Friday, August 22, 2014

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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1 comment:

meganmagooo said...

The festival was fantastic. Thanks to you, I came prepared with knee-high rubber boots. It was a great day.