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Friday, August 06, 2004

Shorebirds at Jamaica Bay

Shane and I were watching the weather reports all week. Cooler temperatures and northwest winds were ideal conditions for encountering flocks of migrating shorebirds. Over the last week birders have begun posting enticing reports from Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. We checked the tide charts and drove over to the refuge in the late morning to meet the high tides and shorebird flocks arriving at the East Pond for their six hour respite.

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The normally uniform wall of green Phragmites that enclose the pond are now dotted with recently bloomed Marsh Roses. Even the narrow path through the dense reeds at the north end was adorned with the bright pink flowers.

Sleeping Semipalmated Sandpipers

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The exposed shoreline at the north end of the East Pond was dotted with flocks of sleeping and feeding birds. The most abundant species seemed to be Semipalmated Sandpipers. Counting all of these tiny birds as they moved about was impossible but by tallying them in small groups and multiplying we estimated that there were easily 3,000 individuals of this one species present. A flock of sleeping Black-bellied Plovers made counting easier and Shane came up with about 160 of that one species. When a pair of Peregrine Falcons appeared above the pond and began attacking the birds it made the number and variety of birds even more apparent.


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Falcon hunting

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The flocks of birds all lifted off at once and moved as one, swirling mass. The predators made several, unsuccessful strafing runs through the cloud of flashing, flapping birds before disappearing over the horizon. As the flocks dispersed they seemed to instinctly break off into groups of like species. There were distinct clouds of tiny semipalmated peeps, larger stilt sandpipers then chunkier dowitchers and black-bellied plovers. Terns and gulls formed loose black and white flocks at the edges of the clouds. An oversized Hudsonian Godwit chose a large flock of the similarly long-legged yellowlegs with which to associate. When the panicked flocks decided that the danger had passed most settled down on a small island at the northeast edge of the pond.

Hudsonian Godwit on East Pond

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We drove to the visitors center and walked to the south end of the pond. At the area known as the "South Flats" a pair of South African birders pointed out what appeared to be a drowning Semipalmated Sandpiper. At first it seemed like it was merely flapping its wings as if it was bathing. It became apparent, though, that its leg was caught in something and that it was attempting to free itself. I walked out into the muddy water, bent down and wrapped one hand around the bird to stop it from flapping. I slid my finger down its right leg, into the mud and found that its foot had become trapped in the opening of an old mussel. I pushed the shell open and he immediately pulled his foot out. His feathers had become matted and, as I held him in my hand, he felt like nothing more than a thin layer of plumes wrapped around a delicate skeleton. I opened my hand and he flew a short distance then dropped to the ground and scurried for cover in the phragmites.

Trapped Sandpiper

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Near the center of the pond is an area of rotted timbers and broken pieces of concrete called "The Raunt". Birds seem to like perching and roosting in that spot. While Shane was examining the birds close to us I scoped out the Raunt. An American White Pelican that has been reported on and off for the last week was perched on the pilings preening itself. While he blended in nicely with the 200 or so Mute Swans on the pond he still seemed really out of place in New York City.

American White Pelican

(Photo credit - Shane Blodgett)

As we began approaching the low tide cycle on the bay many of the shorebirds on the East Pond started to disappear. By the time we left at 4:00pm only a small fraction of the late morning activity remained.

Juvenile Least Sandpiper

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, 8/6/2004
Pied-billed Grebe

American White Pelican

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Glossy Ibis

Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck

Peregrine Falcon

Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, American Oystercatcher

Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher

Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Tern, Forster's Tern, Least Tern

Eastern Kingbird
empidonax flycatcher sp.

Fish Crow

Tree Swallow, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Cedar Waxwing

Yellow Warbler
Northern Waterthrush

Eastern Towhee

Boat-tailed Grackle

American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, American Crow, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

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