Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fighting Turkeys

A visit to EPCAL (where  I have not been in awhile) produced over a dozen Turkeys on the runway with the Males displaying.  They scattered as my vehicle approached but two of the Toms stood there ground and began fighting with each other - quite interesting!  I also found an Eastern Kingbird at the property near the Turkeys.

When I visited the North end of EPCAL (where the RADAR station is) I found a Grasshopper Sparrow with a mouthful of bugs... I missed getting an incredible closeup shot as I didn't have my camera in hand when it popped up next to me but got a shot from an OK distance.

In addition to the bird life - there were 3 foxes spotted at the Radar Station, hanging out on the paved area.  The first 2 darted as soon as my vehicle approached but the 3rd hungout a little longer before retreating into the thick vegetation.

If you like birds check out this awesome book by National Geographic: National Geographic Complete Birds of the World

Sunday, June 26, 2011

More Least Terns

Visited my favorite bird spot this evening - the Least Tern Colony in Reeves bay and spent a little time photographing the nesting birds.  I did find 2 Common Tern scrapes so hopefully they will nest soon.  Really looking forward to when these eggs all hatch and I have so many chicks to photograph.  I also came across several fresh Diamond-backed Terrapin Nests so hopefully I'll be lucky and photograph them when they hatch out later in the summer.

This Least Tern was trying to look tough . . .

For more on the animals you can nesting find on Long Island check out John Turner's fabulous book: Exploring the Other Island: A seasonal guide to nature on Long Island

The Nest of a Diamondbacked Terrapin

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Law Abiding Birds

For those of you who missed it - Newsday reported on a juvenile Peregrine Falcon which was injured during a fall at the Federal Courthouse in Islip recently.  The bird had only minor injuries and is being rehabbed - more importantly though is that this proves the existence of a Peregrine nest on the top of the Courthouse (some 80 feet high).  According to the article, there are only two other spots on the island that have active nesting Peregrines (the Robert Moses Bridge and Nassau University Medical Center).  Let's hope that in the near future there are many more - perhaps at the big Coast Guard tower in Hampton Bays or the adjacent Ponquogue Bridge where I've seen multiple Peregrine's? (see photo above and below).

Anyway, here is the full article, via Newsday:

A female baby peregrine falcon injured itself and had to be trapped and taken to a veterinarian Wednesday, after one of her first attempts to fly from a nest atop the federal courthouse in Central Islip, officials said.
The presence of a baby falcon, or an eyas as it is called, surprised court officials, though they knew a female and male falcon had taken up residence near the top of the courthouse's nine-story entrance rotunda and scared away the flocks of pigeons that had been roosting on the building's many ledges.
The pigeons' droppings, encrusting the ledges, had become a headache for building managers, costing "thousands of dollars" annually to clean up, according to William Schrader, the courthouse manager for the federal General Service's Administration.

More: newsday.com/centralislip
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"They solved our pigeon problem and helped the taxpayers," Schrader said Wednesday, adding he was delighted now by the presence of one or more baby falcons.
Bird experts had told GSA officials that it was likely that the male and female peregrine falcons might be caring for young because the ground under the nesting sight was occasionally littered with the heads of small birds such as starlings and sparrows, GSA Long Island manager, Enrico Caruso, said.
While the adult falcons could be seen perching on the courthouse, their nest, if any, was in an area of the rotunda that was very difficult to access, behind a high wall, the only path to which is a precarious journey between the skylights that provide light for the rotunda.
And when the rotunda recently began to leak, maintenance workers were divebombed by the falcons, apparently guarding the nest and babies, and had to retreat for their safety, Schrader said.
Wildlife officials also said that the falcons are a protected species in New York State and should be treated with care, GSA officials said.
"But we're happy to learn to live with them and will work something out with the leaks," Schrader said.
The licensed wildlife trapper called in by officials Wednesday, Bobby Horvath of Massapequa, said it was likely that the young female peregrine falcon was making one of her first flights and banged into the courthouse, and then fell to the ground.
She was hopping around on the ground unable to fly when he caught her in a net, said Horvath, a New York City firefighter who operates Wildlife in Need of Rescue and Rehabilitation in Massapequain his spare time.
He said it appeared that the baby falcon had a minor injury to her left wing and her chances for complete recovery were very good.
Horvath said that he identified one other uninjured baby peregrine resting on the eighth-floor ledge of the courthouse and speculated there may be others that the parents are still guarding in the rotunda nest.
Horvath said thatperegrines are among the world's fastest creatures, able to dive at 200 miles per hour, live on catching smaller birds, and like to nest in high cliffs or on tall manmade structures.
He said there have been two other publicly identified peregrine nests on Long Island, one on theRobert Moses bridge and the other on the Nassau County Medical Center.
Early yesterday evening the injured baby falcon waited for a veterinarian to X-ray her while she contentedly munched on a thawed frozen quail, Horvath said.

For more on Falcons, purchase this awesome book:  Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bank Swallows

I visited the Bank Swallow Colony off Lidge Dr. in Farmingville after work and had a blast.  While I didn't get the shots I wanted I made some progress and enjoyed watching these speedy birds come and go.  The specific colony I observed was on the east side of the road just before the Brown House which is under construction - this group of nests is close to the road so it makes observing and photographing them easy.  Keep in mind this is the first time photographing them so expect better photos to come in the future!

For more on birds, check out this book: National Geographic Complete Birds of the World

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nesting Least Terns

Least Terns are one of the most aggressive birds when it comes to defending their nesting sites from humans and other predators.  They will dive bomb you, they will crap on you, they will screech at you and they will even run into you.  But when I visited a nearby Least Tern colony via kayak this evening I didn't experience any of that.  I attribute that mostly to my knowledge of these birds after years of being around them and a few summers monitoring them.  However, I was also able to tuck in behind some vegetation which made me less visible and I think the fact that these birds are in a remote location they don't necessarily perceive man as a threat like their friends who nest at popular ocean and bay front beaches.  Either way, it was a real treat for me to photograph them so close.  In the above image, the least tern was trying to evade the other which had "goosed" it in a dispute over territory.

Above: The Least Tern after it was not so nicely told to get away.
Below: A Least Tern doing a little yoga. . .

Least Terns are very hard to catch in flight, but sometimes they hover which makes it slightly easier.

And one more flight shot for good measure. . .

If you are like me and have an affinity for birds, check out this guide book to birds on the east coast: National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America (National Geographic Field Guide to Birds)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Common and Least Tern Colonies

This afternoon I went to New Made Island (aka Tern Island) with Anthony Graves.  The island is located in Moriches Bay and has been a habitat restoration project spearheaded by the Town of Brookhaven with help from other government agencies.  Last year was quite successful with over 100 breeding pairs, but this year got off to a slow start.  After we cleared some new vegetation and installed the bird caller, a follow-up visit yielded just a handful of Terns and a caller that wasn't working.  The caller was restarted and today we were surprised to find about 75 birds using the island and making scrapes.  It didn't appear that there were any active nests - even though there were this time, but there are several reasons that could be, including the possibility of birds having the nests flooded out on a nearby marsh island.  Regardless, it was nice to see so many birds there.  Unfortunately I was unable to get any photos because I had to wade 1/4 mile to the island from the boat due to the tide.

When we got back to the mainland, the "resident" Least Bittern on private property in Brookhaven Hamlet was heard calling, but was deep in the phragmites so it was not seen.  The bird has been present in the same location for several weeks now, but I don't think it will be successful in finding a mate!

This evening I took a kayak ride into Flanders Bay in the hopes of spotting some Saltmarsh or Seaside Sparrows on several marsh islands in the Bay.  I didn't find anything (perhaps a trip at high-tide will be better) but saw a few Osprey and other common birds.  I then headed over to a spit of land at the end of a Town owned park which is really only accessible by boat (you can walk there along the shore, but it's broken up by several sections of marsh).  To my surprise, there was a Least Tern colony of about 26-30 birds.  There were many scrapes and a few nests with 1 or 2 eggs were located.  Common Terns were also present and may possibly look to breed on the site as I observed what appeared to be courtship behavior.  Also, there is no other suitable location for these Common Terns to be nesting in the area so it is quite likely they will co-mingle with the Least Terns which is a bit unusual.

If you love birds that make a living on and near the water - look no further than this awesome book by Ted Cross:  Waterbirds.  I received it as a Christmas Gift and the book is truly visually stunning and the stories/information is incredible.  Highly recommended!  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Least Tern Colony

This evening I went for a beautiful Kayak Ride in Flanders Bay and headed to a salt pond that I had seen on aerials and wanted to check out.  Since it was high-tide I knew I'd be able to kayak into and out of the pond (it's heavily shoaled up so the entrance isn't accessible via kayak during low tide).  When I got near the inlet I noticed a Least Tern Colony being established on the spit of dry land.  It appears that courting was still going on as there was a lot of "passing of the fish" (see below) going on and I didn't notice any birds sitting on nests, though it was a little tough to tell since I stayed in my kayak.  

I hope you enjoy these shots of the Least Terns - I was certainly happy to stumble upon them.

There also were a few shorebirds that were feeding on horseshoe crab eggs and other bits of food along the edge as two horseshoe crabs finished copulation and gently slipped back into the water.

Here is a shot of a semi-palmated sanderling with a very small egg in its bill (the size of a grain of sand - pardon the massive crop!).  It's not a horseshoe crab egg, which are green but the egg of some other invertebrate which will remain unknown to me.  

If you're looking for more information about Horseshoe crabs and how they effect the lives of shorebirds, check out this book: Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds: The Story of a Food Web

Or, if you are looking for some more info on Diamond-backed Terrapins, look no further than this cool title: Marvels in the Muck: Life in the Salt Marshes

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Shooting from a Kayak

I recently acquired a kayak and have been keen to use it in the evenings around the Flanders Bay / Gooseneck Creek area but lately the gnats have seriously inhibited the enjoyment factor.  This evening was nice and warm with a steady breeze that kept the bugs at bay and allowed me to get out and find some birds.

Along the shoreline were Ruddy Turnstones, Semi-palmated Sandpipers, American Oystercatchers, a Piping Plover and several Saltmarsh sparrows.  Unfortunately not all of the birds were cooperative, but there is always tomorrow.

Another angle:

Even a pair of Mallards and Swans were hanging around. . .

One of the Swans:

Speaking of birds that don't cooperate, this afternoon I checked out a colony of Bank Swallows in, of all places, the middle of the island - Farmingville to be exact.   One of my co-workers had done an inspection in the area and noticed the Swallows had taken up residence in the artificial banks created by the construction of new homes.  I was excited about this because I don't have any photos of that species and the lighting was perfect and some of the cavities were pretty low to the ground, but lo-and-behold the birds just would not cooperate.  They were too fast and unpredictable to photograph so I will have to make some return trips in the hope of photographing them.

What makes this colony interesting, however, is its location.  It is located at one of the highest points in Suffolk County (only rivaled by near by Bald Hill) and you can clearly see to the Long Island Sound and Robert Moses Park from the top of the bank.  However, one would expect a nearby water source for these insect eaters - but the closest "stream" is the Carmans River which is 5 miles to the east, and Lake Ronkonkoma which is 4 miles to the West.  The only time I've seen these colonies were at the beach at Mecox in Bridgehampton and along the eroded dunes in Sagaponack along the Atlantic Ocean.  So if you are in the area and want to check out a unique bird colony, take Lidge Dr. North from Horseblock Rd. in Farmingville and check out the big banks on the East Side.  (Note: this site is just to the East of the County Park on Horseblock)  Just make sure you stay on the road and off the private property.

The spit at Goose Creek remnids me of Lazy Point which you can read all about in Carl Safina's book: The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World which I highly recommend.