Sunday 2 October 2022

New York Stopover

The flight from LA landed at 6am, the onward flight to London departed at 6pm. Planning. I would not always do this, in fact a trip next year sees me return direct, but I wanted to see what the autumn shorebird passage looked like versus the west coast. I didn't have access to a car - or rather had chosesn not to - so my choice of destination was limited to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. No problem, it is a site I know fairly well, and I had been following with interest what had been being seen there over the last few weeks. My hope was that I would pick up the last of the passage, including Semipalmated Sandpiper, a species that I've seen several times in the UK  as a twitcher but inexplicably never in the USA as a birder. Hopefully I would be able to right that wrong!

I went to the Amerian Airlines lounge for breakfast and a repack - all the optics into one small bag, all the clothes and anything else into the rollaboard which I left there, hopefully nobody would mind. I made sure to display the bag tag, so that anyone worried by it would be able to connect it to the evening flight and assume I had gone for a walk somewhere. Which indeed I had. I hailed a cab and was soon out of JFK and heading down Crossbay Boulevard - it really is very close, although the route to get there is a bit circuitous. 

Annotated map of Jamaica Bay. Click to enlarge.

1) Causeway - viewing point for West Pond, 2) Terrapin Point (technically in Brooklyn...)

3) Woodland for Warblers etc, 4) Access Track for south end of East Pond

5) East Pond viewing point, 6 & 7) East Pond north end viewing points

As I was unpacking the optics and setting up my scope I met some birders who alerted me to a potential mega on the East Pond, a Ringed Plover. I hadn't quite envisaged running around after a European bird, and worse than that people might expect me, as a UK birder, to able to competently separate it from all the Semipalmated Plovers. Yeah right! I am afraid I am a proponent of range-based identifcation! Hats off to the birders who habitually and diligently scour through flocks of common waders or ducks looking for the one that is slightly different. Maybe if I was a coastal birder, but I'm not and in any event that's not me. I will return to this topic in another post perhaps.

I decided to swerve the East Pond for now and instead have a look at the West Pond which was much closer. At the causeway I set up my scope next to some excited birders who were looking at a Black-necked Grebe. A rare bird here but one I'd seen hundreds of in San Diego, it turns out that this was in fact a bird worth twitching here and Ari and his pal from the north of the State were doing just that. They too had heard about the Plover, and Ari kindly drove me and all my stuff over there (probably hoping I might be helpful!). It was good that he did because I had never visited the north end of the East Pond and getting to certain parts of it is a bit of a mission and unless you know exactly where you are going you could easily get stuck in deep mud.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Thanks Steve!)

White-rumped Sandpiper with Semip behind. 

The water levels were fantastic, and there were waders everywhere. Semip fell easily, and there were tons of other species to compare it with - White-rumped, Western, Pec and so on. Of the Ringed Plover there was no sign - as the twitch grew a candidate was identified but just didn't seem right. The Pond is vast though, and most of it you cannot really get to. Everywhere we looked there were Semipalmated Plovers.... Birders kept arriving all the time, this would have been the third State record or something, but I am not sure that it was ever seen again. Whilst it was fun being around all the chat it wasn't quite what I had had in mind, but there was just time to scoop a true European mega, and one which I could just about recognise!

Behold an ABA Black-headed Gull!

I commenced the long walk back to the West Pond, which take you down a wooded ride alongside the west side but without any water visible. I added Carolina Wren, Northern Flicker and best of all, American Redstart which were quite numerous. It is a longish walk, perhaps tow miles, and I had not been back at the West Pond when some of the birders that had been at the East Pond arrived, somewhat incredulous that I had walked rather than get a lift. Maybe that would have been the smart option as I was now pretty knackered on what was a hot day. The airport, with its showers and air conditioning, was looking very attractive.

American Redstart

It had been a fun interlude, I had upped the trip list to over 150 and added a couple of new ABA birds - I am now knocking on 550. That will be the next target once the FX rates and car hire prices return to something sensible, but right now I am not contemplating booking any further trips to the USA beyond my existing April booking. The eBird Trip Report with lists and sites is here.


  1. Having been that side of the Atlantic for the first time in my life this summer, am loving your recent posts. Found the birding so exciting when basically everything was new! Feel sorry for you for travelling half the world around but still having to look at a Black-headed Gull though...

    I reckon the second pic is a juv Semi-P Sand am afraid, lacks the pale base to beak, slightly curved tip and the pp of a White-rumped. Cracking White-rumped in the other pic though! Love American peeps wish I saw more of them on the Axe!

    1. Of course you are right, just look at the legs! Actually I think it is the rear bird from the third photo as they were in sequence and I have just written the wrong one. I will correct it now and then your comment will make no sense!