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Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Windy Day at the Refuge

I started off the first morning of daylight savings time with a day trip to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Paige picked me up in front of my place at 7AM and, although I missed an hour of sleep, it felt good to walk outdoors into the sunshine with the clock shift's symbolic preparation for spring in the back of my mind. In only three weeks, day and night will be of equal duration, beginning the gradual advance of daylight until July. When I opened the front door and heard the calls of jays, chickadees and cardinals, it felt like my entire body heaved a sigh of relief, shaking off the sleep of winter.

Every March I sense that the greening of Spring is just around the corner. Today I noticed that small, ruby red flowers have appeared on maple trees. Silvery pussywillow buds have also begun to emerge on slender willow branches. Unfortunately, thirty mile per hour winds blowing in from the west turned the hope of a spring-like morning into a raw winter outing and reminded me that March can be cruel. The wind kicked up white-caps on Pumpkin Patch Marsh and the waters surrounding the West Pond. Several thousand scaup were concentrated into the lee at the southwest end of the pond. A flock of about a dozen pintails fed along the shoreline while most of the waterfowl slept with their heads tucked under a wing. Small flocks of Snow Goose arrived at the pond for a respite from the wind. A single Greater Yellowlegs stood in knee deep water, looking a little perplexed among the thousands of ducks and geese.

Paige and I had begun the morning by walking through the windbreak of the North and South Gardens, hoping that songbird flocks were doing the same. We then continued around the West Pond in a counter-clockwise direction. At the first break in the trees at the edge of Pumpkin Patch Marsh I noticed a Peregrine Falcon perched on an Osprey nest platform. He visited us an hour later.

We were approaching bench #2 and stopped briefly in the windbreak created by a tangle of shrubs and vines. Several black ducks and a small, unidentified duck had just taken flight and were heading south across the bay. In my peripheral vision, I saw another bird coming up low from the pond and heading towards the edge of the windbreak. I turned to look and realized that it was a Peregrine Falcon in hot pursuit of the ducks. The raptor either didn't notice us or just thought he could navigate around us because, as he passed by, he was so close that had Paige stuck her arm out, she would have struck him. I haven't a clue how fast he was traveling, but the event was so fleeting, that we stared at each other, with dumbstruck, did-that-really-just-happen expressions.

There wasn't nearly the concentration of waterfowl on the East Pond, but there was a nice mix of species. Like on the West Pond, the birds avoided the strong wind by hugging the pond's western shore. The majority of the flock was scaup, but there were also shovelers, Canvasback, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead and a single Redhead. From the blind located a short distance north of the Raunt, we noticed an unusual behavior by the scaup. Some of the low branches of a willow tree were hanging over the water. A small group of the scaup were remaining close to the branches. Occasionally, some of the ducks would stretch out their necks, grab something from the branches and eat it. At first it appeared that they were just breaking off bits of twigs. After watching them for a few minutes we realized that they were eating the willow buds. Capers?

We made a quick stop at Big Egg Marsh where we observed more Snow Goose resting out of the wind. On the way back to Park Slope we stopped off at Floyd Bennett Field. A flock of Horned Larks were on the grass at the cricket field. Unlike other species, they seem to enjoy the wind and were feeding out in the open. Something spooked the flock and they took off, heading in the direction of Flatbush Avenue. While we were trying to relocate them I noticed some birds near the fence at the western edge of the field. It was a flock of Killdeer. They blended into the surrounding earth colors so well that, as we counted then recounted, we kept finding more.

The day's theme ended up being waterfowl and we ended up with a list of 19 species.

03/09/08, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Big Egg Marsh, Floyd Bennett Field

Horned Grebe
Great Cormorant
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
Greater Yellowlegs
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
American Crow
Horned Lark
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

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