Feels Like Fall

For the first time in several months, I’m writing this blog post from the train on my morning commute. A new school year has begun, but this is the first academic cycle where I’ll be a full time teacher without taking any classes of my own. It’s always sad to say goodbye to summer. That being said, I’ve had a pretty great run of fun and adventures since the end of June. When I stepped off the boat after our successful pelagic trip last Sunday, I knew that I had one last week to fill with excitement before returning to work. I did my best to make the most of these last 7 days, and I succeeded.

A few opportunities for small-scale twitches presented themselves over the week. When a Red-necked Phalarope was reported at the Jones Beach ponds on Tuesday, Miriam and I made chase despite the rainy, chilly conditions. We fought the wind and wet valiantly, and we were rewarded with a look at yet another of the “must-see” birds Miriam has tabbed in her field guide. Other additions to her life list included Blue-winged Teal and Lesser Black-backed Gull, a species that is often encountered loafing in parking lot flocks along the coast at this time of year. Thursday’s quarry was an Olive-sided Flycatcher with a bonus Worm-eating Warbler at Hempstead Lake, and we managed to find both targets without much trouble. Another welcome surprise was a young Cooper’s Hawk appeared at close range while trying to avoid mobbing songbirds. The increasingly diverse array of Neotropical migrants in the forest helped to amp up our excitement for fall and ease the transition out of summer vacation.

I made a Saturday morning solo outing to Jones, where I discovered that the most abundant winged travelers were dragonflies rather than birds. Scores of the insects were circling through the area, and as I walked through the vegetation I found myself flushing a dozen or more from each plant I passed. I didn’t notice any birds taking advantage of the bounty, but I did find a Baltimore Oriole hungrily pecking at a cicada it had secured for breakfast. I picked up a Least Flycatcher for the first time in a while, along with a handful of other transit species like swallows, warblers, and Bobolinks.

I stopped by Hempstead Lake again on the way home. Overall avian activity was fairy low, highlighted by a quiet stream side stakeout where I observed several species bathing. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Northern Waterthrush, and Canada, Black-and-white, and Magnolia Warblers were all washing themselves in the water. This peaceful pause along the edge of the creek was a restful, relaxing chance to slow down and enjoy nature.

Even though Miriam didn’t join me for my morning expedition, we still ended up doing some unexpected birding later in the day. On our way into Brooklyn to meet up with Edem and Kelsey, we were treated to a close encounter with a huge Common Raven at the Valley Stream westbound ramp for the Southern State Parkway. Once we reached our destination, we decided to explore our surroundings while we waited for our friends to join us. McCarren Park, a tiny greenspace in the heart of Williamsburg, turned out to be a fantastic migrant trap. Even without the aid of binoculars, we managed to locate a surprising variety of warblers. More than half a dozen Magnolias were observed flitting about in the low-hanging branches, joined by several American Redstarts, a Northern Parula, a Tennessee, a Black-and-white, and a drab female Cape May. Additional birds were glimpsed fluttering in the treetops, making us wish we had our optics on hand. Once our crew arrived, we enjoyed an awesome night out full of food, drink, and merriment. It was a suitable and much-needed last hurrah before returning to school.

Sunday morning found me surveying the sod farms of Riverhead in search of visiting “grasspipers.” In 2016, I had incredible luck when I visited this region to look for its specialty shorebirds. This year’s effort required a bit more work. The weather was gray, dreary, and intermittently drizzly throughout the morning. When I first arrived at Doctor’s Path, a traditional spot for birding, it hosted only a small group of Semipalmated Plovers. I checked the fields at Osborne Avenue and found them totally birdless. Continuing on to Hulse Landing Road, a recent hub of activity, I was met by a flock of Killdeer. There was no sign of my targets, but a unusual cry from overhead seized my attention. I immediately recognized the three note call as the voice of the unusual Upland Sandpiper. The Uppie was too high up and poorly lit for photos, but I managed to get a recording as it flew eastward. Seeing one of those weirdos always makes me happy.

After a few more circuits between the different sod farms, I finally located a distant pair of Buff-breasted Sandpipers at Doctor’s Path with a little advice from Tripper, who’d made the journey to Riverhead a few days prior. I called back the other birders who I’d seen earlier, including Menachem and the Fuestels, so they could get a look at the Buffies as well. I thought that I briefly glimpsed a Baird’s Sandpiper among the shorebird flocks, but I never managed to refind it and there were several confusingly brownish Semipalmated Sandpipers out there working the grass. I once again received a gift from above, however, when the quavering flight call of an American Golden-Plover echoed across the firmament. A pair of Peregrine Falcons tussling in the plowed dirt north of our location was a surprise, albeit an unpleasant one for the wary shorebirds. The Buff-breasts and many of the other species made themselves scarce when the predators arrived. Declaring my trip a success, I stopped around the corner at Briermere Farms to pick up some pie before returning home.

I slept in on Labor Day, but I had a few errands to run before the family’s evening grill-and-chill session. On my way to my grandpa’s to deliver some pie, I elected to make a detour to add a new bird to my Nassau County list. Brendan recently verified reports that a family of Wild Turkeys was hanging out on the otherwise ordinary Aerial Way in Syosset. I couldn’t resist stopping by to see the birds myself, and they did not disappoint. I first noticed a hen with several mostly-grown youngsters scratching for food along a wooded fenceline. When I turned my car around to find a better vantage point, I stumbled upon two burly toms resting in the shade of a truck across the street.

I’ve seen plenty of turkeys in my day, both on and off the table. Even though the beefed-up barnyard variety isn’t especially impressive, I generally have a lot of fun when I encounter their forest-dwelling cousins. Watching these giant fowl go about their business always makes me feel like I’m catching a glimpse back through the fog of time. The Wild Turkey is downright prehistoric in appearance and action, and its intricate, iridescent plumage clashes marvelously with its shriveled countenance. The incongruity of seeing these dinosaurian creatures casually loafing in an asphalt parking lot was equally delightful. The turkeys didn’t seem to mind my unspoken request for a photo shoot, as the poults kept foraging and the adult males both laid down to rest while my shutter clicked away. Seeing these bizarre animals so close to home was a real pleasure.

All good things must come to an end, and the summer of 2017 was chock full of good things. As I stand at the starting line for yet another school year, I can find no cause for complaint as I reflect on the adventures of the past few months. I can only hope that the rest of the year is equally rewarding and eventful!

Year List Update, September 4 – 367 Species (+ Blue-winged Teal, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Tennessee Warbler, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, American Golden-Plover)

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About timhealz

A recent graduate (Cornell '14) and lifelong explorer cataloging my thoughts and travels.
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