Finally the day was here! After all the work, the 4th Annual Shorebird festival at Jamaica Bay was on. The day started with picking up breakfast items around 7:30 AM and dropping them off at the visitor’s center. Once I had access to the area, my friend Barbara set out the breakfast goodies, while another friend, Ranger Kayleigh helped with making coffee. I proceeded to setup the projector and laptop that was going to be used by our presenters.
By then, it was 8:00 AM and people had already started to mingle outside of the refuge. Around 8:30, some of our leaders had arrived and began their spiel on how groups were going to be broken up. Our leaders included, Tom Burke, Gail Benson, Doug Gochfeld, Shane Blodgett, Lloyd Spitalnik, Don Riepe and Kevin Karlson co-author of the Shorebird Guide.
Don took the beginners group, which was heading out to the West Pond. Shane, Doug, Tom and Lloyd all took their groups to the South Flats on the East Pond. Kevin Karlson took the hard core group (those who were dressed for muck) to the North end of the East Pond and asked me to co-lead with him.
Our group entered the North End and immediately, I called out a Northern Water Thrush that was hanging around the entrance near the pond. I had counted about 7 when I had scouted the area on Friday. Before long, we were observing and listening to Kevin talk about birding by impression. While listening, we all scoped or used our binoculars to scan the pond and it was not long before folks started calling out, “Lesser Yellowlegs”, “Stilt Sandpipers”, and “Greater Yellowlegs”. It was fantastic! I was paying special attention for juveniles and was excited when birder Scott Whittle indicated that he might have a juvenile Least Sandpiper in his bins. I quickly keyed in on it and agreed that it was indeed a nice juvenile with all its crisp feathers.
We continued observing birds and quickly found a number of White-rumped Sandpipers. We also found Oyster Catcher chicks on one of the small islands in the pond…a possible record for the refuge. We continued scanning the birds picking out many Short-billed Dowitchers, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. I was looking hard for one particular bird and was not having luck finding any. Thinking that I must be missing some, I heard Kevin saying, that he might have finally found a Western Sandpiper. Excited, I tried to key in on the bird, but they all took off and I lost it. The second time it was found I got my bins on it, but still I did not have the types of looks that I wanted.
The group pressed on even tackling the dreaded cove, where many birders have bitten the dust...er mud. We did well as a group with many helping each other out and we all made it safely with no spills, though some of us did sink in the mud more than others and had to deal with mud in their boots.
On our way back from the cove we keyed in on a Red Knot that was hanging out with a group of Dowitchers. In scanning the group, I found another Knot with even more blush than the first one and with a better open look. We made sure that everyone had good looks. It was while the group were looking at the Red Knots that I began scanning a group of peeps that was not far from us; coincidently Scott was also looking at the same group and it was Scott who first said, “It looks like we have Westerns in this group?” I asked Kevin to look in my scope and he confirmed that we had stumbled upon Western Sandpipers. We found not 1 or 2, but 5 Western Sandpipers, making our total 6 for the day. How cool was that?
By 12:30 PM, we headed back to the visitor’s center where Lloyd did his presentation wowing the audience with his spectacular photos. Kevin who was our featured speaker went next and captivated his audience with his presentation on birding by impression. It was an excellent presentation and I was lucky to have seen it the night before when we were walking through the presentation. After the presentations, we went out to the West Pond taking those who stayed back for an afternoon walk. It was low tide and not much was expected, but the walk was good and we did see some birds, which we did not get on the East Pond like Common and Least Terns. We wrapped up around 5:00 PM and many attendees came over to congratulate us on a great event. We had great weather, great leaders and an outstanding turnout numbering well over 135.
My favorite moment had to be the night before the event. While reviewing the agenda, I had the privilege of getting a one on one walk through of Kevin Karlson’s presentation and chatted with him well after midnight on Birding by Impression. I am looking forward to an even better Shorebird Festival next year!
Tags: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, birding, Shorebirds, 4th Annual Shorebird Festival