Early Birds


I felt even more virtuous than usual when I arrived at Brookdale Park this morning to find that I was the first birder of the day.

Or so I thought.


This female merlin, presumably the same bird that has been hanging around most of the winter and quite possibly the same bird that I had seen a day earlier in downtown Montclair, had already taken a commanding perch over my — or I guess I should say our — sparrow patch.

sharp-shinned hawk

A couple of hundred yards away, this little male sharp-shinned hawk kept watch over the same half acre of weeds.

Neither of my competitors moved in the hour and a half I was there, but it was evident nonetheless that they and the other raptors wintering and passing through the park of late are eating well.

mourning dove

I’m happy to share.

Brookdale Park magic edge in March


Lonely at the Top


These trees at the edge of Brookdale Park‘s sparrow patch are usually filled with European starlings. These past few mornings now, however, there’s been just one lonesome bird perched high in the bare twigs.


She must have offended the others somehow.


Brookdale Park: It’s Spring

Maybe it doesn’t look like it. Even after a day and a half of afternoon melting, the snow still lies heavy on all but the most open of southern exposures, and the sidewalks still have their treacherous stretches for those like me who don’t pay much attention to their feet.

Brookdale Park sunrise in March

It was wonderful to step out of the car just before sunrise this morning and find that I could do without a hat — and that the red-bellied woodpeckers and tufted titmice were already tuning up for the morning song. A few herring and ring-billed gulls passed over on their way to feed inland, and American robins were chuckling and tsleeting from the tree tops.

Then spring arrived. A distant ascending wheeze announced the arrival of a small flock of male common grackles, followed by another, followed by another…. My total in just over an hour was only about 60 birds, hardly massive numbers judged by what is to come, but 60 more than had been hanging out in the neighborhood for the last several months.

It’s harder to know whether the noisy blue jays were arrivals or still some of the many that spent the winter with us this year. I followed one little flock through the park, hoping for a glimpse of an owl or raccoon or yeti, but all I saw was the local red-tailed hawk pair, looking pained as they kept their heads down and their profiles low.


A couple of weeks from now, a morning’s list of 20 species will be a disappointment. Today, though, it’s a happy sign of things just around the corner.

Grackles now, blackpolls soon!



Brookdale Park Birding

Hairy Woodpecker

A warm spring morning — at long last — in Brookdale Park, and Helen, Mollie, Gary, and I ran into a couple of arrivals during our leisurely walk around the edges of the park.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers whined and buzzed here and there, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, even tinier, was the first of what should soon be the regulid onslaught.

The arrival of the kinglets usually coincides with the earliest warblers. Though I did have a couple of Myrtle Warblers early on, I was beginning to worry that that would be it for the morning. But no: a creeping sprite in the dead wood below the tennis courts turned into a glorious male Black-and-white Warbler, my first this spring in our area.

We were just as excited to see the local Red-tailed Hawks still in residence and acting decidedly broody. One bird slunk around quietly in a tall pine, as if hoping to get onto a nest without being seen, while the other soared overhead with a rat in its feet. I was impressed once again by what good hunters these birds are: I could look for rats all day and not find one. (Not complaining about that, of course.)

Winter isn’t that far behind us, though. White-throated Sparrows were just as abundant and as conspicuous as Chipping Sparrows, and a lone Slate-colored Junco was still lurking around the stream, perhaps taking her last bath before heading into the Adirondacks to breed.

Best of all, perhaps, was a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers quietly feeding together on large snags on the west side of the park. Fingers crossed that these birds stick around and breed: a little bit of wilderness in Bloomfield.

Join the Brookdale Conservancy and me for May bird walks in the park: schedule is here under “Upcoming Events.”