I recently took a hiatus from blogging (mostly unintentionally), but would like to change that in upcoming months. In these past few months, I have been getting accustomed to the college life, as I am now an undergrad at Cornell University (in Ithaca, NY). Birding out here is amazing, and the community around Cornell is quite special. There are many people working at the Lab of Ornithology that love birding as much as possible, and some of them will even chase notable distances in New York for a good state bird.
This past Saturday, I communicated with Jay McGowan who works at the lab about possibly chasing the long staying Common Ground-Dove that was found at Jones Beach State Park, in Nassau County. It was first found on November 2nd, but apparently got captured by a Merlin. Everyone though that was the end of it, but on November 8th, the bird was refound, and has been seen on and off every day or so since then. Jay had a lot of work to do over the weekend and we opted out of going down. But on Saturday night, Jay messaged me mentioning that now a Cassin’s Kingbird was found during the day and just posted to eBird. That was the turning point, and Jay and I agreed on a meeting time and he mentioned his dad Kevin would be joining us also.
He picked me up at 4:45 AM on Sunday, and after a short drive to Dryden to get his dad, we were off. The drive is about a 4.5-5 hour drive, and we made good time. Our first stop was at Floyd Bennett Field, where Kai Sheffield reported the Cassin’s Kingbird the day before. Birders were frustrated that the bird had been seen from around 11:30 AM-12:00 PM the prior day, but nothing was posted until the evening. Regardless, people were out on Sunday eager to relocate the Kingbird. Unfortunately, when we arrived, there had been no sign of the bird for already a few hours. We drove around the area for about an hour and a half, but were unable to find the Kingbird. Highlights around the area was my NY state Brant, about 60 Eastern Bluebirds, and lots of Flickers.
We decided to head over to Jones Beach State Park next, hoping that we would have more luck there, and if the Kingbird was refound, we could get it on the way back. Something I was not expecting, though, was how huge Long Island was! It took us 45 minutes to get from the Kingbird site to the Dove site, and we only went about a fourth down the island. Jay mentioned to me how lucky we were that the Dove was not found near Montauk.
The day began to show a pattern when we arrived at Jones Beach, as the dove had moved into cover about three minutes before we arrived. The birders present knew where it had wandered in, but it was not visible while we stood and looked around. The only consolation was a very accommodating Orange-crowned Warbler (which was a tad late).
Disheartened, we decided to try and scope the ocean for a bit, giving the bird some space. I exchanged numbers with Pat Lindsay, a great Long Island birder and who had refound the Dove yesterday. There had been word that there was an approachable Harlequin Duck and Snowy Owl down near the jetty, which was about a 25 minute walk from the parking lot.
Almost as soon as we got ourselves down to the beach and began scanning, I got a phone call. The dove was back, and now feeding on the grass next to the road. I let Jay and Kevin know, and we quickly packed up again and walked back to the car. We drove the three minutes over to the other side of the parking lot, and saw people looking down at the grass. Walking up, we soon could see a very small, plump dove on the ground, pecking away.
The state park had a holiday light show that they were setting up, and some of the lights hadn’t been stood up yet. The dove at one point decided to hop into one of the fixtures and feed around, creating quite an interesting image. Overall, it was quite cooperative, and it eventually scampered into the higher grasses, reminiscent of actual habitat that Common Ground-Doves are found in. This setting made the dove look a lot more natural.
Moods were reinvigorated, and we now could bird around the state park freely. We decided to head over to the Coast Guard Station on the north side of the island and look at the shorebirds present. Here, we found around 100 American Oystercatchers, some Sanderlings, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plovers, and the continuing Marbled Godwit. The oystercatchers, Sanderlings, and godwit were all state birds for me:
Since there were still no reports of the Cassin’s Kingbird, we decided to go back and continue looking at the ocean as well as walk out to the jetty and try and find the Harlequin Duck. Along the way, we passed where the dove had been feeding, and to our surprise, it was now in the middle of the street. We tried to drive past it slowly, and it allowed us to get great looks before flushing a few feet back into the taller grasses, letting us see its rusty inner wing.
Once we got to the coast, we were able to see a large flight of Red-throated Loons was underway. Jay estimated around 150 loons passed (all headed east) in the hour and a half we were there. Northern Gannets were also passing close to shore, allowing great photo opps.
The Snowy was last seen flying back to the mainland, so we were unable to find it. But the adult male Harlequin Duck allowed us to watch it from the jetty from only 30 feet away. While watching it, I kept having to ask myself, “What evolutionary process helped drive the creation of this amazing bird?”
The seawatch we briefly held had both Surf and Black Scoters, as well as some Green-winged Teal, and a surprise flock of 12 Northern Shovelers. We decided it was eventually time to head back, and made it back to the car at around 4:00 PM.
This trip was an amazing introduction to Long Island birding, and I cannot wait to go back. Though I didn’t break 50 county birds in any of the counties we birded in, the species we saw surely made up for it. Thanks again to Jay and Kevin for taking me down there with them, I had a fantastic time!