Sunday, August 15, 2010

Long Island Hotspots '10

Long before people detect the approach of Autumn in the changing colors of the forest or in the nipping northerlies, fall migration begins for birds. The first group of birds to leave their breeding grounds is the shorebirds. By August almost all the Eastern species can be seen passing through New York. Flocks of thousands of plovers and sandpipers often stop on mudflats at places such as Mecox Bay, Cupsogue County Park, Jones Beach, and Jamaica Bay. The last especially is famed for its shorebird numbers and diversity. Later in the month more species from across the country appear, including American Golden-Plover, Western, Baird’s, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers, and Wilson’s Phalarope. Songbirds, despite having a more patent presence later in the fall, also begin to abandon their breeding grounds in August and wander beyond their normal habitat.

In September the coastal sites begin to fill with songbirds. The same warblers that passed through in spring and then often matched the hues of the newly-sprung flowers return in perplexing pastel shades that tend to again resemble the colors of the present state of the flora. The birds with Neotropical destinations, such as flycatchers, vireos, warblers and tanagers, evacuate the region first. Throughout the month they can be seen well in inland greenspaces like Prospect Park and Hempstead Lake State Park and along Long Island’s barrier beaches in parks such as Jones and Robert Moses State Park as well. By October the more local and slightly hardier migrants, like the sparrows, replace the Neotropicals in the same coastal habitats. Soon Chipping and White-throated Sparrows dominate the migrant passerine scene, but decent numbers of Clay-colored and Lark Sparrows, as well as Dickcissels, also visit these flocks annually. Something even more unusual is possible as wayward migrants from the West discover the Atlantic coastline and follow the normal commuters.

As the sparrow numbers peak in October, so does the quantity of migrant hawks. And the quantity is impressive and easily observed at places such as the Hook Mountain and Fire Island Hawk Watches. Hook Mountain is famed for viewing the concentrated passage of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks. Meanwhile, about a third of the raptors that pass over Fire Island every year are Merlin, with strong numbers of American Kestrel, Osprey, Northern Harrier, and Accipiter hawks showing as well.

The grand finale of Autumn is marked by the movement of seabirds. Sea ducks, loons, grebes, gannets, shearwaters, phalaropes, jaegers, gulls, and alcids migrate often unnoticed well offshore. However Black and Surf Scoters especially hint at the unseen migration offshore as thousands pass just within sight of land. One of the best places to see this spectacle is off Montauk Point. And like a salute to the dazzlingly colorful birds of spring, the rest of the ducks return to their favorite ponds, such as St. John’s Pond, Tung Ting Pond, and Lake Massapequa, and round off the diversity of Fall migration that can be seen on Long Island.

1 comment:

  1. Very well written.... makes me eager to head out to Jones Beach in pursuit of Merlins!