My Bird Blog: A blog about my birding discoveries, bird feeders, birds on my life lists, and all things bird related

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Birding Long Island

Published June 15, 2014
Tags: Life List Happenings, Boat-tailed Grackle, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, American Oystercatcher, Fish Crow, Laughing Gull, Least Tern, Piping Plover, Black Skimmer, Northern Gannet, Clapper Rail, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, Chuck-will's Widow, Roseate Tern, White-winged Dover, Gull-billed Tern, Worm-eating Warbler

One of the first places outside the WNY area that I've been wanting to bird has been Long Island.  Its location attracts many sea birds that I've never  seen and it has some wonderful habitat set aside as nature preserves and refuges.  I found a couple of willing travel buddies in Celeste and Willie - and the 3 of us planned a 5 day trip to the island.

NOTE: this post is a little longer than usual and there were just so many photos that I added them to a public album on Facebook at:  Birding Long Island ».

Our first stop was Jamaica Bay. Before we left the parking lot, I had 3 life birds: Boat-tailed Grackle, Fish Crow, and Laughing Gull. To my amazement, at least 4 Glossy Ibises flew overhead while we were looking about.  Hiking the refuge brought a few more life birds: Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, American Oystercatcher, and Least Tern. We saw many more Glossy Ibises flying overhead or out on a sandbar - amazing! Willie picked out a young Great-Horned Owl up in a tree and we saw a lone Brant mixed in with a few Canada Geese. It was hard for me to take it all in!

The next day, we went to a few places: Nickerson Beach, the Cupsogue Flats, and Quogue Wildlife Refuge. Rain was our challenge this day and photos were scarce and poor. However, 6 more life birds were added for me. We saw a few Piping Plovers (perhaps my favorite bird - and it was my 300th life bird!) and Black Skimmers at Nickerson Beach, some ocean watching brought a Northern Gannet, the Cupsogue Flats added Clapper Rail, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and Seaside Sparrow, then later, in the evening, thanks to Celeste's amazing hearing, we got a tough bird to get anywhere, the Chuck-will's Widow. This was a NY bird for both Celeste and Willie - and Celeste was happy to add the Saltmarsh Sparrow to her life list as well!  Everyone was smiling that night!

Day 3 included early morning ocean watching at the Robert Moses State Park, a hike through Grumman, a return visit to the Cupsogue Flats, and a finishing evening ocean watch at Shinnecock Inlet.  A life bird for both Celeste and I was the Roseate Tern that Willie's very careful and patient scoping picked out from a distant group of Commons, Least, and Forster's Terns at Cupsogue. Its dark bill and shorter legs helped him find it. I believe this was a NY bird for Willie too.

The shorebirds at the flats were amazing. We saw Red Knots, a personal favorite, a WHIMBREL, which I didn't expect to have the opportunity to see due to their short migration window, so many Willets, peeps, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers, Piping Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, and more. In spite of the arduous trek across the slippery sand and through the unpredictable waterways, this was by far, my favorite spot.

On our way out from the flats, we noticed a dove at the side of a puddle in the sandy path. I raised my bins and was about to ask about it when Willie shouted, "White-winged Dove!".  This bird is commonly found out west, and is rare for Long Island. We were able to get quite close to the dove, who had relocated to an evergreen close by. We confirmed the sighting and called it in to Andrew Baksh, one of our very helpful contacts. Andrew spread the word to the Long Island birding community as we took at least a couple hundred photos of the complacent dove. Willie later said this was his best bird of the trip!

I must admit, I was pretty spent by this time, but Willie had more fun lined up for Day 4!  We began at Jones Beach and then Robert Moses State Park for more ocean watching, visited Captree Island and found the continuing rarity, the White-faced Ibis amongst at least 20 Glossy Ibises, then went on to Nickerson Beach to scan the nesting terns in hope for a Gull-billed Tern.

We had no luck at Nickerson Beach for the tern, but some connections of Willie's led us to Lawrence Marsh. Again, Willie's very careful scoping produced our target tern. Once Willie found it, described it, and put us onto it, the tern was easy to discern from the other Least and Common Terns in the marsh. This tern's tail was much shorter and it had an overall light appearance. Its feeding habits were quite different too, not the usual dive into the water the way most other terns feed. I was very glad that Willie was able to get this NY bird for himself - and Celeste and I happily added it to our lists as well!

We ended Day 4 at Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area where we saw more Great and Snowy Egrets, herons, Willets, Clapper Rails, and another Saltmarsh Sparrow. We got some very nice and close looks at a trio of Yellow-crowned Night Herons there and since only the wind was our challenge this day, I got a few decent photos.

The next morning was our last day and we started at 4:30 AM - an hour earlier than the past few days. After a difficult time leaving the island due to a fatal accident on the George Washington Bridge that had occurred in the early morning hours, we finally got to Bear Mountain in the Catskills. A strenuous hike up Doodletown Road brought a wonderful opportunity to watch a family of Worm-eating Warblers (another life bird for me) feeding their newly fledged baby. What an awesome experience to see the parents scurrying around to find worms, beating the worms on a limb or rock, and then feed it to their anxious offspring. We got photos - not the greatest quality due to the rain and low light, but nonetheless, photos of this amazing scene. On our way down, we found another family too.  We never saw the fledgling, but we heard it and we did see the parents hunting for worms in response to their young one's pleas. What timing this was to be able to see this, more than likely, one-day event in the life cycle of this hard to find bird.  We couldn't have possibly TRIED to time it any better!

We're now back in WNY and recuperating from our rigorous and challenging Long Island birding schedule! I must say, my companions added so much more experience and knowledge than I ever could have anticipated and I'm so grateful to them for making the trip so successful and fun. I also want to thank Shai Mitra and Pat Lindsay for their hospitality and tremendous information and assistance in helping us target some birds and locations.  Thank you also to Andrew Baksh and Derek Rogers for their availability and assistance during the days we were there - you were all so very helpful - thank you thank you!
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Piping Plover (day 4)
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Laughing Gull (day 1)
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Boat-tailed Grackle (day 1)
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Young Great-horned Owl (day 1)
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Eastern Towhee (day 1)
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Prairie Warbler (day 3)
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Northern Mockingbird (day 3) - this bird is very common on Long Island
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Willet (day 3) - another very common bird
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Short-billed Dowitchers and Red Knots (day 3 - the Red Knot is a very endangered species)
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Ruddy Turnstones (day 3)
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Whimbrel (day 3) - I was very happy to see this beautiful shorebird
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Roseate Tern (day 3)
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Herring Gull with crab (day 3)
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Saltmarsh Sparrow (day 3)
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White-winged Dove (day 3)
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Willie and Celeste navigating the difficult conditions at Cupsogue Flats (day 3)
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Glossy Ibis (day 4)
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White-faced Ibis (day 4)
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Baby Oystercatcher (day 4)
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American Oystercatcher and babies (day 4)
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Least Tern hovering over water (day 4)
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Yellow-crowned Night Heron (day 4)
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Snowy Egret (day 4)
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Worm-eating Warbler (day 5)
Reply from: Metis Birding on 6/17/2014 1:53 PM
 Sounds like a fantastic trip-- thanks for sharing! I am a big fan of the Yellow-crowned Night Heron!