Drama in the Black Mangroves

What a joy to see the great egrets again, chasing each other around in the pond below my house in Fish Bay. I knew most of the black mangrove trees had been stripped of leaves and blown over, but didn’t know how the birds had fared.

When I arrived I saw there was some water in the pond, and one day there were five great egrets down there at once. These seem to be resident birds because they have the long feathery frills and green patches on their faces that indicate they are breeding.

The water attracted a variety of other birds too.

The clapper rails were particularly noisy, calling out to each other loudly, and easy to spot because the pond edges were so exposed.  

A little blue heron came to fish in the pond.
And a gray kingbird perched on a dead branch, swooping out to catch bugs flying by – with plenty to choose from.
One morning I was very excited to see some movement by the edge of the pond that turned out to be a red-faced common gallinule (formerly called a common moorhen).
It was a mother and a baby. No wait, two babies.
They swam across the pond and then were hidden again. But not well enough. In a few minutes I saw out of the corner of my eye a pearly-eyed thrasher flying by with a black fuzzy ball dangling from its sharp beak. Oh no! Immediately the mother gallinule went chasing after the kidnapper, clucking and crying out in the bushes where I couldn’t see what was happening.
Finally I saw the mother creeping out of the bushes, and I imagined her heartbreak - but then I saw that miraculously both babies were with her.
Unfortunately one baby was hopping – its leg seemed to have been injured during the thrasher capture.
The unrepentant thrasher watched from a branch.
I haven’t seen the gallinule family since then, so I don’t know if the baby recovered.
But I have seen green herons, and black smooth-billed anis, adapting to the changed, less-leafed environment.
It has been great to see so many old friends still here, despite all the changes and turmoil.

Familiar Faces in the Snow

Great Blue Heron in Jamaica Bay, New York City

The holidays have come and gone and I am still in New York City. It has been a long time since I spent a winter up north, and the first since I became interested in birds.
My birding adventures started when my friend Kathy came to visit us in Fish Bay in 2011 and wanted to explore the black mangrove pond below our house. I knew there were some noisy birds down there but had been too busy to go down and check them out. I was excited to see several types of herons and egrets.

Great Blue Heron in Fish Bay, St John VI

In the summer I was happy to find herons in New York too, and became a seasonal volunteer with the New York City Audubon Society monitoring the foraging activity of herons and egrets in Jamaica Bay, near Kennedy airport.
In this difficult season it has been even more heart-warming to see some familiar birds – like the great blue heron – still here this winter.
I never expected to be out birding in the snow, but I have found it motivates me to get out of the house to see which ones are here, even when the temperatures are below freezing.
Another all-year bird here is the American kestrel. In St. John I see them sitting in the tops of trees, or on the wires waiting to catch unwary lizards that venture out to sun themselves on the road. In New York the kestrels also sit in treetops, now leafless, but are more likely to be preying on the house sparrows and mice they see on the ground in the city.    

Resident Red-tailed hawks also can be found both in St. John and New York City. In the city they go after rats and mice, and can snatch pigeons on the wing. In St. John they eat rodents and birds as well – maybe lizards too.
Many other birds can be seen in both New York and St. John at different times of the year, but very few can be seen in the winter in both places.
Laurel Brannick from the Virgin Islands National Park has led weekly bird walks at St. John’s Francis Bay for many years, but is now temporarily assigned to New York’s Gateway National Recreation Area. She and I recently went birding on a snowy morning in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. It was too cold to stay out for long, and the birds looked pretty uncomfortable too, even with their down jackets. But it was good to be out together again.   

Laurel is currently working on a slide show for the National Park Service documenting the migration pathways and other connections between New York City and the Virgin Islands birds. It is a nice way for us to keep connected as well, looking through photos from St. John and also learning new information about northern birds.