Sunday, December 28, 2014

Perfect Beach Weather!

     The only thing I enjoy immensely in the winter is the beach, its finally empty, it feels wild, and it becomes a haven for wintering wildlife. Jones beach is a nightmare in the summer, thousands of folks flock there for some respite from the heat, but thousands also flock there in the winter, in the literal, bird sense.
     Birds migrate south to the waters in and around Long Island and New York City from the Northern regions. Seals also swim down to our waters, but we were not lucky enough to spot any yesterday. Yesterday we got the chance to see some large flocks of birds, plus the bird that likes to eat them, and unfortunately it was not a snowy owl, but (not in anyway complaining) got a not-so-shy peregrine falcon instead.
     I'll let the (many) pictures do the talking...
Our first stop was the Coast Guard Station and Jetty of beach there... we found in the waters (a lot) of Brant (that's the goose), cormorant (there is one in this mix, you can see his orange face/bill), black back gulls (there is one on the upper right), herring gulls (one in the middle and left side), black-bellied plovers (the little birds in the middle of the geese, below that gull), and long tailed ducks, loons, mergansers, and grebes (not pictured).
A lot of Brant Geese framed by the bridge leading to the Meadowbrook Parkway. We estimated around 250, potentially more.
A herring gull on the barbecue area gazebo. 
We moved onto the west end beach, and also removed some layers. With this arctic-looking landscape, temperatures were in the upper 40's, possibly into the 50's. It was by far my warmest winter beach visit I have ever had! This landscape attracts many arctic visitors, including snowy owls and snow bunting.
From the trail that takes us from parking lot to the beach we saw this impressive and massive flock. The movement was mesmerizing and beautiful. It's also impressive how these birds fly in a three dimensional world without collision and in perfect movement.
Some humans on the beach to provide a frame of reference for how impressive this flock was!

Clearly this flock is a shorebird of sorts...

Waves of water, bird, and cloud!
It felt so awesome when this massive flock finally plopped down in front of me. Their time on the ground revealed we had dunlin, the dark bird with the slightly down-ward curving bill, and in the mix, some sanderling, the white and grey birds with a shorter, straighter black bill.
My favorite behavior was that these birds keep their legs warn by tucking one up under their belly and hopping around on one foot as they move about the beach. Although, of all the days to stay warm, at the point, I was sweating in my t-shirt and sweatshirt combo!

For their little size and skittish personality, the safety in number factor had these birds moving in fairly close to me! I just stood still for quite some time and let them do their thing, pretty much until other beach goers spooked the flock off.

I was surprised that a predator wasn't hunting easily from this massive number of birds, but as we continued our walk, I spotted a dark-shadowy figure on top of a wooden pillar...
Enter peregrine falcon.
Be prepared for a large number of photos of this bird. I sat on the sand and just let this bird do whatever it felt, and it was not shy! 
Those black markings under their eye are like the black marks athletes put below their eyes, and are super helpful on a day like today! They reduce glare from sunlight, acting like sunglasses, giving this bird a better eye for catching their prey.
The bird preened its feathers. Preening is important, it ensures that feathers are kept in good condition and allows the bird to spread oil from a single gland (the only gland!) on its body, the preenal gland, located just on their rump. The oil from that gland helps keep feathers clean and waterproof. A wet bird cannot fly, so it is vital to make sure feathers are well conditioned, especially when you are an aerial predator!
A yawn shows off the hooked beak that allows this bird to tear apart its prey easily.
Now to show off his grabbers. Those talons help this bird to grab its prey in the air. These birds are the fastest animals on earth, they can dive through the air at over 200mph. If the initial impact from this bird does not knock out and kill its prey, the beak and talons can help to finish it off.
Making sure the foot equipment is fully functional...
A little floof...
To finish off the process, a shake of the feathers.
Looking good and ready for another hunt.
As we were heading to the car, I saw this flock and gave a pleading look to my husband, asking to go have a look, and he, being so good to me, let me, and I got to have some snow bunting fun before hopping back in the car.
I love how little birds fly. They flap a few times then take on the missile approach, where they bring their wings in and shoot through the air before repeating the flapping. The 4 birds in the upper left corner appear to be on a mission together.
These little Arctic birds winter down here where they can feed on seeds found among the plants that grow on the dunes.
I took some video footage of the massive flock I photographed above, it's not the best, but can at least give you a sense of how amazing it was to be there with this large number of birds in such a small area.