Monday, August 10, 2015

Shorebirding at Jamaica Bay 2015 -- A Season of Frustration

We are into our second week in August. While the water level is currently where it should have been at the end of July on the East Pond of Jamaica Bay, we are faced with additional challenges that have contributed to a rather disastrous shorebird season thus far.

The biggest issue outside of the water level is Algae! The East Pond, is laden with a thick Algal mat which has covered most of the mudflats on the north and south ends. Realizing this could be problematic, I broke some of it up on the north end while out there keeping an eye on the water level. What I did not realize was how thick it was on the south Once I got out there and saw how bad it was, I broke up many areas and even raked some spots.
One area where I raked out some of the Algal mat on the East Pond.
This mat is quite pervasive and has actually created feeding habitat for the smaller birds, mainly the peeps. If the birds are finding food there, I am happy for them but it creates a problem for viewers and makes surveying difficult.

Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers that usually feed near the shoreline on the flats are now sometimes feeding way out on the pond on patches of Algal mat. This, is going to require a lot of patience from visiting birders and those without scopes are going to be hard pressed to see shorebirds as well as they usually would...unless, the birds get close to feed near the shoreline or on the flats. So instead of seeing birds like this...
Photographed on July 14th, 2014 -- Note the ample shoreline on the East Pond.

People are more likely to see shorebirds this year like this...
Photographed on August 10th, 2015. Peeps feeding in the middle of the pond on Algal mats.
Note the dates in the caption of the photos and readers will get an appreciation of why I was so concerned about the water level earlier on. The data, that I have gathered over 4 seasons of monitoring the East Pond water level does not lie.

But wait, there is more to add to the frustration level. Predation! Three juvenile Peregrine Falcons have been wreaking havoc on the East Pond, often flying in and taking up positions on both north and south ends.
2 of 3 Juvenile Peregrine Falcons that have caused a lot of trouble this year.
This causes quite the panic and birds are often skittish, not staying long in one spot and eventually heading back out into the bay as soon as the opportunity presents itself. All of this, plus the paucity of birds adds up to a rather frustrating 2015 shorebird season. Had enough yet? Okay one more--compounding the number of issues this year, is the lack of parking for visitors interested in birding the north end of the pond. The parking lots at the North Channel Bridge have been under construction for some time (who makes these decisions to have construction done on places mostly used in the summer??).
The West Lot, is completed but the East Lot is closed. The redesigned West Lot seems smaller and gets filled quickly as one birder found out on Sunday who ended up giving up and going home. This veteran birder summed up his experience for me yesterday when he stated on the phone. "I have been birding since the 1970's and have never seen so few shorebirds on the East Pond. It is f@Q$% depressing." His frustration no doubt exacerbated by not being able to find parking at the West Lot.

With the annual Shorebird Festival in a couple of weeks (August 29th), organizers better hope that there is a huge influx of shorebirds on the East Pond. Otherwise, they may need to have a backup plan on keeping attendees occupied. Stand up comedy anyone?

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