Friday, June 5, 2015

Birds of Rocky Point Salt Marsh, Part Four, August 2014 to May, 2015

This is the last installment in this four-part series, which starts at the end of August, 2014, and ends in May, 2015.

As I worked through this project, I was able to observe and photograph three more species: Turkey Vulture, European Starling and Red-throated Loon. This brings the count to 78 species which I have personally observed and photographed in the marsh’s environs.

For the purpose of these blog segments, I have very loosely defined Rocky Point Marsh as everything lying within borders defined by Rockaway Park Boulevard and Beach 201st Street, to the south and west, respectively (note that all compass points are “approximate”). The far-east border is delineated by the jetty at that end of the cove; the jetty then runs back into Rockaway Park Blvd. at Beach 193rd Street. The marsh’s northern side is fronted by Jamaica Bay.

For references consulted, please see part one of this series.










08-23-2014, Black-bellied Plover, (Pluvialis squatarola). These two individuals were photographed on the shore directly in front of the marsh. A frequent visitor on both the bay and ocean shores of the Rockaways, this species eats insects, mollusks, various marine creatures and crustaceans.

08-30-2014, Snowy Egret, (Egretta thula). The smaller cousin of the Great Egret, this species often frequents the marsh pond, especially when a high tide is in effect. This particular individual was extremely successful during the time I observed him, striking prey numerous times.



09-16-2014, Osprey, (Pandion haliaetus). It has long been the hope of the people working to restore the marsh that this species would choose to make a nest here. In particular, the late summer of 2014 saw frequent sightings of both perching and hunting Osprey, sometimes two at a time. However, comparing photographs made on five separate observations during the months of April and May, 2015, revealed no nest-building activity on the platform.



09-20-2014, Northern Mockingbird, (Mimus polyglottos). This handsome and common species can be seen in the Rockaways year-round, the marsh being no exception. This individual appears to be in the final stages of replacing its molting feathers.



10-17-2014, Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle), (Dendroica coronate). On some days, many dozens of these warblers can be seen in and around the marsh; this is the so-called “Myrtle” form, which is seen in the east year-round. When such prey is available, insects are the preferred diet; in other seasons, waxy berries, including those seen on Poison Ivy are readily consumed.



10-17-2014, Cooper's Hawk, (Accipiter cooperii). This image capture came as I happened to look up while this very agile raptor appeared low overhead from behind; in this case my very flexible camera rig worked as it should. This individual, true to form, disappeared low into the woodlands at the marsh’s western edge, threading its way between the trees in search of a meal.



10-25-2014, Hermit Thrush (Cartharus guttatus). A late south-bound migrant, this species will often raise and lower its tail in a distinct fashion, helping to distinguish it from the less common Wood Thrush. Feeding on insects and berries, this hardy species can sometimes be seen during the winter in the north.





10-25-2014, White-throated Sparrow, (Zonotrichia albicollis). Another common local sparrow, this species will winter in the NYC area. This particular individual has a tan stipe behind his eye, which is one of two morphs that can be seen on this species; the other has a white stripe.



10-25-2014, Song Sparrow, (Melospiza melodia). Another common species in the NYC area, this New World sparrow is very often observed at the marsh. An insectivore in season and a seed-eater at other times, this species will also feed on small mollusks and crustaceans, making the marsh an ideal habitat.



11-08-2014, Northern Cardinal, (Cardinalis cardinalis). A bird that really needs no introduction, the adult male of the species is a striking red color as seen here. Its large, strong bill is ideally suited to cracking open seeds, but it wall also feed on insects of various kinds. It is a permanent resident in the NYC area.



11-08-2014, Great Blue Heron, (Ardea heridias). Like a sentinel on guard, this stately individual stands tall in the surf just outside the marsh. Its long, sword-like bill is perfectly suited to hunting aquatic prey in shallow water, be it in the marsh pond, or as here, in the shallows of the bay.



11-08-2014, Dark-eyed Junco, Slate-colored, (Junco hyemalis). A relative of the sparrow, this species if very often seen feeding at ground level. Normally, the breast and sides of this bird are white, but this individual appears to be of the “pink-sided” or “mearnsi” type.



11-08-2014, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, (Regulus calendula). An extremely active forager, this species rarely stays in any one place for long. Although barely seen here, this little guy has a red crest hidden on the top of his head, which will be deployed if he becomes overly excited.



11-08-2014, Winter Wren, (Troglodytes troglodytes). Comprised of several “races” this individual is most probably of the “hiemalis” type, common in the east. As its name suggests, it will often be observed in woodlands during the winter months.





11-29-2014, American Goldfinch, (Carduelis tristis). Seen in the more cryptic winter plumage, this individual still shows some yellow on the throat. This time of the year, seeds make up a large part of its diet, so this individual is searching for a meal on a stand of Seaside Goldenrod.



11-29-2014, Downy Woodpecker, (Piciodes pubescens). This small, rather common woodpecker is a very frequent visitor, where it will hunt for prey on the thinner trees situated around the marsh. On this particular day in November, this was the dominant species at the marsh, with at least a dozen spotted throughout the area.



02-28-2015, American Wigeon, (Anas americana). A pair of these dabbling ducks were spotted cruising in Jamaica Bay, in front of the mouth of the marsh. They later alighted, but came back around and landed again, this time slightly closer in.



02-28-2015, Northern Harrier, (Circus cyaneus). This adult male was briefly sighted flying low over the marsh, prior to winding its way low through the woods. This relatively small, agile hawk will eat other birds, small mammals and small amphibians, making the marsh an ideal hunting ground.



05-07-2015, European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). Introduced to the New York/metropolitan area in the 19th-century, this handsome bird is very hearty, thriving in close proximity to humanity. In this image, the bird is apparently gathering nest-building materials.



05-07-2015, Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura). Not often seen over the Rockaways, I first thought this was an Osprey. This individual made a couple of lazy low-level circles as it worked westwards over the marsh, finally swinging back towards the south-east.



05-07-2015, Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellate). This photograph was taken in early May and shows an adult in non-breeding plumage; this is likely to change shortly. Note the characteristically, slightly upturned mandibles. This individual was hunting in the shallows in front of the marsh, very close to shore.

All text and photographs by Frank V. De Sisto.
Rocky Point Marsh needs your help. To volunteer for service contact National Park Services Ranger Tony Luscombe at: dcalato6@gmail.com

For more photos of Rocky Point as well as other locations within the Gateway NRA complex, visit: www.frankdesisto.com



Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Birds of Rocky Point Salt Marsh, Part Three

This, the third installment in this multi-part series starts at the beginning of January, 2014, and ends in mid-August, 2014.

For the purpose of these blog segments, I have very loosely defined Rocky Point Marsh as everything lying within borders defined by Rockaway Park Boulevard and Beach 201st Street, to the south and west, respectively (note that all compass points are “approximate”). The far-east border is delineated by the jetty at that end of the cove; the jetty then runs back into Rockaway Park Blvd. at Beach 193rd Street. The marsh’s northern side is fronted by Jamaica Bay.

For references consulted, please see part one of this series.





01-01-2014, Rock Dove (Pigeon) (Columba livia). Seen in urban environments worldwide, pigeons come in a bewildering variety of colors and this example is no exception. This species is extremely adaptable and is a frequent visitor to Rocky Point, often seen foraging along the shore fronting the marsh.




02-22-2014, Canada Goose, (Branta canadensis). This species is fairly common year-round, with large groups often seen along the shore fronting the marsh. These individuals are foraging within the marsh in the remnant of February snows.



05-10-2014, Chestnut-sided Warbler, (Dendroica pensylvanica). Seen in the early spring, this is the first recorded observation of this species within the marsh environs. This handsome individual is in full breeding plumage; note the chestnut-colored streak on the side; hence the name.



05-10-2014, Greater Yellowlegs, (Tringa melanoleuca). In season, this species is common in the Rockaways, both bayside and oceanside. A shallow water forager, the marsh pond, where this individual is located, offers perfect conditions for hunting.




05-24-2014, Least Tern, (Sternula antillarum). One of two tern species often seen at Rocky Point, this is the smallest member of its family living in North America. It typically hunts by diving into shallow water to grab fish; it will also catch insects in flight and feed on marine worms.



05-24-2014, American Robin, (Turdus migratorius). This familiar bird is common in the area and is often seen in and around the marsh. It feeds on insects and berries and is noted for pulling earthworms out of the ground; it is also quite fond of bathing, as seen here.



05-24-2014, Brown Thrasher, (Toxostoma rufum). This species is usually seen on the ground in thickets and underbrush, although it will also perch high on trees to sing. Its diet primarily consists of insects, supplemented by nuts and berries.



05-31-2014, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, (Calidris pusilla). At certain times of the year, several hundred Semi-palmated Sandpipers have been observed on the shoreline in front of the marsh. Easily confused with the very similar-looking Sanderling (at least by yours truly!), this species has been known to travel up to 2,000 miles non-stop during migration.



05-31-2014, Spotted Sandpiper, (Actitis macularius). This species is unusual in that it will nest relatively far south of the arctic. It hunts on and below the surface of shallow water and will dine on various fish, mollusks, worms and crustaceans.



05-31-2014, Semi-palmated Plover, (Charadrius semipalmatus). A very common visitor at Rocky Point, this species has been observed feeding both within and outside the marsh; it favors both environments. It takes a wide variety of prey, including insects, mollusks, worms and crustaceans.



06-07-2014, Mourning Dove, (Zenaida macroura). An extremely prolific breeder, this species is common and widespread throughout North America. A ground forager, it is often seen below bird feeders picking at seeds that other birds discard.



06-07-2014, Ring-billed Gull, (Larus delewarensis). One of four gulls that call Rocky point “home”, this species is an opportunistic scavenger and will steal food from other birds whenever it can. An omnivore, it will eat everything from potato chips to carrion.



06-07-2014, American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus). Common in the Rockaways, this species nests mostly on the ocean-side of these barrier islands, but is often seen foraging on the shore-line in front of the marsh. As its name suggests, it favors mollusks, which it hunts in the shallows by sight.



06-07-2014, Willet (eastern) (Tringa semipalmata). As many as two pairs of this species have been seen at one time in the marsh, year after year. Despite their noted propensity to nest in salt marshes and their often extremely territorial behavior, no evidence of young has been found here at Rocky Point. On the other hand, the abundance of feral domestic cats noted in the area could be the cause of nest failure.



06-07-2014, Great Black-backed Gull, (Larus marinus). The largest gull native to North America, this predatory species often feeds on nestlings of other species, making it especially dangerous to the Piping Plover. In this image, an adult is taking flight outside the marsh, while two others, with plumage somewhere between 1st winter and 2nd summer look on; note the drain pipe, at left, which emanates from the marsh pond.



07-05-2014, Black Scoter, (Melanitta nigra). A sea duck, also known as the Common Scoter, this species nests in the far north. At sea, it feeds by diving for prey such as mollusks; in fresh water small fish, insects and fish eggs are often on the menu. The male is at top of photo, female at bottom.



07-26-2014, Black Skimmer, (Rynchops niger). An extremely specialized hunter, the skimmer’s lower mandible is longer than the upper, allowing it to be deployed to catch fish by touch as it flies low over shallow water “skimming” the surface for prey. Its long, thin wings, with their high aspect ratio (ratio of length to width), allow it to glide some distance, further helping it skim the waves for prey. Often seen in good numbers, in this area it prefers to hunt on the bayside of the Rockaways, where it is seen flying past the marsh.



08-13-2014, Black & White Warbler, (Mniotilta varia). Unique in its family, this warbler behaves like a creeper or nuthatch as it travels up and down tree limbs in search of prey. It feeds exclusively on insects, unlike some warblers that switch to seeds and berries in colder months.



08-13-2014, Great Egret, (Ardea alba). Salt marshes with their shallow ponds are perfectly suited to the foraging style of this large, elegant bird. The Great Egret is often seen at Rocky Point, with this particular individual being photographed flying low over the pond.

All text and photographs by Frank V. De Sisto.

Rocky Point Marsh needs your help. To volunteer for service contact National Park Services Ranger Tony Luscombe at: dcalato6@gmail.com

For more photos of Rocky Point as well as other locations within the Gateway NRA complex, visit: www.frankdesisto.com

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Birds of Rocky Point Salt Marsh, Part Two: October, 2012 to December, 2013.



We are continuing with a survey of birds that I have photographed at the marsh since late 2011. In this installment we begin in October of 2012 and wind up at the end of December, 2013. It must be appreciated that these sightings are by no means a complete record of bird species that have visited the marsh. Certainly others have made observations that include species not seen here; I am also certain that I have had fleeting glimpses of species that I have not been able to identify. Finally, a common species, such as the European Starling has been seen in the area in question with some regularity, but as yet, I simply have not photographed one!

For the purpose of these blog segments, I have very loosely defined Rocky Point Marsh as everything lying within borders defined by Rockaway Park Boulevard and Beach 201st Street, to the south and west, respectively (note that all compass points are “approximate”). The far-east border is delineated by the jetty at that end of the cove; the jetty then runs back into Rockaway Park Blvd. at Beach 193rd Street. The marsh’s northern side is fronted by Jamaica Bay.

For references consulted, please see part one of this series.



10-06-2012, Common Yellow-throat, (Geothlypis trichas). The male of this species, with its black face-mask, is one of the most distinct of the warblers; this example is most probably a female. In addition, this species is the only warbler that prefers to nest in marshlands.



10-06-2012, Swamp Sparrow, (Melospiza georgiana). As its name might imply, this species favors swamps and marshes, where it will nest. Because its preferred habitat is often developed for human use, this species has become vulnerable to a decline in numbers.



10-06-2012, Mallard, (Anas platyrhynchos). Mallards are an extremely common dabbling duck and can be seen anywhere there is water in the New York/metropolitan area. This individual, a male, was photographed in the marsh pond.



10-06-2012, Double-crested Cormorant, (Phalacrocorax auritus). Photographed a few yards off-shore from the marsh, this individual is beginning its take-off run from the water’s surface. Dozens of these birds can be seen off-shore during certain times of the year, hunting for prey or perched out of the water with their wings spread out to dry.



10-06-2012, Eastern Phoebe, (Sayornis phoebe). A flycatcher, this species feeds mostly on insects, but will adapt its diet to the climate by eating fruits and berries in cooler months. It will nest on human-made structures and is rather common in the New York/metropolitan area.



10-13-2012, Brown Creeper, (Certhia americana). This secretive little guy was spotted in the woods on the western edge of the marsh, which were fairly easily accessible prior to the advent of Super-storm Sandy (which came a couple of weeks after this image was made). This species has been observed several times since then, again in the same general area.




10-13-2012, Chipping Sparrow, (Spizella passerina). Originally not averse to nesting near human population centers, this species has in many cases been displaced by the introduced House Sparrow. An insect eater in warm weather, it will eat seeds when its favorite prey is suppressed in cold weather. In this image, the wind has caused the head of this individual to appear as if it has a crest.



10-13-2012, Golden-crowned Kinglet, (Regulus satrapa). On the day these two individuals were photographed, they were part of an amorphous group of about eight or ten. Their distinct black, white and yellow heads are unmistakable and the reason for their name.



10-13-2012, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius). Probably one of the oddest named birds, this species will eat insects, fruit and berries. It will also feed on tree-sap.



11-11-2012, Brant Goose, (Branta bernicla). A stout, relatively small goose, the Brant is very common in the New York /Metropolitan area. This species is sometimes seen in great numbers near the marsh, throughout Jamaica Bay, and in the NY harbor area.



03-23-2013, Piping Plover, (Charadrius melodus). Census data tells us that there are somewhere around 6,000 Piping Plovers on the entire planet, a woefully low number. Although they have not nested at the marsh, they are occasional visitors as they forage.



05-04-2013, House Sparrow, (Passer domesticus). An example of the remarkable vision birds are said to possess was presented by this common House Sparrow. From out of nowhere, this male caught my eye as he landed on the beach in front of the marsh, immediately plucked a feather from the sand, and almost as quickly departed with his prize, probably for his nest.



06-01-2013, American Black Duck, (Anas rubripes). Numerous and familiar, this species can easily be mistaken for the very similar female Mallard.



06-09-2013, Common Loon, (Gavial immer). On several occasions, I have encountered molting Common Loons on the shore outside the marsh’s entrance; in this state they are essentially flightless. However, this individual was photographed in full adult plumage, and could presumably have easily taken flight; yet he did not, despite my relatively close proximity.



07-06-2013, Long-tailed Duck (Oldsquaw), (Clangula hyemalis). Often seen hundreds of yards off-shore in Jamaica Bay, this individual was first seen lounging on the beach in front of the marsh. As I approached, it took to the water but still remained close to shore.



07-13-2013, Red-winged Blackbird, male, (Agelaius phoeniceus). Often associated with wetlands, this male is seen perched on a branch at the western edge of the marsh. A relatively aggressive bird, I have witnessed this species do mass aerial battle with American Crows in defense of its nesting territory.



08-31-2013, Northern Waterthrush, (Seiurus noveboracensis). This species favors wetlands and has a diet that includes crustaceans and small fish. It is known to hunt on the ground and even in shallow water.



09-14-2013, Northern Flicker (yellow-shafted), (Colaptes auratus). Although part of the woodpecker family, this species often hunts on the ground for its favored prey, ants. It also prefers open, wooded areas; the particular topography of Rocky Point suits it quite well.



12-22-2013, Sanderling, (Calidris alba). A common shore bird, the Sanderling is very often seen foraging on the shore outside the marsh. It normally breeds in the far north, where it eats a varied diet that includes insects, algae and seeds.

All text and photographs by Frank V. De Sisto.

Rocky Point Marsh needs your help. To volunteer for service contact National Park Services Ranger Tony Luscombe at: dcalato6@gmail.com

For more photos of Rocky Point as well as other locations within the Gateway NRA complex, visit: www.frankdesisto.com