The Least of These
After a great half-day of birding on Saturday out in Suffolk County in eastern Long Island I decided to stay closer to home and try to track down some birds recently reported from Jamaica Bay’s East Pond. The shorebird mecca has been difficult to access this year because the water level is so high (the outlet pipe had apparently been clogged for awhile) but several intrepid birders have been regularly risked becoming Swamp Things in order to keep the rest of the birding community appraised as to what birds are around to see. Seth kindly volunteered to drive, saving me a long trip via mass transit and on foot, and we were the second and third people out on the south end of the East Pond hoping to find Hudsonian Godwit, Wilson’s Phalarope, Long-billed Dowitcher, Western Sandpiper, and, best of all, Least Bittern. Would we be successful? Read on dear reader, read on…
The south end was relatively bereft of birds, with Short-billed Dowitchers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers being the only shorebirds present. Carefully scanning the other side netted us some herons, ibis, and ducks, but none of our target birds. So Seth and I made our way up the east side of the pond towards the raunt, in mud and water that threatened to overtop our boots. It was not the most fun I have ever had while birding though fly-by shorebirds like the Lesser Yellowlegs in the second picture below made it tolerable.
What Seth and I were really hoping to find were any of the Least Bitterns that had been spotted by other birders on Saturday, when two young bitterns and one adult were seen perched and moving through the reeds that line the pond. Least Bitterns, being tiny and secretive, would be a great bird to see for the year; in fact, the only three times I had ever seen Least Bittern was when I had seen them taking flight briefly. You can imagine our chagrin, then, when we saw these two characters frolicking in the area from which the young bitterns had been reported.
Somehow, it did not seem likely that the bitterns would stick around while raccoons were in the neighborhood, but we diligently scanned the reeds anyway, and failed to find the bitterns. So we moved north, ever north, through some truly disgusting mud that stunk like the dead, until we reached the raunt, where we caught up to the first birder on the pond, Tom, who was already on some Stilt Sandpipers. We enjoyed those birds and then Seth said “I have the bittern.”
Sure enough, after a couple minutes of him directing us, we managed to pick up an adult Least Bittern making its way through the reeds on the far side of the pond. It was a pretty darn good spot by Seth and we were well-pleased with the long views we got, despite the distance. I even managed some (lousy) digiscoped shots.
We quickly phoned the horde of birders at the south end of the East Pond to make their way north, and, eventually, they arrived, and the bittern, which had skulked off a bit, was refound, and everyone was happy and the Hudsonian Godwit was spotted at very long range and everyone was even happier and then we walked out of the East Pond and no one fell down, which is a good thing, and then Seth and I foolishly wasted our time walking into the north end of the pond which netted us nothing so we went home.
Now, just so you know, I tied my rather esoteric record of seeing three birds with “Least” as part of their name in one day, with Least Sandpiper, Least Bittern, and Least Tern. Last time I did it I had the bittern, the sandpiper, and a Least Flycatcher. Has anyone out there ever had more than three “Least” in one day?