Thursday, July 24, 2014

Shorebirding Report From Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge 7-24-2014

It is past mid July and unfortunately it remains a struggle to get the water level on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, where it should be for this time of the year.  While the recent storms did not help the water level situation. If the pond was drained as it should, we would not be faced with the issue we have today.  Water level, still remains high on the north end and I keep checking it almost daily to ensue that the level, is dropping.  The pond needs to be drained down another 3 inches for sufficient shoreline to open up on the north end. On the positive side, decent shoreline has opened up on the south end and east side of the pond, providing ample places for birds to feed and roost.  However, there have been very few shorebirds around. Why and where are they?

Perhaps, the high water level encouraged shorebirds, to bypass the pond or we have yet to see a big arrival, but it is getting late and a cause for concern.  Compared to data over the last few years, the number of shorebirds on the pond this year have been downright disheartening.  I keep thinking we are due for a big influx, but it has not happened as of yet. Since my report on July 14th that saw some decent numbers, the count has been less than 300 shorebirds in total on several days with only the last day or two that numbers are up slightly but still remain way below what is expected.  In fact, the numbers are so low that breaking 500 shorebirds in total has been difficult over the past few days. This is a VERY poor showing as by now, Short-billed Dowitcher numbers should have been peaking with several thousand birds. To ensure that I am not missing a trick, I have birded the pond on two tide cycles and often times spend several hours doing my observation before and after high tides. So, I am confident my data is pretty darn close to being accurate when it comes to the number of shorebirds on the pond.

The next few days will be very important in terms of data and surveying as the pond level, is near where it was before the storms came. Maybe eventually, we might see a huge surge in numbers with a new front. I sure hope so because it has been really depressing to compare the numbers and see the drop off between this and last year.  Keep checking the blog for more shorebird reports from Jamaica Bay and if you go, please post a report on the list serves.

Here are my shorebird numbers from today July 24th 2014:

American Oystercatcher  4
Semipalmated Plover 7
Killdeer 2
Spotted Sandpiper 4
Greater Yellowlegs 6
Lesser Yellowlegs 9
Stilt Sandpiper 5
Least Sandpiper 30
Semipalmated Sandpiper 350
Short-billed Dowitcher 250

Here are my shorebird survey numbers from the East Pond last year on July 23rd 2013:

American Oystercatcher  24
Black-belied Plover 3
Semipalmated Plover 15
Killdeer 2
Spotted Sandpiper 2
Greater Yellowlegs 18
Willet (Western) 1
Lesser Yellowlegs 37
Stilt Sandpiper 27
White-rumped Sandpiper 1
Least Sandpiper 27
Semipalmated Sandpiper 2500
Western Sandpiper 3
Short-billed Dowitcher 500

A few comments about the comparison of the two reports.  I had one Willet (Eastern juvenile) two days ago, so that is a wash. Stilt Sandpipers (Calidris Himantopus) numbers fluctuate and 2012 and 2013 saw really excellent numbers; I don't expect to see high numbers of Stilts every year.  The red flag, is when comparing data with the more common species, like SBDO and SESA.  Short-billed Dowitcher numbers would have peaked by now and beginning to drop off.  So far this year, I have not recorded the highs normally associated for this time of the year.  In addition, the lack of Semipalmated Sandpiper numbers are also one for concern.  Are the numbers low because of the pond condition (water level) or are the birds late? We shall see.

The lack of shorebirds has allowed me some extra time to spend on the other pond inhabitants and I have turned up a few interesting ones.  Like this Bonaparte's Gull for example. Last seen on July 20th.

Or how about this trio of unusual birds in one frame. From L-R, a male Greater Scaup, female Hooded Merganser and a female Greater Scaup.

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1 comment:

William Earp said...

I read this blog and other expressions of concern with interest. As a visiting British birder, it is heartening to see a lively debate being conducted. I was at the bottom end of East Pond this evening and was certainly stuck by the low numbers compared to my previous visit at this time of year, which was in 2007, when there were good numbers of a variety of species ( inc a sum plum Curlew Sandpiper, nice bird though great rarity at home) and far lower water levels.
A Peregrine was also hanging about and at one stage spooked the whole flock.
I also share the widespread concern about the state of the West Pond. No consolation, but many site on the East Coast of the UK, including Cley Marshes, were inindated by a tidal surge in December 2014, when the sea wall was breached in several places. The sea has retreated for now but the numbers of shorebirds are well down- there is very little for them to eat. So we have similar problems to contend with, caused by ever more unpredictable weather events.