Saturday, February 18, 2012

NYC rarities

Saturday morning saw a pre-dawn sprint to Jamaica Bay with the singular purpose of seeing the male Barrow's Goldeneye on the West Pond. Often enough at this time of year the West Pond is a sheet of ice, but given the nature of the winter there wasn't any ice anywhere. Instead there was a large flock of diving ducks roosting on the pond: primarily Red-breasted Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks and Goldeneyes with not a great deal of diversity (very low scaup numbers, no Canvasback, very few dabbling ducks). The Barrow's was pretty easy to find - at the front edge of the large Goldeneye flock in good light. Distant, so no photos. Goldeneyes started leaving the West Pond at 7:15am, noticeably noisy in flight because of the whistle of their primaries. With 100+ Goldeneyes roosting, finding the Barrows out in the bay itself would have been a big problem. The Goldeneyes were making mating displays (including the Barrows) which was generally true of most ducks that weren't already paired up. Also present were a few Snow Geese, again often absent in Feb as they head further south in response to freezes.

Once satiated by views of Barrow's, I went west to Breezy Point where I did not find any Snowy Owls (and neither did the birder that I met). I spent time scoping the Atlantic - nothing novel except a large flock of Long-tailed Duck and close fly-by Great Cormorant in breeding plumage. On the beach I spent some time photographing Sanderlings.

Finally I came back north across the bridge on Flatbush Ave to Floyd Bennett Field in search of three species: Northern Shrike (for NYC list), Red-necked Grebe (for year list) and Eurasian Wigeon (for year list). I struck out on the Eurasian Wigeon at the first attempt, but found eight Red-necked Grebes on a single scan from Archery Road. Surely a high count for me. Good luck continued when a group of Brooklyn/Manhattan birders showed me the elusive Northern Shrike. The Shrike rewarded some additional patience by hunting along the edge of the runway in plain sight, given some record shot photos that show the residual brown barring of an immature - without the benefit of photos it basically has the coloration of an adult. Finally a return trip to Archery Road gave me straightforward views of the Eurasian Wigeon male, a species that had eluded me at Perth Amboy so far this year. With waterfowl starting to make a move north, the obvious question is how longer most of these birds will stick around.

Having had a pretty successful morning I then proceeded to have a futile afternoon in NJ: not finding any trails into Great Piece Meadows for Rusty Blackbirds (apparently access is informal); failing to find the Northern Shrike at Boonton; not seeing any white-winged gulls at the boat launch in Edison where the species were Herring/Ring-billed Gulls and Mallard. Hard to complain about that, given the successful morning.

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