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Friday, December 31, 2010

One Last Bird

I had family visiting from out of town today so wouldn't have time for any last minute birding. Yesterday was my final chance to find any new species for 2010. I ended up locating something that wasn't even on my radar.

Snow removal problems around New York City, as well as, major disruptions on most bus and subway lines made birding anywhere but Prospect Park nearly impossible this week. I finally decided to take a chance with the "F" train and head down to Coney Island yesterday. Heydi, who had been trapped in that mass transit blackhole known as Marine Park, would attempt to join me. We wanted to try and find either a new Brooklyn gull for the year (Iceland?) or a Common Eider. Our usual loop for Coney Island starts on the boardwalk at Stillwell Avenue, scanning the bay east of the pier, then to the Steeplechase Pier, scanning the south bay, the jetty at the western-most end of Coney Island, then walking north, checking Coney Island Creek from various vantage points, returning to Stillwell Avenue either along Surf Avenue or the boardwalk.

We both arrived at the Stillwell Avenue station without incident (it only took the MTA 4 days to restore most of the subway service to normal) and headed directly to the boardwalk. I quickly spotted three loons close to the second rock jetty east of the pier. Two were Common Loons, the other was a guy in a speedo swimming in the frigid water. The surf was calm and there wasn't much bird activity on the horizon. The dominant species of waterfowl was Red-breasted Merganser. Resting on the sand parallel to the shore were hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls and much lower numbers of Herring and Great Black-back Gulls. I noticed that several of the gulls had a dark, oily substance on their belly and breast feathers that they were attempting to clean. I had also spotted gulls with similar staining in Prospect Park. Heydi had seen some at the marsh in Marine Park. I wonder if there was an unreported spill somewhere close to NYC. As we scanned the water adjacent to the rock jetty that separates the gated community of Seagate from Coney Island, I spotted a Long-tailed Duck preening on the beach. These seaducks are usually only viewed relatively far from shore, so observing one preening onshore was a nice treat.

There was a small flock of Purple Sandpipers feeding within the seaweed draped boulders on the western side of the jetty. I watched closely as one drew its bill along lengths of the green vegetation, not actually eating the seaweed, but just sliding off any arthropods that might be attached to it. These sandpipers have a habit of clinging to rocks right at the edge of rough surf, so I actually overlooked a few that were just a couple of yards away when I was watching the Long-tailed Duck. When I finally noticed them, they held their ground, but peered suspiciously over their shoulders at me.

Sunshine was glistening off the surface of Gravesend Bay and Coney Island Creek. The water was calm and surprisingly serene. A sliver of jagged water flowed passed Norton's Point and upriver towards the Verrazano Bridge. This nutrient rich current attracted a flock of diving Long-tailed Ducks. Farther up the creek was a single Common Loon and scattered flocks of Canada Goose, Brant, Gadwall, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser and Ruddy Duck. There was a flurry of gull activity in the water at the end of West 23rd Street. A man from a local bakery was dumping a large box of French bread loaves into the creek. The result was that every gull, black duck and Mallard within a 1/4 mile radius descended on that patch of creek. I sat down on a steel guard rail at the edge of the shore, put my bins to my eyes and tried to pick out a rare gull from the riot of white, black and gray plumage. After several frustrating minutes, I turned my attention to the cove on the opposite side of Coney Island Creek. It's a small inlet dotted with the rotting, rusting hulks of several old barges. Alex Wilson found a rare Western Reef Heron in that cove during the summer of 2007.

It was 3pm and there was a little over an hour of decent light left. I accepted the fact that I probably wasn't going to add anymore species to my 2010 list, but I had nothing to complain about. It had been a very good year. Sitting on the guard rail, I continued to casually scan the waterfowl across the water in late afternoon light. Suddenly a bird appeared from behind the wooden rib of a submerged barge. I mumbled something incoherent to Heydi, then jumped up and grabbed my scope. Adjusting my focus I said, without taking my eye off the bird, "It's a Redhead!" The last time I observed one of these handsome ducks in Brooklyn was in March of 2001. Heydi got the bird in her scope and we both watched it slowly paddling back and forth, away from all the other ducks. After several minutes, we looked up from our scopes and high-fived each other. I took out my phone and texted Peter and Shane. Most birders will agree that finding a good bird is great, getting to share it with others is even better. Here's to another year of discovery and sharing.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Very nice catch. Happy New Year

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