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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Jones Inlet to Shinnecock Inlet

Jones Inlet

(QuicktimeVR movie - click and drag to move around image)

Yesterday Sean Sime lead a trip for the Linnaean Society called, “Jones Inlet to Shinnecock Inlet”. With the discovery of the Smith’s Longspur at the Jones Beach Nature Center, Sean adjusted the itinerary and our group began the morning at Jones Beach.

Looking for the Smith's Longspur (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

We arrived at the beach parking lot at around 8:00AM and there were already several people lined up with their scopes at the north edge of the swale. It was overcast and cold but the wind had died down considerable since Saturday. Shane had, characteristically, arrived very early. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were the first person at the beach. The Smith’s Longspur hadn’t been seen yet but there was a small flock of Horned Larks beginning to feed at the far end of the sand. At about 9:00AM Shane asked me to take a look at a bird feeding behind a clump of dune grass. It was mostly obscured from view but bits and pieces of it head would occasionally show. We could see a very defined eye-ring, which was good for the longspur. After a few minutes the bird came into full view and it was, indeed, the Smith’s Longspur. Sean walked to each birder to make sure that they all had views of the bird. Having seen it in much better light on Friday, I was content to give up my scope to others and walk around taking photographs of the activity. By approximately 9:30AM there were 41 people lined up shoulder to shoulder, mesmerized by a buffy, 26 gram creature leisurely moving about in a tiny patch of sand and nibbling on seeds.

It was close to 10:00AM when Sean rounded up our group to head over to Jones Inlet. There had been a constant stream of birders, carrying all forms of telescopes and cameras on tripods, hurrying back and forth from the parking lot to the viewing area. By the time we left I would guess that nearly 100 people had seen the longspur.

Mussels and seaweed (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Sand and jetty (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

We parked the cars in the parking lot at Hempstead Town Park and walked west along the ocean towards Jones Inlet. There are two stone jetties along the way and we scanned between the boulders and ice formations for Purple Sandpipers. Close to the shoreline was the largest concentration of Red-throated Loons that I’ve ever seen. They are usually pretty common around New York in the winter, but one normally sees them farther from shore and more spread out. In the lea of one jetty six to eight of them paddled around practically wing to wing.

The sky had cleared and the bright sun cast a long wedge of glare across the ocean. Near the inlet Sean spotted three Razorbills relatively close to shore. I was having trouble seeing them as they were in the center of the glare. I picked up my tripod and moved to Sean’s left. It was at that point that I realized his scope was pointing in a different direction and that there were actually two groups of three Razorbills. Pretty good for a bird that is rarely seen close to land. There were a small number of White-winged Scoters near the end of the jetty, as well as, a Ruddy Turnstone.

Our next stop was at Captree Island, located on the bay side of the barrier islands. East of the marina the frozen bay looked like an arctic landscape with only a few small openings in the ice. Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead were found in this area. The open water beneath the Robert Moses Causeway was dotted with Red-breasted Merganser. We warmed up with some coffee and soup from the restaurant then headed east to the town of Eastport.

In the town of Eastport, north of Seatuck Creek is a pond that birders refer to by various names. On the east side of the pond is “Lily Pond Street”, so I’ll assume that it is “Lily Pond”. It’s a really good place to find a nice mix of winter waterfowl, provided that it’s not frozen. When we visited, the pond was nearly covered over in ice, except for a patch of open water at a cove in the northwest corner. There were hundreds of ducks and geese constantly shuffling position, fighting over water rights, sleeping or preening within a tiny little space. It reminded me of rush hour at Grand Central Station. The most abundant species were scaup and Canada Goose but the flock also contained black duck, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser and Ruddy Duck. After scanning the flock for about 30 minutes we packed up our scopes and drove farther east.

Dune Road runs from Moriches Inlet at Cupsogue Beach, east to Shinnecock Inlet. The approximately 14 mile road is the only road that traverses one of the final barrier beaches protecting the south shore of Suffolk County. We drove along Dune Road scanning the marshes on the north side and the dunes on the south side for bitterns or Short-eared Owls. They never materialized but we did see several Great Blue Herons in the marshes. Before arriving at the inlet we stopped at one of the county beaches to scan the ocean. We were seeing, primarily, Surf and White-winged Scoters. Then I noticed something large moving on the shore. Through my scope I watched a Harbor Seal as it rolled around in the sand. He looked like he was enjoying himself and rested on his back, surveying the beach upside down.

Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

At Shinnecock Inlet I spotted a few Purple Sandpipers foraging in the mussels and seaweed clinging to the jetty across the inlet. There were small numbers of scoters diving for food in the turbulent waters off of the western jetty. Sandy spotted a flock of about 50 Common Eiders in the calmer waters of Shinnecock Bay.

Before heading back to Brooklyn we made a final stop at a small park beneath the Ponquogue Bridge. It’s the site of the old Ponquogue Bridge and is primarily used as a boat launch. Warner Island, a virtual sand spit of an island is a short distance from the shore and a resting place for gulls and shorebirds. While we were scanning the bay I spotting a Peregrine Falcon flying full tilt from right to left across the island and only a few feet above the sand. A flock of Sanderlings panicked and took off as a single, swirling mass of feathers. We followed the falcon as it traveled across the water, in our directions. As it approached the shoreline it pulled up, veered to its right and perched under the bridge, one the top of one of the support columns. We continued to watch the peregrine and noticed feathers slowly drifting off of the side of her perch. A closer looked revealed that she was plucking a small, white bird. She had grabbed one of the shorebirds out of the air and was preparing to dine on it.

I once saw a Peregrine Falcon hunt a pigeon from its perch on the Brooklyn Bridge. The pigeon was flying across the East River towards Manhattan when it was struck by the falcon. It floundered clumsily as it tried to right itself, only to be snatched out of the air on a second pass by the falcon. When I was watching the falcon rocketing over Warner Island on Saturday, she was so swift, accurate and elegant that I never saw her capture her prey. I wonder if the Sanderling even saw her coming.

-Click here for more info on Long Island Marine life-

-Click here for more info on birding Dune Road-

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Jones Beach, Jones Inlet, Captree, Lily Pond, Dune Rd., Shinnecock Inlet, Ponquogue Bridge, 2/7/2007
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Northern Gannet
Great Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Northern Shoveler
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Common Eider
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
Black-bellied Plover
Ruddy Turnstone
Purple Sandpiper
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Belted Kingfisher
Horned Lark
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Savannah Sparrow
Lapland Longspur
Smith's Longspur
Snow Bunting

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


Yojimbot said...

brrrrrrrrrrr....even that seal looks cold! I think you should invest in a small point and shoot for digiscoping!

Rob J. said...

That actually was digiscoped with a small point and shoot. The seal was just very far down the beach so the image is highly cropped. All of my telephoto shots are digiscoped with a Canon Powershot S50.

Pamela said...

oh the poor little sanderling.
There was a group at the ocean (oregon coast) that had us watching for over an hour under our motel window in the surf.

They looked like they were skating

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