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Monday, August 25, 2008

Orient Point and Continuing Migration

One of my younger brothers owns a weekend house on Orient Point. Orient is at the eastern tip of the "north fork" of Long Island. It is across the Long Island Sound from the coast of Connecticut and a virtual migrant trap for birds heading south. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of some of those birds.

Flocks of migrating birds head for the narrowest crossing when faced with open water. Montauk Point, on the south fork, is a known location to spot birds heading south and I've traveled out there several times in the past. I've never been to the end of the north fork to look for birds, but assumed it would also be a good location. A short distance from the end of Orient Point is Plum Island. Between the two small points of land are rip currents dotted with rocky outcroppings and accented with sharp, rolling white-caps. Exposed boulders were the exclusive domain of gulls and an occasional shorebird.

The Saturday morning after my arrival, I took an early morning walk down the beach to the end of the point. There was a near constant chatter of Tree Swallows flying overhead. Closer to the surface of the water I spotted small flocks of "peeps", a few Willets, several Ruddy Turnstones, a few oystercatchers and three or four Spotted Sandpipers. Also part of the full moon migration, and a bit disturbing, were rafts of Lion's Mane Jellyfish. I grew up close to the shore, so seeing these stinging animals in August isn't unusual, but the abundance was extraordinary. Like a red tide, the jellyfish stretched along the break as far as I could see. It would have been impossible for a person to swim without receiving multiple stings!

At the point, I observed flocks of swallows coming in from across the water. Their numbers ranged from a few dozen at a time to a couple of thousand individuals in a flock. Once they were clear of the water, they just continued flying southwest. Later that morning I spotted a Northern Waterthrush that had landed in a wooded stretch at the edge of my brother's backyard. I pointed out the warbler to my brother and his wife, but they seemed unimpressed by the small, brown bird. The fact that this 18 gram bird was likely headed to South American sparked a little bit interest, but not the level of enthusiasm to which I am inclined when I learn about the feats of such tiny creatures.

On our drive back to Brooklyn on Sunday I noticed something amazing. The north fork of Long Island has not suffered the endless development of the south fork. Most people are familiar with the sprawling mansions of the hamptons and Dune Road. Fortunately, the potato farms of the north fork that I remember from my childhood summers in Cutchogue have been replaced with vineyards, not mac-mansions. The views along the old Middle Road or Soundview Road, for the most part, are of grape vines and open fields, not shiny, new developments. We left Orient Point at about 6pm and, as we drove west, I noticed that we were keeping pace with flocks of swallows and blackbirds. Many of those birds will pass Brooklyn and New York City and not stop until they reach the Gulf of Mexico. Some will continue following southwest, along the coast, while others will head straight out over the water. How they make that trip twice a year is nothing short of a miracle.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"


Marie said...

I am fond of the North Fork, which I visit from time to time to shop for plants: there are some good growers out there. I am struck by its beauty, its pastoral qualities, its picnic-perfect meadows and the fact that it seems to have survived the migration of New Yorkers to the island. And now I will look for 18 gram warblers, too.

Forgive my ignorance: but don't the birds have to stop, to rest, eat, sleep, before they reach the Gulf of Mexico? I keep trying to incorporate birdfriendly plants into my rooftop gardens but perhaps I am mistaken in thinking that many of the them rest in the city?

Marie said...

Second comment attempt (I think it must be Blogger):

Question, Rob - do you mean that some songbirds literally bypass New York etc on their way to the Gulf, and eat not and rest not until they are there, or farther?

When I design roof gardens in New York I try to incorporate as many bird-friendly shrubs and perennials as possible, with the autumn migration in mind, but am I Is the idea of bird rest stops ridiculous? - if it is, I am going to have to change my sales' pitch!

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