Monday, November 23, 2009

This Post Is For The Birds!

For me?
From August 2, 2009 - The Best Trip I Ever Cancelled.

Yeah, ya big mooch of a laughing gull!

And for this guy too, who's been flying in slow-motion for me here at home since September, but seemed to get stage fright & speed back up when sent to the Web - finally figured out the bit I wasn't doing in my Quicktime edit, one extra save & here he is, black skimmer in slow-mo for the whole world. Look at him snapping at the little fish that he's hunting in that long, shallow tidepool!

I think the black skimmers are some of my favorite birds out in Jamaica Bay. I remember reading about them in a bird book my folks had around when I was a kid, and thinking that their fishing technique was the neatest-sounding thing. Seeing my first skimmer a-skimming & discovering that they are regular summer denizens of my new home waters was a good moment!

Here's a young one that we got very close to on Ruffle Bar on Labor Day. We're not sure whether he was asleep or unwell or maybe just young and trusting, but with those mottled patterns on his feathers, he blended in so that we didn't notice him until we were on top of him.

Juvenile black skimmer on Ruffle Bar

My birder friend Prof. M. told me a funny story about seeing a group of these asleep on a beach one day early in her birding career. She said that they were actually lying flat on the beach, legs tucked under, heads extended in front of them & beaks actually resting on the sand. She said she thought that they were sick until a more experienced friend explained it. Turns out that's just how they sleep sometimes - those big beaks are heavy enough that sometimes they just to lay that burden down. Who can't relate? I would enjoy seeing that sometime.

Those are a couple of the common summer denizens of Jamaica Bay. Today, I joined a pleasant group of 8 paddlers on a beautiful paddle that was primarily for the birds!
We met at the club at 10:30 & by 11:30, we'd set out. Destination: West Pond in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge!

We got a lot of questions about what we were up to. Can't quite figure out why. Hmmm.

Mostly, we were there for the birds.

Partly for the turkey. I'd called for this paddle a few days ago because I just wanted to get a good brisk paddle in, get some exercise before the big feast this week! Actually, when I started planning the trip around midweek, the weather was sort of on the less-than-inspirational side - wind 15kts, cloudy, think there was a chance of rain - but over the course of the week it just got prettier & prettier.

Which made it a perfect day for my secondary goal for the paddle - seeing who's arrived for the winter on West Pond!

The brants, of course, have arrived in force.

They were well in evidence on the Great Tamale Paddle. The buffleheads are here too, we saw one lone one flying over the Paerdegat & the sailing co-chairs had mentioned seeing rafts of them on their great sail on the same day as we had tamales.

Two of the folks I was paddling with today got a nice close encounter with a loon in gray winter plumage, so they've clearly arrived from their summer homes on northern lakes.

Best sighting for me today was a first - snow geese! Those are the white ones here. I'd been wondering what they were & then a passing birder identified them for us, and also told us that the big raft of little ducks further out (click on the picture for full-sized & you might be able to make them out) were ruddy ducks (I'd thought buffleheads because that's the small duck with the white cheeks that I knew about). He also told us that the snow geese are just beginning to arrive & so are considered "a good sighting" right now.

We couldn't quite make out the ruddies but his description of the way the males are marked was delightfully memorable - "Like a baboon, only on a duck."

Back in the Paerdegat - well, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! And although the incessantly cheery Christmas carols they had playing in a deli I stopped in early this week just set me on edge, somehow seeing this boat's owners break out the annual decor has the opposite effect.

This post for the birds inspired by Tugster and A Movable Bridge. Thanks for the idea - a perfect one for me to play with, as I'm lucky enough to keep my boats simultaneously in New York City, and in a wildlife sanctuary & major stopover for the birds who follow the Atlantic flyway!

And by the way, thinking of paying a visit to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge yourself? You don't need a boat, you can get there by car, bus, train, or bike, and the Brooklyn Bird Club has got a really nice page with all sorts of helpful info!

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