Jamaica Bay’s bird population always amazes

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At the end of July, I went to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge with a friend who had never been there. We first walked the West Pond, seeing feeding ospreys, an oystercatcher, some immature yellow-crowned night herons and a variety of waterfowl. Then after going through the Visitors Center on the way to the East Pond on the other side of Cross Bay Boulevard, a woman at the desk made our day. She told us to go to the pond’s south end where there will be an opportunity to see shorebirds.

This was a spot I have not seen before. When we got there, the grass was high and the ground soggy. Almost immediately 10 feet from us was a tern with yellowish legs, webbed feet and a black bill. There were some familiar black triangles, which started in front of the bird’s eye and went back on the side of its head.

It also had a light brown back and head, a black bill and some brown on its otherwise white breast. I was confused. Some other birders identified it as a juvenile Forster’s tern. I was blown away. I saw mature Foster’s in Florida all winter, but never an immature one.

Through binoculars, I watched it bend over and get something from the water. The bird also had accumulated some globs of muck that gave it the look of a racehorse on a muddy track.

Nearby on a mud flat were two dozen Canada geese. Near them, some small white feathers floated on the water. Close by were dozens of peeps, mainly semi-palmated sandpipers moving their bills up and down with the speed of sewing machine needles as they fed in shallow water. Suddenly, four separate flocks of peeps were flying in all different directions at once. It felt like being in the midst of a National Geographic special.

When they turned en masse, their brown bodies became silvery and it felt like poetry. They landed in areas of mud and grass where there were dozens more moving that were seemingly invisible before.

Not far away was a feeding glossy ibis. It was a dark, wine-and-russet-colored bird with wings that looked glossy green. As the sun worked its magic on the bird’s feathers, some purple could be seen. In flight it looked like a flying pterodactyl. As it fed, the bird repeatedly dipped a long, curved gray bill into the water. This bird was eating so much that it was going to be gorged.

My friend was especially taken with the ibises. As I watched this bird, his enthusiasm became contagious and I found a new appreciation for the ibis’ enigmatic colors.

Soon it was lunchtime. Looking around, I took in the calmness and thrill of discovery that I experienced there. As we left, I wa sure of two things: My friend, who enjoyed the refuge, will be back and this spot will be my first stop here next time.

Michael Givant

Woodbury, L.I.

Updated 6:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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