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Leach's Storm-Petrels in New York State

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John Shemilt, Angus Wilson and I took advantage of a favorable offshore window in early June and decided to do an overnight pelagic trip on Captain Shemilt's boat, CLIII. We left Shinnecock Inlet on the morning of June 3, 2016. We were just on the heels of a fun day trip the previous weekend, 5/29, where we encountered good diversity and hoped to repeat our success. We set CLIII's autopilot due southeast of Shinnecock toward Ryan and McMaster Canyon (aka The Claw) where we planned on searching for a noteworthy temperature break in and around the deep water at the bottom of the continental shelf edge at 1000 fathoms. It was in this area that we would encounter record breaking numbers of Leach's Storm-Petrel while in the middle of a midnight feeding frenzy.


Most Leach' Storm-Petrels breed in the northwest and northeast Atlantic where they nest within burrows on rocky islands. The closest colonies to offshore New York waters are off the coast of Massachusetts and Maine bu…

New York Storm-Petrel Madness

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It was bit of a bumpy ride out to "The Tails" (north end of Block Canyon) on the night of July 31st. The seas were a bit unsettled but the offshore forecast for the following day, 8/1, was of favorable conditions with light wind. It was roughly 3:00 AM when Captain John Shemilt, Angus Wilson and I arrived along the western edge of The Tails. It was a moonless night and we spent the leading hour slowly navigating our way through the pitch black, playing close attention to the radar and watching for lobster pots. The moonless night added to an incredibly enhanced sky with stars brilliantly twinkling in every which direction. The pre-dawn sun light eventually began to make an appearance on the horizon but not before we situated our trawling rigs and communicated our morning strategy.

The plan was to lay down a chum slick composed of menhaden oil and cubed suet, trawl around the canyon for game fish and routinely circle back to check on the slick. Sea conditions were perfect, tin…

Willow Ptarmigan in Three Mile Bay, New York

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The Mission and How It Unfolded:
On Thursday evening, April 24, 2014, I received a pix message from my friend Eugene Nichols looking for some ID assistance on an "odd looking white bird that flew like a grouse?" I nearly dropped my phone when I saw photos of what looked like a ptarmigan. He perfectly described what may have been either a Rock or Willow Ptarmigan. "All white, black outer tail feathers, feathering throughout legs and feet, etc." Eugene is very observant, a great naturalist, and lives on Point Peninsula. He was making his evening waterfowl rounds when he noticed this odd bird and luckily he managed to grab some photos with his phone. I urged him to share the photos with his friend and colleague, Jeff Bolsinger and it wasn't long before Eugene and Jeff had Friday morning plans to try and relocate and well document this suspicious looking Ptarmigan. For those that might be wondering; A Willow Ptarmigan is a "chicken-like" upland game bird …

Pulling Mussels from a Shell

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I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a Purple Sandpiper feeding away from rocks before? This was no major surprise to me but I am used to seeing them on jetties and rock pilings rather than on sand/mud flats. This was the case this past weekend when I came across this stunning solo Purple Sandpiper feeding on the various exposed mussel beds at Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton. This bird selectively probed and extracted the meat out of several mussels during my observation, which was also new to me. Some quick internet research specifically suggests that mussels, along with other mollusks, are a favored food source for Purple Sandpipers. Something I should have known I suppose. Pretty cool and even better to witness the behavior while in the field. Purple Sandpipers are known to be very tame and if you approach in a non-threatening manner you can often go home with some solid photos.










Female Eurasian Wigeons - What To Look For

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Every winter, wigeons migrate down the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts where they spend time dabbling in  marshes, ponds and tidal flats. Long Island has no shortage of these ecological features and in turn is a  great place to study the less common Eurasian Wigeon.

Every waterfowl season, birders enjoy sifting through groups of American Wigeon, and other dabbling ducks, in search of Eurasian Wigeons. Adult male Eurasian Wigeons in full breeding plumage are very easy to identify and stick out like sore thumbs among flocks of other ducks. Females, on the other hand, are a bit more difficult and require careful observation. Here, I will share several photos of female Eurasian Wigeon, share some thoughts and point out some of the key features that have worked for me when separating female wigeons of both species.

One of the first things that I always notice with female Eurasian Wigeons is how warm and chocolate-toned their heads are in direct comparison with female American Wigeon. Female Am…

Top 3 Summer Highlights - 2013

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1) White-faced Storm-Petrel, Block Canyon, August 20, 2013:
It was August 19th when I received an email from John Shemilt that he was looking for a 3rd individual to join his team, on August 20th, to hunt for the much sought after Big-Eye Tuna in the Hampton Offshore Invitational fishing tournament out of Shinnecock Inlet. How could I resist? I scrambled around a bit, made sure things were squared away at work and decided to jump in on this last minute invite to try and catch a tournament winning fish. John had caught a nice Big-eye not long ago and was hoping to repeat during tournament week. I should mention that John and Keegan are both expert pelagic birders, so for obvious reasons I enjoy spending time with them. Fishing while birding, or birding while fishing? I'm pretty sure it doesn't get any better than that. I have to say, August 20th was a very slow day offshore, both for birds and fish, but that's just how it goes sometimes.

We blasted off out of Shinnecock at …

Godwits on Long Island, NY - Early August 2013

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Its been quite a while since my last blog post, 2 months to be exact. The Summer tends to grab a hold of me as I'm busy working 2 jobs, attending weddings, parties, etc. There is much less time for me to enjoy the outdoors and go birding. And when the birding opportunities come about, I always feel rushed, like I have to think about where and what I'm going to have to do next. For this reason, I now have to choose my birding locations strategically and hope to maximize my time. I always look forward to the Fall when I can get back into my groove and spend hours upon hours wandering sites looking at birds and enjoying nature.

This week was one of those weeks where I had to squeeze in my birding. I decided that Jones Beach West End would become a morning routine. It is more or less on the way into my office and if I got there early enough I could get in a solid hour or so of birding at the Coast Guard Station. Why go to Jones Coast Guard Station? Its a great location to comfort…