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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Birding Updates

It has been almost 2 weeks since I've posted about my Brooklyn bird sightings. I have actually had some interesting observation, just getting the words down on the page is sometimes, for various reasons, difficult. That said, despite the mild winter affecting the appearance of some of the expected species, over the last two weekends there were some great birds around.

If you are a regular visitor to my blog you should know the drill...winter is a time for me to look for seasonal species around Brooklyn's coastal areas. Here is a map of the most interesting spots for loons, grebes, waterfowl, gulls and any other possible seabird that might show up. I've also outlined my usual walking route along the western end of the Coney Island Peninsula. In addition to its surrounding waters, Floyd Bennett Field is a great spot for grassland species, although I'm not sure how long that will last if the National Park Service allows the proposed natural gas lines to be built.

The number of individuals in the annual Horned Lark flock has gradually increased over the past month. Heydi and I have been combing through them every chance we get, hoping to find a Lapland Longspur. Longspurs are rare around NYC, but if you'd find them anywhere, it would be hiding out among the Horned Larks. So far we haven't found any nor do I think any have been reported from the barrier beaches on Long Island. What we need is a week long cold snap to bring Brooklyn some more arctic species.

We did manage to see one great species at Floyd Bennett Field. On Saturday, February 4th, Heydi and I kept crossing paths with Peter Dorosh and Mary Eyster at various points around Floyd. In the early afternoon we caught up with them near the boat ramp that looks out over Jamaica Bay. It was overcast and Peter had his scope on a distant bird that he thought might be a Eurasian Wigeon. The bird was among a fairly large flock of the more common American Wigeon and, unfortuately, they were all paddling away from us. We decided to head towards Archery Road, where overwintering wigeons usually hang out. It took us a few minutes of scanning the bay, but eventually located what was indeed a Eurasian Wigeon. I wish I could say that this is a photograph of the bird, but it isn't. The wigeons were very skittish and a passing Coast Guard ship ended up flushing all the birds. For illustrative purposes, I've used a photo of a Eurasian Wigeon that I took in Prospect Park a few years ago. They really are beautiful birds.

The following Saturday I decided to search Coney Island for rare gulls. Heydi joined me and was cautiously optimistic that we'd also find her a Razorbill. I told her that it was a possibility, but didn't really believe it. These seabirds only come ashore to breed, and are normally found out on the open ocean. The one place that they can be observed fairly reliably in winter is at Montauk Point, a mere 115 miles East of where we'd be birding. I was convinced that it was a fluke that I spotted a pair there a few weeks ago. Anyway, we decided to wait for the light snow and freezing rain to subside before meeting at Stillwell Avenue.

We began our day in the late morning, spending much of our time scanning birds at the edge of the jetty at West 37th Street. From an earlier observation at the fishing pier, it appeared that Herring were running. Fishermen were pulling in full lines nearly as fast as they were casting them. In the small, crescent-shaped cove on the south side of Seagate there was a tremendous number of birds feasting on the Herring windfall. Thousands of gulls, gannets, Long-tailed Ducks and mergansers were in the mix, but more notably, shortly after arriving, we spotted three Razorbills! We also spotted a single male Surf Scoter. On the jetty were 14 Purple Sandpipers. It was the most bird activity that I'd seen it in that location all winter.

While we were scoping Gravesend Bay from Coney Island Creek Park, we spotted Shane, a mile to the north, on the promenade in Bensonhurst. We met up with him at Coney Island Creek and went back across the bay to Bay Ridge to look for an Iceland Gull that he spotted there earlier. The bird was seen sitting on the boulders below the seawall at the first parking lot south of the Verrazano Bridge. Fortunately, the bird cooperated and was exactly where Shane had left it. Here's a short video of this first year gull feeding along the edges of the boulders:

After watching the Iceland Gull feeding for a few minutes Shane suggested that the three of us continue north along the coast to the Veterans Memorial Pier. After such a great morning of birding, I was feeling optimistic that we would find the rare Black-headed Gull that had been showing up there sporadically. Shane had already seen this bird a few times this year, but it would be Heydi and my fourth attempt at locating it. We lucked out as the bird was right at the start of the pier, sitting within a flock of Ring-billed Gulls. I guess if you want to find this annual winter visitor to Brooklyn, you have to be very persistent or very lucky.

This coming Saturday I'll be leading a trip to Floyd Bennett Field and Dead Horse Bay for the Linnaean Society of New York. The weather report sounds like it will be a fine day for looking for new birds, maybe the birding gods with send something good our way.


Date: Feb 4, 2012 - Feb 11, 2012
Locations: Coney Island, Coney Island Creek, Avenue U and East 17th Street, Floyd Bennett Field, Gravesend Bay, Veterans Memorial Pier
Total Number of Species: 44

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Lesser Scaup
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Ring-necked Pheasant
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Northern Gannet
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
American Coot
Purple Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
American Crow
Fish Crow
Horned Lark
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
House Sparrow

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