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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Hunting for sandpipers & plovers

Sunrise peeking through the storm cover

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I love being outdoors during sunrise even more than awaking to the smell of coffee percolating. Unfortunately, dragging myself out of bed to enjoy that fleeting moment is like pushing a mule up a ladder. I guess, no matter how hard I try, I’ll always be a diurnal creature.

There’s a a fleeting fragment of our 24 hour cycle that’s no longer night but not quite day. It’s a sliver of time when the activities and sounds of nocturnal life cease and the creatures of the sunlight have only just opened their eyes. Within that daily fissure I experience a momentary, yet infinite, period of bliss. It’s the pause just before the curtain rises.

This morning’s dawn call was at Jones Beach. The “fall” passage of migrating shorebirds (which actually begins as early as July) is approaching its peak. Even as songbirds travelling south have begun to trickle into our city’s wooded areas most birder’s focus are elsewhere. They are primarily exploring mudflats, bays, ocean coastlines, inland lakes & ponds and grasslands for arriving of plovers, golden-plovers, godwits, yellow-legs, dowitchers and the frustratingly similar group of "peeps".

We began at Jones Beach West End 2 parking lot to search for Buff-breasted Sandpipers and Baird’s Sandpipers. A small group had been report in the vicinity yesterday. Access to the beach is through a wide, flat opening in the dunes that parallels the shore. The area occasionally floods and there is a significant mat of beach grasses and other vegetation always present. Last year Shane and I observed 8 Buff-breasted Sandpipers in this spot. Under threatening skies, with a boiling, thundering surf close by and an intense wind blowing in from the southeast I wasn’t very optimistic that we’d see any birds. Yet, there they were, clinging to the sand and feeding among the grass; two Buff-breasted Sandpipers and three Baird’s Sandpipers. Like a couple of contestants on a scavenger hunt we quickly packed up and sped off to our next location.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis) click to enlarge

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

-Click here for more info on Buff-breasted Sandpipers-

Baird's Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii) click to enlarge

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

-Click here for more info on Baird's Sandpipers-

At Robert Moses SP we set-up our scopes in the lee of the concession building. We had hoped to find a wayward seabird offshore but the conditions were more conducive to drinking coffee than scanning the turbulent sea. After 30 minutes we packed up and drove out east to the expansive sod farms just north of Riverhead.

Rough surf

(Photo credit - Rob J)

There’s a subset of shorebirds that are informally referred to as “grasspipers”. Birds, such as, American Golden-Plover, Upland Sandpiper and Buff-breasted Sandpiper get this nickname because of their preferred feeding habitat. The commercial sod farms near Riverhead are used as an annual reststop for many of these species. Today we came in search of an American Golden-Plover. They are similar to Black-bellied Plovers and can sometimes be spotted within a flock. At Eastport we stopped on the side of the road next to a small sod farm. A flock of approximately 70 Black-bellied Plovers had just landed in the field. Try as we might, we couldn’t turn any of them into a golden. We had better luck at the main sod farms where we located two golden-plovers. By this point we were getting drenched by a steady rainfall. I imagine that, to passing cars, I looked like Shane’s personal valet holding a large umbrella over him and his scope. Fortunately, he eventually held the umbrella for me and I had great looks at an American Golden-Plover that was molting into his winter plumage.

Long Island sod farms - bird's eye view

(Photo credit - Google Earth)

American Golden-Plover at Floyd Bennett Field

(Photo credit - Shane Blodgett)

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Jones Beach; Robert Moses; Sod Farms, 8/27/2006
Northern Gannet
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black Scoter
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden-Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
American Oystercatcher
Ruddy Turnstone
Least Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Roseate Tern
Common Tern
Black Tern
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Gray Catbird

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Herring Gull Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow


Yojimbot said...

Hey Rob,

I posted a pic of a viceroy laying an egg on my site...can you identify what type of plant its depositing the egg onto? Thanks,


Rob J. said...

Wow! Incredible photo. I also really love the hummingbird series. Regarding the plant, it's impossible to tell without seeing more of the plant but here's a good link to a chart of butterfly host plants:

From the list, Viceroys use Aspen, Cottonwood, Cherry, Poplar and Willow.

Yojimbot said...

thats the strange part, it appears to be none of those, as it was a small plant about 12 inches high with broad leaves. it appeared to be a milkweed which is why i assumed it to be a monarch until someone pointed out that it was a viceroy.


Anonymous said...

I recently saw a warbler near Borough Hall in the courthouse square. I had yellow running from the top of its head to midback, blueish cheeks and a bluegrey body; also white eye rings. Though it did not appear injured, it was hopping on the ground. I have not been able to identify it. Really curious!! Thanks.

Rob J. said...

Ironically I was called for jury duty this week. Whenever I was able to take a break I walked around courthouse square admiring the botanics and scanning the birds. I missed the warbler. From its walking behavior I would guess Ovenbird, waterthrush, Connecticut Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Kentucky or Common Yellowwthroat. Is it possible that it's not a warbler? If it was hanging around with the House Sparrows look-up Dickcissel. That's what I was actually looking for. If you have the "Warbler" guide by Dunn/Garrett check some of the fall plumage changes, especially the completely transformed Chestnut-sided Warbler.

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