Mostly, I like to bird alone. But sometimes, it’s fun to have a buddy. And sometimes, it’s important to have a buddy, as when you go in search of desperately confusing brownish birds in mid-molt in a realm of oppressive heat, man-eating insects, and sucking mud that has achieved not only sentience but a licensing deal with Marvel to appear as the next major supervillain opposite Captain America*. In fact, in that case, you don’t just want a buddy; you want a crack team of ultimate birding commandos who are prepared for anything.
Hence the convergence of birdbloggers (and tweeters, and so forth) at Jamaica Bay this past Saturday.
Despite threatening weather forecasts and dubious traffic conditions, ten hardy souls ultimately showed up:
Corey from 10000 Birds
Chris from Picus Blog
BirdingBev of Behind the Bins (the instigator of the expedition)
Ann Marie, the iheartwarblers tweetist
Catherine of Birdspot
Scott of Peace, Caffeine, Linux (none of which, of course, are birds, although Linux does have a bird mascot)
Cindy from Living in Brooklyn – Longing for Maine
Laura from Somewhere in NJ
Jay from birdJam
We were well-equipped with water, bug-spray, sunscreen, field reports from Friday that indicated some goodies to be found. We also discovered that we were only one of four birding groups who were making the rounds of Jamaica Bay that morning! So really, there was surprisingly little danger of being sucked down by the mud and trapped helplessly until such time as the Great Black-backed Gulls decided I looked tasty.
The day started at the north end of the East Pond, where we almost immediately spotted the previously-reported Wilson’s Phalaropes, marking my first life bird for the day. Shortly thereafter we came upon a more surprising but no less welcome bird – a surprisingly self-confident Sora strutting around in broad daylight despite the crush of birder traffic. Here yet another advantage of group birding became evident – virtually everyone has better optics than me, and seeing this bird (only the second Rail to make its mark on my life list) through someone else’s scope was infinitely preferable to squinting vaguely at it through my binoculars or trying to get closer and spoiling it for everyone.
And THEN, a little further up, there was a stunning winter-plumaged American Avocet. The word stunning is actually kind of redundant when it comes to Avocets, and although this wasn’t one for my life list, it was new for me for New York. This particular Avocet was notably unconcerned by the many, many people staring at it. It was also notably unconcerned by the gigantic Snapping Turtle that spent some time cruising alongside it before heading off in search of deeper water and meatier birds (or perhaps small horses).
Past the Avocet was the first really difficult mud-slog of the day; I escaped with only the hems of my pants damaged, but not everyone was so lucky.
Then came the bigger challenge; the inevitable massive flock of brownish birds of varying shapes, sizes, and dimensions, all of which overlapped with all the others in at least one salient feature. I was able to use my mad shorebird skillz to pick out a Ruddy Turnstone, Least and Semipalmate Sandpipers, a trio of Willets and a mass of Dowitchers (Short-billed), a few Yellowlegs (both varieties), and one more lifer – a handful of Red Knots. Mass excitement was roused by a funny-looking bird that proved to be another Turnstone (an atypical juvenile) but no Stints or anything of that kind popped up a brownish little head. And, of course, the Black-bellied Plovers in the group were scrutinized vigorously, but none were obliging enough to turn into an American Golden-Plover.
Non-shorebirds included Mallards, Canada Geese, and Mute Swans (of course), Double-Crested Cormorant, Glossy Ibiseseses, Little Blue Heron, Forsters and Black Tern, and all the expected Gulls.
Then it was off to the West Pond, for more of the same (with Common Terns subbing for the Black) plus Great Blue and Tricolored herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, Northern Shovelers and their little cousins the Blue-winged Teal. These last formerly held the coveted position of Most Embarrassing Gap on my life list. But now they must yield that position to the Black-Billed Cuckoo or maybe Evening Grosbeak. They would also be my last life birds of the day. But the Peregrine Falcon that swung over and put them all to flight, the Osprey, the assorted Night Herons, etc. kept things interesting. The only sour note was the lack of land-based migrants – not a Flycatcher to be seen, only local breeders like Yellow and Common Yellowthroat representing for the Warblers.
Then it was time for lunch. A wise man once advised that you should never try to absorb an energy field larger than your head, and this proved eerily prescient when it came to the sandwich I wound up ordering. Sadly, much of it ended up going to waste, not only because it was an obscene amount of food, but because the swiss cheese involved was petrochemical. My milkshake, on the other hand, was delicious.
Back at Jamaica Bay, we tried the south end of East Pond – not much love there, but for a young Yellow-crowned Night Heron at Big John’s Pond and the lovely but uncountable Black Swan that’s been reported there on and off for years. Upon retuning to the visitor’s center, we saw that a Marbled Godwit had been spotted just when we were at lunch. A few hardy souls (including me, as it would have been a state bird for me) went in quest of it, but the formerly insanely high tide was now insanely low, and if the Godwit was around, it was out among the shimmering heat wave beyond the reach of even those with scopes.
Then I went home, had a bath, and slept for a million years. So you can tell it was a good time.
*and you thought the Civil War arc was bad!