Monday, April 6, 2009

sun, salt, and smoke

Chrissy and I took a walk around the loop at the Salt Marsh Nature Center on Sunday afternoon. It was the perfect weather - about 63 degrees with lots of warm sun and a light breeze. Lots of waterbirds about, but not much else. Most numerous on the water, to my delight, were buffleheads! I did not think I'd see them again once the weather got warm. All told, there were probably about 20-25 of the dapper little ducks. A double-crested cormorant kept his distance. Something about that bird reminds me more of dinosaurs than any other bird I've seen. I also had the pleasure of seeing several juvenile and/or female red-breasted mergansers. Four or five bobbed in the main neck of the water, while one pair lingered in the inlet near the green bridge. I enjoyed watching these two up close as they teamed up to herd fish into shallower water. They zoomed through the water, heads down, necks forming a straight line with their spines, beaks and sometimes even eyes in the water. I could see small silver fish flopping atop the water in their attempt to escape those serrated jaws. Also hanging about in this inlet were a few American wigeons and some mallards.

The salt marsh seems a little behind the rest of Brooklyn in its trees developing buds and the land becoming generally verdant. The dry brown phragmites waved and squeaked against one another in the wind, giving me false hopes about nesting species. The only land/air birds I saw were crows, red-winged blackbirds, robins, pigeons, and starlings. Not like Jamaica Bay, where you can see many species in one visit, if you are patient. I guess it has to do with the uniformity of habitat and lack of cover available at the salt marsh. And maybe it's just not time yet.

We also followed one of many unofficial paths a short distance, to see what we could see. What we found was this area, razed and burned, with the smell of smoke yet lingering. At first I thought perhaps some careless partiers started a fire they couldn't contain, but it seemed too clean and methodical to have been an accident. Maybe it's environmental management and they have something in mind for this area, or maybe it's an old fire and there was just really nothing left. I just hated to see a wasteland in the middle of a wonderland.

The highlight of my trip to the Salt Marsh Nature Center this weekend, though, was a new life bird! I spent some time scanning the water's edge, looking for resting birds along the shore. What I saw surprised me: a squat-bodied yet leggy shorebird, dark grey above with white underparts and a most unusual beak. It was long, and thick like a drinking straw, and bright red in color. "Oystercatcher?" I said incredulously, in the very voice you imagine. I took some mental notes of the bird so I could look it up at home. It didn't seem at the time to be an obvious or correct guess, since I had no idea, until that moment, that anything about oystercatchers had ever found a home in some corner of my bird-brain. But when I had checked my library of various field guides and looked up some photos online, I felt pretty confident about my ID (nobirdy else has that telltale beak and body type) and proud that I knew something I didn't know I knew. It feels good to have a little ounce of mastery over some field of knowledge. And to add a new bird to my life list - welcome American oystercatcher!

1 comment:

Matthew said...

The oystercatcher looks like a cartoonists version of a bird, doesn't it? I've had luck the last two summers out at Dead horse Bay, watching young oystercatchers and their parents. The birds are very, very noisy.