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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jamaica Bay & Shorebirds

Two weeks ago I joined my friend Tom for a day at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. We met two of his friends from Upstate New York, who don't get down to the city for shorebird migration very often. It was also the annual shorebird celebration, so there were over 100 people from throughout the state visiting the refuge.

We met Scott and Gene in the visitor's center parking lot at 7:30am. High-tide, when the shorebirds make their way back to the edges of the refuge's ponds, wasn't for another couple of hours. We decided to explore the North & South Gardens before heading across Crossbay Boulevard to the East Pond.

Warblers and other songbirds have begun migrating south. At the gardens we spotted White-eyed Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler and American Redstart to name a few. Overhead, there seemed to be a constant stream of terns, gulls and Glossy Ibis flying back and forth between the western and eastern sides of the refuge. As high-tide approached we headed back towards the parking lot.

The previously empty parking lot was now filling up with birders arriving for the day's activities. We decided to head to the north end of the East Pond, before the crowds, and get a head start on shorebirding. The mud at the end of the trail was pretty bad and I felt bad for Gene, who had mistakenly left his boots back upstate. The rest of the pond wasn't too bad, except for the cove, where it was dangerous even with rubber boots. By this coming weekend it should be much safer.

The shorebird numbers were pretty high with Semipalmated Sandpipers and Least Sandpipers likely the most abundant species. Short-billed Dowitchers were also abundant. I ran into my friend Scott and he told me that, compared to a couple of days earlier, their numbers had gone way up. One interesting sighting was of a pair of hatchling oystercatchers. There is an island near the northeast corner of the pond and the oystercatchers had apparently nested on it. I was told later in the day that it was the first record of these birds nesting within the refuge.

Black-bellied Plovers were seen in fairly high numbers, mostly just resting along a stretch of mud on the western side of the pond. We had been scanning and rescanning the flock for a long time, trying to locate a Red Knot or other unusual bird hiding within their numbers. About 45 minutes later I finally noticed a Black Skimmer standing in the middle of the plovers and wondered how this large bird managed to remain camouflaged.

We spent at least 2 hours walking along the western side of the East Pond, scanning every flock of shorebird over and over. Unlike other groups of birds, it's very easy to overlook a "different" shorebird among the more common individuals (well, at least for me). One nice non-shorebird sighting early on was of a pair of Gull-billed Terns. They sort of just flew in, circled the pond, then vanished for the rest of the day.

When the bulk of the birders at the refuge took a break to attend a lecture at the visitor's center, Tom, Scott, Gene and I decided to bird around the West Pond. At the East Pond we had seen several wading bird species; Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Glossy Ibis. Scott had commented that it would be nice to see a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and asked if they were ever seen at the refuge. I broke all the rules of birding superstition and said that they were fairly common and would even go out on a limb and "guarantee" that we would see one at the West Pond. In birding, making that kind of statement nearly always guarantees one thing ... NOT finding the bird in question. But I guess I was feeling a little cocky, having not even considered the fact that it was my first full day of birding all summer AND my first day at the refuge since May 9th. Thankfully, the birding gods forgave my little faux pas and we spotted 5 or 6 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. Despite not seeing anything rare, it was a great day. Experiencing the sounds and sight of tens of thousands of shorebirds never gets old for me and I'm certain that Scott and Gene's first "shorebirding" day at the refuge will be long remembered.

Location: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Observation date: 8/9/09
Number of species: 74

Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Peregrine Falcon
Clapper Rail
Black-bellied Plover

Semipalmated Plover


American Oystercatcher

Greater Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Ruddy Turnstone

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper

peep sp.

Short-billed Dowitcher

Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Common Tern
Forster's Tern
Black Skimmer
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Empidonax sp.
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Red-winged Blackbird
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, American Crow, Fish Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow

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