Monday, August 25, 2014

Common Ringed Plover at Cupsogue LI New York

So where do I begin with this post. Let's see, I was running on a few hours of sleep between Friday and Saturday night due to the Shorebird Festival at Jamaica Bay and trying to get out early to Cupsogue Long Island.  When I arrived at Cupsogue around 7:30 a.m. yesterday, the tide was pretty high; nevertheless, I got my gear together and began birding. I started in the parking lot, checking the corner of the dump for sparrows and anything else, scanning the ocean and then checking the marsh for sparrows.  During that time, I counted at least 15 Saltmarsh Sparrows (9 juveniles), picked up a few warblers (Common Yellowthroat and Yellow) and had calling Clapper Rail and Whimbrel in the marsh. A few sweeps of the gulls loafing on the islands out near the inlet did not result in anything out of the ordinary but I did enjoy looks at the fresh looking juvenile Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls.

A few hours later, I began spending some time studying juvenile Willets in looking at the field marks to separate Western from Eastern.  By then the tide had dropped but there was not much flats exposed and I felt if I attempted to cross too early, I would only push off the shorebirds that had begun gathering on the small areas of the flats that were being exposed.  Eventually, I headed onto the flats and amidst the alarms of Greater Yellowlegs, I managed to settle in on a spot where I began to sift through the shorebirds.

I was at it for a few hours, checking and rechecking. The flats had opened a lot more providing more areas for birds whose numbers continue to grow.  There was not an overwhelming number of birds but there was enough to look at and I was enjoying the peacefulness of it all. I spotted a Semipalmated Sandpiper that was in a plumage that reminded me of a juvenile molting to first winter, which is normally on the wintering grounds outside of the US, so I began to study that bird and grab stills in trying to document the plumage.

By then, some Semipalmated Plovers had begun showing up and I could hear them around me. After the Semipalmated Sandpiper wandered away from decent study views, I turned my attention to the Semipalmated Plovers. I was sorting through them for about an hour when I heard a call that seemed a bit different from the Semipalmated Plover calls. I looked up from my scope and switched to my bins expanding my search area while thinking about the call.  It was softer than a Semipalated Plover but sounded Plover like. I started to mull it over about Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) calls, but then dismissed it and instead focused on checking the birds.

One of the early looks at the Common Ringed Plover. As you might detect, the light was not that good.
About another hour into sifting through the flock of shorebirds, I spotted a paler backed looking "Semipalmated" Plover, it was with a few other SEPL and I could immediately detect a size difference.  It was feeding, facing away from me, so I studied the back for a bit as it fed and took note of the attenuated look with its long primaries. I reached for my discope setup and grabbed a few stills.  Then I changed my angle to get a side view. When I got a partial look at the face, I froze, this bird looked like no other Semipalmated Plover, that I had seen before and I had looked at a lot...thousands! My thoughts circled back to the call I had heard and images of Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) that I had studied. I began to check off in my head all the field marks, I needed to verify for CRPL and jotted down some field notes.

Common Ringed Plover in the foreground with Semipalmated Plovers in the background.
I was beginning to get excited! I had not yet studied this bird at length but I was feeling very sure I had a possible Common Ringed Plover in my scope (dangerous thoughts but I have learned to trust my instincts with the odd bird). I had yet to see the toes well.  I patiently waited, watched and digiscoped the bird trying to grab stills showing the toes. After a few photos, without bothering to check whether I nailed the toe shot, I decided I was going to get a few people involved as I was pretty sure I had the real deal.

I first texted, a digiscope photo to Shai Mitra and after waiting a few minutes for him to respond, followed up with a phone call. His phone kept ringing out and so I called his partner in crime, Patricia Lindsay, who answered and I told her that I had sent Shai a photo of what I believed to be a Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) . I learned that Shai's phone was dead and so I sent the photo to Pat.  Subsequently, I texted Gail Benson a photo of the bird and called Tom Burke. I then went back to monitoring and studying the bird with the nearby Semipalmated Plovers.  Pat, called back a few minutes later and responded that the photo of the bird looked good. Alas, while I was taking her call, 3 knucklehead clamers who ignored my frantic efforts to keep them away from the flock, put everything up and I was unable to relocate the bird. By then much of the flats were exposed, so the bird had plenty of habitat to retreat to, including nearby mudflats that were inaccessible to us.

Inner and middle toe shot, crucial in determining webbing. No webbing supports Common Ringed Plover.
Soon after, Pat and Shai joined me on the flats and together we searched for several hours to no avail. Nevertheless, I remained optimistic that the bird was still around. So much so, I decided to cancel dinner plans and stuck around to help in re-finding the bird (I felt it was the right thing to do). It was around 4:30 p.m.  and I was returning to the flats after taking a much needed break for nourishment.  Doug Futuyma, whom I had called earlier convincing him that despite being ill, he should suck it up and get out to Cupsogue for the CRPL was keeping vigil on the flats. As I was crossing the channels, Doug phoned in to report that he had a "suspicious" looking candidate (incredible timing).  I moved in closer to get a scope view and once I looked at the bird he was looking at, conveyed to him that it was the target bird.  I quickly, signaled Shai and Pat who had stopped to assist some other birders who were looking for Marbled Godwits and then motioned John Gluth over who was also keeping vigil. I was happy it was Doug that had the refound, he has always been a good friend and he trusted my judgement when I called him about the bird.

Common Ringed Plover at Cupsogue LI.
The five of us, enjoyed crippling views of the bird and I was amused and delighted at the reaction of Shai and others. I wrote a post for the list serves letting the birding community know that the bird was refound and then our thoughts turned to Micheal Schiebel who was on the flats but had just left. Luckily for Michael, I had his cell number and I was able to get in touch with him and he charged back in time to see the bird. This is the second MEGA, I was able to get Michael on after he was about to or had left the flats, the other being the Elegant Tern, I think drinks are on him next time I see him.  Dave Klauber and Arie Gilbert who showed good birding sense to make the twitch, also showed up and were able to see the bird but a few others unfortunately did not make it in time before the birds had flown off the flats due to a low flying aircraft and the high tide.

Common Ringed Plover background with Semipalmated Plover in the foreground.
A margarita among friends on the deck closed out a most satisfying day of shorebirding. Common Ringed Plover, is one I had been looking for and had heard from several birders, it could be near impossible to pick out one.  I was crazy enough to think I could find one.  All those hours of studying thousands of SEPL at Breezy Point, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Cupsogue and several other sites paid off. Despite the distinctive plumage of this bird, it could easily be missed once it begins to move around with the SEPL. It happened several times in the afternoon after it was refound.  It is not going to be easy for those going to look for it today, but I am hoping those who plan to try for it today refind it and it is enjoyed by many because that is the best part of finding something good, the sharing. Life bird, state bird and the finder, I am going to savor this one for awhile.
Common Ringed Plover at Cupsogue LI, NY.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Answers to Shorebird Quiz #4

Here are the answers to last Friday's Shorebirding Quiz: Semipalmated Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper and Stilt Sandpiper. See if you could figure out which is which. In addition, to the one White-rumped Sandpiper that is circled, there are two additional birds.  Take a look and see if you could find them.  Here is a partial blown up image from the quiz that should help in identifying the shorebirds.

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Annual Shorebird Festival at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

I have spent the week scouting the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Queens NY in preparing for the annual Shorebird Festival. This event, now in its 9th year, features presentations by the event organizers, Kevin Karlson (co-author of the Shorebird Guide and renowned photographer), Lloyd Spitalnik (author and renowned photographer) and Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society NE Chapter. Other guests speakers sometimes include representatives of NYCA (New York City Audubon) and NPS (National Park Service). It is often a fun packed day with walks led by many of the sharpest minds in the New York birding community. With names like Tom Burke, Steve Walter, Peter Post, Adrian Binns, Scott Whittle, Doug Gochfeld and Shane Blodgett to name a few leaders from past events, attendees are sure to learn a lot about shorebirds. Lest you forget, the organizers themselves lead walks, often drawing the largest crowds.

Western Sandpiper Foreground (R); Semipalmated Sandpiper Background (L)
While I don't know all the leaders lined up for this year's event, some of the names I mentioned plus I am sure other talented individuals will be there to lead, will surely provide an excellent experience for all level of shorebirders. What about the birds? Well, shorebirds have been hard to come by on the East Pond recently but I am pleased to share that there was a small uptick in numbers today (8-22-2014) as I scouted the pond this morning. The increase in numbers were not huge by any means but going from 16 Short-billed Dowitchers to 76 is an improvement.  There was a bump in other species as well, notably in Semipalmated Sandpipers. With the recent comings and goings of shorebirds on the East Pond, I have decided in this post, to list the birds that are possible to see tomorrow during the walks on the pond as well as some tips on preparation and how to bird the pond itself.

Juvenile Least Sandpiper with interesting molt on a few scapular feathers.
Here are the list of shorebirds that I have seen as recently as today on the pond.

Least Sandpiper (adults and juveniles)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (adults and juveniles)
WESTERN SANDPIPER (only juveniles most recently)
White-rumped Sandpiper (adults only)
Stilt Sandpiper (adults only)
Spotted Sandpiper (juveniles only)
Black-belied Plover (adult and juveniles)
Semipalmated Plover (adult and juveniles)
Greater Yellowlegs (adult and juveniles)
Lesser Yellowlegs (adult and juveniles)
Ruddy Turnstone (adults see occasionally seen yesterday but not today)
Red Knot (adults and juveniles seen occasionally only one seen today)
Short-billed Dowitcher (adults and juveniles)
MARBLED GODWIT (adult found yesterday and seen again today)

Other shorebirds such as Wilson's Phalarope (untimely reporting) and Baird's Sandpiper (misidentified) have been seen recently but not in the last few days. As with birding, anything could show up, so do not be surprised if something good, is found tomorrow. Before you show up tomorrow, you should be aware of a few things related to navigating the pond and how to deal with a larger than normal crowd shorebirding.

First, lets address gear.  The best foot wear to bird the East Pond, is knee high boots.  Some folks opt for sneakers and water shoes, that is entirely up to them. Do it at your own risk, I mean that. Shirt/Top, I usually wear long sleeves to protect myself from sun and insects. Not so much insects but if you are prone to burning easily, I suggest covering your arms. Finally, a broad brim hat gives you protection as well as help in looking at the birds when the glare is harsh.

The North End of the East Pond where the water is still not low as it should be.
Navigating the pond: Unfortunately, the water level is not what it should be on the north end of the pond, so I HIGHLY recommend the south end for those who might have trouble with balance or adverse to very mucky conditions. The north end of the East Pond, remains very tricky to navigate and with very little shoreline open, you are going to get into water at some point and that can be tricky with soft spots. Just last week, I observed two birders going down into the mud, the first one went down due to carelessness and wandering into soft territory and the other went down after going to assist the fallen birder (the area was not even the dreaded "Dead Man's Cove" aka "Mud Cove."). Proving, it is VERY tricky in some areas. For seasoned East Pond shorebirders, it should be fine as long as you exercise caution but these two fellas who had birded the pond before, nevertheless, went down, so please exercise caution and use good judgement when deciding which leader to go with when the walks begin depending on where they will lead.  South End, is the safest option.

White-rumped Sandpiper.
Behavior on the pond: The festival results in large groups of birders.  Try to keep conversations to a minimum. Be mindful that other birders in the group who are not involved in your discussion would probably rather listen to the group leader (or maybe not). If necessary, pull to the side and continue your conversation without being a nuisance. Both shorebirds and birders will appreciate discretion. (I will be carrying duct tape, which I hope will not be necessary). There are other behavior traits, I could list here but I am opting not to because I would like to think it is not necessary to mention.

Scope sharing: a leader often times will put a bird in the scope for those who may not have optics or only binoculars. Try to form some sort of line and once you are on the scope, don't make it your own. Remember there are others who might be waiting. If you can't find the bird, get off the scope and let someone get in there while trying to figure out why you missed it. Let the leader know and I am sure he or she will work to get you the bird. If you have a scope, please consider sharing with those who may not have one, this way you are helping your leader as well as being generous in the spirit of birding.

Stilt Sandpiper with Short-billed Dowitchers. Can you pick out the Stilt? What is the smaller bird?
Photography: This one is something I could write a whole lot about. Please, be nice to to those photographers you might run into on the pond. Especially, if you see them lying in the mud. It takes a lot of work and patience and those who are good at their art, spend hours working a flock to get their photos. Be courteous, walk behind them if you can and only if you are not going to flush the subject they might be photographing. Most photographers will not hold you up for long and once they get a shot or two off, will wave you on. Be patient and thank them as you walk by. Those of you with small cameras, PLEASE, PLEASE don't walk up to birds that people might be looking at. You will only flush the birds and annoy the birders. Accept that you have a small lens and deal with it. If you must get close to the subject, wait until the birders had their fill or have moved on.  Walking up too close to birds that are being viewed by a group of birders, can be risky business. If the birds flush, there is no telling what will happen.

One final note: You don't have to follow any of the suggestions I have written, they are my perspectives on what I think would make for an enhanced experience on the East Pond. Let's hope for more birds arriving tonight and a fantastic day of shorebirding tomorrow. Good Shorebird Festival y'all.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

August Shorebirding at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Mid August is here and on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens NY, shorebirds have been coming and going. This recent cold front, took more birds than it brought in and as a result, shorebirding will be tough going until the next wave of arrivals.

Since the American Avocets, the East Pond have not seen anything rare show up AS YET. However, Western Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, White-rumped Sandpipers and the uncommon Marbled Godwit and Long-billed Dowitchers have all put in appearances making for some good shorebirding but yet NOT quite outstanding. Am I being picky?

I am still holding out for one big wave of shorebirds that will be packed with diversity and goodies. Too much to ask for, right? But that's the joy of shorebirding, always looking, studying and hoping for that one bird to rule them all.  Here are a few photos of recent shorebirds on the East Pond.

All 3 birds are Least Sandpipers.
Ruddy Turnstone.
Juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher
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Shorebird Quiz # 4

I have not done any all summer, but I would like to pick up from last year's shorebird quizzes. Take a look at the image below and identify the species. If you think there are more than one species in the flock, then try to name them.  Provide counts ONLY if you think there are more than one species. Good luck, the answer will be posted next Friday.

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See Life Paulagics New York Trip Nets Fea's Petrel and More

An overnight See Life Paulagics trip out of Freeport Long Island New York was a tremendous success with some superb birds. The star of the trip was a Fea's Petrel (Pterodroma feae) which did not stay long with us but spent enough time for many (not all) of us to get good views and a few of us managed photos.

Fea's Petrel
About an hour later another excellent find and a target bird that we happened upon was White-faced Storm-Petrel. This is one that had evaded many a pelagic veterans who finally added the prize to their NY state list.  It was cool observing its zig-zag like feeding behavior. Later on, as we headed back to shore we added another goodie in Bridled Tern. For Shearwater species, we had great looks at Cory's, Great and Audubon's Shearwater.

Fea's Petrel
Earlier, I especially enjoyed the early morning study of Band-rumped Storm-Petrels along with Leach's and Wilson's Storm-petrels. This was one of my favorite moments of the trip as we were provided close up views, providing ample time to observe flight, feeding habits and field marks.

Fea's Petrel
While I have not yet finished reviewing all of my trip photos, I have provided a few of the highlight birds that we had.  Like all pelagic trips, it could be hit or miss; this one was definitely a hit and will be tough to top. If you are interested in attending one of See Life Paulagics trips, check out their line up on the website. The owners Paul and Anita Guris are extremely knowledgeable and likeable folks who always do their very best to ensure clients are having a good time while aboard.

White-faced Strom-petrel

White-faced Strom-petrel

White-faced Strom-petrel

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