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)

- - - - -

Jones Beach; Robert Moses; Sod Farms, 8/27/2006
-
Northern Gannet
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black Scoter
Osprey
Merlin
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden-Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Killdeer
American Oystercatcher
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
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

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Unexpected visitor

I just received the following note and photos from my friend Elyse. Like me, she also lives near Prospect Park. The bird in question nests around the neighborhood, most likely on the brownstone's roofs:

"Subject: Bird Identity
Date: 8/21/06 7:57 PM

Hi Rob,

Just took a picture of a bird in my backyard. It flew in over an hour ago and is still there. I thought it was a hawk, but it is in such a funny position. I know the pictures are not too helpful. Can you tell what it is?

Thanks,

Elyse"


Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor)


(Photo credit - Elyse Taylor)

-Click here for more info on Common Nighthawks-

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

It’s taken me a few days to get this posting together. I managed to crack a molar on Sunday and have been dealing with throbbing jaw pain. Determined to write up my great morning at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge I was just too uncomfortable to get it together. I’m now looking forward to my first root canal.

Shane and I arrived at the parking lot near the north end of the East Pond at dawn. As I opened the legs to my tripod I noticed the illuminated windows of an “A” train crossing Grassy Bay along the low train tressel. A fresh sliver of sun cast a pale pink hue on the roof of the stainless steel cars.

Sunrise over the "A" train

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Yellow-legs at dawn (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

I was hoping to get another look at the American Avocet seen of the East Pond, as well as, locate a Marbled Godwit. We were the first people to arrive at the pond and spotted the avocet as we exited the phragmite-sheltered north trail. The bold black-and-white bird was probing for insects very close to shore. We continued walking south, towards Sanderling Point. In the dim, early morning light it was apparent that there were thousands of gulls and shorebirds beginning to stir. Something spooked the birds and there was a brief, frantic swirling of wildlife. Some birds settled near North Island and some landed on a mud spit nearer to us. A little later I spotted the cause of their panic. A Peregrine Falcon snatched an unfortunate straggler and was standing on the opposite shore eating the small bird.

Sunrise at the East Pond

(Photo credit - Rob J)

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on American Avocet-

Shane located a pair of Marbled Godwits feeding together, which more than made up for me missing out on Tuesday. Nearby a juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper nervously hugged the edge of the phragmites that ring the pond. An odd sighting was of a Clapper Rail flying across the center of the pond. These secretive birds are usually only seen slinking around among marsh vegetation.

Marbled Godwits (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Marble Godwit-

By 10am Shane and I had begun heading back to the car. The date, wind and tide was ideal for shorebird walks. Dozens of birders were gathering around the East Pond. Naturalist John Irizarry was leading one group of birders and was followed close behind by another group lead by Starr Saphir. On the opposite side of the pond was a group (or possibly a class) of photographers. I enjoyed the brief socializing while on my way out but am also glad that we arrived at first light and avoided the crowds.

Looking north on the East Pond

(Photo credit - Rob J)

- - - - -

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, 8/19/2006
-
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Glossy Ibis
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Ruddy Duck
Peregrine Falcon (Eating shorebird on east side of East Pond.)
Clapper Rail
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
American Avocet (East Pond.)
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Marbled Godwit (2, East Pond.)
Ruddy Turnstone
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper (2, East Pond.)
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher (North end of the East Pond.)
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Fish Crow

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, American Crow, Carolina Wren, European Starling , Red-winged Blackbird

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dreier-Offerman Park

Click for larger image

(Photo credit - Google Earth)

I was on the telephone helping a client with a computer problem when I received a call from Mary Eyster. She was at Dreier-Offerman Park, near Coney Island, surveying the park with a park’s department administrator. There are currently some very contentious issues involving this NYC property, but that’s a story for another time. In the process of walking around she stumbled upon a Lark Sparrow. The last time I saw a Lark Sparrow was on September 27, 1999. That individual was the first seen in Prospect Park since 1960.

New York City’s birder’s network is amazingly fast. Within 10 minutes of Mary’s call, Sean and I were on the road to the park. When we arrived we found the bird fairly quickly. I called Lloyd who posted the information on the Metro Birding Briefs website. Shane called me from the road (he was returning from Long Island) so I stuck around with Mary until he arrived. Again, we found the bird very quickly as there’s no species normally found around New York City that looks even vaguely like this western/mid-western bird. We took a couple of digiscoped photos then used our cellphones to alert other birders. Now if we can only find a way to use technology to save the species as quickly as we announce them.

Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on Lark Sparrows-

Bluet (Enallagma spp) at Dreier-Offerman Park

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for a dragonfly & damselfly ID website-

Monday, August 14, 2006

Newtown Creek website

Here's a link to a new website that I find really interesting. I'll try to get over there soon and add some postings to this blog.

-The Newtown Creek Alliance-

A Week in Upstate New York

I was visiting family in upstate New York over the last week. Since we've returned I've been catching up with work and feverishly trying to sort through all of my latest photos. Rather than holding off until I've had time to compose a narrative for my week of exploring I decided just to post the images. I may add some links later this week, otherwise, if you have any questions, just post them in the comments. Enjoy.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Taking these two hummingbird photos was nearly impossible. After waiting patiently for five days I was finally able to capture two decent images.

Years ago my mother had a cable installed at her upstate home that stretched from the corner of her house to a willow tree across the yard. There is a pulley connected to a leash that rides along the cable. The simple apparatus allowed her dog lots of room to run but still remain on their property. Her dog eventually passed away but the cable remains. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and other birds that nest around her home frequently perch on the cable and my mother enjoys the birds so she left it up. A short section of cable passes close to a large spruce tree. The hummers always perch in that area so, if they feel threatened, they quickly hide within the dense branches of the conifer.

The lighting on that section of cable is perfect early in the morning and late in the day. After breakfast and dinner I would sit with my camera pointed at the spot for about 90 minutes. My camera is not a high-end model so there is a slight delay when I depress the shutter. For every exposure where a hummingbird was in the frame there were approximately a dozen more that showed an unoccupied branch or cable. As luck would have it, the above photos were taken in succession on my last evening in the Catskills.

Chipping Sparrow perched and at nest


(Photo credit - Rob J)

Black-eyed Susan, furled

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Butter-and-Eggs

(Photo credit - Rob J)

House Finch

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Scarlet and Green Leafhopper

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Jewelweed

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Garden Phlox

(Photo credit - Rob J)

New England Aster

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Monarch Butterfly (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Yellow-legged Meadowhawk

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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