Monday, January 21, 2013

American Bittern on Dune Road

One of the best parts about winter on Long Island (since there aren't too many great things about winter in the North) is finding a select few winter birds.  My favorites are the American Bittern, Wilson's Snipe, various species of ducks (eiders, goldeneyes, mergansers, etc.) and of course the world famous Snowy Owl.  The only two Snowy Owl's I've ever found were along Dune Road in Hampton Bays - and both of them were strokes of luck.  Unfortunately, I did not have that luck with me today (nor did I have it last year when the birds seemingly were everywhere!).  I was, however, fortunate enough to spot a beautiful American Bittern, skulking low along a roadside ditch on Dune Road - where I've spotted them in winter's past.

Luckily, the bird could be viewed through a small window where the spartina grass wasn't too tall - often times these, and other shorebirds go unseen due to the thick vegetative cover which only gets knocked down during big snow events (of which we of course have not had).  Shortly after taking a couple photos, the bird disappeared into the grasses - not to be seen by me again.

Elsewhere along Dune Road was the usual cast, a couple great egrets (which are now becoming a regular over-winter bird (albeit in very small numbers), three great blue herons, a decent amount of ducks on the flat, waveless bay and a few rattling king fishers.  A big adult Cooper's Hawk was seen on a powerline in Quogue, and on the first small pond on the north side of the road when travelling east from Quogue were two hooded mergansers - that took off before I could get a shot thanks to a big 18-wheeler.

Lastly, I wanted to mention that I stopped at Tiana Beach and checked out the very calm ocean and couldn't believe how many birds I saw way offshore toward the 1-mile marker buoy.  I tried taking some pictures, but the heat-shimmer effect made it impossible to discern the species, and my 8X40 bins proved no better. My guess is scoters or eiders, but I would have expected to see a touch more white when I zoomed in on the low quality photos if they were in fact eiders.  Either way, there were 2-3 rafts, each with thousands of birds.  Quite the display.

If you are interested in learning more about the birds of Long Island, as well as other information about the flora and fauna of our Island, check out John Turner's book (which features some of my photographs):
Exploring the Other Island: A seasonal guide to nature on Long Island