Shane and I went over to Gravesend Bay yesterday to look for a huge flock of scaup that he had seen on Wednesday. Gravesend Bay is the section of water on the south side of the Verrazano Bridge, between Brooklyn and Staten Island. The flock was primarily composed of Greater Scaup, but there were some Lesser Scaup scattered throughout the birds.
It's not unusual for scaup to be seen overwintering in that area. What was unusual was the quantity of birds. When Shane called me the night before he described a group of nearly 20,000 birds! I was looking forward to seeing such a spectacle.
When he picked me up at 8:30AM, it was sunny and clear, but blustery. Strong winds were whipping in from the northwest and we were concerned that the birds would have moved or just been difficult to see between the whitecaps on the water. When we arrived we found that most of the ducks had moved closer to shore and into the lee of a small protected curve in the shoreline. There were also two smaller flocks of about 2,000 birds each, farther from the shore. There were lesser numbers of Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser in the area.
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You'll probably think that we are a little obsessive, but we attempted to count (or at least estimate) the number of scaup present. After counting groupings of birds and extrapolating, we felt reasonably certain that there were between 18,000 to 20,000 individuals present. While that may sound like a lot of waterfowl (and it was easily the most scaup I've ever seen in one place), 250,000 were recorded on the Great South Bay on Long Island on December 3, 1929. According to "Bull's Birds of New York State", recent surveys have shown that the species is in decline.
Also of note in that area were 4 Purple Sandpipers along the rocky shoreline. They are another bird species that overwinters along the rocky coasts of New York City and Long Island. I tried to take some photos but the strong wind and low temperature was making my camera a little cranky. Now that I know how easy it is to find them in that area, I may go back this weekend.
Gravesend Bay, Spring Creek, Fresh Creek Park, Floyd Bennett Field, 2/14/2008
Great Blue Heron
Great Black-backed Gull
Other common species seen (or heard)
Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, American Crow, European Starling, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow