Friday, January 4, 2013

A Brooklyn Coastal Pelagic Trip

In what could best be described as ideal weather conditions for being out on a boat in January despite the cold temperatures, I led a trip out of Brooklyn on Captain Bob Hayes' boat the 'Karen II' that took us near shore and had us explore much of the coast of Brooklyn.

No wind, no waves, bright and sunny. This doesn't happen that often in the summer! So despite a slight delay caused by slow traffic on the Belt, we headed out looking for what was hanging about, particularly the shoreline where access is limited.

Heading out the creek, we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk resting under the Belt parkway roadway as we passed under it. Bob turned us around for a better look, but it flew away. On the way back in though, we found the bird again resting on the rocks and we all got better views.

Passing the sand spit that extends south from Plum beach, we caught sight of a lone Oystercatcher before getting into the channel. We cruised the Queens side along Breezy Point and out to the jetty. The outflow ‘castle’ is under construction so the Great Cormorants had to find other places to hang out. 

Great Cormorants on the can. No privacy
Common loons and Red-throated loons were present as expected, and remarkably numerous Oldsquaw filled the waters of the inlet. 

As we approached the tide line Shane Blodgett spotted the first of many Razorbills that were diving for their food. It was as it always is with Razorbills, a bit tricky as they dive a lot, and rest on the surface much less. Then there is the factor that they usually hide between the wave crests. But pleasantly, the waters were very calm and great looks were had by all.

At the mouth of the inlet, Gannets became more numerous, and who doesn’t enjoy watching them plunge dive? A few were in the inlet as well, and flew over the boat allowing close inspection.

Northern Gannet

Cruising west, we searched for Purple Sandpipers, and found several on close to all of the many rock groins.

Sand Purples
On one of the groins, a male Red-breasted Merganser was resting on a rock, atypically out of the water. It initially threw me as it was devoid of the signature red breast. 

Floating is hard work, This Red-breasted Merg needs a rest
If that were not bad enough, we came across a dark duck that was not a straight forward ID. Initial thought: what is that? Second thought: it's a Goldeneye, but which species? After some misleading field marks such as the white on the flanks and especially the white mark behind the bill that could have been construed as a crescent that caused some vacillation, Bob maneuvered the boat so that we were able to get up close and personal with the bird and resolve the head shape. It was not sharply pitched as Barrows, so we found it to be consistent with Common Goldeneye in eclipse plumage. 

Common Goldeneye in eclipse Plumage... Tricky
We cruised into Coney Island creek where we found lots of Brant as well as Wigeon, Mallards, and Black Duck, before heading across to Swinburne Island. Bird wise, it was devoid of life, but on the western side we came across about a dozen Harbor Seals that appeared as curious about us as we of them. 

Harbor Seal
Heading back, we came across about 30 - 50 Bonaparte’s Gulls feeding on the wrack line. They were not there earlier on the way out. It was nice to see a few as they have become much more scarce compared to 10 years ago when they would ride the inlets on the south shore of Long Island by the thousands.

After so many years of birding the pleasure is in still being able to experience new things even in birds that one has seen so many times before. It was a great day out on the water, but all around us we saw evidence of the destructive power of the ocean.

The effects of super-storm Sandy


Monica said...

Boy, I wish I could have gone on this trip!

Arie said...

send me your contact info and I'll let you know about the next trip