Tuesday, January 04, 2005

On the Sound: Birds of LI

Jennifer Wilson-Pines has the dubious distinction of being the only person to attend three of my book talks, and to have done so willingly. Nevertheless, she still seems friendly. Jennifer is the president of North Shore Audubon, on Long Island, and when I heard a week or so ago that she and her husband were in Texas birding over Christmas, I asked her to consider sending in occasional reports, observations, etc., about birds and the natural world in general in the Long Island Sound area.

She responded with an account of the Christmas Bird Count which, if not quite as long as War and Peace, was nevertheless longer than the typical blog post. So I've excerpted. The heart of the matter is this: “The Long Island Sound region," she wrote, "is an exceptional place to bird, with the confluence of many habitats; deciduous and pine woods, open fields, lakes and rivers, salt water shoreline and deep open waters attracting a wide variety of resident and seasonal birds.”

She continued, "My husband and I have been surveying part of region one, the Port Washington peninsula, specifically the Manhasset Bay shoreline, for the last seven years. We have learned every point at which we can access the shoreline without being arrested. After several years we have also learned where the individual residents are to be found. We go out expecting to find five Great blue herons, three Kingfishers, a small flock of Killdeer, three Black-crowned night herons, one Northern pintail, and a flock of Ruddy’s....

"Much is given over to variables like weather – if the ponds have frozen, our dabbling duck numbers (Mallard, Black duck, Northern shoveler, Green-wing teal) drop. If the Bay is starting to freeze, even the deep diving ducks (Bufflehead, Greater scaup, Ruddy duck, Red-breasted merganser) will start to move out of the area. The shorebirds that depend on open water for hunting, like Herons and Kingfishers, are also at the mercy of the elements. Some manmade alterations – a new house constructed on a formerly vacant lot, shoreline vegetation removed, dredging, hunting – can also impact our observations.

"In North Nassau, 52 counters spent the day in search of the elusive avians. High numbers were the expected Canadas, Starlings, and the great rafts of diving ducks. Rarities included a late lingering Osprey, Northern gannett, Long-eared owls with two separate individuals sighted, Virginia rail, Turkeys, a Lincoln’s sparrow, a Barrow’s Goldeneye and a pair of Peregrine falcons that appear to have taken up residence on the LIPA plant in Hempstead Harbor.

"This year’s count yielded 107 species, a decent number. This translates to roughly 22,000 individual birds, in contrast with 120,000 observed in counts from as recently as 20 years ago. The decline in numbers can be attributed to many things: number of observers, weather, food resources, pesticides, but mostly to habitat loss. And it’s not just the clearing of far away rain forests. Every 'vacant' lot is home to many, many creatures, most of who are displaced or die when it is developed."

So thanks, Jennifer. We hope to hear from you again from time to time with other reports, avian or otherwise.


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