Continued adventures in the Big Apple

9 09 2009
Worm-eating Warbler - Luke Tiller

Worm-eating Warbler - Luke Tiller

Went to Central Park for the day and met up with birdspot who was kind enough to let me join her for a day of ‘edgy’ birding in the Big Apple. Skipping past the usual unseemly detritus of Central Parks Ramble (condoms, used tissue paper – nice!) we were soon on a few decent birds: a couple of Black-throated Blue Warblers were stunning as ever, although a rather subtly attractive Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was probably the early highlight for me at least (somewhat more common in the park than they are in Connecticut – but isn’t everything!). Although certainly not a big day in Central Park terms we managed to unearth a total of 11 warbler species with the highlight being a Worm-eating that although nice for the park (and probably Catherine’s highlight), actually breeds in my yard (a subtle and much underrated warbler in my opinion). The place was also literally alive with Swainson’s Thrushes and Veeries as they skulked through the parks underbrush.

After a few heated discussions of Empid ID’s (ok not that heated, just using a little artistic license) and a rather unpleasant burger at The Boathouse (2 days of stomach aches later!) we stopped to discuss birding and blogging plans whilst soaking up some mud at the Maintenance Meadow. The day had turned into something of a city scorcher and it was nice to be surrounded by open space and take a while to catch our collective breath under the shady umbrella of a large oak. Amazing how far away you can feel from the hustle and bustle of the city once you lose yourself in the Ramble (not that we did get lost for a change).

Although I have been to the park many many times (in fact it was one of my regular forays birding when I first started as it was accessible by public transport and promises a much better days birding than most spots here – sorry to admit that CT birders) I always have at least a few moments in the park where I am just wondering in a vague direction and hoping to see some landmark I recognize again. None of that malarky with birdspot though, she knows where everything is (even if she’s useless at remembering the place names!!!) I have to admit that part of the romance of Central Park for me is those moments of aimless wandering – not so much lost, but rather it not mattering quite where you are (unless of course you are trying to rapidly make your way to where a good bird has been sighted in the park!)

Later I’ll actually get around to posting something useful about how to approach birding the park for those that don’t know I promise, but indulge my ramblings for now please. Anyway after a fulsome day in the park we headed down to the Lower East Side (where else could we go in mudsoaked birding clothes?) for a few beers and conversations that ranged from art, through places to go birding, to birdspots secret love of all things testosterone fueled metal – who knew (not sure my sticking the Smiths on the jukebox went down so well there then)? First port of call for me in the LES whenever I’m out with friends is Mars Bar. To my eye it’s about the only remaining dive bar still in existance in NYC (if you know others tell me) and has one of the best jukeboxes in the city. Just for a laugh I decided to look up the posting on the place and the first review started thus: “Where do you go when you just killed a guy and simply need some time to think – maybe even get some professional advice on how to live your life on the lamb? Mars Bar for sure.”  Now if that isn’t a glowing recommendation I don’t know what is?

Birdspotting with Birdspot

16 08 2009
Shadow Birding - Luke Tiller

Shadow Birding - Luke Tiller

After meeting on the BwBTC meetup in July I cajoled artist extraordinaire, avian fiend, blog star and all around birding world cutie Birdspot (Catherine) to join me for a days birding at Jamaica Bay the other week. Surprisingly for someone based in hipster central Williamsburg BK she hadn’t quite made it out to Jamaica Bays renowned East Beach shorebird Mecca (some mumbled excuse about allergies). Anyway after a good but somewhat species poor trip a couple of weeks back (see her much better description of the day out there than I could ever manage) we decided to meet back up for another stroll through the filth and the fury that is a scorching hot summers day at Jamaica Bay.

Keys to birding Jamaica Bay are: 1) to have worked out the tide times and be there for high tide in the bay (which pushes shorebirds into the confines of the East Pond), 2) to not be at completely the wrong place at the wrong time. Well we managed to mess up on both counts Saturday, arriving just after low tide and happily wandering the birdless shores of West Beach whilst everyone else was enjoying killer views of Wilson’s Phalarope (my professional tours run much more smoothly than this, I swear!). No big loss for me having seen hundreds of the beggars in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana this year (trip reports online here and here) but I think Catherine might have missed out on a target bird for her aborted New York Big Year list – oops.

Jamaica Bay is really one of the best sites for shorebirds on the Northeast coast, only really being threatened for the title by the incomprable South Beach in MA (want to go?  Sunrise is going there in under two weeks!). The bonus though is that Jamaica Bay is easily doable in a day from Southern CT and South Beach most definitely isn’t! As much as reading books can help you prepare to identify birds there is nothing like spending time in the field with them. Whether it’s CT’s lack of oceanside shoreline or it’s weird east/west running coast (both regular excuses) it is hard to find the variety and numbers of shorebirds even at our best known hotspots to quickly become proficient at these tough little group of birds. Milford Point can be good, but views are often distant which doesn’t help close study and what has happened to Sandy Point is currently a mystery – there is simply nothing there this year!!!

Jamaica Bay on the other hand is the perfect spot to earn ones shorebird spurs. American Golden Plovers mix with Black-bellied, Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers can be seen and compared and peeps of all shapes and sizes are possible. The variety is fantastic and species that are considered uncommon in Connecticut are all to be found readily by those with a discerning eye. The species list was pretty impressive with all of the usual suspects putting on a show. Long-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpipers aplenty, White-rumped, Western and Pectoral were all on show and somewhat to be expected. Compare that to my own fair state and it would have been a killer day in the field. Add to that Gull-billed and Forster’s Tern and you have a host of species that it would be tough to get on a days shoreline scouring in the Nutmeg State.

Anyway after running into some of the glitterati of NY birding and completely baking our brains in the hot sun for six or seven hours without any form of sustenance we decided to go wash off some of the funk at the visitors center and escape to New York. Another top tip for Jamaica Bay birding, is making sure you wash the stinking black sludge off of your clothes and shoes at the end of the day using the conveniently placed hose at the  left of Visitors Center building – otherwise you’re gonna be stinking like Swamp Thing for the rest of the day.

Post birding we decided to head over to Williamsburg for a quick bite, a couple of beers and some interesting conversations about life, the universe and the finer points of dowitcher identification. Strangely we seemed to know all of the same bars and restaurants in the greater New York area, which is weird! A great days birding followed by a couple of fine ales and Jameson’s (pick your poison), who can ask for anything more – although we did find the Karaoke Bar a little too late for the day to be completely perfect – maybe next time 😉