Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Female Ruff - Reeve at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge...

As I gathered my notes to write this post, I remembered that as I entered the East Pond that day, I had paid homage in my mind to the birder Tom Davis.  While I never had the privilege of meeting the man, his love for shorebirds is legendary.  So Tom, wherever you are this one was for you!! 

On Sunday, I got to the North End of the East Pond fairly early, but not early enough as I detected a couple of birders that I knew ahead of me.  Invoking good birding etiquette I hung back not wanting to flush birds on the pond if I moved in and also giving Corey and Seth their space.  More importantly, I wanted to take a moment at the entrance of the pond to listen to the sounds of the shorebirds in the morning stillness, it is one of my favorite things to do on the East Pond - I and the shorebirds, is how I like it! 

Stilt Sandpipers feeding on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
I spent a good hour working the area just at the entrance of the North End of the East Pond.  There were lots of shorebirds to sort through and I was enjoying watching the Stilt Sandpipers (Calidris himantopus) feeding.  Just in that area alone, I counted 17, so I knew my previous day high count of 23 was likely to be surpassed.  Before I moved further in on the West Side of the pond a few birders came onto the flats.  Karen Fung, Matthew Rymkiewicz and another birder I learned later to be Ben Cacace.  Karen and Matthew I knew, but it was my first time meeting Ben.  I learned that Ben was hoping for the Ruff (Philomachus pugnax), which was a life bird, so I encouraged them to move on in and search the usual spots.  I continued watching and enjoying the views of the birds at the North End entrance, when two other birders, Isaac Grant and Gene Herskcovics entered onto the flats.  They too were looking for "Rufous Ruff" more so for Gene and so I suggested they move in.

Scoping down the pond all the way south, I wondered if there were birds on the South End of the pond.  I was sure they were, but was anyone working that area?  Knowing that the North End had enough coverage, I decided I was going to bird the South End.  It was starting to heat up and I knew it was going to be an arduous task working my down the pond from the South End, but I kept thinking that there is a good bird somewhere on the east side of the pond and we are missing it.  I had to do it!

Juvenile Spotted Sandpiper - note the upperparts and tertials with dark subterminal bars and white tips.
On principle, I birded the West Pond before entering the East Pond from the South End and began the schelp up the east side of the pond.  There were some birds right at the entrance and some on the Raunt, but not much.  Nevertheless, I took my time checking - working every bit of open mud flats on both my side, the east and across from me, the west side of the pond.  Along the way I stopped to digiscope a young Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) and other birds such as a molting Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca ) and a Brandt.

Once I passed the Raunt, the shorebirds numbers began to increase and it slowed me down further as I carefully worked over the many peeps feeding on the open flats.  Carefully working my way through one of the last soft spots under water I came up to a stretch of flats that curved in on the right into a small cove.  It was almost opposite to the area on the west side of the North End where "Rufous Ruff" used to hang out.  There were lots of shorebirds feeding in the area, so I settled in and began to sift through the flocks of birds.

My first look of what was confirmed to be the 3rd Ruff of the year for Jamaica Bay.
I worked over the nearest birds a few times before scoping further north when I picked up a familiar shape in the distance; there you are I whispered, thinking I had "Rufous Ruff".  But he looked odd, looking smaller and his plumage was well...could he have undergone a drastic molt within a few days?  The angle was poor and so I shifted to my right trying to get the sun behind me and I looked again.  Something was not right.  I looked at this bird closer and I felt a sense of Deja Vu.

Rufous Ruff, clinching that I had found yet another Ruff on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay.
Was this like Independence Day when Tom Burke and Gail Benson first encountered "Rufous Ruff"?  (I could almost hear Shai Mitra's voice in my head, "focus lad focus") Another Ruff?  No !@#$$% way!  I grabbed my point and shoot. It was going to be a distant digiscope shot with poor angle for light, but I needed a documentation shot.  I took 2 shots, then I thought, that I needed to find "Rufous Ruff" to clinch whether I was looking at another Ruff.  I still wasn't sure!  Distance and light can be tricky and I was being cautious.  Lucky for me, "Rufous Ruff" was just a few yards further north and once I had him in the scope I was confident, that we had Ruff number 3 on the pond.  Blistering Barnacles!!!   I got back on the new Ruff and looked at the bird again noting the plumage and lack of "Ruff"...a female I thought, thinking of the Ruff/Reeve I had chased in Connecticut.  Keeping my eye on the bird in my scope, I reached for my phone.

Female Ruff - Reeve on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
As I worked my way north, I had kept a watchful eye to see who remained on the other side of the pond and knew that Karen Fung Matthew Rymkiewicz and Ben Cacace were the only ones besides myself, still cooking in the sun.  I had Karen's number and so called her.  After what seemed too long, Karen answered.  I got right to the point, telling Karen I had found another Ruff then proceeded to give her directions on where to look.  Karen relayed my instructions to Matthew and Ben and after a bit they picked up on the bird (seconds could seem like eternity in situations like this).  Satisfied that they were on the bird, I decided to get the word out via an e-mail to the list serves. 

With the knowledge that this was not the first Ruff of the season, I decided not to waste time on making individual phone calls save one to Seth Asubel.  Then I moved in.  I wanted closer looks and more documentation shots.  The Reeve was on the move, wandering further north away from me and then suddenly flew towards the North Island.  I watched her in flight and it was easy to track her as she landed near one of the spits protruding from the Island.  I called Karen and confirmed that they too had seen her fly and had tracked her to the new location.  Satisfied that other eyes were on the bird I continued working north, but when I stopped to look for the Reeve near the North Island I could not find her.  A phone call to Karen revealed that the Reeve had moved again and this time she had given us the slip. 

Female Ruff - Reeve on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
I worked my side and Karen and co. worked the other side for almost an hour without any sign of her.  I had made it all the way to North Island and decided that I might as well continue down to the end and cross over to the other side, when the phone rang.  It was Karen, they had the Reeve near the entrance to the North End and were on the bird.  I scoped the area they were looking at and picked up on the bird.  I was happy, we had the bird again and now hopefully others would see it too.   A few minutes later Karen texted me to indicate that she had enough of the sun and was packing it in.  Karlo Mirth, who had joined the group was the only one on the bird.  I asked Karlo to stay on the bird while I made my way out the North East end of the pond and walked the short distance to the North West end.  Karlo was a terrific help!! He stayed on the bird until I made it over and I finally got close up extended views of the beautiful Reeve! 

Karlo soon departed and so did the Reeve, flying south.  I took a much needed break for water and rest, but gave it another round in the afternoon where I refound the Reeve further south on the North End, getting more extended looks and photographs.  From my observations, this appears to be a female Ruff (however, there is always the possibility of this bird being the faeder type - see my Connecticut Ruff/Reeve post for more information), with her more elegant less bulky body and she is in breeding plumage.  The leg color being a dull gray/greenish seems to indicate this could be a 1st year female?  Though according to (Chandler pg. 284) the wing coverts are supposed to be  worn to a plain brown-gray, which is not evidenced with this bird.  I left the pond late, exhausted but very happy with the day's events.  3 Ruffs so far at Jamaica Bay, proving that if you build it, they will come!!

Reeve on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

Reeve on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

Known as "Rufous Ruff" or "Independence Day Ruff", the current star of the East Pond.

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Seagull Steve said...

Thats a nice looking reeve! And Ruff, of course...nice find.

Scott (@NESASK) said...

Great post, Andrew. Your commentary is a great read! Congrats on finding your bird and getting some terrific shots.


@ Seagull Steve - thanks.


@Scott - thanks man! Totally enjoying my shorebirding this year. A far cry from last year when I was running around like a junkie without a fix :)