More on how I found the Curlew Sandpiper.
I took the train to Jamaica Bay – one of the coolest things about living in NYC is the number of birding sites accessible by subway – and then walked about 3/4 mile to the refuge. First I did the West Pond loop, though I knew that the bird was unlikely to be there, because I figured I needed a warm-up before tackling the East Pond. And boy, did I ever.
I’d never actually birded the East Pond before, because I’d previously always traveled to JBWR by bicycle, and that meant that I didn’t have all day to wander around if I wanted to get home before dark, since it’s almost twenty miles each way. Given my total lack of experience, it is perhaps not surprising that I was, shall we say, a trifle ill-equipped. Also, the visitor center map does not include the East Pond area at all, perhaps to prevent ill-equipped, inexperienced dorks like yours truly from going over there and getting sucked into the quicksand and perishing.
Oh yeah, by the way, they have quicksand.
I didn’t encounter the quicksand right away. First I had to navigate quite a distance of rough and mostly-unmarked trails. It was fortunate, I was saying to myself, that I’m much better at navigating in the woods than in the city… just as I stepped into a clearing I recognized and realized that I’d circled back on myself.
After I sorted that out, it was mostly tedious (though with the pleasant interruptions of a great many Yellow Warblers and a lovely male Towhee) until I made it to the point, nearly two miles further along, that I would have come in if I actually had a car. There I ran into two members of the Queens County Bird Club, whose names I unfortunately did not catch. I did, however, catch that they were both wearing knee-high boots and long pants…
Now, I am an extremely fortunate person inasmuch as I am not allergic to poison ivy, which apparently grows around East Pond in abundance. I am, however, allergic to tiny biting blood-sucking insects, which also grow around East Pond in abundance.
Another thing around East Pond in abundance (although not growing, hopefully, unless we’re in a Lovecraft story, which I am not ruling out) is stinky mud composed of five parts damp earth to four parts rotting plant material to one part goose shit (which is a highly advanced form of rotting plant material) (approximate formula) that is kept moist by the fluctuation of water levels in the pond. This mud is apparently great for the ecosystem of the pond; it was terrible for the ecosystem of my shoes. And, as I mentioned, in some places it composes itself into great sucking pits from which grown adults, if they once stumble in, cannot extricate themselves without help. All this the Queens birders explained to me as I trailed along carefully setting my feet in their exact bootprints.
It was here that the Curlew Sandpiper had chosen to hang out.
Alas for the sandpiper’s privacy, birders have more moxie than sense, and that includes yours truly. I navigated the mud flats without losing my shoes (though they were copiously befouled) and we finally spotted the bird on the other side of the pond. It was keeping company with some Stilt Sandpipers, and it was still in bright summer plumage, so it was fairly easy to spot. It was then that my second motive for tagging along with better-equipped birders came into play, since they were kind enough to let me look through their scopes when my binoculars provided an id-able but unsatisfying image.
The Curlew Sandpiper was apparently handling the pressures of celebrity well; it fed on, unconcerned, as a man on the opposite shore got within a few feet of it and photographed it. I, alas, got no such permanent mementos, only long looks; but on the other hand, we also spotted a Gull-billed Tern hanging out on the small island in the center of the pond, so it’s not like I have anything to complain about really.
Except the second-degree sunburn, and the insect bites, and my shoes. And the two mile walk back to the visitor center for water. But that just proves that I’m hardcore, yo.