Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Birding Robinson Crusoe Style in New York Waters

Sunday Feb 19, 2012

What’s better than being out on the ocean in the spring or fall? Being out in the winter when the weather is comparable! The spate of mild weather continues, and for those who have experienced the rough seas and the brutal temperatures of winter pelagics past, all I can say is for the time being this climate change is a pleasure!

So a group of 7 of us, plus Captain Bob went out on an inshore pelagic. Present were Seth Ausubel, Pat Aiken, Heidi Lopes, Benjamin Van Doren, Doug Gochfeld, and Corey Finger. We went out the Rockaway inlet a ways, and down the coast a bit before returning to cruise within New York Harbor and Jamaica Bay.

This year has been a good one for pelagics due to a better than average concentration of Alcids [ or so I think] and as previously mentioned it has been uncharacteristically nice with temps in the 40's and low to no wind and little to no wave action. 

Northern Gannet

Our plan was to peruse what might be out in the immediate ocean as early as possible. We got an early start by debarking at 6:30; it’s nice to have an enthusiastic group. We were not disappointed with a decent number of Razorbills, and feeding Gannets. Who doesn’t enjoy watching them plunge into the water? Also seen were Surf Scoter, gobs of Oldsquaw, and Great Cormorants in breeding plumage replete with white flank spot.

Great Cormorant

We then headed over to Swinburn and Hoffman islands, where we saw lots of roosting gulls, and quite a number of seals. The latter seemed to be as curious about us as we them!

Harbor Seals at Swinburn Island

Heading back over to the Brooklyn side, we patrolled Gravesend Bay and found an Iceland Gull and a Purple Sandpiper, and a raft of a whole mess of Greater Scaup.  It is nice to see them return around here in numbers, It was a bit harder to find them a few years ago.

Peregrine on Gil Hodges Bridge

We next headed over to Jamaica Bay in search of ducks and grebes. Stopping at the Gil Hodges bridge we saw a Peregrine sitting on the tower. Along the way Corey began chumming the gulls in with bread and popcorn attracting mostly Herring, but some Ring-billed and Great Black-backed Gulls as well. As we passed by Floyd Bennett Field we spied Gary Strauss on shore who spied us in his scope and saw the Iceland Gull off our stern. One of the Herring Gulls was banded, and Doug made note of it and was able to track it down to Appledore Island NH. It hatched in July 2011.

The grebes did not disappoint with numerous Horned Grebe being seen all about, and 4+ Red-necked Grebes in the east side of the bay. Continuing past the archery road, area, we scrutinized the shore but could not locate the Eurasian Wigeon that has been there recently amongst the numerous Am. Wigeon.

We headed over to Canarsie Pol, and had no special gulls there, and passing by Ruffle Bar Doug was able to pick out te Barrows Goldeneye in the distance. Hoping to get a closer look, Captain Bob obligingly motored us closer to Ruffle Bar, and a we bit to close to Nova Scotia Bar. The later is not visible until one is grounded upon it, so there we stayed for about an hour an a half as the dead low tide rose enough to get us floating again.

I felt certain that mutiny was imminent, but calm seas and calmer heads prevailed. In fact we had quite a good time doing a ‘Big Sit’ from the center of the bay. So what if we spent some time at a bar?  The weather could not have been better, and we basked in the warmth, -yes warmth -of the sun on the deck of the boat. We even got as many as 15 species including Turkey Vulture.

We pondered of Heydi and Pat who was Ginger, and who was Mary Ann. Corey who can go all of 5 min w/o eating, devoured all our remaining chum, half of the captain’s sandwich, and then stated: "We’re totally going to eat Arie Gilbert if it comes down to cannibalism."  I evidently was not consumed, but if anyone knows when Benjamin is...

Lest you think that navigation, particularly in inshore waters is “easy” a NYC Audubon trip on the same day got stuck in a sand bar at Swinburn Island too, and had to be towed off.  Sand happens. 

An added bonus was reconvening at Floyd Bennett Field after the trip and we got the Lapland Longspur in amongst the Horned Larks, and the others stayed and got a view of the furtive Northern shrike. 

For more on this trip and some nice pictures see Corey’s blog at 10000birds.com

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