Birding Governors Island
May 28, 2011
Historic District and the perimeter of south island
9:30am-2:30 pm with several breaks
68-75 degrees, overcast and still in the morning, sunny and breezy in the afternoon, humid all day
Opening Day 2011 saw the return of crowds to Governors Island. But today was pretty low key, an easygoing beginning to the summer season. The opening gives me access to the perimeter of south island again, which I'm able to visit by bicycle. And summer birds are here in larger numbers than during my last visit on the 23rd.
I spotted 24 barn swallows (6 f, 8 m, 10 uk) and 6 northern rough-winged swallows, most on the northern end of the island, where they seem to favor the piers. Also on and around the Yankee, Tango and Lima piers were at least 78 common terns. I can't get a full view of the piers, so there could more. The terns have begun to sit on nests along the edges of piers.
Other summer residents included a male Baltimore oriole, an eastern wood pewee, a great-crested flycatcher, chimney swifts (6), a male chipping sparrow (identified by his ardent singing), catbirds (3), a black-crowned night heron, 2 male red-winged blackbirds, spotted in the high grass on the south island ball field, and laughing gulls (3).
The Canada goose population is still very low. I spotted just 14 today, including 3 juveniles. In the waters and on piers and pilings around the island I spotted double crested cormorants (13) and 3 mallards (1 f, 2 m). I was surprised to spot a male gadwall in Buttermilk Channel, near Yankee Pier. He may be a late migrant, on his way north or west of the city. Also migrating late were twelve brants, spotted on the beach that emerges in the Channel at low tide. On land and water I saw great black-backed gulls (10) and herring gulls (105, including 6 juveniles). The ball field on south island probably holds many nesting gulls, but they are mostly obscured by the tall grass.
Year-round residents included pigeons (4), mourning doves (4), starlings (79, including 4 juveniles), robins (14, including a juvenile), house sparrows (45), house finches (1 f, 2 m), crows (11), grackles (17), mockingbirds (4), cardinals (1 m, 1 uk), and a song sparrow. Making a surprise appearance was a single blue jay. I don't often see them on the island this time of year.
Finally, I got a holiday treat today, a bird I've never seen on or near Governors Island. Flying gracefully far above was a small flock of glossy ibises (9). At first I thought they were double-crested cormorants, but their long, down-curved bills made me look more closely. I was surprised and thrilled to see these wading birds, but also reminded that Governors Island sits in the middle of a huge coastal flyway. These birds, which were moving to the north and east, were probably on their way to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve. They began their long Memorial Day weekend with a flight over New York Harbor.