Posts Tagged 'Fort Tilden'

King Eider

Somateria spectabilisSnowy Owls aren’t our only Arctic visitors. This is a male, or drake, King Eider (Somateria spectabilis). I saw my first ever earlier this month, when, after the Brooklyn CBC, we all hurried over to Beach 59th St. on the Rockaways. The other day another was spotted off Fort Tilden. This time I had my camera with me when a friend and I greeted the New Year on the Atlantic coast. Extreme telephoto.Somateria spectabilisIn full breeding regalia, the orange knob at the base of the bill is pronounced, and spectacular. This is a sea duck, a diver that can go down 80 ft. It’s a gregarious species, gathering in flocks by the thousands in their native waters. Down here, where they are few and far between, they will hang out with other species. The first one I saw was with a flotilla of Black Scoters, this one with Red-breasted Mergansers.

I’m very familiar with the Common Eider (S. mollissima), the male of which has a white back and black-topped head. Females of both species are similar-looking, and thus more of a challenge.

Four October Butterflies

On Friday at Fort Tilden, the sun was bright when I got there but a cold front moved in from the northwest as I stood atop the hawk watch platform. These were all seen while the sun was still bright.Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) predominated, still, floating along the coast towards the south.
A sulphur, probably Clouded (Colias philodice).This Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), a species that flocked through the region back in May, has had a big chunk of its underwing taken out.

An Eastern Comma was also noted, but it was unwilling to be photographed.

Hawk Watch

Looking northwest towards Gotham-Metropolis; the birds come cruising along from the right.

It’s no Hawk Mountain or Veracruz, Mexico, where thousands of North America’s Broad-winged hawks squeeze by on their way south, but I’ve never been to those places, and home is where the raptor is. Or at least just passing through, following the coast along the barrier beach of the Rockaways to the south-east.

For just over an hour yesterday morning, some thirty raptors flew by the platform atop the old gun emplacement at Fort Tilden. An average of one every two minutes. We saw: 3 Osprey; 1 Peregrine; 1 (or more) Northern Harrier (this cinnamon-bellied juvenile might have been a local); a bunch of accipiters, mostly Sharp-shinned with a few Cooper’s; and lots of the two little falcon species, Kestrels (mostly) and Merlins. Some cruised near the beach, others over the woods on the bay side, and some right past the platform. Seeing one after another sharpens one’s identification skills, especially in distinguishing the Coopers from the Sharp-shinned and the Merlins from the Kestrels.

Otherwise, Fort Tilden was awash in Northern Flickers and Yellow-rumped warblers. It’s a wonder I wasn’t hit by one.

This White-breasted Nuthatch, meanwhile, paused on the platform to watch us for a change.

Fort Tilden Stars

At the western-most parking lot at Fort Tilden, we came across a pile of treasures of suspicious provenance. There were perfectly intact shells of both our big whelk species, moon snails (including the largest I’ve ever seen), and lots of sea stars. I’ve never found a sea star on the beach around here, and usually the whelks and snails are bashed up pretty good. This pile, already well weathered — and, in the case of the sea stars, dried out to stiffness — looked like it might have been dredged or otherwise trapped en masse. What was going on?

The common sea star, Asterias forbesi, is no stranger to our waters, but, as noted, you usually don’t see them on the beach. Most of the ones in this pile were small, but there were a couple of big-handed ones. (The size difference is illustrated above.) These echinoderms (from the Greek for “spiny skin”) wrestle bivalves apart with their arms and force their stomachs in between the shells to eat the goodness inside. (Further comment, it seems to me, would be superfluous.)


Friends who live in the Rockaways showed us around last week. This barrier beach of a peninsula juts out of the soft underbelly of Queens as the sheltering arm of Jamaica Bay. It’s thickly settled on its eastern end, but Jacob Riis Beach and the Fort Tilden section of Gateway NRA provide some naturalist splendor. Above is one of the views from the platform at Battery Harris in Fort Tilden, looking across the Bay towards Oz.American oystercatchers were scouting out nesting sites up and down the long beach.A willow blooming in the dunes.Quaking aspen catkin. The grove of trees shimmered in the later afternoon sun with these furry seed packages. This aspen is one of those tree species that can be connected at the roots, making each seemingly individual tree a clone.The bay side of Breezy Point, the western-most end of the peninsula. Fencing on the right to protect the ground nests of piping plover, oystercatcher, common tern, and least tern.
A brief reminder that the city harbors many habitats and a universe of life, and that we always need to be vigilant in protecting and expanding these habitats.


“There are m$%#er-f@!*ing snakes on this outwash plain?” Why, yes, there are. Contrary to urban myth, St. Patrick did not chase them all from the city back in the day.

I found this one at Fort Tilden a couple of mosquito-ridden summers ago. Jamaica Bay and Staten Island have been other places I’ve seen snakes within the city. (Update: My friend Lisa, whose animal prints make astonishing gifts, reports that the NY Botanical Garden is quite the snake country, too.)

It’s a garter snake, the most common species of snake in the country. Thamnophis sirtalis has numerous subspecies, including common and eastern, and they all seem to be highly variable in coloring and habitat. Some good basic data about them is found here. They can live up to ten years.

This time of year, snakes are in hibernation, tucked away for the winter, often amid their cohorts, coiled in anticipation of longer days and a warmer sun.

The Hofstra guide to reptiles and amphibians of L.I., S.I., and Manhattan is a handy place to read up on our regional snakes.


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