Monday, January 1, 2018

An Abbreviated Birding Year in Review

One of my best years of birding, having surpassed my previous NYS big year total. This year 333. :)

February brought...
Great Grey Owls ( I saw two: one in Massena, one in Keene ). so majestic, and a NYS bird.
Clark's Grebe as a 1st record NYS bird.
Thayers Gull, if only temporarily - Finally get it for the lower 48 and it went poof!

April saw another superbly spectacular trip to Panama with Ian, and joined this time by Arlene. Our guide Euclides once again finding lots of birds and remarkable rarities for us such as Maroon-chested Ground dove and Blue Seedeater. It is quite sublime to recount what we had seen and have significantly more experienced world birders incredulous and giving me an even bigger thrill. My great joy on that trip was spotting a lifer for him: a Connecticut Warbler, which is only the 5th record for that country.

June was when I finally got the notorious one-day-wonder White-winged Dove for NYS. I then spotted another ( or the same bird? ) in August.

July had an exceptionally cooperative White-winged Tern in PA. Much better and closer looks than my lifer, which had also in August, but back in 1993 in DE.

October began the avalanche of rarities as the year wound down. Common Greenshank in NJ was a lifer!

November brought a Corncrake to the beach in my town! So many said: "I never thought I'd see one" and birders were flying in from far and wide. Sadly the bird was struck by a car. I wonder what mayhem would have ensued had it continued being cooperative in its adopted patch of grass and brush along the ocean highway.

The month of December, not wanting to be left out of the ever increasing great birding gifts department, brought a North American first record Mistle Thrush, that despite being 760 miles away, provided Ian, Elizabeth, and myself with a terrific experience.


Friday, December 15, 2017

The Mistle Rush: Drained, but definitely no Griveing

It began as a mention of the post we had all seen on FB. What you ask? A Euro-turd. More precisely, a Mistle Thrush, Turdus viscivorus. And for the Francophones: Grive Draine. Turdus = Thrush, and viscivorus = mistletoe eater; good so far. In French Grive = thrush, but draine is either synonymous with Mistle Thrush, literally 'to drain', or less commonly 'to attract'. Languages are fun!

It is a common year round bird in Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but it is an ABA area first, a code five bird. It would be a potential lifer.

Liz Ardcuckoo is an impetuous one, and without hesitation suggested that we go for it. The 'we' included Pelican. And though the latter is more the 'feet firmly planted on the ground' type, she seriously entertained the thought. How long would it take, when would we leave, and other logistical and practical concerns were bandied about. At one point we came close to agreeing upon a plan of sorts.

I offered that while I would LOVE to see this bird, it was newly discovered and its stickiness or site fidelity had not been established yet. That and I had appointments scheduled for that evening...

As the day wore on on Monday, positive reports appeared, and calls were exchanged. Problem one: the weather was not ideal. Problem two: I had appointments for this evening too. Problem three:Pelican was having second thoughts.

It was after all, a 12hr drive each way, and the forecast was not good - her reluctance was not only understandable, but perhaps wise. Understandably throughout the day participation wavered in and out. Eventually, Pelican put her foot down and bowed out. I did my best to convince her with guilt, regret, and "facts". I recalled how on a trip south some 10 hrs to see a Green-breasted Mango in North Carolina, I witnessed folks with license plates from Ontario and Michigan! A trip from New York paled in comparison. But she wasn't having it.

An Overview of where the bird located
Liz dropped out, then jumped back in. Especially after I had spoken to Avian. He had called to share some 'news'. He said it was not unexpected, but not welcome nevertheless. On the positive side, it meant that he was free to do something normally not within his reach, like chase a rarity without worrying about time constraints. Unlike previous jaunts, he needed no blackmail, persuasion, cajoling, or bribery.

While I was waiting for my appointments to arrive, I browsed FB and came across an article on how the Black-backed Oriole added $220,000 to the local economy. I did not chase that bird as I thought it was most likely an escaped pet bird like the Troupial that was around Nassau County a few years back. As far as this thrush was concerned, I predicted similar if not greater interest.

Was the timely appearance of this article an omen? Did this portend well? I would have to wait and see...

On December 9th, 2017 Peter Gadd of Miramichi, New Brunswick Canada found a odd looking thrush in his back yard. At first glance one might think juvenile American Robin, but this was not quite right. Photos he had taken were circulated and the excitement began to build. It was definitely not a Robin, and the ID had been narrowed down to either Song Thrush, or Mistle Thrush. Both (or either) would be an excellent find.

Various features were examined from the photos and additional definitive field marks were captured with the ID pinned at Mistle Thrush! The bird exhibited a pattern of favoring the Gadd's Mountain Ash tree. Commentary was shared that they are known to vigorously defend food sources ie. stick to a good location, and that it was seen chasing off competition conspired to make the adrenaline flow.

So the three of us decided upon a plan of attack. I would depart after my last appointment and meet them in Queens. Liz's husband dropped her off and I'm almost certain he muttered something about our questionable sanity. And with car packed we headed off on our long journey.

The Route
The first leg was not so bad; I had made numerous trips up to New Hampshire for many a wonderful birding experience. We even stopped at the NH welcome center we visited on our twitch for the White Wagtail. Mike Zino's Petrel would be disappointed to learn his beloved Moose was no longer there...

The next leg was not so bad: up to Portland and then onto 295. But in the dark and with the almost completely straight road made for a less than interesting driving. And it seems to make the drive longer.  Not that it needed any help!

I did the lions share of the driving, with Avian spelling me for an hour here and there. A power nap refreshed me to go on. Those two mostly slept while I listened to music to entertain myself, though at some points their snoring in harmony was quite artistic.

It was still dark when we got to the border. The border agent asked the typically odd questions in addition to the more predictable ones. We all enjoyed him asking how do we know one another and for how long; Liz almost making a smart ass remark which thankfully she did not. This is not a place to do so. But boy did he look like he needed a reason to smile. That we were on our way to see a bird did not seem to phase him one bit.

We headed north a bit, then onto the route that would take us east across the New Brunswick Province. Approaching 7am, the first vestiges of dawn were appearing. It was beautiful countryside, but cold, snow covered, and desolate.

The only birds present albeit here and there were crows. The one exception was a bird Avian pointed out, which flew from atop a hemlock, and was a Northern Shrike.  Otherwise it was a remarkably un-birdy place.

As we made our way, a gas stop was needed, and though a highway sign indicated there was one, it was located about 5 miles away!  I was thrown by the pump's operation, and stepping inside they told me to just pump first and pay later. This was clearly a town of folks who know one another, and sensing strangers they asked about our trip. It seems that even here the news of the bird in Miramichi was big news. The most unexpected comment however, was that the clerk thought that I did not have a New York accent. Go figure!  Nice people. Why are Canadians so darn nice?

Eventually we got to Fredericton, and the last leg of the journey, a mere 2 more hours to Miramichi. More mostly desolate highway, but with the daylight it was far more picturesque. Miramichi for the non native, is pronounced 'Mira me she'.

It was about 10:30am by the time (adjusted one hour ahead for AST: Atlantic Standard Time ) we arrived at the home of the Peter and Deana Gadd. We turned left and right to get to the proper street in the neighborhood, and then with our last turn we saw what we hoped for: birders standing there looking at the bird!

It is important to note that along the way Liz was ever so annoyingly taunting me that the bird would not be there. I informed her that if she was correct, it would mean her demise. She lived.

It was cold! Single digits, but somehow it was not a concern as we fought our car-ride weary  legs to hobble over for a look. A fellow with a scope offered us looks. We were thankful because spotting the bird the 50 feet or so away, in the camouflage of the tree, was at first a challenge.

This kind gent hailed from Iowa; he had flown for the bird. He has also flown in to try for the Corncrake that was present in Babylon back in November, but unfortunately he arrived after its demise. And because its a small world he knows a friend of Avian's and mine from Iowa, Ajay.

It was cold. Very cold. Despite this we stood out in the street and enjoyed views of this splendid rarity in the beautiful Mountain Ash tree with the bright red berries. The birds position behind twigs and the overcast conditions did not lend itself to good photos, but hey, thats the story of my life. OTOH, I was there to see and experience this bird - photos not necessarily a priority.

Mistle Thrush!
 We greeted the Gadds and signed their visitor book - such nice people! They offered birders hand warmers, umbrellas when it started raining the next day, and use of their restroom if needed. After a satisfactory view, we went off for a much needed repast and I had the requisite celebratory beer!

Liz found the 1809 Restaurant & Bar on the shore of the Miramichi River. Nice view of the frozen river highlighted by several Iceland Gulls and a few Great Black-backed Gulls.

Satisfied Twitchers

A Well Deserved Reward  

After  lunch Liz wanted to search out other birds, but I wanted another look at the Thrush. We returned and enjoyed additional views, but noticed the beginning flurries. Mission accomplished, we decided to hit the road.

Unfortunately for us, or our plans anyway, the snow intensified. by the time we got to Fredericton, 2 hours away, the roads were such that further progress was imprudent. Despite our desire to get home, we much prefered to get home in one piece. Liz found us rooms, and I promptly passed out!

To say I was running a sleep deficit would be an understatement. Doing my best to maintain regular sleep habits means that on an occasional basis I am able to pull an 'all-nighter', in this case, driving more than all night. 

A few hours later I awoke, showered, and joined the others for a splendid dinner at Issac's Way. Liz found another fantastic restaurant that supports regional artists with an in house gallery and sources food from local farms. 

We returned to our rooms to rest up for travel the next day. Upon awakening, I was delighted to see that the snow that was covering my car had been washed off by rain overnight! We had breakfast and then hit the road.

Driving in the rain is much preferable to in snow. Thing is, our route took us west and inland and away from the warmer coastal area so the snowing returned. Fortunately, Canada is pretty good about clearing roads, so while less than optimal, they were not horrible.

Unlike our trip up, we were able to make stops along the way. We stopped at the border duty free shop in Woodstock, and I stocked up on remarkably inexpensive booze.

Over the border we found that the roads were being cleared and so travel was not horrible here either. Our next stop was 4 hours away in Portland Maine. We went to another restaurant found by Liz ( who else ) called Eventide. A selection of several Maine oysters, their excellent take on clam chowder, and of course, Irish Goodbye Nitro Stout.  Epic Journeys deserve epicurean gratification, especially with success!

Sated, we hit the road again. We arrived back in Queens by 8:30pm, and surprised everyone by crashing the Queens County Bird Club Meeting. This is by far the most extreme trip I have ever undertaken and I am grateful for my co-conspirators. It is worth contemplating that in retrospect one may regret more the things not done, rather than the things done.

Update:  A reporter named Alain Clavette  posted a request to interview folks who had gone to see the Thrush, and Liz contacted him to set up an interview with us and the result is >here<. More clips with Alain are present if you scroll thru the previous segments on the page.

Monday, November 27, 2017

I Krammed in Pipit, Western Tanager, and Hamina Hamina Hammonds!

For the past several years the tradition has been thanksgiving at my cousin’s place in Maryland, followed by ‘the second night’ with my brother’s wife’s family on that Friday. I mention this because on my way to Maryland, I got the painful birder news no one wants to get when they cannot do anything about it.

The call was from Earic Miller, who having found a Western Tanager some days previously, was calling to ask where I was. “I’m on the road, on my way to Maryland” I responded. “Oh” he said, Peter Reef-heron just relocated the Tanager. Doh!  Another attempt, and I had already made a few, would have to wait.

The holiday dinner was a blast as usual, oysters, turkey, and beer. A perfect recipe! After breakfast Friday with family and the ritual family photos, I set off headed back home. En route I was informed of an Ash-throated Flycatcher on Satan Island, and they having just seen the Western Tanager, fellow birders Liz Ardcuckoo, Steve Tanager, and John Gaggle-o-geese were on their way there. I thought how tactically opportune, as I had to pass through Satan Island anyway.

I eventually caught up with them, but they had no luck before nor after my arrival. Not surprised either, as Satan Island only produces about 50% of the time, while other locations have a much better batting average. We all gave up especially me, who had another dinner engagement.

But enticing birds call to me and I made a hail-Mary pass at APEC for the Western Tanager. I met Dunlin Schulman there coincidentally, and we tried as best we could. After 30 minutes of disappointment, I departed as the Tanager did not cooperate, probably eating its own holiday leftovers.

The evenings meal was a noisier but no less enjoyable get together. I was again stuffed, and refrained from partaking in my usual libation so that I could be able to partake in the QCBC field trip scheduled for early the next morning.

Mike Zino’s Petrel did a great job with a large group eager to find what we could at Jones Beach. The weather was exceptionally nice, as was the variety. We had 44 species +/-, and the highlight (for me anyway) was the Pipit found by Steve and John. They called us to get the rest of the group on the bird, and ended a feud I had with another heretofore ‘easy’ bird that I had been having trouble finding this year. Yay! #329 for the year in NYS.

After a short while of additional birding, and a modicum of discussion, I informed Mike and the others that with reports of the Tanager at APEC, I was going to head there. Most of the others did as well. I mean, Western Tanager. Duh.

Upon arrival, I made haste from the parking lot to the bird’s reported location and came upon a group of birders looking at the bird in the scope! Of course putting my eye to the glass as the bird dropped to the ground was ~intended~, but in short order it flew back up to the branches in front of us, and then across the path and into a tree above us and well lit in the sunshine! Yes! #330!!

Of course having mentioned too often my quest for year birds, I precipitated this zeal for birding within Liz and she unceremoniously dragged me off so that we could chase a Ross’s Goose and a Eurasian Wigeon out east a ways.

We dipped on the goose, but the quackster was an easy get at Mill Pond in Sayville. she was pleased to have been the one to spot it, and one would think that this would be enough conquests for one long weekend...

Nope. Liz implored me to join her and Dave LaSagra on a quest upstate for Golden Eagles. Dave needed them for a state bird, while it would be a lifer for Liz. Who knew that her inquiry into where I told her I had seen them easily would require me to accompany them?

As it turns out, for whatever reason, the previously reliable location in Dutchess County had no recent hits as far as eburd was concerned. Liz and Dave colluded to suggest the Franklin Mtn Hawk-watch, and in a moment of weakness I agreed.

Despite snow flurries on the way, and snow on the mountaintop, it proved to be a lovely day.  Winding back country roads are a favorite of mine, and the route did not disappoint. What did disappoint was a text message on the way that Dave received from Pete Moorhen, asking him to convey to me the favorable wind conditions at Robert Moses STPK... Pete had already seen two Kittiwakes! Doh! This inability to be in more than one place at the same time is really cramping my style...

We arrived on site, and I drove up to the hawk watch. Of course, the puzzled look on the folks stationed there indicated that we probably should have parked below and walked the rest of the way. No worries they said, and as we unpacked first one Golden Eagle flew by, then another that flew right over our heads, maybe 100-150 feet above. WOW. Best view ever! 

I parked the car below, and we enjoyed more birds with the friendly group present. They were a bit surprised we had visited all the way from Long Island. And that we did not stay all that long, as Dave had family to return to, as well as the prospect of getting other stuff on the way back if we didn’t dawdle.

While picturesque, the environment did not necessarily lend itself to overflowing birding opportunities. I suggested specific locations such as the Adirondacks versus this bucolic terrain. Liz and I relayed the birds we had seen on our respective trips; Liz having to add that she had seen Boreal Chickadee, because it had been a miss for me. I told of yet another unsuccessful Spruce Grouse attempt this year, and in response to Dave’s inquiry about them, told Dave that Ruffed Grouse, a potential lifer for him, was very easy up there as a probably bird to cross paths with.

That intel did not quell the ironic pain that befell Dave as we drove a short way away. I spied what appeared to be a road-killed hawk on the side of the road. I circled back for a better look and we discovered it was a Ruffed Grouse! What is more, upon inspection Liz and Dave found the bird was still warm to the touch, meaning we might have seen it alive had we been there moments sooner! Dave told us he had been in this region many times in the past and never saw one, and finally he sees one, but dead. Dems da breaks Dave. At least he had seen the Corncrake before it befell the same fate.

We continued on towards Roscoe where we planned to lunch and to savor a celebratory beer at the Roscoe Beer Brewery. As we got close, Dunlin sent me a text advising of a very interesting Empid ( an oxymoron, no? ) having been found in Central Park. More enticing, was the location was virtually the same as where a Pacific-slope Flycatcher had been found in 2015. Was it another PSFL?

Liz communicated with her on our behalf, and without skipping our requisite beverage and sustenance stop, we plotted our venture.  While imbibing, I noticed that I had also missed a call from Bob Prothonotary. He was wondering if I was on my way there already. No, not yet!

The beer was quite good, but time and good sense only permitted enjoying one. I was dismayed to see the GPS telling me the trip would take 2 hours, but we had to head that way anyway, so why not?

Traffic was delightfully non irritating. We arrived on the upper west side, with Liz giving me directions to a parking lot. She had made a reservation with ‘Spot Hero’ and insisted that I not waste time trying to find a spot on the street. Unfortunately when we arrived at said lot, we were waved away with notice that they were full, and that they ‘have no connection to the app’. Great. More like “Spotty and not so Heroic”.

I gave Liz an appropriate glare and then went looking for a spot by the park. On the second block I tried I found one straight away, much as I said I would. Then I gave her another glare. She probably deserves far more looks of disdain.

The intertubes had been disquietingly quiet until about our time of arrival, when we learned that Menachem Goldfinch had relocated the Empid. Yes! Now to navigate our way through the park to the scene of the crime.

We were guided to the correct place by Dave who is unexpectedly very familiar with the park. Works for me! We met Dunlin, and got news that since the recent relocation, no further sightings had been made.

There was a notable collection of birders present, but the group of birders were engaged in what I have unfortunately seen too often: yakking. Multiple birders inevitably degenerate into a group of yakers and stop looking for birds. Hey, this is a rare bird: possibly the third sighting for NY state.

Reasoning that with all the birders standing there, it was best to look elsewhere as they would have been looking instead of talking if the bird was present. Reminds me of 2015 when a Connecticut Warbler showed up downtown at Trinity Church. There was a slew of birders milling about in the rear of the cemetery, but the bird was not there. I decided to go to the other end reasoning that if the bird was present it would have been seen. It took me but a few moments to find it, obviously if it wasn’t where it was being looked for, it was elsewhere. Duh.

I made my way towards ‘the oven’ and was looking for movement. There was lots of it, but comprised of many Juncos and White-throated Sparrows. After a short while Dave walked up and joined me, and very shortly thereafter he yelled out: “There it is!” We got on the bird several times as it flitted from branch to branch to get very short but nice looks. We yelled out to the others and they joined us; many more folks getting a view. Liz got blurry shots, and I didn’t bother bringing my camera, but the accumulated pictures have confirmed what our eyes saw: wing-flicking, short bill, long primary projection, big eye-ring. Hammond’s! 

On FB, someone opined: “ I don't see how there can be any disagreement over the ID. This is a textbook Hammond's. Long primaries, short tail rule out Dusky and Gray. It's not nearly green/yellow enough for Pacific-slope/Cordilleran. So with all the Western species ruled out, let's move on to the Eastern ones. Least can be ruled out immediately due to the long primaries. Yellow-bellied is eliminated by the clean white throat. Bold eye-ring gets rid of Willow/Alder. Cute impression, lack of white in the lores and short tail rule out Acadian.” Also here on eburd is a list with a recording

I love it when a difficult ID becomes neat and tidy. And lest I forget, this is #419 for my New York State Life list and 331 for the NYS year list!

What an amazing fall! Common Greenshank and Corncrake lifers, and now yet another NYS bird. Yes!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Release the Crake-ing!

Tuesday I was doing needed household chores all morning. Liz ArdCuckoo called me and asked if I wanted to go with her to find the Hudwits that had been seen in number at Heckscher State Park. As I had mostly finished up, I acquiesced and she came by to pick me up.

As a condition, I had to make some necessary stops, and thereafter she decided that we needed to stop for lunch. We sat down and ordered, and the waiter brought me a beer. It was an excellent Smuttynose Seasonal, which I had all of one sip before Liz blurted out: “There is a Corn Crake at Cedar Beach!”

Normally this sort of news would make me convulse violently. Coming from Liz though, who is a notorious tormentor that delights in making up stuff like this to irritate me, I did not immediately react. She read the message from Sue & Ken Kestrel which said: “A Corn Crake (this is no joke) is currently feeding on the north shoulder of the Ocean Parkway east of the Cedar Beach marina...” Imagine: Craking a joke!. ...Ahem. Then the phone began to ring from one after another fellow birders passing along the word of this incredible discovery.

Our food had not come, and I explained that this was very much a MEGA rarity. So without missing a beat Liz ran over to the waiter and informed him of our situation. They were happy to pack the food to go, but were a bit curious as to why a bird could do this to us. My dilemma was my beer. I am no guzzler, I much prefer to enjoy a beer rather than have it pass ineffectually over my tongue. They accommodated me by placing the rest of it in a soup container! Liz ever so delightfully remarked that it looked like a urine sample.

Food secured and bill paid, we beat a hasty retreat. More calls were fielded, while Waze navigated us through unfamiliar streets to hasten our getting to the bird’s location. Of clear benefit, it told of police locations, or more importantly, ~lack~ of police locations, allowing the car to move along more rapidly than customarily permitted.

It seems that Ken spotted the bird while driving by, and almost wrote it off as a snipe or such, and went back for a better look after considering ignoring it and just continuing on. A graduate of the Evelyn Wood Speed Birding course no doubt, and we’re glad he gave it a second look!

The exact location may not have been known, but the line of cars on the median sure helped! At the front of the line scopes were trained on the bird and one after another birder was delighted by a bird that so many remarked things such as: ‘I never thought I’d see this bird here’, or ‘ I had written this bird off as a possibility’. Remarkable to me was the number of world birders present for whom this was a lifer. Holy cow!

Corn Crake
The Crake was very wary, and loud cars or close approach by birders made it retreat into the brush along side the grass it was feeding in. Sometimes it would disappear for a while but thankfully it stayed close to its adopted feeding area. Eventually I was able to move closer and get a few photos from behind the median’s trees.

With declining populations in its typical habitat, and the last sighting in New York having been in the sixties, this was more than a surprise.  As of now the bird has graced us with a second day of its presence, much to the delight of birders who are coming from all over. Hopefully the site can be successfully managed for birders, traffic, and the constabulary.

Of note, this is for me a lifer like so many others present. NYS 418. ABA 718. And to think I arrived with a prescient draft celebratory beer in hand!

Patagonia? Nah, The Orchard Beach Puddle Effect

I have often said that sightings beget sightings. Of course one can then follow the reports of where people are birding as they follow those reports.So when goodies started showing up in Pelham Bay Park, birders went a looking, and in doing so, found even more goodies.

Back on October 28th, some of those goodies drew Jeff Bittern and Peter Reed Warbler, in search of Nelson's Sparrow in Turtle Cove. Peter and Jeff found the Nelson's and a Le Conte's Sparrow too! The phone rang and alerted a bunch of us; thing is it was while I was leading a QCBC trip in Prospect Park. Grrrr!

As it turns out the weather was absolutely smashing, and the birding was the epitome of disappointing. So with several "prompts" from anxious participants, a vote was taken and rather than continuing on to Greenwood as planned, Earic Miller, Liz Ardcuckoo, Lisa Shrimpke, Chuck Wills Bielman,  Avian Resnick and I reconvened in Da Bronx. Avian Resnick and I were amused, in so far as the location was part of our territory for the Bronx CBC. Avian also inquired if this was now an established modus operandi; that is, chasing a rarity in another NYC county as the finale of Prospect Park trips. Yes. That's ~exactly~ how I planned it....

A number of other birders were on location when we arrived. The bird had shown briefly a few times since its discovery, but as expected this bird lived up to its notorious skulkatorial repute. Matthieu Ben-Wandering Albatross clued us in to where the bird had been spotted. Karlo and Alison Murre also showed up due to Peter's report, and Alison was able to locate the bird a few times and make all of us waiting for a glimpse, very happy.

Flash forward a few days and Earic Miller calls me with a report that he and Jeff Bittern had found a Black-legged Kittiwake at Orchard Beach. It seems they wanted  a better look at the Black-headed Gull and got a bonus! Agenda cast aside, I prepped and tried to assemble a posse. Avian Resnick was up for it, and together we went to Da Bronx having discarded what we were supposed to be doing.

On the way though, I learned that the bird had flown from its resting place and was in the process of trying to be relocated. We arrived and found a number of other birders looking, but it was not looking good. We decided to enjoy the Black-headed Gull loafing in the lot, which was in gorgeous plumage.

Black-headed Gull     2nd from left

We scanned the gulls and did not find what we were looking for. Undeterred, I mentioned a report the previous day of about 35 Pipets, a bird that has so far eluded me this year. But as we were going to look in some of the more likely spots, Avian called my attention to a small bird that landed on the pavement some 40 feet in front of us; white flashes in the tail catching his eye.

It was not a Pipet, and though size and general jizz would suggest a sparrow, it was not one of those either. With nice profile looks and a distinctive chestnut mark on the wings we had spotted a Lapland Longspur! I alerted nearby birders and called Matthieu who spread the word farther, and several delighted birders descended upon the hapless bird in the unlikely middle of a parking lot.

Lapland Longspur

"Effect" birds: ... Le Conte's Sparrow, Black-legged Kittiwake, Lapland Longspur...?   ...!

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Greenshank Redemption

Monday was by all accounts an ordinary work day. That is, until an email was received from Dunlin Schulman. She had forwarded me notification of a fantastic find! The ABA Blog had the following entry about it:

“On October 23, Sam Galick and Virginia Rettig discovered and photographed an ABA Code 3 Common Greenshank at the Brigantine Division of the Forsyth NWR in Atlantic County, New Jersey. Pending acceptance this is a 1st record for New Jersey and one of only a few records for the Atlantic coast of this widespread Eurasian shorebird.

Edwin B. Forsyth NWR is located just north of Atlantic City, New Jersey. It consists of two divisions, departed by about 20 miles, of which the northwestern Brigantine division is the most regularly visited by birders. The bird was seen along the Wildlife Drive, reportedly near the “dogleg”, a stretch along the northern side of the drive where the road turns northeast and back northwest again. The entrance to the Wildlife Drive is off US Route 9, onto Great Creek Rd.

Common Greenshank is a widespread tundra-breeding shorebird in the Old World. It is an uncommon, but regular, visitor to western Alaska, primarily in spring. There are fewer than 10 records for this species away from Alaska. All Common Greenshanks reportedin the eastern part of the continent have occurred in the Atlantic provinces. This is the farthest south in the ABA Area it has occurred in the east, though there are single records each from Barbados and Bermuda.

The phone began to ring, and the texts tweeted at me about this bird found Monday. For some reason, folks presumed I would be going to look for this bird the following day. Am I that predictable? Well, ...yes.

This is a code three bird; fairly regularly though rare in Alaska, but otherwise relatively unheard of here on the east coast. And Noo Joisey is much closer than Alaska.

I can recall a time when getting a co-conspirator was more difficult. Now, not so much, and its more like assembling a posse. The thing is, cars have only so many seats...

So what to do when there are more posse-ees than seats...  Well it turns out I dodged a bullet in more ways than one. The weather forecast was atrocious, and this meant that I decided not to "enjoy" a long ride made longer by horrible weather conditions: 90% chance of rain all day with 25 mph winds also all day. Nope, better to stay home... house work... oh yay...

And while some hailed this as a glimmer of sanity on my part, I assuaged my disappointment by clinging to hope that the bird would deign to stick around so that I might get a view.

For the uninitiated, the bird is a shorebird aka sandpiper type device. It most closely resembles a Yellowlegs, but with pale green legs. I know what some of you are thinking: then why don’t we call them Greenlegs or Yellowshanks? Good question. Blame the British - I mean, have you ever heard how they mangle the pronunciation of our words?

Besides the leg color, this bird has a white rump with white extending up the back. But by far the best field mark for ID was made as an off-hand comment on Facebook. “... I would have passed it off as a leucistic Greater Yellowlegs..."

So as hoped for, the bird was relocated on Wednesday. This meant the texts and phone calls started coming in again, and a plan was being hatched.

A call from Earic Miller was expected as he had indicated interest previously if not for the weather being so awful. A text from Avian Resnick was a surprise however. He is not known for being spontaneous or impetuous; probably a hazard of his chosen profession; or perhaps an appropriate stereotype?  Nevertheless he suffered a spontaneous relapse of "bird flu". Mind you, this is only the second time he has been stricken thusly. The first time was in hopes of seeing a Gray-crowned Rosyfinch way way upstate. On that occasion, we dipped on the quest so I superstitiously insisted that he not reprise that outcome!

The fourth participant was Arlene Rails. She and I were supposed to have gone hiking and beer sampling, but with a little coercion, accent on ‘little’, she agreed to the change in plans. The four of us rendezvoused at 5:30am, and off we went to Brigantine.

We made good time and arrived about 8am. It was a cold 45 degrees, and very windy, so we car-birded our way along the wildlife drive. The further along we went the more shorebirds we saw, and near the end of the first leg we saw flocks of 100 or so Yellowlegs that we scanned.

We thought we might have had a candidate, but with the sun to our right, and a congregation of cars on the next leg, we moved on to make better use of the light. Conditions here were ~ideal~ with the sun behind us. We stopped and scanned in a few places, but with a lot of cars on the drive, we chose to stop further down where the tall grasses stopped and allowed an unobscured view.

No sooner had we set up scopes when Earic said that it looked like the folks we had passed were now intently looking at something. He and I ran back there, soon followed by Avian and Arlene. The bird was there!!  I was so glad we did not make a bee line to the location where the bird had been seen twice previously; you know, the 'scene of the crime'.

Brigantine Division of the Edwin Forsyth NWR        The wildlife drive is only the perimeter.

Looking at the bird it was easy to pick out in glasses or scope, and at times even bare eyed. But after some satisfying scope looks I ran back to get Avian’s car and my camera. The bird continued to cooperate and we enjoyed good looks. We were all pleased that the bird had been found so soon, and I inquired who had spotted it. The fellow introduced himself as Jason Hornbill, and I called Avian over as we didn’t recognize him nor he us. Jason had birded with us on a pelagic out of Hatteras NC back in 1993. 

Co. Greenshank in foreground - Note lighter color of back and pale green legs.          Gr Yellowlegs in rear.
After some time the birds got restless and began moving around. The good news was they returned. The better news was that I managed some flight shots showing the distinctive white mark up the back. Eventually though the Greenshank was hard to find so we moved on. We birded the rest of the drive, and then did the loop again. 

Co. Greenshank - left. Note large white 'Dowicher-like' mark on back          Gr. Yellowlegs - right

We may have seen the Greenshank again, but the cold and wind, and our slight unpreparedness moved us along.  We headed up to Toms River and a favorite restaurant called "The Office" for well deserved comestibles and celebratory beers. This place has been a favorite stop form many many years, what with an expansive menu choice and many tasty beer choises on tap!

Founders Breakfast Stout was a unanimous choice for all but Avian, who was chauffeuring us. I also enjoyed a Cape May Honey Porter, because, Lifer!  The recent taxonomic mishugas did not put a damper on things; IOW I had recently 'lost' Thayer's Gull, but with this sighting I was once again at 717 for my ABA list. Not too shabby :)

We returned home with little traffic delays and rejoiced at another perfectly executed twitch. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Back In The Dax

It started out as an “incidental” comment regarding birds we wanted to see this year, while witnessing a spectacle at Jones inlet. I was alerted by co-conspirators Bob Prothonotary and Ed Thrasher that hundreds of Shearwaters were flying by, giving particularly ~rare~ views of these birds from shore. Normally, these are birds viewed via scope, or out at sea on a pelagic trip. The next day unfortunately, many of these birds were found dead in what is a sad but not an unprecedented event. The cause is unknown, and drew lots of speculation on the intertubes.

What we discussed was that there were good birds up in the Adirondacks and how we all would like to see them. This quickly tuned into serious planning and others soon expressed interest. Unfortunately for them, responsibilities and other encumbrances  limited our posse to the aforementioned, myself, and John Gaggle-o-geese.

I formulated a plan, scanned reports on the lists and eburd, and contacted a few folks. Most birders I find, are happy to help and share info; after all, they may be in need of some info in the future themselves...

It is sad to say though, that one contact though previously helpful, was not forthcoming. Instead they stated that they cannot help because it is their "business". I know what you may be thinking, but a birder in the car with me during that conversation which was on speaker, was appalled. Having mentioned this surprising turn of events, i found other birders who feel strongly negative about persons who are advertising their business on the NY listserve, which is supposed to be against the rules.

I conveyed my disappointment and informed them that at least here on Long Island / NYC metropolitan area we have an excellent network of birders who are generous with their help. This has also been my experience while I lived in Massachusetts and in California.  Of particular note, I have inquired of professional guides in Arizona *many* times, and they have been very cooperative. I guess they see it as goodwill and good for business; seems that the economy in the Adirondacks dictates a more stringent approach.

No matter. I set up maps of desired locations and sought lodging. A place I can recommend is Shaheen's Motel in Tupper Lake. Very well run, and have never had complaints on my many stays, and no complaints from folks on my club trips either. Unfortunately they were booked. They kindly recommended alternatives, so we stayed at the nearby Park Motel. Nice enough, as were the proprietors, but quite outdated so definitely not a first choice.

The plan was to meet for car-pooling Wednesday night and drive up to our motel. We were blessed by light traffic and with the relaxed speed limits we arrived an hour before anticipated. I like this method over driving up early in the am, as being awake that much longer wears you out.

For those of you who might be planning a trip, and who plan to use navigation on your phone, a caution. Stand alone GPS devices will work fine, but apps such as ‘Google Maps’ or ‘Waze’ only work as long as there is a 4g data connection, such as within metropolitan areas or on major highways. The small towns in the 'Dax will give you a signal, but very shortly after leaving town it will be gone!

In this case an 'offline' app is needed, and I currently use 'Here Maps'. It allows you to download maps so a data connection is not necessary. I do my planning in Google's ‘My Maps’, export the data to a KML file, and import it into the 'MyPOI' app. POI is an abbreviation for Point Of Interest. Clicking on a marker allows navigation to that location with your choice of offline capable navigation apps. ( yes, that was a mouthful of computer info, but worth it )

We awoke refreshed and raring to go, though the weather put a damper and literally dampness on the enthusiasm. It was raining, and forecast to do so for the next few days. Undeterred, we headed to our first location: a Philadelphia Vireo hotspot. Reports had them nesting in a tree at the listed site, but the coordinates did not correspond to the landmark 'tallest poplar tree' nor did it reveal whatever 'temp site 4' was. 

We did have Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing ( everywhere this trip ), American Redstart, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and the best sighting IMHO: a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks with a begging fledgling in tow.

Perhaps it was the on and off again rain that drowned out the PhiVir's singing, but we did not succeed so we decided to try here again when we would be on route to Spring Pond Bog planned for another day.

We headed to Oregon Plains Road.  In addition to the resident boreal specialties we all desired, luck would have it that there had been a recent incursion of White-winged Crossbills. We were stoked. No sooner had we arrived when we all questioned what the loud long song we were hearing was.

I believe it was Bob who first postulated Crossbill, and then I spotted one sitting atop a spruce. YES! John got a nice shot, and I was able to record the song with my phone! What a way to start the trip! We saw at least 5, but we think there were many more. Lots of loud singing.

We birded the site more before walking the length of Bigelow road headed west some three miles to the bridge, and then back. There were numerous Redhatch, Goblets, and BC Chickadees, Hairy Woodpecker, Least Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Gray Jay ( who followed us closely), Blue Jay, and American Crow.

Then we went to the other side, and hoped for but dipped on Black-backed Woodpecker which we had seen in that area a few years ago, and then we walked Bloomingdale Bog north trail heading south of route 55. It was quiet, and devoid of hoped for Lincoln’s Sparrows.

Our final stop of the day was up Blue Mountain Road in Paul Smiths, where a recent Spruce Grouse beckoned us like a siren’s call.  The plan was to get there near dusk, hopeful that Spruce Grouse would again be out on the dirt road dusting themselves. It was a beautiful ride up a long dirt road to a place somewhat west of Madawaska and we were ever so hopeful.

On our way to this location we spotted a Ruffed Grouse on the road! I was able to stop quickly so as not to spook the bird and we all got looks before I ventured closer. It turned out this bird was a hen with a few young, and while one or two crossed the road to join mom, a few must have been left behind because it stayed close to us in the undergrowth. We got some good close looks, but we  left shortly as the bird was anxious to rejoin its other offspring.

Walking and exploring the area did not get us the much desired target, but we did find signs posted alerting hunters and others to the difference between this and Ruffed Grouse. This area is high on my list of places I have to explore and devote more attention to!


On the way back from a superb first  the day, we pondered potential choices for dinner. John suggested the Raquette River Brewery, which had a placard mentioning BBQ.  Beer, BBQ... we all agreed it sounded like a good choice. My arm was of course twisted...
We then learned that Thursdays are ‘beer and a brew night’, where one could get a burger in one of 7 styles and a beer in one of 13 styles for a measly $10!! I had the Salted Caramel Porter, followed by the Munich Helles Lager. Yum!!!

Friday we again awoke to cloudy dreary skies, but at least it was not raining. We went to Bigelow Road again. We had time to kill before the road to Whiteface opened, and the low clouds did not portend well. We saw much of the same, and with the overcast keeping the birds quiet, we added a trip bird here and there but nothing to write home about.

Then we went to Whiteface Mountain. We equivocated a bit due to the clouds, and the memorial drive is a bit pricy IMHO, but it is the easiest place to see Bicknell's Thrush. Or you can certainly see them in migration and hopefully you will hear them sing ( good luck otherwise... ) .

This was a much desired lifer for Ed, and he was a bit apprehensive due to the massive amount of fog and general dread but I assured him we would prevail...

Thankfully, by the time we got to the end of the road at 4600+', the clouds parted a bit and afforded us views we feared would otherwise be obscured. White-throated Sparrows were singing, as were Juncos, but no obvious Thrushes. It took a while, but finally the Thrushes began to sing and Bob who has much better hearing than he gives himself credit for, heard a distant BicThr.

After he pointed out the approximate direction from which the call was coming from I was able to spot it on a dead snag and got us on it. I then ran back to my car to get my scope for Ed to get a satisfying look at his first lifer of the trip. Remarkably, we heard WWxbills again here!

It is worth mentioning, that on trips to high peaks in the Catskills, I have always found BicThr and they were singing at all times of the day. One might ask then, why there have been reports posted in the past that seemed (to me and others ) to make the suggestion that one must be at the proper elevation by 4am or they will not be singing or able to be found. This has NEVER been my experience.  Maybe if you want to hear all of them singing at the same time, but most of us are satisfied by one or two.

We had a few more sightings of warblers and sparrows, and then ventured back down the roadway. We stopped at the various pull-outs where BTGreen was heard, but while musing over the BTGreen's call, I of all people heard a finch like call which I alerted the others to. They had not perceived it; concentrating instead on the other calls. But when it called again the others concurred it was a Purple Finch. A brief playing of the call had the bird come out front and center and led to an amusingly far greater bit of rejoicing by Bob and myself, as compared to Ed’s lifer celebration. For one thing, as compared to Bob and I, Ed is decidedly more low-key. But Bob and I have experienced a frustrating lack of connection with this bird despite an embarrassing amount of attempts over the past 7 months. So Ed got a lifer and Bob and I got a nemesis year bird finally. Thankfully I hope this means an end to Liz Ardcuckoo's ceaseless tormenting me about this former miss. Or else...

At the end of the day we revisited the brewery. After all, the food and beers were good and the town was a bit sparse on suitable good places where we wanted to eat at... and beer!

Day three we went to the PhiVir spot and this time with much better weather. Bob heard a vireo from across the field, and he and I went to investigate. Ed and John stayed behind on the road because below the tall grass was a lot of wood most likely left over from clearing out the timber. This made walking a bit tricky.  Bob and I never spotted the vireo, but shortly thereafter Ed and John heard a vireo from the road and we rejoined them. We finally got our bird!

We then moved on to try Spring Pond Bog which
FYI one must get permission to visit in advance from the Nature Conservancy's Adirondack chapter. It was further down the same road, but I mistakenly tried to use navigation, as the location coordinates were for the center of the bog ( very NOT useful ) and not for the parking lot, which would have been more useful.  The result being that the navigation routed us onto a road that was not where we wanted to be, and caused us to come across some very deep water on the road. Also I should have been more conscious of the small, low to the ground signs along the road. Oh well...

At one point near a pond the water was flowing across the road!  Bob got out to assess how deep the water was by walking along a berm.  He didn’t get bitten by the snake he found, nor fall in, but after relaying that it was no more than 8-10 inches deep, we traversed it. Unfortunately it was not possible for him to cross completely, and I had to back up so he could jump into the rear seat. Happily, no mishap :)

Continuing on, it soon became apparent, to me anyway, that we had gone the wrong way. Back through the deep water I was not crazy about crossing the first time but boy an I glad I have a Subaru Outback! We stopped at another picturesque pond where we listened to the birdsong, and tried in vain for BorChi, though Bob thinks that he did hear a distant one. I spotted a new bird at the far end of the pond, and getting bins on it found a nicely colored YBFlycatcher!  We then got to the correct road to Spring Pond Bog, and walked around the beautiful place that was disappointingly quiet. 

With some time to spare, we again went to Bigelow,  Bob again proving to be a great resource with his hearing. This time it was the Black-backed Woodpecker peeling bark from a pine; not quite tapping or drumming. We all were elated as it seemed to be inordinately difficult  to cross paths with this bird on this trip as compared to my previous experience. Ed was especially pleased with his second lifer of the trip.

We met some birders at a cross-road near the failed bridge, and they told us that BorChi had nested nearby. We explored. No luck. Back at the foot of the road we ran into more birders from long island and their guides John & Pat Thaxton. We exchanged information about what we had seen, and they gave us info on where we could find Lincoln's Sparrow, a bird we had as yet to find.

We thanked them and headed to Paul Smith's VIC, and to the 'Boreal Trail'. The maps at the VIC leave MUCH to be desired, as we could not orient ourselves correctly and went the wrong way ~twice~. This sucked especially for John whose leg was bothering him, and didn’t need any additional walking. It turned out that due to these mistakes he opted to stay behind for this bird, and the rest of us went to the board walk. When we finally got to the right place ( don't ask ) we saw some sparrogenous beasts and did our best to get good views. One queued up but despite our feeling it was a LinSpa, it just was not colored as well as we would have liked. We continued to study it and when it was joined by another, this time the buffy swath across the breast stood out and with this bird we had no doubt as to the ID. Phew

That nigh we celebrated with 3 beers each! Yes the brewery ~again~. We knew there was supposed to be a ‘battle of the bands’ that night, so we figured that if its too loud we'll leave. Fortunately we spotted a table behind a wall that blocked enough of the loudness for us to be happy. Once again we partook of very enjoyable food and brews. Salted Caramel Porter and Smoked Red Ale were my favorites. At Ed's insistence that we celebrate adequately, and who am I to argue, I tasted and then imbibed the IPA. 

Now mind you I am not a fan of IPA's. Most are way too hoppy, and ruin the balance of flavor: kinda like coating a slice of pizza with a dense layer of oregano. Sure oregano is a tasty spice, but that would ruin the pizza. Not the case with their IPA. Finally, a place that does beer right!  In all I tried 5 of their 13 offerings and am very impressed that I enjoyed so many of them. Bravo Raquette River Brewery.  Boooo that you have no plans to distribute down here :(

The final morning we tried our luck at Sabattis. A nice Yellow-bellied Sapslurper and Hairy woodpeckers were pleasant to observe, as well as even more Grey Jays. We also lucked out with another Ruffed Grouse sighting, but besides Creeper we added nothing new for the trip. Yes, we were leaving the ‘Dax, but no matter, we did great and enjoyed this marvelous place. Sigh... 

It was a nice finish to the dax portion of the trip; our final results were as follows.  √ PurFin, √YBFly, √BicThr, √BBWoo, √WWcro, √PhiVir, √LinSpa, √RufGro, √GraJay, SprGo, RedCro, BorChi.  9 out of 12 target species, with 7 year birds for me and 2 lifers for Ed. With so many birds ~feeling~ harder to find than my experience in the past, I was concluding that a trip a few weeks sooner would have been better.

We headed south towards home with a diversion to the Washington County Grasslands hoping for a previously reported Clay-colored Sparrow. No dice. But we added Field Sparrow and Brown ( not Ed ) Thrasher  for the trip.

Further on and closer to home we were hoping for updates on White Ibis in Orange County. I made several inquiries, but it looked like a lost cause and we pressed on homeward. It hurt that they were relocated, but by the time they were and we were notified, we were already home.

Prior to the trip,  because of the report of the Ibis, Bob asked if I might want to go that following Tuesday. You probably already know the answer. So Tuesday Bob and I unsuccessfully chased down several local birds, and then met Liz Ardcuckoo and Earic Miller to try for the Ibis.

We got to a beautiful location called Wickham lake, where we ran into some local and not so local birders. Carena Potoo, and Menachem Goldfinch and his mom Karen but despite our hopes and efforts, we did not prevail.

Of very mildly amusing note, I had been criticized a bit for not having had Great Horned Owl yet. Okay, actually criticized a lot!  But it was a bird I knew I would probably cross paths with during the course of routine birding. No worries. While we were collectively scanning and checking the trees for any sneaky Ibises, I spotted a DC Cormorant in one, and Earic found a GHOwl. Go figure, but it was a year bird and I'll take it. And as preicted, one would cross paths with me.

We stayed until it was just about dark, and hoped to hit the craft brew place in Sloatsburg Seven Lakes Station which has both great beers and fine wines and some food. We were too late, so Liz found us a very good alternative in Suffern called Curley's Corner, open and serving late! 12 beers on tap, good food and blatantly inexpensive! 

Phew! I need a vacation.... ;)