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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jones Beach & Long Beach

Shane and I drove out to the Jones Beach Coast Guard Station this morning hoping to locate a pair of Little Gulls that has been seen in the company of some Bonaparte’s Gulls. There was also a King Eider reported in the area. During our “Big Year” last year, the King Eider became Shane’s nemesis bird as he made 5 unsuccessful trips to Montauk, where one had been hanging around. We assumed that, since neither one of us were particularly pressed to locate one, it would probably be very easy.

The tide was high in the cove next to the Coast Guard Station and there was very little bird activity other than a huge flock of Brant and a few dozen American Oystercatchers. We decided to drive to Long Beach, on the west side of the Jones Inlet to check for gulls and Harlequin Ducks. For many years a flock of harlequins were regular winter visitors to the rock jetties at Long Beach, but have been MIA for a couple of years. I haven’t seen any in 2 years and I was really happy to learn that a flock of 4 have finally returned.

Instead of going straight to the inlet, we drove into the Hempstead Town beach parking lot at the end of Loop Drive to check the beaches west of Jones Inlet. As we were pulling into a parking space close to the beach, I spotted a Northern Harrier soaring low over the dunes. Once we were on the beach, we noticed that there was a very large flock of gulls about a mile west of us. It was a little far to walk, so we drove to the parking lot of the "Malibu" cabana club. About 250 yards west of the club's western-most beach access was a very large mixed flock of gulls. They were feeding either at the edge of the water or floating up and down behind the breakers a few yards off shore. The majority were Bonaparte's Gulls, of which there were approximately 800. I’m still a novice when it comes to gull identification, but Shane has the skills and patience to scan the mass of white, black and gray birds. After about 2 hours of searching through the flocks, we were pretty certain that the Little Gulls weren’t around and so we drove the short distance back to the inlet.

I quickly spotted 4 Harlequin Ducks in their favorite location near the northern end of the jetty at Mineola Avenue. Shane spotted the King Eider swimming in the northwest side of the channel. We tracked it for about 30 minutes as it moved across both sides of Jones Bay.

As we were leaving, we ran into Peter Sculley and told him about the large flock of gulls that we had scoured earlier in the day. After a few minutes we decided to go with him back to the beach and search through the gulls one more time. The large flock was still present, but we still couldn’t find any Little Gulls, but, as a consolation, we did find a Lesser Black-backed Gull feeding along the shore. Towards the end of the day another flock of Bonaparte's Gulls came in to roost a short distance offshore at the Hempstead Town beach.

Other highlights from the day was a White-crowned Sparrow along the median near the Coast Guard Station; a Lapland Longspur within a flock of Snow Buntings at the Malibu beach and a Red-necked Grebe in Jones Inlet.

Jones Beach & Long Beach, 12/26/2007
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe (107 on ocean in front of "Malibu" cabana club.)
Red-necked Grebe
Great Cormorant
King Eider
Harlequin Duck
Long-tailed Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Black-bellied Plover
American Oystercatcher
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Flicker
Fish Crow
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
American Tree Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting
American Goldfinch

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

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

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