While all the cool bird bloggers were off participating in the Superbowl of Birding, I got up way too early with the intention of seeing the Inimitable Todd off on his trip to North Carolina and subsequently going to Jamaica Bay so I could get my birding in before the TSA discovers that there are geese there and thus determines that the park is a threat to airline security.
A touch of lateness meant that I fulfilled my first mission very incompletely (although the IT did make his flight, barely), and the second met with attempted thwartation when I went to get off the train. Apparently Broad Channel needs to work on its PR, because three different people, including a conductor, attempted to convince me that I didn’t want to get off because Broad Channel is not, in fact, Far Rockaway. I explained to them that I was aware, but it wasn’t the sort of thing that I’d been mentally prepared to deal with so early, and it left a bad taste in my forehead.
As I walked down Cross Bay Boulevard towards the park, I noticed that it was, as usual, colder near the water and a stiff breeze was blowing. These would later prove to be very salient facts.
At Jamaica Bay proper, I soon found myself creeping along an ice-covered path without another human being in sight. That part was rather romantic, in a Jack London sort of way, but more annoyingly, there were also very few birds in sight. The West Pond was nearly devoid of open water, and even the bay was sporting quite a bit of icy cover. The enormous flocks of Snow Geese I’d been hoping for, perhaps flecked with a few cooperative Ross’s Geese and a Barnacle Goose or two, were nowhere to be found. The little liquid available was dominated by Canada Geese and Mallards, although Brant and Black Ducks put in a good showing, and of course a small raft of Bufflehead put in an appearance, as they are apparently legally obligated to do at every body of water in New York from December through March. Honestly, I’m surprised that I don’t find Bufflehead in my sink when I go to brush my teeth in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great birds. They have moxie. They’re spiffy. I’m just saying, they’re ubiquitous.
Of course, Jamaica Bay is not just for waterfowl. There were gulls, just the usual suspects, taking advantage of the thick ice by using it to drop shellfish on. There were a number (5) of American Tree Sparrows and quite a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, highly welcome little critters that didn’t seem slowed down by the cold at all. And as I came around a corner, I put up a lovely Northern Harrier, which means that I have seen as many Northern Harriers in January of 2009 as I saw in all of 2008, and that’s something.
Both of my 2009 Harriers have been immatures. A lot of people talk up the mature male “gray ghosts”, and those are gorgeous birds, but the warm red-brown of the young birds is something special too, especially on a day when Mother Nature has redecorated in ice, dead grass, and leaden water. So the Harrier warmed my heart, but it didn’t warm my toes, inappropriately shod in Vans. I looped around into the gardens, hoping vaguely for an Orange-crowned Warbler or perhaps one of the wandering Cross-bills that have been popping up around town, but got only a stubborn more-than-half-hardy pair of Brown Thrashers and a trio of imperious American Crows. I decided that skipping the East Pond was the better part of valor and headed home.