#341 and #342 with the BBC

Yesterday I joined the Brooklyn Bird Club on a trip led by Peter Dorosh to the Northern Reaches of Nassau and Queens Counties. Overall there were fourteen participants including Starr Saphir, Lenore Swenson, Michael Zablocky, Sandi Paci, Suzanne Ortiz, and myself. We jumped from park to park along the coast, usually spending between 30 and 90 minutes at each. While you don’t get to explore any one site in detail, and may miss some birds that are present, this strategy does produce a high total species count. The complete list for the day was 71, though I’m not sure if anyone in the group personally saw each of the 71.

The first stop was the Alley Pond Environmental Center on Northern Parkway in Queens, which produced numerous good birds including Osprey, American Tree Sparrow, 2 American Woodcock, American Goldfinch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Carolina Wren. This location used to be cut off from the rest of Alley Pond Park by the LIE, but I’m now told there’s now a tunnel underneath the highway. Nonetheless, the site was quite muddy so we split after an hour of exploring the less muddy sections, and headed down the road to Oakland Lake.

I had never been to Oakland Lake before. It’s really just a large pond about a half mile in circumference a little to the west of Alley Pond Park, but Mike thought we might find Rusty Blackbird there; and he was right. Other species at the Lake included Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal, Gadwall (4), Ring-billed Gull, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Rock Pigeon, Canada Goose, American Coot, and the first and only Great Blue Heron of the day.

Third stop was Udall’s Cove, a small inlet off the Long Island Sound that hugs the Nassau/Queens border. At the intersection of Little Neck Pkwy and 255th street, we found Brown-headed Cowbird, probably 100+ European Starlings, and a few waterfowl including Brant, Mallard, Canada Goose, and Red-breasted Merganser.

Udall's Cove

From the shore, we could see a small park across the water that promised better views. Peter thought he could find it, and he was right. However, it proved to be in one of those annoying gated communities, this one of the oldest known as Douglaston; and there was no parking and no access to non-residents.

Non-locals and non-visitors may not know this, but most of Long Island including some parts of Queens and even Brooklyn is quite fond of walling itself off from the scary folks from the city they moved out to the suburbs to escape. The exact identify of the scary folks changes from generation to generation, of course. When Douglaston was built they were probably trying to keep out the Jews. 40 years ago it was the blacks. Today it’s probably the Latinos. Strategies usually include some combination of putting up No Trespassing signs and gatehouses on public roads, checking resident IDs at park entrances, eliminating public transit, banning on street parking, and tearing up sidewalks to make sure no one who doesn’t own a driveway can stop there. I’m not sure what happens when someone has a party in one of these towns. Do all their out-of-town friends get parking tickets, or dot he police just sort of know that the parking regulations don’t apply to rich folks who drive Mercedes’s? Any way you slice it, it’s obnoxious and unneighborly. Most of new York City, by contrast, is quite happy to open its parks, streets, and public facilities to anyone who wants to visit, residency permit not required. Too bad out neighbors on Long Island don’t feel compelled to reciprocate.

Anyway, rant mode off. We did find our way into Douglaston and parked (illegally) on the side of the road; and quickly scoped the cove. This turned up a couple of Horned Grebes, 4 Great Cormorants, and approximately 8 Bufflehead. Then we split before any Wackenhut goons could show up, and headed into Nassau County.

The first stop in Nassau was Lake Success, a small pond around which one of many small Nassau towns is built. Besides the usual gulls and yard birds, this was site provide 4 Common Mergansers, a relatively unusual bird in this area. It looks a lot like the Red-breasted Merganser that is common here, but it’s larger, and prefers freshwater.

Next stop was Whitney Pond Park, a small park near Macy’s that features tennis courts, locked bathrooms, (Mike say he’s never seen them open at any time of year or day) and a small, shallow pond that was host to quite a number of waterfowl including Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, and Northern Pintail. Two Killdeer were feeding on a mudflat. A lone Back-crowned Night-heron was surveying the proceedings from inside a willow, and a couple of dozen Herring and Ring-billed Gulls were resting up. This site also produced our only Common Grackles of the day and our first White-breasted Nuthatch. More common birds at this site Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, and another Rusty Blackbird.

After Whitney Pond we drove to Sands Point Preserve for lunch. Sands Point is an old Guggenheim estate and feature two large stone castles, classic examples of what happens when money outruns intelligence, education, and taste. Europeans stopped building castles like these after gunpowder was invented, and fortifications like these stopped being a defense against Viking invasions. Apparently Guggenheim didn’t get the message. This monstrosity was erected in 1923.


However the site has been deeded to the state, and is now a decent wildlife preserve. We ate lunch at the picnic tables from which we spotted Brown-headed Cowbird, American Crow, European Starling, and Golden-crowned Kinglet. After lunch, in the woods behind the castle we found our first and only Eastern Phoebe (and my first of the year) and several Black-capped Chickadees. We also found some impressive Painted Turtles and Red-eared Sliders that are now emerging from their winter hibernation.

We walked about half a mile out to the shore, where we spotted half a dozen Common Goldeneye, 4 American Black Ducks, both Red-Throated and Common Loon, and the usual three gulls. Scanning the sound for scoters and other ducks, Peter spotted a lone Northern Gannet. This is a more typical look than the up close views we had on the Freeport pelagic trip back in February. It was almost halfway across the sound, but could be clearly distinguished from gulls by its shape, bright whiteness, and flight patterns. The clincher was when it dove into the water in a way no gull ever does.

We could have spent more time here, but instead we elected to drive to Desoris Pond before it closed, which was a fortuitous decision since it proved to be one of the most productive sites of the day. In the pond itself we found dozens of Mute Swans, a few Mallards, 5 American Wigeon, a small raft of Greater Scaup, quite a few Red-Breasted Mergansers, a couple of Buffleheads, some Canada Geese, and two Redheads, my first life bird of the day! As you may recall, I’ve been out to Jamaica Bay multiple times in the last few months looking for these birds without success. Possibly a scope would have helped since although the birds were visible with binoculars, you really needed the scope to identify them. Light was also important. Depending on sun angle and cloud cover the red on the head could be more or less obvious.

Desoris Pond is just off the shore so we also scoped the ocean. Among other things we found all three scoter species: Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, and one or two White-winged Scoters. We also found two late Long-tailed Ducks and a couple more Horned Grebes. We also ran into a local birder who tipped us off that the jetty at nearby Morgan Park had a large number of Ruddy Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers! We hadn’t been planning to visit Morgan Park, but this was too good to pass up so we loaded into the cars, and headed down the road one more time.

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.

Morgan Park isn’t actually very big, so after we’d thoroughly scoped the jetty and assured ourselves there wasn’t anything else interesting hiding in its crannies, we drove a short distance down to the road to our final stop, Garvies Point. We repeated a number of passerine species here allowing various members of the group to fill in birds they’d missed earlier including Northern Mockingbird, Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinal, and Eastern Phoebe. Finally we spotted our Red-tailed Hawk soaring low, our 71st species of the day and a nice end to a productive day. Rain was threatening at this point so after a quick walk along the beach, we called it a day around 4:30 and headed back to Brooklyn. We didn’t have time to fully explore this site. I’d like to come back here sometime.

Overall it was an excellent trip. 60+ species including two lifers. This is probably goodbye for most of these birds until winter comes around again. Most of the waterfowl we saw will be gone within the next week. Numbers are vastly down from what they were a few weeks ago. However for land birds, spring migration is just beginning. We didn’t see a single warbler species yesterday, but that’s soon going to change. Pine warblers are just starting to trickle into city parks, and soon the trees should be full of the colorful little birds. I can’t wait.

One Response to “#341 and #342 with the BBC”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    Oakland Lake is indeed a pond (it was originally named Mill Pond, back when people firmly understood the distinction made in New York and New England between lakes and ponds), but it is actually inside, rather than adjacent to, Alley Pond Park. See http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_your_park/historical_signs/hs_historical_sign.php?id=12634 .

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