Saturday, August 20, 2011

Shorebirding

Last weekend Heydi and I did a little shorebird birding around Brooklyn. Some species of shorebirds actually begin their southbound journey in July, but mid-August is when shorebird migration really begins in earnest.

Plum Beach at low-tide is the best spot to look for migrating shorebirds in Brooklyn. When the water is low it exposes a fairly large mudflat where the birds can probe for marine worms and other food. On Saturday the low-tide cycle would be close to noon when lots of human activities would make observing the birds impossible. The next best thing would be if we arrived at first light, when the water was receding and birds were beginning to gather along the shore.

As the sun was coming up over Gerritsen Creek to the East we could see small, dark shapes scurrying along the edge of the water. They were mostly Sanderlings, but after a few minutes, we spotted a Black-bellied Plover, several Semipalmated Plover, a small flock of Ruddy Turnstone and many Semipalmated Sandpipers. American Oystercatchers made their usual racket as they traced random flight patterns over the marsh and bay. A single Piping Plover darted back and forth between the edge of the water and the wrack line.

Walking around the point at the eastern end of the peninsula we came across this ray. I'm guessing a fisherman hooked the hapless animal then, rather than toss it back into the water, left it to die on the shore. I've never seen one of these in the flesh, but recognized it from either a nature television program or an issue of National Geographic. I thought it might be a type of eagle ray. A little research on the Internet turned up "Bullnose Eagle Ray". Similar to the fish that killed Steve Irwin, you can see the large barb on its tail in this cropped image:


Continuing our walk around the edge of the marsh at Plum Beach we spotted a single Black Skimmer working the surface of the glass-like water. One unexpected find was a young Seaside Sparrow calling from his perch atop the marsh grass. He was eventually joined by a curious Marsh Wren. A Solitary Sandpiper snapped up insects from a narrow stretch of exposed sand bordering the marsh. We left Plum Beach by 7:30am and headed over to Floyd Bennett Field.

The usual spots to look for shorebirds at Floyd Bennett Field are the puddles at the runway near the North 40, the small field next to Aviator Sports, the cricket field and the beach/pilings at the end of Archery Road. Actually, any of the runways could have fairly sizeable puddles after a summer thunderstorm, so it is a good idea to check them all for shorebirds. We didn't find anything unusual in the western spots, so headed to Archery Road to scan the beach and a stretch of old, wooden pilings.

Several Semipalmated Plovers were resting along the shore and nearly disappeared among the dark and light patches of concrete and other detritus littering the beach. There were also a few Spotted Sandpipers tettering along the beach. At the far end of the beach, near the Coast Guard Station were a couple of Ruddy Turnstones. Double-crested Cormorants adorned the tops of the wooden pilings. Come winter, their numbers will decline and Great Cormorants will replace them at this favorite roosting spot.

By 9:00am we had been out birding for nearly 3 hours. Feeling good about picking up 3 new species for the year, I decided to call it quits for the day.

An Unexpected Species

I was working at home on Thursday when I received a phone call from Shane. He was out at Floyd Bennett Field looking at a Red-necked Phalarope in a large puddle on one of the grass fields. This is a very unusual bird to see out at Floyd Bennett, but I couldn't drop everything and run out there. By around 12:30pm I had about a 2 hour window to hop on my bike and ride over there. Fortunately, it was still present when I arrived. In addition, there were 22 Pectoral Sandpipers resting in the grass at the edge of the puddle. While I was watching the birds it began to rain so I didn't get any decent photos. Here's a shot that Shane took earlier in the day:

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