Monday, March 16, 2009

Bird Bloggers Tour Long Island, Part 2

After spending the early part of the day at Jamaica Bay, the four of us set off in Patrick's car for Jones Beach State Park. Upon arriving at the Coast Guard Station on the western end of the park, we scanned the bay and saw many of the same waterbird species as at Jamaica Bay, with the addition of two distant Long-tailed Ducks in flight and a few Common Loons. Near the parking lot, we also saw a Northern Harrier, the only raptor at any of our birding stops.

I was eager to visit the area around the nature center, a short walk away, since Lapland Longspurs, a potential life bird, sometimes hang around the dunes there. No longspurs were evident yesterday, but Horned Larks supported the spring theme by singing their tinkly songs from all directions. A flock of Snow Buntings flew overhead and an Ipswich Savannah Sparrow was also present. It was evident from the many tracks in the sand that songbirds had been very busy in the dunes.

We could see from the entrance drive that a wintering Snowy Owl was still present, with its head just visible above the dune. It gave itself away by turning its head and blinking, something no lingering pile of snow or plastic bag would do. Moving around to the boardwalk gave us a full-body view of the owl. This was my fourth Snowy Owl sighting this year, something extraordinary considering that, prior to this winter, I had only seen one in my entire life, and that was three years ago.

Unfortunately we also saw two people walk out across the dunes on a route with no marked path. They did this despite signage advising visitors to keep off the dunes and fencing to emphasize the point. It was especially disturbing considering that they set out over the dunes fairly close to where the owl was roosting. Horned Lark, too, is a species of special concern in New York. Plants and animals in urban settings have enough trouble surviving without additional stress caused by people trampling through habitats.

When we walked back to the Coast Guard Station, we scanned the bay a second time. Six American Oystercatchers were standing on a distant sandbar. On a closer sandbar, Corey spotted a Glaucous Gull preening itself amid a crowd of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. As we stood and watched the gull, a life bird for me, other birders walked up for a look at it. One of them spotted a trio of Piping Plovers land farther back on the same sandbar. These endangered plovers are just beginning to return from their wintering grounds.

Leaving Jones Beach, we made our third stop at Point Lookout. A rumored Eared Grebe failed to materialize; though several grebes were present, all were obstinately Horned. Shorebirds, too, were notable mainly by their absence, with the exception of a single Sanderling and a handful of oystercatchers. (By the way, oystercatchers are fine birds to watch, but I had hoped for a Purple Sandpiper or two on the jetties.) We had better luck finding the Harlequin Ducks at the jetty on the inlet between Point Lookout and Jones Beach. These beautiful birds stayed close to shore so we had as good of views of them as one could ask. Two of them appeared to be males in eclipse plumage; they were not nearly as colorful as the one in breeding plumage.

After a short lunch break, we made our final birding stop at Cammanns Pond. This site is a body of water with a small island in the middle, and a narrow strip of park along one side. We visited in the hopes of finding a reported Ross's Goose, a potential life bird for Carrie and me and a good bird for the East Coast. Given the location, the pond had a surprisingly diverse waterbird congregation, with the expected Brant and Canada Geese being joined by Northern Shovelers, Hooded Mergansers, Gadwall, American Black Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, and a couple of Black-crowned Night-Herons. In some ways the most interesting of the more common species was an odd Mallard, which was almost all dark brown, with the exception of its head and nape, which looked deep violet.

Sure enough, the Ross's Goose was present, tucked into a cove on the far side of the island. When it was done preening, it swam across the pond and came very close to where we were standing. (Watch 10,000 Birds and Hawk Owl's Nest for photos.) This was a much better way to see a life bird than trying to pick it out of a flock of Snow Geese hundreds of feet away. As an aside, one Ring-billed Gull kept screaming and dive-bombing other gulls, geese, and sometimes bare patches of water. What inspired the attacks was unclear.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Patrick again and meeting Corey and Carrie, and I hope to get together for birding again soon! Thanks especially to Patrick, who picked me up at my home and did all of the driving. Watch Hawk Owl's Nest, Great Auk or Greatest Auk, and 10,000 Birds for more posts on the weekend.