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Monday, August 16, 2021

Shorebirding

This past Saturday I met up with a few friends to do a little shorebirding in Brooklyn and Queens. Mike hadn't seen the phalaropes that were hanging around the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, so that was our target after a dawn meet up at Brooklyn's Plum Beach.

Low-tide was at 6:36am, so we planned on being at Plum Beach a little past sunrise. Tom P. arrived before us and was already scoping the mudflat from close to the east end of the beach. Peeps made comic chattering sounds as they arrived to forage along the shore or out on the flats.
The abundance and diversity of shorebirds wasn't great, but the air was cool and a constant breeze made, what could be oppressive birding season, really pleasant. The call of terns and gulls completed an idyllic atmosphere for starting the day.

I've seen small mysterious burrows along the wrack line more times than I can count. The architects strangely absent. On Saturday I finally got great looks at this shy "sandhog". It should come as no surprise to anyone that its formal name is "Ghost Crab".


On the bay side of Plum Beach the shorebirds we tallied were oystercatcher, Semipalmated Plover, turnstone, Sanderling, Least, Pectoral and Semipalmated Sandpiper plus Greater Yellowlegs. There were also plenty of laughing, ring-billed, herring and Great Black-backed Gulls; least, common and Forster's Terns, as well as, several Black Skimmers.

An unexpected sighting came as we were wrapping up near the west end of the inner marsh. Mike and I had begun walking back towards the parking lot when Heydi called us back. Josh spotted a Dickcissel perched atop a black cherry tree. This rare grassland species was heading south & decided to take a break in the dunes. Lucky us!

Any of the three phalarope species is rare around NYC. To see a single one in a year is fortunate. Over the past 2 weeks, 3 Wilson's and 3 Red-necked Phalaropes have been hanging out on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. I saw them last week, but Mike hadn't, so that was our target after Plum Beach.

We walked out onto the South Flats and, within a minute or two, Mike spotted the Wilson's Phalaropes. They typically spin in circles to feed, but I suppose there was so much food that they didn't need to churn up the water. Here they are with dowitchers, yellowlegs and semipalmated sandpipers.

On the opposite shore we were able to locate a continuing Black-bellied Whistling Duck. This lovely waterfowl is normally found close to the Mexican border and southern Florida. On May 28, 2016 we had a flock of eight stop off in Brooklyn at the Marine Park Saltmarsh Center.

The Red-necked Phalaropes were just as easy to locate as the three fed close to shore near "The Raunt". It almost felt like walking through the exhibits at a zoo - "straight ahead are the Wilson's Phalaropes, if you look to your left you'll see the whistling-duck and just over there are the Red-necked Phalaropes".

There were also a few Pectoral Sandpipers present. Slightly larger than the "peeps", I love this bird's tidy, sharp breast streaks and neat rows of scales on its upper plumage.
On our way back down to the South Flats we passed a small flock of Stilt Sandpipers dunking their bills in search of food. Their trim build, drooping bill and barred flanks are distinctive. I  prefer seeing them in breeding plumage when they have reddish patches on their face.
We finished our morning just as the Annual Shorebird Festival group was pouring onto the flats. It was nice seeing some folks that I hadn't seen in a while (especially now that I can see their whole face). The festival is a great opportunity to expose more people to the joys and challenges of shorebirding...I just hope they don't expect that rarities will come that easily every year ;-)

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