It was obvious that after a wonderful morning of birding in Prospect Park, we needed to keep birding. This might be the best chance we would have to see something like a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak or a Scarlet Tanager for the first time.
One of our favorite fall birding spots is Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but this is our first Spring visit. I was surprised to learn that this preserve is managed by the National Park Service and part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes Sandy Hook, NJ. I grew up hiking around Sandy Hook, but never realized across New York Harbor was the other half of the same park. All this and a lovely view of John F. Kennedy Airport! http://www.nyharborparks.org/visit/jaba.html
To get to Jamaica Bay from Prospect Park we drove down “scenic” Linden Boulevard (spotting some laughing gulls along the way) and approached the refuge via Howard Beach, Queens. Howard Beach has an old-school Italian-American shore town kind of vibe, if that is a thing. We stopped to eat at Lenny’s Clam Bar, which was delicious. This isn’t a food blog, but every good birder needs to stay fueled, and $20 Lobster Fra Diavolo and Chablis will do the job.
We arrived at the park around 4:30pm. Even though it was too late to see a lot of birds, Jamaica Bay is so beautiful it is nice to just walk around. This is an important place for migrating birds because it is one of the few areas around that offers both salt and fresh water habitats, and some species need both. When Hurricane Sandy hit, an embankment was breached, and what was a large freshwater pond became connected to the bay and filled with salt water. We spoke to the Park Ranger and he told us next month they will have an answer on whether or not the breach will be repaired. In the meantime, what once was a looping trail around the pond is now a crescent. The issue is complicated, but if you are interested you can read more about it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/11/nyregion/environmental-group-proposes-options-for-breached-pond-at-jamaica-bay.html?_r=0
It started to drizzle as we walked the trails. The day was winding down, but we did see a large flock of Brants (which was the first bird species we ever ID’d on our own), some sleepy Mute Swans, and an Osprey flying above us with a fish aerodynamically grasped in its claws. We also finally ID’d a group of Fish Crows LL. Fish Crows look essentially identical to the more common American Crow, but are a little smaller and have a two-toned call that sounds like a dog’s squeak toy. We listened for their calls, and sure enough it sounded like fido was having a go at a rubber ball. Now that we have them on the life list, we never have to ID a crow again. Thankfully.
The walk ended with a treat – an Eastern Towhee showing off in plain view. These are beautiful birds, they remind me of a Robin with a stylish new outfit, but they are almost always poking around underneath a giant stick pile, so we don’t usually get a good view.
The big day was almost over, and we decided to end it with a movie people are constantly asking us if we have seen (but hadn’t) – The Big Year. We will leave you with two movie reviews, from both Sarah and Tim’s perspective. And of course, The List.
Sarah’s Review: This movie has it all: Birds, Steve Martin, Germfs – German smurfs – a Teddy Ruxpin wearing mascara, an old lady wearing Kid ‘N Play hair, and none other than DJ Baby Bok Choy. Well, actually it just had birds and Steve Martin, but I was thoroughly entertained the whole time.
Tim’s Review: I was hoping that this would be the Sideways of birding, but it was more like Oceans 12 – a great cast squandered on a mediocre film. It made me laugh a few times and got the birding details mostly right, but didn’t do a great job of making the audience understand why birding is cool. I give it two Starlings (out of five) on the RowHouseSparrows movie-rating scale.
Our List: Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge 5-3-14 4:48 pm – 6:30 pm
Fish Crow – LL
Osprey (female in nest, male out fishing)
Black and White Warbler
Ruby crowned Kinglet