Friday, October 26, 2012

If its Thursday, I Must be Birding #5

Well, it would be great if it were as easy as: "Its Thursday. Lets bird!" But life and responsibilities have a way of getting in the way of things we would rather do. 

So I had planned to take care of the fallen leaves on Tuesday morning, but my mower had other plans. It died. Couldn't restart it, and coupled with the cracked housing decided it was time for a new one. 

Did a bit of research, picked a candidate, and on the way home Wednesday stopped at the store to pick it up. They had already put the mowers away, and put out the snow blowers. I said to the clerk: "You're kidding me! there's no snow, and there is plenty of leaves on the ground still." We checked the shelves where they had been stashed, but the model I wanted was nowhere to be found. 

He checked the store computer, which said it was not in stock, so I checked their website that said it was. At that point we were joined by a manager, who took over. She was very pleasant and apologetic, and offered to order the non in-stock item, and give me a 10% discount to boot. I thanked her, and said that I already had a 10% coupon I was planning on using for the purchase - so she made it 20% and that I could keep the coupon for something else. Nice!

But the leaves don't pick themselves up... So the next day I got up early to use the leaf blower that takes a lot longer, and the leaves are left on the ground. Eventually, I herded the huge mound into the backyard by my compost pile, and set upon my other overdue tasks.

The phone rings, its Bob Haze gloating about his standing in front of a Barnacle Goose in Prospect Park. Groan. I thank him, but with miles to go, cannot join him for a desired bird.  

Back to work, I remove the gunked up fertilizer in my drop-spreader, and finally apply my feed, put down seed, and set up a sprinkler. Phew. Time for lunch. The phone rings again. this time it is Earic Miller setting out for Kissena Park with Bobby Veltree. Groan. I still have a task or two to complete, and it will take some time to get from home to Queens. 

Finally done, I decide to stop in at Alley Pond Park for the Vesper Sparrow reported by Steve Walnut. It was on the way, and probably as likely a find as the one reported by Dr. Pinky in Kissena. Touching base with Earic, it had not been located, so I firmed my plan.

Of course I was overly optimistic, hoping to be able to score the VESP and then head off to Brooklyn. {traffic, what traffic??} Arriving at the intersection Steve described, I exited my car to walk in the park as I observed a jogger running up the road in my direction.

He proceeded to jog past me, up the same path I was headed to, and then went out into 'the field' stopping pretty much where Steve said he had had the bird, and commenced doing jumping jacks! 

Bluebird on post to right
Man doing jumping jacks on a Vesper Sparrow to left

{expletives removed to protect your sensibilities} What are the chances? Really! So I began to walk about, looking for this and any other birds about. On the back-stop, Bluebirds alighted and one by one found pretty much the same mix of birds as Steve had the day before. 

Coming upon a large Junco flock, I scanned them for anything non Junco, and only found some Chipping Sparrows. In the hedge rows were numerous White-throated Sparrows, with one Swamp Sparrow mixed in.

Having circles the field a few times, I was vesperless. And then I noticed Steve Walnut had shown up again to see if he could himself relocate the bird. He was gratified to see that the post was of value; not sure if folks wanted to know about Vesper sightings. 

We walked the fields again, hoping that we would kick it up. At one point, we had a good candidate that had been sulking in the short grass. we followed it to the large oak it had sought refuge in, and locating a Savannah Sparrow, Steve commented that trees were not the likely place to find this, or Vespers for that matter.

We found a Swainson's Thrush, and not much else so we returned to the original area of the sighting, the jumping-jacks dude having called it a day. Looking up in the tree, Steve calls out: "there it is!"  and I said: " I thought you said Vespers don't like trees" Go figure.

Good looks at the bird were obtained, and then it resumed feeding in the spot in the field where Steve had found it the day before, now that it was unoccupied.

Steve wasn't sure if people would be interested in this species being reported. For my part I can say that they occur every year but in such low numbers that they are more desired; at least by me.

Birds that you have to work harder for are more desirable, no? Its not like you see a flock of 50 or so like with White-throats or Juncos.

I like Vespers so much that I finally tracked one down this past May where they are known to breed on long island.  Having been there numerous times in the past but dipping, a report had me try again, since it gave landmarks. Yes, same place I had always tried.

Parked the car, and walked up the road, then down the road. Back and forth a few times, but if they were there, they sure were hiding well. The other birds were obvious and about, but Vespers?  Finally I headed back to the car. And wouldn't you know it, there, on the fence, adjacent to the car, was a Vesper. Doh!


1. A bell that summons worshipers to evening prayer.
2. The evening star, especially Venus.
3. Archaic Evening.
4. a most desired sparrow

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How Much Wood Would a Wood Sandpiper Pipe...

It was a busy day for me on Saturday the 13th. After work in the morning I had several errands to run. After a quick stop to fill up the tank it was food shopping and the all important beer run.  After putting away all the items, I had only a few minutes left to run to the store where sunflower seeds were on sale before they closed. Arriving as they were putting away display items, I caught the manager as he wheeled the bags back to the store room. When I asked if I could get some, he looked at the pile on the cart and asked: “how many do you want, six?” “Yes...”, I said. “...If that’s okay with you”. His eyes widened a bit. “We have more if you need” he offered, but took only the six for now.

At home, I went about prepping the back yard for a long overdue set up of my feeders. First step, mow the grass. Un-mowed grass requires much less water, but it makes it that much harder to see my ‘dinner guests’. I put out sunflower and mixed seed and suet, and then began to prepare dinner for myself. Fortunately I didn’t need to sit on a perch to eat!

Tasks completed, food prepared, I turned on the TV,  grasped my fork, and started my email app to catch up. It’s now 7pm, and I can say ahhh.... the comfort of my dining room chair. Scanning the email headers, my eye caught a header from one of the NJ lists with the header mentioning an extralimital bird. My interest piqued, I clicked it presuming that the bird was going to be in Pennsylvania. To my surprise it was in Rhode Island - and what a bird! It was the report of a Wood Sandpiper - a potential lifer!!

For the uninitiated, this is an Eurasian species with only 5 previous lower 48 sightings.

Very Cooperative Wood Sandpiper In Jamestown RI 10-14-12
The report pointed to the RI lists, where there was some postings but precious few. They did offer a few pictures a map and a video! And as I am reading this eyes growing wider, the phone rings. Jean was calling to see if I had seen the post, literally just after I had opened it. She had already discussed it with Earic Miller but seemed to think he might have trouble getting away for the day. I got a call from Gary Strauss who was also thinking of chasing, and we decided to coordinate to best car pool. Calling Jeff Critter next, I was surprised that he was on the fence about chasing this bird. So I called Avian Resnick and surprise surprise, all he wanted to know was what time were we leaving.

It shaped up that it would probably be the three of us going, though another call from Jean suggested Earic might try harder to get away. And then he called to let me know that he, Jeff, and Gary were going to go, but curiously, thought leaving early like I planned was ~too~ early. Well I was stumped by that one, as they are often out birding very early and I am the one preferring a later start. But be that as it may, we couldn’t all fit in one car anyway.

My next task was to contact a few people who had contacted me about the trip I was leading to Hempstead Lake STPK, for QCBC. One expressed the opinion that if we had a trip, that it should be adhered to, because some people just show up anyway. I pointed out that we have announced at every meeting that those who are participating will be out of the loop if plans change so contact leaders, and one of the reasons plans change besides weather is if something really good shows up. We are a birding club after all. In most cases we may change the location from one venue to another, have an earlier or later starting time, move the meeting location, or substitute leaders. In this case it was patently obvious that most if not all the participants would be headed to RI rather than to this trip. This also meant no one to substitute for me as leader. Oh well, thats the way the birding gods crumble cookies.

All that was left now was to contact Bob Hayes. All his calls went to voicemail, and even a call to his home # was routed to his cell, that went to voicemail. I also knew that he rarely if ever checks his email, so the email I sent out to let anyone else who was secretly planning on showing up, would not be a reliable way to contact him. Several calls, no answer. I sure hoped he would check his phone, presuming he had not misplaced it again.

Got a few final confirmatory calls, it was going to be Jean, Avian, and I. So I decided that perhaps we could move departure time up to 5:30 and neither Jean nor Avian complained - go figure.

Plans set, I consulted field guides, maps, and left everything needed by the front door. I have always found that thinking is more difficult in the morning, so rather than do so and risk forgetting something, I typically do so the night before while I am more awake.

Before it got too late, I got into bed, only to be startled by the phone; Bob had seen I had called. He was at a wedding reception, he could not hear the phone ring, but he was interested in joining us... until he heard when we were leaving. His plan to be at the reception until at least 1:30 meant meeting us was for all intents and purposes out of the question. But at least he didn’t find out about the change of plans upon his arrival at Hempstead lake.

The three of us met as planned the next morning and got off to a good start. Along the way it was raining, and I felt this did not bode well. We arrived on location and despite the monumental rarity, I was perplexed that there were not throngs of folks around. What is worse, no group was intently looking in one direction...

Parking, we inquired of those there if there was any word on the bird. Nope. But one fellow looked at my car and exclaimed QCBC!? He and his mom had been members years ago when they lived in Queens. It was nice catching up.

The day before the bird had been seen in a wet spot adjacent to the busy road, and also later in the day deeper in the marsh. Seeing that no one had the bird by the road, we took a shot out in the marsh. Bad idea. It was windier out there, and the trails were thick with briar. After a short spell, we headed back. The fierce wind was keeping most birds down, though we saw a few struggling Goldfinch, Bluejays, and Herons. 

AvIan walking past the shallow pools where the bird had been first found
I conversed with a few folks; many of whom lived in the area and were only stopping by for a short time - other responsibilities dictating their presence elsewhere. I also caught up with some folks from Massachusetts, and members of the Brookline Bird Club. While we were conversing one of the fellows phone rang, and he turned to look at the people standing at the “first” location, one of whom was wildly waving his arms. YES!

I ran over as fast as I could and there was the bobbing beastie! Like a Solitary Sandpiper it was shaking its money-maker. But obvious was the cappedness, lack of obvious eye-ring, and the yellow legs. No bout a doubt it, here was the bird we sought!

With great looks at close range ca 25', and even better scope views, I ran back to the car to get my camera, and ran back hoping to get a few shots. Though walking relatively quickly, the bird was for the most part cooperative. Jean called the others still on their way  to let them know that the bird showed up. 

Elated with my success in scoring a lifer after a long sabbatical, now I suffer from tringa disco phobia: the fear that someone saw me do the 'happy dance' when I got the life bird. 

 And then a short time later the bird up and flew away, being carried east by the gusting wind. I set off to find the Tri-colored Heron that was in the same marsh; a needed year bird for me. No luck. 

On the way back, we met up with the others. They were noticeably in less than our jubilant spirits, perhaps pondering the “YSHBH constant.” I inquired of Seth Ausubel, why they thought departing later was better than earlier [ as is most often the case ] and he said that he had been given ‘sage advice...’ I offered that thyme would have been a much better spice to use.

As we were departing Earic announced and pointed out the Tri-colored Heron, and I was able to see it before it disappeared into the tall marsh grass. We then made a hasty retreat. Partially disappointed that we did not have more time to explore and bird, I had an appointment at APEC to present to their board a short presentation on QCBC.

On the way back, Avian checked his email, and saw that Donna Queensgirl Schulman had actually emailed him last night about chasing this bird, but he had not checked it that night or before departure. Oh well, there would have been room for one more...

All things considered, we made good time, heading back towards NY by 11am. Arriving at 2:30 we heard the end of the APEC Board presentation, and then they introduced me. I go first? I asked. No, you go last, every one else made their presentations earlier! Well, better late than never, and my ad lib was well received. We then saw a presentation by a rehaber with Owls, Hawks, Turtles and Possums, had a refreshment, and beat a hasty retreat home. A long day for sure!

The first thing I wanted to do was check out my photos, and retrieved my email too. Zoinks! Donna had sent both Avian and I that same email, and neither he nor I had checked it before turning in for the night. Oh well, the moral of the story is the next time a good bird shows up call, email and text people!

From the RI RBA:    A WOOD SANDPIPER was found at Marsh Meadows in Jamestown on the 13th, seen all day, and relocated on the 14th, in the same area. This is a MEGA rarity, as  it is just the 5th record for the lower 48 states. It was found on the east side  of the marsh, visible from North Road. It moved around a bit, going behind  Zeke's bait shop on the west side of the road. (thanks to Carlos Pedro for this  fantastic find)

more of my pix here