Friday, February 03, 2006

Long Island's East End

Culloden Point in the fog

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sean, Shane and I drove out to Montauk early Monday hoping to locate a reported Black Guillemot. A holarctic species, guillemots very rarely stray as far south as the waters surrounding eastern Long Island. The weather was against us as we spent most of the morning peering through a soupy fog. We did manage to enjoy 20 seconds of sunshine and by the afternoon the soup became a diluted consommé.

Sea vegetables salad

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The bird was seen for several days in Block Island Sound off the beach of Culloden Point. The point is just a short distance north of the town of Montauk. When we arrived at the point visibility was poor. The dark silhouettes of seaducks seemed to be floating in the ether. We stood at the top of the bluff and waited for the fog to lift. We waited and waited and waited. After close to an hour we decided to drive to Montauk Point and several other locations, periodically looping back to Culloden Point.

-Click here to read about Culloden Point and the Amistad-

By the time we arrived at Montauk Point much of the fog had lifted. There were several thousand eider, scoter and Red-breasted Merganser in large rafts drifting in the currents around the point. As the wind driven swells carried the ducks north around the point they would fly back to the south side, to the start of the liquid conveyor belt. I noticed that the mergansers have begun their annual courtship rituals. The male’s head and neck genuflections were both fascinating and comical. They’d start by stretching their necks all the way out and pointing their bill skyward. Then, with their neck still stretched, they’d tip their breast down into the water so that just a tiny length of neck and the entire head remained exposed. The final move involved straightening their body so that their neck and head was parallel to the surface of the water. Some were repeating the sequence over and over for the seemingly disinterested females. Occasionally, some of the males would aggressively chase their competitors while holding their heads low to the water.

Very large skate egg capsule

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Three skate egg capsules

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-What is a Mermaid's Purse?-

-Click here to learn how to identify egg capsules-


We returned to Culloden Point a few more times trying to locate the guillemot. We were ultimately unsuccessful and decided to slowly make our way west towards Brooklyn. At Shinnecock Inlet we found that the number and variety of gulls were pretty low. Sean suggested that we drive down Dune Road to kill some time then return to the inlet when the gulls were coming in to feed.

The wetlands and dunes along Dune Road are a great habitat for Short-eared Owl, bittern and other seldom seen species. We drove very slowly along the road with the windows opened, listening and scanning for wildlife. A small, pale sparrow flew from the grass and perched in a low shrub next to the car. It was an "Ipswich" Sparrow, a northern race of Savannah Sparrow that appears on New York’s coasts in the winter. A short distance down the road Sean and I caught a glimpse of something that seemed out of place within the flat expanse of cord grass. Shane slowly backed-up the car. Motionless in a channel adjacent to the road stood an American Bittern. Normally, this bird’s pattern of vertical brown and buff stripes render him virtually invisible among reeds and grasses when viewed straight on. We got lucky and spotted him from the side. I haven’t seen one since October 15, 2000 when I was kayaking on Jamaica Bay with my friend Ron. I was thrilled to be able to watch this normally inconspicuous animal.

American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

Back at the inlet, as Sean predicted, hundreds of gulls had arrived with the tide to feed in the swift moving water. I leaned my binoculars on the edge of the car’s opened trunk and held them in one position. I then tried to identify the birds as they moved in and out of my field of view. A few minutes passed and it seemed like the same three species were feeding at the edge of the stone jetty. I decided to scan the beach and, within a few seconds, spotted a large, white gull standing on the sand next to the jetty. It was a young Glaucous Gull, another rare winter visitor from the north.

Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus )

(Photo credit - Rob J)

One other exciting, northern visitor observed today was a Snowy Owl. In keeping with birding ethics I won’t reveal exactly where we located him. We almost overlooked this beautiful animal but spotted his, bright white head sticking up from behind a dune. He moved his head rapidly from side to side in search of prey. Although we were far away he seemed to occasionally glare at us with his fierce, golden eyes.

The weather wasn’t great and we didn’t locate a Black Guillemot but it was still a fantastic day out in the wilds of Long Island.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus )

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

- - - - -

Montauk Pt., Cullendon Pt., Theodore Roosevelt Preserve, Dune Rd., Shinnecock, 1/30/2006
-
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe (2 or 3, Cullendon Pt.)
Northern Gannet
Great Cormorant
American Bittern (Dune Rd.)
Great Blue Heron
Snow Goose
Brant
Greater Scaup
Common Eider
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Merlin
Sanderling
Purple Sandpiper (Lake Montauk Inlet.)
Dunlin
Wilson's Snipe (Theodore Roosevelt.)
Ring-billed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Napeague.)
Glaucous Gull (Shinnecock.)
Great Black-backed Gull
Black-legged Kittiwake (Montauk Pt.)
Razorbill
Snowy Owl
Carolina Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Savannah "Ipswich" Sparrow (Dune Rd.)
White-throated Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow

5 comments:

Vics said...

Your pictures and observations are wonderful as always. Those egg capsules are especially interesting. I had never heard of them before.

I was wondering if you knew of any good birding locations in Maryland. My children are working on their Advanced Bird honor, and one of the big requirements is to identify in the wild 60 different types of birds (we have found 17 in the last week around home and downtown Wash. DC). I have been figuring that in the next few weeks we should visit the Chesapeake Bay area, but that covers a huge area. Hense the question as to whether you had heard of a state park or other area that is particulary good. Last spring we worked on our regular Bird honor in which we had to find 30 different type birds and we pretty much maxed out what we could find locally in Germantown, MD.

Rob J. said...

Depending on your location, finding 60 species in one day during the winter could be a chore. On January 2nd three of us spent dawn to dusk scouring Long Island (and adding a few hundred miles to my friend's car) and we ended up with 66 species. Anyway, there are lots of excellent places to bird in Maryland. I recommend checking out "The Maryland Ornithological Society" website:

http://www.mdbirds.org/

And then there's always "Where Do You Want To Go Birding Today?":

http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/birding.htm

Vics said...

Thank you so much. I will take a look at those sites, and have just bookmarked them.

Fortunately there is no time limit specified for the list. Last year we spent about a month and a half finding our thirty, and those we found at or near home. This is what this year's requirement says:

"Make a list of 60 species of wild birds, including birds from at least ten different families, that you personally have observed and positively identified by sight out of doors."

If you are interested you can see what we are working on at:

http://www.pathfindersonline.org/pdf/ayhonors/birds_a.pdf

(Both Basic and Advanced Birds are at this link.)

Thanks again!

Eva said...

That is amazing how well disguised the American Bittern is. I always enjoy your photographs. Thanks!

Englanderu said...

what a well presented site with detailed info. I`m fascinated with it. Kep up the good work!

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