Friday, April 27, 2012

They Say That Waking Up Is Hard To Do

One of the definitions of ‘irony poisoning’ is not being a morning person and having a lot of interests or demands to require one to get up early. Today being a work day I have my routine that allows me to get to the office comfortably. This doesn’t take into account the birding events that require otherwise.

I got up earlier and headed out to the Robert Moses Causeway Wednesday so I could bird the barrier beach on the way to work; a slight detour. I was hoping to repeat my experience a goodly number of years back when I came upon ‘tame’ Scarlenger and Bluesbeaks feeding on the grassy strips along the highway. 

It wasn’t quite like that today, but I had heard reports from the past two days and it seemed irresponsible of me not to witness this event. In fact it was predicted ...that we would see a fallout of a trans-Gulf slingshot event, in the wake of last weekend's storm. Holy crap!

Truth be told I could care less about the weather elsewhere that the media likes to report, no doubt to fill up the time commensurate with the compensation of the weather reporters salary. What a job: you can be wrong most of the time and they still don’t fire you!

Now here is something I can use: a birding forecast! Cornell is already using radar to track migration, why not someone to forecast when a weather system is going to be good for birding?!
Serendipity can only go so far...

And the conditions today were sublimely beautiful. The Great South bay was uncharacteristically and totally flat, presenting a remarkable mirror surface echoing the sky, clouds and shore. What a time to be absent a panoramic lens.

I made my way west on Ocean parkway, hoping to happen upon something. I stopped in the Babylon Fishing center, and got confiding looks at a pair of Killdeer, a Boatle, and not much else. I continued on to Gilgo, where I happened upon Corey Finger who reported nothing present per yesterdays report, and his having succumbed to the awful affliction: ‘sick daze’. I need a union job!

We saw a Merlin wiz by, so that may explain the passerine vacancy. But he did mention having a Rosebeak earlier at Jones Beach west end, and so pressed for time I continued west. As promised there it was feeding on the grass, only to be spooked by another car that whizzed by at an inopportune time, like when I am pointing my camera lens at the bird.

Strolling over to the trees that parallel the fence in front of the Coast Guard station, I saw movement on the fence that resolved into several Buntigos! Yippee! And they obligingly posed for photos: what well mannered birds. As I approached closer to the trees, I heard a calling Bling Warbler. This bird was not as well mannered, but was so for another who had it earlier and had gotten a shot or two. I called Corey to alert him to the Buntigos, made another loop finding a Savannow, and then packed it in to head to work.

...and wouldn’t you know that I arrived to find several folks who felt the need to arrive early to see me? Irony poisoning....

Now never one to give up easily, I decided to postpone important chores scheduled for Thursday, as it is the day to bird as defined in the book of genesis.

I made a stop at Gilgo again, this time locating the Bluesbeak faithful to its reported location  just east of and behind the restrooms, with the flock of Buntigos on the fence west of there. Nice! Also heard calling Clapper Rail way out across the water, but decided to head into Queens and try for the White-faced Ibis and meet Bob Hayes for some birding.

I was greeted at the parking lot by a singing Brown Thrasher, and enjoyed watching it perform until Bob arrived. Walking through the reserve I was pleased to hear and see this otherwise reclusive bird all over the place.

Walking down the west pond trail, got my FOS Yellow Warbler, and heard another Clapper Rail. Bob got all excited, and our searching was rewarded with a sighting as well as a hearing, and he celebrated getting a lifer.  Ah to get lifers again...

The pond continues to be full of Ruddy Duck, with a few other quackers mixed in as well. And Ibis were moving about all over, but we never did find the one odd ball Ibis.

The place was otherwise kinda quiet, but the good news is we crossed paths with a few employees who were cordoning off the blind by the east pond in preparation for repairs. Yay!

So the writing is on the wall, its that time of the year that getting up early is de rigueur. Warblers are worth it...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sea, No Evil

Pelagics are more popular than I thought, and I have been enjoying running a few over the past several months. A nice crew of folks came out on the boat yesterday, and despite what sounded initially like a less than favorable forecast, it was pretty darn nice!

One original participant had to bail at the last minute, apparently preferring to chuck dirty diapers as opposed to chucking stale bread at Gulls. A replacement was found and being new to the pelagic scene she was apprehensive about mal de mer. For those in a similar space, what I told her is worth repeating. First- don’t psyche yourself out. Focusing on getting sick is one sure way to actually end up sick, or at best expend a lot of mental energy on a place you would rather not be. Second- experience is the only sure way to know how your unique body will react to being tossed by wind waves and random boat motions. So rather than trying to guess, your best bet is to take a few trips and learn first hand how susceptible you are. Having said this, also understand that sea conditions are never the same, the combination of motions rather than the intensity can often be what ‘gets you’ and if in doubt, take the OTC meds.

Dramamine a brand of dimenhydrinate works as does the ‘less drowsy’ Bonine, a brand of meclazine. Having tried both, I can tell you they both work, and despite the claims both make me drowsy. In practice, if one can see or have access to very current info, then the amount used can be moderated. ie, if it does not look too bad, take a half pill. On more vigorous seas, I’ll take a whole pill. Dramamine is also available as a generic at numerous pharmacies for a fraction of the cost of the name brand, and a more costlier option available by prescription is the Transderm patch brand of scopolamine. For some people this is the only medication that works, but due to slow absorption should be placed on the skin at least the night before. It’s side effects are dry mouth and or dry eyes. It also has the benefit of staying on even when wet, so if taking an extended boat trip, ie several days, it will not be affected by showering, and it will medicate you for several days.

Important to note is that the medications must be in your system ~prior~ to departure so that they have time to take effect. Waiting until you are starting to turn green is usually too late, and almost always those who take a pill at the latter time will be pushed over the edge by the medication rather than helped by it. Oh well. Yes it can make you drowsy, and speaking from experience of  being laughed at for falling asleep particularly easily, all I can say is sleepy is FAR better than begging someone to mercy kill you. In short, if you have any doubt or apprehension, just take the pill. Sleep doesn’t have to washed out of your clothes...

Finally, avoid heavy greasy foods prior to departure or on the boat. Pepperoni or salami are definitely verboten. To calm a queasy stomach I find snacking on starchy items to be an effective way to absorb stomach fluids, and candied ginger has a calming effect on the stomach too. So stock up on doughnuts or pretzels and you should be good to go. Mary by the way did not fall prey to any ill effects of the sea.

We got a nice start at 7 am and headed out to find calmer conditions than forecast. Yay! On the way we had Boat-tailed Grackle. Black Skimmer. BC Night Heron, Laughing Gull, Oystercatcher and lingering Purple Sandpiper, the latter of which was a lifer for Captain Bob.
Gotta Love That  Bright Red Bill on an Oystercatcher
Two of Four Purple Sandpipers
Out in the ocean, we were greeted by loads of Northern Gannets. Benjamin Van Doren attempted to keep count but after a while it must have become too overwhelming. Inshore or out 20+ miles, the Gannets were everywhere. I cannot think of a time in the past where there have been so many, and distributed so far and wide about us. Speaking of Benjamin, he was charged with the responsibility of finding me a good sighting, and he did so in the form of Harbor Porpoises that we all got to enjoy.

DC Cormorants were numerous, but noticeably absent were the Great Cormorants, having attained breeding plumage weeks ago, and departed for their breeding locations. Loon numbers were down, but still in good numbers were the Common and Red-throated, but most impressive was the Common Loons in their distinguished breeding plumage.

Also noticeably way down in numbers from the last trip was Scoters, Oldsquaw, and Red-breasted Mergansers. All were confined to a few sightings, not like the 10s of thousands not too long ago.

Out at sea we saw numbers of migrating birds. Great Blue Herons were spotted on several occasions in lines of 5 or 6, and one such group appeared to ‘kettle’, or perhaps they were arguing about who should be the leader.

Also in evidence were migrating passerines, most notably swallows. We counted Barn, Tree, and Rough-winged when we were able to pick them out against the glare and clouds. On one occasion we spotted a lone swallow being mercilessly pursued by Great Black-backed Gulls. Captain Bob tried to close distance with the swallow and the hoard of 10-15 GBBs but the gulls and especially the swallow were flying at a pretty good clip, and the 18 knots of speed we tried was no match for them. I am happy to report that the swallows typical flight style was able to keep it away from the gulls, and eventually it broke away from the crowd and to a less harried flight. I have added it to my “I’ve never seen that before” list

Still few in numbers, but nice to see anyway were some Bonaparte Gulls. We had 3, one of which retained it’s non-breeding plumage while the other two had attained their nice black head not witnessed about here as often as the former.

Other not so pelagic birds seen were Kestrels, Merlin and Coopers Hawk and by Sandy Hook on the way back in we added TV and Black Vulture, and Sanderling on one of the Lighthouses in NY Harbor. No seals though around Swinburn Island though...

Finished the day with a quick trip to Jamaica Bay, where I got FOS Black-and-white Warbler, Glossy Ibis, Barn Own, Fosters Tern, and Marsh Wren.

My FOS B&W Warbler

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Birding Does NOT Take a Holiday

Went to visit my brother and family up in Boston this past weekend for the holidays. Of course, I planned to make a pit-stop along the way at Tibbetts Brook Park in Westchester. A Greater White-fronted Goose relocated there after it’s long stay at Van Cortland Park, and was relocated there by it’s overseer Andrew Baksh

On site of the Yellow-throated Warbler the past week, I had asked him about this bird and he replied: “you ~still~ haven’t seen it?!” Well late is better than never, so thanks Andrew for keeping tabs on it. The park was easy enough to find, and as promised the bird was where Andrew had stapled it. Satisfied with looks and photos, Jean and I hoped back in the car for the rest of the ride up to Boston. She texted... - sheesh I hate that term, she sent a text message to Andrew simply: “tick”, but sadly he misunderstood, inquiring “deer or dog?”

The rest of the day was occupied with car travel, food and festivities. The next day’s plan was to get an early start and get some local birding in. Unfortunately the weather was less than cooperative and the ceremonial wine did me in; massive headache which was only remedied by sleeping in.

Later in the day, we researched Great Meadows NWR in Concord Mass. Jean had been there years ago and nostalgia and opportunity was as good a justification as any other. I loaded the coordinates into Loretta, but she was misbehaving. Eventually she came around, and we got to our destination.

Or so we thought. Turns out this refuge has a number of units, so we did not actually get to the one Jean had visited before. No matter, there were good birds here too, despite the brisk temperatures. Borrowing a windbreaker and hat, we set off in search of what we could find.

Ring-necked Ducks were abundant in the water, and Red-winged Blackbirds were unconcerned by our close passing as they sat upon cattail stalks singing for companionship.

Unique to this place was an abundance of muskrats. I find them to be interesting creatures, and have come across one or two at Jamaica Bay and other locations, but never in the numbers seen here. They had plenty of lodges and the birds made good use of them for perches and nesting sites too.

From the ‘I’ve seen this bird a thousand times, but never seen it do that’ department, we watched as a young Red-tailed Hawk, oblivious to our presence, make several forays out to harass a female Mallard who was quacking loudly. We could not see young if there were any, and though the hawk made several attempts it never ‘took’ the duck. 

On our way back, we spied a fellow obviously trying to get photos of something, and he was in the presence of a Sora. Nice! What a confiding bird, it was probably no more than 5 feet from us!
We inquired of the reported Virginia Rails and the reported Sandhill Crane, but dipped on those. No matter, this was a nice bird! 

As we made our way back to the car in the setting sun, I was amazed at how many folks were showing up late in the day, and also noticing how popular Canon cameras are, particularly with the zoom lens I just got.

I have been using a Minolta with a mirror lens for some time. The 6 mega-pixels were a joke; cell phones have more resolution than that. Add to that the soft focus inherent with a mirror lens and the results are often far less than hoped.

So I bit the bullet and upgraded my equipment. Yay! In anticipation of my location, I had it shipped to my brother’s house and this was my first trial and I am very pleased. Of course the ubiquity of Canon SLRs with this lens at this location made for patent auspiciousness.

As Jean says, I now have a big boy toy! And it has an extensive instructional manual...

Monday, April 9, 2012

A New Bird For My Queens County List!

Thursday is the day I have come to associate with good birding fortune. This past Thursday  was set aside to perform several chores and tasks, a number of which are long overdue... And then an email alerted me to the discovery of a very good bird, a Yellow Throated Warbler! What’s a power-birder to do?

After  making some calls and emails, I set off hoping to meet up with others who had the bird located, or at least help me find the correct area. I arrived in Alley Pond park to find the discoverer Bobby Kurtz with Andrew Baksh, but they were not deliberate in their birding manner, so I perused the flock of birds that I encountered on the way.

Many Pine Warblers were around, as were noisy Goldfinches. A Hermit Thrush made an appearance, as did a lingering Junco, but no YTWA as far as I could find. Meeting up with the other two, we walked about the Acadian Kettle Hole area, to no avail.

We were joined by others and we birded the park. At Decodon pond we found some Rusty Blackbirds, a Swamp Sparrow and a Louisiana Waterthrush. And HOOO should show up?

We then made our way back to the ‘Acadian Kettle Hole’ area, and made a pass or two
in another as of yet unsuccessful attempts to relocate our target. As it got towards noon, our band of seekers broke up for lunch and other locations; some of us planning on returning later in the day.

I set off to get lunch, and stopped at the bayside marina to get a look at a heretofore unheard of occurrence: Northern Gannets were plunge diving on the south eastern end of Littleneck Bay! Gannets are not too common an occurrence in the Long Island Sound, but in a shallow bay? Wow!  I wonder what they were feeding upon. 

At my lunch stop, Eric Miller called and informed me that he was able to get out to Alley  sooner than anticipated, so I once again put off some things I should have been doing to return to Alley. Birding is such a demanding mistress.

Meeting at the Kettle Hole area, there was also a small crowd of fellow birders with Eric and we all perused as best we could, continuing to hope to find this elusive beauty. But once again time slipped by and a good number of the party’s members had to head off.

Ed, Trudy and Joan took off pone way while Bobby & Colleen headed down a path to return to their car alone. Eric, Steve and I remained, and I suggested that we try along the bicycle path as we had been everywhere else. Eric thought some other areas might be good as well and we were headed in that direction when Eric’s phone rang: Colleen had found the bird!

We all headed down the path to meet up with them, and there as promised was the bird! Way to go Colleen!! Steve and I started calling people, and then watched the bird put on a show.

This beauty was very amenable giving nice long looks as it foraged in the trees along the edge of Cloverdale Blvd. And in atypical warbler behavior, it did not flit about constantly instead posing quite nicely. Usually warblers make taking their photo a study in frustration.

The best part was that the warbler stayed pretty faithful to a limited location and what must have seemed like an eternity to Trudy and Joan, Andrew, and Corey, the bird stuck around for all to see that day.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Got To Run, No Time To Chat?

I enjoy chasing birds. No secret there; nature's diversity gives me pleasure when I am able to experience it. But chasing per se is not all that I do. I enjoy getting out and birding in any number of fine locations and seeing what serendipity has to offer.

This past weekend, I chose to bird at Hempstead Lake State Park with Jean Loscalzo and Ian Resnick. Driven by the report of a Yellow-breasted Chat the decision was that this was as good a place as any, made better by a bird that can be difficult to find in may years. Early warblers were also sure to be around, and I was also interested in what else I could turn up.

When we made our way over to the location of the sightings, another birder, Joe T{?} showed us the location of previous sightings. We started to do a ‘vigil’ but walking about seemed like a better idea so we instead passed by the ‘area’ several times hoping to be there at the right time. Over by the lake we found a lot more bird activity, picking up several Pine Warblers as was hoped.

Not long after our arrival, more birders arrived with similar intention. Some of the ‘late comers’ were birders I had not seen in some time, and inquired where they had been hiding. It turns out that they had decided to take a birding trip to Costa Rica; something that was not their normal mode. 

How exciting! Costa Rica is on my list of places everyone else has been to; one of these days.... their recounting was of course full of the exotic locations and the beautiful birds, and all those lifers they got. Like most people, they gushed about their trip to Costa Rica.

But they also lamented. This couple did a commercial birding tour, and in the final analysis, I would have to say they were disappointed. A telling remark is when they said: “...we would rather  watch shorebirds than bird the rainforest...” Well that was a bit of a surprise, and I was disappointed for them.

I have done one commercial tour, and one ‘hired guide’ tour, but thanks to the resources of the ABA augmented by information from lists on the internet, most of my birding trips have been planned and executed by myself. Albeit in the states.

Sure it takes a lot more planning, and sure you will miss some birds they may have ‘staked out’. But in the end I have found that beyond the scoring of lifers, planning one’s own trip means that if the birding is good someplace, however one defines that, then one can delay departure and continue with the enjoyment, rather than chasing off somewhere else to get that additional tick.

And here in a nutshell was what I took away from their lament. Too much focus on just getting a tick. Too much running from here to there. Not enough time to enjoy the location and get to know the birds. Thinking back to my commercial tour, which was with the same company, I remember saying to the leader: “ Will we be doing any walking? I’m getting so antsy that if we don’t take a hike someplace my legs might jump off and go for a walk on their own!”

Now don’t get me wrong; It was a great trip and we got a lot of great birds and it was a blast. But I can see where this style of birding can put people off.

So if you are thinking that at this point I am going to rail against ticking, you would be mistaken. Rather, I would say that one must understand the type of tour one is taking, and avoid those that don’t suit you. Perhaps a private guide would be best as he will do what you want him to, not constrained by the expectations or desires of the group!

By the way, conventional tours are the same way. I was told about a tour of Italy by other friends with a tour group that herded people on and off the tour bus; the complaint being that there was no time to experience the sights seen, and while they saw a lot, it was such a blur that it was hard to recall. So I don’t think this is a listing birder vs real birder issue, but an ‘overall experience’ vs ‘most bang for the buck’ issue.

So if you take a tour, be sure to find out what their style is from others who have used their services. Is it first class, or roughing it. A tick-fest, or relaxing enough to feel like a vacation. Is it ~only~ birds, or will other wildlife be entertained? And anywhere in between. Semper aucupium! But Caveat emptor as well.

Oh and by the way, I did manage to spot the Chat. George Form of all people was the one who spotted it first, noting it’s movements and alerting the rest of us. I spied a yellow patch in the briars, and lifting my bins resolved a Chat around the yellow. Though being a Chat it was less than forthcoming for most of the others. That’s birding, it’s like a line from Forrest Gump.