#343 at Dubos Point

I was reading Paul Kerlinger’s article on “Urban Blight Birding” in City Birding; and he mentioned Bayswater and Dubos Point, two sites in Queens I’ve heard of before but never visited. However he mentioned a lot of good birds out there–American Bittern, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Woodcock, Seaside Sparrow, Sharptailed Sparrow, and Vesper Sparrow. The last three were potential life birds for me, and I’ve been looking for new places to visit so this morning Beth and I decided to hop on the A-train and ride out to the Rockaways.

The A train dropped us at Beach 90th street where we caught the shuttle bus to Beach 67th. (That’s not normally how it works, but the subways are often under construction on weekends.) As soon as we hopped off the bus, Beth recognized the location as the home of one of her psychotic ex-boyfriend’s family, so we trotted rapidly up Beach 67th Street to the bay. We spotted American Robin, Northern Flicker, Red-winged Blackbird, and Northern Mockingbird as well as the usual invasives (House Sparrow, European Starling) before we even reached the bay.

The Rockaways are only a few blocks wide at this point so we reached the Bay fairly quickly. I was surprised to see twenty or so Brant hanging out along the rocks. I thought they would have headed north by now. There was also a lone male Red-breasted Merganser and a few Herring Gulls.

Brant in the Rockaways

It was quite cold and windy so we walked back to Decosta and down the three blocks to the refuge. It’s a little deserted, but not nearly as bad as I’d been told. The neighborhood is essentially single-family residential with a couple of boat and car yards. The only other people we spotted in the refuge were two fishermen.

Derelict Boat in Sommerville Basin

Fisherman in Sommerville Basin

Walking down Decosta we spotted our first of season Laughing Gull. This species was actually going to prove relatively common throughout the day. We also had our first and only Mourning Dove perched on some barbed wire. American Robins and a large number of Northern Flickers were flitting around in the woods to our left. A lone Carolina Wren was singing loudly in the reeds, as were several Song Sparrows. American Crow was also in evidence.

There was a path leading into the woods but instead of following it we continued down Decosta Road to Sommerville Basin. This basin shows the remains of some old piers, and another dozen+ Brant were swimming amongst them, along with two American Black Ducks. We began our trek along the point, and it rapidly got muddy; but not impassable at any point. There were just a few places where the reeds hid the actual sogginess of the soil beneath.

Herring Gull, 2 American Black Ducks, 4 Brant

Two American Oystercatchers flew south down the basin, calling jeenk-jeenk-jeenk. A Double-crested Cormorant was also heading south. And then as we were about halfway up the point I flushed the a completely unfamiliar bird. It looked like nothing so much as a cross between a female Mallard and an Oystercatcher. It was brown like a mallard but had a large, pointed orange bill. I had to consult my field guide before I realized what it was: a Clapper Rail, one of my target birds for the year!

That was the highlight of the day. From there we walked around the point, back out to Bayfield Ave., enjoying great views of Herring Gulls, red-breasted mergansers, and what were probably the same two Oystercatchers along the way. We also added Northern Cardinal and Great Egret to the day list.

Rockaway Community Park

After exiting Dubos Point, we walked back to Beach Channel Drive and turned East to Beach 58th street. Dubos Point is just a little spit of green space, but satellite photos showed a much larger peninsula just to the east, which maps labelled “Rockaway Community Park“. Sadly, most of that peninsula is taken up by a former landfill that’s fenced off (though not very effectively. There were several holes in the fence, and obvious trails running through the site. I also suspect you could get around on the beach at low tide.) However, the ten acres of ball field did prove surprisingly productive.

Both Dark-eyed Junco and Song Sparrow were foraging in the batter’s cage. An Eastern Phoebe was flycatching just outside the diamond. More Song Sparrows were foraging in the outfield along with probably a dozen Northern Flickers. Both Fish Crow and American Crow flew overhead calling. We skirted the edge of the field, scanning the outfield. I kept hoping to turn one of the Song Sparrows into my FOS Savannah Sparrow, but no such luck. However we did find a Downy Woodpecker. On a negative note, we also counted 11 Brown-headed Cowbirds sitting in the trees and making their waterdrop notes.

A boardwalk leads off from the Northeast corner of the field to Edgemere piers. We might have missed it except we spotted a family coming out. However the boardwalk has a missing section so some scrambling is necessary to get out to the piers. The piers themselves also have large holes (over the water) so be careful. Gulls have been using them to break clams. I spotted one Great Egret flying over, but otherwise nothing new. From the piers I could look out across Sommerville Basin to see Dubos Point and the same Brant and gulls I’d seen earlier from the other side.

Edgemere Park pier

Walking back we ran into a couple of dog walkers with several friendly but disobedient beagles. They warned us that the area is home to a number of feral dogs, so it’s wise to carry a big stick while exploring.

Walking back across the ballfield, we spotted out first and only warbler of the day, a lone Palm Warbler feeding with five Chipping Sparrows, another FOS bird for us. We walked back to the subway station (or today, really the shuttle bus station) getting some nice looks at Laughing Gulls along the way.

However there was one bird yet to come. The A-train crosses through some relatively inaccessible parts of Jamaica Bay, and on the way home I spotted four Glossy Ibis in flight, my fourth FOS and 31st species of the day. Not bad for a few of hours of “Urban Blight Birding”.

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