Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Overcast and Windy Tuesday morning...

Today's goal was to survey and photograph Dragonflies for the Staten Island Dragonfly Atlas (SIDfA), a project that I am coordinating through the Section of Natural History at the Staten Island Museum. In particular, I was hoping to find Common Baskettails and Widow Skimmer.

The weather forecast was calling for rain or showers most of the day, but as fate may have it today is the first rainless day in over a week! Despite the lack of rain, the clouds were still blocking the sun and the wind was steadily blowing resulting in only a few dragonflies being active. As always, other notable creatures were observed along the way...

My quest started by meeting fellow nature photographer Jarred Sutton on the beach at Wolfe's Pond Park where he was waiting to photograph nesting Killdeer using a remote trigger system. Before heading over to chat with Jarred my attention was called to large group of Laughing Gulls and Common Terns hanging out in the tidal zone. I searched through the flocks for a few minutes in hopes of finding something exotic, but without luck. It was interesting to note the number of young Common Terns being fed by adults!

At one point some of the terns decided to herass a lonely Herring Gull picking at dead Dogfish shark(photo on right).

Upon walking up on Jarred, I noticed this Great Egret hunting along the beach just 30 feet away! The bird stayed with us while we stood around observing the gulls and waiting for the Killdeer to do something interesting. After about a half hour of standing around on the beach, we decided it was time to head to Long Pond Park in Richmond Valley for Dragonflies.

The wind wasn't any less in the woods than it had been on seashore, so hopes were faded for finding a good diversity of Dragonflies, but we were on a mission! Paul Lederer, local Dragonfly expert, reported a Common Baskettail had been seen along one of the WPA roads that run through Long Pond Park. This being a species I've never seen before, and my first chance to searching this species, I was not going to let the poor conditions lessen my determination!

One things about nature studies that you can always make interesting observations even if your target is not around! Well, today's discovery was a good number of young male and/or female Meadowhawks (Sympetrum) in the low weedy vegetation along the dirt roads! Meadowhawks are generally thought of as a later-season species, this is why the early date is worth noting.

Sympetrums are almost impossible to identify by sight when they are young or female. Specific identification of usually require microscopic investigation of the secondary genitals of males. I am still thinking about how SIDfA will handle this group.

Birds, Birds, Birds! The woods were filled with family groups or adults very actively foraging in the dense understory in certain area of the park. As we stood looking over South Long Pond, I noticed an adult Yellow-billed cuckoo foraging in the button bush and gray birch on the opposite side of the pond! The bird afforded Jarred some great looks at his life cuckoo!

A second cuckoo was calling in the distance as first continued to hop with the dense foliage. Moments later an immature cuckoo appeared in the button bush across from where we stood. We watched as it teetered on the branches over the pond, wondering if it might fall in! Alas, it made its way back towards land based vegetation.

The next family of birds we came across were Eastern Towhees. We had been hearing many calling as we walk along the dirt roads, but they were mostly staying well concealed in the understory.

Finally, as we were walking down one of the more grassy roads I heard something rustling in the poison ivy and out flew a very young towhee. The bird alighted on a nearby branch and reminded me a starling that had fallen from its nest, but differently marked. I was shocked that the bird could even fly!

The dragonfly activity picked up again as we approached our cars. The meadowhawks were the first species seen, shortly followed by some common whitetails. One the latter appearing to develop some white at the base of his abdominal segments. No baskettails or clubtails but a wonderful morning altogether!

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