Hey Guys! So, again, I know this article is very very late but please forgive me. I wanted to take this weeks post to tell you about a trip I took back in late September. I had heard of a special event taking place at the Setauket Mill Pond. They were having a Nighthawk count. Now, most of you already know how deeply I love Setauket Mill Pond and then add in the fact that I had yet to see a Nighthawk, I was sold!
There is somewhat of an annual phenomenon that occurs here on Long Island. Specifically over the stone bridge at Setauket Mill Pond. The annual migration of common Nighthawks! Every year thousands are spotted over the course of about 3 months traveling from their breeding grounds in New England and Canada to their wintering grounds in South America. At times as many as 500 were counted in one night! Due to effects on the environment such as deforestation and the increased amount of pesticides which decrease food supplies the Four Harbors Audubon Society, with the support of the board of the Frank Melville Memorial Park, has begun conducting annual counts of nighthawks during this migratory period in an effort to provide an additional source of data about population trends. They hope that this vital information compiled over several years can shed further light onto population sizes, and breeding rates/ranges.
Full of excitement and high hopes Steven and I packed up our gear and headed out around 4:30 pm figuring that this would give us enough time to stake out a good spot on the stone bridge as well as leave us a little time beforehand to explore since the count did not begin until just before sundown. The pond is nestled quietly in a residential area of East Setauket right beside a small post office. There is a parking lot that can hold about 5 cars but plenty of street parking is available (just be sure to read the signs to avoid any tickets).
Dragonflies, seemingly painted in rich coats of shimmering oils, drifted on the cooling breeze and rested on hanging leaves and grasses. With plenty of time to spare we decided to walk around the Frank Melville Memorial Park section of the pond. At the far end of the park is an old Gristmill and stone bridge that separates the pond from Conscience Bay. A group of Great Egret stood silently amidst a handful of wading Canada Geese. Red Eared Sliders Warmed on a partially submerged log, soaking in the rays of the slowly lowering sun. Up above us a Red-Tailed Hawk circled above the pond searching for its supper before eventually leaving for a more secluded hunting ground. The park was nearly empty besides ourselves and perhaps one other couple walking the trail and soon we found ourselves wondering if perhaps we had gotten our information wrong, surely we should be starting to see people arriving by now? Convincing ourselves that it was still too early for concern we watched a bit longer, spotting more Great Egrets, a few Barn swallows racing back and forth over and below the stone bridge and an onslaught of European Starlings that flew in like a storm, darkening the skies and raining down over the trees.
With Dusk growing closer we decided to start heading slowly towards the road and the stone bridge meeting area to see if there were any people beginning to gather. A Blue Jay shot across the sky above the pond beside us followed by a set of Double-Crested Cormorants streaking through the clouds overhead. A Female Baltimore Oriole spooked out from a nearby tree and raced for the horizon. Mallards drifted slowly about the shoreline of the pond rooting about the mud and roots. In the distance, we could start to see the gathering of a few people on the bridge looking to the sky and our concerns began to ease. A Plague Of Common Grackles flooded into the sky raising their calls into the air like a screaming train racing into the silent park. As quickly as they appeared they left, continuing their journey into the distance, their commotion startling a large Belted Kingfisher from its treetop hiding sending it flying and calling across the pond.
Finally, the light of the sun began to set and we stepped out to the stone bridge. Four people from the Four Harbors Audubon Society stood setting up informational boards for onlookers to read as well as handing out pins to commemorate our involvement in the event. A father and son fishing on the bridge pulled up a huge Largemouth Bass while we waited for our winged guests to arrive and were kind enough to pose for a photo! We did not have to wait long, within about 15 minutes the first Common Nighthawk streaked across the sky and that familiar rush of excitement and adrenaline ran through my blood with the sighting of a new lifebird! We stayed and watched for another hour and a half, a small group growing as the time passed by. By the time we decided to pack it in we had spotted nearly 40 Nighthawks! Next year I hope to be able to participate in this exciting event again and this time for more than one of the nights.
Events like these truly are so important. Not only for the work they serve for the bird population and research but for the community as well. It is events like these that get new people interested in birding and ultimately keep the interest in birds, wildlife and conservation going strong. A young person walking down the block that day may have seen us all staring at the sky and asked what we were doing, perhaps looked to the sky themselves to see what they could see, perhaps even went out again after that to look for birds or told some friends about what they had seen. It is this kind of work that engages new members of the community and ensures that future generations will have the opportunity to see these magnificent species. There are events like this happening all the time in almost every town around the island. From bird walks to park cleanups to nest box installations and even special events such as this one. My recommendation this week friends is to get involved and see what is going on in the towns around you! It is really a great experience to get out and enjoy this amazing Island and all it has to offer with the other people around who care as much as we do about seeing it cared for and maintained! And if you do go out and get involved or know of an upcoming event that you think I should check out, please leave a comment, I would love to hear about it! Until next time my friends, Happy Birding!
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