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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Jones Beach and Long Beach

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

At this time last year Sean, Shane and I made our mad, 24 hour dash to about a dozen locations in Northwestern and Central New York State. We covered about 1,200 miles. On Saturday I spent about 6 hours birding with Shane at Jones Beach and the inlet at Long Beach. It was a big difference. We met at my place at 6am, 6 hours later than last year, returned home while it was still light, didn’t have a “must see” list for the day and didn’t mind if we missed seeing a bird.

Shane wanted to check out the Smith’s Longspur at Jones Beach again, as well as, say hello to some folks who drove down from Niagara to see the bird. Willie D’Anna is a resident “guller“ from the Niagara area and helped both Shane and Sean find some great birds last year. I just like going to the beach in the winter and didn’t mind checking out both species of longspur, the numerous Horned Larks and whatever else was around.

Atlantic Purple Sea Urchin found near Jones Inlet (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

-Click here for more info on sea urchins-

We were the first people to arrive at the Jones Beach nature center, just after first light. The parking lot was still closed so we parked at the Coast Guard Station and walked across the road to the Smith’s Longspur’s spot next to the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center.

The first thing that I noticed when I got out of the car was bird songs; lots of bird songs. Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows were singing from exposed perches all around the Coast Guard Station. I thought to myself, ”it’s that time of year already“.

Facing the ocean, we focused our bins south when Shane noticed a huge flock of scoters streaming west. The line of dark birds loosely followed the gentle, sloping curves of the onshore sand dunes before falling out of sight behind the dunes. During the first hour of the day we witnessed approximately 3,000 scoters flying passed. By the time other birders arrived the scoters had all but vanished. Perhaps they were massing in preparation for spring migration to their tundra breeding grounds.

Finding the longspur wasn’t as easy as the two other times I saw it. Rather than feeding out in the open, it was sticking to an area south of the nature center. Denser grass hummocks and deeper swales in that area made it very difficult to observe. Most of the birders that had arrived were standing in the southwest corner of the parking lot, facing south. Doug, who came by to help a friend find the Smith’s Longspur, had walked to a spot on the boardwalk loop trail between the center and the ocean. Within a relatively short time he called Shane on his cellphone to let everyone know that he had found the bird. Shane told the rest of the group and a parade of people carrying spotting scopes and cameras with giant lenses sped down the boardwalk.

Because I had already seen this rarity twice I was more inclined to watch the people or a flock of about 125 Snow Buntings in the area. Many of the buntings had molted into their bright, white breeding plumage. The nervous flock rarely sat to feed for more than several seconds. They kept taking off and flying, en mass, in undulating, swirling patterns above the swales. Their brilliant, white feathers had the effect of a school of herring flashing their silvery sides as they twisted and turned to avoid an unseen danger.

Just after Shane and I arrived and the nature center parking lot I noticed a single lark circling above us. As I watched, he ascended as he circled. As one point, he was so high that, when I put my binoculars down, he appeared as a tiny dot in the sky. Suddenly, he folded his wings and, like a falcon zeroing in on its prey, he plunged towards the earth. At the last moment he opened his wings to slow down, and landed in the sand to our right. During the entire flight he made a barely audible (to me, anyway), high-pitched tinkling call. I watched this performance happen two more times when Doug’s friend, Jim, pointed out that it was courtship behavior. Most Horned Larks nest far north of New York City but small numbers do actually nest along our coasts.

Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

-click to learn more about Horned Larks-

By about 11:00am we decided to leave and drive to the inlet at Long Beach. We parked at the Hempstead Town Beach parking lot and walked east, along the beach to the inlet. A short distance for the shore were dozens of Horned Grebes. Horned Grebes are a common winter sight along New York’s coastline, but there was an unusually high abundance on Saturday. At the inlet I was amazed to see even more grebes. I watched a pair that seemed to be involved in a courtship ritual. As they faced each other, bobbing in the surf, they quickly turned their heads from left to right. It was not like the exaggerated movements of a Western Grebe, but more subtle. Also seen in the inlet was a single Red-necked Grebe and Razorbill.

So it appears that some of the early birds are already preparing for the nesting season.

- - - - -

Jones Beach; Long Beach, 3/10/2007
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe (Abundant.)
Red-necked Grebe (1, Jones Inlet.)
Great Cormorant
Northern Shoveler
Greater Scaup
White-winged Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer (2, Nature Center flyover.)
American Oystercatcher (3, Jones Inlet.)
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Flicker
Fish Crow
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow (1, Long Beach.)
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur (At least 5 near T. Roosevelt Nature Center.)
Smith's Longspur (Southwest side of T. Roosevelt Nature Center.)
Snow Bunting (Approx. 125 near T. Roosevelt Nature Center.)

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, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow

1 comment:

Pamela said...

Oh... to have seen the lark in his courtship swoon. Wow.

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