Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Beach Day!

      On Friday, February 15th, I went on a birding adventure with two friends/co-workers it was so much fun even though we were foiled by that snowy owl! It was a total bird nerd bonding experience and all in all, I saw some birds I haven't seen before, got up and out for the day, and it was a fantastically warm day for February! I was actually sweating under my layers!
     First stop was Jones beach, we went to the Coast Guard station and checked out the waters on the island side of Jones Beach.
- Geography Lesson: Jones Beach is a barrier island - it's basically a thin strip of land that is not connected to Long Island. As a barrier beach, this is what takes the brunt of the storms and in a way "protects" the mainland. So, one side of Jones Beach, faces the Atlantic Ocean, the other side faces Long Island, and in-between the beach and Long Island are calmer waters, marshes, and small islands. The Coast Guard station is on the side not facing the ocean, hence "the island side."
We looked for seals, but we (maybe) saw one, way far off in the distance. But we did see tons of birds- including my first horned lark!

     Oh, and a little disclaimer, I decided I'd play around with cropping and "editing" - I put that in quotations, because, really, I don't know what I'm doing- consider it an experiment - my pictures.

Brant - these are a type of goose that winters in the NY area. You can find them gathering in all sorts of areas, including the medians and grassy sides of the parkways.
Female red-breasted mergansers - these ducks can dive and have thin serrated bills for catching fish. 
A horned grebe looks VERY different from its breeding plumage. They have stunning red eyes! This one was diving and did have something in its mouth at some point.
Pretty sure this is just a herring gull, but you know what? He looks damn good and he knows it.
A first for me, horned larks! These are the only species of lark native to North America. The little horns - really just feathers - really up their cuteness factor.
     After our trip to Jones beach and not being able to find that darn snowy owl, we hopped in the car and headed back West, making a stop at Jamaica Bay. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is located in Broad Channel Queens. Broad Channel is on Broad Channel Island (creative, eh?) which is located between the Rockaways and Long Island (get over it Queens, you are geographically part of the island we all call Long Island, Brooklyn, you aren't off the hook either!). If you watched the news at the end of October/beginning of November, then you are well aware that this area was hit hard by hurricane Sandy. 
     The refuge itself was open, but the trails, especially along the sides were full of debris, mostly dead plants, branches, and tangles of twigs. The craziest impact was on the loop that goes around the West Pond - the loop is no longer a loop and the pond is no longer a pond. West Pond now joins the bay as a part of land, where the trail looped, was eroded away by the storm connecting pond and bay to one another. So, no longer is there a freshwater pond - it makes me wonder what the impacts on flora and fauna will be. We did learn though that the pond was manmade and in a way it could very well be on its way back to its natural state. According to the ranger there, plans are unknown about whether the loop will be mended or left open. And amazingly, the visitors center was untouched by water during the storm!
     Aside from gawking at the random debris and the missing part of the trail, we still saw plenty of birds: Canada geese, mute swans, mallards, American black ducks, Northern pintails, green-wing teals, red breasted mergansers, buffleheads, gulls, Northern cardinals, American robins, goldfinch, and tons of ducks that were so far off, we couldn't tell what they all were!

A pair of American black ducks waddle out to what was West Pond. I thought they were so cute as their rear ends wiggled in unison.
A washed up sink. It was funny to see a sink in a wildlife refuge,  it seems like a fairly obvious thing that someone could just remove. But, at the same time, it wasn't funny because someone out there had some severe destruction to their property and who knows what else they lost along with this sink. 
A male Northern Cardinal feeding on some berries. They are so common, but let's be real, they are always beautiful and  never get old.
Mute swans preen and two Canadian geese nap on what was West Pond.
This - I think, herring gull - in it's 2nd winter plumage, I think - entertained us as he repeatedly flew up and dropped this clam. We really thought he was going to clonk a Canadian goose on the head, and did come close! He did get that clam open in the end, and it left us wondering, was the energy expended worth the payoff of that tiny sad clam?
In low tide, black ducks, Northern pintails, mallards, and green-wing teals (another first for me) feed in pairs.
You are now looking over West Pond. The fence across the way is where the trails loops - or did loop. The opening to the left of the fence is where West Pond now meets the bay.
     It was a jam-packed fun day, definitely exhausting but well worth it! We all had a great time bonding over birds. One of my friends, Judy, who came on this trip took lots of photos too - she is way more camera savvy than myself! She has a fantastic blog with even more fantastic weekly themed photo montages of animals. I highly suggest you take a look at her blog "While at the Zoo," it's always a nice way to start the week: http://whileatthezoo.wordpress.com/