Saturday, July 19, 2014

Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area

     I promised my Gma I would take her out for a birthday lunch yesterday (a very happy 89th to her, she endured many summers of me reading field guides to her when I was little and not understanding anything or being able to help me pronounce any animal names) so I headed out east to home on Long Island. I also promised myself I would squeeze a walk in somewhere out on Long Island, on my drive in. I have been seeing so much about this Marine Nature Study Area, and I always see the signs when I go out to kayak, but have never had the chance to visit. So I took today as my opportunity. It happened to be perfect for a short walk, as the area is not huge. It is situated on a salt marsh and it very accessible as paths and boardwalks bring you around. I also love that there is an active osprey nest on site and it happens to be on a path, but there are signs instructing you to either turn around or to quickly walk by until you reach the other side, giving warning not to linger or cause any undue stress to the birds. There was lots of activity when I arrived around 9:30am and I was delighted by various waders, shore birds, and raptors. Also there were dragonflies all over, fiddler crabs in the muddy banks, and you could see the fish that attracted all the birds to the area.
     Bird sightings for the day included mockingbirds, redwing blackbirds, song sparrows, house sparrows, salt marsh sparrows (lifer), barn swallows, tree swallows, black capped night heron, yellow crowned night heron, snowy egret, great egret, least sandpiper, laughing gull, herring gull, greater black-backed gull, common terns, osprey, and peregrine falcons.
     I highly suggest a visit, especially if you are looking for a quick walk- but be warned it is open, very little shade is available, so bring sunscreen and wear a hat. The walk is also very easy, so if you're worried about hills or length of walking, this place is nice and easy. People are also very friendly, I had great conversations about what people saw around here today or in the past. People were very helpful in pointing things out or discussing the day's happenings. For more information, check them out at their website: http://mnsa.info.

I love the red eyes of the black capped night heron, who is stalking about for some delicious salt marsh creature.
If there are dragonflies about, other insects are also around, as a dragonfly needs to eat. The biting flies were out and I was glad dragonflies were everywhere to get them and keep them off of me! I think this guy is a four spot skimmer, and a lovely one at that!
Common terns circled about on the lookout for an unlucky fish.

Not a perfect picture, but their forked tails give them such a delicate appearance.
Terns are fun to watch when they are out hunting, if they spot potential prey they will hover, and stare down as if they are calculating the perfect moment, before they dive and splash into the water, and fly back out, hopefully with something delicious.
When I arrived, all I saw were large birds diving through the air down to the water, and other birds trying to evade. It turns out a family of peregrine falcons live nearby and they were taking the kids out to practice their hunting skills. They all then rested on some lights on a sports field across the water from the salt marsh, an adult sits left and a juvenile sits right. 
The osprey had some young (I think 2) in their platform nest. The adult say diligently over them, and you can see on curious face below.
I walked below the nest quickly, causing the adult to call out, but he stopped when I reached the other side. The center has a camera on the nest so you can view from above. The young birds also got banded yesterday, but I was not able to stic around. See the webcam here.
The song sparrows were doing as their name implied, they were very vocal. 
I love the water reflections on this snowy egret (much smaller than the great egret, with a black bill and black legs). This egret was up to no good though...
...He flew in to give chase to another snowy feeding on this small area of water within the marsh. You can clearly see their inner dinosaur when they become territorial.

I came hoping to add a sparrow to my field guide that I have seen. I was hoping to find a salt marsh sparrow (clearly my field guide is a bit out of date, as it is referred to in it as a sharp-tailed sparrow) and I did! If you keep your eye on the grasses you may see some sparrows flying among them, but never high above. The tend to always be in the grass and well hidden. You have to be diligent about keeping an eye on where they land if you wish to see them again.
Zooming in on a not so great photo, reveals the yellow around its face that makes this my first salt marsh sparrow :)
A sleepy yellow-crowned night heron. 
The study area has great service, this great egret was clearly hired as a parking attendant....