Wednesday, July 26, 2017

East Pond, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

     This morning I got up really early, put on my boots and made my way to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge for a pre-work trek at East Pond. Last weekend while there, the shorebirds there looked so good- I wanted to get back.
     After a night of awful dreams of me visiting the pond and getting mugged/attacked/etc. I woke up and compelled myself to go, because I knew if I didn't do it, I'd be dying to get back there and this morning was my chance otherwise it will be another week or so.
     I got to the refuge and set out, I found another birder in the reeds which helped me feel a bit better, but then I got to the dreaded fence. The property next door installed a fence.... right on to National Park Service land. I was able to precariously work my way around it, finding the concrete that it was installed on under water, blindly with my foot and swinging around to the other side. The water level felt high, and I got to a point where I was walking through reeds and poison ivy... then I heard rustling. I paused and listened-- like the way a startled deer takes into account every scenario, and is ready to flee at any given second. I thought it's probably a raccoon, maybe even a bird flying and landing between the reeds that I perhaps startled. But the sound continued and it made me very uneasy-- I assessed what I had on me... nothing to help me in any situation, nothing to whack an attacker with, so I walked out of there, just a large cumbersome camera and binoculars- retreating to get back out in the open was my best choice.
     It sucked to feel that way, uneasy, untrusting, and playing out every awful scenario possible, as a lone woman in nature. I expect my father to call me and give me the "what the hell are you thinking," type talk. But it sucks for people, because this isn't just a problem for a lone woman, to just not feel safe outside.
     Aside from feeling slightly terrified, I had a good time and in the end, had some nice observations of some of my favorites...
Very happy to FINALLY see a lesser yellowlegs-- conveniently, a few were walking around with a greater- so it was easy to see the difference in bill size between the two! 

Least sandpiper were pretty easy to observe, they were practically underfoot!

The pond has an amazing mat of microbes that these birds walk through and sift through for yummy things feeding on those microbes. It also attracted semipalmated sandpiper and one semipalmated plover over where I was observing.

What makes the lesser yellowlegs lesser? They are smaller than the greater, but I thought this bird was better than what it's name says it to be. Their bill is just a tad bit longer than their head is long. The greater's bill is much longer.

This bird was very active chasing down food, using those yellowlegs to its advantage.


Also a few Glossy Ibis-- the one in the foreground is interesting as it has some piebald-type white markings on its neck and head.

Jamaica Bay is known for its Glossy Ibis' that it attracts in the spring and summer. The birds migrate here from the south and come here to feed and reproduce.

Normally these ibis do not have white markings like this on their necks- if any, there is some speckling, as seen on the individual in the photo above, but noting as drastic as the marking on this bird.

I decided to walk the trail to Big John's pond, since retreating the seasonal trail. I got down to the water and found the type of creeper I am okay with meeting-- a common yellowthroat, creeping through the reeds and looking at the intruder, me, in its space.

On Big John's Pond, from behind the blind, there were quite a few black crowned night herons gathered.

It was nice to view a few of these handsome birds. I watched this one walk up and down its perch to satisfy its thirst.

And then... This.
I LOVE cedar waxwings, I think they are such a sharp looking bird, I love their hunting behavior-- swooping and diving at insects from their perch. But this sight, was a super memorable one-- I have never seen fledglings before!! <3
First there was one...

And then there were two... part of me recognizes this scene, as a teacher and an aunt. I suppose "you get what you get and you don't get upset," does not apply in birds.

One berry and two mouths to feed-- how does one ever decide?!

Bright gapes and constant voices, it's hard for mom to ignore...

....And then there were three,  and you just gave that berry away!

One was not enough-- but mom, she keeps it cool. Stone cold.

She knows he is the favorite... the oldest bird usually gets fed first as they are bigger, stronger, and able to push their way to the front of the line.

Being second in line isn't too bad either, basically, you are the back up- if your sibling doesn't make it, you move up pretty quickly in the world. But if food is scarce, younger siblings could suffer starvation as they get pushed around and denied food by their older, pushier siblings.

But third in line, usually the last to eat, the smallest, and clearly, they know it. Sitting quiet this youngster seems to know its role, or perhaps not enough energy to vocalize constantly. Better to save that energy up for flight in case a predator comes through. 

Seeing these new cedar waxwing additions to the wetland was my favorite part of my morning trip. If this was all I saw, I'd still say my visit was worthwhile!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Weekend

     This weekend I visited two different parts of Jamaica Bay in two different Boroughs. On Saturday I helped my friend and coworker out by leading her teacher Professional Development group through Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens. Today I visited Floyd Bennett Field, visiting Archery Road to get down to the shore.
     Yesterday, I helped lead some teachers through the marsh to access the East Pond and Big John's Pond. We also took a bird walk and nature journaling excursion for 45 minutes on the West Pond, where the mosquitoes were less concentrated. I remained with the teachers after our walks to come see the terrapins and walk the beach- I'm not sure if the teachers knew how special of a treat it was to do what we did, as one needs a permit to do what we did (we very much had a permit!) so when I get the chance to do something that I normally can't, I volunteer to lead a bird walk and gain access to the shoreline on Terrapin Point, happily! Also-- turtles.
One of the birds I had fun sharing with the teachers was this house wren. We all had the chance to see and hear it. I am always impressed by how a tiny little bird, smaller than a sparrow, can produce such full, loud song. From the teachers' reaction, I think they were impressed too!
We also got to see the osprey nest, empty of its chicks-- now just the lingering adults are hanging around. Overhead we saw some glossy ibis, swallows, gulls, and we all met the fearless catbird.

We met with the Terrapin Research volunteers to learn about what they have done this season at the refuge. I also ran into one of the folks I used to volunteer at NY Aquarium with (back in the day, over 10 years ago...). He volunteers with the Diamondback Terrapin team, which is super cool!
I was very interested in that they are looking at the affects of microplastics on these turtles, analyzing fecal samples to learn more about how this material affects the turtles. It's gross that plastic is EV-ERY-WHERE and so sad how many animals end up eating it.

It is the end of terrapin season at the refuge, babies from nests will begin to emerge in August. So we only met this one female who was in the research pod for analyzing her fecal matter.
I did learn that at JBWR they learned that the newly hatched babies spend much of their first 1-2 years on land, building up their salt tolerance to the bay. Hopefully the restoration of the West Pond, as its salinity decreases, will become valuable for these little guys as they are growing.
     Today's random decision to visit Floyd Bennett Field came when Tim said he is probably just going to hang around at home, and after a late start to the day- I didn't want to stay inside all day, so I took a ride down and had no hopes to see anything in particular-- just to enjoy some time out...
Common terns were flying along the shore, successfully catching fish.

A killdeer, matching its surroundings quite well. Despite their large size, and unless scanning with your binoculars, you really dont see these guys until they move or fly off, vocalizing loudly.

A lot of spotted sandpipers around too-- both adult and juvenile.

While most would brush off some double-crested cormorants- I really like these guys and they were all perched in such beautiful ways- with adult and juvenile birds on the pilings.

Also, they look like dinosaurs and they have gorgeous eyes!






Just when I thought I had some interesting opportunities to view the cormorants at fairly close range, I changed my position on the beach as I noticed shorebirds in the surf-- so I moved up to the top, where the sand meets the NYPD Helicopter base. With most of my body below the level of the asphalt, I wasn't so intimidating to the (many) killdeer just hanging out up there. So I was eye level with some birds, and in fairly close range, so what a great opportunity for some not so normal views!

It was nice to view this bird, at rest! Instead of being on its feet, ready on the dime to take flight and scream it "dee-dee-dee-dee," in panic, it was really nice to see a bird comfortable, as most of me was hidden.

Preeeety sure this is a semipalmated sandpiper... it seemed so different to me in the field- bill seemed longer, straighter, and bird seemed a little bit bigger than a semipalm... I secretly was hoping this to be a Western when I noticed it and it felt so different.
I like this photo because you can see the partial webbing that BOTH semipalmted and Western sandpipers have between their toes.

But in referencing my guide (The Shorebird Guide) and comparing photos, it is just a semipalmated. 


A (different) semipalmated sandpiper, walking with a least sandpiper behind it.

Lots of killdeer today-- did I mention that? (I truly don't mind!)
I think my favorite field mark on this bird is that white eyebrow-- it makes them always look so worried. IT fits them well, because they are always so nervous and take flight and call at the smallest twitch one makes, even when 50 yards away.

I ventured around the pathways before heading home. I really liked this mom and juvenile pair of house finch taking a bath in a puddle from the rains we had overnight. Both seem to be happy to have a puddle and a break in the heatwave we have had.

I love a funny wet bird!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Clapper Rail Parade

I yearn for the outdoors, to spend time observing wildlife, and being immersed in a habitat. I suppose I'm kind of like an Ariel, you know the little mermaid (even with the red hair to boot!), but wanting to be part of the world of the wildlife I enjoy so much seeing; seriously, people are overrated. Sometimes, the world grants me that wish and it's what keeps me going out the door, waking up early, and toting my binoculars, slung over my shoulder.

This morning I woke up early and headed to Plumb Beach. The tide was reaching its lowest point which is perfect for water-loving birds as it exposes the mud and all the creatures hiding in it that birds like to eat. I  nearly had the beach to myself with the exception of two fellow birders. I wasn't hoping for much, but, as always the outdoor world always surprises me...
Th elow waters were active with waders- in between the laughing gulls were snowy egrets (above), oystercatchers, and a very excited black crowned night heron...

When you see black crowned night herons, they are usually all smushed together and compact. But when active and hunting, that neck is outstretched, it's up on its feet looking for (literally) anything to snag.

Quite a few least sandpipers shuffling around the spaces closest to shore.

The least are easy to tell apart with their yellow legs, small size and slightly downward curving bill.

This funny little fella is a juvenile least tern. Its black cap has yet to fill in and its yellow bill tipped lightly with black is not quite there yet.

Still being tended to by its parent, who brings it a fish it caught. Soon this guy will be learning the ropes of how to secure food on its own.

Eat up, little buddy!

I rounded the eastern most point to wander in to the marsh. And let's just say I got my Ariel wish...

First, I spotted a few Clapper rails just out, in the open (not a very typical scene).
Then As I walked toward the marsh I noticed an adult with some little ones in tow-- 3 chicks! 

I held my ground, at the distance I was at. I didn't want to spook them. I just stood (couldn't get low, I was in water) and observed... and then...

The chicks sat in their little marshy grass nook, when 15 feet from me, another adult rail comes out from the grass and proceeds to bathe. Right there, practically next to me. My attention was stolen by such a rare moment.

Clapper rails, the size of a small chicken (bantam size), are super secretive. You are more likely to hear their "clak-clak-clak-clak-clak" call than see them. So for them to see you, and be near you, and be exposed to the world- that is one brazen bird.

So at this point I am just in awe. Just soaking up this moment and in my head reflecting on how special this is.

So here's the thing about birding... people do it for different reasons, even a single person may have various reasons for why they bird. One of my number one reasons is the chance to see what's out there and even more so what it's doing out there in the natural world. So when I am out, it's nice to see the bird, but its even nice to observe its natural behaviors - whether its bathing, feeding, rearing young, protecting its turf, I find it so fascinating. I also feel so rewarded and connected when it all unfolds in front of me. It makes every walk special and wow, did this feel special! But seriously, wait-- this isn't even the best part!

This rail is also in perfect, beautiful morning light, being able to see every splash, dip, and drip of water.

Attention stolen for a hot second by a gorgeous little blue heron...

Now that the bath is over, it was time to perfect the finer things-- wing stretching, scratches, and feather preening.




And behind me another clapper rail comes out to start preening-- where am I?!

And then as my bathing buddy put on the final...

finishing touches, with a bit of floof....

Enter two chicks!!! 

Now, the adult and two chicks are practically parading in front of me. And I have this all to myself, and I am really okay with that, it makes it even more special.



A face that only a mother could love? Perhaps, but these little guys remind me of the dinosaurs I loved so much as a kid. The prints they leave behind can be argued as avian or non-avian dinosaur-- because yeah, birds are dinosaurs. And those theropod prints are spot-on!


I would say, you'll grow into those feet, but nah. Those large splayed feet help these birds walk and wade through salt marsh habitat. Striding over floating plants or over reeds, those feet are a superb adaptation.

Once the babies and their parent walked into the marsh after a generous time out in the open, I wondered in a bit more. Very thankful to have been so lucky to catch all the moments that just happened all around me.

Another adult clapper rail, in a more typical scenario. We met eyes, then this one ducked behind the reeds it was standing upon.

A beautiful snowy egret fly-by.

Some greater yellowlegs (pictured) and short-billed dowitchers rounded out the final part of my walk through the marsh.
A truly delightful morning and so happy to have made the choice to get my butt outside today!