Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Saturday's Bird Trip Summary

On Saturday I led a group of 15 birders to Floyd Bennett Field and Dead Horse Bay for the Brooklyn Bird Club. While we didn't find any particularly rare birds it was still a good day of spotting seasonal specialties and enjoying birding camaraderie.

Floyd Bennett Field

At the start of the trip I gave everyone a heads up about recent Cave Swallow sightings North, East and South of New York City. I followed up with a brief description of this small, rusty throated swallow normally found in Texas, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It is known to periodically wander into the Northeast, although I've never been fortunate to observe any in New York. There was a slim chance that, if any were around, we'd could see them in this coastal area.

The group met at the Aviator Sports complex and from there my plan was to check the small field adjacent to Aviator, then walk to the Cricket Field and Return-a-Gift Pond. Skipping the 1.25 mile long East-West trail at the North 40, we'd return to the cars and head to the Floyd Bennett Community Garden after which we'd bird the overgrown baseball field at the end of Floyd Bennett Boulevard then scan Jamaica Bay for waterfowl. High-tide wouldn't be until 12:19pm, so after an early lunch we'd check the pilings near Archery Road for shorebirds. Here's a map of Floyd Bennett Field with the landmarks noted.

On the walk to the Cricket Field, I spotted a Northern Harrier soaring in the distance above the North 40 (we would see another one later in the morning). Once at the Cricket Field, which is usually a good Winter spot to look for Horned Larks, American Pipits and the occasional Lapland Longspur, we found that there was only a single Killdeer on the field. As we watched it, I heard, then spotted a pair of American Pipits flying towards the field. They tentatively circled the field, changed their minds, then took off across Flatbush Avenue. On the weedy berm to our right was our season's first American Tree Sparrow. We only spent about a minute at the Return-a-Gift Pond as it was no longer a pond, but rather a mud hole devoid of birds. Backtracking passed the field, we were briefly captivated by the undulating, synchronized flying and landing of a flock of approximately 600 starlings.

Our walk through the dozens of rows of small garden plots at the Community Garden was disappointingly quiet. Yellow-rumped Warblers were still fairly common, but the flocks of sparrows seen here over the previous few weeks were inexplicably absent. Perhaps the harriers, Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks seen throughout the morning were keeping the birds wary and hidden away.

The one area where there did seem to be a lot of birds was at the overgrown baseball field. I'm not sure why the field went unused this year, but it has become a magnet for Savannah Sparrows. When walking around the outer edge of the ball field, it seemed devoid of birds. As we began walking across the outfield, however, sparrows seemed to be popping up everywhere. We didn't spot anything other than savannahs, but what that area lacked in diversity, it made up for in quantity. Conservatively, there were 25-30 individuals around the field.

After an early lunch we continued our birding with a brief stop along Jamaica Bay opposite Ruffle Bar. Rows of rotting wooden pilings and crumbling concrete supports with exposed rusting rebar are all that remains of an old pier near the current Coast Guard facility. Cormorants and shorebirds use this spot as a convenient roost during high-tides, when sandbars and mudflats in the bay are flooded by rising water. When we arrived there were a couple of dozen Black-bellied Plover and lower numbers of Dunlin sharing the spot with a flock of, mostly, Double-crested Cormorants.

Just North of the old pier vantage point is a large, concrete parking lot that overlooks the bay. Large mixed flocks of gulls tend to roost here in the Winter, so we loaded our scopes back in the cars to go check it out. Driving along the old runways I decided to stop to scan the grasslands and watch a kestrel hunting over the fields. At one point this tiny, colorful falcon flushed a pair of Eastern Meadowlarks who had been hidden from view in the tall grass. The optimistic falcon seemed to think he could actually catch one of these bright yellow icterids, but given that they are nearly the same size, the chase lasted for only several seconds.

The gull roost on the parking lot only held a small number of mostly Ring-billed Gulls, so we headed to the campgrounds known as "Ecology Village" to look for owls. I wasn't very hopeful of finding any as the conifers in this area have been dying off at an alarming rate. The park service hasn't been able to replant native pines fast enough. Anyway, it never hurts to look and a few people on the walk had never been to Floyd Bennett Field and I wanted to give them the full tour of where to look for birds. On Saturday there were very few birds around Ecology Village and no owls.

Dead Horse Bay

I took a quick poll and, even after 6 hours of birding, the group still had plenty of energy left. We headed across Flatbush Avenue to Dead Horse Bay.

There are three trails that traverse the mostly phragmite choked landscape between Flatbush Avenue and Dead Horse Bay, to the South-West. We took the Northern-most trail which exits onto the beach close to the Flatbush Marina. It is in this spot where an annual overwintering scaup flock assembles each year around this time. That flock can sometime grow to over 20 thousand individuals. Unfortunately, on Saturday the bay hosted exactly zero scaup. Our first Horned Grebe of the season paddled around a short distance from shore. By the time of the annual Christmas Bird Count I expect the grebe numbers to grow to a few dozen. Finally, other than several Buffleheads diving in the distance and a small flock of American Black Ducks nearby there wasn't really anything else of note on this small bay across from Plum Beach.

On the walk back to the cars I spotted a small flock of Snow Buntings flying over Flatbush Avenue near the toll plaza. This mostly white, sparrow-like species passed us so quickly that there was little time to get the group on them. Snow Buntings are beginning to migrate through the area and can no doubt be found along New York City's barrier island beaches.

I almost forgot, we did not spot any Cave Swallows on this outing, maybe next time. ;-)

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Date: 11/09/13
Locations: Dead Horse Bay and Floyd Bennett Field
Species: 55
Checklists: 2
Notes: Brooklyn Bird Club field trip (15 participants)

Brant
Bufflehead
Ruddy Duck (1.)
Common Loon (3.)
Horned Grebe (1.)
Great Cormorant
Northern Harrier (2.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (1.)
Cooper's Hawk (2.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1.)
Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer (1.)
Dunlin
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Flicker
American Kestrel (1.)
Eastern Phoebe (1.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1.)
Winter Wren (1.)
Carolina Wren (1.)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (2.)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1.)
Hermit Thrush (1.)
American Pipit (5.)
Cedar Waxwing
Snow Bunting (10, flying South above Flatbush near bridge toll plaza.)
Common Yellowthroat (1.)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow (1.)
Field Sparrow (1.)
Savannah Sparrow (At least 30, mostly at baseball field.)
Fox Sparrow (1.)
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow (1.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Eastern Meadowlark (2.)
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Double-crested Cormorant, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker (2.), American Crow (6.), American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow

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