A Travellerspoint blog

Will my luck tern around?

Jones Beach State Park, NY

sunny 82 °F

Today, I awoke at the crack of dawn - 5:30am - in order to chase a prospective life bird: that elusive Gull-billed Tern. For the last few days, an individual has been seen at the Jones Beach State Park Coast Guard Station, where I found the Black-headed Gull last winter. There have been several other good birds in that area recently as well, including Caspian Tern, Marbled Godwit, and even a vagrant White-winged Dove a few weeks ago. I therefore had high hopes for the morning. The nice thing about mondays is that class doesn’t start until 1pm so I can go chasing birds in the morning (it’s harder to bird on weekends this year because of work commitments and late nights, lol!).

To give you an idea of the distance I traveled this morning, I have included this edited picture of the LIRR map: the red star indicates the Manhattan School of Music and the yellow star indicates Jones Beach State Park where I went birding this morning.

While waiting for the uber which took a while due to rush hour, I saw this FISH CROW which honked for me a few times to confirm its identification:

After a fairly extensive but doable commute on the 1 & 2 subway lines, the Babylon branch of the Long Island Railroad, and a quick uber ride, I arrived at Jones Beach State Park! Immediately, a beautiful SNOWY EGRET flew over:

This LAUGHING GULL was on the scene, probably ready to feast on the crabs for breakfast:


And here is the strangest NORTHERN FLICKER ever; I saw it multiple times foraging along the mudflat, probing its bill into the mud like a shorebird! Very interesting.

Then, as I walked along the rounded sandy spit where the Gull-billed Tern has been seen the last few days, I saw a largish tern flying in the distance over the bay. Could it be...?

YES! Fairly large tern, pale body, thick all-black (somewhat gull-like) bill, and a patchy gray nape that extends to just in front of the eye (showing its transition for breeding to nonbreeding plumage). GULL-BILLED TERN! Too cool — I have probably gone on over a dozen adventures around the New York City & Long Island area in order to search for this elusive bird.

This is a very cool sighting because although this species nests in New York state, it is extremely patchy & local in distribution, and it is predominately found during the months when I am away for the summer. They are usually gone for the most part by mid-August so I was interested to hear about this bird staying for multiple days now in late September, and lo and behold it remained long enough for me! Super, super exciting.

Next, I saw its relative the BLACK SKIMMER skimming!

And an immature:

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER — with a white belly because of the species’ rather ironic pale nonbreeding plumage.

It was a beautiful day for birding — mainly clear skies & mid-70 degree temps.

A few SANDERLINGS flew by:

Distant FORSTER’S TERN, note the distinct black patch around & behind its eye which is found in its nonbreeding plumage.

Now here is an interesting photo — I found the MARBLED GODWITS that had been reported recently, but they were extremely distant (and with a man in the background, hah!). The Godwits are the grayer shorebirds that are in the center-right part of the photo among the black-and-white AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS. Note that the smaller grayer birds on the sides are BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS though. This is one of those occasions where a spotting scope would be immensely helpful, but the higher-quality scopes are not within my student budget, unfortunately.


And with this CASPIAN TERN, I had pretty much found all the noteworthy birds that have been sighted at Jones Beach the last few days. Note the tern’s bulkier size, black cap, and red bill; it is the only tern to look like this in the fall/winter around here.

Having gained all of my target birds, it was a good time to call the uber and begin my commute back to Manhattan, it being a weekday and me having practicing & classes to attend. What a way to start my week, though! Bird-of-the-day to the Gull-billed Tern with runners-up to the Marbled Godwits & Caspian Tern. Stay tuned!

Good birding,
World Life List: 976 Species (1 life bird today: Gull-billed Tern!)

Posted by skwclar 09:52 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Bittern...in Central Park?

New York, NY

sunny 69 °F

This morning I read a report of an American Bittern which had been found roosting for the day in the Central Park Ramble, so after school today I headed over to see if I could find it, as well as any other migrants that might be in the area. Bitterns are secretive, seldom-seen heron species so it would be a real treat to see one in Central Park of all places!

As soon as I walked into the Central Park Ramble, I noticed a flurry of activity and it turned out an immature COOPER’S HAWK had just found a prey item and pounced on it! I didn’t get a good look at what it killed, but I suspect it was a Gray Catbird.

Then, I made a beeline to Tupelo Meadow where the AMERICAN BITTERN, sure enough, was posing on a rock — just like the report said it had been doing all day! Too cool!!!! It provided some beautiful views and put on a show, turning about, posing, and preening.

GRAY CATBIRDS such as this were also in the vicinity:

The bittern attracted quite a crowd. An absolute celebrity! This is what birding in Central Park looks like.

The light showed beautifully among the foliage on “The Point” in the Ramble — a part where the land juts out into the Central Park Lake which can be very productive for birds. Today, it was quiet there, but serene.

Less peaceful was the emergence of many Norway (Brown) Rats for the evening. I saw one couple who were so disgusted that the woman said “let’s go run on the street, Ive had enough of this!”

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK in nonbreeding plumage:

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS were profuse in a certain patch of jewelweed:

Other than the Bittern, there wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy in the Ramble. A few COMMON YELLOWTHROATS were around though, one of the few warblers I saw today:

And a Raccoon made quite the appearance.

But unfortunately, she was being fed — that’s what makes her so fat! Other than proper bird feeders, avoid feeding wildlife so as not to make the wildlife tame around humans. This can put them in dangerous situations.

Bird-of-the-day to the American Bittern, of course! Stay tuned, we are nearing the height of migration here!

Good birding,
World Life List: 975 Species

Posted by skwclar 16:29 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Gull-billed or Bust!

Breezy Point, NYC

overcast 76 °F

Today after my classes ended at 3pm, I took a long commute: the 1 & 2 subways, Q35 bus, and a short uber ride: to get out to far-away Breezy Point in the New York City borough of Queens. My target bird was a Gull-billed Tern which was reported at this location yesterday afternoon, and I was hoping to finally find it as I have now searched for this species numerous times in the New York City area. I waffled between going or not due to the forecast, but in the end decided to give it a shot when the Weather channel called for simply a cloudy (as opposed to a rainy) afternoon.

Suddenly, while I was on the Q35 bus towards the Rockaways, the driver absolutely SLAMMED on the brakes and everyone fell forward. After about a half a minute of panic, the driver started up again and proceeded to the nearest bus stop. Once there, we were all ushered off the bus. It turns out, a car had closely cut off the bus so the driver had to execute an emergency stop. Unfortunately, there was a man standing near the front of the bus who fell and hit his head, so that’s why we all needed to exit the bus. It appeared as if he were conscious and not bleeding, but it was still very scary to witness. Boy am I glad I was safely seated at the time. Props to the driver for handling the situation like a champ, and to everyone else on the bus for not screaming or acting overly dramatic. Here is everyone, a bit shaken, after we departed the bus:

Then, I ordered the uber and it was off to Breezy Point! Upon arriving, there was a fairly good amount of bird activity along the 4X4 trail that leads to the beach. One of my favorite birds of the day, this PRAIRIE WARBLER, I saw almost immediately:

Other warblers were around as well, including this AMERICAN REDSTART:


Another highlight was seeing this WHITE-EYED VIREO — the last time I had this species was at Plum Creek Preserve back in Chicago in May.


Female WILSON’S (left) with YELLOW (right) WARBERS:

And the male Wilson’s showed nicely as well:

All three mimidae (mockingbird) species were present along the trail, including many GRAY CATBIRDS:



I knew I was nearing the beach when I saw this BLACK SKIMMER fly over. I was super thrilled to see this species as it is so wonderfully charismatic, and I missed seeing it last year. I was also excited because the report of the Gull-billed Tern yesterday said it was loosely associating with the skimmers.

Upon arriving to the beach, there were almost too many birds to take in — not a ton of variety, but certainly large numbers. SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS:


And even better looks at the skimmers. Notice that the top part is a shorter extension than the bottom part of the beak.

These birds are named “skimmers” because they skim the surface of the ocean with these perfectly-shaped beaks for minnow fishing. A very cool behavior to observe.

SANDERLINGS — didn’t know they liked to stand (or sleep) in formation!


GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS abounded, particularly in one large flock roosting near the jetty. Here is a picture which cannot even portray the number of gulls — there were upwards of 250 Great Black-backed, and many more of other species (Herring, Laughing, & Ring-billed), as well.

A DUNLIN was a nice surprise — look at that bill!


The distant view of the Manhattan Skyline was impressive with the backdrop of a sunset.

This MERLIN flew over at one point:

As did this COMMON TERN, in a flock of 25 of these guys. Still, no Gull-billed Tern though!

The number of Sanderlings was also extremely impressive to witness. All those little dots? Yep, they’re Sanderlings.

Before I left, I observed this roosting flock of BLACK SKIMMERS along with an array of other bird species in the background.

This view of the One World Trade Center with the sunset sky in the background was poignant as September 11 was just five days ago.

Alas, I failed to find my target the Gull-billed Tern, but luckily many other birds were also present to make up for its absence. Bird-of-the-day goes to the Black Skimmers which are just so incredibly fun to see, with runners-up to the White-eyed Vireo & Prairie Warbler.

Good birding,
World Life List: 975 Species

Posted by skwclar 19:00 Archived in USA Comments (1)

First Central Park Outing of Fall!

Manhattan, NYC

semi-overcast 73 °F

Today, Monday September 9, was my first morning of the fall to bird Central Park! I had high hopes due to northerly winds last night and high levels of migration shown on the composite radar from last night.

I arrived to the Central Park Ramble just after 8am, and although it was not crazy birdy, there were definitely some birds around. GRAY CATBIRDS such as this one abounded throughout the morning:

A few BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS were also seen throughout the morning, though this male did not feel like sticking around for decent photos:

The female was a bit more obliging:



I heard a chip note behind me, and freaked out when I saw this WORM-EATING WARBLER just a few feet away from me! Very cool — an uncommon species of which I saw only this one today.


A few OVENBIRDS were around, but I suspect they have not reached peak numbers yet as I may see dozens of them in the Ramble some days:


And its slightly-less-common cousin the WOOD THRUSH:



Then, I saw a twitter report of a Marsh Wren which is a very, very uncommon find for Central Park, so I took the subway a few stops north to 103rd to bird the Central Park Ravine. There were als some birds present there, such as this BALTIMORE ORIOLE:



Unfortunately, I failed to find the aforementioned Marsh Wren.

Overall, a great morning of birding at New York’s crown jewel of a park though! Bird-of-the-day to the Worm-eating with runner-up to the Black-throated Blue Warblers. Great to see these avian migrants before they wing their way south for the winter.

Good birding,
World Life List: 975 Species

Posted by skwclar 19:33 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Birding in the Hurricane

Fort Tilden, NYC

rain 69 °F

As I had been reading on the recent weather forecast, today I noted on the radar for the northeast that the northernmost bands of rain associated with the now-category 1 Hurricane Dorian were grazing the New York City area, including some prime birding spots along the coast of Queens.

Hurricanes are known for their storm sturge, damaging winds, and all-around devastation, but a fact recognized far too uncommonly is that they also wreak havoc on bird life. One example is a critically-endangered subspecies of bird called the Bahama Nuthatch, that prior to this hurricane, was thought to only have two individuals left in the wild. Unfortunately, this hurricane has probably been the last straw for this dwindling species which has been only found on one island in recent years: Grand Bahama Island. Just days ago, the hurricane devasted that island.

Pelagic (sea-faring) & other aquatic bird species, in particular, are also prone to the ravaging affects of hurricanes and all tropical & non-tropical oceanic weather systems. Birds that tend to stick to the open ocean, such as various pelagic terns, storm-petrels, shearwaters, and boobies (yes, boobies) tend to wisely avoid these hurricanes by flying away from the center of the disturbance. When hurricanes such as Dorian approach land, this is then a prime time for birders to look for pelagic species from land — a rare opportunity to see usually-inaccessible species.

NOT to worry: in no way did I put myself in any form of danger today as I stayed far from the water’s edge, and the outer bands of the hurricane are always the weakest: all I experienced today were a few rain showers and some wind. So, after a two-hour commute to Fort Tilden along the coast of Queens, I was ready to brave the rain and see what I could find — my hopes were high! It sure did look stormy as light rain pelted down, winds blew from the east, and the sea raged offshore.

Much of the afternoon was spent bracing my umbrella against the 50MPH wind and rain with my left hand and photographing/scoping the open ocean with my right hand. It was tiring, but I hadn’t come all this way for nothing!

A few EASTERN KINGBIRDS braved the gale:

I saw SANDERLINGS on the beach in various plumages:

As well as AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, another fun shorebird species I love to see:

GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL — many of these were both inshore and offshore today.

As I saw more of predominately the above birds, the rain grew stronger and the sea grew wilder. It was quite something to experience.

An immature LAUGHING GULL flew by:

As well as an OSPREY that appeared to have quite the catch:

Finally, just before I left, a small flock of terns flew by. My hopes for them being the rarer Sooty or Bridled Terns were soon dashed, though, as I saw their pale coloration — the larger is a ROYAL TERN, uncommon but fairly expected for the area, and the smaller birds are COMMON TERNS.

Here is a close-up of the Royal:

And the Commons:

After about an hour and a half of birding and battling the wind, I was thoroughly tired out. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any of my target pelagic birds, but it was certainly nice to see some coastal species since they are, of course, absent from Manhattan. Bird-of-the-day to the Royal Tern with runner-up to the Common Terns — an exciting, stormy afternoon out!

Good birding,
World Life List: 975 Species

Posted by skwclar 17:12 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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