Monday, February 25, 2013

New York City Winter EcoCruise

Lower Manhattan behind Governor's Island - one of the piers on Governor's Island last year had around 30 pairs of nesting common terns, organizations are trying to work something out to possibly block off this pier so the birds can continue to nest there.
     My husband and I went out on New York City's Water Taxi's EcoCruise in partnership with NYC Audubon. Winter is such a great time for waterfowl because we have so many species that travel South from the Arctic to us. While they are here, they can be seen in their lovely breeding plumage as they will be moving up North soon to nest. If you are willing to brave the cold, I highly recommend getting out and seeing some winter birds while you can, if you are interested in the EcoCruise, there is one tour left on 3/3 (check out their site for details:
     Our cruise was great, we saw red-throated loons, bufflehead ducks, long-tailed ducks, red-breasted mergansers, black ducks, black-back gulls, herring gulls, ring billed gulls, a Northern gannet, great cormorants, double crested cormorants, and harbor seals!
     The wind was really powerful when we were moving and the majority of my pictures were just absolutely ridiculous in the worst way. Also, bobbing around in the Atlantic makes taking any picture a challenge, even when the boat came to a stop. The boat did have complementary hot cocoa which was awesome to get a quick warm up, but bundling up was key, while you could stay indoors, outside was best as you didn't have cloudy/salty windows to obstruct your view! I was really happy with my brand new boots that are supposed to be good down to -40F, they performed well in the cold. On board we also had a naturalist who helped ID birds and tell you some tidbits of interesting info about them, I learned a few new things. Also, just sailing through NY harbor was a treat, we never do touristy things, and I have never in my lifetime even been to the Statue of Liberty, so boating past the sights and under bridges was also very cool.
A double crested cormorant. These birds breed in New York. We also saw great cormorants, which look very similar and have a white throat patch, but they nest up North.
Great views of the Statue of Liberty. You can see some terms and dumpsters, I can only imagine they are trying to make repairs to damages that were due to super storm Sandy.
Red Hook, Brooklyn - Active storage and shipping container yards. Around Red Hook are tons (literally, I'm sure too) of rock pilings outlining the land. It makes prime habitat and foraging for purple sandpipers that actually prefer a rocky habitat, unlike the sand that their name suggests. We didn't see any but, it is kind of amazing how these little places in the middle of an urban environment can be prime real estate for wildlife!
A female red-breasted merganser - we saw a lot of these! They are incredibly fast in flight.
A pair of red-breasted mergansers in front of the boat about to make a break for it.
... and off they go! I love birds flying over water, it reminds me of the end of Jurassic Park where they escape and are on a chopper heading home and Dr. Grant is watching the flock of pelicans flying over the water. 
Totally one of those pictures that didn't really come out, but I love it. This guy was using the boat to catch some air, he was just gliding along with us as we moved along.
Black back gulls and herring gulls on Hoffman Island. This is an artificial (man made) island off of Staten Island and Brooklyn. The island was originally used to quarentine immigrants coming in to New York especially since treatment for disease was not the greatest at the time. Now the island is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Sandy Hook, NJ, and the waters in between, The area is monitored and protected by the National Park Service and this island in particular is a huge heron nesting area.
A harbor seal - It's like one of those awkward candid shots that you hope no one puts on the internet. Oops! Harbor seals just started, in very recent years, to show up in the waters of NYC. They migrate down here in the winter and feed on fish. Then they will head back North to Maine and beyond for the summer to have their pups. Although, as of very recent, there are a few cases of seals having their pups here in NY.
Check out those vibrissae! That is the technical term for whiskers. Those vibrissae help this seal feel around and hunt in even the murkiest waters. He is also looking incredibly relaxed, when you have enough blubber one could relax in the cold water at this time of year.
This guy was so far away, but the expression on his face is priceless. I wonder if he is people watching....
A ring billed gull, probably born last year as this is its "first winter" plumage. It can take gulls a few years to get into their adult plumage and I learned some gulls can live 30 years! That's not too shabby! This is probably my favorite shot of the day, I love being able to see every feather in the wings. I also love birds in flight!
The seals were leaping and showing off around Swinburne Island. Check out this guy, spy-hopping! Spy hopping allows seals to get a better look at what is around them above water. I'm sure our giant yellow checkered taxi boat was of much interest to him/her.
Not that these structures were in tip top shape before Sandy happened, but Sandy really destroyed them even more. Swinburne Island was also used to quarentine immigrants and especially those with yellow fever. (Creepy alert) The chimney behind the structure on the left belonged to the crematorium where they incinerated those who died from their illness. The island is now off limits to people and in the four trees standing on the island are prime nesting space for double crested cormorants. 
Male and female long tailed ducks in flight. These guys are my favorite, I LOVE the sound they make. They are also tough little nuggets, they are the deepest diving duck, they can dive up to depths of 200 feet! That's amazing to me, when you consider the water pressure on a little duck at such depths! This is also my first wild long tailed duck! I need to put a notation in my book...
There were probably 150-200 long tailed ducks flying together in this group, this is just a small snip it of them.
Not the best picture, but we did see one Northern gannet. These are pelagic birds and you don't usually see them too far inland. They are in the booby family (ornithologists have a lot of funny names for birds) - you know the blue footed booby well if you have ever read or watched anything Galapagos related. 
A male bufflehead in flight - those wings are moving quick! Apparently many ducks got their names not from scientists, but from the people that hunted them, because, they were being hunted long before binoculars and bird watching became popular, so many of the resulting names for ducks sounds silly, like "bufflehead." I feel like that is something you call someone you don't like.
A rear view of a red-throated loon as we made our way back to Manhattan.
The Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Atop one of the towers sits a pair of Peregrine Falcons who nest there every year.
Brooklyn Bridge as we pull back in to Manhattan.
      I hope everyone has a chance to go out on a boat or just walk down to the water, a lot of these waterfowl were not all that far off the coast. The winter birds are only around for a little while more, so get out and check them out if you can. But, don't be sad, spring is just around the corner and all those snow birds are on their way back, or have even just arrived!