Tuesday, July 8, 2008

joys at Jamaica Bay

The forecast projected a hot day, and I had plenty of time before work, so Chrissy and I headed down to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge for some cool sea air and good birding. I haven't been there since the beginning of April, which is really a shame, but that's how it goes. This outing was the first time I've been to Jamaica Bay when it was all green and not brown. Like Fern Gully. We took the path around the West pond, like usual. Someday we'll do the East Pond path - maybe a day when I don't have to be anywhere else. The West Pond path is covered in gravel - nice, loud gravel that's great for scaring away birds. After a few hundred yards, the gravel gets finer and therefore quieter to walk upon. We stopped at the osprey nest to see who was home - two ospreys, as luck would have it. One big, dark one, and one smaller, not-so-dark one, I think. As we drove into the parking lot at the visitor center I had seen a huge dark bird flying toward the pond. I caught a glimpse of its white head markings and knew it was an osprey - but WOW those things are absolutely huge in flight! The only other time I saw a flying osprey was at Caumsett a few weeks ago, but it was far off and I didn't get the close up WOW factor. Loooong wings.

On the West Pond itself I saw a lot of birds. Two days ago, we went out to Crooke's Point at Great Kills on Staten Island and I saw my first terns. I wasn't able to identify them then, so I spent some time reading over the entries and looking at pictures in my various field guides. Fat lot of good that did me! I was surrounded by terns at the West Pond, what seemed like at least two different kinds, maybe three. Many were showing off their slender, angular, tapered wings in flight, which doesn't afford a great view of field marks, and a few were poking about at pond's edge, just a little too far away for me to see anything beyond the black hood and red beak with black tip. Counted among their number, though, I found a really cool dude. And I knew what it was right away because of my recent attempted brush-up on terns and their allies. My very first black skimmer! With its ridiculous underbite, multicolored bill, and stark black-and-white body, I imagine it would have kind of a dumb speaking voice like Beaky Buzzard from Looney Tunes. I didn't get to see it "skimming" the water with its beak, but I really enjoyed seeing this new bird.

Off in the distance on the mudflats/seagrass, I saw something interesting. It was smaller than a great blue heron, but bigger than a black-crowned night heron, and more like the great blue in shape and neck-length. In the bright midday summer sun it appeared to have a dark, shiny blue body and a brilliant purple neck. I couldn't tell much more about it from that far away except that it had long legs. I hope I solve that mystery someday!

On the pond side, I saw what seemed to be a young great blue heron testing out its hunting skills. It looked like it needed some serious practice. The bird was stalking in the shallows, stretching out its wings, and stabbing wildly into the water. I thought hunters were supposed to be stealthy!

As we rounded the western edge of the pond, I got to see ducklings! They were far off, paddling around their mother, and about twice the size of the one I found in the woods in Prospect Park, so not quite as cute. But there they were - five ducklings amidst several kinds of waterbirds. Now I can ease up on my quest to see them, and enjoy them a little less desperately.

Somewhere around bench 10 or 11, at water's edge I spotted three birds - two Canada geese(usual) and one glossy ibis(exciting)! Not to go all Monty Python on you, but seriously, what beautiful plumage!

Soon after that I saw something I didn't recognize. With its contrasting colors - a beautiful grey body and dark head with bright crown and white cheek - the bird was dressed to the nines. I looked it up later to find out it was a yellow-crowned night heron.

At Blind Pond, I actually saw birds. I guess that's what happens when I go there in season. I got a great view of a bright blue tree swallow preening itself on a pointed limb near a nest box. When a drab brown swallow returned to the nest box, the blue one took off, so perhaps they were a pair and the blue guy's guard duty was over. Bathing in Blind Pond was a gray catbird, and something about the same size as the catbird, except fuller in the body. The bird had a lovely, long, dusky red tail, and a stout beak. The body was dull greyish with a tinge of red all over. The bird had been bathing as well, so its feathers were ruffled. It flew off at the catbird's insistence and I did not see it again. Also from the blind I saw a ton of little yellow birds, but no amount of consulting my various field guides satisfies me about which warbler it might have been. They were about 4 inches, maybe 5, and where they were yellow (head, breast, belly, vent) they were VERY yellow. The wings were a dusky grey-green. I think they had yellowish beaks. Very dark eyes, with a ring of even brighter yellow around them, but not spectacles. Any ideas on that one?

My mom and sisters are coming to visit two weekends from now, and I hope to take them to Jamaica Bay, if not for the birds (I'm the lone birder in my family) then for the beautiful surroundings. I always feel so much at peace when I am there, breathing the sea air and feeling the sun on my face.


Doug said...

Your mystery bird sounds like a Little Blue Heron.

Thew said...

Isn't that a lovely spot? Can be a bit brutal under the sun this time of year, but with such exotica (I mean for NYC) as clapper rails and American bittern, not to mention those positively Egpytian ibises, and laughing gulls cackling overhead like escapees from the psych ward, and Don Riepe pulling mating horseshoe crabs out of the water to point out their naughty bits, well, hell, what else is the A train for?

AKA Bird Nerd said...

I just got back to Washington State after 2 weeks in Maine. I have a suggestion for you - learn the bird sounds. My son-in-law IDs a bird before we even see it. I can't do it so well cause I don't know the east coast birds, but I was learning. It really helped to ID the warblers.

Taking photos of those little birds was a real challenge. I do much better taking duck photos here in Puget Sound. I had over 20 lifers this trip. We traveled through JFK and I thought of you. I'll have to say I don't have any love for that airport. Anyway, I just wanted to say I think you are doing very well with your bird IDing when you really look at a bird and then check the field guide later. If you learn your bird sounds (I'm sure you know some already) it will help you out.