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.

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