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Thursday, October 19, 2006

A morning along the coast

(Photo credit - Google)

Daybreak at Robert Moses SP (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Sean and I did some coastal birding yesterday and I ended the morning by adding one more bird species to my year. I’m not sure what we were thinking, but we headed out at 5:00am. The sun didn’t rise until about 7:15am so we ended up standing around in a dark parking lot at Robert Moses State Park listening to the surf for almost an hour. We heard the flight notes of a few migrating birds as they passed overhead but couldn’t identify them by sound alone.

Sunrise at Robert Moses SP

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It was a route that Sean, Shane and I had travelled a few times this year and it always seemed to produce something interesting. We’d drive east for an hour or so, and begin the day at Robert Moses State Park. Following the ocean as we drove west towards the city, we’d also make stops at Jones Beach, Long Beach, Ft. Tilden and Floyd Bennett Field.

Torpid Monarch (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Monarch Butterflies are still migrating in an abundance that I haven’t seen for years. Sean pointed out one that was resting on the parking lot’s cold pavement in the dim early morning. I got out of the car, let it climb up onto my finger and walked to the edge of the dunes. I didn’t want it to get run over, plus, it would make a good photo op. After a few photos I put my hand next to some dune grass thinking that he’d climb onto the plant. He probably preferred the heat from my hand and I had to gently prod him onto the stalk of grass.

Eastern Phoebes were seen just about everywhere we went. At Fort Tilden a few shared a stretch of fence surrounding one of the baseball fields. Both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets were observed (and heard) in great number. We also saw four or five Merlins hunting above the open fields along the coast.

The best find of the day was a Vesper Sparrow that was feeding in the sparse grass next to the boulder piles at Long Beach. It was in this location that we observed a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow two weeks ago. The birding gods seemed desperate to keep us from seeing this bird. Every bird in the area seemed a little on edge when we arrive. A Merlin buzzed the area and all the birds hunkered down. When we found the vesper Sean ran back to his car to retrieve his camera gear. Then a feral cat showed up and spooked all the birds again. We remained patient and the sparrow returned to feeding near a mound of dirt. Then a massive truck arrived and dumped it’s tons of boulders causing the earth to vibrate like the San Andreas Fault had just shifted. And yes, the birds flew and hid again. We played this game until Sean was able to take a few photos then we headed off to the next location. As we were exiting the park we spotted a Merlin perched in a tree at the back of the boulder area. He had a freshly killed Dark-eyed Junco in his talons.

Vesper Sparrow

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

By the time we arrived at Floyd Bennett Field we were both pretty spent and half-heartedly scanned the grasslands. A kestrel perched on a bluebird nest box caught our attention and we very slowly crept up to get a closer look. He was periodically flying down from his perched, into the grass and returning with a cricket or some other insect. In flight they appear to be a fairly large falcon but, after watching him dine on a cricket, he left an impression of a very compact, delicate predator.

Merlin eating a junco

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

Kestrel at Floyd Bennett (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

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Robert Moses SP; Jones Beach; Long Beach; Ft. Tilden; Floyd Bennett Field, 10/19/2006
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Black-bellied Plover
American Oystercatcher
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Forster's Tern
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue-headed Vireo
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole

Other common species seen (or heard):
Double-crested Cormorant, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow

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