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Monday, February 23, 2009

Floyd Bennett Field & Dead Horse Bay

This winter Floyd Bennett Field has become my destination of choice when I do a long ride. Saturday was a little chilly, but still a beautiful day for cycling and birding.

It was a pretty uneventful day, bird-wise. The wind was blowing pretty hard across the grassland and the only birds not getting blown away were the fat Canada Geese. I ran into my friend, Bob O'Neill, who was driving west along the main roadway between the fields. We talked while he drove and I continued pedaling. It looked kind of silly, but I wanted to keep going until we got to the windbreak between the high, dirt berms at the Stop sign. I was heading over to the pine groves of Ecology Village and invited him to join me.

The conifers around Floyd Bennett Field have been slowly succumbing to a blight and cover for owls is slowly disappearing. I rarely find overwintering Long-eared Owls or saw-whets anymore. The park service is just beginning to plant new conifers and cut down the dead ones. We were searching for white-wash and found a spot that looked promising. As we were following the splats, a large bird flushed from a roost in one of the few healthy pine trees. I got my bins on it as the bird headed towards another stand of trees. It was a tawny-colored, pale owl with a white face; something I haven't seen in that area for several years - a Barn Owl. Ironically, it was just several yards away from where I had seen my life Barn Owl. I was with my friend, Peter Dorosh. He had instructed me on how to look for owls and the first tree that looked promising, I walked over to, parted the lower branches and looked up at a sleeping Barn Owl.

After Bob and I flushed the Barn Owl we walked the outer perimeter of Ecology Village, where we ran into Lenore and Starr, who joined us in the search for the owl. We never relocated it, but I recommended they check out the Cricket Field for Horned Larks. I took off on my bike, checked the bay for gulls, then met them over at the field. There were 56 larks hunkered down in the grass at the west end of the field. Despite the fairly large flock, they were easy to overlook against the dry, brown grass and dirt.

The highlight of the day was across the road, at Dead Horse Bay. Historically, it has been a good spot to find overwintering scaup flocks, but numbers had gone done over the years. On Saturday, however, I observed the largest flock assembled in that location that I'd ever seen. From the dunes at the northern-most trail, there was one good sized flock to my right, in the cove near the marina. Straight ahead of me and stretching 500 yards south, to Dead Horse Point, was another immense flock. In addition to trying to differentiate the Greater from Lesser Scaup, it's a good idea to closely check these overwintering flocks because, occasionally, a Tufted Duck will be hiding among the more common birds. Unfortunately, I didn't have my scope with me, plus it was getting late in the day and I try not to ride on the streets in the dark. Maybe next weekend.


Silversalty said...

I've seen a much smaller group of scaups in Sheepshead Bay among the mallard ducks, cormorants, buffleheads, swans and other birds. The bay isn't that far from FBF. I decided the scaups I saw were of the "lesser" variety purely based on the small bump at the back of the head rather than a more rounded shape. I'm still taken by the buffleheads there. When I first saw them I thought they might be ducklings, they were so small. I've counted groups of bufflehead as large as 18 or so. It's hard to count them with their regular diving.

Here are three of the images. There are more on the first three pages of my flickr page including some close up shots of gulls in stationary flight grabbing pieces of bread.

Lesser Scaup

Female bufflehead

Male bufflehead moving between two Scaups

Yojimbot said...

wow thats a lotta scaup! nice work.

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