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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Plunging Temperature + High Wind = Poor Birding

Shane & waves

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Shane and I thought that the northwest winds spinning off of the heels of Wilma would create good birding conditions along the shore. Unfortunately the gusts were much stronger than we anticipated. Much of the bird life was hunkered down, out of the wind and out of sight.

We started the morning at the Jones Beach coast guard station then made our way west; to Big Egg Marsh, Ft. Tilden and Floyd Bennett Field.

We were approaching Jones Beach just as the sun was rising. A surreal wall of slowly churning clouds created a soft boundary on the south to east horizon. At the coast guard station a large flock of shorebirds gathered on the leeward side of a small, offshore sand split. It was primarily composed of Dunlins and Black-bellied Plovers but there were also a few Red Knots present.

Passing storm

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A stand of conifers and dense underbrush forms a natural windbreak on the south side of the coast guard facility. It’s usually a good spot to look for passerines but, for some strange reason, a mixed flock of sparrows was feeding on the opposite side, behind the facility fence. Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco stayed close to the ground and fed on grass seeds. A Sharp-shinned Hawk followed a low flight path in front of the conifers trying to surprise the vulnerable, smaller birds.

Northern Harrier fighting the wind

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Merlins seemed to be one of the only species that easily cut through the strong winds in search of food. We saw several during the course of the day including one eating a Yellow-rumped Warbler at the top of a dead conifer.

Yellow-rumped Warblers were the most abundant species of the day until we began seeing swallows. By mid-afternoon we started noticing a steady stream of Tree Swallows moving west along the coast. Probably the oddest sighting of the day occurred while at Ft. Tilden. I heard a few crows making a lot of noise and turned to see them mobbing a Turkey Vulture. The huge, prehistoric looking bird was only about 50 feet above the ground and seemed unperturbed by the relatively tiny crows. Turkey Vultures are commonly seen on migration, just not at Ft. Tilden.

Torpid Common Green Darner (Anax junius)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Cold temperatures slow down the metabolism of dragonflies and make them easy to examine. In an overgrown area at Ft. Tilden I found a Common Green Darner perched on a small twig. I picked him up from the base of his thorax and he offered little resistance. Shane held him on my glove while I photographed the large insect. There was a brief break in the clouds and the sun began warming the air. The dragonfly quickly thawed then darted off towards an open field.

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Jones Beach; Big Egg Marsh; Ft. Tilden; Floyd Bennett Field, 10/26/2005
Northern Gannet
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Blue-winged Teal
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Ring-necked Pheasant
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Red Knot
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Winter Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch

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

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