If you participate in a hobby or pastime, it is only natural that you should aspire to reach a level of competence that will enable you to mix and confer with other adherents to your chosen pursuit. Until, that is, you meet ‘Doug’. In every hobby where single, middle-aged men gather together in the spirit of gentle competition to follow a mutual interest, there is a ‘Doug’; someone who raises the bar and makes the most basic concept of competence seem a distant prospect. Doug is an “absurdly good birder” who appears to eat, breathe and talk…and talk and talk birds and birding.
It was a real experience to join him and Corey from 10000 Birds, for a day’s birding along the barrier islands of Long Island. I had sent Corey a wish-list of birds that would enhance my life list and he had enlisted the help of Doug to plan a military-style campaign to wring every potential bird from the day and so it was that I found myself trailing in their wake as we launched an assault on the birds of Sussex, Nassau and Queens Counties, New York. The day passed in a blur. We were in and out of the car, striding along beaches and boardwalks, criss-crossing car parks and county lines, visiting and revisiting sites with a commendable sense of urgency. Do we need the scope? What are we looking for here? Shall I bring the camera? Have I had my breakfast? All this just to find me a few birds; I felt very honoured until I found that this was the normal pace of a walk out with Corey whose outings have been likened to “route-marches”.
Next, on to Robert Moses State Park on Fire Island, characterised by the parkway and some huge parking lots. Doug became very excited by a ringed American Kestrel perched on a sign here.
There is a hawk watching platform (Google Earth Ref; 40 37 49.48N 73 13 29.51W), used to monitor migrating birds of prey and the low scrub and ocean give access to a whole lot of sky to watch, interrupted only by the Fire Island Lighthouse. We approached it along a very birdy boardwalk with more sparrows, House Finch and a Cooper’s Hawk seen from it. The hawk watchers had had very little success, but a Sharp-shinned Hawk passed low as we left.
Perhaps it was about now that we returned to the Coast Guard station to check the sand bar again. The tide had been coming in all morning and was nearing its highest point now, bringing lots of wading birds in with it. The bar was now covered with birds.
Dunlin, Red Knot, American Oystercatchers and Black-bellied Plovers were especially abundant with a single Marbled Godwit and a few Semi-palmated Sandpipers. Doug called a Western Sandpiper which accommodatingly went to roost beside the Semi-palmated and I am sure that the differences are obvious to the trained eye. Actually, I had to ask and found that the slightly bigger Western Sandpiper (on the left) roosts with a slightly more upright posture than the Semi-palmated Sandpiper.
These two images were digiscoped, a discipline that I have yet to master, but thanks to Corey for giving me a go. I tried and failed to get a shot of Doug’s Yellow-billed Cuckoo that came in off the water into the bush at the top of the sand bar.
The light was fading now and Corey made a last dash for Jamaica Bay’s West Pond where a good head of Ruddy Duck was seen. Other species mixed amongst them included a Shoveler, an American Wigeon, Greater Scaup, Pintail, some Bufflehead and some Red-breasted Mergansers. Laughing Gulls were seen in higher numbers here than at any time during the day and a huge flock of Boat-tailed Grackles came to roost in the reeds.
I am indebted to Corey for inviting me along, organising the day and driving us around and to Doug for his boundless expertise. Thanks for a great day out guys. The list below reflects only my misty memory of the numbers of birds seen and is certainly wildly inaccurate. Doug took copious notes during the day which I had hoped to cheat from, but forgot to ask at the end of a long day. To separate the sites with a list for each would be impossible at this stage with no notes, so the whole day has been melted into one big list.
Species seen; 73