Monday, September 12, 2016

Learning shorebirds

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellowlegs, Dowitcher, others (Jamaica Bay)
a cozy scene

I'm not good at identifying shorebirds. That's natural; before this year, I never really looked at them much. I saw the few that showed up at Inwood Hill Park or on Randall's Island, but those few are pretty easy to ID. When I started going to Jamaica Bay, things got harder.

At the end of August, I birded the north end of Jamaica Bay's East Pond for the first time. That's where most of teh interesting reports come from, and I've had some trouble figuring out what I saw. So, I'm hoping some of my readers can help me our with a couple of problems.

Now, not all of the birds new to me were hard to ID. White-Rumped Sandpiper, for example. I had intended to go down the west side of the pond, because that's where the easiest footing is. Instead, I missed the path, and wound up in the northeast corner of the pond, which is identified on the maps as the "North Muck".

Well, yeah, it was muddy. But I managed to get down through the reeds to a place where I could see a bit of the shore. There were some small sandpipers there, that seemed a bit larger than the Least and Semipalmated peeps I knew. I wondered if they might be White-Rumped, and I tried to edge myself into a a better position to see them.

That's when I stepped into about 6 inches of very soft mud. I tried to pull my foot out, lost my balance, and wentdown with a loud squishy sound. The peeps flushed, and as the flew off, I could clearly see their white backsides. ID confirmed.

After extracting myself from the embrace of the earth, I made my way back to teh solider western edge of the pond, a little beach of wet sand. There I saw the cozy scene at the top of this post. I thought it was a nice photo; I also thought it was a Greater Yellowlegs on the left, a Dowitcher (probably Short-Billed) next to it, and...what the heck were those birds in the water off the right end of that log?

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellowlegs, Dowitcher, others (Jamaica Bay)
Yellowlegs, Dowitcher, and ...?

They're pretty bulky. Their bodies seem about the same size as the Yellowlegs. Watching them, I had no clue at all what they might be. Sitting with my field guides at home, I still have no real idea. Could they be Willets? They're supposed to be kind of bulky and dumpy.

Here's a shot where the mystery birds are in profile (and another Dowitcher has showed up).

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Yellowlegs, Dowitcher, others (Jamaica Bay)
Hope I got their good side

Any ideas?

At least with those birds, I knew I didn't know what I was looking at. This next one is a little embarrassing. I saw this group of three just hanging out, not feeding actively:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Three Amigos (Jamaica Bay)
the Three Amigos

and I said "OK, those are more Dowitchers". There were Dowitchers all over the place that day. I actually knew them the first time I saw them (on my previous trip) because of their feeding style--"like a sewing machine", just like it says in Peterson. Anyway, I think they were all Short-Billed, because that's what people had been seeing at the East Pond.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Three Amigos (Jamaica Bay)
one of these bills is not like the others

It wasn't until I got home and looked at my photos that I realized something was off. One of these birds has a shorter bill, and stands a little taller in the water. I think that's a Stilt Sandpiper. Here's another shot of them:

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Three Amigos (Jamaica Bay)
quite companionable

I really, really should have noticed those differences while I was watching them. Clearly my observational skills aren't what they should be. Anyway, what do you think?

I did definitely see some Stilt Sandpipers later, feeding actively near more Dowitchers. They were easier to tell in action--the long legs and shorter bills bean their butts tilt way up in the air when they bend down to feed; Dowitchers stay more horizontal. (right?) So I noticed that, at least.

I didn't go too far down the shore--I saw that map called the next inward bend "Dead man's Cove". Since the "North Muck" had been so exactly right, I thought it was better not to test it.

Any help will be gratefully received.

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