Monday, November 09, 2009

Passing it Along

Part of the birding experience is sharing, or passing along knowledge to other birders, that includes helping someone find a "life bird". I had that opportunity, recently, and it nearly mirrored an experience I had during the late fall of 2003.

During a bike ride out to Floyd Bennett Field I ran into my friend Heydi. We both had a general idea of what birds might be around the varied habitats of the nearly 400-acre site. Migrating sparrows had mostly left the community garden and other grassy habitats. Horned Larks hadn't arrived from their arctic breeding grounds and overwintering owls had yet to be reported around the NYC area.

Heydi and I scoured the grassy edges of Floyd Bennett then headed over to the pines at "Ecology Village". The existing, mature conifers have all been dying off and the National Park Service has slowly started replanting native pines. The remaining trees don't offer much cover for any Long-eared Owls or Saw-whet Owls. We left after only a brief survey for white-wash or pellets and headed towards Archery Road. Along the Jamaica Bay side of Floyd Bennett Field are the remnants of an old pier. Closer to shore is a stretch of creosote coated wooden pilings. Farther out are hunks of concrete with exposed, rusted rebar. These little islands offer convenient perches for cormorants, gulls and shorebirds. It was in this area that I saw my first American Golden-Plover.

The date was October 18th, 2003. I was with my friend, Shane, a more experienced birder. We had spent the morning birding the grassy areas at Riis Park and Fort Tilden then made a quick stop at Floyd Bennett Field. It was 60 degrees with clear, sunny skies. At the end of the Archery Road we found a hundred or more Black-bellied Plovers jostling for a prime perch along the wooden and concrete pilings. Smaller Dunlins were trying to squeeze in on lower ledges or were foraging along the beach. We took our time scanning all the birds for something different. After a few minutes Shane exclaimed, "I've got a golden-plover". As I studied the bird through Shane's scope, I remember thinking that it wasn't nearly as difficult to tell apart from the Black-bellied Plovers than the field guides made it seem. What made this experience even more memorable was that Shane took a photograph of my life American Golden-Plover.

Fast forward 6 years and 10 days and I was in the same spot, under similar conditions, with a different birder. I remembered Shane's lesson and began scanning each and every Black-bellied Plover for something different. After several minutes I excitedly said to Heydi, "I've got a golden-plover". Neither one of us had a scope and it was a real challenge trying to shoot an identifiable photograph through my binoculars. Yeah, the photo sucks, I know, but I think you can tell that it's a golden-plover. I'm just glad I could return the favor that Shane gave me. I'm sure, somewhere down the line, Heydi will do the same.

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