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Thursday, January 05, 2012

December Birds

Between brief daylight hours and a rushed holiday pace that begins around Thanksgiving, December is probably the shortest month for birding. I began the month already eight species ahead of my 2010 Brooklyn total count, but wanted to see if I could end 2011 with 250 for the borough of Kings.

The first weekend of the month seemed like a promising start when I found an American Avocet resting on the shore of Coney Island Creek. That bird remained on the creek for an entire week. The next day Heydi called me from Floyd Bennett Field. She was looking at a Common Eider in the water off of Archery Road. It took me about an hour to get there by MTA, but the bird was still present, bringing me three species closer to 250*.

During the following week Shane spotted an incredible 7 Red-necked Grebe in the water off of Floyd Bennett Field. Heydi and I prayed that at least some of them would hang around until the weekend. That Saturday Heydi, Shane and I spotted two in the bay in front of Ruffle Bar, probably 1/2 mile away, but clearly identifiable and definitely in Brooklyn.

The day of the Brooklyn Christmas Bird Count brought me Kings County bird number 249 in the form of a Northern Shrike. This sweet-looking songbird with a hooked bill sometimes goes by the name "Butcher bird". They have the charming habit of caching their prey on thorns, barbed wire or other pointy skewer-like objects. Their scientific name, Lanius excubitor, means butcher watchman. Apparently the Northern Shrike keeps an eye out for hawks and warns little birds if one is around. I guess they want to keep all the juicy little birdies to themselves.

There are three species of scoter that can be seen in Brooklyn waters - surf, white-winged and black. I had two of the three on my list and returned to Coney Island a dozen times since last winter trying to find a white-winged. I was running out of time. Finally, on December 27th, with south winds blowing seabirds and seaducks into the bay at Coney Island, I spotted a single White-winged Scoter flying off of the end of Steeplechase Pier. Bird number 250!

In some ways birding is like an addictive drug. Having reached my goal of 250 species in Brooklyn in one year was satisfying for about a day. I still had four more days left in the year. Maybe I could find a few more birds. I went back to Coney Island Creek the next day. Winds were gusting out of the West-North-West at 25 mile per hour. I walked down West 23rd Street, which dead-ends at the creek. From there I scanned a flock of gulls roosting on the exposed wooden skeleton of a partially submerged barge. They were all ring-bills. Then I turned my scope west, towards a flock of Canada Geese near the shore, next to Mark Twain Junior High School's handball courts. At the edge of the flock was a white-winged gull. I folded the legs on my tripod and ran the nearly 1/4 mile distance to a spot in front of the flock. All my hours of scanning gulls at Coney Island had finally paid off as I stared at a juvenile Iceland Gull bobbing on the wind blown chop of Coney Island Creek.

I ended the year 2011 with 262 species in New York State and 251 in Brooklyn. Not too bad considering that the vast majority of my birding travel was done either by bicycle or public transportation. I can't wait to see what 2012 brings...


NYS total: 262
Kings total: 251

258) American Avocet (Coney Island Creek, 12/03/11)
259) Common Eider (Floyd Bennett Field, 12/04/11)
260) Red-necked Grebe (Floyd Bennett Field--Boat Launch, 12/10/11)
261) Northern Shrike (Floyd Bennett Field, 12/17/11)
262) Iceland Gull (Coney Island Creek, 12/28/11)

*Note: The way my NYS eBird list is displayed may be confusing in one respect. The above list total (262) includes White-winged Scoter, which I first observed on October 30th at Ft. Tilden, in Queens. In December I also spotted one off of the fishing pier in Coney Island, number 250 for my Brooklyn total.

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