Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Good, The Bad, and the Owl

     I had yesterday off, Tim had to work so I did what I love to do when I have a gorgeous sunny day-- I Opted for the Outdoors on Black Friday and went birding! I am not a shopper and honestly I opt for the outdoors with any free time that I have.
     I headed out to Nassau Country, where I grew up and wanted to do some birding out at Jones Beach to see some waterfowl. And after that, I picked up my dad and took him on his first bird outing. My time at Jones Beach turned sour fast, was not 100% enjoyable due to neglect by owl-hungry photographers who had zero regard for the ethics surrounding observing wild birds and especially owls. The day did, thankfully end well as my dad and I had a really great find of our own while out and about.
I was walking the beach at Jones beach, walking west. And all of a sudden a huge white bird flies out from the dunes and lands in front of these people. Lucky for them, but then, soon after a photographer walked out of the dunes. He purposefully was chasing the owl... he put his camera with a large lens up and began to shoot. And with every shot, he encroached closer to the bird- who is now between two sets of humans-- one of which was closing in on the birds space...

So Naturally, the bird flew off.
This is NOT how you observe wildlife especially owls. This bird traveled hundreds of miles to get here, it rests by day and hunts in the earlier and later hours of the day. Humans are causing the bird unnecessary reasons to expend its energy, also exposing it to diurnal birds of prey (who generally don't like owls) who now will hone their sights on this bird and pester it, intentionally.

Now, walking along the jetty, the same bird comes flying out of the dunes. Followed by a low Cooper's hawk and, you guessed it, another photographer. Another no-no, walking through the dunes destroys the dune habitat vital to not only the owls, but their prey, small mammals, other bird species, and also the plants that grow there.
So here is an owl, in an alert posture, it flew out into the open-- where it is high tide, so fishermen, who's target is not the bird, but walking in this specific area is another scary thing for this bird to encounter.

I stopped in my tracks, with another birder I met. We lamented about what was happening, and as we were, a fisherman walked by, owl flushed into another direction.

This is when I called it quits. I walked to my car, and spent my walk now close to the waters edge.
From the water's edge, I took this with my iPhone. You can clearly see the owl, surrounded by people. I know the original flusher made phone calls as I watched through my binoculars- most likely disclosing the location of the bird to others. As I left I saw more cameras coming on to the beach.

Something I invested in, and devoted a whole paycheck to, was a long lens. I invested in a 200-500mm lens so I could do this. From the waters edge, at full 500mm zoom, I can photograph this bird a long distance away. My husband every year renews my adobe light room subscription so I can crop imaged (as this one is) and process them. All without me having a huge affect on this bird.

To understand birding ethics, here are the ABA code of ethics:
Owls are very much a highlight to see in the birding world, but do require special care and knowledge of behavior to observe without disturbing.

This is an un-cropped image from the waters edge at 500mm zoom.

This was a year bird for me, but honestly not the way I envisioned finding it. All my other encounters with snowies have been quiet, just me and the owl at a respectful distance where both I and the owl could be relaxed. This time around both the owl and myself were fairly agitated.

In the end, I reported the birds harassment to the DEC dispatch number and then from the parking lot, saw people then rummaging through the dunes (as I am sure the owl flew again and they gave chase). I then called NYS Park police to report folks walking through the dune habitat. I don't know if anyone came and did anything but it really bums me out that this find was not special, but stressful. I only heard reports that still later in the day the bird was still being chased about and later drooping its wings (something even my on parrot does when he is freaked out and stressed).
The above posture is not a relaxed bird it's a bird who is alert and not very happy at all. I separated myself from the situation because I couldn't stand to even be associated with what I was observing. I spent all of a half hour walking the beach and more time getting to and from the beach from my car along that long sandy trail.

Along that long sandy trail, a large group of tree swallows, shining in the morning sun.

Cute little things they are!

At the coast guard station I saw all three species of scoter (white-winged, surf, and black) and bonus of 9 (very late) Forster's tern.

They were busy flying and splashing in the water next to the large sandbar.

These birds should be long gone, but the weather has been weird- a very mild day, yesterday but there have been snaps of cold here and there, but overall, not terribly cold for this time of year.

I also learned duck hunting is very much allowed in the area, as I heard guns being fired from a small boat with camo-wearing men on board. I was also able to see their rifles. SO it makes sense that birds seek refuge close to shore on the side I was walking-- like this group of red-breasted mergansers.

The roof of the comfort station was covered in gulls and pigeons. I love pigeons because each bird is so unique, I really think they are lovely birds. I adore their soft coo-ing.

I also think this gal/guy is pretty rad looking.

So after Jones Beach I swung by my parent's house and picked up my dad. He has asked to come out with me if I ever bird on Long Island, so I packed some extra binoculars and we were off!
I introduced dad to a few species of duck, like these Northern Shovelers, as well as hooded mergansers, pintail, gadwall, American black duck. Although he really liked the dicing birds, as we watched little pied- billed grebes free-diving next to large, towering mute swans and an American coot diving among a small group of Gadwall.

But the real treat was seeing an owl with my dad, the way one should view an owl. In quiet, discretely, and without disturbing the bird. We remained on our path and allowed the owl to remain in its roost.

A red-phase Eastern screech owl was a super treat, I needed one for my year list and for taking my dad out on his first birding trip, what a great bird to see together!

My parents are 100% responsible for my love of all things animal, but my dad hooked me on birds. He told me all about the hawks he'd see in our local park on his runs and I just had to find this hawk. I'd go out with a kodak advantax camera (the one that took those cool panoramas) and took pictures mostly of Canada Geese and Mallards, but was always hoping to find that hawk. I got so excited the day I did finally fine that (red-tail) hawk.
I loved going to the park as a kid, being allowed to wander about while my dad went for his run. I'd always hope he was going for a long run so I could spend that much more time out, exploring. I'm thankful to have had parents who let my love of nature grow by nurturing it with little opportunities like my dad gave me in the park.

Glad the day that started off not-so-great ended well, birding with my dad and enjoying every gadwall we encountered.

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