When you live in Queens and you only have one morning of an August weekend to go birding there is only one place to go – the East Pond of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Even a bad day on the East Pond in August is better than a good day at other locations that can be reached from Queens for a morning’s birding. What makes it so good? Shorebirds! Despite not being a huge fan of searching through flocks of common species hoping to find something rare I still drag myself out to the East Pond as often as I can during the dog days of summer and torture myself with mud and heat and stink.
Stilt Sandpiper Calidris himantopus
Yesterday morning I was joined by my frequent birding pal, Seth Ausubel, and by a new New York City resident, David Ringer, whose name you might recognize if you happen to read this blog. We started out from the south end of the East Pond, planning to eventually turn around and walk back, but instead we just kept going and going and going until we had walked up the entire east side of the East Pond. Then we even went onto the west side of the pond from the north end for a bit!
Was it worth it? Well, sixteen species of shorebird, three of terns, four of herons and egrets, one species that I have only seen in Queens a single time before yesterday, and a minor sunburn later I would have to say, emphatically, “Yes!”
Dunlin Calidris alpina
Despite the nice birds that we saw our morning started off slow, with only a White-rumped Sandpiper being noteworthy at the south end of the East Pond. As we headed north and as we got closer to high tide the birds became more varied and abundant. Despite the early lack of variety I still enjoyed taking lots of shots of common birds, especially as they flew down the edge of the pond. It’s always nice to be walking up the east side of the pond in the morning because the sun is squarely behind you and you get nice light on the birds you see.
Snowy Egret Egretta thula
That Snowy Egret above was stalking the Raunt and it was perhaps the most successful Snowy Egret I have ever watched. It alternated between frenetically dashing about and staying still but either way it managed to catch plenty to eat. We stopped counting after it had caught seven small fish in about five minutes. Not bad for not having a rod and reel.
Another fun thing to watch was the semipalmated show.
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla
What was really cool to see, but a bit frustrating when we had spent ages picking through flocks of shorebirds, was the couple of times a Peregrine Falcon strafed the shorebirds, putting them all to flight.
shorebirds flushed by a Peregrine Falcon, above, and coming back in to land, below
click to make the top picture bigger
I also enjoyed trying to photograph terns as they dove into the water for fish. I never got the picture I wanted but I do like both shots below.
Forster’s Tern Sterna forsteri
Least Tern Sternula antillarum
But the most bizarre thing we saw on the East Pond all day long was an interaction between two shorebirds, a White-rumped Sandpiper and a Semipalmated Sandpiper. White-rumps are known for being very aggressive, so much so that I once suggested changing their name to Bad-ass Sandpiper. That name never caught on and after watching the interaction I saw yesterday I am kind of glad. The White-rumped Sandpiper had been feeding in a small puddle a couple of feet from the shoreline when it decided that it liked the look of a stretch of shore that a Semipalmated Sandpiper had already laid claim to. Not only did the semipalm take exception to the invasion of its territory but it charged the white-rump and routed it easily, sending it back to its puddle in shame. I was amazed.
White-rump Sandpiper getting whooped by a Semipalmated Sandpiper
It was an enjoyable morning with great birds, great company, and great spectacles. Oh, and did I forget to mention that the American Avocet is still around? Well, it is. Get out to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge’s East Pond and enjoy those shorebirds. If you need added incentive the 7th Annual Shorebird Festival at Jamaica Bay is on Saturday, August 25.
See you out on the pond!