By Linda Kedenburg
Although 25 - 30 mph winds were forecast, the morning weather report increased their intensity to 30m-40 mph gales with temperatures in the lower 40's. Not a day for the faint of heart or lack of warm outdoor gear. Seven QCBCer's and a family of four from Pittsburgh (our website gets around!) huddled in the lee of the closed snack bar at the Coast Guard Station and picked out a small flock of Redheads, Long-tailed Ducks, Dunlin, White-winged Scoter, Oystercatchers, two seals, hundreds of Bonaparte Gulls and thousands of Brant. Shai Mitra arrived with a group and promptly discerned one adult and two sub-adult Little Gulls in the midst of all the Bonies flying by on the other side of the inlet. With his helpful description and constant reporting of its location, we were able to follow it as well and several of us added a Lifer. Thank you Shai!
The walk to the jetty produced little besides chills and frozen body parts so we decided to drive to West End 2 and walk the median from there. Not a lot going on in the wind-tossed pines and shrubbery. No hoped-for owls, nuthatches or vagrant flycatchers. Two Mockingbirds and Donna's discovery of a Yellow-rumped Warbler in a bare tree top seemed to be the birds of the day. A momentary excitement over tinkling sounds from the interior was discovered by Ian to be a desperate birder playing recorded finch calls.
There were a few dark bird-like shapes across the West End 2 parking lot. Approaching them, we discovered a sad Dunlin with an injured wing and two brightly plumaged Horned larks feeding along the cracks of the pavement. Driving to the East end of the parking lot we found a pitiful group of Tree Swallows hunkered down out of the wind. They must have found insects somewhere and probably lingered too long. That could have been a fatal mistake in this weather. Possible flocks of Snow Buntings fluttered overhead, but were not clearly identified.
Arriving at Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center, we witnessed a sizable group of birders pointing scopes and binoculars eastward into the swale. Apparently, the well-reported Northern Shrike had just been there, but pulled a disappearing act just in time for our arrival. A shrike-out! We did see flocks of Black-bellied Plovers flying overhead.
Driving out to Parking Lot 6, we could not find the Peregrines on the scaffold enshrouded tower. Perhaps they did not favor the on-going renovations. Zach's Bay was lined with thousands of murmuring Brant. Red-breasted Mergansers and a Common Loon patrolled the Bay. On the way out to the bay, I spotted movement in a pine. Climbing the wall and standing very still, I finally discovered the source of the activity. There in a lower branch sat a lone Song Sparrow. Hey, it was only a Song Sparrow, but a very pretty one and sometime you just feel a connection to even the most mundane bird that you've worked that hard to find. And it was our only one of the day.
Time for lunch. Remembering the sunny, wind -sheltered picnic tables from last years' trip, we headed for the Cedar Beach Overlook and discovered one in reasonable sun and calm. From the picnic table Rick observed Gannets wheeling out over Democrat Point. No repeat of our Snowy Owl from two year's past, however. Stopping at Gilgo, we added a Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Hooded Mergansers and Dark-eyed Juncos to our list. A quick survey of Tobay added another late Great Egret in the marsh, but no land birds in the thickets.
The Fishing Station added House Sparrows under the picnic tables and a four forlorn Ruddy Turnstones on the end of a pier.
By this time the birders were pretty cold and forlorn as well, but decided to take one more chance at the Northern Shrike. Arriving at West End One, we noticed the birders on the boardwalk were all looking in our direction. Our luck had turned. There, on the rail, between us and the boardwalk, was the blessed shrike. Hallelujah! We can end on a positive note and head home to warm houses, something to be very thankful for on a day like today.
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