Friday, November 3, 2017

In Memory of Robert J. Kurtz

I read the e-mail on the morning of September 28th, which was sent out the night before about Bobby Kurtz' passing away, I was shocked. Pat Lindsay's e-mail indicated that he was ill for several months. I felt sad and then ashamed. I had not seen Bobby's familiar face all summer on the East Pond of Jamaica Bay, yet it never dawned on me that something was amiss.

Bobby Kurtz at the North End of the East Pond at Jamaica Bay.
While I did not bird often with Bobby, the few times I met him in the field, I was endeared by his personality. It might also be that because we shared a love for shorebirds that I was drawn to his charm. Certainly, he was the only birder I knew that could break out in jerking moves that Shai Mitra described as a kind of Rumpelstiltskin dance. All for the sight of a good shorebird or raptor. For Bobby, that could have "merely" been the sight of a juvenile Least or Semipalmated Sandpiper.  I still remember his enthusiastic shout of "Whimbrel, Whimbrel" at Jones Beach Coast Guard Station in 2009 - he was practically foaming at the mouth. I had just started birding and his reaction to that bird that day was infectious. I felt that I wanted to celebrate shorebirds like he did.  He loved his shorebirds! But more so, he also loved his raptors! It was interesting to see how torn he became while viewing shorebirds on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay and his response after a Peregrine Falcon came through putting everything up. I would be frustrated but Bobby's reaction would be like a dad scolding a kid (gently). "Well at least, he did not get anything" in a voice more of admiration than admonition.

2012 Bobby Kurtz 3rd from L enjoying the 1st Ruff that I found on the East Pond.
I attended Bobby's wake on October 8th and listened to the outpouring of love from many of his friends. Kind, thoughtful, sorrowful words flowed from many. His friends from the Fire Island Hawk Watch talked about his never-ending joy at seeing migrating raptors. Bobby Berlingeri, whom he was close to, had it the toughest I thought, in speaking about their time together. John Askildsen, spoke to us about the secret on why Bobby used two walking sticks. I don't think anyone in that room knew before then. Who knew the solution to probable knee problems due to "deep knee bends" in the Navy would be to use walking sticks to make up for overworked knees. Clever and typical of Bobby.  I think Bobby would have approved at all the things everyone had to say.

Bobby Kurtz getting in on a Red Phalarope at Jones Beach in 2015
I am sorry I never got a chance to visit Bobby while he was ill. I would have loved to talk birds with him, to share with him the news of a Jamaica Bay West Pond restoration and of the shorebird numbers on the East Pond.  Farewell Bobby. A lot of us will miss you. Where ever you are my friend, may your vision and hearing be filled with the sights and sounds of the birds you love as you sip on a Franziskaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel. Rest In Peace!

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wordless Wednesday...

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Shorebirding at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC

Mixed flock of Shorebirds on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC.
Its October and most birders by now are cranking up their studies for fall migration. This is where we see a split between those who focus on Coastal migrant traps and others who work Inland migrant traps. For some, the choice is made for them for a number of reasons. Additionally, most birders give up on shorebird season. After all, it's over for the most part, right? Not really. Some of us who would rather spend shore-birding all season refuse to give in to "the shorebird season is over" mantra.

American Avocet on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC.
So, here I was today continuing to bird the East Pond at Jamaica Bay taking careful notes of shorebird movement while also noting the arrival of waterfowl. Today, was quite an exceptional day on the East Pond for shorebirds in October. I had 14 species of Shorebirds. The highlight was a juvenile Hudsonian Godwit, 1 American Avocet (continuing bird), 2 American Golden Plovers, 9 Stilt Sandpipers and 41 Pectoral Sandpipers (PESA)- the latter, my highest count ever on the East Pond. I had to count the PESAs several times to ensure that I was not seeing things but sure enough I had 41 and I am quite sure that I missed a few elsewhere on the pond.

Other notable birds on the pond included a Eurasian Wigeon, 3 Caspian Terns and 7 American Pipits. Duck numbers are up with Ruddy Duck and Scaup numbers expected to increase. Let's hope for more shorebirds before the season is indeed finally over.

Digiscoped - American Golden Plovers on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC.

Digiscoped - Eurasian Wigeon on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC.

Digiscoped - Hudsonian Godwit East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Long-billed Dowitcher ID - What To Look For

Every shorebird season, birders are faced with the dilemma of separating Short-billed (SBDO) from Long-billed Dowitchers (LBDO). This post is not intended to list all of the nuances of how to tell them apart but I will share some of my own empirical observations.

Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers - Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC
Let's start with the jiss (jizz). A classic Long-billed Dowitcher, is not that hard to pick out especially if you have one of those nicely fed female types. When I see an LBDO that stands out, I tend to think of an inflated football (American) or think Egg shape. Picture the higher part of the football as the back of the LBDO with tapered ends. In comparison to a Short-billed Dowitcher, one could easily spot this difference as the back of an SBDO is flatter. This physical feature also applies to the lower body as the undercarriage of a SBDO is straighter than that of a LBDO.

Juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher - Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC
This shape feature should be used cautiously; especially, since this feature can be a bit more difficult to discern with an underfed Long-billed Dowitcher (LBDO) or a male LBDO in a a flock of fat Short-billed (SBDOs). Also, the posture of the subject bird in the field is very important not to be led down the wrong path. This is where you need to be aware of additional field marks to get closer to a conclusive ID. Some of the other useful features include, areas like - The neck: The neck of a Long-billed is thicker than a Short-billed, this is quite evident in the field if you have a side by side comparison.

Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers side by side - Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC
The bill:  if carefully studied, the bill can offer excellent clues as to the ID of a Dowitcher sp. Take the bill of a  Short-billed Dowitcher - it is thicker, shorter and wider at the base. In comparison, a Long-billed Dowitcher shows a longer bill (quite evident in females) which is not as thick as a Short-billed Dowitcher. The tip of a Short-billed Dowitcher's (SBDO) bill shows a distinct kink - a feature that looks like the bird caught its bill in a closing door. On a Long-billed Dowitcher (LBDO), this is not so evident and aids in the longer, thinner looking bill tip.

Long-billed Dowitcher (C) among Short-billed Dowitchers - Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC
This leads me into an ID feature that I have worked on in the field when trying to separate those tough small male Long-billed Dowitchers from big female Short-billed Dowitchers. At the base of a Long-billed Dowitcher, there is a pinched look just where the base of the culmen meets the face. This gives the impression of a steeper incline where the bill meets the forehead. In comparison, the base of the culmen on Short-billed Dowitcher has a smoother less inclined meeting with the forehead. This feature is one that I personally have focused on when analyzing Short-billed from Long-billed and I have yet to encounter where it has troubled me. Even on single species, this is a quick feature thrown in with other field marks that I am able to eliminate any suspected LBDO in a flock of Short-billed Dowitchers.

Short-billed Dowitcher (Hendersoni subspecies) - Cupsogue LI NY.
This brings us to plumage and I will not get into the differences in the upper feature of Short-billed Dowitchers vs Long-billed Dowitchers because I do not have enough sample images to share which could clearly point out the color differences in feather edges. Here in NYC, we get most Long-billed Dowitchers when breeding plumage is showing some wear and so if we are looking at color, we turn to the underparts. On an LBDO, the underpart shows a more brick red color while on an SBDO, the color is more orange like. Keep in mind that in both cases, feather wear will result in various shades that could be troublesome. Long-billed Dowitchers, underpart color extends to the undertail and only the prairie subspecies Hendersoni, shows this. This is also another useful clue when analyzing a flock.

Short-billed Dowitcher (Hendersoni subspecies) - Cupsogue LI NY.
I have included a few images which I hope will aid in differentiating Short-billed Dowitchers from Long-billed Dowitchers. The next step is to get out into the field and look at all your Dowitchers, carefully.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Arctic Tern at Nickerson Beach LI, NY

This was a long overdue Nassau County bird and fitting that I found my own at Nickerson Beach LI, NY. On June 7th, I was scanning a group of Common Terns when I detected an Arctic Tern (ARTE). Having seen a 1st Summer Arctic Tern at Cupsogue LI on June 2nd, it was nice to get an adult for my 1st Nassau County ARTE. The Tern colonies at Nickerson Beach, makes for a nice study if they are not disturbed. I managed a few photos before this bird was subsequently flushed by a jogger and I could not re-find it again during my time there.
Arctic Tern: A new Nassua County bird and an adult at that.

Some photos are posted for studying purposes. In these photos, we have standing birds - mostly Common Terns with the 1 Arctic. A couple of things to look for are: Note the deep chested look of the Arctic vs the Common Tern. Also the head shape of the ARTE is more rounded with the peak just above the eye. The Arctic Tern, lacks the dark primary wedges one would see in a Common. The legs are quite shorter on an Arctic but be wary of depressions in the ground that could make a bird look like it has shorter legs than it really has. There are other field marks that I will get into in another post which will include flight shots. For now, these are just a few handy tips that I am sharing to use in your search.

Arctic Tern, looking regal amongst the Common Terns.

Using the tips I provided you should by now have figured out which one was the Arctic Tern.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Breezy Point Banded Piping Plover Cowboy Successfully Nested

Cowboy with one of her chicks
In April of this year, I observed a banded Piping Plover at Breezy Point in Queens NY, which I found out was banded in 2016 at the E.B. Forsythe NWR in New Jersey. Nicknamed Cowboy, this female PIPL, decided she would set up shop in Queens - at least that is what I hoped for. After subsequent visits did not show her with a mate, I thought she would not breed this year.

3 Piping Plover Chicks
I was therefore quite delighted on Sunday June 18th to discover that Cowboy had kept her relationship hidden and had indeed found a mate, successfully nested and was now the proud mother of 3 baby Piping Plover chicks. Since Piping Plovers tend to lay 4 eggs, there is a good chance I might have missed the 4th chick? Cowboy looked quite comfortable in her motherly role and I observed how protective she and her mate got when a Red-winged Blackbird got too close to their chicks. These tiny fluff balls will have a tough time dealing with all the dangers of the beach but with a lot of luck and good parenting, they will make it and some day have a family of their own.

Male Piping Plover- Cowboy's mate

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Banded Great-black Backed Gull

On June 15th, 2017, I observed and documented a 1CY (calendar year) banded Great Black-backed Gull at Nickerson Beach on Long Island NY. Research on the banding data via the Bird Banding Lab for color band code 7EH revealed that the bird was banded as a chick at Near Kittery in York County Maine USA on 6-24-16.  Photos of the bird are included below.

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