February is weird when you’re a teacher. It’s the shortest month even when it’s at its longest, and there’s a surprising amount of vacation time packed into the calendar. The first two weeks both feature Mondays with no classes, sandwiched between Regents week in late January and the upcoming February break. I’m making full use of the weeklong respite by heading to Texas on an adventure that will be chronicled here. While counting the days until departure, I had many obligations to wrap up for work, grad school, and travel plans. This past weekend, between Saturday class and Super Bowl festivities, I managed to squeeze on a bit of northern birding before my journey to the southern border.
My first priority for the weekend was to find some kind of owl. The intentional typo rebranding the annual football championship as the Superb Owl rarely fails to make me crack a smile, so I wanted to “celebrate” properly with a sighting of my own. After my grad school classes on Saturday, I headed uptown to Central Park. Since November, a Great Horned Owl has been roosting in the Ramble, delighting local birders and passersby who stop to ask about all the binoculars and cameras. I’ve been fortunate enough to see this individual twice before, and sure enough I found it without much difficulty by following the gaze of the lenses. As darkness fell, the bird began to stir, casting a pellet and stretching its wings. It finally took off for the evening hunt shortly after sunset, flying over the assembled onlookers as it headed deeper into the park. I went in search of my own meal, leaving the superb owl and returning to the hectic city streets.
Sunday morning was stunningly beautiful. Clear skies, still air, and flat-calm seas met me when I arrived at Jones Beach. The stroll down to the jetty was one of the most pleasant I’ve experienced this season, and the birding was exceptional to match. As I approached the rocky edge of the inlet, it became apparent that I wasn’t the only one enjoying the agreeable weather. A group of Harlequin Ducks was resting on the boulders, surrounded by Purple Sandpipers diligently picking the shoreline.
While I was admiring these charming little waterfowl, I received a text from Taylor with this picture.
Turning to follow the line-of-sight angle, I spotted the cluster of fellow birders further out the jetty. Tracey was present as well, bravely making her way out the rocky road to the end for looks at some lifers. Making conversation about the spread of good birds before us, I spotted a penguin-like form popping to the surface not a stone’s throw away. A Razorbill! Surprisingly, this is the first time I’ve definitely seen this species at Jones, and we all got great views as it dove and swam at the mouth of the inlet.
The beauty of the jetty is that you get to walk out “into” the water away from the shoreline. This allows you to get better views of birds swimming or flying by, and the boulders attract species that prefer rocky coasts to the sandy shoreline that dominates the area. The Harlequins hopped down from their perch and went for a swim, joining Long-tailed Ducks, Black Scoters, a Common Eider, and a Horned Grebe in a lovely spread of waterfowl.
The late-lingering Lark Sparrow was seen in its usual spot, and I connected with a handful of other species before heading home to prepare for the game with my coworkers. The night was divided between Raven’s Head and Martha’s Bakery, and I was happy to see a Broncos win to the sake of Dylan and my other Denver-fan friends. The late night and snowy weather on Monday morning combined for a much-needed excuse to sleep in late on my day off. When I finally did awaken, I decided to make a quick trip down to the beach to see if the storm brought out any interesting visitors. Nothing earthshattering showed up, but I still enjoyed my walk along the shore. The sea was angry, the fierce wind whipped snow into a frenzy, and through it all flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls rode the gusts down the coast and fed in the surf. Classic winter birding in New York…but I still can’t wait until my Texas adventure!
Year List Update, February 8 – 125 Species (+ Brown-headed Cowbird, Horned Grebe)