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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Jones Beach in the Rain

On Sunday I went to Jones Beach with my friend Peter. We thought that leaving at first light would give us some time to bird before the rain arrived. It didn't quite work out that way, but we did have a couple of outstanding experiences despite coming home drenched to the bone.

Before going to Jones Beach we stopped at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale. A Barnacle Goose was seen there feeding within a flock of Canada Geese. Peter had never seen one of these beautiful waterfowl and I had only seen one once before. It took us about 3 minutes to spot the barnacle. Even in the rain and greyness, the bird's all white face clearly stood out among a few hundred canada's white chinstraps. I wasn't able to take any decent photos all day due to the terrible weather, but here is a photo of a Barnacle Goose taken by my friend Steve Nanz. We went out to see this one at Eisenhower Park on Long Island back in January 2006.

After spending several minutes peering at the geese through the cemetery fence, we headed south to the Coast Guard Station at Jones Beach. Shorebirds can usually be found on a sand spit that hooks around a cove at that location. Waterfowl, loons and an assortment of gulls are also a good bet here.

There were lots of birds along the spit when we arrived. To stay out of the rain, we stood under the restroom's roof overhang while scanning the flock. The narrow stretch of sand was crowded with Brant, Black-bellied Plover, American Oystercatcher, Sanderling and Dunlin. When a small flock of plovers flew to the grass next to us we discovered that one was a golden plover.

At one point there was a lot of noise coming from the cove and all the birds flushed from the sand spit. A police boat was anchored near the cove, as well as, a small fishing boat moored to the dock closest to the spit. A pair of Zodiacs were slowly motoring out of the cove behind the spit. There were people on the boats holding metal pipes partially submerged in the water while banging the exposed ends with hammers. I noticed two dolphins as they broke the surface in front of the small boats. I'm guessing that the dolphins had become trapped in the cove at low tide and rescuers used the noisemakers to move the dolphins out into the bay and towards the inlet. Both mammals seemed pretty small, but one looked significantly smaller than the other. Parent and offspring, perhaps? Their dark, arched backs and triangular dorsal fins broke the surface every few yards as the pair headed West, towards the inlet and to the open sea; big fin, little fin, big fin, little fin. The happy scene momentarily made me forget that I was standing in the cold, blowing rain. Maybe they were Harbor Porpoises.

We drove to the concession in Field 6 to get something hot to drink. After some chowder and a little drying off, we headed out to the car. As we exited the concession building a Peregrine Falcon zoomed passed at nearly eye level. It was chasing a pigeon and circled around the building twice before heading west, towards the 200 foot high water tower. It returned a short time later with its smaller mate. The two chased the pigeons briefly, then headed towards the surf. They scared up a confusing ball of mixed shorebirds, but seemed to have one singled out. Separated from the flock, a tiny Sanderling didn't stand a chance. The male falcon slammed it, then snatched it out of the air. What happened next was something I'd never seen. The female flew above her mate, he flipped over and passed her the prey. This happened while they were only a short distance above the breaking surf. Amazing.

Check out this video clip of a Peregrine Falcon hunting along a mudflat.


Yojimbot said...

Nice narrative. Here's a slideshow of a peregrine prey transfer.

Rob Jett said...

Jim, thanks for the link. Incredible photos! I wonder how he gets some of those aerial shots. From an ultra-lite?

Pamela said...


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