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.... ;)


Friday, June 23, 2017

The Uppies and Downs of Birding When the Birding is Tufted

A fun part of birding is the drive to see as many species as one can. Sure, you can just bird your local patch and delight in whatever discoveries befall you, but that is not necessarily sufficient stimulation for everyone. 

So, for some of us we occasionally ( or perpetually ) do 'big years'. The parameters can be as limited as your town for example, or as extreme as the entire US or the entire world even!


In my case, it is a state big year; trying to see as many as possible of the birds that pass through, within the state and calendar restraint. Yes, its a game; a fun game, that gives an added  dimension to an enjoyable pastime.


As a benchmark, I have posited that 300 species seen in New York State within the year is a good benchmark. After several attempts, my personal best to date is 330, and the record which was being broken a few years running, is currently at an incredible 361.


As of this writing I am at 292 species, and its only June! Others have broken the 300 species barrier, and so far about 350 species have been reported in New York. With all these species being seen, one might conclude that amassing these sightings is easy and a piece of cake.


No doubt, rapid dissemination of sighting information via email, texts and what have you have drastically facilitated the game, but sometimes the birds themselves have other thoughts on the matter.

Some examples...  Early this year, a posse including Pelican, Arlene Rails, and John Gaggle-o-geese went after a delightfully cooperative Ross' Gull way upstate. In addition to the gull, we scored Bohemian Waxwing. At my urging, we made a last minute try for Tufted Duck up that way, but failed miserably. How miserably I will describe...

I gaffed on the directions and ate up valuable scanning time. It didn't matter though, as the flock of ducks was absent from the location all together! Dang. Presciently, Pelican said: "oh, one will show up on Long Island" and she was right!

The trouble was, it showed up on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I tried Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. There were additional attempts as well. I mean WTF?

Then a Clark's Grebe showed up in Oswego Harbor.  I went for that and got it easily, but the reported Thayer's Gull nearby was missed by me and all that day, including Steve Tanager, who being unable to sleep the night before, decided to drive up there for the grebe on his own. 

Originally Pelican was supposed to be part of the posse, but she and John Gaggle-o geese opted to go the following day to avoid the reported storm. We got wet, but their going the next day meant that they missed the storm and got both birds!

The missed Thayer's was eating at me, and I revisited that location this time with Captain Bob, who also wanted the Great Grey Owl, for which I hatched an insane plan. We, together with Arlene drove up and got a hotel. we made good time so we looked for the gull before dark, and we saw it except for Bob who missed it and it flew off.

The next day we awoke and went for the Grebe and got great looks. We told a birder from Connecticut at the grebe site about the gull, and he headed there as well. When we arrived he was looking through the gulls without success, but a quick scan of the birds and I was able to find it with ease. I got the CT birder on it as well and there was much rejoicing.

At that point Bob told me that there was someone across the water waving at us. It was Steve! Once again he could not sleep and ventured up there for the gull as did we. What he didn't do, was plan to continue on to Keene for the Great Grey Owl. 

We traversed the Adirondacks to get there and in short order we saw this magnificent bird; the second individual for me. But there was more...

So in exchange for traipsing all over the state, seeing as how we were in the area, I made another attempt at the Tufted Duck, or as Bob likes to refer to it, the tuff duck. 

It was cold and windy, and those two chose to stay in the car until I found the bird. An hour being blasted by the wind and no luck yet again.  ... :(

I must be a sucker for punishment, and not just because I love puns, and it gets worse...

So Bob was not the only birder who wanted to see that Owl. The next  time I was coerced by Liz Ardcuckoo. It also gave me another opportunity for the tuff duck. I am so weak...
So we went for the Owl and had great looks at it and a Barred Owl in the same vicinity! 

Returning to Lake Champlain, I braved the wind and cold again and this time finally succeeded! HaloF-ing Loolya. Liz waited in the car, and missed the bird. Oh well. I got it :)

~~~~

Lest you think that has been my only nemesis this year you would be quite incorrect. Purple Finch that everyone else had seen, again on the days I was not able to visit Shu Swamp -still- eludes me despite 6 attempts. Still.

And then there was more....

I led the anual trip upstate called Doodle-bash where we end the day Sunday at Blue Chip Farms and Shawangunk grasslands NWR. In over 20+ years I have never missed Upland Sandpiper. At the grasslands we did get spectabulous looks at Dickcissel, but again no Uppie. 

The next week gave me another opportunity with the heartening  appearance of the most cooperative Henslows Sparrow ever. A beauty, and ever so close to he trail! But could we find the Uppie? No. 

A week later I decided to try again enroute from returning from visiting family in Massachusetts. I shot straight out 84 and made good time. I did not ~have~ a good time though; the nice day gave way to rain and another dip.

Uppie came up in conversation at the Shearwater show recently. Its sad as a lot of birds were found dead along our south shore, but a storm brought in a Brown Booby ( found dead the next day ) as well as 100's of Great Shearwater very close to shore at Jones Inlet. Cory's Shearwater is expected to be the more numerous birds, but the proportions were reversed. I saw about 100 or so greats, 6-7 Cory's, 2 Sooty Shearwater, and a Manx Shearwater. 

Besides the Shearwaters, Ed Thrasher, Bob Prothonotary and I discussed how we had all missed Uppie this year, and a plan was hatched. We headed upstate where we tried unsuccessfully for Sora at 6.5 station road, and then on to Blue Chip.

Careful searching of the farm did not reward us. Neither did walking the blue trail at Shawangunk NWR. We did hear what we believe may be a ~second~ Henslows that we could not locate.




We continued on to Galeville park where others had reported sightings. Nope. So we decided to try Blue Chip again. Along the way we spotted some birders sitting by the road, and I inquired of them. Mary (?) recognized me from a previous meeting at Shawangunk, and informed us they had spotted the Uppies there 3 days prior. We decided to join them. 

We were there for over an hour and Bob hinted that we should be leaving, but Ed and I impressed upon him that we try a bit longer. Shortly thereafter, the Uppie delighted us by alighting upon the same post that Mary had pointed out. It then flew toward us and called while banking and calling before returning to its field. Yay! and Phew; we discussed how much longer the trip seems if one dips, but we were stoked!

With some work, sometimes a LOT of work, nemesis' fall by the wayside. And speaking of nemesis birds, just a few days ago a White-winged Dove was found at Jamaica Bay. I was at work and thought 'great, another infamous one day wonder I'll miss'. 

Then some successful reports encouraged me, along with a last appointment being canceled. Could I make it to JB in time, ~and~ make it to dinner before the meeting I had to host? Dam the torpedoes, I was going to try!

Waze, for the uninitiated is a 'fastest route' navigation app similar to Google Maps. Previous use had not impressed me, as there was a lot of turns and no discernible benefit. On this occasion it routed me through back streets and saved me a load of time. 

I arrived at JB where Earic Miller had been searching. Eventually I caught up with him and he guided me to where the bird had been reported to have been seen. As we walked through the South Garden, we kicked up lots of Robins and a few Mourning Doves. And then I heard the flapulence of a dove that alerted me to it's presence as it took off from the ground. It sported a rounder tail with white edges, inconsistent with MODO!  Earic and I searched the area more, and then he spotted it in a tree affording great looks! Nemesis no more and NYS lifebird 418 / NYS yearbird 292 for me. 


Sometimes it keeps going wrong over and over, and yet sometimes it all remarkably falls into place oh so right!!






Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Montauk & Massena

Not every birding trip is an epic journey, and travel is fun. Seeing great birds close to home is fun too. I made the effort to get the Barrows Goldeneye that had eluded me and was rewarded with nice looks at its usual haunts, the ever so posh Sands Point.

Earic Miller and Lisa Shrimpke joined Liz Ardcuckoo and I, and we were coerced into a vain attempt at relocating the Yellow-breasted Chat Liz had found months ago.  We did not succeed, but Earic heard a Winter Wren and we got to see it. It was a year bird for me so a nice get.

After much debate, and Liz bidding us adieu, the three of us set off to Patchogue to try for the spurious Tufted Duck. What kind of maniacal quackster frequents a pond on alternating days? Once again, we, and yes I, was skunked. Perhaps the terminology should be updated to: “I was tufted”?

Tuesday night I picked up a new car, perhaps long overdue. Thursday was a major snowstorm after Wednesday’s inexplicable 65 degree weather. Over a foot of snow meant shoveling and household chores I prefer to postpone instead of a ride in my new wheels. Or did it.

Late in the afternoon I heard through the grapevine that a Yellow-headed Blackbird had been seen at a feeder in Nassau county! It was discovered because the home owners took a picture and being unable to ID it, posted it on Facebook. I made an effort to secure permission to visit despite the snow, but by the time I heard back it was too late in the day top arrive before sunset.

I did go there the next day before work and met Mike Zino’s Petrel and Pat Pallas Reed Bunting. There was a flock of 50+/- Grackles circling the area, but no definitive sightings. One bird Mike and I both saw had white flashes in the wings that we saw as the flock flew over head, but time ran out for me and I had to depart.

The weekend arrived and I was still not feeling a trip to New Jersey. I wasn't feeling like I was ready to travel long distances anywhere. Though after some musing, I met Arlene Rails and we decided to give the very Tuff ted Duck another try.  We scanned this 'popular with the quacking crowd' pond for some time without the desired result.

And then I got a text from Pelican. It read: “So are you chasing the Guillemot, or the Great Gray Owl?” WTF?!?!  I checked the intertubes and saw a report of a Black Guillemot in Montauk harbor. I coyly asked Arlene “Would that be a life bird?” she smiled and said yes, and said “lets go!”
 
Great Gray Owl
I am not one to refuse a lady. We high tailed it to the highway and made our way to the west jetty. Setting the car in park I leaped out to get a look while she prepared herself in the warmth of the car.

The inlet was devoid of much save three Common Loons. The end of the west jetty had two SandPurples, while the east jetty had three Great Cormorants. I turned my attention to the back of the harbor, and there by the coast guard’s patrol boat was the bird! I ran over to get Arlene and she got an ‘insurance’ view of this lifer.

I suggested that we relocate to get a better look at the Coasties. As we pulled in, I saw Bobby Sanderlingi pulling out, having tried to relocate the bird himself. I told him it was hidden behind the patrol boat, and we all went over to get a closer and better look. Nice find Bobby!
 
Black Guillemot
During the jubilation for Arlene’s life bird, we got another call from Earic. He was out in Pennsylvania looking for the Black-backed Oriole of questionable provenance, and was inquiring about a run for the Great Gray Owl way upstate in Massena NY.

After the ensuing conversation, we contemplated a run. The caveat was that it would have to be an overnighter. I did not want to push a run for this bird, and did not think Arlene would want to do it. Unexpectedly she was enthusiastic and the wheels started turning.

As time passed and things progressed, we were en route home when we decided to go for it. Part of my rationalization was spending the night [ because 400+ miles each way was a stretch even for me ] ~and~ the birds we could get in the Adirondacks on the way back. We had missed Evening Grosbeak on the Ross’s Gull twitch, and it stung being so close to where they were and blowing it.

We contacted Earic again, and relayed our plans to leave in a few hours. Thing was he was still in PA! This was a deal breaker for us, and it greatly disappointed him.  We carried on, secured a room, and did logistical mapping etc,. Importantly we prepped and psyched ourselves for an epic journey.

Hours later on the thruway several counties away from home, the phone rang. It was Earic again. His question: if he got a ride up there could he get a ride back with us. Seems he had talked Shrimpke into going, but she had decided to extend her trip into Canada for other Owls that were around. A ride back? This was fine by us.

We had an uneventful expeditious trip up the thruway to the exit for Lake Placid, and then had to deal with the smaller roads, speed restrictions through towns, and murderous lake monsters trying to hitch a ride.

A stop in Saranac for fuel and leg stretching was amusing for observing the winter festival’s ice castle and ice moose. The conversation with the clerk while she was making me an root beer float ( hey, it has the word ‘beer’ in it, and its Stewarts ) was a modicum of disheartening though, when she said she used to live in Massena and how far and how long we still had to go...

But we pressed on in the teen degree temps and eventually reached our lodging. Ahhh. Finally! Thing was, the clerk on duty seemed to be more fatigued than I was if that was possible. Took way to long to simply acknowledge my presence. He inquired nothing of me, simply came out of his office in response to my ringing the bell. He went straight to the computer, never looked my way, and after a lot of clicking around, eventually reached over to a sheet of paper on the counter which was my reservation. He placed it on the counter and asked for my ID. After inspecting it he handed me the keys, pointed to where I would find our room, and said good night. All without making any eye contact. Odd and somewhat creepy.

Arlene bless her heart and several other internal organs ( but not her spleen. Definitely NOT her spleen ) saw fit to bring some beer. In our rush to get to the room we left some things in the car, but when I found out that was one of the items I had to rescue them! 10 degrees will make them explode, and while you shouldn’t cry over spilled milk, beer? No way!

She brought some delicious Cappuchino Stouts that Mike Zino’s Petrel hates for some reason. It was the perfect way to unwind from the long ride. Thanks Leanie :)

The next day we awoke in no particular rush much to her delight. We took our time getting ready for the day’s adventure, and ate breakfast at our leisure. An atypical start to a birding day!

By 8:30 we headed off to the frustratingly named Robert Moses State Park. Why you ask? Because there is a Robert Moses State Park here on Long Island. Really? They couldn’t come up with another name or a differentiating modification? How about “Bobby Mo State Park?”

We appeared to be among the first there, and we drove the roads slowly hoping to find the majestic creatures. We had flocks of Robins, but not a whole lot of bird activity. Eventually more and more cars arrived, and they were all birders except for the a state trooper.

Checking in with Earic, I learned that they were still a short distance away and that Laura Corella had joined him and Shrimpke on the trip. They left at midnight Saturday, instead of earlier as we had done, hoping to arrive by around the time we would get to the park. Laura texted me asking if she could get a ride back. I said yes of course, and asked how then would Earic get back?

They finally arrived, and we crossed paths. We as well as others were cruising the area hoping to find at least one of the two birds. Eventually we saw some folks stopped by the side of the road. We inquired of them, and were told this was the area they were located the day before. We decided to give waiting here a try too.

After a while, another person stopped along the road, but he got out and was carrying a camera and started pointing it at something. I started the engine and drove up. There on top of a broken tree was a superbly gorgeous Owl. There was much rejoicing! A splendid only second ever sighting for me, and a lifer for Leanie!
 
Great Gray Owl
I called the others because they were not with the growing crowd. Those chucleheads went off to find a bathroom! While birding?? What are they nuts??? They eventually deigned to join us, and we all enjoyed this evocative creature. We transferred Earic & Laura’s stuff to my car, and after we had our fill of this bird we made tracks.

There were two reasons for our hasty departure. One, was it was a long ride home any way you slice it. Two, lucky us - they were predicting a major snow storm, that they named Orson. Yay. We hit the road for Tupper Lake as the first flakes fell.

The roads progressively worsened, but we made it to Tupper Lake in okay time. Passing the factory with the large smoke stack, we didn’t even have to slow down to see the reliable Northern shrike that was perched on his favorite tree. And we didn’t stop because we were on our way to try for the blasted Evening Grosbeaks we missed the last time around.

We went to the incongruous house: the one with the bird feeders and confederate flag ( Yay! We lost!? ) and pulled over to observe the desolate feeders in the falling snow.  It was some time before a few birds flew in; Leanie was the one to see the Goldfinches that alighted upon the far feeder.

Studying them I was elated to spot a Pine Siskin with them and blurted out SISKIN! They have been scarce so far this season, so it was a gratifying year bird get. But sitting there for a while longer we were still without our target.

I for one had to use a restroom ( and yes, its okay if I need to ) so we all decided to take a break from the stake-out and utilize the nearby McDonalds. We then headed back to the feeders and as I drove up I saw a bird and YES! It was a lone Evening Grosbeak!! Hey one Siskin and one Grosbeak, I’ll take it!

Satisfied, we continued on our way, not having room to dawdle. Our next stop was not too far away at the feeders on Sabbatis Circle road where the Gray Jays were more than accommodating. There were lots of Chickadees too, though nary a Boreal Chickadee. Other birds were Blue Jay, Hairy Woodpecker, and Redhatch.

The snow relentlessly falling, we delayed the inevitable no longer and hit the road home in earnest. It was slow going all through the rest of the ‘dacks, with not much improvement once on the thruway. As I predicted, once we were below Albany the roads were clear, but then another road hazard was present.

The road is only two lanes, and some folks like to travel in the left lane. Too many of the bastards don’t want to relinquish it and allow you to pass! Flash your headlights? They’ll just ignore you, and most of them had NJ license plates. Just another "nice" thing to say and think about Joisey.

Despite the road constipation, we made it home in good time and thankfully not too late. I hit the pillow like a sack of potatoes. Nice! And to think, what are the odds of two recent trips to Montauk on a Saturday were followed by an epic journey upstate?  This brings my NYS year list to 157 and my NYS life list to  to 415 :)
Not every birding trip is an epic journey, but this one sure was!

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Tour of the Black Dirt Region with the QCBeasties

After discovering this productive region of New York some years back, the Black Dirt Region has become a regular trip for me to lead. A group of us met in Goshen consisting of Rich Kelly, Pat Aitken, John Gaglione, Arlene Rawls, Phil Uruburu, Ian Resnick, Donna Schulman, Bob Hayes, and Liz Patrick. We also met up with Steve Walter, but he was not on the trip proper; just doing his own photography thing.

We began by diverting to a local hot-spot to follow up on a report of a Barred Owl. We had a lovely walk in the cold yet windless morning air and enjoyed the sunrise if not an owl. Typical dickie birds were about and the area was capped off with a Ring-necked Pheasant spotted on a berm along side the road.

After hitting the beginning of the tour, we began to see the sought after specialties. We had numerous Canada Geese in the Walkill River, but searching within them did not reveal any goodies. That’s because they flew over our head in a nice V formation; they being 12 or so Snow Geese.

Of course there were ample Red-tailed Hawks, and as expected, Harriers, but upon reaching ‘the’ area, we had one then another Rough-legged Hawks. Better still, we spotted one, then three, and finally four total day flying Short-eared Owls. The birds were very cooperative and we all got great looks and photos.
 
Short-eared Owl      Photo: Steve Walter


Short-eared Owl      Photo: Steve Walter

That is to say, ~without~ going off the dirt road and into the farm fields. I have come to learn that after we departed, something approaching a small hoard of birders and / or photographers were in the same location enjoying the owl spectacle. I am not privy to whether access to the farm fields at this time of the year is permitted, ignored, or has not yet been realized by the owners, but not having first hand knowledge of what can and cannot be done with respect to this patently private property, I chose to lead my group within the bounds of what I knew to be absolutely permitted: restricting ourselves to the public road.
 
Rough-legged Hawk

There was much chatter about the trespassers on fazebuk, where some distressing opinions were voiced. One offered that in the absence of “no trespassing” signs, it was okay. No. Its not.

Unless you obtained permission, or were informed by a reliable source that entry was permitted, stay the heck out. Just because you saw others doing it, doesn’t mean they had permission, and if not for you, then for other birders and photographers who subsequently visit the area.

Suppose you saw a shop with a broken window and people running in and running out with TV’s. Would you then similarly presume that ‘they were doing it’ so it was okay? 

 
American Kestral
For the umpteenth time: Do Not Trespass. It is a lot harder to get permission ~after~ you have aggravated someone than before.  Trespassing shows a lack of respect, is unlawful (duh), and paints birders and photographers in a bad light. Again, it will ruin it for subsequent visitors.

If that doesn’t dissuade folks then soon we will have animosity towards all of us, be us guilty or not, and perhaps a switch to how they treat trespassers out west: shoot first.
 
Northern Harrier      Photo: Steve Walter
...Back to the trip. We continued to mission island where we scanned the nervous Horned Lark flocks, but could not find any Longspurs with them. Walkill NWR had more waterfowl in the open water and Harriers, but nothing unexpected. We did an abbreviated walk looking for sparrows, but the after lunch sluggishness, and the wind having picked up discouraged a more lengthy exploration.

At this point we normally would depart for Shawangunk, but as we had the owls so well,   I suggested a different option. I had heard reports of Evening Grosbeaks in Ulster county, so the group agreed to try our luck.

We checked numerous locations and despite our best efforts, we never did locate any. Most of us then did some additional exploring of the winding Ulster roads and enjoyed that, if not seeing some birds. The day was capped off with a tasty dinner at Mr Sushi.