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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Looking for Seabirds

My alarm clock went off at 4:30am. I hesitated a moment before shutting it off and swinging my legs off the side of the bed. Sean and Shane would be in front of my apartment at 5:00am so I had little time to shake the fog from my head, eat some breakfast and collect my birding gear. We would be driving 40 miles east to Robert Moses State Park hoping to view some seabirds from the shoreline. Normally it would require a long boat trip towards the continental slope and Hudson Canyon to observe this family of birds but several had recently been reported close to shore. I didn’t have to be in the city until 1:00pm so the trio of sleepless birders would be together again for another “exciting” dawn.

Robert Moses State Park in the haze

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The haze at the ocean was so dense that we wouldn’t have been able to see a beached Blue Whale let alone a bird flying passed. The tiny, orange ball to the east was growing in size and trying to burn through the opaque air. We decided to stick around and wait to see if the haze would clear up.

Waiting for the haze to burn off

(Photo credit - Rob J)

To kill time we played a few innings of “Rum Ball”. It’s a new game that’s destined to become all the rage in birding circles. To play one first needs to locate a piece of driftwood approximately 36 inches long by 12 inches around. Rotted wood is a plus and drift aluminum is unacceptable. The next piece of equipment needed is a discarded plastic rum bottle, although a tequila bottle works in a pinch. Fill the bottle halfway with sea water. A pitcher then whips it to a batter armed with the driftwood. The rest of the rules pretty much follows baseball except that a batter who shatters the “Rum Ball“ automatically wins.

By 8:00am visibility had increased to about a quarter of a mile. The horizon was still an indistinguishable blur of water and sky but we could see some birds flying. Long winged Northern Gannets emerged from the haze on their way south. We used our scopes to scan continuously back and forth along a narrow stretch of visible ocean. Shane spotted the first shearwater as it flew west, parallel to the coastline. It was close enough to shore that I could have just used my binoculars. We all agreed that it was a Cory's Shearwater. We observed four more shearwaters but none were close enough to identify.

Catocala spp moth found on lifeguard chair

(Photo credit - Rob J)

By 9:30am we realized that the visibility wasn’t going to get any better so we packed up our scopes. Sean suggested a side trip to Cow Meadow Park in Freeport. The park includes a small saltmarsh where we would find shorebirds and, possibly, some unusual sparrows.

Fledgling Tree Swallow

(Photo credit - Rob J)

By the time we arrived at Cow Meadow Park the heat and humidity were stifling. There were several flocks of shorebirds on the exposed mudflats. A patrolling Peregrine Falcon flushed many more that had been hidden in the grass. Also in the area were fledgling Tree Swallows and three soon-to-be-fledged Osprey. With a little more time and patience we might have located more birds but the heat smothered any energy we had left from our early morning excitement.

-Click here for Angus Wilson's "Ocean Wanderers" website-

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Robert Moses SP & Cow Meadow Park, 7/27/2005
Common Loon
Cory's Shearwater (Robert Moses State Park)
Northern Gannet
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Peregrine Falcon
Semipalmated Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Red Knot
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Least Tern
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Yellow Warbler
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow (Cow Meadow Park.)
Seaside Sparrow (Cow Meadow Park.)

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


Dani said...

Rob... as always, great pics. I really like the Tree Swallow with the open mouth. :-)

Rob J. said...


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