I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Plum Beach lately. Once upon a time, it was apparently a noted cruising spot*; it is now generating a lot of buzz as a place for saltmarsh birds.
I didn’t quite get it. I’d biked by Plum Beach many times – it’s located right off the greenway to Floyd Bennet Field and thus to Jamaica Bay – and I’d seen a lot of people fishing, letting their dogs runs around, and generally making nuisances of themselves in the sand, but little that looked promising as far as birds went. But then again, I’d never actually stopped there.
So on Sunday I stopped.
Initially, my first impression seemed accurate. I walked up and down the seashore, seeing Gulls, and more Gulls, and yet more Gulls, scads of Brant, and a couple of Sanderlings. Lots of very interesting shells and washed-up things, including a dead Herring Gull (first year, I think) and one wing from a Yellow-shafted Flicker (conveniently, one of the easiest birds to identify if all you’ve got is a wing), but not much to put on the ol’ day list. Still, I doubted very much that there was a conspiracy to trick me into thinking that the birding was good here, so I kept on, a little farther and a little farther.
When we came into sight of the Gil Hodges bridge, I reluctantly decided it was time to turn around. The Inimitable Todd, whether out of sheer inimitability or because he’d earlier spotted a gentleman with a scope up on the dunes or because he was sick of the sand in his shoes, suggested that we cut through the scrub instead of retracing our steps, so we did.
Almost immediately, we found a clutch of birders staring intently into a stand of grass. A Clapper Rail called from within, but alas, the grass was far too high to allow me to add another Rail to my life list that day; no, the quarry was Sparrows.
Of course, the Sparrows that make saltmarshes their home are unobliging, secretive creatures who practically have to be knocked over the head before they’ll let you get a good look. Ergo, clearly the Nelson’s Sharptailed Sparrows who sat obligingly in the grass allowing beautiful looks were from Bizzaro World, or perhaps the Island of Misfit Ammodramus. Still, there they were.
We lingered a bit, hoping against hope that the Clapper Rail might see fit to pop up out of the vegetation, but it was not to be. Large flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds flew over and a single Northern Flicker (with both its wings) put in an appearance; a single Yellow-rumped Warbler picked among the berries near the road. It was a beautiful place, and I only wish I’d discovered it sooner.
Then it was back on the road, or rather the bike path; I hoped to hit Jamaica Bay while it was still early, maybe pick up some of those Pine Siskins that everyone and her brother have been spotting lately, maybe have the IT get some good pictures of Snow Geese. Yes, much joy was in store, I was sure, once I hit Jamaica Bay.
Instead, I hit a post.
For one short but very unpleasant moment, I felt myself falling. Then I skidded along the ground a little. Then I tried to get up, but my leg wouldn’t cooperate; I quickly ascertained that that was because it was tangled up with the frame of the bike, and a few deep breaths later I was able to extricate myself.
Fortunately, my leg was scraped and bruised, not broken or wrenched; equally fortunately, I was wearing my helmet (I always do.) Fortunately as well, my binoculars were undamaged. Go Minox!
My bike, not so much. The front wheel was badly bent, so it was back to Williamsburg to get the wheel put into the straightening machine for me and the IT. No Snow Geese; no Pine Siskins.
Still, it could have been much worse, and a day that produced a life Sparrow can’t be written off as a total loss.
*It occurs to me that an interesting post could be born of a careful examination of the convergent ecological needs of birdwatchers and guys looking for anonymous gay sex. But perhaps another time.