Birding on Governors Island with Annie Barry, January 2010
January 8, 2010
27 degrees, breezy, overcast with occasional snow showers in the morning. Some bursts of sun in the afternoon, and much windier.
I came to
The Historic District was not teeming with birds today. This did not surprise me much, given the relatively open landscape. Trees and shrubbery are scattered here and there but not enough to sustain and shelter a large winter bird population. So the large flocks of robins, sparrows, juncos and other birds that I am accustomed to seeing in other
There were birds in the Historic District, just not many. A flock of about thirty juncos moved around the District throughout the day, but they were largely unaccompanied by white-throated sparrows, their customary winter flocking partners. In fact, I saw just one white-throated sparrow all day. I also spotted five cardinals, two mockingbirds, a single blue jay, three song sparrows, six crows, a female hairy woodpecker and a male downy woodpecker. Around the seawall, I counted four great black-backed gulls, a ring-billed gull and a herring gull, (reminder: I only count gulls that are not on the wing) and a double crested cormorant. And that's it. There weren't even house sparrows around Soissons Dock.
That's it…unless you count the geese, ducks and birds of prey. Winter is a great time to see all three in
I actually walked to the seawall expecting to find more brants on the water. Instead I found lesser scaups. Three small flocks of these diving ducks were floating off the north end of the island between Castle Williams and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel ventilation tower. At least I think they were lesser scaups, which are very hard to distinguish from the very similar greater scaup. Their size and appearance lead me to think they were lesser scaups, which, though they prefer fresh water, will spend the winter in brackish or salt water. They migrate to the northern plain states and western
Also off the northern shore of the island were a single male bufflehead and six gadwalls. The bufflehead is a small diving duck. The male is black and white overall with a distinctive white patch on the side of the head and a short bluish-gray bill. This little duck breeds in lakes and ponds in
Back on land, several birds of prey were in the Historic District. I have seen a red-tailed hawk in the district on many occasions, though it has usually been an immature bird. Today I saw an adult. Perhaps it is the same bird, now sporting its adult red tail feathers. A juvenile sharp-shinned hawk perched in a tree behind Colonels Row, watching over the Parade Ground for a meal. I've never seen a sharp-shin on the island before, so this bird was a welcome sight. Even if it does tend to eat small birds…! But my most exciting sighting of all came later in the day, in Nolan Park.
Toward the end of my birding day I was walking in Nolan Park when I heard a bunch of angry crows, and figured there must be some hawk or falcon upsetting them . I followed the sound to
Now this was an exciting bird to see. Great horned owls are common, being found throughout North America and in some parts of Central and
As a final note, I'd like to mention that the spruce trees on the north side of the glacis and the pine trees and yew trees on the west side have been removed by the National Park Service. This was done for aesthetic reasons. I make note of it because I often found a large number of birds in those trees, particularly in the yews, which provided both a habitat for residential birds and berries and a safe resting place for migrating birds. I will miss them, and so will the birds.
*This and other information about bird migration and breeding habits from All About Birds.
Did You Know?
Most of the trees on Governors Island are fairly young. Large shrubbery was removed to provide a clear line of cannon fire to enemy ships that might have entered New York Harbor. The reintroduction of trees in the 1870s reflects the island’s transition from a fortification into a residential community.