Monday, November 29, 2010

Central Park 11/29--Varied Thrush

We've been on a life bird jag this month:
  • WHITE-TAILED KITE, Barnegat, NJ, 11/6
  • FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER, Stamford, CT, 11/21
  • NORTHERN SHRIKE, Jones Beach, NY, 11/21
  • BARNACLE GOOSE, Bronx, NY, 11/27
  • VARIED THRUSH, New York, NY, 11/29
The Varied Thrush at Central Park was reported yesterday and while it was tempting to go, the thought Central Park on the last day of a holiday weekend was simply unbearable to me, so we hoped it would stick around at least one more day (and not be scared away be photographers, like the Barnacle Goose).

We arrived at the maintenance meadow on the edge of The Ramble about 8:15 where 9 or 10 birders were already milling about. Lots of White-throated Sparrows, a couple of titmice, plenty of Blue Jays, but the only thrush I saw was a Hermit Thrush on the way in. 

After about 20 minutes Shari heard someone call out (I was wool-gathering, looking at a grackle) and we ran (well, trotted) out of the meadow over to the hill next to the maintenance building. The thrush was behind a tree. I moved off farther away, so as not spook the bird, but higher up the hill when another birder saw it behind a tree. I was on the bird immediately (amazing in itself) got a great look and called Shari to come up to where I was. Naturally, it went in to the shadows and underbrush. 

Suddenly, another call went up, and we ran (well, walked fast) down the hill and closer to the building. The thrush was up near a fence, in the leaves. You had to have just the right angle to see it clearly. Shari, happily, was able to see it and then I got on it again, and watched it for a good minute, seeing the diagnostic field marks ( orange-yellow eyestripe, grayish breast band) getting a satisfactory look. The bird was scratching in the leaves, facing us head on and it look to me like it was doing push ups.  

Having notched our 5th life bird for the month, we decided it was time to get back to our other lives and left the park after about an hour. 

List for the day:
Number of species:    19
Mallard    7
Red-bellied Woodpecker    1
Blue Jay    7
American Crow    1
Black-capped Chickadee    1
Tufted Titmouse    2
White-breasted Nuthatch    2
Carolina Wren    1
Hermit Thrush    1
VARIED THRUSH   1    Hill on east side of maintenance bldg, near the fence. 
European Starling    5
Eastern Towhee    1    Same hill as VATH
Song Sparrow    1
White-throated Sparrow    40
Dark-eyed Junco    2
Northern Cardinal    1
Common Grackle    1
American Goldfinch    3
House Sparrow    5

Sunday, November 28, 2010

JBWR 11/28

Nothing nearly as exciting as yesterday's Barnacle Goose, which turned out to have been banded on an island off the west coast of Scotland. With the bird not being an escapee it can be "ticked" on the life list with a clear conscious. Unfortunately, it was not relocated today. But happily it has been photographed by at least two people (including Shari) and its bona fides registered.

Photo Shari Zirlin
The most interesting bird of the day was pointed out to us by another birder in the blind on the West Pond trail. A Sharp-shinned Hawk eating a bird. It was hidden pretty well in the bushes, but Shari, once we were finally able to make it out, was able to digiscope a decent photo of it. We never would have been sharp-eyed enough to find this "Where's Waldo?" bird.

Lists for West & East Ponds.
West Pond
Number of species:    31
Snow Goose    100    F/0
Brant    250
Canada Goose    150
Gadwall    1
American Wigeon    60
American Black Duck    10
Mallard    5
Northern Shoveler    50
Green-winged Teal    1
Greater Scaup    1000
Bufflehead    50
Red-breasted Merganser    2
Ruddy Duck    300
Horned Grebe    5
Double-crested Cormorant    4
Great Blue Heron    1
Great Egret    1    roosting high in tree
Sharp-shinned Hawk    1    Eating bird in trees behind blind. 
American Coot    4
Herring Gull    1
Great Black-backed Gull    2
American Crow    2
Carolina Wren    2
European Starling    11
Yellow-rumped Warbler    1
American Tree Sparrow    2    Across from Bench 6
Song Sparrow    2
White-throated Sparrow    5
Northern Cardinal    1
House Finch    4
American Goldfinch    4

East Pond
Number of species:    20
Snow Goose    300    One blue morph. One tagged 73CJ
Canada Goose    50
Mute Swan    15
American Wigeon    50
American Black Duck    22    Two on Big John's Pond
Mallard    15    Ten on Big John's Pond
Northern Shoveler    5
Greater/Lesser Scaup    2
Bufflehead    10
Hooded Merganser    9
Ruddy Duck    300
Double-crested Cormorant    2
Great Egret    2
Northern Harrier    1
Sharp-shinned Hawk    1    Big John's Pond
American Coot    90
Ring-billed Gull    1
Herring Gull    2
Carolina Wren    1
American Robin    1
American Goldfinch    3

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Orchard Beach 11/27--Barnacle Goose

Because the winds were going to gust 30 to 40 MPH today, we didn't plan on doing any birding, but when Shari saw that a Barnacle Goose, which would be a lifer for us, was reported at Orchard Beach in The Bronx we decided to brave the elements.

The goose, if not an escapee, is a real rarity. Normally they winter in the UK and the Netherlands after spending the summer on the tundra of Greenland and Spitzbergen. It was reported to be in a flock of Canada Geese near the entrance to the parking lot and after a few minutes of searching Shari found it in the flock of about 200 geese. Pretty obvious being smaller and with a white face. I've used a B&W conversion of Shari's photograph to eliminate the misleading hues caused by the direct sunlight on its wings (it turned them from black to blue). The bird is banded and appears to be injured. While we were observing it it limped and stood on only its left foot, holding the right one up and out. It looked to like the band had slipped down over the foot and was hampering the bird, although in this photograph, before it took a brief, half-hearted flight, the band seems to be secure high up on the leg.

The wind was blowing hard as forecast, so we took a walk in the woods where we protected from the worst of the blowing. We once saw Long-eared Owls in this part of the park and thought that was a long shot that we'd find one again, but we didn't. Some little winter birds like chickadees, nuthatches and a titmouse were around, and some common waterfowl in the sound.

However, adding a life bird made the trip worth it and we also had a good seafood lunch on City Island.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gravesend Bay / Jones Beach 11/26

Cold gray November day; the kind of day where it seems like the sun is ready to set all day. Rain in the morning kept us in until about 10 when decided to go to Jones Beach, an easy ride with no tolls to pay.

Serendipity: While driving on the Belt, Shari saw what looked like a crack in the windshield. We pulled into a rest stop and it all the crack turned out to be was some kind of thread-like plant material. This rest stop happened to be near the place we saw the Mew Gull early this year, and as there were lots of gulls (and Brant, pigeons, and starlings on the grass), we decided to take a quick look around for anything unusual. In the car next to us the driver was looking out at the water with binoculars. He turned out to be a birder I know, in fact, the guy who originally reported the Mew Gull last year. He lives nearby and regularly checks the area for unusual gulls. Immediately he saw Bonaparte's Gulls flying over the bay, so I put our scope together and joined him at the railing. I didn't need the scope, or my binoculars, to see the gulls--some were floating right in front of us. He was looking through his scope and counting the fly bys off shore--he got up to 200, but I satisfied myself with the easy looks. He & Shari also saw gannets off in the distance, but I was never able to locate them in the gray haze. Shari was able to get some good photos of the Bonnies. Here's a good comparison with a Ring-billed Gull.
Photo: Shari Zirlin
I've never seen Bonaparte's Gulls in New York State, so I was able to add them to my state and Kings County lists. There were also a couple of Common Loon diving in the bay. I was surprised to find out later that I had never seen Common Loons in Kings County, so that added another species to that list.

(Nomenclature aside. Brooklyn has some pretty gruesome names for its bays: Gravesend, Sheepshead, Dead Horse...I'm just saying.)

Jones Beach was really windy, making viewing any body of water, ocean or bay, very unpleasant. But we did spot some goodies. On the beach by Field 6 there was gigantic mixed flock of Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlins, and Sanderlings. At first I saw a small group of maybe 100 plovers and 15 Sanderlings. I lost them when I went back to the car to get Shari, but she soon found a huge flock down the beach. The flock kept swirling around sometimes farther away from us, sometimes coming back to us, but by a conservative estimate there had to be a 1000 plovers there and hundreds of Dunlins and Sanderlings. Gannets were also very close in and easy to see and 3 White-winged Scoters landed in the surf near the shore.

The Boat Basin had the hen White-winged Scoter we saw on Sunday, along with some Red-breasted Mergansers, a Bufflehead and Long-tailed Duck. Plus our favorite: American Oystercatcher, 55 or so on the sandbar.

Standing in the wind by this point was getting to be wearing (and tomorrow the gusts are supposed to be 30 to 40 MPH!) so we thought that birding on the median might get us out of the wind. It did, a little, but aside from a sweet Red-breasted Nuthatch in a pine tree and some goldfinches and Tree Swallows, there wasn't much to be found. A nice sighting in the parking lot of West End 2 was 6 Tundra Swans flying overhead, going in the direction of Jersey. Black, knobless beaks, a different proportion of body to neck and a less ponderous wing beat made us confident in our identification.

I had been hoping to find Snow Buntings and when Shari thought she saw a flock of birds at the other end of the lot, behind a flock of Tree Swallows sitting on the asphalt, they turned out to be the buntings. Winter plumage. I guess we'll have to go to northern Canada or Alaska in the summer to see them in breeding plumage.
Photo by Shari Zirlin
Jones Beach
Number of species:    26
Brant    75
Canada Goose    50
Tundra Swan    6    F/O WE 2
White-winged Scoter    4    Hen @ West End Boat Basin
Long-tailed Duck    1    WEBB
Bufflehead    1    WEBB
Red-breasted Merganser    4    WEBB
Northern Gannet    10
Turkey Vulture    1    Near toll booths
Northern Harrier    3
Black-bellied Plover    1000    Beach at Field 6 and sand bar at WEBB
American Oystercatcher    55    Sandbar WEBB
Sanderling    100    Mixed in with BBPL at Field 6
Dunlin    150    Mixed in with BBPL and SAND @ Field 6
Bonaparte's Gull    2    WEBB
Ring-billed Gull    200
Herring Gull    10
Great Black-backed Gull    100
Rock Pigeon    150
Mourning Dove    1    WE 2
American Crow    2    Median of Meadowbrook Pkwy
Tree Swallow    35    Parking lot of WE 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch    1    Median
Snow Bunting    50    Parking lot of WE 2
American Goldfinch    14    Median
House Sparrow    10    WEBB

Finally, out of curiosity, we stopped off at the Norman J. Levy preserve which is a park off the Meadowbrook Parkway that was once a landfill. To get to it  you have to drive through the Hempstead Sanitation Department gates. Not much in the way of birds there today except for a lot of Helmeted Guineafowls which unfortunately, we can't count. But we can be amused by them.
Can't Count It!
Photo by Shari Zirlin

Thursday, November 25, 2010

JBWR-West Pond 11/25--Little Blue Heron

Our tradition on Thanksgiving is to avoid traffic and go to Jamaica Bay to find birds. Today, ducks were the predominant species, 10 different kinds, including a hen Common Merganser out on the bay with the Brant & Horned Grebes.

The rare bird of the day (rare for this time of year) was the immature Little Blue Heron we found in the marsh near the Osprey Nest. Even without the scope the size and shape didn't look right for either Snowy Egret or Great Egret and once we zoomed in on it, its bluish beak gave it away immediately.

We did the circuit in just 2 hours. We were going to go across the street to the East Pond but as we stepped into the parking lot it began to drizzle, as was forecast. With 4 species of waders and all the waterfowl, along with a few passerines, we considered the morning a success.
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge--West Pond
Number of species:    32
Brant    400
Canada Goose    50
American Wigeon    60
American Black Duck    20
Mallard    10
Northern Shoveler    100
Green-winged Teal    2
Greater Scaup    1000
Bufflehead    100
Hooded Merganser    8
Common Merganser    1
Ruddy Duck    300
Horned Grebe    12
Double-crested Cormorant    4
Great Blue Heron    1
Great Egret    1
Little Blue Heron    1   Immature. Near Osprey nest
Black-crowned Night-Heron    1   Immature. Benches 2-4
Northern Harrier    3
American Coot    7
Herring Gull    4
Downy Woodpecker    1
American Crow    3
Carolina Wren    1
American Robin    7
Gray Catbird    1
Northern Mockingbird    2
European Starling    50
Yellow-rumped Warbler    1
Song Sparrow    3
White-throated Sparrow    1
Dark-eyed Junco    1

Sunday, November 21, 2010

2 States, 2 Life Birds, All Before Lunch

We twitched today.

We were up early and on the road before 7, heading up to Stamford, CT, hoping that the Fork-tailed Flycatcher that had been there since Wednesday was still around. It was. We, along with about 20 other birders got fantastic looks at this extreme rarity. Anytime this bird lands in North America it is news, since it is native to Central and South America. Always a mystery how a bird like this so far away from "home" winds up where it does. Why did the Western Reef-Heron decide to land in Coney Island Creek among the abandoned barges and industrial detritus a few years back? Who knows, but it was worth tramping through a homeless encampment to see it.

Cove Island Park where we went this morning has perfect habitat for this bird a grassy field with scattered bushes, but so do hundreds of other places along the east coast. Well, as Myron Cohen used to say, "Everybody's got to be someplace."

We arrived at 7:45 and by 7:46 we were "on" the bird thanks to a one of the park stewards who had set up a scope at the entrance of the field. Hundreds of birders since Wednesday have made the trip to see this bird; I asked the steward what was the farthest anyone had come and he said he wasn't sure but it was probably Las Vegas. He said they'd had birders from 17 states. That made coming from Brooklyn seem like not such a schlep.

We walked around a looping path that took us farther into the field where there were about 10 other birds with their scopes and high-powered cameras. Shari was able to get some pretty good shots of this very active bird.
It looks like an Eastern Kingbird with a very long tail
Displaying forked tail
Photos by Shari Zirlin
The "bonus" bird of the trip was a flock of about 20 Monk Parakeets flying around. I heard them screeching then saw them land in a distant tree. Later, as we leaving they were all line up a telephone wire.

Feeders are also set up, so some of the usual seed-eating birds were present, along with gulls, geese, and cormorants around the water of Long Island sound.
Cove Island Park
Number of species:    15
Canada Goose    20    F/O 2 flocks
Double-crested Cormorant    20    On rock in water
Ring-billed Gull    20    Parking lot
Herring Gull    20    Parking lot
Mourning Dove    4
Monk Parakeet    20    Sitting on wires at entrance
Fork-tailed Flycatcher    1     
Black-capped Chickadee    3   Feeders
White-breasted Nuthatch    1    Feeders
European Starling    50    Flock at entrance
Song Sparrow    1    Feeders
Northern Cardinal    3    Feeders. Female chased FTFC at one point. 
House Finch    2    Feeders
American Goldfinch    5    Feeders
House Sparrow    5   

After about an hour we were satisfied with our looks we decided to go to Jones Beach on Long Island. A Northern Shrike had been reported there for a while and we needed that bird too. No traffic to speak of and we got there around 9:45. Problem: I had read that the bird was seen at the Roosevelt Nature Center, but that's a pretty big area so after stopping at the parking lot and looking on the swale, we decided to look elsewhere for birds and return later. We birded the median, hoping for some of the crossbills that had been reported, but I knew that was a mug's game. We stopped by the boat basin near the Coast Guard Station and were rewarded with great looks at a  White-winged Scoter and a Black Scoter, both hens. Unusual to see them so close and in relatively calm water. Usually you have to snatch looks at these ducks on the swells of waves.  Shari's favorite, another catcher, American Oystercatcher, was out on a distant sandbar.

Then we returned to the nature center, planning to walk on the boardwalk that extends into the dunes. As we were walking in the parking lot another birder did a sing-songy, "I saw a shri-i-ke."  Bad form I thought, but he did tell us where to look on the boardwalk. When we got there we saw another birder who told us that, of course, the bird had flown off about 15 minutes before. 

We decided to walk the loop that boardwalk makes, figuring the bird had been around for so long that it was unlikely that it had said its farewells 15 minutes ago. Halfway around the loop I spotted a white figure sitting on a boardwalk post. Miraculously, I was able to immediately get the scope on the bird and there it was, Northern Shrike, like a bulky, masked mockingbird. I got Shari on the bird and then it flew down into the grass. We walked back to where it had dived down and found the bird again, this time for long periods where were able to study it. Another birder came by after we had lost it again and pointed out that now it was behind us, so we were able to check it out further. So, second life bird for the morning. This is like being in Texas or Arizona. 
Then, we ate lunch.
Jones Beach

Number of species:    25
Brant    50    West End Boat Basin
Canada Goose    30    Feeding on median
White-winged Scoter    1    WEBB
Black Scoter    1    WEBB
Red-breasted Merganser    8    WEBB
Double-crested Cormorant    50    WEBB
Great Blue Heron    4    WEBB
Northern Harrier    3    Roosevelt Nature Center
American Oystercatcher    2    WEBB
Ring-billed Gull    100
Herring Gull    100
Great Black-backed Gull    20
Rock Pigeon    50
Mourning Dove    1    Roosevelt Nature Center
Downy Woodpecker    2    Median
Northern Shrike    1    Boardwalk of Roosevelt Nature Center
American Crow    3
Tree Swallow    6    F/O Roosevelt Nature Center
White-breasted Nuthatch    1    Median
Northern Mockingbird    1    Roosevelt Nature Center
Yellow-rumped Warbler    2    Median
Dark-eyed Junco    2    Median
Red-winged Blackbird    3    Median
House Finch    4    Roosevelt Nature Center
American Goldfinch 11
House Sparrow    7    WEBB

A quick stop at Point Lookout yielded about 110 Common Eiders and nothing else we hadn't seen before. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Staten Island 11/20--Winter Waterfowl

Hooded Merganser was the "rescue bird" for an otherwise unproductive walk around Mount Loretto this morning. I thought it was going to be the Fox Sparrow that popped out of a snaggle of tree branches near the new garage, but the Hoodies were at the end of the walk when I was feeling my most discouraged. A very late Gray Catbird was, also near the garage, was a somewhat surprising find. Some catbirds overwinter and I guess this is one of them.
Mount Loretto Unique Area
Number of species:    13
Brant    200
Canada Goose    180
American Black Duck    30
Northern Shoveler    9
Hooded Merganser    4
Ring-billed Gull    15
Herring Gull    15
Great Black-backed Gull    1
Blue Jay    2
Black-capped Chickadee    4    In trees near new garage
Gray Catbird    1    In bushes near new garage
Fox Sparrow    1    In snags near new garage
American Goldfinch    1
After lunch, Shari & I went to Great Kills hoping for some winter waterfowl and, happily, we found some. 6 Horned Grebes floating and diving together was good; I don't know that I've ever seen 6 grebes all in one scope sight. The best find was by Shari, who scoped out a flock of ducks that landed just as we were leaving; they turned out to be Green-winged Teal, a very pretty duck.

As we were going a another birder and his two sons were on the beach looking out at the bay. I casually mentioned to the older boy that there were grebes on the water and he got very excited. So I got them in the scope and let him look. "I've never seen grebes before," he said. I'm always happy to show someone a life bird.

Speaking of life birds: Tomorrow we're going to chase a Fork-tailed Flycatcher that has been hanging around a park in Stamford, CT. We've seen a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Florida, but the Fork-tailed is much more elusive and are, particularly up north. Hope we're lucky!
Great Kills
Number of species:    13
Canada Goose    5
American Black Duck    20
Mallard    10
Green-winged Teal 
Bufflehead    9
Red-breasted Merganser
Horned Grebe    6
Double-crested Cormorant    1
Ring-billed Gull    50
Herring Gull    75
Great Black-backed Gull    15
Yellow-rumped Warbler    1
House Sparrow    10

Friday, November 19, 2010

Even a Blind Pig Finds a Truffle Once in a While

Before I even get started, can I point out that this proverb makes no sense; don't pigs find truffles by their sense of smell?

Moving along, sense or no sense, the point is that anyone can get lucky. In my case, the luck is this photograph. I'm not much of a photographer and I use a fairly low end digital camera and when I'm wearing my sunglasses and the sun is strong I really can't see through the viewfinder, so we can amend the saying to "even a blind photographer takes a nice shot now and then."

So, here's a photo of the Lily Pond at Prospect Park, taken under the conditions described above. It looks to me like one of those soft-focus color photographs Steichen used to make early in his career when he was trying to imitate French paintings. Luck.

Prospect Park--Brown Creeper 11/19

There always seems to be one bird that "rescues" an otherwise routine day of birding. I've been wanting to find a Brown Creeper all season--I like the way they climb a tree trunk, circling up and then flying off to the next tree--and today toward the end of my trek around the park I finally found one in the Ravine. Saw it out of the corner of my eye for second and then lost it, but happily it flew to another tree where I was able to watch it climb for a satisfying look until it flew off to yet another tree, farther down the path. Despite the name, creepers often look more gray then brown; in either coloration they blend in perfectly against a tree trunk, so I've probably passed dozens in the last few months.

Besides the creeper, two siskins were in the usual place in the sweetgum trees near the Nethermead Arches; 3 Monk Parakeets flew over the Boathouse, squawking; and in the Sparrow Bowl was a pristine Golden-crowned Kinglet--in the sunlight the stripe on its head was practically fluorescent.

While I was looking for the siskins in the sweetgum trees I had a chat with a birder from England who's been visiting the park everyday of his visit to Brooklyn. He said he was impressed with the diversity and sheer numbers of birds that the park attracts, many more than a comparable space in London, even Hampstead Heath. For instance, he said, a Merlin, which they also have, would never hang out in a plane tree as one does here in the park, they're more likely to be found in marshes and mud flats. Of course, we see them in those habitats too but the park offers good eating so they adapt.

I've never birded in England although I do remember seeing birds like Buffleheads, a Grey Heron, and magpies in St. James Park. One of these days we'll take a trip there. One of these days.
List for the day:
Prospect Park
Number of species:    32
Canada Goose    3    !
Mute Swan    5
American Black Duck    2    West Island
Mallard    75
Northern Shoveler    125
Ruddy Duck    220
Pied-billed Grebe    1    Upper Pool
Double-crested Cormorant    3
Red-tailed Hawk    1    Long Meadow
Merlin    1    Breeze Hill
American Coot    19
Ring-billed Gull    75
Herring Gull    10
Great Black-backed Gull    1
Rock Pigeon    30
Mourning Dove    12
Monk Parakeet    3    F/O Boathouse
Downy Woodpecker    1    Terrace Bridge
Blue Jay    7
Black-capped Chickadee    20
White-breasted Nuthatch    1    Terrace Bridge
Brown Creeper    1    Ravine
Golden-crowned Kinglet    1    Sparrow Bowl
American Robin    1    Rocky Pass
Fox Sparrow    1    Rocky Pass
Song Sparrow    1    Rocky Pass
White-throated Sparrow    25
Dark-eyed Junco    6
Northern Cardinal    3
Pine Siskin    2    Sweetgums near Three Arches Bridge
American Goldfinch    15
House Sparrow    35

Monday, November 15, 2010

Salt Marsh Nature Center 11/15

I was able to get to the salt marsh today since the trains were running. At first I thought it was going to be a day with a lot of species after walking down the entrance trail I immediately saw hundreds of Brant, lots of Buffleheads and Ruddy Ducks, some Mallards plus 1 Pied-bill Grebe. I noticed, though, that there were no cormorants roosting on the pilings. That was odd; cormorant is usually a gimmee.

Birds were hard to find. I did have some interesting ones, like the Sharp-shinned Hawk and when I went to the other side of the creek where the center's building is I found a couple of American Wigeons, but all in all, while any day birding is a good day, the lack of variety in species was a little disappointing.  It was a gray, cool day, exactly the kind of day the word I imagine when I see the word "November."
Brant on Gerrittsen Creek
Brant in Flight
List for the day:
Notes:    All sightings are Salt Marsh Nature Center-West except those marked "E" which are from the HQ side. 
Number of species:    26
Brant    500
Canada Goose    165
American Wigeon    2    E
American Black Duck    2
Mallard    40
Bufflehead    17
Ruddy Duck    26
Pied-billed Grebe    1
Great Blue Heron    2
Northern Harrier    1
Sharp-shinned Hawk    1
Ring-billed Gull    X
Herring Gull    X
Great Black-backed Gull    1
Rock Pigeon    1    E
Mourning Dove    4
Downy Woodpecker    1
Northern Flicker    6
American Crow    4
Black-capped Chickadee    8
Northern Mockingbird    1    E
Yellow-rumped Warbler    13
Swamp Sparrow    1    E
Northern Cardinal    1
American Goldfinch    2
House Sparrow    3    E

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nassau & Suffolk Counties 11/14

Today we drove out to Long Island to bird with our good friend Rick. We originally planned to hit Robert Moses (and who wouldn't want to hit Robert Moses?) State Park, but when a Common Ground Dove plus a Western Kingbird were still being reported in nearby Captree State Park, we headed there first.

The latest posts on line had the dove on the northern part of the southern parking lot. After a wrong turn in what turned out to be the north parking lot where a classic car show was going full throttle, we found a relatively empty parking lot. We really weren't sure if that was the right place until a local birder drove up. He confirmed that we were in the north part of the south parking lot but to paraphrase Dr John, "We were in the right place, but it was the wrong time." After hearing that the bird could be anyplace in the expansive dunes and that finding it required patience (a quality of which I am in very short supply) we decided to move along.

I had read that someone had counted 750 Pine Siskins at Robert Moses a few days ago. We saw one. On the other hand, you only need to see one. We walked along the boardwalk, past the lighthouse and into the federal part of Fire Island and along the way picked up a few birds, the most notable of which, besides the lone siskin, were Northern Gannets dive plunging over the ocean, a small flock of Sanderlings (always amusing, like little wind-up toys) and while we were on the hawkwatch platform, 1 Northern Harrier, which, much to the dismay of the official counter he couldn't count because it didn't fly over his head. While we were thinking about how dumb that rule seemed, Rick checked his Blackberry and saw on NYS Birds that at the Jones Beach Coast Guard station lots of interesting birds were being reported. To which I responded, "Then what the *%#!! are we doing here?"
Robert Moses State Park
Number of species:    16
Brant    50
Northern Gannet    5
Double-crested Cormorant    30
Northern Harrier    1
Sanderling    15
Ring-billed Gull    X
Herring Gull    X
Great Black-backed Gull    X
Northern Flicker    2
American Crow    4
White-breasted Nuthatch    1
Northern Mockingbird    2
Yellow-rumped Warbler    1
Song Sparrow    1
Pine Siskin    1
American Goldfinch    1

We drove the length of Jones Beach Island lickety-split and arrived and the west end in time to find (all in one scope view) a Marbled Godwit surrounded by a flock of American Oystercatchers with 2 Willets off to the side and a Royal Tern in the foreground. Now that's birding! A Common Loon was diving just off the sandbar on which all these birds stood. And it was a good thing we got there when we did, because about 15 minutes later some total moron let his big black dog off the leash on that sandbar and scattered all the birds every which way. Goodbye godwit, goodbye tern, goodbye oystercatchers. What a schmuck!

Also, at the top of an antenna at the Coast Guard station was a Peregrine Falcon, presumably waiting for everyone to leave so he could lunch on one of the many pigeons grazing obliviously on the lawn.
Jones Beach State Park
Number of species:    18
Brant    500
Canada Goose    100
Common Loon    1
Double-crested Cormorant    50
Peregrine Falcon    1
American Oystercatcher    50
Greater Yellowlegs    1
Willet    2
Marbled Godwit    1
Laughing Gull    1
Ring-billed Gull    X
Herring Gull    X
Great Black-backed Gull    X
Royal Tern    1
Rock Pigeon    50
Yellow-rumped Warbler    1
American Goldfinch    1
House Sparrow    5
Another birder there told us that an American Golden Plover had been reported at Point Lookout just across the inlet. Now I was pretty certain that we'd never find one little bird in the dunes and even if we did find it I wouldn't be confident enough to call it a AMGP instead of the extremely similar (especially in autumn) and very common Black-bellied Plover, but Point Lookout is a pretty cool place to find ducks so we drove over there and weren't disappointed when, right off the shore we espied a large flock of Common Eiders.  Four Common Loons and one Red-throated Loon rounded out the day.
Point Lookout
Number of species:    14
Brant    X
Common Eider    50
Red-throated Loon    1
Common Loon    4
Double-crested Cormorant    2
Sanderling    3
Ring-billed Gull    X
Herring Gull    X
Great Black-backed Gull    X
Northern Mockingbird    1
European Starling    50
Yellow-rumped Warbler    4
Northern Cardinal    2
Pine Siskin    1

With the Common Grackles and Mourning Doves we saw around the feeders at his house, I counted 33 species for the days, 3 of which, loon, godwit, and tern, were for me new species for the year.

Thanks Rick!