Wednesday, July 29, 2009

From the Backyard - Wordless Wednesday...

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Monday, July 27, 2009

A day of birding in Long Island NY turns into a Tern fest…

I called Cory Finger of 10000birds, on Friday and asked him if he was interested in making a trip to Cupsogue in West Hampton Long Island, for possible Brown Pelicans and other birds. Corey was up to the trip and so the next day we were on our way out of Queens around 6:00 AM. According to the tide table we had plenty of time for low tide, so our first stop along the way was at Jones Beach at the Coast Guard Station. It was at this stop that Corey realized that he had not packed his Digiscoping adapter. I felt bad for him, and I was reminded how I felt when I had forgotten my bins on a Doodletown/Bashakill/Shawangunk trip. I tried to downplay whenever I took photos, so as not to make him feel worse.

In the beginning, the sandbar at the Coast Guard station had just a few birds; however, as we got through most of them, birds out of nowhere started to show-up. We had Double Crested Cormorants, Ring-billed Gulls, a Great-Blackbacked Gull, Semipalmated Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers, Piping Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willets, Ruddy Turnstones, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, a Spotted Sandpiper, Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers and around 59 Red Knots . We also had Forsters, Least and Gull-billed Terns, 3 of the 8 tern species we would tally, with one of them being the highlight bird of the day, which you will learn about as you read on.

After about an hour scoping the sandbar, we decided that it was time to move on and headed to the Fisherman’s parking lot checking the edges along the way. We quickly picked up several species for our day list including our only warbler of the day in, "Yellow Warbler". We also had several Song Sparrows and marveled at their darker plumage at this location. At the fisherman’s parking lot we realized it was much too busy for birds to be hanging out; nevertheless, we did get nice looks at more Spotted Sandpipers, Rudy Turnstones on the rocks and Double Crested Cormorants flying over the water. A brief scope over the water and near the far shore did not reveal anything that looked like a Brown Pelican, so we backtracked to the coast guard station. Before we left that location we had another Yellow Warbler and American Goldfinches.

Our next stop was at West End II, where we observed a number of Swallows perched on the fence adjoining the parking lot. We had Barn, Tree and Bank Swallow. At one point, Corey thought we had a Cliff Swallow, when we observed one or two swallows that showed some white on the forehead, but a closer look at the tail disqualified them. Interestingly, Sibley’s Eastern Field Guide, does not make any reference to juvenile Barn Swallows as having any whiteness on the forehead. A short walk to the beach and subsequent sea watch did not reveal any Brown Pelicans. We did however, came across a flock of Sanderlings, numbering close to 400.

By that time Corey was ready for health food as he likes to put it and so we headed out to the closest Dunkin Donuts. While there, I checked my e-mail and found that a Brown Pelican was seen at Riis Park in Queens. Of course, we were both disgusted at the report, but decided to stay the course to Cupsogue. Our next stop was Cow Meadow Park, where there were ample Black-Crowned Night-Herons, Yellow-Crowned Night-Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets. We also added Clapper Rail to our day list as we heard two of them calling back and forth in the marsh. We saw some shorebirds flying around, and even though we tracked them to where they landed, we did not have any open areas from where to look. Following Cow Meadows, we made a stop at Gabreski airport, which did not turn up anything we hoped for like Upland Sandpipers or Vesper Sparrows. However, we did pick up a Turkey Vulture the first of the day. We left after about an hour and arrived shortly after at Cupsogue Beach Westhampton.

The beach goers were out in numbers and that made parking an issue, but we were not dissuaded and made our way down Dune Road for possible species driven closer to the shore by the high tide. We were on our way back from driving all the way to Shinnecock inlet and I had pulled over by Dolphin Lane to allow a tailgater to pass as I wanted to drive slowly along the road when I noticed some peeps taking a bath in a puddle. I pointed them out to Corey and we began examining them to discern what types were in the mix. We were concluding that there were all Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers when I noticed a bird flying on our right heading past us going North. Shouting, “what’s that bird”, both Corey and I put our bins up as it flew by calling. We both stammered to get the word out and when it did in unison it was "Whimbrel". Whimbrel! we repeated. This was a good bird to have. Corey, immediately felt the need to send a message out to some of his friends. While I played the call over in my head and marveled at the luck we had in seeing that bird.

Okay, so you may think that the Whimbrel was the highlight bird of the day. Well at that moment it was, but there is more. We continued on to where the Cupsogue flats are located. After parking and preparing for the hike through the channels, we walked out towards the flats only to find that the tide was still high. The channels, before the mudflats are tricky to maneuver and we were not about to chance walking out there with the tide that high so we held off. Corey suggested walking a bit towards the North End of the beach to look for Brown Pelicans, which we did, but it was just too busy in the water with boats for Pelicans to be around. To kill some time we headed back to the boardwalk to get something to drink. On our way, we met some other birders and eventually joined them on the board walk for refreshments. Pat Lindsay and Andy Baldelli indicated that they would join us out on the flats. Later on, as we prepared to head out to the flats we were joined by Shai Mitra.

Now, if you read an earlier Suffolk County Post, you would recognize the three names mentioned, as they were there with us the day we landed the Arctic Tern and it was Shai Mitra who had found it. I was very pleased that they were joining us because they are birders extraordinaire and in my opinion, some of the nicest birders you could ever meet in the field. With more eyes we had a very good chance of finding something really good.
It was not long on the mudflats before Shai called out a molting "Black Tern", we quickly keyed in and all had excellent looks. Soon, Corey walked off a bit with Pat and Andy to look at some shorebirds while I stayed with Shai and scanned the Terns. I began discussing juvenile Common and Forester tern plumage with Shai and he spoke in great detail on what to look for. Corey, Pat and Andy soon returned and we all continued to look at the various birds on the flats. Shai then called out Roseate Terns; again, we all keyed in on the birds and had great looks.

The light was starting to fade a bit and there was talk by Corey, Pat and Andy about it being time for another round of margaritas. Shai gently reminded us to remain focused, and then called out, "Sandwich Tern". This was a great find and our bird of the day! The Sandwich Tern is listed as a very rare bird in NY State and here we were looking at one with the black beak and yellow tip.

The Tern fest was not finished, as a few minutes later Pat got into the thick of things by calling out Royal Tern. We found two of them hanging out with Ring-billed Gulls and had great looks. Just before we headed off the flats Shai spotted a good candidate for a Long-billed Dowitcher. In analyzing the bird he proceeded to provide an excellent lesson on how to identify a hendersonii Short-billed Dowitcher from Long-billed Dowitcher. By then, the light was fading fast and some of us began heading off the flats. Shai and I lingered a bit looking at juvenile Common and Forster's Terns, but soon after headed out and joined the group for dinner and drinks. The ride back to queens was a long one made so by an unusual amount of traffic and I got home close to midnight. I was tired but pleased at the birds seen and grateful for the kindness shown by Pat, Shai and Andy. 8 species of Terns, Common, Least, Gull-billed, Forster, Black, Roseate, Sandwich and Royal, it was a Tern fest indeed.
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The watch is on at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Queens NY…

Take a look and see if you can identify the shorebirds in this picture. Click on the image to enlarge it, if you need a closer look.

With Shorebird migration on the rise, the watch is on at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens NY, with many birders scouring the East and West Ponds for new arrivals. So far, the only visitor that caused a bit of excitement was an American Avocet that apparently made a one day show on the North End of the East Pond on July 18th. I was on my way back from Pennsylvania that day and did not make it back in time to see that bird before it continued on.

Along with many of the current inhabitants, there is a steady presence of Short-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers and Spotted Sandpipers. Terns also remain steady with many Common, Forsters, Gull-billed and Least Terrns hanging around both ponds. This is also the time where tern fledglings are around and they make for good studies in plumage examinations (more on that in another post).

Hopefully, we will see the diversity of shorebirds increasing. Especially, since the Shorebird festival is on August 9th, which is sure to attract birders looking for a nice variety of shorebirds.
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Friday, July 24, 2009

July butterflies from the garden...

With the recent few days of warm weather I kept an eye out for butterflies and I was able to get some photos of about 5 different species. While none of the photographed subjects were Skippers, I was pleased to get both a Comma and Question Mark. The first image (above), is of a female Black Swallowtail Papilio polyxenes.

This second image, is another in the Swallowtail family, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail papilio glaucus. This also appears to be a female. It was a bit worn as you can see from the image.

This was a poor shot; the conditions were not right and I had to take the shot before the butterfly took flight. It was windy and by pure luck I saw this guy fly into the garden. This is an Eastern Comma Butterfly Polygonia comma.

This butterfly required a lot of patience as it was very jumpy and hard to approach. When I got the look that I wanted, I realized that this was the 4th specie for the day. I was able to get off a couple of decent shots. This is a Question Mark Butterfly Polygonia interrogationis; one that I do not usually see in the garden.

This I believe to be a Summer Azure. Another active candidate that required a lot of patience to get a somewhat decent photograph. There was also a Monarch present, but I could not get close for a shot. Hopefully, I'll have more butterfly shots of different species to report on soon.
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wordless Wednesday...

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Monitoring Piping Plovers at Breezy Point Queens NY...

I was out at my favorite birding spot…you guessed it, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, when I got a call regarding monitoring Piping Plover nests in Breezy Point Queens, this area is part of Gateway National Recreation Area. Apparently, the Plovers had not done very well this year due to predation and there was a dire need for monitors to watch the second nesting attempt. I was definitely interested and so I worked out when and the time I would help out. This was exciting for me. I had just wrapped up helping out on a Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird monitoring program and now I was going to be involved in monitoring Piping Plovers, an endangered species. It is a good feeling thinking that maybe your work could help to make a difference.

Piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) are small shorebirds approximately seven inches long with sand-colored plumage on their backs and crown and white underparts. Breeding birds have a single black breastband, a black bar across the forehead from eye to eye, bright orange legs and bill, and a black tip on the bill. During winter, the birds lose the black bands, the legs fade to pale yellow, and the bill becomes mostly black. Like other Plovers, it runs in short starts and stops. When still, the piping plover blends into the pale background of open, sandy habitat on outer beaches where it feeds and nests. If you think the adults are hard to find when they are not moving, try looking for chicks when they are not moving, it requires the patience of “Job”.

The Piping Plover, breeds on coastal beaches from Newfoundland and southeastern Quebec to North Carolina. These birds winter primarily on the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Florida, although some migrate to the Bahamas and the West Indies. Piping Plovers were common along the Atlantic Coast during much of the 19th century, but nearly disappeared due to excessive hunting for the millinery trade. Following passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty in 1918, numbers recovered to a 20th century peak which occurred during the 1940’s. The current population decline is attributed to increased development and recreational uses of beaches since the end of World War II. A 2007 survey placed the Atlantic population at about 2000 pairs. Hopefully this number has and will continue to increase steadily.

Piping Plovers return to their breeding grounds in late March or early April. After establishing nesting territories and doing their courtship rituals, the pair forms a depression in the sand higher up on the beach closer to the dunes. The nest is sometimes lined with small stones or fragments of shell. The 3 to 4 eggs are well camouflaged and blend extremely well with their surroundings. Both sexes incubate the eggs which hatch within 25-30 days, and both sexes feed the young until they can fly, about 30 days after hatching. When predators or other intruders come close, the young chicks squat motionless on the sand while the parents attempt to attract the attention of the intruders to themselves, often by feigning a broken wing. See the short video in my previous post to see a demonstration of this behavior when an Oystercatcher got too close to a nest. Surviving fledglings are flying around in about 30 days. Sometimes the nests are disrupted for a variety of reasons and when that happens, the Plovers try a second nest. This often means that the young may not be flying until late August. Plovers depart for the wintering grounds from mid-July through late October. Tags: , , ,
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Piping Plovers Defend Their Nest Site...

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Wordless Wednesday...

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Westchester NY Butterfly Count (48) species...

48 species of butterflies was the number at the dinner tally after an all day (July 11th) butterfly count that covered Westchester NY. A few weeks ago, I received a call asking if I was interested in participating in the Westchester butterfly count and I promised I would help out. It was a great opportunity to work alongside an impressive list of naturalists, that included folks like, Guy Tudor, Jeffery Glassberg, Rick Cech, Rich Kelly, Steve Finn and Don Riepe all, who participated in the count.
My team got off to a slow start, due to the lack of butterflies at some of our assigned locations, which was attributed to all the rain we had. However, as the day progressed, we began picking up some nice target species in Acadian Hairstreak, Delaware Skipper and Baltimore Checkerspot.

I had a terrific time soaking up as much as I could learning from some of the best naturalists, who were not only identifying butterflies, but plants and insects as well. By the end of the day I was able to call out a few species (the easy ones) on my own.

It was a long day with many teams covering many assigned locations. While my team were hot and tired at the end of it all we came out felling pretty good about our numbers. I will update this post with the report, once the data is made available to me.
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Friday, July 10, 2009

Clapper Rail, Least Bittern and Shorebirds...

My afternoon started with a stop in Brooklyn where I visited Marine Park looking for a Sora that was reportedly heard on June 22nd. As I began the hike, I heard the unmistakable call of Black-billed Cuckoo. I had heard there were fledglings in the park; however, I saw neither Adults or Young. The walk was short and very quickly, I was almost to the end. I stopped over by the boardwalk a place known for Clapper Rail and I had quite a surprise in catching a Clapper Rail sunning itself. I quietly got off a few shots before it detected my presence and sulked away into the grass. As for the Sora...well no sign or sound indicated its presence. I thought of stopping by Floyd Bennett Field, but instead decided to visit my favorite haunt...Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. My first stop at JBWR, was over at Big John's pond, where I ran into several photographers in the blind taking photos of Yellow-Crowned night Heron and Green Heron. I found an open slot in the blind and got off a few shots myself.

Another birder Keith Micheal (sp) stopped by briefly and then headed towards the East Pond. I joined him shortly and I am glad that I did because Keith spotted the bird of the day. I was scoping the far shore looking for shorebirds, that I had seen the other day, when Keith suddenly blurted, "That is a Least Bittern"...I raised my head quickly asking where and Keith pointed to a bird flying towards us over the East Pond. I got my bins up just as it went by us and got good looks. Good Grief! Indeed, it was a Least Bittern. Of course as luck would have it, I did not have any time to get a shot...even for documentation purposes. I congratulated Keith on the sight and the call for it was an excellent one. We parted ways after a few minutes and I hung around the pond for a bit wishing the Bittern would show, this time for a photo. Well, did not happen, so after a few minutes, I headed back across the road to the West Pond. The trail was quiet, just how I like it. It did not take long to find what I had been looking for earlier, Shorebirds. Shortbilled Dowitchers, two Least Sandpipers and a Spotted Sandpiper were feeding on some mud flats that were just showing. I was pleased. I knew the shorebirds that I had seen the other day was no fluke. Birds were moving in...even though it was still early.

I paused and scanned the West Pond carefully and I was rewarded with even more shorebirds in Long-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellow Legs and Greater Yellow Legs. In another week or two, we should have some interesting times at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge...who knows what or who will drop by.
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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Seining and Birding...

Keeping Egor happy for that one spectacular photograph has become somewhat of an obsession for my friend Don. In order to keep this Egret around, Don has been catering to his/her Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snack needs by providing Silverside Fish. Of course, after a while this starts to take a toll on the wallet and so in line with the economic conditions, we have resorted to seining for fish whenever we get the chance. Yesterday, we did a late afternoon seine at one of our favorite sites; however, the return was slim as we got many that were too small and had to throw them back. I expect in a few weeks these little guys will have nice size for a King size meal. I did take the time out to watch and photograph Black Skimmers and Common Terns that were in the area. I should have taken the scope with me to do a sea watch, but I opted not since we had other gear to carry. Next time I will, just in never knows what one might see on the horizon.
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