Saturday, August 07, 2010

Birds and Muck at Jamaica Bay

Over the past few weeks there have been a series of good birds reported at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. This is to be expected as the refuge is usually at its best during the southbound shorebird migration. The best bird reported was a Black-bellied Whistling Duck; this only stayed a couple days, but I figured I had a chance at a few other lifebirds. So yesterday I took the train to Broad Channel and walked to Jamaica Bay.

I arrived at the east pond a little after eleven. Usually this pond is best at the north end, which requires a long walk up Cross Bay Blvd. For those unfamiliar with the site, birding the pond involves entering the pond at the north end and then walking along a muddy strip along the side of the pond. This is not ordinary mud. It is mud of the foulest sort, with possible dangers lurking underneath.

When I entered the pond, I found the widely reported American White Pelican almost right away. It was not a very good look, but sufficient for a life bird. Some day I'll get a better look at one. Shortly after that, I took a few steps beyond where I should have walked, and got closer to nature than I wanted. Luckily I fell into the phrags rather than the mud, or I might still be there now. Righting myself, I got onto more secure ground.

Continuing down the west side of the pond, I saw Semipalmated Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and yellowlegs. Lesser Yellowlegs greatly outnumbered Greater yesterday. I worked my way farther and saw a two Northern Waterthrushes along the edge of the phrags. When I got as far down as I could safely go, I was getting frustrated because I was not seeing the other birds I had come to see. Taking one last look with my bins, I finally found the Wilson's Phalarope, only to have it disappear. So I worked my way back up the pond. Near the entrance I refound the phalarope and got a really nice look at this life bird. (There is a photo of it below.) In a nearby flock of dowitchers and yellowlegs I found another lifebird, Stilt Sandpiper. There were 4 present. Unfortunately I missed another possible lifer, a Hudsonian Godwit that bad been reported sporadically, but three out of four target birds is not bad at all.

I walked back down to the south end of the east pond. On Big John's Pond, there was a Louisiana Waterthrush and a few other songbirds. The south end of the east pond did not hold much I had not already seen; the best bird there was a Black-crowned Night Heron. I stopped for lunch and a break before moving on to the west pond.

I started down the trail for the west pond and quickly saw an Osprey on a nest platform. I could see Glossy Ibises on the bay side and American Black Ducks on the pond side. As I was trying to turn a Least Tern into something better (without success), I heard someone calling my name. Turning around I saw Corey, who was there to look for a Marbled Godwit that someone reported. I am not sure if he found it (check 10,00 Birds to find out), but he did point out a lovely American Avocet to me. While he stopped to take photos I continued around. I saw the avocet once again, as it flew across the pond towards me. I also saw a Yellow-crowned Night Heron in flight and heard some Marsh Wrens.

My last bird for the day at the refuge was a immature Northern Harrier. Even though I did not see either godwit, I still ended up with three life birds for the day and ten new county birds. (According to eBird, Queens is my eleventh-highest county list.) That was a very satisfying day.