Long Island, Suffolk County, NY and Bergen County, NJ

Visiting with my two oldest sons in New York/New Jersey delivered me into the little-known midst of East-coast birds. Obviously, I would have been thrilled with a sighting of a Jaeger or Skua or Northern Gannet out in the Atlantic, but I left my spotting scope at home on purpose. Catching up with each others families in their respective homes was something I had been looking forward to for some time. Fortunately, Andy and Carmen love to explore Long Island and there's nothing like eBird to provide us with accurate information on various locations to stop for a while and bird.

Timeline runs from Wednesday, September 21st through Sunday, September 25th when I returned to Phoenix late Sunday night.

DAY #1 with Andy on Long Island
Arriving on a red-eye flight at 8 a.m., I enjoyed breakfast with Andy and Carmen before setting out for a look at some birding hot spots within a reasonable driving distance from their place in Queens.

Spending most of our time at the big pond we saw familiar waterfowl where MUTE SWANS are wild, not captive.

Adult Mute Swan 

Adult Mute Swan preening with two Juvenile Mute Swans doing the same

Double-crested Cormorant rookery above; 
Double-crested Cormorant

Common Snapping Turtle (no sharp ridges on the plate indicating Alligator Snapper) Andy's favorite sighting.
My favorite sightings were none of the above but a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, a GRAY CATBIRD and a BLUE JAY!

The Gardens were close to Stonybrook Harbor, our next stop, where we simply parked the car and walked a sandy shoreline next to the road. From there, we saw more familiar waterfowl as shown from earlier stops, but also a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK and a few AMERICAN CROWS. Best of all was the LITTLE BLUE HERON, JUVENILE, in its white plumage. Although it's about the same size as a Snowy Egret, it tends to differ in its foraging posture as well as having a green tapered bill and dull green legs.

Juvenile Little Blue Heron

Our next stop at West Meadow Beach put us out on the sand along with sun bathers not ready to give up on continued good weather with temperatures reaching into the 80s F. 

Birds here were challenging for me but since a lot of them also walked the beach, I was able to take some photos that sent me to my field guides later for identification. 

Ring-billed Gull

Juvenile Herring Gull

Basic-plumaged Herring Gull

Herring Gulls including dark 1st-winter one

1st-winter Laughing Gull

Juvenile Laughing Gull 

Basic-plumaged Laughing Gull

Our final stop of the day was at Setauket Harbor where, in addition to some of the birds already mentioned, I spotted a couple of COMMON TERNS. The BELTED KINGFISHER is always a happy finding for me, too.

DAY #2 with Andy and Carmen all the way to the tip of Long Island
Having seen many eBird reports from a place called Mecox Inlet, we managed to find the place on the Atlantic side of the South Neck of Long Island. Had I carried my scope, I would have wanted to spend all day at one place and that would drive my son crazy.  So, I photographed a long line of some of the un-determined gulls and terns far from shore but discovered something closer to me that was much more exciting.

Undetermined Gulls/Terns
Great Black-backed Gulls of various ages

As I walked toward some GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS, I noticed a very small bird at water's edge. Delightfully, it was a SEMI-PALMATED PLOVER. After taking a few photos of it, I stepped closer, almost stepping on another one. I realized then, that there was a small colony of these plovers lying in the dry seaweed on the beach, totally camouflaged and invisible to me until they moved. What a thrill to see so many--perhaps twenty or more!
First Semi-palmated Plover I spotted at surf's edge
More photos of these dark brown plovers with orange legs and a single dark breast band:

After quite a bit of driving we pulled off at a place called Montauk County Outer Beach.

Andy & Carmen

New species here included birds along the roadway:  BLUE JAY, FISH CROW, BROWN THRASHER.  The beach was full of birds we had already seen, so we continued our journey toward the very tip of Long Island.

Lighthouse Point is the home of the first lighthouse in New York (authorized in 1792) and still guides boats at sea. Adjacent to it, is Montauk Point State Park where my best find of the day was a MERLIN.

We made a quick stop to pick up lunch at Naturally Good Cafe, owned and operated by a friend of Carmen and Andy's, with whom we had a chance to visit briefly. She was busy busy!!

Once Andy told me they wanted go to Shelter Island, I found Mashomack Preserve on eBird and was eager to explore that large Nature Conservancy site. Shelter Island is located in Long Island Sound between the south and north necks of Long Island, a short ferry ride. 

Me, looking for birds in L.I. Sound during ferry crossing to Shelter Island
In more than six (6) miles of trail walking at Mashomack, we saw limited birds in almost three hours of exploration in very early afternoon. It was hot out on the Island -- 80sF.  But what fun for all of us! 

Not all sightings were of birds:  CHIPMUNK

Andy & Carmen on our 6-mile plus trek through Mashomack Preserve

Bird photos from here were terrible, but OSPREY nest here and were present both perched and flying overhead. I identified only sixteen species but enjoyed hearing the GRAY CATBIRD and RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER. The Preserve was a special place and a fantastic end to an already delightful day.

DAY #3 with Andy and Carmen
Heckscher Park in Huntington at 5 p.m. had no audible or visual songbirds around but I did spot one Black Duck among the few waterfowl on the pond.

Leaving there, Andy thought we might find something good at the marina and, well, we did but just not what we expected.  We found another birding spot! As I watched gulls fly over the marina and cross the road behind us, I noticed they dipped down into "somewhere" behind a full circle of shrubs, trees, reeds and thicket. So, we went exploring. Andy found a slight place to peek through to a good-sized pond full of resting gulls, Great Egrets and a few Great Blue Herons. This was just one small view of the pond which was full of gulls and egrets coming in, perhaps, to spend the night.

Peeking through one slice of reeds and branches Andy was able to take some photos of birds on the pond.

Great Egrets - Huntington Treatment Plan
With none of us being tall, we were wishing for a pick-up truck so we could stand in its bed and look over the well-enclosed pond. Opposite the pond was the Dam Mill Park with recreational sports playing fields for young people.

After a brief drive past both the park and the pond, we came upon a water treatment plant which confirmed what I had guessed. Coming from a city with lots of such places, it seemed likely that's what we had stumbled upon. 

DAY #4 with David
David drove over from his home in Bergen County, NJ, to pick me up from Andy's. Andy had gone to work, but David stayed and visited for a while with Carmen before we took off back toward Jersey. Dave commutes every day into Manhattan, but uses public transportation rather than driving his car. With his wife, Diana, and daughter, Kristen, at a workshop in the city, he had the day free to bird anywhere. Having made no prior plans, I pulled up eBird to show him the Hot Spots in Bergen County. He said The Celery Farm sounded good, so that's where we went.

We discovered the old Celery Farm is now a forested wetland (including a big pond) that lies behind many very nice homes in Allendale. Another birder was taking a photo of this juvenile GREAT BLUE HERON when I arrived.

Juvenile Great Blue Heron; gray overall; dark crown, dark upper mandible
It appeared to be a loop trail that would go all the way around the pond but when we saw another loop jut off deeper into the woods, we followed that trail, too. David knows music well so he tuned in quickly to the bird sounds. I pointed out the RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER, BLUE JAY and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES. Dave also spotted the DOWNY WOODPECKER and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT and had to communicate where they were in the trees. Fun time!

Also along the back loop, we spotted a doe and fawn.

Doe White-tailed Deer

Also found this interesting cairn along the wooded trail
Back at the pond, the WOOD DUCKS were still quite distant, but I went for photos because they were so very handsome; males and females swimming together.

Two pair of Wood Ducks out of 7 total WODU I saw
Birding two hours (three-mile walk) at The Celery Farm provided some really good birding!

DAY #5 with David, Diana & Kristen
After a very good sleep, followed by brunch together, we ventured out to Pond Side Park where we had limited birding time due to my being a bit anxious about arriving with plenty of time to spare at JFK.

Mature Great Blue Heron
Mallards and Canada Geese populated the pond while one GREAT BLUE HERON flew from one area to another within it. We followed the wide path with pond on one side, forest on the other, so I now had another opportunity to try to discern songbirds. The RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD was easy; the EASTERN WOOD PEEWEE and BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER (F) were more difficult for me.  

Soon, it was wrap-up time and I was headed for JFK where I arrived in plenty of time for my flight, delayed for mechanical issues (!), requiring a change of planes after an hour on the tarmac. Got home at midnight instead of 9:30 p.m. But, I'm home again and that's a good thing!

87 species in five days is no record! But birding offers a nifty way to get out and about with my family.

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Catch-up Blog: Sweetwater Wetlands & Mt. Lemmon, Pima County; Pinal Mountain and San Carlos Apache Nation, Gila & Pinal Counties

September 15 & 16: 
DAY #1: 9/15/16
Departing Marcee’s house in Scottsdale around 6:45 a.m., we stopped at Coachline Gravel Pit to check out water levels and numbers of birds. Since our overall objective was to bird Mt. Lemmon, we quickly decided to pass this location even though in five minutes we had seen a male Vermilion Flycatcher, a Belted Kingfisher and several Killdeer. It just didn't seem inviting.

Sweetwater Wetlands was definitely worth a stop, not only to stretch our legs but to get some good looks at specialties. The first birds we spotted up in a leaf-less cottonwood tree near the entrance bridge were two TROPICAL KINGBIRDS.  

In all, we found 30 species of birds in one and a half hours as we walked a few of the trails through the wetlands. Other birders were busy spotting warblers along one particular trail with a hedge of tall thick salt bush.  We joined in, finding 3 ORANGE-CROWNED; 3 WILSON’S and 2 TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS at that particular spot. The whinny of two separately located SORA was also a thrill.

After driving across Tucson, we headed up Catalina Highway on Mt. Lemmon in the Coronado Forest to our first stop at Bear Canyon comprised of three picnic areas shaded with pine/oak trees. For me, the joy of birding in mountain habitat is finding birds that I seldom see in the desert like ACORN WOODPECKERS (a clownish-looking bird) and a GREATER PEWEE, often heard, not always seen. But it seemed curious about us and I managed a few photos during its brief visit.

Acorn Woodpecker
Greater Pewee

The small birds (chickadees, nuthatches and other warblers) were too busy foraging to pose for photos, but a bright female WESTERN TANAGER and an Arizona MEXICAN JAY gave me some time.

Female Western Tanager (above & below)

Arizona Mexican Jay
Having only one target bird on this trip, a Hermit Warbler, it was a no-show at Bear Canyon but at Summerhaven, Marcee spotted it before I did in the bushes behind the Community Center. What a thrill!  It was a female so instead of having the male’s complete yellow face and crown, it had a grayish cap and light facial marking behind its black eye. Unlike many warblers with yellow throats, breast and belly, this female had a blackish throat  (not strongly black like the male’s), grayish-white undersides and bright white undertail coverts. It was the best look I’ve ever enjoyed with a HERMIT WARBLER.

Female Hermit Warbler (internet photo)
Birds were growing quiet but I was going to new and previously unexplored spots on the mountain, making mental notes at each stop for future visits.

Best birds for the remainder of the day included:  ARIZONA WOODPECKER  and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Mt. Bigelow Road) and STELLER’S JAY and PAINTED REDSTART at Incinerator Ridge.

DAY #2 9/16/16
This morning we met a friend of Marcee’s at the base of Mt. Lemmon. Pat was a great spotter and used Marcee’s binoculars to full advantage to enjoy some of the colorful birds like Painted Redstarts.

Painted Redstart
We all marveled at the brilliant contrast in the new feathers of the TOWNSEND’S WARBLER, enjoyed seeing our first AMERICAN ROBIN, two HERMIT THRUSHES, a HAIRY WOODPECKER and 9 WESTERN BLUEBIRDS.

At the summit trail toward the observatory, we came upon a small flock of Audubon’s YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, the harbingers of more to come as summer fades to cooler temperatures.

L-R: Marcee and Pat

Can’t beat cool weather (50’s to 70”s), interesting birds and fine friends!
My species total for the two days reached 58.


PINAL MOUNTAIN, Sept. 14, 2016
Working backwards on the calendar, the day before Mt. Lemmon, I joined Dave Pearson and his friend, Miles, for some good birding on Pinal Mountain in Globe. We birded for six hours from Russell Gulch (including the landfill) up the mountain road making many stops to listen for and to find some nifty birds.

OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER and WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE both perched up for us on open limbs in typical flycatcher behavior.  From desert birds at the base of the mountain to WESTERN TANAGERS, LAZULI BUNTINGS, SCOTT’S and HOODED ORIOLES all observed prior to Sulfide del Ray Campground, I knew it would be an awesome birding day.  (When is it not with Dr. Pearson??)

As we moved higher on the mountain, there were HUTTON’S, CASSIN’S AND PLUMBEOUS VIREOS as well as nuthatches, warblers and YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS.

My favorite birds of the day were the HAIRY WOODPECKERS and OLIVE WARBLERS!

Too busy birding for photos—but it was a grand day on Pinal Mountain where Dave tallied 76 species.


SAN CARLOS APACHE NATION (east of Globe, AZ) September 11, 2016
Having birded San Carlos Tribal Land on at least three or four previous occasions, I decided I knew the ropes and would do just fine on my own.

PERMITS are required for any activity on this Indian-owned land so I stopped at the 76 gas station (formerly Express Stop gas station) to pick up a recreation permit @ $10/person. It’s located on the north side of Highway 60 just prior to where Rt. 60 turns north toward the White Mountains. By going forward at that traffic light instead of turning, the highway becomes Route 70 toward San Carlos.

San Carlos Lake is well-signed about 20 miles beyond that intersection in Globe with a left turn into the community of Peridot. The road curves and becomes Route 171 and then changes to Indian Route #3 (IR3).

On my most recent trip with Glenda Jones in February, we discovered the sewage treatment ponds were fenced and locked up. Doug Jenness provided me with a map showing a road prior to the ponds that would lead to the back ponds, so I was game for giving it a shot.

Most roads off the highway are dirt/sand roads and this one was no exception. The exception became the condition of the road. After easily going through a shallow wash, the road narrowed so I decided to turn around…my car was not meant for this kind of adventure. It’s a trusty little Honda Insight (hybrid) that looks a bit like a Prius . . . definitely not a 4-wheel drive high-clearance vehicle.

The wash that was so simple going forward was much more challenging on the return. Instead of just gliding over it, I had to go up the 4” ? incline. My car was very responsive but it was at that moment I realized it had front-wheel drive. Who needs to know these things on highway driving?  When I realized I had a problem, I got out to inspect my situation. The back tires were on flat solid sand, so I thought I should be able to front-wheel drive myself backwards.  Don’t laugh too hard!  My tires responded by digging down…down…down into loose sand…until, if I had continued, I swear it would have taken the whole back end up in the air. So - I had very responsive strong front-wheel drive that was beginning to bury the front end in loose sand. 

No longer do I carry a shovel with me as I did when I went camping. With no appropriate tools, I found a strong broken tree limb to begin pulling sand out from under that slick-looking molded plastic along the front of the car that was acting like a bull-dozer. It was already getting hot out there. I had a cell signal and have AAA Plus, but figured I’d miss my birding at the lake if I had to wait all morning to be rescued. So, back behind the wheel I tried once more with that front-wheel drive wanting to prove to me how very good it was. I was in deeper than before.

Trying to flag down help along the paved road took precedence in my mind over calling AAA until I was desperate and out of options.  Yes, it was early on Sunday morning and traffic so light that I had to wait 15 minutes for a vehicle to come into sight. Fortunately, it was a truck.  When I waved my hands to flag it down, fortunately it stopped. The driver backed up to where I stood. He could see my predicament as my car was still in sight. I asked if there might be a way he could help me out of the sand.

He said, he did happen to have a chain in the bed of the big pick up. His next word was: “Money?”  I said, “Yes” and hoped the small amount of cash I had would suffice. I told him I had a permit and was on my way to the lake except for this detour to the sewage ponds.  He nodded and said, “Ducks?”  “Yes!”  (Like, sometimes sea scoters.) I was wearing my binoculars.

The two “senior” men rescued me for the sweet sum of $25.00 (all I had but $1s) and I breathed a great sigh of relief and wonderment. Guardian angel?!  I sat in the car at the edge of the highway just breathing for awhile to calm my nerves and transition back into a plan for birding.

All went well as I birded Coolidge Dam area as well as the north side of San Carlos Lake.  Much of my birding was done from a cliff, so birds were mostly too distant for photos, but I managed a few.

Graceful WESTERN and CLARK’S GREBES were abundant as were AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN’S.  I counted 125 and that did not include a huge colony at the far east end of the lake that was too distant to estimate with my spotting scope. When I looked back over recent birding lists for that location, Doug Jenness listed over 600 of them.

American White Pelicans above and below

Western/Clark's Grebes

A BALD EAGLE, OSPREY, GREAT BLUE HERONS AND GREAT EGRETS also enjoyed what the lake offered.  And, as I stood on one of the cliffs, I saw three terns flying toward me.  With no black cap in sight and showing mostly white belly and light gray underwings, I concluded they were FORSTER’S TERNS.  

Great Blue Heron

Osprey on bridge structure over Coolidge Dam (two above photos)

Somehow, on this date most of us remember well - September 11th - I had set out with a plan to do a special birding trip to a place I rarely visit. What I didn't know was how memorable this day would become for me. I felt grateful for the help I got with my stuck car which reinforced the goodness of strangers. This was very prevalent during the tragic events of 9/11...where a big city full of strangers became One.

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