Thursday, April 28, 2016

Spring Sparrows Out East

A few early Spring migrants in The Hamptons

Saturday, April 23 - 'Hamptons' Coastal Spots

Had the whole weekend Out East but was obliged to spend Friday mostly on work and house related things.  The weather was beautiful with clear blue skies, warm Spring temperatures and no wind - perfect birding weather.  I ended up crashing early on Friday night with a plan to get up early and spend the whole day birding.  So imagine my disappointment when Saturday morning dawned foggy, rainy, and cold.  Oh well ...

Still, a plan was a plan so I set off, a little later than anticipated, to cover a series of coastal spots in East Hampton and Southampton townships.  To keep it interesting, I gave myself a goal of finding ten (10) New York State year birds for the weekend, and headed out excited to see some migrants.

First stop was Georgica Cove, one of the priciest pieces of real estate in the county with mansions surrounding the pond on most sides, but also a decent birding spot with one remaining access spot where you can get views of the pond.  Today Georgica gave me some signs of Spring and some year birds to start the day off right with a Green Heron (1), and a good mix of swallows present, including Tree and Barn Swallows (2) and Purple Martin (3).

Next stop Mecox Inlet, where single Forsters and Caspian Terns (4) were mixed in with a more typical Winter bird selection.   Then I crossed over into Southampton and headed over to Dune Road to bird the salt mashes there.

Little Blue Heron
Dune Road was cold and I was of course under-dressed but I persevered and slowly started adding a good selection of things.  I stopped at Ponquogue, Triton Lane, Tiana Beach, and Dolphin Lane, and found a good few new Spring arrivals.  There were dozens of Great Egrets, mostly migrants, in the marshes along with a few Snow Egrets and a single Little Blue Heron, a good bird Out East.  I also added newly returned Eastern Willets (5), and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow (6) among the many Barn and Tree Swallows.  My main focus though was a search for Clapper Rail and the two local Ammodramus sparrows and while I failed to find the rail or a Seaside Sparrow, I did get to spend some quality time with a group of five, super cute, Saltmarsh Sparrows (7).

Saltmarsh Sparrow, rarely seen in the open like this.

On to the Quogue Wildlife Refuge where a Hooded Warbler had been reported the week before.  The East End of Long Island is really not a good place to see Spring warblers, they all seem to turn left at the Hudson or pass right over us.  I still need Hooded Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler and both Waterthrushes for my Suffolk county Life List, so this seemed like a good shot to at lest clean up one of these embarrassing county list gaps.  Alas, it was not to be, and after an hour at the refuge, shivering in cold, wet weather, I gave up and left the warblers for another day (in all probability for another year).

If warblers wouldn't cooperate, then back to sparrows and off to Gabreski Airport to look for the local breeding Vesper Sparrows (8) which quickly surrendered.  I also bumped into a Grasshopper Sparrow (9) there which was unexpected and I initially though was a notable sighting, but apparently others have seen them there recently and it looks like they are in fact breeding at this site.  Nice bird to see, and good to see another colony of this scarce grassland breeder Out East.

Vesper Sparrow in its natural habitat - fences
By now cold and, somehow thinking I had 10 year birds (when I really only had 9) I headed back to East Hampton and birded some of the local spots near my house in Northeast Harbor.  Least Terns had not returned to the local colony yet, although Piping Plovers have been hack for some time.  The woods around the house were also really quiet, just not a lot of migrants returned so far.

Sunday, April 24 - East Hampton / New York City

Saturday afternoon brought word that Gail Benson and Tom Burke has found a Wilson's Plover at Ponquogue - I'd been there ta the high tide, they at the low tide.  There was no point chasing that bird in the morning so, while I waited for the tide to drop I checked several local woodland and marshland spots.  Acabonac Harbor did have a mix of shorebirds and added Ruddy Turnstone (10) to the year list.  Sammy's Beach also gave me year bird when two, beautifully lit Glossy Ibis (11) flew in and started feeding behind a Great Egret.  Otherwise, the selection of birds was very much the same as the day before.  Also, a run along Dune Road looking for Plovers later that day, drew a blank.

Greater Yellowlegs at Napeague Marsh
So , leaving the cold Winter weather of the East End behind I headed back to the City ... where it was Spring!  The two hour drive felt like it had transported my forward a month in time.  A 20-degree temperature difference was great, but also Spring was just so much further along in the City.  Most of the trees in the City were in bud, and many were leafed out already, while the oaks Out East haven't even started to bud yet.  It really was a beautiful Spring afternoon in Manhattan, so I decided to do some more birding and went to Central Park.

Even though it was late in the day, and things were generally quite quiet, I was hoping for some more year birds and some warblers in particular, and I got what I wanted, adding Black-and-White Warbler (12), Northern Parula (13), Louisiana Waterthrush (14), Northern Waterthrush (15), and Wood Thrush (16) to the year list.

Louisiana Waterthrush (above) and Northern Waterthrush 

Some tough birding over the weekend - it really was too early for shorts and sandals - but overall quite a nice haul of year birds.  Looking forward to the next weekend, and the peak of migration.

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