Purple Sandpipers (no, they’re not actually purple, sorry to disappoint) breed in northern Canada, far away from a lot of things, including Brooklyn. In the winter, they come south and spend the off-season on rocky shores and jetties. So, I decided, I will ride my bike down to Bay Ridge, where the shores are plenty rocky, and see them – thus getting them not only for my life list but also for my BGBY list. Sure, it’s a twenty-mile round trip, but biking is fun and healthful and besides the sandpipers there’s liable to be diving ducks, maybe some loons. And so Sunday’s plans were made.

Of course, normal people might have changed their plans when Sunday’s forecast called for snow and 25-mile-per-hour gusts of wind.

The day actually started out nice enough. We were out the door by noon, well before the cold front began to have its wicked way with the borough, although the wind was already pretty feisty. Zipping through Brooklyn Bridge Park (well, not zipping so much; trudging, because riding your bike in Brooklyn Bridge Park is a big no-no) we came upon a flock of Brant, only a few yards away from the spot in Brooklyn Bridge Park where I saw my very first Brant a couple of years ago.

Brant in the East River

Some Brant discuss the coming epic cold front

Then there was a bit of a dead stretch. Dead as in not many birds and dead as in it would have been very easy to be blown into traffic and get that way. By the time we made it to Owl’s Head Park, the first flakes were coming down and the wind was enough to push me up the pier without pedaling. I enjoyed it. It was pretty much the only time all day I would get a decent tail wind.

Now, I had to actually find a Sandpiper in this mess.

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper. Note the orange legs and base of the bill (actually much brighter than they appear in the field guide) and the eye ring, as well as the characteristic habitat.

Happily, I was able to come through, and thus redeem our rapidly freezing toes. The Purple Sandpipers (I eventually saw five, plus a flock of about seven small birds flying away that probably weren’t anything else but couldn’t be really called identified,) were intimidated by neither the roiling waters of the bay nor the proximity of joggers and rollerbladers on the greenway above. Seriously, I can’t think of a better spot to watch these birds, although maybe on a slightly warmer day. I didn’t even have to get my binoculars our to make the ID.

The wind did have the happy effect of driving the waterfowl – including three Greater Scaup, five Buffleheads, a Merganser that I couldn’t pin down before it dived and disappeared, and a whole lot more Brant – in fairly close to shore.

Now the snow was coming down in earnest, and we had to get home. The rest of the trip was fairly unbirdy, although I identified American Crow and Canada Goose by ear (I know, such skill!) and had brief hopes for a Northern Cardinal when Todd called out “A redbird!”, only to see one of these:

Redbird subway car

The last “Redbird” subway car made its last passenger run in 2003. Some are now work trains, some are museum pieces, and some are… well, that’s another entry.

All photos, as always, by Todd Zino.

Species List:

Brant Branta bernicla
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Cormorant sp.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Purple Sandpiper Calidris maritima *life list*
Bufflehead Bucephela albeola
Merganser sp.
Greater Scaup Aythya marila
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
Canada Goose Branta canadensis

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