The Core Team paid yet another visit to Long Island today. Those of you who know us are well aware that we are more closely aligned with New York City’s mainland axis than its island axis. However, we had to pick up a special cake from Babylon this afternoon, so we planned an all-day excursion to Fire Island National Seashore.

We chose Fire Island because neither of us had been there before and because the birding is alleged to be fantastic. It certainly wasn’t today. Perhaps the wretched weather had something to do with it. Rain was intermittent throughout the day, usually coming down only when we were far from shelter. When we arrived at the island, we were greeted by a flock of Tree Swallows, the usual assortment of common gulls, and a few Killdeer. This represented virtually all the avian life we saw in this area. From the storm-lashed shore to the rain-drenched dunes, we saw naught else but a few Mourning Doves. However, the seashore ecosystem itself was stunning, easily worth the trip.

Our birding took a different turn as we headed back to the parking lot. We approached an unfamiliar flock of what looked like sparrows. They had a distinct black and brown plumage that looked a cinch to identify. However, we could not find anything like them in our field guide.

We cheated closer to the group to get a better look. The birds continued to feed in the grass, completely unfazed by our presence. One fearless pair came within three feet of me. We had ample opportunity to observe their rich brown and black pattern, their dark eyes and legs, the shape of their bill and tail, and how their breast was not streaked at all, but brown with thick black stripes. We watched these birds for at least ten minutes, but came away without an ID.

The rest of the day was a long trip down memory lane as we visited, for the first time in over a decade, Stony Brook University. The alma mater of the Core Team was not so different from when we were students, and most of our old haunts were still right where we left them. I couldn’t fully enjoy myself, though; I was baffled by those mysterious birds.

The true shame of the sighting was that, normally, I would take a bunch of digital pictures and use them as an aid when we got home. However, as posted only a week ago, our trusty Konica was briefly submerged in the gritty Atlantic when we visited Jones Beach and has yet to recover. So my dream of posting a picture with the caption “Have you seen this bird?” was a mere fantasy.

After way too much research, I am pleased to say that I have a tentative identification. I believe that we observed a flock of Seaside Sparrows. For a moment, we considered the idea of immature Brown-headed Cowbird, but their coloration was all wrong. The Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow was also a contender, but their breast is too light and streaky. The Seaside Sparrow was a difficult determination, since that species also sports a light breast. However, Patuxent states that some races are blacker underneath. This is, as far as we can tell, the only solution, so we’re calling it. Finally, a new bird!

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.