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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Brooklyn Rarities

My friend Shane is on a roll. Since December he has found three rare birds in Brooklyn. His latest find is a really good one, but I think I may have him beat (for the first time).

Shane's first find was a Black-headed Gull at the Water Pollution Control Plant next to Owl's Head Park. His second discovery was on the day after Christmas. During miserably wet, cold weather, he located a Mew Gull on a stretch of parkland between the Belt Parkway and Gravesend Bay. That bird is still around and, luckily, I had a chance to see it. It is only the third record for this species in New York State. Shane has never been known to rest on his laurels, so on Martin Luther King Day, he went out and chalked up yet another exciting find. While birding at Coney Island he spotted a Western Grebe near the fishing pier. Andrew Baksh has a nice write up of this latest find on his "Birding Dude" blog here.

I had to work on Monday, but on Tuesday afternoon, Heydi and I went out to try and find the grebe. We started out at the Coney Island Pier, where we scanned the water to the south and east. It was unseasonably warm and an early morning fog had pretty much burned off, but there was still a little haze remaining on the horizon. I spotted what looked like it could have been the grebe several jetties to the east. We packed up our scopes and began walking down the beach.

We ran into Starr and Lenore at around West 6th Street. They were also looking for the Western Grebe but were coming from the opposite direction and heading towards the pier. After talking for a few minutes we continued on or respective routes. There were lots of Red-throated and Common Loons in the water, as well as, a few scattered Horned Grebes. We also spotted lots of Long-tailed Ducks and several Common Goldeneyes, but no Western Grebe. By the time we made it to West 2nd Street, Heydi was feeling a bit pessimistic. I made fun of her for not dropping everything and running out to the beach on Monday then sang a few lines from "Loser" by Beck.

It was about a 1 mile walk from the pier to the beaches of Brighton Beach. If we didn't find the grebe within the next 1/4 mile, we'd have to end our search because the beach ended at a barbwire topped fence at the edge of Manhattan Beach. At the rock jetty closest to Brighton 5th Street I put my scope on a Common Loon that was a few yards from the shore. As I was focusing a second bird popped up to the surface in front of the loon. At first, I wasn't even sure what I was looking at. It was a small, black and white bird that reminded me of a puffin. When it dove, I noticed that it had short, chicken-like wings. I think I said something to Heydi like, "What the heck am I looking at?" Then it hit me - Thick-billed Murre! I grabbed my scope and ran down the beach to get a closer look. As Heydi ran to the edge of the water to take some photos I quickly thumbed through a field guide, just to make sure I wasn't losing my mind. In February of 2005, one showed up in the bay near the base of the Gil Hodges Bridge, in Brooklyn, but other than that individual, I'd only seen these birds in the deep ocean on Pelagic trips. The photo above is of the 2005 bird. To see Heydi's pics from yesterday, click here.

The Thick-billed Murre is an auk, and member of a family of birds known as alcids. During the breeding season they nest on steep cliffs in the arctic. These nearly circumpolar seabirds are generally only found in deep oceans of high latitudes. You can read more about them on Angus Wilson's excellent "Ocean Wanderers" website. Why this individual has decided to visit Brooklyn is a mystery, I'm just glad I was there to spot it. Here's a short video of the Brighton Beach murre:

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