A Winter Day at the Beach

Yesterday the heater in my building was on the fritz, so I decided that if I was going to freeze anyway, I might as well go outside and see some birds while doing it. (Plus I can’t easily type when the temperature in my office drops below 20°).

I headed out out to Jacob Riis Park to track down a pair of Harlequin Ducks that had been reported there. The Q35 bus dropped me off at Fort Tilden, where I quickly started my day list with Mallard and American Crow, as well as the usual wintering flock of hundreds of Brant.

Brant at Fort Tilden

Brant’s an unusual goose. There are tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of them all along the eastern seaboard this time of year. However they’re very rare even one or two miles inland. Unless you go to the beach in the wintertime, you might never know this bird exists.

I was on a mission though; so rather than stopping to scan the flock for a possible but unlikely Black Brant, I hoofed it over to Jacob Riis boardwalk, picking up Song Sparrow on the way. I didn’t find the Harlequins, just House Sparrows, European Starlings, Rock Pigeons, the usual three gull species (Herring, Ring-billed, and Great Black-backed) and an American Goldfinch. I kept scanning the gulls hoping to pick out the Glaucous Gull Starr Saphir had reported Monday, but no luck there either. At this point, it could be hundreds of miles away or right around the curve in the beach. There’s no way to know for sure. However on the way back I did spot a lone female Snow Bunting in the picnic grounds:

Snow Bunting at Jacob Riis Park

After back tracking to Riis Landing, I ran into Shane Blodgett who was also out looking for the Harlequins. He had a scope so we went back to the boardwalk to take another look, but they still weren’t there. We also checked a few spots along the Fort Tilden shoreline, and found some Sanderlings, a few Red-breasted Mergansers, and a Black-capped Chickadee or two; but no Harlequins.

We took our final shot down the road at Breezy Point. This was the best site of the day. The Bay side in particular was packed with Ring-billed Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Sanderlings, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Loons, a couple of Red-throated Loons, Great Cormorants, Bufflehead, and about 1750 Long-tailed Ducks. The Long-tailed flock was the largest either of us had ever seen, and might still be visible from the Coney Island side of the bay at the intersection of the boardwalk with Ocean Parkway and points east, if anyone cares to go look. Walking west along the beach we scared up one late Killdeer. Otherwise it was more of the same out to the Jetty, where Shane spotted the first Lesser Black-backed Gull of the year. This bird’s a regular European vagrant. It’s a little smaller than a Herring Gull, but looks like a lighter Great Black-backed Gull. Shane also spotted roughly 10 Common Eider. Still no Harlequins though.

We scanned the jetty for Purple Sandpiper, but no luck. Other birders have reported it there in the last few days, but once again I missed it. This may be my nemesis bird. Certainly there’s no other bird I’ve looked for as frequently with as much effort and as little success as this one.

Walking back to the Fisherman’s trail, we spotted hundred of sanderlings feeding in the tidal region, as well as one lone scoter flying swiftly North. Shane wasn’t able to scope it quickly enough to get a clear species ID though. Black Scoter seems most probable, but that’s really just a guess. Along the path back to the car we picked up our last bird of the day, Yellow-rumped Warbler, the only warbler species that overwinters here in New York. By this time it was almost 5:00 P.M. and the light was dying; but we took one quick spin around Floyd Bennett Field to look for Short-eared Owl. No luck. All we picked up was Canada Goose, before we called it a night.

So I didn’t get either Harlequin Duck or Purple Sandpiper, but we did get at least a couple of hard birds for New York City (Common Eider, Lesser-Black-backed Gull), so the day still turned out pretty nice. My year list has now reached 53 species. Unless someone reports something unusual, I think my next expedition will be Owls Head Park and the path from there along the shore to the Verrazano Narrows bridge and Coney Island to try for Purple Sandpiper again. Wish me luck.

4 Responses to “A Winter Day at the Beach”

  1. Dave Says:

    I usually see purple sandpipers on the jettys along Coney Island beach – I like to start from the sea-gate end and slowly walk back towards Brighton Beach right along the shore. Keep your eyes on the jettys, they often nest there all winter long (and if I got it wrong you can let me know : )

    I haven’t been down this year yet. Also the little sandpipers (sanderlings?) that run along the waves’ edges are always fun to look at — let me know what you find if you get to Coney Island this winter.


  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll definitely check that out, maybe as early as Friday.

  3. Mokka mit Schlag » #341 and #342 with the BBC Says:

    […] Morgan Park is another one of Long island’s annoying “Residents Only” parks. but fortunately no one bothers to enforce these rules in the winter, so we just parked and walked in. We found the usual gulls and a couple of Mute Swans on the shore, but as soon as we reached the shoreline we could see a flock of a few dozen medium-sized birds wheeling out from the end of the jetty and then landing back in the rocks. Out came the scopes; and sure enough, it was about ten Ruddy Turnstones and approximately 20 Purple Sandpipers, my second life bird of the day. As you may also recall, I’ve been looking for Purple sandpiper for some time now without success. I had given up on them for this season. When nobody in New York found any on the Great Backyard Bird Count a month ago, I assumed they’d all headed north. However, perhaps this flock was one of the flocks from New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, or North Carolina just now making its way north. In any case, I can now confidently add this species to my life list. […]

  4. Mokka mit Schlag » #477 Lapland Longspur Says:

    […] proved to be Purple Sandpipers, the closest I’ve ever seen. I had a great deal of trouble finding these a few years ago, and now here they were right in front of me. Unfortunately they weren’t the bird I was […]

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