Monday, May 21, 2018

Do My Eyes Deceive Me?

 No not that I’m aware of, but as evinced by the Yanni/Laurel ‘controversy’ our ears sure can be. ( Really now, isn’t there an overwhelming amount of ~other~ stuff the news..., er, ‘info-tainment’ industry could cover in the huge amount of time wasted by that non-story?)

I went birding in Belmont Lake state park, looking for as well as listening for whatever birds I could find. I am still very much a ‘bird watcher’ even though the term ‘birder’ is more apropos. As such I practiced my skills in IDing birds first by their song, and then confirming it visually.

The first bird was a Pine Warbler. There is a stand of tall pine trees at the north of the park where I have them every year; probably breed there. Problem is, as we know they sound way too much like Chipping Sparrow which are also present in the park, as well as the possibility for Worm-eating Warbler, and even the remotely possible though not entirely impossible Orange-crowned Warbler.

I know several birders blessed with acute hearing ability, and a few who claim to be able to differentiate them by sound. I think that habitat and other ‘factors’ can lead one to make a more educated guess, but am not convinced that with this example that an ID can be confident without visual confirmation. After catching sight of movement, I was able to confirm my suspicion and ID it as a PIWA.

Of course the Cardinals, Catbirds, Carolina Wrens presented much less challenge. A Redstart did its 5 note call, with an obliging appearance to confirm my ID as they are both good looking and desirous to flaunt their charm.

Further on I heard what I considered to be Magnolia Warbler singing from a densely vegetated location. I tried my best to catch sight of the songster, but gave up after a while when it seemed a lost cause. I did however feel 'confident' at the time that the song was emanating from a Maggy.

That changed when I exchanged notes with another birder who relayed that he had found a Hooded Warbler in the same locale! I asked: Are you sure it wasn’t a Magnolia? He was sure, as was the photo he took of it. Doh!

I returned to the area and hearing the song continuing, I spent a goodly amount of time trying to spot it. Hooded Warbler for this park was a really good bird!  Frustrated, I tried luring the beast into the open. It seemed quite defiant, and what is more, my ears seemed to be telling me that either it was ventriloquial, there was two of them, or it had perfected worm-hole travel to different sides of me repeatedly.

My app presented several offerings of HOWA vocalizations. I tried the first song, from TN and waited. Nothing moved, but the songs continued from the two locations...  I tried the chip notes a few times, and nothing.

Then I tried the song from NY.  Movement!  I got on the bird and... and... it was a Magnolia Warbler! 

Magnolia Warbler
WTF!?  Maybe I’m not that far off if even the MAWA was ‘confused’. I felt vindicated, but still wanted the see the HOWA. I waited a while longer and eventually caught more movement and this time it ~was~ the HOWA. Yes! 

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler
Flash forward to the evening and a venture further east to Quogue rewarded myself and Bob Prothonotary with multiple Eastern Whip-poor-wills which actually say: “whip poor poor will”. The Mexican Whip-poor-will ( Whip-poor-wilburto?) says: “whip poor will”.  We also heard Chuck-wills-widow. Sight confirmation of these goat-suckers not necessary.

Ears looking at you ;)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

And So It Embiggens

2018 has been different. Very different from 2017 in which I ran around all over doing a New York Big Year. I was pleased with my results, and I am also pleased to not be driving around all the time now, even more so that I no longer commuting. 

Trying to get my home office up to speed has been a challenge, and means not doing much birding. There has been a few club trips and now with the weather warming and the migration beginning, I have been venturing out more.

But like the siren's call beckoning, I've been lured.

Mostly, it has been the rarities that have stoked the fires. In January a Slaty-backed Gull was found on the Cayuga River in Oswego. Its a lovely area, had been up there a few times in the past for a Clark's Grebe, and then back again to get the now lumped Thayer's Gull.

Arlene Rails was interested in getting the SBGU, it would have been a lifer for her. It would have been a state bird for me. We planned a leisurely trip; driving up on a Saturday afternoon, spending the night, and birding the next day before returning.

After breakfast we drove up the river stopping at a number of vantages, and then the places the bird had previously been reported. We saw Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, and one interesting probable Great Black-backed Gull that I tried to make into our quarry, but it was unfortunately not. Someone had suggested that it was a hybrid. Not sure about that, but interesting nevertheless.

Iceland Gull      Great Black-backed Gull      Glaucous Gull

We were surprised at the paucity of other birders present. It was suggested that they had all tried for the gull the day before, and with no positive reports no one bothered this day. It was unseasonably mild for January, and despite the dip, we enjoyed birding in this scenic corner of the state. We located a nice comestatorium named Dino's House of Burgers that also offered up a nice selection of frosty beverages. Ah, consolation beer ain't so bad, and it would only have been a ~state~ bird...
Then in the middle of February a Green-tailed Towhee was found in the town of “Montezuma”. It was actually at the feeders of someone in Port Byron, a very short distance away. An ebird report let the address slip, and I got some additional info from local birders. With a day off coming up Earic Miller, Lisa Shrimpke and I made the trip.

We arrived to find present fellow birder John H, 'The Hound of the Basherkill' . We also met other birders who had also traveled quite some distance in hopes of seeing this bird. We spend a long time looking at the feeders in a futile attempt before finally calling it a day. I was not pleased to discover in talking with the home owners that it was not their idea to obscure their location, and in fact they welcomed birders. I wish I had known the location sooner as I would have been able to go and probably would have seen it. What took place was an unnecessary amount of “caution” that was unwarranted.

I imagine the thought process was: "There's going to be a problem, lets keep this quiet, because, you know, birders are such..." and so it was obscured and off of the lists.

A better approach IMHO would have been a posting to the state list like the following:

"A rarity was found in a private yard. View the bird from... Parking is limited on a narrow road. Please do not block the road or driveways, do not venture past the curb onto the property unless invited, and be polite and courteous to the owners and neighbors. Please do not knock on the door or otherwise enter the property. If we do this we can welcome birders to see it for as long as it visits; if we don't, then you will ruin it for all those who try after your visit. PLEASE help us to make sure that all who wish to visit get the opportunity to do so. IOW act like an adult and don't make the rest of us look bad”

So I had dipped again. Was I losing my mojo?

Then a few days later word came that the Slaty-backd Gull had been located a short distance west of Oswego near Seneca Falls. Pat Pallas Reed Bunting was interested in going; he had actually tried and dipped on the Oswego bird the day before Arlene and I had made our attempt.

He formed a posse consisting of us as well as Mike Zino's Petrel and Bob Prothonotary. On the long ride up we exchanged war stories, and I lamented that Mike got such great photos of the Fieldfare he chased, while I had gotten by far one of the worst pictures ever, where you had to struggle to make it out through the barberry it was obscured within.

I further lamented that overall I have had great success chasing birds, but that I often get lousy pictures and with my recent two dips, I feared I was losing my mojo. Pat looked over at me pensively, and then said: “ I hope you get a lousy picture of the gull”

We arrived at Van Cleef lake to the pleasant sight of a phalanx of birders looking, not merely milling about! We pulled into a spot, got out, and a nearby birder offered us a look as he had the gull queued up in his scope. YES! There was much rejoicing; a state bird for two of us and a lifer for two of us. Nice too was a Lesser Black-backed and a Greater Black-backed Gull all within the same view for a nice comparison. 

Five gulls chillin' on the ice
Check out those large tertial crescents

Who also was present? None other than the woman who had the towhee at her house. She relayed that it had not been seen since, but welcomed us to try again if we wanted. We did, but not surprisingly we did not find it.

We did go to look for the Gyrfalcon which has been present in the area for several years. Apparently it roosts at night in a quarry, and we had been told that dusk is a good time to see it when it returns. We drove a round for a while, and I spotted a Northern Shrike!

Getting hungry, we found a good eatery in Seneca Falls called Parker's Grill & Taphouse. They had a very nice selection on tap, and we celebrated our good fortune.

We returned to the falcon's location and drove around the farm roads some more. It is a huge area, and we were not the only ones looking. Towards the end of the day, we did get a brief look at a falcon that I equivocated about, and after some more time it was getting close to the time when heading back was being contemplated in earnest.

But before we did, we decided to give it 'one more try'. We were glad we did! As we drove slowly down the road the Gyrfalcon graced us with a cross flyby that made us gasp and rejoice. YES!

Slaty-backed Gull, Northern Shrike, and Gyrfalcon. Not too shabby!

Flash forward two months. I had not been out birding more than once or twice. In fact at the time I was doing paperwork, having just finished with some patients, when the phone rang. It was Bob Prothonotary excitingly asking if I had seen the recent email. No I replied, I have not looked at my emails all day; why? Pat Linnet just found a Wood Sandpiper at Timber Point!

WTF!? The email was postmarked 15 minutes earlier, and a quick check with google revealed I had roughly a half hour til sunset and a 20 minute ride to get there. I scrambled to get my things and hit the ground running.

I alerted Phil Jabiru along the way as he was nearby and most likely able to get there before sunset. I arrived to find a firing line of a dozen or so birders fixed upon the off-track Tringa. Viewing conditions were ideal with the bird positioned with the sun to our backs. The only downside was that it was hella windy and cold! It had been 80 a few days prior, and it was the first of many times since then that I have uttered that 'spring has been canceled'.

The wacky weather had brought a severe rain storm up the coast and dumped a excess of water everywhere, including this golf course whose grass was flooded making an enticing feeding opportunity for 'Woody' and his friends – Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, and Dunlin.

While I was partaking of the gawk and smirk fest, the phone rang. It was Earic Miller calling to inquire about the plan for the next day. He asked what are you doing? I'm looking at a Wood Sandpiper I replied. He responded with an incredulous and somewhat scornful 'What?' I explained with restrained glee the circumstance that it had only been found and reported recently, very late in the day.

His scorn and frustration was partially deflected by proceeding to ask if we were keeping with our plan formulated earlier in the day. That being to venture upstate for a Western Meadowlark reported the day before. We had planned to leave the next day if it had been reported again, and having gotten positive reports the twitch was a go.

Amazing. A rarity shows up and a mega rarity shows up. This crazy weather has produced good birds! Earlier in the day it had rained buckets, but by sunset it was cold but clearing – perfect for getting a good look at the piper. And no, I did not get a picture; I left home without my camera. I did get scolded by Dunlin Schulman in this regard though.

But worrisome was the forecast for upstate: rain all day but some early morning snow. Piffle. It should reach 42 degrees, so no problem, right...?

We met Avian Resnick and Lisa Shrimpke early the next day and set off on our journey. This also gave me the opportunity to test out my new phone. Got the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and wanted to see how it stacked up against the hype. The significant internal memory was great for navigation, as google maps indicated that parts of the route may not have service, and I took it up on the offer to store map info for anywhere the signal might be lost. Nice feature! Previously I had used the 'Here Maps' app for 'offline' navigation, after finding out the hard way years ago in Arizona that the best birding locations are out of range of data signals! Now, it seems that one app will do all I need. It worked seamlessly; I was able to tell when there was no data because the Pandora app stopped playing.

Speaking of which, having switched to unlimited data it was a new experience to listen to uninterrupted music; having transitioned from cassettes, to CDs, to ripped CDs and my anachronistic style of listening to 'albums', to Pandora's offerings. So 5 hrs of uninterrupted music and nav and the phone battery hardly cared. Yes!

Even for a seasoned twitcher, day trips of this length can elicit concerns. Will there be traffic, will the weather be a factor, will the bird be there!? Well the traffic was practically non-existent there and back for a most pleasant cruise. And the weather held out until we cut west across farmland in Homer off I-81. As we traversed the rolling hills the snow began to fall. Some sections were coated in white, and then over the next hill the fields were devoid of snow. It varied from flurries to large flakes, but mostly the warm air kept things inconsequential.

We arrived at the hotspot, and found an area wide enough to pull off the road. In very short order Avian and Earic heard a meadowlark singing, and they tracked it down. Or up; Avian spotted it in a large roadside tree and Lisa got some photos. I tried to get a recording on my phone, and did so, but the wind was howling and much of what was recorded was just that. But in the background one can hear the Western Meadowlark. Yes! Drive up and hear it singing. And not to mention two state birds in two days for 422 New York State birds!
Western Meadowlark - Photo by Lisa Scheppke

Listen to a bad recording of the song here

Western Meadowlark - Photo by Lisa Scheppke
We visited Montezuma next where we saw Purple Martins, lots of both Teals, Caspian and a few Common Terns, a Tundra and Trumpeter Swan, and a White Pelican. But it was getting past lunch time and a celebratory beer was in order. We went to Parker's Grill & Taphouse in Seneca Falls again.

Following lunch we went back for another look at the Meadowlark. Unfortunately it was windy, cold, and snowing, not the most conducive conditions, so we started heading back. We made one final stop at Meyer's Point for a try for the reported Cave Swallow, ( it too, like the Wood Sandpiper was uncharacteristically present in the spring vs the fall when more likely ) but it was not to be. Lots of Barn and Tree and a few Rough-wings, but again the snowy conditions were not optimal.

The only real issue with the weather was on a stretch of 17 just east of 81. The micro-climate was colder and the snow was sticking to the road making the cars form a 40 mph caravan. After a short while, the conditions improved and we proceeded unimpeded.

Three state birds so far this year. Not too shabby. And it looks like a lot of stuff is showing up all over. There is even the possibility being raised that a large wader seen at Breezy Point may have been a mega rare Eurasian Curlew. And don't get me started on the goodies in Arizona!

What's next!

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...?   ...!