Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dovekie Madness

Great River Dovekie
On Tuesday a Dovekie was reported in the West Marina at Timber Point County Park, in Great River (along the Eastern boundary of Hecksher State Park).  This is an unusual find for several reasons.  While Dovekies are seen off the coast of NE states frequently in the winter (in the Gulf Stream where the water is a toasty 45* F) they are almost never seen from the shore.  What's more is that if a Dovekie is spotted anywhere other than the Ocean it is either dead or about to die and something is seriously wrong.  So, to find one of these birds (alive and well) in a tiny marina at the North end of a bay is extraordinary.  For the past 4 days the bird has been seen motoring around as if it's a windup toy moving up and down the marina, diving frequently for fish and preening its feathers to keep them waterproof.  Meanwhile, dozens of Dovekie's have shown up along the shores of Long Island and surrounding areas distressed or deceased in the past month, with the major influx after severe storms that packed winds upwards of 60 mph.  Events like this are called "wrecks" where large numbers of offshore species end up way off course and it seems that this is the first such instance of a Dovekie wreck in NY in at least 60 years.  Though the number of birds this year are quite low (relative to the thousands of Dovekies about 40 miles offshore) it's still a significant event.  According to Birds of North America Online (ran by Cornell) in the winter of 1923-1933 there were so many Dovekies involved in the wrecks that they literally rained down on the streets of Manhattan (that must have been some sight!)

I have been under the weather this week and was not at work Tuesday and Wednesday.  Well I figured that getting some fresh air and sunshine would help me feel better (which it did) so I made the trip to Great River.  When I arrived I was shocked to see how small this bird was (about 8" in length and less than 1/4 pound) and found it an amusing sight as it moved quickly all around the water in no discernible pattern.  After getting a bunch of backlit unsatisfactory photos I went back to my car and thought about how I could improve my photos as this may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance (literally).  After warming up a bit I talked down to an concrete boatramp and saw a small path along the northern end of the marina which at the very least would allow me to get side lighting on the bird.  Well, to my surprise the Dovekie came essentially right toward me, feeding and swimming and preening (at one point just 3 feet away) and was fully lit up by the sun allowing me to get all of these wonderful photos.  There were several other photographers there who had more expensive (professional) equipment and who obviously were experienced and yet they kept shooting backlit photo after backlit photo.  I guess the idea of using the sunlight to their advantage didn't occur to them - or it was too difficult to move their big huge tripod and super heavy lens and walk off the beaten path.  Either way I'm happy I didn't have any company along the shoreline.

Rescue + Rehab
After the most recent "wreck" 7 birds were brought to the Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays, located at the Munns Pond Preserve along Montauk Hwy.  Two of these birds died overnight and the remaining 5 were being rehabed.  Unfortunately only 2 made it (which were released on Wednesday).  An article was published in Newsday about these birds and their rehab, as well as an article in the Southampton Press (including an amusing video of these birds) which can be seen here: Dovekie Rescues

Additionally, a Dovekie was spotted WALKING along Montauk Hwy (hitchhiking maybe?) in Montauk and was picked up for rehab and was subsequently released in Montauk in early December.  An article written by Mike Bottini can be seen here: Montauk Dovekie

While it is unfortunate that some of these birds did not make it, they are being sent to the NYS DEC for analysis to determine what was the cause of death (which certainly has a scientific benefit) and some of these birds may end up in the archives of the Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Winter of the Auks
In addition to the influx of Dovekies, there also have been an unusually high number of Razorbills seen (which unfortunately I have not had the pleasure of photographing).  Last weekend in a few early morning hours approximately 4,000 of these birds were seen flying toward Block Island (with some setting down in the water).  This is an unprecedented number of Razorbills to be seen in one place in such a short time frame.  Additionally, there is the case of the Arctic Race Black Guillemot which was featured in my first blog post.  This bird, aside from purportedly being a NYS record (for the Arctic Race) was found in the unusual location of an inlet into the Peconic Bay.  I e-mailed one of my photos to Bill Maynard, the editor of ABA (American Birding Associations) 'Winging It' publication (which has previously published this Gyrfalcon photo) as I thought it would be of general interest to him and I also included some background information.  He decided to take it a step further, collect some more info and use the photo in ABA's blog "PEEPS".  The blogpost (mostly information which I have already included in this posting) can be seen here: ABA Blog

I will be headed to Great River tomorrow morning to freeze and photograph this bird again (assuming it remains) and will subsequently make another posting (which I'm hoping will have a video clip).  There is some concern that it will not be in the same location (or be seen again) as the temperatures were below freezing today and will continue tomorrow and possibly for several more days which will almost certainly result in the icing up of the marina.  However, the one potential saving grace is that the Suffolk County Marine Bureau has several boats at the southern end of this particular marina and as such the water will remain open.  So, hopefully the bird will just get pushed further to the south and will remain for a bit longer.

Need help Identifying that odd looking bird in the field?  When I'm out taking pictures my photo bag always has a copy of National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America

1 comment:

  1. These are fabulous photos. I don't see how anyone could have done any better. You were clever to move to where the light was better... and lucky the bird followed you over there! Congratulations and thanks for this very nice write-up.