Note: Many thanks to Shai Mitra for recruiting a very capable trip leader for us, and to Tim Healy, who took us to the best current hotspots at the refuge and helped us find and identify lots of great birds. Interesting trivia: Tim, a recent Cornell graduate, participated on our very first field trip as a teenager back in August 2008 (also to Jamaica Bay!).
On Saturday, August 20th, at 8 AM, twelve young birders and their families gathered in the parking lot of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. Gulls, American Black Ducks and egrets flew overhead. We went around in a circle, introducing ourselves. When we came to Rion, who recently moved here from Japan, he mentioned that he would like to see a Glossy Ibis. Moments later, his wish was granted as two flew directly overhead.
After introductions, our trip leader, Tim Healy, led us down the road to the East Pond. He warned us before we entered that there would be mud - he wasn’t kidding. We were pleasantly surprised to find three Stilt sandpipers, probing the muddy water. We were surrounded by a tempest of birders, nearly as numerous as the birds themselves. There were dozens of egrets, Snowy and Great, standing in a row, like the teeth of a white comb. Big, fat Mute Swans bobbed in the background, while in the foreground, all manner of plover and piper explored the mudflats. Someone found a grebe peering through the marsh grass, as squealing terns wheeled overhead.
We moved down the shore, stopping to examine a small, grassy island where we found all sorts of good things to look at: Black-bellied Plovers, assorted sandpipers, a Ruddy Turnstone, a Red Knot, and a Willet! Heading to the end of the shoreline, we examined an adorable Least Sandpiper, no bigger than a golfball, with bravery far larger than its size, who refused to move despite being surrounded by a dozen eager young birders.
We turned around then, stopping to look at a little Semipalmated Sandpiper hiding in the towering reeds. He had the right idea, hiding in the shade while we baked. We had a third close encounter, this time with a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron which stared us down with its orange eyes, and didn’t fly off until we were all practically on top of it, as we sloshed past. There was a sudden commotion ahead as our fearless, former President, Joe Hernandez, took a wrong turn into a deep mud puddle. I was surprised that more of us had not met this unfortunate fate because the ground was deceiving. It looked solid, but it was thick, smelly, mud. We added one last bird to our list as a pair of lone birders helped us to see a Yellow-billed Cuckoo they had spotted. A beautiful bird!
As cicadas whirred, emphasizing the intense heat, we took a break to rehydrate, grab snacks and take refuge in the wonderful air conditioning of the Visitors Center. We went to the bird blind at Big John’s Pond next, where we watched beautiful Black-crowned Night Herons hunt, and spotted a lone solitary sandpiper. We switched places, half of us crowded the bird blind while the other half braved poison ivy on the walkway. Then we ran to the East Pond to find a White-rumped Sandpiper. I found it difficult to discern from the other birds, but eventually with the help of the others I spotted it, my third life bird for the day! Once we had that bird under our belt, our eyes turned to other natural curiosities; Monarch Butterflies, sunlight shining through their orange wings, raccoon tracks on the shore among shattered oyster shells, and a single Gray Tree Frog, clinging to a branch over the trail. We then headed back to the Visitors Center to have a picnic lunch under the shade of the trees, tally up lists, and talk about the birds we had seen over snacks and sandwiches. A fine ending to a fabulous day out on Jamaica Bay.
List of Birds Seen on this Trip
by Silas Hernandez
Species Total: 57