Sunday, January 13, 2013

Winter Birding up North: Long Island

Winter is definitely something I miss living down here in Texas.  Perhaps it's because I was born in the winter that I have always felt like it was "my season."  But as a kid, I didn't always appreciate winter.  I had what one would describe as a "love-hate" relationship with it.  While the quiet of snow-laden meadows, icicles dripping from boughs, the dark skeletons of black trees against gray skies were all beautiful things to behold, there was also the reality of shoveling snow, driving on icy roads, sunset at 4 pm, and the cold.  Down here in Texas, though, winter is more like an extended autumn.  Temperatures rarely drop below 50 F.  Strange as it may sound, I sometimes miss the bite of the northern wind, and whenever a wind like that blows down here from up north, I relish it and try to imagine the scent of pine terpenes blowing in too.  The Texan winter leaves something missing - perhaps the anticipation of spring is diminished, because the days, being so mild, lack a stark enough contrast to make one long for warmth and green things.

But in terms of birding, the mild Texas winter means much more bird life compared to the Northeast.  Even in January, flowers are blooming and there are even butterflies and dragonflies.  The wetlands don't freeze, so herons, egrets, spoonbills and lots of other wading birds are still around.  But up North you get a different sort of winter birding.  Over New Years, Ben and I drove out to Jones Beach on Long Island.  The West End was a particularly good spot for birds.  We got red crossbills there - but the best part was walking right into a winter flock of nuthatches, chickadees, a downy woodpecker, and a hermit thrush stalking around on the ground.  There are small groves of pine trees at the West End which provide shelter out of the wind and cold, and here the birds were feeding like crazy.  The nuthatches were so loud, it sounded like several tiny car horns honking up in the trees.  The chickadees almost got stepped on by us, they were probably so hungry and cold and dazed by the sea wind all they cared about was food.  When you walk into a flock of birds like that, it's just such a cool experience - it's like being one of them almost (or at least seeing what they're doing from up close).

 View of Jones Beach - West End.

Red-breasted nuthatch

 From left to bottom:
A tiny windblown red-breasted nuthatch.
A chickadee foraging on the ground.
A grove of pines - perfect nuthatch habitat.
A downy woodpecker.

No comments: