Field Notes

Winter is Wonderful!


WINTER IS A WONDERFUL TIME TO BE OUTDOORS on Staten Island and to explore the quiet but still active wildlife in our woods. While many songbirds have migrated to warmer climes, the birds that remain move through the woods and on the water in flocks, making them easier to identify and enjoy. And our neighborhood birds—those blue jays, robins, mockingbirds, juncos and sparrows—garner more attention and interest now. Those of you who put out niger seed in your bird feeders will no doubt enjoy visits from goldfinches as well. 

Now is the time too to get to know the essence of the woods, its bare boughs and unique patterns of bark. Take heart in the new leaf buds that will swell each day in the warming late-winter days, a sure sign that spring is on the way.

To help you enjoy all that winter offers, we have included two walk reports from Dick Buegler, penned in 2004. One is about a winter 10-mile Greenbelt walk in January and the other recounts an owl prowl at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve in February. Join us on our 10-mile Winter Greenbelt Walk on February 3, 2019 and an Owl Prowl at Blue Heron Park on February 16, 2019. See the calendar for complete details.

Winter 10-Mile Greenbelt Walk

More than a dozen members and friends of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods participated in the annual ten-mile Staten Island Greenbelt Walk. We were pleased to note the large number of people who had already enjoyed being on the trails, finding only several short unused trails without footprints in the snow the entire day. The sun came out after noon to make it a beautiful day in the Greenbelt.

Rare trees found along the trails included the Umbrella and Cucumber Magnolias and one Scarlet Oak fully leafed out with its dried red/brown leaves. Unusual bird sightings included a red-tailed hawk soaring over Deere Park, the remains of a hawk-killed mockingbird, a frozen-solid red-bellied woodpecker with its brilliant red head and hundreds of duck footprints in the frozen snow mush on one of the lakes. Though walkers looked carefully during the length of the walk, they were relieved to find not a single trace of deer footprints, such as existed all over Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve last week. A number of skaters were also met while crossing the rough ice on Hour Glass Pond. They related their experience of a week ago when the ice was frozen, glass-smooth. 

—Dick Buegler, 2004

Owl Prowl at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve

A group of Protectors members and their families held an Owl Prowl at dusk at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve last evening to observe the owls of the park area. Before the walk began, the leader showed two owl pellets collected earlier this week in Pennsylvania. When the pellets were broken open, the walkers could see a large number of small bones and feathers that an owl had regurgitated after digesting the edible parts of the prey, probably small birds and small mammals such as mice, moles and shrews.

The walkers entered a wooded area and the leader proceeded to mimic the calls of various owl species, including Great Horned Owl and Screech Owl. Leaders have been able to attract these and other species. On a late-winter walk in High Rock Park in 2003, the calling produced two screech owls, the Eastern Red Phase and the Gray Phase. They returned the mimicked calls from the distance and flew into the branches overhead where a spotlight easily illuminated their small eight-inch bodies.

Owl prowls are successful only in the dead of winter when the leafless trees allow visibility of the entire tree branch structure above in order to spot the owls alighting there.

—Dick Buegler, 2004