Sunday, May 22, 2005

Takin' the "A" Train

Jamaica Bay view from the "A" train

(Photo credit - Rob J)

This morning I took the “A” train to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. I was primarily motivated by online reports of Black-necked Stilts on the West Pond, but also by the anticipation of increased numbers of migrating shorebirds. I love the fact that I can just walk down my block, hop on a subway train and, within a short time, be transported to surroundings that seem hundreds of miles from New York City.

Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

As I walked from the Broadchannel train station towards the refuge the blazing sun was tempered by a strong, cool northwestern breeze. An overpowering sweetness was wafting through the air from the abundant flowering Autumn Olive shrubs that pepper the coastal habitats. It’s another non-native species but I love the flowers and, like the birds, I enjoy eating the plentiful tart fruit in the fall.

Beach Rose (Rosa rugosa)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Gooslings in the shade

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Along the path at the West Pond Rosa rugosa is now in bloom. The refuge’s numerous breeding pairs of Canada Goose are leading their gooslings on the foot paths along side the human visitors. As I was walking up the Terrapin Trail towards the overlook of Yellow Bar Hassock I ran into John Yrizzary. He had a look of disbelief on his face. When I asked him what was new he told me that he and a group of 10 birders had just watched an Arctic Tern for about 30 minutes. Of course he ended with, “you should have been here 5 minutes ago”. Those are eight words every birder hates to hear. Oh well. There were still plenty of nice shorebirds to observe. On the mudflat across the channel were several Black-bellied Plover, American Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot and Dunlin. On the near shore (among the terns and gulls) were Willet, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Least Sandpiper.

Throughout the refuge I noticed that Eastern Tent Caterpillar nests were hatching out thousands of caterpillars. In the North Garden Peter and I located a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Those birds are not doubt feasting on the “fresh” harvest of hairy caterpillars.

Eastern Tent Caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click to learn more about Tent Caterpillars-

Peter had driven his car to the refuge and I joined him for a trip over to Fort Tilden. We walked to the back of the soccer field, a postage-stamp vestige of the natural grassland, to look for sparrows. The habitat was devoid of birds but I was mesmerized by the color and variety of grasses in this spot. Patches of red Sheep Sorrel among purple, pale green and dark green blades of varying thickness reminded me of the abstract expressionism of a Monet painting.

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click to learn more about Broadleaf grasses-

Breezy Point surf

(Photo credit - Rob J)

From the beach at the western end of Fort Tilden we spotted thousands of gulls and terns at Breezy Point. Offshore was a south to north stream of Northern Gannets. We decided to drive down to the fisherman’s parking lot at the end of the Breezy Point cooperative to get a closer look at the seabirds and shorebirds. The NPS requires a parking permit for the fisherman’s parking lot so we made a quick stop at the administrative office at Fort Tilden. I don’t know about you but it sounded preposterous when a ranger at the parking lot, seeing us walking with scopes, asked us if we had a birding permit. I quipped, “We wouldn’t be here otherwise”. A litany of sarcastic comments popped into my head but I kept them to myself. As Peter and I walked towards the beach on a sand road crisscrossed with dozens of four-wheel-drive tracks we laughed about all the snappy retorts that would have gotten us in trouble.

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click to learn more about Common Terns-

The near full moon high tide covered a large swath of beach. Thousands of courting Common Terns noisily carried food to prospective mates and, farther down the beach, a couple of hundred Black Skimmers established territories in front of the beach community. We scanned the coast for unusual seabirds but observed mostly just an endless train of small groupings of Northern Gannets. Endangered Piping Plovers have arrived and begun to establish their territories. One pair already seems to be incubating eggs within the protection of a chicken-wire enclosure. I thought it was amazing that the pair recognized the benefit of nesting within the manmade structure. There were a few more "plover prisons" along the beach but they looked unoccupied. Several pairs of oystercatchers along the east-west stretch to the jetty looked as though they were also setting up house for the breeding season.

Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)


(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click to learn more about Piping Plovers-


Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (1)
Fort Tilden (2)
Breezy Point (3)

- - - - -

Various Brooklyn locations, 5/21/2005
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Northern Gannet (2, 3)
Double-crested Cormorant (1, 2, 3)
Great Egret (1)
Snowy Egret (1)
Little Blue Heron (1)
Tricolored Heron (1)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (1)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (1)
Glossy Ibis (1)
Brant (1, 3)
Gadwall (1)
American Black Duck (1)
Osprey (1)
Clapper Rail (1)
Black-bellied Plover (1)
Piping Plover (3)
American Oystercatcher (1, 2, 3)
Willet (1)
Ruddy Turnstone (1, 2)
Sanderling (2, 3)
Red Knot (1)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (1)
Least Sandpiper (1)
Dunlin (1)
American Woodcock (1)
Laughing Gull (1, 2, 3)
Great Black-backed Gull (1, 2, 3)
Common Tern (1, 2, 3)
Forster's Tern (1, 2, 3)
Least Tern (2, 3)
Black Skimmer (3)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (1)
Chimney Swift (1)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1)
Willow Flycatcher (1)
White-eyed Vireo (1, 3)
Tree Swallow (1)
Carolina Wren (1)
House Wren (1)
Gray Catbird (1, 2, 3)
Northern Mockingbird (1, 2, 3)
Brown Thrasher (1)
Yellow Warbler (Common.) (1)
American Redstart (1)
Common Yellowthroat (1)
Eastern Towhee (1)
Boat-tailed Grackle (1)
Brown-headed Cowbird (1)
House Finch (1)

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose (1), Mute Swan (1), Mallard (1), Herring Gull (1, 2, 3), Rock Pigeon (1, 2, 3), Mourning Dove (1, 3), American Crow (1), American Robin (1), European Starling (1, 2, 3), Song Sparrow (1, 2, 3), Red-winged Blackbird (1, 3), House Sparrow (1, 2)

1 comment:

april said...

Ah -- Jamaica Bay! When we lived in NYC during the '80's, this was our birding refuge. It's where we saw our first Common Yellowthroat (we were novice birders then).

Not-so-fond memories of being attacked by Deer Flies during one June, though!

Nice to read about it again!

(We also loved going to Alley Pond Park in May. Underbirded, but always a fabulous migrant trap!)

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