The first birding-by-car stop was along Holten Ave to see if any good gulls were resting on the ice. In the past, Iceland gulls and black-headed gull have been seen at this location, but today there weren't even any of the common gulls around... moving along... the next stop was Great Kills Park.
The first thing I noticed when I turned onto Buffalo Street was the newly installed fencing, then further down the flattened phragmites (picture to the right). Just before leaving for Florida, an article was published in the SI Advance about the upcoming clean-up of the radioactive materials which has caused the closure of a large portion for the last 7 years or so. It will be interesting to see what impact these activities will have on the nesting woodcock, pheasants, etc this spring. I kept stopping along the road to check out the sparrows foraging in the short grass, but only came up with tree and white-throated sparrows. So, on to check around the park for winter birds.
My first stop was the field around the play ground to look through the "tundra birds". My goal here was to either find some really crazy rarity or the more common pipit. A few scans through the flock turned up nothing, but the flock was a rather impressive mix of about 70 snow bunting and 50-60 horned lark. After that I checked the harbor then onto the salt flats, time to get out of the car...
Walk up to the flats, I could see there were many gulls on the flats and scattered waterfowl just off-shore. Looking around I saw many of the expected gulls, some black ducks and then I came across the flock of scaup. Carefully looking at each of the female scaup confirmed they were just scaup with no canvasback or scoter mixed in. So, from there I walked down the beach a little. Luckily, the very thin "runners gloves" I purchased earlier were just enough to keep my hands warm enough to hold my binoculars but when the wind blew a little chill would permeate but not enough to really have an affect.
As I walked down the beach many little shorebirds started to run around the flats. Mostly these were sanderling, but there were also two killdeer. Then I saw another bird, slightly larger and darker than a sanderling, with it's head facing away from me. In a moment it turned and I clearly saw that it was a dunlin! Check! My first new year-bird since returning from the south. After looking around some more, I finally felt my feet getting cold so it was time to move on.
I quickly stopped at Blue Heron Park to checked the feeders behind the nature center, but they were empty and the only birds around were tufted titmice and chickadees. Having an obligation at 2pm, I started to make my way home. But along the way, I stopped at Wolfe's Pond again to find a group of ring-billed gulls on the ice. A quick walk to the beach came up with many of the same species at Great Kills. My last stop was a driving through Mount Loretto to check the Canada geese flocks for a rare goose, and then down Page Ave to check feeders. Although there were many geese and the feeders were active, no year-birds were located, so I finally headed home.
One year-bird for the day is not bad at all. My total is now 92 species. Hopefully, tomorrow's adventure into Freshkills Park (Landfill) with a member of the Freshkills Park Team from Parks Department and my co-work in order to count waterfowl will turn up something good. There are a couple of non-waterbirds that are frequently found in Freshkills that would be really great to get ASAP... crossing my fingers!