The Birds of Winter

Posted on 01 February 2013

web birds LesserScaup

By Emily J. Weitz

Frank Quevedo doesn’t consider himself an expert birder, but that’s exactly why he wants to bring out a bunch of novices into the field to show them just how simple it can be. The executive director of SOFO has been birding for about five years, and he is always in awe of his peers who have been out there for thirty and forty years.

“I got hooked five years ago by seeing a screech owl one night,” he recalls. “Everybody has a hook bird. When I saw the eastern screech owl, I was hooked. I am still a beginner. Five years doesn’t make me an expert. But I know enough to share with beginners so they don’t feel intimidated. I want to make it available to people.”

In the upcoming three-part series aimed at beginning birders, Quevedo plans to bring people to three distinct East End landscapes that attract a variety of different birds. He’ll begin in Montauk on Sunday morning, February 3, bright and early. The group will meet at Montauk Point at 7:45.

“Montauk is a great place to start,” says Quevedo, “because at this time of year, the birds are here to take advantage of the abundance of food. The first part of our series will look at winter sea ducks in Montauk. Every year these scoters, longtail ducks, and eiders come to Montauk, not to breed, but to feed. They eat crabs, fish, and vegetation like the algae that’s still around on the bottoms of the bays.”

Quevedo knows the spots the birds love, like a tremendous mussel bed just off Montauk Point.

“We start early,” he says, “because most are lively just after the sun rises. They spend the night tucked in on the water, and once the sun comes up they start diving down into the water, taking advantage of the light.”

The second excursion, which will take place on Sunday, February 17, will head to Southampton, to the freshwater ponds near Dune Road. Participants will meet at 10 a.m.

“The common and hooded mergansers tend to feed on freshwater vegetation,” explains Quevedo, “so you’ll see them in freshwater ponds in Southampton.”

It’s particularly exciting to see these birds because populations have been depleted in recent years, explains Quevedo. Birding, and counting the species that you see, is important for environmentalists to get an idea of what’s out there.

Quevedo points out that birds like the mergansers have different plumage at different times of year, and as you get more adept at birding, you’ll be able to identify these distinctions.

“The same bird at different times of year may look completely different,” he says. “The pluming is more colorful in breeding season than at this time of year. You can also look for field marks, like the neck line, the cap, and the color of the head to distinguish between birds.”

The third of the three-part series (Sunday, March 3, at 10 a.m.) will bring participants to the field behind SOFO, where Quevedo will direct people to search for perching birds.

“These are not waterfowl,” says Quevedo. “They’re birds that perch on trees, like finches and warblers. There are a lot of these perching birds that winter here to take advantage of the different berries on the trees. It’s easier to see them this time of year, without all the leaves.”

This series highlights the diversity of landscapes that makes the East End a great home for a variety of species.

“Because of the variety of habitats on the East End,” says Quevedo, “it creates a variety of an abundance of birds. That’s extremely gratifying as a birder, to enjoy the variety of birds we can look at throughout the year. And it changes. Some birds migrate South and others come from the North. It’s never-ending, to go birding.”

Quevedo also cherishes the friendships that are made and the moments enjoyed out in the field.

“One thing I like to stress is that birding is fun,” he says. “People feel like they’ll hold back the group because they don’t know much. But if you can go consistently and can join these programs, it’s fun, healthy, and social. You can create little birding groups. I consider birding a lifestyle more than a hobby. This is a lifestyle that you can continue for many years to come.”

To make a reservation for any or all of these excursions, call SOFO at 537-9735.

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