Saturday, December 22, 2012

If Its Thursday I Must Be Birding #6

So I’m checking Facebook, and see that friend and fellow birder Carlos Sanchez was pining for the opportunity to come up to NY and get a few lifers from the rare ducks we have been blessed with of late.

He's looking to do a quick weekend hit and run pass through the area, and his hitlist has a lot of birds that happen to be around now. So what else could I do but offer him a place to stay and take him out birding in search of a few lifers.

We met Carlos on a trip to Ecuador back in November 2010. He showed up at a hotspot and helped us all get more birds while helping us to ID them as well. He casually inquired if he could hitch a ride with us to our next destination, and as we all enjoyed birding with him there, we unanimously told our leader Renato that it was fine with us.

Amusingly enough, it turns out that Carlos is also quite taken with aquatic plants, and he and I had an interesting discussion that elicited a "oh no, there are two of them" from the peanut gallery.

In preparation for his visit, I decided to do some scouting for the purpose of locating these goodies. I began the day with a stop at Belmont Lake stpk. Got there around 7:30, and it seems that most of the roosting geese had already left for the day. Darn. First miss. No matter, I’ll check the cemeteries later in the day.

I then beat a hasty retreat to Huntington harbor. The rout was frustratingly full of morning commuters and traffic lights. Getting to the harbor, there was construction with detours! Finally, I got to my destination, a parking lot facing the water. No other birders; never a good sign, but it was a weekday after all. I scanned up and down, and no bird. Then I checked my email, and Brent Bomkamp had reported seeing the duck at Knuson’s Marina. I made my way over there and scanned north and voila! The boatyard was active, and I was scanning from outside it, in a pagoda of sorts, though I was able to find the bird between the boats.

One of the workers was curious about what was doing, so I spoke with him, and secured permission to view and photograph the bird from the north side of the property.   

Tufted Duck
Yes! Looking south, I saw some other birders and tried waving my arms to get their attention. No dice. Having gotten a few pics and satisfying looks, I did my civic duty and went over there to let them know. Later in the day there was but one post, and that one was negative, so I don’t know if they ever found the bird. The trouble is there is limited vantage points. That and this bird also likes to leave its roost location in the semi early morning.

Next I headed for Seatauket, taking local streets again. It has been a while since I cruised 25A, it still is a wonderfully scenic route. But all those traffic lights and morning traffic made the going slower than preferred.

I found the park where the Black-headed Gull had been reported, and walked around. Beautiful. But no gull. With so much water around, I went exploring the shore roads. Two small Gulls were on the water, and my hopes were piqued a bit. They turned out to be Bonaparte’s Gulls as it would have been too crazy to have located two Black-headed Gulls, but hey, why not? Not the droid, er boid I was looking for, but with their scarcity in recent years, a pleasant find nonetheless.

I next stopped at a marina on Little Bay, and scanned. There, out in the farthest corner I spotted a Red-necked Grebe. I went to get te scope out and could not relocate it. I scanned around for a while, and then it reappeared. Of course it reprised  its disappearing act when I reached for my camera. Doh!

This area was quite picturesque, New England like even. I had never been to this little out of the way gem; birding sure brings you to nice places! So I explored even more, stopping here and there as stopping permitted. The whereabouts of the Grebe then became understood. There were flotillas of Red-breasted Mergansers hunting fish in packs; diving here, and surfacing en masse way over there. The Grebe was hunting with and without them, and it was crazy how a large bunch of birds would appear and then just as soon be gone for a long long time.

Heading back the way I came, and approaching the marina again, there was a teaming flock of Mergansers and Ring-billed Gulls feeding in what could best be described as a frenzy. Shortly they were joined by no less than six Bonaparte’s Gulls, and I dutifully scanned them, but there was not a Black-headed Gull amongst them. At first.

Yes! There it was in all it’s bright red bill and footed glory. Flying side by side, it afforded a nice size comparison as well as the dark underwings. 

Black-headed Gull flanked by Bonaparte's Gulls

Sated, I drove off to my next location, Heckscher STPK.  I spent a good time looking and walking around, but all I was rewarded with for my efforts was a lone Snow Goose. Oh well, it was a good time to go over to Wellwood Avenue and try to locate the Barnacle Goose.

Wellwood is a very busy road without a shoulder. When a driveway availed itself, I pulled in and scanned the field to the west which held copious Canada Geese. At the third driveway, I pulled into the lot of an odd little eatery called "Lets Do Lunch". It was full of tchotchkes, posters, toys and the like; out of place as this would seem appropriate for an eatery that served children but this was in an industrial area. Glaringly missing were seats and tables. Really? A restaurant without seats?

No matter. The burger was quit good, and from the steps of the establishment I got an elevated view of the field across the street and located the Barnacle Goose. We were separated by a chain-link and snow fence, so a photo was not worth it.

Even though I was risking getting stuck in rush hour traffic on the parkway, I decided to scout Hempstead Lake STPK. for possible Common Mergs. No luck, but found another lone Snow Goose.

I ended the day at Jones Beach, where like Heckscher, it was very quiet. A great day of birding though!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What's the Point of Birding? Montauk, but of Course...

The weather reports and the birding reports were both looking really good, so much anticipation was built on the Montauk trip of 12-2-12.

A nice group of us participated. Bob and Helen met at my house, and together with Jean we made our way out east. Our first stop was at East Moriches, where heavy fog that was not forecast when I last checked the reports was a bit frustrating. We met Rich Fried {Former NYS big year champion of ~350 birds } on site, and exchanged phone numbers in the event the bird resurfaced. We also did our best to creatively morph a Common Loon or Red-throated Loon into our desired species: a Pacific Loon; present through the prior day. Sadly my transformative powers are on par with my alchemy skills, and the  loons persisted as do my lumps of plumbum. 

Moving on we stopped briefly at Hook Pond, it too covered in fog, and could not locate anything of note beyond Green-winged Teal, despite reports of Red-necked Grebe and Snow Goose. Two fellows using their noisy RC boats may have had a bit to do with it as well...

Next we stopped at the farm on Further Lane where we were not disappointed by the reports of 5 Greater White-fronted Geese in the immense Canada Goose Flock. Bob was scored a lifer by Helen picking them out, but we could not pick out anything else interesting, and we moved on.

A brief stop at Kirk Park Beach parking lot {aka the lot by the IGA supermarket} in Montauk was immediately rewarded by the location of White-winged Crossbills cavorting in the pines. Numerous Red-breasted Nuthatches were present continuing the trend of a banner year for this species, as were a few Junco and Goldfinch. A single Red Crossbill was amongst the White-winged Crossbills, and Helen scored a lifer. We then scrambled to meet the others at the point.

We joined the others behind the snack bar overlooking the ocean, and started raking up the birds. At first it seemed a bit sparse, but the birds were there minus the frigid temps, blustery winds, and shivering usually accompanying this trip. Pleasantly, the fog producing low pressure also meant that there were virtually no waves; those liquid things that make a lot of goodies so hard to find in the first place.

Some Scoters of one flavor here, another flavor there, and the last one out there was good to find. Rafts of Common Eider were about in suitable numbers, as were Oldsquaw. Both loons and Red-breasted Merganser were represented well too. Scanning the water, up to four Razorbills at a time were seen, but frequent diving made getting others on them a bit challenging.

But by far the best find of the day was by Bob who pointed out a Dovekie as it flew right in front of us, and allowed all of us to get on the bird and get terrific views. As he pointed out, sometimes it pays to look with your eyes rather than have an eyeball glued to the scope.

Moving on to Camp Hero, we found much the same seabirds and then searched for land birds in the pathetically quiet woods, then consumed comestibles. Moving on to other locations we found it relatively quiet as well.

Moving on to the east jetty of Montauk Lake, we scanned for birds. Though not absent, again, not in great concentrations either. Ian found Purple Sandpipers on the jetty, and Bob found a Great Cormorant on a buoy. Helen spied the reported Brown Pelican as it flew into the back of the ‘lake’ but before the rest of us could get on it.

We walked back to look for it and found it on a sand bar near the docks. After finishing perusing the beach which yielded no unusual gulls, we drove down the road to relocate the Pelican. I snapped a few photos, and Stu commented it was “his kind of birding” as he did not have to get out of the car to see the bird.

We stopped back at the Crossbill site for Stu and Ronnie, but as we approached I saw a flock of finch type devices wafting westward. As feared, the x-bills were not in the lot, but were in a patch of pines a bit west of there. Helen and I relocated them, but it was unfortunately too far for Stu to walk.

Back at the lot we walked across the street to the lake and found lots of coots and scored Ring-necked Duck. On our earlier visit Jean and Helen had seen a Towhee there.

With daylight fading we decided for a penultimate try at Moritches for the Loon. At mid-day, a report had come through that it had been seen. I was a bit concerned as I presumed that Rich would have located this bird and called me...

With more inauspiciousness, the fog suddenly began to appear again! WTF!! Helen and Bob tried to assuage my concern by saying that it would most probably not be at our destination, and was most probably only a local phenomenon.

Thankfully they were correct. But arriving on site and conferring with the still present Rich Fried, we learned that the earlier report was spurious; many people were looking all day and no one else has seen it either before or afterwards.

We ended the day at the end of Atlantic avenue, where our disappointment was not relieved by finding the loon in the waters around us. But the Water’s Edge restaurant opened for dinner and Ian suggested we try it as it was that time of day. We availed ourselves of their selections and all were pleased. Tasty! 

Cave Swallow Redemption, and 'Close but no Banana' Denial

Saturday Jean, Bob and I went to Staten Island for the reported 80+ Cave Swallows. All we got was cold.

It was a harsh blustery day, and our well laid plans were the topic of amusement to small rodents. But we gave it a good try, saw Turkeys on the way, as well as witnessing the aftereffect of the trouncing that unfortunate S.I. residents took at the hands of hurricane Sandy.

Birding a bit on the way back east, we stopped in at Prospect hoping to get Jean the Evening Grosbeak. Strike two. So we went for lunch. 

After lunch, we were all too dis-enthused to continue, what with the poor weather and all, we called it a day, not venturing forth to Alley for the Virginia's as planned. Mind you Jean and I had already seen it, and were very lucky at that, but Bob was still without it.

Bob and I made plans to chase the Barnacle and Greater White-fronted Goose out in Mattituck, in the morrow and we all parted company.

The next morning I awoke and discovered that an eBird report had Cave Swallows roosting on a house in Point Lookout!! After a bit of early morning, 'the coffee has not taken effect yet' discussion, it was eventually decided that I would meet Bob at Point Lookout.

He was a wee delayed so rather that meet on Lido and drive down in one car, I drove down to take a look. On an awning facing the ocean sat three Swallows!

On arrival I told him to drive right down and meet me. When he pulled up, he was busy trying to maneuver into a parking position, but I insisted that he stop and simply look out the passenger window. Too easy. With our experience the previous day, no wonder he thought it would be more of an effort.

We also got  nice looks at Harlequin ducks and numerous Oystercatchers, and then decided to try for geese out east. There were Cackling, Barnacle and Greater White-fronted all on one small lake on the north fork.

Finding the lake was easy, and we pulled up and started to scan. Several sweeps and it was clear that the birds sought were elsewhere. After a spell, we cruised down the road and checked a few other places for lounging geese. A few here and there, but a lot of inaccessible areas. 

We headed back and scanned again. Nope. a few geese flew in, a few flew out. that's how it went for quite some time. Another exploration and when we returned met up with a couple who told us about an Eurasian Wigeon  just down the road. 

Scanning the little harbor, a 'red headed' duck came into view. Bob was excited, as he wanted Redhead for the year, and was ironically disappointed at it being the much rarer Eurasian Wigeon. Ah, the vagaries of birders...

Another stop back at Maratooka lake, and still no targets. We headed off for a lunch. On the way we saw an immense blackbird flock, and stopped in an anachronistic diner for a tasty repast.

And back to the lake. Nope yet again. Next we tried the very end of the road and the bay. Beautiful scenery, Scoters and Oldsquaw, Horned Grebe. A pit stop and a cup of coffee, and then finishing scanning, back to the lake.

No geese. There were even less geese than had come in to rest before. We gave it til 4:30, when the sun set, and then decided to check the surrounding farm fields and their flocks. 

At first we discovered a flock obscured by a berm and it appeared promising. But no luck. And so it went, as did the remaining sun light, and we headed home. 

Later that night I got a 'Don Henley' email.

I got the email today, 
I didn't wanna read 
But I knew that it would come  
An old friend of ours had posted on facebook
She said you found some birds...

It appears that shortly after Bob and I had departed, some folks who had been there earlier returned at last light to watch 1000+ Canada Geese come in to roost replete with Barnacle, Greater White-fronted, and Cackling. 


{ Bob, doh is the opposite of sweet }

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tuesday Prospects

Sometimes, it seems like Brooklyn gets all the good birds. Of course, sometimes the good birds they get are actually in Queens, but hey, its all good.

Now that the Red and White-winged Crossbills and even Common Redpoll had been seen, how good is an Evening Grosbeak coming to a feeder station in Prospect Park? I had to find out. And it would be a lifer for Bob too.

The plan was to find this bird and then try for the elusive Virginia's Warbler in Alley. Arriving at the bridge overlooking the Audubon house, we ran into Rob Bate, wo pointed out an immature White-crowned Sparrow below us in the 'falls'.

Rob also told us that he had not seen the Grosbeak there, though had seen it at the feeders, which he obligingly led us to. It was rife with Goldfinch and Siskins, as well as a lot of the more expected species.

But we had to wait a while, and it was worth it. The female / imm Grosbeak arrived and we were happy to see it, even if it meant a way too rapid drive to try to get to work on time, and no time to even consider Alley...

Will we ever find that warbler?

The Finches That Stole Away to Visit us!

Crossbills!!  Who doesn't pine for crossbills? Unfortunately for them, the pine crop was not suitable and they hit Kingbird Region 10 hard! Reports started showing up for White-winged Crossbills here and there, and then finally Red Crossbills started being reported as well.

Some of the first reports of reliable flocks were taking place at Hecksher STPK. Sunday morning 11-18 on the way to take care of some errands, Bob called to inquire about going out and seeing these beasts. We agreed to touch base later in the day.

After completing our tasks, a quick check of the 'internet tubes' revealed that both crossbills were currently being seen at Jones Beach west end 2. A quick call to Bob and plans were changed to facilitate a much shorter trip.

Jean and I arrived ahead of Bob and viewed the birds at the Coast Guard station. Impressive numbers of Oystercatchers were present, but we learned that the birds we sought were actually at the west end 2 median turnaround pines. This info was gathered from Ian and Donna, who were concluding a QCBC trip with Lou, that was lack luster so they came here and had a brilliant finish with both x-bills.

Jean and I moved to the other location and told Bob to meet us there. We ran into Lloyd S. and David S. { but different S's} who repeated what everyone else had been saying: the birds were repeatedly returning to the same pines; wait a bit and they'll return....

Bob eventually arrived with Lisa L. momentarily delayed by looking for the car I was not in. We all took off to the median, and did not see any birds. After a while I suggested that we head towards the Coast Guard station and look for them, and along the way we had Harrier and at least two Coopers Hawks that were probably as good an excuse as to why the birds were scarce as any.

Being with three people of limited bladderial ability, we headed back to W/E 2 in hopes that the restrooms were open. A short perusal of the swale and I was itching to get back to the median. Bob, who had lagged behind, called me to let me know that a few crossbills had landed in the trees right in front of him; pretty much where we parked our cars!

We went over, but our arrival made the birds depart. no matter, we walked back into the median and to the other side where I spied a flock of birds at the top of some denuded deciduous trees. Crossbills!

When we got closer, we were able to discern mostly White-winged, and then a flock of Reds. A few birders commented that this was the first time that they had seen a mixed flock like this, and to me it was a delight.

Other prevalent birds were Red-hatch, and Goldfinch. We followed the flocks around for some time, and were able to be quite close at times. And then moving with but stopping alone, and at the top of a nearby pine, perched a Common Redpoll! In my excitement I tried to get the other three on the bird, and succeeded! The bird's patience had been tested though; and while everyone got a great look, i could not swing my camera up in time to get off a shot. Oh well, everyone saw it and Bob and Lisa scored a lifer! And for Bob that was lifer three for the day, in addition to the two crossbills.

Saturday @ Kissena...

With reports of Grasshopper Sparrow at Prospect and now Kissena, I went looking after work on Saturday 11-17. The 'Corridor' was over run with Sparrows!! Of course this makes picking through them a bit of a challenge, but it was interesting to see so many junkies. 

In the mix were a few chippies, and then a bird that was not quite right: a Clay-colored! Nice! And even nicer was a plethora of Fox Sparrows; easily 40 or so. I tried to see if I could make one into a Slaty Fox Sparrow, seeing how there were so many, but could not. 

Clay-colored Sparrow -- Note: eye-stripe does NOT go from eye to bill, only from eye back
While walking the trails the sunlight was just perfect hitting the family of Bluebirds, making for a delightful sight.

Finally, had a Tree Sparrow, adding this bird to my year list before heading home.

On the way stopped in at Caumsett STPK. Neither of the goodies previously reported there were in evidence, but had a nice flock of Pipets .