If I had my druthers I would be birding the East Pond of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge pretty much every day from July until September. But, you know, job, family, and all the other responsibilities of being a social animal means that, at best, I get out onto the East Pond once a week to see what shorebirds are stopping over on their way to their wintering grounds. That once a week this year has been entirely on the weekends and entirely in the early morning, which is nice because very few people are out on the pond, but not so nice because so far this year high tide has not corresponded with sunrise a single time that I have been out there. (The shorebirds tend to flock to the East Pond when the tides force them off the mudflats.) Fortunately, as the image above shows, there are some rewards to being out and about in the early morning light.

Despite my visits being limited in number and scope I have still enjoyed my visits to the East Pond. Shorebirds are shorebirds and even when a jaw-dropping rarity does not appear it is still nice to see flocks of peeps evading a Merlin or a Peregrine Falcon, the feeding strategies of different species, and the gorgeous plumage of the juveniles.

Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus

Juvenile Short-billed Dowitchers are among the most handsome of young shorebirds.


both dowitcher species

Before the juveniles show up the only real reason to look at the Short-billed Dowitchers is because you are hoping to find a Long-billed Dowitcher. Can you tell which of the birds in the two photos above is the Long-billed Dowitcher? If you can’t figure it out you have to turn your binoculars in and give up birding.

Semipalmated Plover

Another “fun” thing to do is to stare intently at a Semipalmated Plover for a couple of minutes and then tell other birders that you were sure that you didn’t see the webbing between its inner toes.

Semipalmated Sandpipers at the East Pond

If you ever meet someone who tells you that they like looking for a rarity by sorting through frantically foraging peeps, like the Semipalmated Sandpipers above, step away from them quickly because they are either insane or stultifyingly boring. Before you know it they will be smearing themselves with their own feces or prattling on and on about remiges and feather wear.

Lesser Yellowlegs on the East Pond of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge

Anyone who tells you that it is difficult to tell a Lesser Yellowlegs from a Greater Yellowlegs hasn’t studied enough. That said, I might have made an embarrassing call involving those species once or twice.

Stilt Sandpiper Calidris himantopus

The Stilt Sandpiper is a bird that I always forget exists until mid-July. It’s a shame because they are pretty nice birds and when I remember they exist I greatly appreciate that fact. (You can click that shot up above to make it bigger. The one below is as big as it gets though.)

Stilt Sandpiper

Aren’t shorebirds awesome? Isn’t Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge a great place to see them? Why haven’t you been on the East Pond yet this year?

Least Sandpiper

Another gorgeous juvenile bird, this one is a Least Sandpiper in horrible light just before it started to rain.

Go find some shorebirds!

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.