Influx of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and other storm birds - 30 Sep & 1 Oct 2010

Apologies for not posting earlier, but it's been busy with these last two days of windy, and more recently wet, weather.

*** Record breaking influx of Lesser Black-backed Gulls ***

Today (1 Oct) was a day for LESSER BLACK-BACK GULLS. All told, I found a whopping total of 34 today including 14 fresh juveniles. The breakdown is as follows: 3+ on the Maidstone Golf Course (East Hampton), 13+ at Sagg Mains (Bridgehampton), 8 at Mecox Inet (Watermill), 1 on field along Sag Road, 1 at Hook Pond, 1 ['Larry'] at Lazy Point (Napeague), 6 on Fort Pond Bay (Montauk) and 1 at the Montauk Inlet. I'll need to sit down with my notes and photos to compile the ages of the 7 subadults.

Late September and early October seems to be the optimal time to find migrant Lesser Black-backs on Long Island, especially if it coincides with crappy weather. This European species seems set to become a common sight on the East Coast, however, we still don't know where the birds actually come from. There is no evidence yet that they are nesting in meaningful numbers in North America and instead may originate in southern Greenland or Iceland where there are known breeding colonies. This would mean that some Lesser Black-backed Gulls have established a new migration pattern, flying southwest rather than southeast in the late summer to staging sites in the Mid-Atlantic States (e.g. Pennsylvania) and Florida. Growing numbers are now found in the Caribbean and beyond.

The appearance of so many juveniles on the South Fork is especially interesting. On Thursday, Patricia Lindsay found 3 juveniles at Robert Moses SP on Fire Island, a record number for one spot apparently. Today's events suggests that juveniles pass down the coast (possibly offshore) in the wake of the adults and subadults that start coming through a few weeks earlier.

Seeding this notion of migrating flocks, the seven juveniles at Sagg Mains were scattered through the flock of roosting gulls but when one bird took to the wing they all did, lifting as a group out of the roost and flying over to the expansive surf zone where they fed by hovering and dipping to snatch disturbed items, much like Ring-billed Gulls.

Otherwise, the fallout of the storm seemed limited. An early morning seawatch was frustrated by poor visibility and a marked lack of birds on the turbulent ocean. Highlights were 6 CORY'S SHEARWATERS and an unidentified jaeger. Gannets are beginning to move in and a few were noted at several stops. An estimated 60 BOBOLINK, 15 Savannah Sparrows and 1000+ Red-winged Blackbirds ere feeding in the weedy fields on either side of Horsemill Lane on the eastern side of Mecox Bay and a PECTORAL SANDPIPER was with 25 Forster's Terns and a few Sanderlings at Mecox. A PEREGRINE buzzed the gulls and Forster's Terns (3) at Sagg Mains. A couple of PARASITIC JAEGERS chased Common Terns on Gardiner's Bay, as seen from Lazy Point, Napeague. Here I noticed a couple of COMMON LOONS and subsequently learned form Karen Rubinstein that five were here earlier in the day. Luke Ormand spotted 2 more off Squires Road East in Hampton Bays. A flock of 10 FIELD SPARROWS were on the roadside in the Lazy Point community.

In Deep Hollow near Montauk, the adult AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER continues on the horse/cattle pasture along with 16 juvenile Semipalmated Plovers. Visibility was really dreadful by the time I reached Montauk Point due to the heavy rain and fog but one of the few birds I could see was a BLACK TERN coursing back and forth in front of the restaurant.

*** Peregrine Flight along ocean front ***

On Thursday (30 Sep) we stewed in a humid onshore breeze with periods of sunshine, escaping the heavy rain that hammered the Hudson Valley, New Jersey and central New York. Nonetheless, there were some good birds around. PEREGRINE FALCONS were in evidence along the beach front. In an hour and a half of casual observation (i.e. not deliberately hawkwatching) between Amagansett and Mecox I spotted 7 moving west along the ocean beach front and Karen Rubinstein saw another over Hook Pond.

A single CORY'S SHEARWATER and light-morph PARASITC JAEGER flew west past Hither Hills State Park. An adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was on the Maidstone Golf Course in East Hampton, two lingering CASPIAN TERNS (an adult with juv. in tow) were at Mecox Inlet and my first GREAT CORMORANT of the season was at Montauk Point.

Significant numbers of terns and Laughing Gulls remain over the reefs off the point. When I arrived, most were feeding north of the point but when the tide changed and the wind dropped, the terns picked up en masse and flew around to the south side. A quick count of birds passing a single spot tallied more than 4,000 Common Terns and 2,000 Laughing Gulls. Among these I picked out a BONAPARTE'S GULL, 4 BLACK TERNS, 2 FORSTER'S TERNS and a late adult ROSEATE TERN. Given the scale of the larid activity around the Point, I remain puzzled by the apparent absence jaegers. Last weekend, my only 'jaeger' working the tern flock turned out to to be a Peregrine intent on the terns themselves, rather than their catch.

The feeder in the middle of Vicki Bustamante's lawn is attracting both a female PURPLE FINCH and a BOBWHITE QUAIL. Two female BLUE-WINGED TEAL linger on Rita's pond.

*** Changes at Montauk State Park ***

It's with a touch of sadness that I report the demise of the dank but warm bathrooms near the entrance to the main parking lot. Over the years, if not decades, numerous birders from all over the country have taken advantage of these strategically placed facilities. A wrecking crew tore down the building today and carted the debris away. All that remains is a patch of bare sand. The new facility is near the middle of the parking lot: a far less convenient spot for the bundled winter seawatcher afflicted by the combined effects of cold and too much coffee on the drive out. Hopefully, the park people will maintain their helpful policy of keeping the new restrooms open year round.

*** Catching Up ***

Saturday's (25 Sep) Group for the East End (GEE) field trip to Dune Road and Shinnecock Bay, led by Steve Biasetti, found a juvenile YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, lingering CLAPPER RAIL, 5 ROYAL TERNS, and 10 SALTMARSH (SHARP-TAILED) SPARROWS. A PEREGRINE was on the Ponquogue Bridge. Meanwhile in Montauk, Vicki Bustamante saw a female RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD visiting her sugar feeders and noted a female PURPLE FINCH in here yard and PEREGRINE overhead.

In Georgica, Jane Ross noted HOUSE WREN and multiple RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS in her yard on Sunday. I also spotted a HOUSE WREN working the flower beds at our house in Springs.

On Monday (27 Sep) Vicki Bustamante noted 4 GREEN-WINGED TEAL in the Napeague bog, where the old and new Montauk Highways splits.

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