the Northern Goshawk. Hot stuff.

*except that one is also attempting to overwinter in Central Park this year. Maybe they could form a support group.

American Robin Turdus migratorious
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaciensis
Brown Creeper Certhia americana
Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
American Goldfinch Carduelis tristic
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Yellow-breasted Chat Icteria virens *LL
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Mute Swan Cygnus olor
American Coot Fulica atra
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinus
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
Northern Junco Junco hyemalis
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris