Monday, December 8, 2014

December 7 - western Long Island

After yesterday's rains it was clear and cool with strong northwest winds. Ed Eden and I went out to Point Lookout and Jones Beach to try for a few life birds for Ed. We started at Point Lookout. The first breakwater out from the parking lot was covered in Dunlin. I was sorry I had forgotten my camera in the car, since it would have made a nice picture. The breakwater had a carpet of several hundred Dunlin, fairly evenly distributed over it and all facing into the wind, which meant all facing us. Scanning through the birds the occasional nearly white spot of a Sanderling really jumped out of the dark Dunlins. Then Ed spotted an even darker bird on the outer edge of the rocks - a check through my scope confirmed it as a lone Purple Sandpiper, but unfortunately it dropped down into a crevice, out of sight, before Ed could get a good look at it. We walked east along the beach towards Jones Inlet. The next breakwater had 30 - 40 Common Eiders off it. At the inlet breakwater Ed spotted his main target bird of the day, a pair of Harlequin Ducks - a life bird for him. The birds were very cooperative and gave us excellent views, swimming past us and then flying westward to the middle breakwater. Satisfied here we headed back to the car. Offshore there were a few Common Loons and Horned Grebes. On the way out of the parking lot there was a small flock of Pine Siskins flying around, evidently put up by a roving Sharp-shinned Hawk.

At Jones Beach, we first stopped at the Coast Guard Station parking lot. We scanned the island across the way, hoping for the lingering Marbled Godwit that has been present for weeks, but there was no sign of it among the Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlins, Sanderlings, and two American Oystercatchers. The hedgerow along the Coast Guard fence was quiet except for a Northern Mockingbird. We ran into a few other birders, including Sy Schiff. They told us there wasn't a lot around and no one had seen the godwit. With that negative reports Ed and I decided to head over to the West End 2 parking field. On entering the lot we immediately turned east and started driving along the north edge of the lot. In a short distance I told Ed to stop! On the pavement in front of us was the Common Ground-Dove that has been lingering here for more than a month now.

Common Ground-Dove, Jones Beach                                                                            © Joseph DiCostanzo
This was Ed's second life bird of the day. I called Sy on his cell to let him know about the dove. After a few rings he answered. When I told him where the dove was, he said: "I was photgraphing it and had to put down my camera when you called." I looked around and saw that unnoticed by me Sy had driven up in his car just a little to our right.

After a rest stop Ed and I checked out the "swale" in front of the buildings on the south side of the parking lot. We could see several flocks of landbirds swirling around the area. They were primarily Horned Larks and a good number of Snow Buntings mixed in. The birds kept picking up, flying around and then settling to feed for a minute or so before picking up again. Scanning through the birds on the ground, I quickly picked out a Lapland Longspur - Ed's third life bird before 11 am! I don't know exactly how many longspurs were there since we never saw more than one at a time, but everytime the birds landed it would it would take less than a minute to pick out a longspur. Talking to Tom Burke and others later they said they estimated six to seven longspurs were present. While walking the beach to the east side of Jones Inlet, I spotted another Longspur in a flock of Snow Buntings that landed on the edge of the dunes. At the inlet there was a good group of Common Eiders, perhaps the same birds we had seen earlier from the Point Lookout side. There were also a few Surf and Black scoters.

Later in the morning Ed and I were treated to nice views of a very white Snowy Owl. In keeping with the usual informal rules on reporting owls, I will not mention precisely where we found it, but Snowys have been found around the New York area in the last couple of weeks, but not in the incredible numbers of last winter.

Snowy Owl                                                                                                 © Joseph DiCostanzo
The above picture was taken from a good distance away and is cropped and blown-up. We gave the bird lots of space. At one point it had a bunch of Snow Buntings running around it.

In the afternoon, Ed and I headed west to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn to try for the continuing Cassin's Kingbird still lingering there. This turned out to be our miss of the day. Another birder told us the kingbird had been spooked by a passing Cooper's Hawk about a half hour before we got there. As far as I know the kingbird was not seen again in the afternoon despite a number of birders looking for it.

I didn't add anything to my New York year list, but it was a great day's birding and any day you can get another birder some nice life birds is a good day.

[UPDATE: Ed sent me an email that when he checked his records he found he had seen Lapland Bunting (as it is known over there) in England in 2010. So he only had two life birds, plus a North American bird. Still, a very good day!]

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