By Linda Vardy-Kedenburg
There are days when you are pleasantly surprised by birds even when the winds are wrong. Today was not to be such a day. We consulted the weather maps showing SSW winds for the previous four straight days and Friday night. Rick and I became somewhat alarmed by the portent of this southern front. Reports from the sod farms were not favorable. Dusty conditions in the fields and dry weather were not encouraging.
As we met at the Peconic Bay Diner (which all discovered was a much shorter ride from Queens than our usual Southampton meeting spot) we received a phone call from our North Fork friend and crack birder, Jody Levin, who was to join us for the day and had discovered an American Golden Plover on a recently active site at Bridge Lane. After scanning a few of the Riverhead sod farms where we had many Killdeer (even on limed bare fields), two Red-tailed Hawks and a Harrier, we made a beeline for Bridge Lane, to find Jody scanning the fields near some irrigation lines. The Golden Plover had moved on, but we scanned the terrain , finding many more Killdeer and several Semipalmated Plover - and another bird. First dismissed as a Mourning Dove, discussion ensued. "No. It has a small, round dun-colored head, an Upland Sandpiper? No. Look at those scalloped, scaled wing and back feathers. Consultation of guide book. A buff-breasted Sandpiper! Yes. A year bird for most. We now know what what a Buff-breasted looks like in profile. Usually we seem to see them head on with the obvious buffy breast, even the classic raised wings.
Tearing ourselves away from the shorebirds, we moved on to our house in the woods several roads to the East. A walk through the woods, past Autumn Pond and out to the beach and Goldsmith's Inlet was more a tale of what should be here rather than what was. There were cormorants on the pond, a Great Egret and a Kingfisher rattling from perch to perch. The usual Corvids called from the Pines and Oaks and we found the resident Catbirds, Carolina Wrens, Cardinal, Song Sparrow,and Mockingbirds in the marsh around the pond . Yesterday's Loons were not out in the Sound (Hey guys - give us a break!) Returning to our cars, we set off for Arshamomack Preserve, once owned by Jody's family and now a town Preserve. The hoped- for vireos, warblers, and kinglets were absent. We're on a roll now! However the walk out to the observation tower included the stand of the unusual Netted Chain Fern and lush growth of Clethra and Mountain Laurel (all deer -resistant species). The Tupelo were beginning to don their autumnal reds and the Marsh Fleabane was in pink bloom. All were pleasantly surprised by the comfortable observation tower which gave us views of Wood Duck, Mallards, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Canada Geese, Spotted Sandpiper, Osprey, Laughing Gulls, a small flock of Tree Swallows and sunning Painted Turtles.
Next stop was the North Fork Audubon Center at Inlet Pond Preserve in Greenport. With available rest rooms and tables in the shade behind the Red House, this was a good lunch spot. The feeders were sadly empty, except for some suet, but the Buddleia was alive with butterflies. We enjoyed Monarch, Red Admiral, American and Painted Ladies, Silver-spotted and Broad-winged Skippers, Orange Copper an Azure and many happy little Cabbage Butterflies. A post-lunch hike through the woods and out to the pond did not add too many birds but the pond contained as many young Green Frogs many of us had seen at one place. There were several hundred gathered below the viewing platform. A muskrat floated peacefully out on the pond and more Painted Turtles sunned themselves on the bank. A great Blue Heron lurked in the shadows and waves crashed on the Sound Beach beyond the dunes. Returning to the Red House we found our only two warblers of the day - a Pine Warbler and a Common Yellowthroat.
Moving on to the Bay side, we investigated Pipes Cove, a target for preservation by The Nature Conservancy. The tide was running rapidly under the little bridge out to the beach and stirred through the Spartina marsh. There were no shorebirds or rails there on this afternoon, however. Nice views out to Shelter island and the shoreline of Southold and Greenport, but not many birds beyond gulls. A stop at Port of Egypt, the site of a once active tern and Black Skimmer colony again afforded beautiful views of Peconic Bay and Shelter island but little in the way of avian activity beyond gulls and cormorants.
A return to our house gave us a welcome break on the shady back deck. There was a good representation of Paridae and Sittadae on the feeders, including Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and several White and two Red-breasted Nuthatches. A Downy Woodpecker on the suet and a territorial little female hummingbird who dashed out to chase even Chickadees, were the main entertainment.
Although we all enjoyed the break, we tore ourselves away from the feeder action and made quick stops at a farm stand and vineyard sales room . Continuing on a scenic drive along Peconic Bay Boulevard, we stopped to watch several Black Duck body surfing in the little wavelets on a Peconic Bay beach, and arrived at the Meetinghouse Creek Inn to find our table awaiting us. The dinner might have been more celebratory with more species (although we did tally 50) but, as usual, good food and QCBC camaraderie ended the day on a comfortable note. We could have had more birds but a least everyone was treated to new and scenic birding locations. Here's to favorable winds and more species next year!
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