Sunday, February 7, 2016
Cruising and scrambling for new birds
Last weekend, a Lapland Longspur was spotted on Randall's Island. This was the first sighting of one on land in New York County since probably the 1950s (there have been some flyovers). I was lucky enough to get a nice look at it after some adventures.
Sunday began with an Audubon harbor "eco-cruise" through New York harbor, past the Verrazano Bridge to Hoffman and Swinburne Islands. Elena and I and our friends Barbara and Jim were among the 60 or so people who piled on a NY Water Taxi at the South Street Seaport. There were a lot of other birders, but most people were there to see the Harbor Seals that winter around the islands.
We saw plenty of birds first, pointed out by tour leader Gabriel Willow. We stopped off Governor's Island where Double Crested Cormorants and a couple of Great Cormorants basked on the piers, and we saw a sizable flock of Black Ducks around the Island. There were dozens of Bonaparte's Gulls swimming off and flying around the Brooklyn shore.
There were a large number of Long-Tailed Ducks, many in flight, recognizable by their bold black-and-white pattern. They were hard to photograph, as were the several Red-Throated and Common Loons we spotted.
Hoffman Island and Swinburne Island are artificial islands that were used for quarantining immigrants. Long abandoned, they are now home to large numbers of gulls, to nesting colonies of egrets and herons in the summer, and to overwintering seals in winter.
The seals who were basking on rocks offshore slid into teh water as the boat approached, but they seemed curious about us.
The rocks off both islands were covered with loafing gulls, One Double-Crested Cormorant was hanging out with the Herring Gulls there.
There were also Great Black-Backed Gulls, who stayed mostly a bit apart from the Herring Gulls. They also took over all the wood pilings.
One Great Cormorant was on the pilings with the Great Black-backeds. Bigger gulls get a bigger cormorant.
I spotted this unfamiliar duck well to the south of Swinburne Island. Gabriel Willow ID'd it as a Surf Scoter, the first he'd seen on a harbor cruise, and a life bird for me. I really recommend these Audubon cruises; you can get details of upcoming cruises from the NY Water Taxi website.
While we were on the boat, an email from the NYSBIRDS-L mailing list reached my phone about a Lapland Longspur on Randalls Island. I had some trouble getting there--thanks MTA!--and whej I arrived it started to rain. Luckily there were several birds watching the Longspur. Unluckily, just as I was getting to where they were, a dog someone had let off leash (illegally, of course) flushed the bird.
All ended well when William Haluska refound the bird and pointed me at it. Thanks, William! I watched the bird creep through the brush along the rocks at the water's edge while the rain grew heavier and everyone else left, and then suddenly it popped up on a rock and posed in the open for a minute.