Monday, August 16, 2021

Birdday Re-do Success!

     All I ever want for my birthday is to look at birds, so I was pretty bummed that on my birthday it was a 100% rainy day. I really hate birding in the rain, I hate wet binoculars, I hate being soggy, just really not into it. So I was pretty bummed to be not birding and was pretty bummed about my birthday.

    So I decided that the following week I'd give myself a birthday re-do, and I did. I got up early yesterday to a cool morning, winds that would keep the bugs at bay, and perhaps move some migrant birds around. The humidity was non-existent. And the sun, there was sun! I headed to the East Pond at Jamaica Bay and was delivered a few of the things I had been hoping to see plus a few great surprises.

     On my birthday I also got myself a Phone Skope and got to play around with it, it's pretty awesome. I love using it. I'd love to try it on a not windy day because the photos were just too shaky, but it took great video! So I'm looking forward to playing around with that more. If you have a scope, it was worth it, it might even replace my camera for shore birding.

One of those nice surprises was a black tern who was working the shoreline close to where myself and a few others were standing.
And then of course, all of a sudden a much bigger bird popped overhead and a young peregrine gave this bird the run-around. I got sub par photo evidence of it, was more happy to see it.

Lots of these, lesser yellowlegs.
I went hoping to see some phalaropes, where basically look like swimming sandpipers. But today the lesser yellow legs were swimming and the phalaropes were wading. So what that means is that I looked at a lot of yellowlegs thinking they could be a phalarope, only to be a swimming lesser yellowlegs.

Was hoping to see some peeps and enjoyed being able to pick out the white-rumped sandpipers from the crowd.
I feel like every shorebird summer, I am second guessing and reacquainting myself and then by end of summer, I feel like a shorebird master... only to fall back the following year. Shorebirds are tough but fun to find and get familiar with the sometimes subtle differences.
For this one, it body is a bir more elongated than the semipalmated and its wing tips go past the tail, sometimes even crossing in an "x," like you see on these two.

Saw some stilt sandpipers the last time I was here and was happy to be able to recognize them as stilt sandpipers. The ebird flags often intimidate me too. These came up as rare and this was just one of a few small groups.

They are pretty, the stilt sandpipers, they look like a wooden carving with that plumage.

There were mostly least sandpipers around. And aren't they just so cute?!

I only saw one of the two phalarope species that had been seen for over the last week, this is the Wilson's.
While it stinks to miss one, the Wilson's Phalarope was walking on the shore where I and other birders were so we got some lovely close looks at it.
Unlike the sandpipers and the yellowlegs that look fairly similar, this bird is shaped like a boat, it has a heavy and deep belly, and like a boat it flats real well, swimming. Often they swim in circles to stir up prey and other edible yummies.

I was so pleased with the birds I got to observe today, the day continued on a fairly positive path. The kiddo took a perfectly timed nap so that we could pack up some beach things and then head to the beach for lunch and the late afternoon.

Here is a video I pieced together with my new Phone Skope on my (fairly) new Vortex Viper Spotting Scope along with an iPhone 12Max Pro. Pretty pleased with the results, despite the wind! Following birds by scope is definitely tough!

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Story of A Wood Stork Wanderer

Content Warning: This story contains details of animal death.

     How exciting, birder Anthony C. of Staten Island reported a WOOD STORK on Staten Island. It's been a banner year for wood storks in New York State, a few of these birds have made their way up to NY, one earlier this spring in the Hamptons, another upstate, and then this one, a Verrazano Bridge Toll away, right before the Goethal's Bridge.

    Wood storks are birds of Florida and the warmer climes - New York is quite out of their way, but this bird was a youngster, perhaps it didn't know. Of course I went to see it the following day it was reported and noted how cute it was for what many regard as a bird with a face only a mother could love. As adults, bare, brown, wrinkly skin is around their face and neck, but this one still had quite a fuzzy brown look to it meaning it was a juvenile bird. Who knows what drove it this way, perhaps following food, weather patterns, or perhaps we can all fantasize it as the young bird that dreamed about what was out in that wild blue yonder, big dreams for a big city. 

    So, off it went on it's flight from wherever it was born, and it ended up in Richmond Country, the fifth borough that folks beyond New York City can never remember or even realize is part of NYC. To most everyone, it's best known as Staten Island. And while most scoff it away as that borough you really never visit, except for maybe your extended Italian Family, it's actually our greenest borough and has some beautiful hidden treasures among it. It's the borough of parks, and this bird found The Global Matrix Park. Better known as the Amazon Fulfillment Center. 

    (This is where you insert a joke about Amazon delivering a stork... a bird paired up with the delivery of babies. Who ordered this bird?!)

    You might question this bird on why the heck it would choose an Amazon Fulfillment center, but this bird is one that in Florida frequents drainage canals and storm runoff ditches. I saw my first one driving past a stork in such a ditch along the roadside in Florida. So, a small pond in a wetland butting up against a center full of trucks humming and idling nearby was probably feeling quite like home. It called this place home for about a week and a half.

    Generally vagrant birds don't fare too well, they do, in most cases meet their demise. I thought about this in driving home from seeing this stork, this perverse way we go to see this bird whose journey here could essentially be a death sentence. But hey, I have a New York City wood stork! And that is generally what most folks think, in terms of listing; but also in fairness the documentation through community science platforms, this is most excellent data.

    This is where this story takes a turn for the worse. Yesterday, reports on the NYS bird list serves went out, the stork was found dead. It's body was collected with proper permitting and its cause of death was to be looked at. What a sad tragic end for a young bird.

    Today came the report of its very likely cause of death. A three foot long piece of foam was pulled from its gut. Looking similar to their natural prey of eels, snakes and fish, it ate it up. When animals consume plastic, trash, and other items that are not natural it generally leads to complications in their gut and ultimately death. Now, the birding community is shocked; how awful! We already are upset by unfriendly bird buildings, outdoor cats, oil spills, habitat degradation, and light pollution among so many other things, but we often are forgetful about our direct impact on the natural world. We live in a city where trash is just another part of the scenery many of us disregard it as a bag blows by our walking path; yet we are quite aware of the gyres of plastic in the ocean, but forget, easily, its everywhere and it causes trouble everywhere.

    So here is my message, as an educator where it is my job, day in and day out to spread this message and include as many people from all different backgrounds and cultures as I can, as a community it is so important to focus on the bigger picture. This happens to birds and wildlife on the daily around the world. Of course when it happens to an animal that is quite unique and has garnered attention it seems so incredibly shocking, but the truth is it happens all the time.

    If you want to make changes, make changes yourself where you can. The truth is we can't quit plastic, but there are many plastic things we can quit. Talk to your friends, your family, your neighbors, your local bird club, and your community leaders, put your support behind policies that help not only wildlife but us too. Buy used items instead of those freshly produced, plastic lasts forever and chances are you can find items in good condition instead of purchasing brand new (plus it saves $$). Reduce and refuse plastic as much as you can. Plastic recycling is a farce and most plastic that is dumped in that bin with the three cyclical arrows is either put into the landfills anyway or burned (a lot of countries where we'd ship our plastic for recycling no longer want our trash, because they are neck deep in it). It's cheaper to make new plastic and most plastic that is recycled is down cycled into a lower grade plastic like textiles that are a dead end for that petroleum based concoction.

    So if the story of the wood stork has saddened you, I urge you to turn that sadness into empowerment and to do something, even if it's just quitting your Starbucks run and getting a new single use cup every day with just making some iced coffee at home (y'all, it's really easy). Or if it's something bigger, writing your officials or getting behind policies that can help wildlife and their homes. The truth is we need to start doing something as a whole, because the plastic problem is a big one and it's going to take more than just a few people who bring their own metal straws to the bar.

A fuzzy feathery head marks this bird as a juvenile.

That large, heavily bill is their primary tool for feeling for and snapping up food hiding below the surface.

A snowy egret, a bird familiar to it's home range, forages alongside it.

I hope others can hop on board with understand just how bad the plastic problem is and become part of the solution.