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Queens Chronicle

Shorebird Festival celebrates avian life on the bay

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Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2019 10:30 am

Don’t worry — if you don’t have binoculars, you can borrow a pair from the National Parks Service. You’re going to want to see these beauties as close up as you can.

It’s the 14th Annual Jamaica Bay Shorebird Festival, and awaiting you are osprey, great egrets, barn owls, great blue herons and plenty more of our feathered friends as well as the beauty of the estuary itself.

Not to mention the morning snacks.

“Come for the coffee, stay for the birds,” said Alexandra Kanonik, the youth and project coordinator for the American Littoral Society’s Northeast Chapter, a main sponsor of the event. “Come for the doughnuts and stay for the birds.”

The coffee and doughnuts will help start the day as participants register from 8 to 8:45 a.m. After that comes the first of several guided walks around the area, including to the East and West ponds that are such draws for avian and other wildlife.

Surrounding the hikes will be lectures and lessons from the experts: Littoral Society Chapter President Don Riepe addressing Jamaica Bay’s ecological concerns and wildlife management; Susan Elbin, Kaitlyn Parkins and Emilo Tobon speaking about the shorebird research done by NYC Audubon, another event sponsor; Lloyd Spitalnik on shorebird photography; and Kevin Karlson leading a shorebird identification workshop.

Gabriel Willow of Audubon will also be there, and Molly Adams of Brooklyn’s Feminist Bird Club will lead an activity table on being an advocate for bird-friendly buildings. There will be avian arts and crafts for kids, and the youngsters will also get to play “the wingspan game” with park rangers, stretching their arms out and learning which birds’ wings reach farther.

The event’s other sponsors are the NPS, the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy, Camp Rockaway and Swarovski Optic, which supplied the special spotting scopes that will let folks see the birds real close up.

All in all, the event will offer plenty for beginners and experienced birders alike.

“It’s a big day,” Kanonik said, with at least 200 people expected. “It’s one of the biggest days for visitors to the refuge.”

There’s little, if anything, a birder likes more than spotting a rare species in the wild, and the walks will offer chances to find some birds that aren’t seen as often as others on the bay. Three types of herons are common in the refuge: the great blue, yellow and black-crowned, but if you spot a green heron, that’s a less common sighting.

“If you’re lucky, you’ll see a Foster’s tern,” Kanonik said. “They’re less common than the common tern; their eyepatch is a little different.”

Kanonik will be at the festival, manning the Littoral Society’s table, and she hopes to run over to the nesting box the group set up on Big John’s Pond for barn owls.

“I would love to see the barn owl pop his head out; that would be fun for me,” she said. This year three barn owl chicks grew to fledge in that box, and so did another three on the Littoral Society’s box on Big Egg Island. The group also has put up a number of osprey platforms, which are getting used so much that more space would be needed to add any more.

“We almost have a housing crisis,” Kanonik said. “We’re coming to a pont where we’re thinking, ‘Where can we put them so they’re not so close together?’”

Putting up the platforms and nesting boxes is all part of the society’s effort to improve the lot of wildlife on the bay. And while Kanonik and her colleagues are seeing progress, they constantly face the challenges posed by Kennedy Airport. Fearing bird strikes like the one that brought down Flight 1549 in 2009, the government culls birds on airport property — and beyond — on a regular basis. Kanonik acknowledged there will always be tension between the environmentalists’ interests and the airport’s.

“They have their own agenda and their own views on wildlife,” Kanonik said. “They would eliminate all wildlife if they could.”

“They do a lot of management on the marsh islands, too. They are impacting local bird populations. A few years ago, we had a snowy owl ‘eruption.’ They came to New York City in the winter. They like meadows. The airport took down maybe four before people harassed them and they stopped.”

The only shooting that will be done at Saturday’s event will be by camera.

Jamaica Bay Shorebird Festival
When: Sat., Aug. 17, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Center, 175-10 Cross Bay Blvd., Broad Channel
Entry: Free. (718) 318-4340,

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