Fort Tilden, NYC
Monday 14 October 2019 59 °F
Note: I originally wrote this post on the day of (yesterday), but then I realized I had some photos of birds that had totally flown “under the radar” so I had to revise the post *a bit.* It is still worded as if I went today, though:
Today was one of my most intense but enjoyable days of birding in my life! I attended the Queens County Bird Club’s “Big Sit” where the most intensive birders in the county & I sat all day at one location, trying to find as many birds during the day as we could within a 17-foot radius. The chosen spot for the day every year is the Battery Harris East platform in Fort Tilden which is an advantageous location because it is a raised overlook on the Rockaway Peninsula that looks over a variety of habitats: ocean, beach, shrubs, second-growth, gardens, & the bay, of course!
Since I am writing this post from the bus home from birding all day, and my camera has died, this post will be formatted in a slightly-different manner from my usual posts: all non-bird photos will be listed first, followed by my photos with descriptions of birds will be included within my comprehensive personal list from the day.
Overall, the scene was quite comic — anywhere from four to twenty birders with scopes & cameras throughout the course of the day were jammed onto this small platform. It created a wonderful sense of camaraderie, though, and it was great to know some birders whom I had never met.
The view of the New York Skyline, of course, did not disappoint.
Sealife was another highlight of the day: I saw multiple blows of Humpback Whales, one uncommon Gray Seal, and many of these Bottlenose Dolphins — too cool!
Butterfly migration was also fun to observe, with my favorite of course being the Black Swallowtail:
And we can’t forget about the Monarchs!
My home for the day: ontop of here!
This really strange phenomenon happened at one point: there was a contrail in the sky in late afternoon and it appeared to make a “shadow ray” (as opposed to a ray of sunshine). Weird!
Starting the day at 6am, I didn’t arrive to the platform until about 9am thanks to the good old MTA, which had closed several subway lines over the weekend, making for a very roundabout journey both there & back. Now to the birds! Throughout the day, the group observed a whopping 83 species, the second-highest Queens Big Sit total ever! Since Corey, the group leader, started birding there around 5:45am, I didn’t total 83 species, but I did come fairly close! This list is in approxiamate taxonomic order (as opposed to the order in which I saw the birds).
1. Canada Goose
Corey & team had some earlier, but I did manage to spot three extremely far-away individuals across the bay in Marine Park. You’ll have to believe me on this one: those dots beyond that person are, in fact, Canada Geese.
2. Surf Scoter
One of the first “good” birds after I arrived in this morning, this distant flock of SURF SCOTERS did make a few passes over Jamaica Bay, and later over the ocean, as well! Note the distinctive white on the nape (back of the neck) of the male birds, recognizable even at a long distance.
3. White-winged Scoter
We saw a grand total of four WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS today which is a pretty good number for mid-October, considering this is the most uncommon scoter species in the NYC area. Note their namesake white wing patches — again, seen at a long distance.
4. Black Scoter
I didn’t manage any photos of BLACK SCOTERS today, but a few distant flocks of this sea duck flew over the ocean.
5. Greater Scaup
6. Rock Pigeon
Many of these, including one individual who stayed in the same tree for almost the entire day after being hit & stunned by a COOPER’S HAWK in the morning.
7. Mourning Dove
Given the scrub habitat of Fort Tilden, it was surprising that I only saw one of these the entire day.
8. Common Nighthawk
A single COMMON NIGHTHAWK winged over Fort Tilden at about 5:30pm when the sun was beginning to set. This was a first record for the count, and great to get a new species at the end of the day!
9. American Oystercatcher
Though Corey and others had Black-bellied Plovers before I arrived in the morning, we did manage to scope one far-off species of shorebird while I was there: AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER!
10. Laughing Gull
11. Ring-billed Gull
12. Herring Gull
13. Great Black-backed Gull
Many representives of all four common gull species in the area made appearances throughout the day, flying up and down the oceanside as well as Jamaica Bay. I checked all the gulls I could see for any bird chasing them, combing them for my hoped-for Parasitic Jaeger.
14. Common Tern
Corey & I picked out one individual with its distinctive dark hood (as opposed to the dark patch behind the eye on a Forster’s).
15. Forster’s Tern
A good number of FORSTER’S TERNS flew up and down the seaside today, giving a good study for the nonbreeding plumage of the species at a farther distance.
16. Royal Tern
17. Parasitic Jaeger
Amazingly, this was one of those times when I did not realize what I was seeing in the field, and then upon reviewing photos, I had a clear PARASITIC JAEGER! Too cool! Note the dark coloration and oddly-shaped tail with streamers. I cropped this photo and I do remember it was about the size of some nearby Laughing Gulls, which eliminates the possibility for Pomarine Jaeger, and it was too large and differently-shaped from Long-tailed Jaeger. Life bird!!!! There were a few times last year when I thought I got this life bird, but upon reviewing my photos, rescinded my identification, so I was thrilled when I found this photo — grainy but clinching.
18. Common Loon
A few COMMON LOONS flew over throughout the day — always a treat, especially for mid October!
19. Northern Gannet
Although one had also been seen prior to my arrival, a birder named Matthieu luckily spotted a NORTHERN GANNET far-off in the early afternoon.
20. Double-crested Cormorant
We spent a lot of time picking through flocks of DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS to look for their rarer cousin, the Great...
21. Great Cormorant
And we sure did find the GREAT CORMORANT! Note the white cheek patch with differentiates it from the more-common Double-crested.
22. Brown Pelican
The surprise of the day came when Matthieu shouted “pelican!” and sure enough we all got on a bulky bird flying low over the water. BROWN PELICAN! These guys, more expected in Florida this time of year, have been reported sporadically throughout the summer & fall up and down the coast of Long Island, but always in the form of passing individuals, so I was not expecting to see one. Patience sure pays off as this even excited long-time birders like Corey & Matthieu. Later, Matthieu even spotted a second one off in the distance — too cool!
23. Great Blue Heron
This bird was one I saw from the train along Jamaica Bay, but the other birders also spotted one from the lookout before I arrived so I will include it in my day list.
24. Great Egret
I saw a single GREAT EGRET on the prowl for fish & crabs over on Plumb Beach across the bay.
This OSPREY was holding its prize catch backwards — the first time any of us had seen this phenomenon!
26. Sharp-shinned Hawk
There was a moderate raptor migration in the morning due to northwest winds, but they were not particularly strong. A few falcons & hawks were seen overhead, including both expected species of hawks in the Accipiter genus — COOPER’S & this SHARP-SHINNED (one of many). In flight, the way to tell them apart is that they have an overall different look with the Cooper’s being a bigger, bulkier bird & the Sharp-shinned having a distinctive squared-off tail that can be seen if allowed a decent-enough look.
27. Cooper’s Hawk
28. Red-tailed Hawk
Another hawk, but this species is in a different genus — the “Buteo” genus which are overall less slender and prey on rodents mainly, instead of birds.
29. Great Horned Owl
One of the surprises of the day came when a GREAT HORNED OWL started to hoot shortly before sunset. Corey had heard it in the early morning but I was not expecting it to start up again for me — very cool!
30. Red-bellied Woodpecker
I was the only birder to identify this species from the platform today with its distant, but distinctive “churr!” call.
31. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Corey & others had this bird earlier in the morning, and I found it while I was walking through Fort Tilden before I had arrived at the official site.
32. Downy Woodpecker
Another expected but satisfying species to check off for the Big Sit list was this male DOWNY WOODPECKER.
33. Northern Flicker
NORTHERN FLICKERS were everywhere today!
34. American Kestrel
A few AMERICAN KESTRELS, the smallest falcon in the area, also flew over the platform throughout the morning as part of today’s raptor flight.
And there were even more MERLIN, the kestrel’s close cousin, which I am always delighted to see!
36. Peregrine Falcon
This immature PEREGRINE FALCON flew over in late morning, probably one of the local birds:
37. Eastern Phoebe
A common migrant for the day!
38. Red-eyed Vireo
As expected, we picked up most of the new species for the day in the morning — the afternoon was much quieter. One of the highlights of the afternoon, though, was picking out this RED-EYED VIREO from a flock of at least a dozen YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, probably the most common songbird of the day.
39. Blue Jay
40. American Crow
41. Tree Swallow
Thousands upon thousands of TREE SWALLOWS swarmed overhead all day long — it was an amazing spectacle that was probably one of the most memorable parts of the day. SO cool! At one point, a flock right above us numbered in excess of 1300 individual birds in the group’s conservative estimate — and this was just a fraction of the day’s total! Unfortunately, we failed to pick out any rarer swallow species.
42. Black-capped Chickadee
43. House Wren
44. Carolina Wren
45. Golden-crowned Kinglet
One of the most entertaining parts about the Big Sit is how to eek the most out of one’s given location. Multiple times, we had “scouts” climb down the stairs and walk the trails below, pointing out any birds they flushed that might be new for our count. Sure enough, one of these birds was the GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, the only one we saw today! The juniper in which it was sitting hosted a number of noteworthy songbirds for the day.
There were multiple times when I would’ve missed the bird had it not been for me standing on the railing (!)
46. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
47. American Robin
48. Gray Catbird
49. Northern Mockingbird
50. European Starling
At one point, another birder spotted a “murmuration” of EUROPEAN STARLINGS — these birds form these large flying flocks which morph in shape when they are chased by birds of prey. Unpictured is the MERLIN which was in hot pursuit of these nonnatives.
51. Cedar Waxwing
A juvenile CEDAR WAXWING gave a fairly nice look to the group at one point, though many others also flew by today.
52. House Sparrow
53. House Finch
54. Brown-headed Cowbird
55. Common Grackle
56. Boat-tailed Grackle
We didn’t have this marshland species at the viewing platform, but like the Great Blue Heron, I did observe BOAT-TAILED GRACKLES as the A train passed over the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
57. Black-and-White Warbler
One BLACK-AND-WHITE gave a quick flyby in late morning, loosely associating with the many Yellow-rumped Warblers.
58. Common Yellowthroat
59. Black-throated Blue Warbler
Right when I arrived, someone spotted a beautiful male BLACK-THROATED BLUE who posed for the group for almost twenty minutes! Unfortunately, he stayed mainly hidden behind some twigs, leaving my photos with something to be desired.
60. Palm Warbler
61. Pine Warbler
62. Yellow-rumped Warbler
By far the most common songbird viewed from the platform today, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS probably numbered into the hundreds — flitting in the bushes, flying overhead, calling, you name it — they were everywhere, and willing to have their picture taken.
63. Scarlet Tanager
My best spot of the day was this SCARLET TANAGER in the magic juniper tree — a first record for the Queens Big Sit!!!
64. Northern Cardinal
65. Eastern Towhee
66. Chipping Sparrow
I was the only birder to see this bird from the platform today, but I got the photos to prove it, so it counts: CHIPPING SPARROW!
66. Song Sparrow
68. Lincoln’s Sparrow
69. Swamp Sparrow
70. White-throated Sparrow
70/83 species is fairly good, considering I missed over three hours of the most productive part of the morning. It was an amazing day of birding with 9 hours in the field! Bird-of-the-day to the Parasitic Jaeger, with runner-up going to the rare Brown Pelican (Corey’s first-ever for Queens County). What a great way to wrap up the weekend!
World Life List: 978 Species (1 life bird: Parasitic Jaeger)