Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Birding at Jamaica Bay

Over the weekend, I made one of my regular trips to New York to see my girlfriend. Now she is not a birder but enjoys being outside on a beautiful day, as last Saturday definitely was. The two of us paid a visit to Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a small refuge tucked under the flight path of JFK Airport. The refuge is reachable by subway; the A train crosses the bay and stops a few blocks from the refuge entrance. Like other urban birding sites, Jamaica Bay is a mix of the wild and the developed. Along with the sights, sounds, and smells of a coastal salt marsh, one can see the distant Manhattan skyline and hear the rumble of passing airplanes and subway trains.

Because the ride out was long, we arrived there rather late in the day, for birding purposes. After a quick lunch we proceeded to walk around the West Pond, the smaller of the two main ponds. Several rafts of waterfowl were too far away for identifying any species with binoculars. Other flocks were more obliging. One of the first sightings was a flock of several hundred snow geese that flew up from the flats, veered over the trail and then back out to the mudflats. We saw mute swans and tundra swans at several points along the pond. (Check back here on Friday for pictures of the swans.) Gadwall and northern shovelers were all over the West Pond, with plenty of American wigeons and mergansers mixed in. At one of the last viewing spots on the West Pond, there were a few redheads - an uncommon species - as well as a northern pintail.

The trail to the viewing areas for the East Pond first passed through a beautiful stand of birches and then along a boardwalk lined with phragmites. When we reached the edge of the East Pond we were greeted with a large raft of waterfowl - over a thousand birds - dominated by ruddy ducks. Scaup of both species mingled with the ruddies. Also impressive were the black ducks, which flew up and down the length of the pond in groups of three or four at a time. Seen from a distance, the black ducks appeared as black darts, more in keeping with their name than their close-up brownish color.

The little birds were not very active while we were there. Perhaps it was the wrong time of day, or perhaps we just hit the wrong spots. There was one out-of-season gray catbird, a very good bird for January. This was not all that disappointing, because the little birds are not the main attraction at Jamaica Bay in any case. The water birds are, and they provided more than enough viewing pleasure to make this a magnificent trip.


Double-crested Cormorant
Mute Swan
Tundra Swan
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Northern Pintail
Northern Shoveler
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Black-capped Chickadee
American Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal

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