Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Calm After the Storm

Hurricane Sandy: not calmative.

Chasing a rarity and getting added bonuses: a welcome respite.

Ambivalence, fatigue, and more important responsibilities get in the way of forthright planning. An earlier in the evening call from Bob Haze was left open ended as gas shortages and long trips don’t mix that well. But after 10:30 pm Saturday night Jean LeconteSparrow decided that she really wanted to chase the Northern Lapwings [2!] that were in Montauk, so it was set that she would meet me at my house at 7am or so,  such that we could get out there at a reasonable time and then high tail it back into Queens for the Virginia’s Warbler.

I was beat after spending all day and into dark sawing trunks and piling wood from the tree that fell and hit my house in hurricane Sandy. I fared relatively well; the tree hit the roof, damaged windows, and removed the siding from [ where else?] the side of my house. It also destroyed my fence. I’m thankful compared to what befell others.

Being a large old oak, it took quite a bit to cut up, stack up, and clean up. And I’ve still have a ways to go. But after a long day of doing that, birding seemed like a nice change of pace. Hooking up with Earic Miller and Jeff Critter was one of the other options Jean discussed, but by this time it was too late to call all the others and we decided to journey on our own.

We made good time getting to Montauk, and when we got near town Jean touched base with Earic & Jeff to see where they were. They were a short distance ahead of us, having stopped at a bathroom facility for a break, and found it closed but with a consolation prize of pine trees full of White-winged Crossbills!

In the excitement of the birds, Jeff could not decide which shoes to don, so he put on one of each.

After getting nice looks and photos, we continued on to Deep Hollow for the Lapwings. Earic got a call saying they had the birds, and where they were exactly. It was in a field way in the back of Deep Hollow ranch, as viewed from Theodore Roosevelt county park.

We walked the trail on the oddly hilly section of Montauk, doing our best to dodge the omnipresent piles of horse poo. Arriving on location, we were told they were spooked and just left [!] but that they would be back. Then shortly thereafter we got a call they were a short ways away in the south horse pasture, so we trudged all the way back and drove the short distance over. Of course, the birds chose the far end of the field. We got scope views, then closer scope views when we got to the other end, and then the birds took off again. This was repeated all day - they being particularly skittish.

I needed a bathroom break, so we headed to Montauk STPK, where they have stopped collecting the off-season parking fee, probably finally figuring out that they were paying the attendant more than they were taking in. Pleasantly, the old though perfectly serviceable bathroom facility has been replaced with a nice new one, and more important, it was open.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, we scanned the flock of Canada Geese and located a Cackling Goose! Wow, I said to myself, three great birds. Then Seth O'phaga-Ausable announced that he found a “Dusky” Canada Goose in the flock! It was noticeably darker than the other birds, but most prominent was the uniform dark brown on the upper belly where it joins the black of the neck as distinguished from the nominate Canada Geese where this section is noticeably lighter than the sides and belly. Cool!

Shortly, Earic called and said the birds returned to the original location and Jean and I trudged back to get better views. There they were in the field, but a group of horse riders came by and they were up again. I got some shots, mostly bad, and in flight.

On the way back to the car, a call came in that a Brewers Blackbird had been found by wunderkind Michael McBrien at Rita’s horse farm. We headed over there. Assembled at the fence was a group of birders, and the bird was pointed out but it proved to be quite distinct and easy to spot. At first glance my initial impression was female cowbird due to it’s coloration. Behaviorally, this bird walked about with a unique posture; it’s wing tips held dipped down below it’s back and with the tail slightly cocked up. The latter was also somewhat similar to how cowbirds can present, but the bill was wrong, as was it’s walking behavior.

Wow, can it get better than this? We made a brief foray to try to relocate some Evening Grosbeaks that had been seen the day before, but Jean reminded me that time was a wasting and we had to go if we wanted to get the Virginia’s Warbler. Now wouldn’t that make for a heck of a day....

On the way we stopped at the Clam Shack for a quick bite for lunch. Jean had been lamenting not having had a lobster roll in some time so we indulged. Yummy! As was the Toasted Lager that accompanied this savory repast - a well deserved celebratory beer. We then high-tailed it back to Queens.

Reports indicated that the bird had been seen throughout the day, but we struck out. And no, with the morning we had, I was not disappointed. We also dipped on the Saw-Whet owl seen the day before, but that’s the way the karma crumbles.

We headed back out to the island - on the way discussing options. I posited that Tuesday am would be best for me, after an appointment for an estimate on the home repair, while Jean insisted that we leave early Monday to get the bird.

I am glad to have observed Jean's suggestion. Arriving about 8:30am, we found a small group of birders on the path parallel to 73rd Avenue. They reported that the bird had been seen earlier, and was making its way west, though as skulkers are want to do, not easy to follow or keep track of. 

About 15 minutes later or so, a small flock came about and Michael McBrien came through again; I had previously told Jean we should stick close to him, as he will probably be the one to spot the bird. He did not disappoint. I inquired of Micheal’s dad  and chauffeur: “ what do you feed that kid? And can you feed me some?”

A few poor looks and finally a brief but adequate look at this desired bird, both Jean and I were sated. I got a quick post off to the ‘NY list’ and a resultant inquiry from Shane Blodgett who was on his way. Finally after a bit of lingering I tore myself away and headed off to the office.

     Two state birds: Brewers Blackbird, Virginia's Warbler.

     Three year birds: Northern Lapwing, White-winged Crossbill, Cackling Goose.

     One life subspecies: Dusky Canada Goose  Branta canadensis occidentalis