Sunday, May 14, 2017

Beaches, Marshes, and Birds

     Now that my half marathon is over- I am off the hook for committing my weekends to accomplishing my long distance runs. Tim though is training for the NYC Marathon, so while he goes out to run for two hours, I go out and bird. It's a win-win, really.
     I visited three sites, Plumb Beach, the Salt Marsh, and then (after heading home to eat a spectacular breakfast/grocery shopping) Floyd Bennett Field's Archery Road. Each had a sight that made the trip worth while and I even gained two life birds today! AND, I upped my year list to 195 species. I realize many people are far ahead of me, and I am okay with that, I am excited about hitting 200 soon- I can bag 5 more species soon, me thinks!
     Stop 1, Plumb Beach:
It was clearly a crazy night at Plumb, horseshoe crab egg laying season is upon us and the beach was littered with straggler males who got caught up in low tide. I started to flip them and bring them to the water, but after like the 6th crab and not being even a quarter way down the beach I figured the tide was indeed on its way in and they would really be okay.

Brant still linger, it seems like there are getting to be fewer and fewer. 

An American Oystercatcher struts among the brant. Many birds were feeding around the horseshoe crabs, probing the sand- truly showing the importance of these invertebrates in the local ecosystem as their eggs fuel birds in completing their migration.

A brant caught between a laughing gull squabble. Or perhaps caught between lovers- as mates will greet each other enthusiastically.

I have been taking an online course through Cornell about birding by ear and I have been trying to listen more to what I hear and what I see when the birds are vocalizing. One thing I have began to appreciate is how these birds can project their voices when they themselves are often less than half a pound. You can truly see how much effort this laughing gull puts into it's signature call, how much it's body and neck have inflated, even using its wings a bit when vocalizing in this way.

A sanderling coming into breeding plumage.

Also caught foraging among the shore where horseshoe crabs lay in wait for the tide to come back in.

Nothing to see here...

A least sandpiper gives a quick glance my way before disappearing into the grasses.

A Forster's tern, and a nice identifying mark (or lack of mark) is their white wings-- common terns would have black on their wingtips.

A snowy egret fly by over the marsh at Plumb Beach-- heard many clapper rails, but did not see them. Typical.

A great egret in the marsh, possibly awaiting the tide or taking advantage of some fiddler crabs scurrying about.

Onto site 2, Salt Marsh in Marine Park:
Cue another (and another, and another) snowy egret.. I don't get tired of them, though!

A red throated loon, close and foraging right behind the nature center. I had the chance to see it swim, clearly, underwater as it foraged for food.

Before you know it, this guy will be headed northward.

Happy to see a few Baltimore Orioles, which I got to introduce to a few park goers. "You know the baseball team, the Orioles?-This is a Baltimore Oriole!" The folks who got to see him were appreciative and I was glad to see them enjoying this gorgeous bird- because the orioles (the bird!) are one of my favorites!

This tree suited him so well! 

The osprey pair was making some serious noise when a 3rd osprey showed up and soared close to their nest.

Crappy photos, but good for ID- a BOBOLINK and a male!!! AND a life bird!

High up in a tree, singing-- then it flew off, after 2 starlings flew in and then off as well. I tried to re-find this bird, then a I saw two starlings and a brown-headed cowbird fly back to the tree. Then in examining the cowbird in the light and then looking at my crappy pictures-- my original bobolink I listed as probably just a cowbird. Then I got home, check my photos, and should have trusted my gut-- it was, after all, a bobolink!


After thinking my bobolink was a cowbird, this brown thrasher lifted my spirits- a visible, singing Brooklyn brown thrasher!

He tried to comically sing from the highest perch with many fails as the wind flailed the branches around. Anyway, if you're wondering what a brown thrasher's butt looks like, wonder no more...

Best show of this good looking bird. For being so big, they really are wimpy-- unfortunately the direction he was going was where I too needed to go.

A nice urban brown thrasher scenery set-up. And then distraction...

House wren pops up to sing, and sits for 5 seconds... on the other side of a chain link fence. I WILL MAKE THIS WORK.

House wrens they...
1. do not sit still
2. do not make themselves visible
3. and if they do any of the above, they do it in poor light
4. They are so f#$%ing tiny and never come close (and this one was maybe like 10 feet away-- I call that close)

...don't blow this, Jen.

Not bad for shooting through a fence!

By now Tim has finished his run, my stomach is growling, and I have errands to run - so a quick chance to put my grown-up pants on before...
 Stop #3, Floyd Bennett Field at Archery Road:
Show me the way, little semi-palmated plower to this gold mine of shorebirds...

I was going to not do this, not come here-- but wow-- I AM SO GLAD I DID!!! (why are we still yelling?!)
The pilings were covered with birds- at least one bird per piling. In this photo are three different species-- in focus, red knots, the one with a black tummy is a black-bellied plover, and between the plower and in-focus knot (kind of behind a piling) are ruddy turnstones.

Again, three species- closest to us, and at the bottom, short billed dowitchers, behind them the black-bellied plover, and above and behind, red knots. I counted 66 red knots on the pilings.

These knots looked so sleepy- and rightfully so. These birds migrate from South America-- some even from Tierra del Fuego (thats the very bottom of South America) and head up to the most Northern Parts of Canada and Alaska to nest. These birds time their migration right to meet up with horseshoe crabs as they lay their eggs to fuel up on them to continue their flight. These birds truly are exhausted and tired, they have come a long way!
The red knots and all the other shore birds are the reason why I am volunteering with Audubon to monitor horseshoe crab numbers and to tag them to know more about their life history and where they go.

The 2017 bird of the year, the Ruddy Turnstone!

It couldn't leave, I loved seeing these birds in their breeding plumage. They are so beautiful and I respect the stamina  that goes into migrating up and down the globe and the many challenges they have to overcome.

At first I didn't notice the dowitchers because they were tucked up and resting, then this one bird started to stir.

The resting short-billed dowitcher to the left was not down with the guy on the right moving around. The guy on the right got the boot.

The pier pilings next to the shore birds was dominated by double crested cormorants and gulls.

Some semipalmated plovers for the road...

So I am noticing the plants are COVERED in tent caterpillars... so I was thinking, man, a cuckoo would love to eat those... so I started scanning trees... nothing. Start thinking about getting into my car when an orchard oriole catches my eye... start looking at the oriole, who flies off... and HOLY CRAP, A CUCKOO!!! (why are we still screaming?!)

A yellow-billed cuckoo, right behind my car, in the open, feeding in this willow tree. A life bird, a bird that I know is around but I never seem to find-- they are not super fast, at all, actually, but they can really get into the tree and hidden in the leaves as they search for caterpillars to eat.

I learned that these cuckoos do not always lay their eggs in the nests of other birds-- that's mostly a European cuckoo thing. But if there is an over abundance of hairy caterpillars and other foods- they will lay eggs in other birds nest-- because when times are good-- you hire a nanny.

Really happy to have seen this bird!

Thank you, orchard oriole for leading my eyes that way!

A great day out-- packed it up just in time before the rain rolled in! YAY!