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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Long Island road trip

Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus) at Pike's Beach

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Doug, Sean, Shane and I are attempting, what is known in birding as, a “Big Year”. That is, we’re trying to see as many bird species in New York State as humanly possible. For New York State the bellwether for a very good year is 300 species. So, while Doug and I are at the mercy of other folks with cars, we’re helping each other to reach that goal. It has involved planning our outings around the seasonal appearance of certain species, as well as, keeping a close eye on the birding discussion groups. We also keep in touch via cellphone when we find a rare or target species. As of today, Sean is in the lead with 286 species. Shane is a close second while Doug and I have a bit of catching up to do.

Doug and I had already gone out to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to see the Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. Shane and Sean needed to make sure that they wouldn’t miss them so they went out before dawn yesterday. I drove with Shane and, when we arrived, Sean was already watching the ducks on the West Pond. Part of Shane and my strategy yesterday was to also drive out to eastern Long Island to find a few more species. We both needed to be back in Brooklyn by lunchtime so it would be a marathon run to several grassland and coastal habitats. Some of the species that we were hoping to locate were Northern Bobwhite, Upland Sandpiper, Piping Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Blue Grosbeak and Grasshopper Sparrow. Of the seven bird species only two can be seen reliably within the limits of New York City.

Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I was glad that I’d have the opportunity to look for Grasshopper Sparrow and other grassland species but was really excited about visiting the coast. Shorebirds are migrating north to their arctic breeding grounds and most are wearing their Sunday best. I usually only look for shorebirds in the fall when their plumage is worn and faded. Right now Horseshoe Crabs are laying eggs along the shoreline, just as they have for millions of years. Shorebirds have evolved to take advantage of that bounty and fatten up for the long flight north.

Mixed shorebirds

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The grassy habitats of Eastport and Zabriskie Airport were relatively quiet but we did find a Blue Grosbeak and a few Grasshopper Sparrows. In contrast the shoreline along the east end’s bay side were crawling with a mix of Ruddy Turnstones, Red Knots, Least Sandpipers, Dunlins and Semipalmated Sandpipers. At Pike’s Beach we also spotted a few diminutive Piping Plovers. The sand above the high tide line was carved with wide arcs that traced the entry and exit from the bay of breeding Horseshoe Crabs. A short distance from the shore a Ruddy Turnstone was perched on the back of a pair of mating Horseshoe Crabs. He didn’t seem to realize or care that they were slowly swimming into deeper water.

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Ruddy Turnstone riding Horseshoe Crabs

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Red Knot (Calidris canutus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for info on Horseshoe Crabs & Red Knots-

-Click here to learn about declining crabs-

Our main reason for driving to Pike’s Beach was to search for a reported Red-necked Phalarope. We expected that we’d spend a long time searching for it and left ourselves extra time. We parked the car and walked a short path to the beach and set-up our scopes. Within about 60 seconds a small flock of birds flew from our right and passed in front of us. The Red-necked Phalarope in the lead. They landed at the end of the stretch of beach and continued feeding at the water’s edge. Phalaropes are an interesting group of birds. The females have more colorful plumage than the males. The males incubate the eggs and tend to the chicks while the females fly off to breed with other males. Talk about your modern relationship.

Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) at Pike's Beach

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It was a long drive, for which I give Shane a huge thank you. I added five more species to my year’s goal, took some nice photos and made it home for lunch.

- - - - -

JBWR; Eastport; Zabriskie Airport; Shinnecock; Pike’s Beach, 5/29/2006
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Northern Bobwhite
Clapper Rail
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
American Oystercatcher
Ruddy Turnstone
Red Knot
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Red-necked Phalarope
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Least Tern
Chimney Swift
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Red-eyed Vireo
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Blue-winged Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Pine Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

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


Starz723 said...


Now that is a great list you got there! Wow!

Your pics of the shore birds are excellent. The colorful ones are easy for me to ID, but the Peeps are the bane of my birding existence. I need a great scope, another expert birder and hours in the field.

Rob Jett said...

You might also want to pick-up a copy of "The Complete Birder" by Jack Conner. It's worth having just for his chapter on shorebirds.

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