A Travellerspoint blog

Sheepshead Bay

Brooklyn, NYC

all seasons in one day 43 °F

After classes today I ventured out birding for the first time since my return to New York from Patagonia! My route took me to the Sheapshead Bay area of Brooklyn where I had a few target birds in mind: Harlequin Duck, Black-headed & Iceland Gulls, and Razorbill, all of which are uncommon to very uncommon winter visitors/vagrants to the city and have been seen in the area yesterday (with the Iceland Gull continuing earlier today). The duck would be a state bird for me; the gulls would be new birds for my NYC list, the Razorbill would be a new bird for my Brooklyn list, and all of them would be year birds for me! My hopes were high to say the least. Where do I research all of the recent sightings? I am constantly checking the Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, & Bronx Bird Alerts on twitter, as well as eBird county rare bird alerts for all nearby counties, and the New York Rare Birds online forum.

After a trek across the city on the 1, 2, Q, and B trains, I walked about three blocks and arrived at Sheapshead Bay, a location I hadn’t birded prior to today.

Immediately, I noticed a huge abundance of ducks and gulls, both on and over the sheltered western end of Sheapshead Bay. RED-BREASTED MERGANSER:


After scanning through some thousands of RING-BILLED, HERRING, & GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS, I found one of my target birds: the ICELAND GULL which was a dead give-away in terms of ID due to its striking solid white plumage (lacking black wingtips) with uniform light speckling, making this a first-cycle bird.

LESSER SCAUP proliferated:

A birder let me know a GREATER SCAUP was also mixed in with a flock a little further along the Emmons Ave shoreline so I walked there and picked it out. One common birder misstep is to I.D. male Greater Scaup solely based off the green sheen on the head. This is absolutely false! Lessers tend to show an iridescent mix of both purple and green on the head, meaning if this is the one “clinching” characteristic, a Lesser at the perfect angle could be misidentified as a Greater. This can and does happen often, so here is how you differentiate the two (among male birds): to have a Greater, the bird must qualify in both of the following characteristics — a very clear, straight-line differentiation between the more striated upper wing and the pale sides of the bird (when sitting down) as well as a peak to the head that is clearly toward the front of the head which can give the Greater’s head more of a rounded appearance than the Lesser’s. These characteristics can be seen here in the single bird I had today:

COMMON LOONS put on a show today:


This interesting bird mainly resembles an American Black, but has some characteristic iridescent green of its more abundant cousin, making this most likely an AMERICAN BLACK X MALLARD hybrid, or some sort of backcross between the two species.

At point, someone started chumming (throwing chunks of bread into the water), creating a spectacular feeding (and pooping) frenzy:

The resident raft of LESSER SCAUPS with RING-BILLED GULLS:

Although I failed to find any of my target birds other than the Iceland Gull, I took advantage of the evening to try to photograph one of my favorite waterfowl species: the one-and-only BUFFLEHEAD!

The sunset made the clouds above the bay look absolutely gorgeous. Then I called it a day and headed back to the Manhattan School of Music via subway.

Bird-of-the-day to the Iceland Gull, with runner-up to the Greater Scaup! 2020 has been off to a great start so far!

Good birding,
World Life List: 1108 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:05 Archived in USA

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