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! 

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