Each year, I weep for the end of Daylight Savings Time. On the one hand, an extra hour of sleep is nice, even if it is just for one night. Unfortunately, “falling back” means that it gets dark much earlier. Conditions no longer allow post-work outings to look for wildlife. For most of fall and winter, my birding is forcibly relegated exclusively to weekends and days off. It’s critical that I make those most of these opportunities.
Brendan and I met at Jones Beach around 8 AM on Saturday. With the peak of songbird migration behind us, being present at dawn for the morning flight is no longer a requirement for success. There were still plenty of signs of seasonal travel all around us, and the activity levels were notably high thanks to favorable winds overnight. Purple Finches and American Goldfinches led the charge, streaming overhead continuously. We ran into a number of common species like kinglets, thrushes, and nuthatches.
The theme of highlights for the morning seemed to be “not quite rare, but pleasantly surprising.” We encountered a number of uncommon species as we searched the surrounding habitat. A lovely Eastern Bluebird and a pair of passing Eastern Meadowlarks were welcome sights, and the loud vocalizations of a Hairy Woodpecker drew our attention in the trees of the median. Several Pine Siskins were identified among the flyover finches, adding a much-needed species to Brendan’s Nassau year list. We also picked up an unexpected Vesper Sparrow feeding in the grass at the turnaround. Brendan had been hoping to clinch this bird before its window of opportunity closed, and it came in at #253 to tie for the county year record he’s been attempting to surpass. We’ve both achieved the listing goals we set for the year, and we still have almost two months to see how soundly we can beat them!
We continued our sweep of Jones, hoping to locate some overwintering arrivals or roosting owls. It is still on the early side of the season for these goals, and we came up short today. Brendan had to head home, but I extended my exploration for a little while longer. A brief check-in at Hempstead Lake revealed no sign of the local Great Horned Owls, but a stop at Hendrickson Park was more productive. The Pink-footed Goose found by Dad earlier in the week has lingered at the lake. I could think of no excuse not to take advantage of this opportunity while it lasts, so I dropped by to say hi to our foreign visitor. This time I had a fully-charged camera, and I joined the assembled crowd of excited birders for an extended photo opp with the goose. I managed to snap some of the best wildlife shots I’ve taken in my entire camera-toting career, so I’m a very happy camper.
Sunday morning, with my “extra hour” cashed in, I returned to Jones Beach. The wind was much stronger, but the temperature was and conditions were acceptable. Many birds from the previous day were still around, including the bluebird and the Hairy. There were many more raptors present, with Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks working the brush and Northern Harriers coursing over the dunes. A young Red-tail touched down in the trees at the turnaround, and I scored a falcon hat trick with kestrel, Merlin, and a repeatedly-observed Peregrine. Brendan and I had discovered a recently-cast pellet and a kill, apparently a late oriole, that had been picked over by a raptor in the dunes on Saturday. Undoubtedly, several more birds met a similar fate as the passing predators moved down the barrier beaches.
I joined groups of familiar birders in their search for Lapland Longspurs. This species typically keeps the company of larks or Snow Buntings on our beaches, but last winter there were essentially none to be found on the Island. Several individuals have already been widely reported this season, but I still need the bird for my 2016 list. We were very thorough in our hunt, and we had some pleasant encounters with Horned Larks, but the Laplands remained elusive this day. A brief scan of the sandbar shorebirds for Red Knots proved fruitful, and I closed my checklist as I prepared to drive home.
On the plus side, I had an exceedingly pleasant weekend filled with lots of great sightings and awesome experiences with other birders. On the downside, I am saddened by the shortening days and increasingly limited opportunities to get out into the field during the week. Returning my focus to the positives, there are still plenty of chances to get outside and explore as we march steadily towards winter. I also got to enjoy a Yellow-breasted Chat that’s been hanging around the cemetery at Trinity Church after work earlier in the week, and I’m always happy to see one of those little weirdos. Many seasonal opportunities are still just getting started, and our Pink-footed friend is a reminder that we never know what will turn up next. And hey: I’ve got quite a few days off coming up this month!
Year List Update, November 6 – 403 Species