Monday, June 12, 2017

Birding the Beaches ....

Small Scraps of Birding Time on Long Island in June

Saturday, June 3 - Brooklyn and Queens Counties

The day actually didn't start in Brooklyn or Queens, but rather in Somerset County, New Jersey where I chased, and disastrously dipped a LESSER NIGHTHAWK.  I don't often leave New York State when I'm birding locally but if I do it's usually because a bird catches my interest and sticks in my mind.  This bird did just that, originally identified as a Common Nighthawk and posted on-line, then re-identified as (New Jersey's Second ever record of) a Lesser Nighthawk by Ben Barkley, the bird was subsequently found to have been picked-up and re-habbed locally a few days earlier, before being released nearby.  Once free though, it settled into a nice pattern of sitting on a rail fence or along a gravel path at Lord Sterling Park allowing lots and lots of local birders to see and photograph it during its week long stay.  I got there early on Saturday after a rough drive where the Land Rover's navigation system was totally overwhelmed by the road-spaghetti that is Northern New Jersey, sending me the wrong way several times and even directing down a one-way street the wrong way at one point.  Oh and it was raining when I got there, and oh, the bird seemed to have departed during the night never to be seen again.  Not a good start to the day.

Nelson's Sparrow
So back to New York where my first stop, Plumb Beach in Brooklyn, improved my day immeasurably.  There had been reports of a very unseasonal NELSON'S SPARROW singing in the marsh here (not unusual in the Fall, but rare in the Spring) and as soon as I hiked out to the East end of the beach I could hear it singing loudly and see it sitting up in plain view.  This tiny marsh also had Seaside Sparrow and Clapper Rail (both King's County birds for me) so I felt that returning to New York was clearly the right strategy and pushed on to Jamaica Bay in Queens.

As I pulled into the reserve parking lot I picked up and email saying that Tim Healy had just had a Least Bittern at Big John's Pond, so off I went, hoping for the Bittern and perhaps a glimpse of the resident Barn Owls ... I saw neither.  Back to the West Pond where my spirits picked up when two year birds - a Gull-billed Tern and a Tricolored Heron flew into view within minutes of each other.  Back to being in a good mood and, after checking some other local coastal spots, I called it a day.

Tricolored Heron
Sunday, June 4 - New York County

The long anticipated Pelagic Trip out to the Hudson Canyon was cancelled due to weather.  No South Polar Skua for my New York list this year.

Saturday, June 10 - Suffolk County

Cupsogue again at dawn and I opted to take the shorter, calf-deep stinky mud route out to the flats .... just as gross as I remembered it.  The morning did produce a nice clutch of year birds though with Black Tern, Royal Tern, and Seaside Sparrow all joining the year list.

I also checked Mecox Inlet twice that day, hoping for a recently seen Black-necked Stilt.  While that bird was a no show, I did see four Lesser Black-backed Gulls, more Royal Terns and a nice mix of terns and shorebirds.

Common Tern, one of 7 species of terns seen over the weekend and the only
one close enough for a decent photo ...
Sunday, June 11 - Suffolk County

Back at Cupsogue again for the early tide but this time a quick sea-watch proved productive with four Wilson's Storm-Petrels close to shore (I know, Brian Patterson had a Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel in North Carolina this weekend, but I was still happy to see any Storm-Petrel given that our boat trip got cancelled).  The flats were also lively with more Royal Terns, Roseate Terns and some nice scope views of an adult Arctic Tern.  When I first moved to New York, Arctic Terns were almost never reported from the state other than on pelagic trips; now they are seen annually at various tern loafing spots along Long Island.  This doesn't seem to be a case of a change of distribution as much as a case of more observers being better at picking them up - better birders, better optics.  This bird was of course the reason I went to Cupsogue three times, so I was glad to finally get one.  Now the focus shifts to finding a Sandwich Tern!

Great and Snowy Egrets at Three-Mile Harbor in East Hampton
In addition to Cupsogue, I also hit Mecox a few more times and checked out a bunch of the local sites like Three-Mile Harbor, etc.  Nothing amazing there - a Saltmarsh Sparrow was the best bird at Sammy's Beach - but a nice local mix of breeding birds.  A very nice weekend of local birding.

Thursday, June 15 - Nassau County

There had been two Black-necked Stilts at Jones Beach for the previous two weeks ... a bit of a rarity in New York and a county bird (and state year bird) for me.  I was there at 6:00am, just in time to see a helicopter spray the area for mosquitos and flush every bird for miles around, and again at 3:00pm.  Not a stilt to be seen ....  hopefully not slipping back into a dipping phase ....

Saturday, June 17 - Western New York State

And while I was out of town, a BROWN BOOBY was found at Nickerson Beach in Nassau County .... argh!  This species is now a good candidate for my official New York State nemesis bird given the number of times I've missed it in the state (it's either this species or Mew Gull).  I was 450 miles to the West when it was found and briefly considered driving back overnight to be there at dawn to see it.  In the end I was just too tired to do that safely so gave up, and was glad I did as the bird was found dead the next morning.  To drive eight hours to see a dead Booby would not have been a fun thing.....

The reason I was out of town was a good thing though.  One of my goals this year was to have a life list in each of New York's 62 counties.  I was close to this goal, but given a quiet, free weekend, decided to finish it off with a 1,000 mile drive through the West of New York State, filling in the last of the counties.  The birds weren't very exciting, but the birding was pleasant and I got to see some new places and bird some new habitats.  A nice outdoorsy, if very introverted, weekend ... sometimes us introverts need quiet time.

All done.  Now I just have to keep adding to the lists.
Saturday, June 24 - Suffolk County (The Hamptons)

Started the day with a sea-watch from Amagansett and royally messed up.  I had a lot of stuff to schlepp out to the house on Friday so I opted to leave my camera behind .... NEVER leave your camera behind!  As soon as I walked on to the beach I saw two birds that I would really have liked to photograph ... big, dark skua/jaeger types of the sort that could have been big, dark, (rare) Pomarine Jaegers or (much rarer) South Polar Skuas.  In sea-watching you don't get a lot of time as birds hurtle past so, if I'd had my camera, I could have taken a few shots to study later at leisure and work on the ID.  So in the end I had to report these birds as Skua/Jaeger sp. a real lost opportunity.

The day did get better though when I had some friends from the city, some local fishing friends and some of the local hotshot young Long Island birders over for dinner.  Cooked Paella and made Olive Oil Cake ... yes, I can cook ... a very pleasant evening.

My Paella - my giant Paella Pan is one of my prize possessions ....
Sunday, June 25 - (local) East Hampton Spots

Hit a half dozen local spots.  Saw nothing remarkable, but felt good about putting in some local coverage time.

Overall a good June.  Saw a lot of birds, none terribly rare, but I did feel like I spent time with New York's breeding birds for the first time in a few years.  And so on to more adventures in July ....