Sunday, January 26, 2020

Winter Waterfowl Count

     Last weekend, I participated in the New York State Ornithological Association's Winter Waterfowl Count. This survey has been conducted each year since 1955 (mostly) and it is done state-wide on any salt or fresh waterfronts.  The count takes place every January and I helped out on the Coney Island/Brighton Beach waterfront with two wonderful bird friends.
     We mainly looked for ducks, geese, grebes, loons, and such, but also kept our eyes peeled for other birds as well. We also made a special trip to Sheepshead Bay to get some nice close looks at a razorbill who has been hanging out.
It was really nice to see a few close and floating on the surface northern gannets.

Oddly, I felt like there was not too much out in terms of waterfowl. Much of what we counted was through the scope.
On Coney Island pier we got some closer looks at red breasted mergansers.

There were a few other females, plus one male off of the pier.

We all were hoping to run into this bird, affectionately called "Stubby."
It is a lesser black-backed gull who lacks both of its feet!

This bird is alive and has been for some time, so it's feeding and doing what it needs to survive. I can't imagine its a strong swimmer, but who knows some of these animals, even while missing limbs can still do more than we think.

Most birds were backlit, so I was really stoked to have picked out an Iceland Gull among ring-billed and others.

A few ruddy turnstones also turned up on the rock groins.

We had really nice close looks at a black scoter and surf scoter duo up at one of the rock groins outside the aquarium.
Oddly enough I set up a scope at work today and scoped some birds with my youth volunteers and I saw, at about the same rock groin a surf and black scoter. Was it the same two birds, who knows, but I'd like to think they are pals and this is their favorite hang out spot to feed.

Pretty cool to see them get right in there and get some mussels without having to dive.
Surf scoter have an interesting face, it looks like they smile when they open their mouth.

At Sheepshead Bay, we just followed the bird paparazzi and found the razorbill.

Saw a lot of this... also had a lot of photos of this.
When they dive they open up their wings, and like penguins flap underwater to swim.

Razorbills are in the Auk family. They are the closest relatives of the extinct (100% due to humans) great auk. The great auk genus, Pinguinus, they are the original penguins. Penguins were discovered later and given their name, but they are not closely related to auks or razorbills at all.

These birds can be found off our shores, and it is a welcome sign to see more and more. Sheepshead Bay in the last few years has turned up some good birds and I whole heartedly believe it is a testament to the improvements on our water quality. It's a crying shame that the Trump administration is rolling back some protections from the clean water act (a friendly reminder to vote if you give a hoot about our waterways).
The black and white coloration, like on penguins is called countershading, it is a wonderful form of camouflage. You blend in from above with the depths below. And prey below you never see you coming as a white belly is bright against the day time sky above the water's surface. 
We did get to see this bird come up with a fish as well, which the gulls were very keen on. The gulls then pursued it for a while and it dove and ducked out of their way and hopefully got to eat its fish.

How cute is this little birb?!

Also enjoyed this nice close view of a common loon. Sheepshead Bay offers nice close looks, so much comes close to the pedestrian walkways. A bridge also spans the bay, giving you an additional chance to get extra close without disturbing the birds.

And holy cow!
Look what it brought up!

Down the hatch.
That looks comfortable right?
Hand me a mallet and nutcracker for mine, please!


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