July in New York City is generally an unpleasant experience. The heat and humidity of summer combine with the concrete and concentrations of people you find in the five boroughs and the resulting stew of sweat, smells, and stickiness is decidedly gross. This is why New Yorkers in summer have fled the city for the mountains upstate, the beaches on Long Island, or, really, anywhere, for as long as New York has been a metropolis. Not only that, but the birding is typically not great either. The mosquitoes and other biting insects often make natural areas almost unbearable, the heat keeps many breeding songbirds from singing much, and migration doesn’t happen much at all except for southbound shorebirds.
But this July has been magnificent for birds in Queens. I’ve already added two species to my burgeoning Queens life list, seen another for a second time ever, and the month is just over half over. What’s going on?
As most months do, it all started on the first. I was sweltering my way up the east side of the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, enjoying the low water levels possible because the work of lots of volunteers to get the drainage pipe dug out, and not seeing much of interest. But I persevered because, well, what else is a birder to do? Small numbers of common shorebirds were pleasant, a Gull-billed Tern was appreciated, a variety of waterfowl was worth looking through, but I hadn’t seen a single year bird. Then something made me decide to scope the far shore of the pond as far back as I could see the way I had come. I searched the edges of the phragmites hoping for a rail, a bittern, a something! And then there was a something, a brightly colored something, turquoise and violet and brilliant yellow legs and feet and a candy-corn bill. Wait…
My brain momentarily shut down and refused to acknowledge what I was seeing. Synapses fired, trying to find a way to a logical conclusion, one that didn’t result in me looking at an adult Purple Gallinule. But logic failed and I had to admit defeat. I was looking at my first Purple Gallinule in Queens, the first in the borough since 1997 and the first twitchable one ever, so far as I know.
Now that’s a nice bird to see!
I got the word out and many birders got to see this striking regional rarity through the third of July, when it disappeared, never to be seen again.
Starting a month with a new species for Queens was awesome, but it was just the beginning! On the eighth I was out at Breezy Point and picked up my first Wilson’s Storm Petrels in Queens in four years. My year Royal Tern was nice as well. The next day a Hudsonian Godwit was found on the East Pond of Jamaica Bay so I was back out there on the tenth adding that gorgeous shorebird to my year list.
Hudsonian Godwit with Short-billed Dowitchers
On the eleventh I was out in the Rockaways where I saw the usual breeding beach birds like Least and Common Terns and Black Skimmers, but also saw more Wilson’s Storm Petrels and a flock of summering Common Eider. After the beach I decided to go back to the East Pond of Jamaica Bay again but to try to walk in from the north end. No sooner had I gotten through the muck on the entrance path to the pond that I got a call from Peter “Tripper” Paul that he had found a Black-bellied Whistling Duck on the south end of the pond. It was inaccessible from where I was so I hoofed it back to my car, drove down to the main parking lot and made great haste to the south end of the East Pond where I saw my second Black-bellied Whistling Duck for Queens, and the first since 2010!
What a bird for Queens!
In addition to the duck, the godwit was still present and a Sora was spotted as well, all of which I saw. It was an amazing morning’s birding!
The next day I had to get out on the pond again because a Stilt Sandpiper had been seen the day before that I missed, so I got that bird and enjoyed quite a few others as well. A few days of camping upstate slowed my Queens listing for July down but the Caspian Tern I missed while I was away was still there the day after I got back and I got to enjoy that for my year list as well.
But sleeping in this past Saturday morning nearly cost me my second new Queens bird for the month. I woke up at quarter after seven to learn that Max Epstein had found a Sandhill Crane on the beach at Breezy Point. I also had a text from Tripper, the same Tripper that had found the whistling-duck, letting me know he would wait for me to meet him so we could use his parking permit to get out and see the crane. High speed driving got me our meeting point without making him wait long and we got from the parking lot at Breezy Point to the beach in record time. And, wow! A Sandhill Crane on the beach!
Dunes are just “sand hills” so this habitat makes sense, no?
Sandhill Crane, species number 330 in Queens!
I did miss Long-billed Dowitcher at Jamaica Bay the same day because we did a family day at the beach after I returned from the birding outing at the beach, but that’s small potatoes compared to a crane. Sunday morning netted me my year Pectoral Sandpiper though, and my species count for the month of July in Queens is up to 101, easily my best July in my home borough already, with more than a third of the month left. What other species remain to be seen? I can’t wait to find out!