Tuesday, October 13, 2015

I See You Saw a Sora

Floyd Bennett Field was pretty birdy early Saturday morning. Lots of sparrows were moving south and by late morning Heydi, Keir and I had tallied 10 species, including a Vesper Sparrow. Our day's highlight, however, was seen in a tiny, crowded urban park about 10 miles to the north of this historic airport.

It was around 10am when a tweet from Heather Wolf came in about a Sora hanging out at Brooklyn Bridge Park's pier 1. The three of us decided not to chase after it, but rather continue a much more low key amble around Floyd Bennett. Josh, who ran into us a few minutes earlier (and appears to be doing a big Brooklyn year), immediately headed north towards the bridge.

Brooklyn Bridge Park seems like an unlikely place to find a secretive marsh bird like a Sora. Besides the fact that it is a new, crowded tourist destination, there is still construction going on in many places and the only thing that passes for a wetland habitat is a tiny patch at the edge next to the pedestrian/bicycle path. Nevertheless, Heather Wolf clearly shows on her website that this patch of green on the East River is a magnet for a diversity of migrating birds that follow the city's rivers.

When I learned about the Sora sighting I had just assumed that it was seen at the edge of the water in a small landscaped wetland on the east side of pier 1. I was wrong. As you can see in Heather's photo here the young bird was actually walking around at the edge of a small lawn, occasionally disappearing into the underbrush at the south end of the lawn. I guess it was exhausted and hungry, dropping into the closest big green spot at the edge of the river. Most birders I know can tell similar stories of uncharacteristically "cooperative" birds that they've encountered. The reality is that these birds are desperate to rest and refuel, making running away from humans a low priority...sometimes with fatal results.

By around noon the birds around Floyd Bennett Field were starting to dwindle. In addition, the din of an NYPD helicopter practicing low above the grasslands was getting on our nerves. After one final low pass Heydi turned to me and said, "Wanna go find the Sora?" You don't have to ask me twice. We decided to hop on the F train at Kings Highway and take it to the York Street station, which is about 1/2 mile from the park.

Two birders, Jean and Mike, were already at the meadow when we arrived. Jean had seen the Sora disappear into the underbrush about 10 minutes before we got there and it hadn't been seen since. A few minutes later Allie joined us in the search. From the top of the ridge I thought I got a glimpse of the bird's distinctive brown and white streaked back as it walked through the vegetation heading more or less east. After about 15 minutes of staking out this spot another birder came by and asked what we were looking at. I explained about the Sora, to which he replied, "I just saw it about 10 minutes ago at the small pond."

I never caught his name, but he kindly walked us the 100 yards back to where he last saw it. As you can see by this photo, the young Sora was right where he left it. We must have watched it for 30 minutes as it foraged along the water's edge, periodically taking breaks to preen.

On the subway ride back Heydi lamented that she had to take the F all the way back to Kings Highway. I facetiously remarked that it is such a drag that one must take public transportation to see a Sora. Which got me thinking about something. As a city birder, I've gotten to see a lot of amazing birds by bicycle, subway or bus. Look for my next posting about best mass transit birds.

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