Brooklyn Coastal Trip

It’s sometimes easy to forget that New York is a coastal city, but it is; and yesterday Peter Dorosh led the Brooklyn Bird Club on an excursion to three of our local coastal sites.

We started the day at Calvert Vaux Park (nee Dreier-Offerman Park), one of the most underbirded sites in the borough. This park is nestled between Coney Island and the Verazzano Narrows Bridge on Gravesend Bay where Coney Island Creek enters. It’s mostly built on rock excavated during the construction of the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. It’s small, about 70 acres, but very productive, especially in Fall. We arrived their about 7:30 and spent 3 and a half hours there racking up almost 60 species, including two new ones for my Kings County list: Northern Pintail and Eastern Bluebird. That last one is particularly hard to find in the city limits. I’ve only seen it once before in New York City, and that was on Staten Island. Pintails are rare here everywhere except Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

View from Calvert Vaux Park with Brant

A few raptors were quite active at Dreier-Offerman yesterday. The first we spotted were two Peregrine Falcons perched on soccer goals. We also spotted some Cooper’s Hawks, including this one feeding on what we think was a Blue Jay:

Cooper's Hawk tearing flesh

However, it’s hard to be sure since only the latter third of the meal was still visible. Finally as we were getting ready to leave a lone Red-tailed Hawk flew over.

The next stop was Coney Island pier. Coney Island isn’t the best birding site in the city, but in the winter time it does produce some unusual species, yesterday including three loon species: two Common Loons, two Red-throated Loons, and one Homo sapiens (male) skinny dipping in the 13°C ocean. On one of the jettys I also spotted my third county bird of the day: a Purple Sandpiper, the only shorebird that overwinters here in New York and a former nemesis bird.

We also saw several dozen Laughing Gulls. Most Laughing Gulls have headed south for the winter by now, but apparently the Coney Island birds are a tougher breed; either that or they can’t tear themselves away from Nathan’s.

Peter Dorosh, Sandi Paci, John Criscitello, Suzanne Ortiz

After a hot dog lunch at Nathan’s with the gulls, we decamped to our final destination of the day, Floyd Bennett Field. This former airfield borders Jamaica Bay and Dead Horse Bay. It’s also the only significant grassland habitat left in New York City. The significance of this was emphasized by the presence of at least 26 Horned Larks on the cricket field. This is the only place in New York City I’ve ever spotted this grassland species, though here they’re almost regular.

Prior to the cricket field, though we checked the end of Archery road which is a good place for various waterfowl , shorebirds, and gulls. It’s getting late for shorebirds, so I was surprised to see three species perched on the pilings: Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, and Ruddy Turnstone. Also present were our first definite American Wigeons of the day. (There’d been a possible sighting at Dreier-Offerman in the morning but no one was sure.) Both Double-crested and Great Cormorants were also perching on the pilings, offering nice comparisons between the two similar species.

We also wandered through the North 40 picking up many Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, and Hermit Thrushes. The Return-a-Gift Pond was hosting a small group of waterfowl including Mallards, Northern Shovelers, and the some beautiful Green-winged Teal drakes in full breeding plumage, closer than I’ve ever seen them before.

We finished the day across Flatbush Ave. at Dead Horse Bay (so named due to the horse bones that still wash up there from an old rendering plant that closed decades ago). Dead Horse Bay is a little more sheltered than the main part of Jamaica Bay, so it often pulls in interesting waterfowl. This day it supported American Black Ducks, one Greater Scaup, seven or so Buffleheads, and a lone Horned Grebe (my first of the season). Song sparrow and Carolina Wren were also present in the woods.

We left for home as dusk was quickly approaching. Total species count for the day was 66 species:

  • Red-throated Loon
  • Common Loon
  • Horned Grebe
  • Great Cormorant
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Canada Goose
  • Brant
  • Mute Swan
  • Gadwall
  • American Wigeon
  • American Black Duck
  • Mallard
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Northern Pintail
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Greater Scaup
  • Bufflehead
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Ruddy Duck *
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • American Kestrel
  • American Coot
  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Dunlin
  • Laughing Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Mourning Dove
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Eastern Phoebe *
  • Blue-headed Vireo *
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Horned Lark
  • Tree Swallow*
  • Winter Wren
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet*
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet*
  • Hermit Thrush
  • American Robin
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • European Starling
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • Palm Warbler
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Common Grackle *
  • House Finch
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Sparrow

* Seen by group but not by me personally

2 Responses to “Brooklyn Coastal Trip”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    I like to tell people I live on a small island off the eastern coast of North America. You, of course, live on a somewhat larger such island (3567 km^2 vs. only 52 km^2).

  2. John Cowan Says:

    Indeed, I understated the case: Long Island is not only the largest of the U.S. offshore islands, it’s also far and away the most populous, with 7.4 million people.

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