Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Are Wednesdays Better, Or Must I Just Accept Getting Up Early?

I was not happy about missing the Ross' Goose yesterday. In fact I had pretty much made up my mind that I would try for it this morning. I asked Derek his opinion, in which he concurred, and gave a call to Earic to see how he and Gary had done.

Earic didn't get back to me until after 11pm, but as suspected they hung around and got the goose around 5pm as it returned to roost. Zounds! This meant that as long as I got there early enough, I had a shot at finding the bird. I called Capt'n Bob, but he could not get away, or muster the enthusiasm to get up early enough to get out there by the time necessary.

I left at 6am, and headed east in the dark and fog. Fun. But I got there straight away and pulled up at about 7 to the vantage between two houses and set up my scope. Naked eye I found two Snow Geese and in the scope they were alone. Scanning left and right found nothing else. I moved to the other side of the house, and then to the other side of the house a bit further down the road. Here I found four more Snow Geese, three in blue form. But again no Ross'.

I began to scan again, when up walked birder Richard Kaskan. Then as if on cue, I spied a smaller white goose swimming in the open water in the center of the lake. It was largely obscured by the standing Canada Geese, but visible in pieces nevertheless. Yes! Ross was there and I could see his smaller bill and dark base without grin patch. I offered a view to Richard. What's better than walking up and having a target bird in someone's scope? I certainly have benefited from this on numerous occasions. It feels just as good to offer a scope view as it does to be offered one!

At one point, a sanitation truck began to back down the narrow road, and I had to  move my car to allow it to pass. As I walked back to Richard and my scope, I saw a resident walk over to him and make inquiry. I believe that residents are still curious and bemused by the attention this goose is drawing. And in an effort to maintain that neither one of us so much as stepped onto lawn at the edge of the pavement. 

It is important to show respect for private property. Sure, I would love to have been by the waters edge for a better view or perhaps a photo, but its more important to me { as I will presume to say that it should be to you as well}  that the public does not think of birders as selfish trespassing jerks. 

It did not happen this time, but in the past the curiosity of a homeowner turned into an invitation for a better look. That will not happen if you trespass first, and certainly that will ruin it for the birders that follow in search of the same birds. 

Conditions were poor so I didn't even try a photo, but it was a nice view with time to spare in departing for the office without panic.

Or so I thought. Much of the way had traffic moving as expected, and then there were all the stops. One after another there were miles long delays due to one accident after another. When will people learn that driving on someone's bumper is asking to get into an accident. 5 cars here, 3 cars there. LEAVE SOME ROOM DAMBIT! DO NOT TAILGATE!!

On the way in I contemplated calling Capt'n Bob, but resisted the temptation. Not too long later though, he called me to check in. He feigned congratulations quite admirably. My advice was for him to complete his chores and make it out there by days end so he could get the bird as Earic and Gary had done yesterday.

YB 142

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesdays are not as Good as Thursdays Apparently

I finally got the oil changed in both my cars last week, only to discover that one was leaking a lot afterwards. A lot. Today was my first chance to bring it back, and replacing the O-ring did the trick, as well as delayed my departure.

An early morning Email from Derek Rogers indicated a Ross' Goose was visible on its roost pond in Riverhead at 7am. Capt'n Bob and I arrived much later, my hopes elevated by finding a Blue Goose, then dashed when it showed it's bill and revealed it was not our quarry. Snow Goose has a dark bar the length of the bill, while Ross' goose has a dark patch only at the base of the bill.

No other white geese were present, and the geese in general were constantly departing in small groups. The mass was quite down from the 3-4 thousand geese as estimated by Derek earlier in the day.

We then tried Reeve avenue and Doctors path for the reported Pipets, and struck out there. I decided to cruise Sound avenue in hopes of finding either geese or Pipets or anything. I found some Brown-headed Cowbirds amongst the Starlings. A year bird, but one no one relishes.

We then crossed paths with Earic and Gary Strauss, doing much the same as we were, and having had similar luck. We had stopped by a small pond, and I located a Snow Goose and Wood Duck which were both year birds for Gary, but not a desired Ross'.

Earic clued us in to an Iceland Gull on nearby Iron Pier beach which we found easily, and then we traveled to Hulse Landing Road again as they had had both a Pipet and a Vesper Sparrow. Nope. Savannah Sparrow and lots of Horned Larks, and a bird I tried desperately to make into a Rough-legged Hawk, but time was fleeting and I had to hurry home.

Iceland Gull

Dang. Only one year bird. I'm starting to slip.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Weekend Birding January 26,27

Chasing birds requires time management. My plan was to head in to Prospect Park after work and get the lingering Pine Siskins that appear to be absent everywhere else. 

I was waylaid by an unexpected call from Derek Rogers who wanted intel on some local birds. He being from further east than myself, and particularly unfamiliar with local birding spots, I agreed to meet him after work at Forest Park. I also suggested that he head to Jamaica Bay and try for the Barn Owls first, and then shoot up Woodhaven blvd. to meet me.

Later I got a last minute call from a prospective patient, after which Derek called informing me that he was already at the proposed meeting location and somewhat antsy. He bailed, opting instead to go for the pure white Snowy Owl at Jones Beach. Left alone, this majestic bird could conceivably spend the winter there. But as past experience has shown, unethical photographers have harassed these birds, often making them fly to get flight shots. 

He went for the Snowy. When done at the office I went to Prospect as planned. Walking up the road towards the feeder station, I saw a new nyjer feeder with small birds upon it, and lo, there were the siskins! I took a few pictures with my phone, which are terrible, but hey... better than nothing.

After spending some more time to see what else was at the feeders, I moved on to my next target bird: Monk Parakeets. { Monkeets}

Finding the location of the nests on 22nd street and Glenwood road, I was expecting the birds to be there. Nope. A 'gimme' bird and its a no show. Oddly, I fully expected the reverse of my experience; the Pine Siskins requiring a wait, and the Monkeets being on site. See, just when you think you know the game they change the rules....

I called Capt'n Bob, and he headed right over and we searched a few other locations. One was the campus of nearby Brooklyn College, where the bored and lonely security guard  invited us onto the grounds for a better look, and tried to engage us in conversation to soothe his under-stimulated mind.

Unsuccessful, we headed back to Glenwood and driving up I both saw and heard the Monkeets. Harrumph ! Well, my two targets du jour { ie two year birds} out of the way, Bob and I got some lunch before parting ways.

On the way home, I went to Jones Beach. I drove up to the south west corner of WE2 and found Micheal McBrien and his dad who had the Snowy in their scope right from the lot. Beautiful bird. Easy to find too - it was surrounded by photographers.

I then went to walk the median, hoping to chance across the Goshawk that has been around. No dice. Oh well, you can't have everything, but it was a great day of semi-casual birding!

Sunday was a bit of 'play by ear' birding. Jean LeConte Sparrow came over Saturday night after work, and I tried to give her the opportunity to sleep in a bit rather than getting her up early to chase birds. 

We got a call from Capt'n Bob, and he was inquiring about the Jones Snowy. Jean perked up, and wanted to see that bird too, so we planned to meet at WE2. We met up then walked the trail down to the beach so we could get a look at the bird from up close with the sun at our backs.

So far the photographers have been well behaved. We walked over and keeping a respectful distance scoped the bird in my Kowa with my new 30x wide-angle eyepiece. I like it!

Snowy Owl Basking on the Beach.
On the way down, Jean had heard some chip notes, and we found a Marsh Wren. On the way back the bird was still present in the same general location but with the sun at my back I was able to get a picture of the furtive beast. A year bird!

Marsh Wren Skulking in the Phragmites
Back at the lot, Bob {surprise surprise} suggested stopping for lunch. Boy, his tapeworm has him feline-pejorative whipped! We declined, and he headed back home to care for his flu-stricken Karen, while Jean and I ventured to Kissena Park.

No sooner had we pulled up to park at the corridor section, than a Ring-necked Pheasant walked across the path before us! Year bird 2 du jour!

Ring-necked Pheasant

Walking in I spied more than one, but they did their best to make looking at them difficult. We walked the paths and searched for other goodies and hoped for some more targets.

The paucity of sparrows soon became apparent when we found a beautiful male Kestrel atop a tree surveying his domain. Year bird 3.

American Kestrel AKA Sparrow Hawk
So while we were able to find a wary flock of Juncos, we struck out in finding Earic's Lincoln's Sparrow. A Fox Sparrow is always pleasant to look at though, and at least two were present.

Fox Sparrow
Walking about more did not locate any other sought after birds, but we enjoyed confiding Goldfinches who chowed down in our presence without much care, in contrast to the behavior of the sparrows.

American Goldfinch
With the light fading, we sampled the Chinese restaurant that took over the Palace Diner for an early dinner and were pleased. We then got to Jeans place where as hoped we completed some chores that did not take too much time to complete. Read that: no recrimination for birding when we should have been completing that task!

Friday, January 25, 2013

If Its Thursday I Must Be Birding #8

Birding is a game. 

There are some birders out there that take themselves way too seriously and look down their noses at other birders. Is chasing, listing or doing a big year is somehow less wholesome than some other modus operandi? I say: life is too short to take yourself too seriously, and if one cannot derive pleasure from their activities then one is doomed to a miserable existence. I am having a blast.

Having said so, I am finding that doing a big year, or at least doing a more conscientious 'year of birding', is more difficult that one might imagine. To wit, my 'batting average' is below what I remember it to be chasing that random rarity.

Going for all the birds is proving a wee bit more difficult. Yesterday, I got together with Bob Hayes and Earic Miller for another day of picking up birds here and there.

We were to meet at my place, but they arrived early and used the time to scan Belmont Lake. Unsuccessful, they arrived to collect me and inquired on how to access the rear of the lake. We drove the short distance to August Road, and walked to the lake where we found the geese congregated sleeping on the ice.

Within seconds of scanning I said: "There's Barney, Earic". It was sleeping with head tucked in and by itself. It was easy to pick out the greyish bird from amongst all the brown ones. Earic said: "You suck". Gosh - one hell of a thank you for finding a year bird that had eluded him on his previous four attempts. Not only did he want to find the bird, but wanted to find it himself. Such gratitude...

Barney, sleeping on Belmont lake
Our discussion turned to other waterfowl missing from our lists, and Blue-winged Teal. I mentioned a place they seemed to be somewhat reliable in the winter and we detoured to Hawleys Lake. 

We got some day birds including Flicker and Kingfisher, but no Blue-winged Teal on the frozen Lake.  Discussing my lack of Siskin and their being in Brooklyn, we decided to try Connetquot Stpk. This became a priority when Bob missed the turn off for Heckscher Stpk, our supposed  next destination. A brief call in to Ken Fuestel revealed that he had not heard of any recent reports of them there, but it was one of those ' heck you never know ' times and it was nice to explore. 

Incidentally, Jean LeConte Sparrow had gifted me an Empire Passport. I have yet to actually receive it, a thought that passed my mind as we entered the park knowing that this park charges an entrance fee year round. I handed Bob a $20 to get us in, but the fee booth lady instead asked for his name which she wrote down, and then informed us that Governor Cuomo decided that parks will not be charging fees as they were damaged by the Sandy Storm. ...!

Red Fox
 We checked the nearby feeders, getting Juncos and both Nuthatches. Earic then spotted a Fox, who spotted us and took off. Beautiful creatures. But it gets better! Earic then spotted a Fox Sparrow right behind us - a so far missed year bird for me! { year bird 1!} And no doubt the reason the Red Fox high tailed it out of there was the presence of the sparrow: there is nothing more grisly than watching the fur fly as this vicious species of sparrow dispatches it's quarry. 

Red Fox Sparrow

Then were able to get permission to drive down to the feeders at the hatchery, based upon Bob's age. Some Canadas and mallards, but not much else. The waterways were pristine, and we could see no fish, but there was luxuriant growths of Starwort { Callitriche palustris } an aquatic plant I have lusted after to have grow in my tanks, but they require much colder waters.

Next we headed to Heckscher stpk where Earic was hoping to find the Clay-Colored Sparrow I had found back on the 6th, and which had been relocated recently. There was a sizable flock of sparrows by the pool consisting of an impressive number of Tree Sparrows and a smaller but goodly number of Field Sparrows { year bird 2! } as well as a number of Savannahs and the requisite Songs. 

Savannah Sparrow
It was cold and windy and the birds were very flighty; much more so than on previous visits. Try as we did, we could not locate the Clay-colored. 

Tree Sparrow
Our next stop was out at Smith Point. It was spleen smashing to see that most of the water under the causeway was frozen, making the sticking of our sought after RN Grebe less likely. There were many birds in the open patches though, and despite the wind biting at our faces we searched through them.

No luck was had on the south side, and the area was quite bird wise so we tried from the north side where we did no better but added a lone Sanderling to the day's list. 

Moving on, we went to Westhampton where there had also been a report of a RN Grebe, as well as a Glaucous Gull that Earic needed for the year. Arriving, the water was largely frozen as was Smith Point, but under the bridge the water was open. 

We scanned from the comfort of the car, and I noticed a sleeping  grebe that as small compared to the other waterfowl. It was not right for the bill shape of a pied-billed, though there were many otherwise fresh water birds here as their usual haunts were most definitely frozen. It also seemed too small for a Red-necked Grebe. I am having second thoughts now and think it may have been our prey in a difficult plumage, bill coloration, and unfavorable positioning. 

Moving on from here, we decided to venture down Dune Road to get Earic a Bittern, instead of the Meadowlarks in Eastport as planned.

Much of the bay was frozen too, but a drainage ditch here and there had some open water and GB herons were making good use of them. Stopping at one in Quogue, I saw something different way back and it was a Clapper Rail!  We all got good looks at it hunting and darting in and out from the bowed grasses. At one point it snatched a small eel [?] and ran off to feed under the grasses, probably to escape the attention of the GB Heron. Yes! a great look at a great bird and a year bird for us all. 

Clapper Rail

We also spooked a small sparrow which Earic thought was a Salt-marsh, but the rest of us could not get on it and it was recalcitrant to spishing. 

Driving further on, Dune Road did not disappoint and I spotted a Bittern getting it for Bob and Earic's year lists. We continued on to the inlet, but the wind was unrelenting and all we saw was more of the same. 

We now headed to Hulse Landing Road, sight of last year' s Mountain Bluebird. We scanned the fields for flocks of sparrows, finding a few that were mostly the usual suspects along with a lot of Tree Sparrows, and two very confiding immature White-crowned Sparrows. A harrier or two was working the field, and putting up the small birds. If there was a Vesper here, we could not find it: the birds were way too flighty here as well. 

Imm. White-crowned Sparrow
So by the end of the day with a nice number of birds {60} for the day, we ended up getting 3 targets and one unexpected bird - the rail. Kinda like the upstate trip where we didn't get all the targets but got a nice unexpected bird. I'm now at 135.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sleep is For Sissies... Right?

When I last left Earic Miller and Birdingdude, the light was gone as we walked away from the Snowy Owl on the 17th. Our attention turned to the other goodies around, and would we be going after them.

Two items were discussed - cleaning up some loose ends on Saturday the 19th, and would we put together a trip for Sunday the 20th for the goodies upstate. Way upstate...

With the great finds on the recent Bronx CBC, it was opportune to get them for the year, after work Saturday.  Earic went to the Bronx earlier with Birdingdude, while I met Bob Hayes at the convenient McD on 20th avenue after work.

We started at the location I found a Barred Owl on the CBC, but came up empty. We then tried a second spot, but it was over run with people enjoying the park and playing loud music. I was going to try a third spot but Bob suggested we try the fourth spot where it was most recently seen. 

Arriving there, we ran into Earic and Birdingdude, so we were able to get right on the Barred Owl. I also snagged the porcelain electrical wire insulators that Jean had left behind on her prior visit, and good thing too, as the utility workers were there replacing the wires and poles that had come down and they would have disappeared.

From here we decided to go to the 'secret warbler spot'. This is Earic's name for the unusual places he finds micro-habitats that harbor over wintering birds. True, he uses this name for more than one place, but this is the Bronx secret warbler spot. It was the south facing side of the embankment of the highway as it passes over the Hutchinson River. A place none too easy to find, and not a place one would associate with good birds in winter, let alone several warblers. 

The birds cooperated, being found in roughly the same location. The first being a Prairie Warbler that queued up nicely in a grounsel bush, and then shortly thereafter a western Palm Warbler. 

After a coffee stop, we headed back to Owl spot #3, where we were not disappointed and had a second Owl. I snagged two more insulators off of the downed power poles, and we headed out to the baseball field in hopes of relocating at least one of the seven Fox Sparrows I had seen on the CBC. No dice. 

There were birds around though, and mixed in with the flock of Goldfinches Earic and Birdingdude heard "either Pine Siskin or Common Redpoll".  Birdingdude was the one to locate the bird and we all got great looks at a Common Redpoll. Fourth year bird for the day.

We spent the rest of the time exploring a trail the went down to Orchard Beach. Bob and I took a more leisurely pace, while the other two forged on ahead. They had seen Fox Sparrow, but we missed it. Doh!

Back at out cars, we made plans for the next day. Hoary Redpoll, Bohemian Waxwing, Northern Shrike, and Pine Grosbeak were too tempting to pass up, so we agreed to met at 4:30am to go after them.

I contacted Joan Collins of Long Lake, NY who had as many as three Hoary Redpolls coming to her feeders{!} and she graciously invited us to come up and see her birds. She also offered reconnaissance info regarding several other good birds in the region. 

So with expectations of a looooong day we set out dark and early. This allowed us to miss the inevitable regional traffic, which was good because we lost time later on. As the Adirondacks are wont to do, the weather can be fine surrounding them, but once within the belly of the beast, it snows, and snows hard!  

We traveled up I-87 to exit 26, then headed west towards Hamilton County. shortly thereafter, snow began to fall, and as we progressed it got worse and more had accumulated on the ground. The curvy one lane roads are bad enough at impeding progress; covered with snow makes them a lot less fun.

Add to this that the navigation software stopped working. Verizon recently pushed out an obligatory OS update and this really screwed up the functions of the S3. The GPS was not able to find the satellites on it's own, though it is supposed to. Cell coverage is for all intents and purposes non existent in this region, so navigation was lost. So much for all the planning and marking google maps. I was pissed.But hey, we got Ravens. year bird one for the day.

Birdingdude's phone was able to get satellite lock, so we found Joans place in due course. But on arrival, there was a good 2" of snow on the ground, and her very steep driveway was not one my car could go up. I decided to back down the short distance traversed and park on the main road's pullout. 

It was in the 20's, windy as all heck, and Bob somehow forgot his coat. We had stopped at a rest stop along the way and he bought a sweatshirt, and I also offered him another layer I had brought, and we all trudged up the hill. 

Joan cheerfully greeted us, and in short order she had found one of the Hoary Redpolls in a tree and lined it up in her scope. We all got great looks, and Birdingdude some great shots digiscoped. Year bird two!

Finding it hard to tear away, we eventually started making our way further north and west. We spied Tupper Lake from a few vantages, but no doubt due to the high winds we could not locate the deer carcass Joan told us about. A group the previous day had spotted it on the lake replete with Ravens, Bald Eagle, and Golden Eagle. What a score that would have been, but it did not materialize. Ravens were all about as expected in the 'dax, just not the other birds.

With the GPS not working I made a wrong turn and it sent us way out of the way. It didn't help that the snow was sticking to the road signs and completely obscuring them. None the less we did eventually get to Potsdam and Canton. Doing our best to search the various locations, we were hindered by weather and insufficient time. If there were 100's of birds around, they sure did a good job hiding.

On one of the back roads, Earic spied a bird way up in a tree. It looked good for Northern Shrike, one of our targets. Unfortunately, the distance, lighting and the bird dropping down before we could get a scope on it made confirmation impossible, and we all declared that it was presumptively a NOSH but that none of us would officially count it.

Out of 7 possible birds I got a stinking two. The rest of the trip was just long. Very long. The navigation routed us poorly, the roads were slick and snow covered, and the snow did not let up until Schenectady. 

I was beat, and I mean really beat, having driven for 14 hrs before relinquishing the driver's seat. Bob took over for a while, and then Earic did the last leg. We didn't get back to our cars in Queens until 1am.

 Ah sleep, perchance to dream... 

...about chasing that next bird!

Friday, January 18, 2013

If Its Thursday I Must Be Birding #7

There is a lot of good stuff around, and so little time to get to see it. It also appears { for better or worse } that I am doing a 'Big Year' of sorts.

My plan for 1-17-13 was to have Earic Miller and Bob Hayes come out to Belmont Lake stpk, where I would meet them and we would try to find Barney { the reclusive Barnacle Goose} for Earic's year list. 

We searched the lake, but try as we might, could not find it. Earic located a Winter Wren by sound { which neither Bob or I could hear } but we coaxed it out and all got great looks. We also had great looks at a Hairy Woodpecker, and they had a look at a Creeper. 

We then went over to St Charles Cemetery where we found a weird looking goose: perhaps partially leucistic, perhaps a hybrid. Target wise, we struck out without so much as a Cackling Goose or a White-fronted, let alone a Bare Knuckle. 

Canada / GWF Hybrid?  Note pink bill and legs

We then tried Beth Moses Cemetery where Earic's previous Chipping Sparrows could not be relocating before I tried a new vantage point for the golf course. At the corner where Wellwood and Long Island Avenues meet, is a section of cemetery that borders the golf course and allows a few good vantage points.

Lots of geese, but no dice. Ironic - as chasing rarities is such a gamble. So off to our next stop we went, Massapequa Preserve. We could not relocate the Snipe, but along the way I spished out a Goblet  and then got on a creeper [ year bird! ]

We went to another section of the preserve to find a Wood Duck I had gotten before, but again we could not find it. Half way around I realized my phone was still in my car so I went to retrieve it while Earic and Bob continued in hopes of getting lucky.

Upon my return, a hawk came flying up the center of the pond and my bins revealed it to be a Red-shouldered Hawk! [ year bird 2 ] I took some rapid shots, but the back-lighting was very bad and all that is discernible are the 'windows'. 

Poorly lit Red-shouldered Hawk. Note 'windows'

I called and alerted Earic and Bob, and they were not amused that they missed it.  But walking up the trail Earic spotted a Rusty Blackbird which allowed nice close views, and year bird 3!

"We're burning daylight!" was the mantra du jour, so we left for hopefully greener pastures. We made a pit stop at Abe's Pitaria for a gyro: a great place discovered a short time ago, and then on to Jones Beach. 

Stopping at field 10, both Earic and I { or at least me } were thrown by a young Red-tailed Hawk that was seen hovering; making us think that it was a Rough-legged Hawk. After it landed a better look through scopes revealed it was not.  

Continuing on down the road, I spied a Hermit Thrush [ year bird 4 ] and came to an abrupt stop, just as Bob was not paying attention. His breaks are in working order though.   ;) 

At the west end, the Longspur was not around, and it seemed Earic could not get a break. On our way out we saw a birder stopped on the side of the road and she had Red Crossbills, always a bird worth stopping for. Other than that Jones Beach was a bust. So on to Point Lookout.

No one here but us pine cones.
A Common Loon was spotted by Earic close to the jetty and allowed very confiding looks. It had several color coded bands on its legs and I was able to get some photos. I found this website: and sent them the information. I hope that I hear back from them soon. 

Speaking of hearing back, I got back two 'certificates of appreciation' from the USGS & Canadian Wildlife Service.  these were for throat bands on geese seen a week ago while looking for the Tufted Duck in Huntington Harbor.

We walked to the jetty and down the beach but no Harlies. I had them a short time ago before the new year, what's up with them? This had always been a very reliable spot - though they have been seen elsewhere around the island recently. 

Earic and I walked the beach while Bob rested. We went to the third jetty where we had a flock of 15 or so Common Eider, but no King Eider amongst them nor any Harlies.

With daylight a wasting, we made haste for Jamaica Bay. Would the Snowy still be there?  Well... so we walked out to the breach, found about a half dozen Pintails [ year bird 5 ] in the west pond, and then walked around the other way. 

Along the way a photographer struck up a conversation with us; he too searching for the Owl. He boasted about his 800mm and 1200mm lenses and while hoping the bird lingered, I mentioned that I hope it is spared the fate of the bird that was at Jones Beach last year. 

He seemed to be of the opinion that the photographers were not harassing that bird, so I pointed out that they freely admitted to running at the bird to flush it and make it fly so they could get flight shots. This prompted him to go off on a tirade about the sick bastards who band birds and put collars on their necks, stating that there is no reason to do so. I offered that they are put there by the government and by universities so that they can study and track population and migration trends, and not as part of some sort of hobby, so he replied that no one should be living on the Rockaway peninsula because their houses displaced a lot of birds and they got what they deserved with super-storm Sandy.

At that point I made double time to get away from this kook. Stopping by where bench 13 used to be I spied a Greater Yellowlegs, [ year bird 6 ] and called Earic to let him know one of his targets for the day had actually been found. 

At this point Bob was shot, and we headed back to the cars. We took a last look out at the platform from the visitor's center, and then Bob departed while Earic and I decided to go out to the breach again.

Walking out to the breach it was rapidly getting dark, and who do we find out there but some birdingdude. He had the Owl queued up in his scope way off in the distance on the spoil island that they are restoring. Not the best look, but hey, year bird 7 and a heck of a lot better than dipping. 

I am now at 125 birds for the year so far. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Birding the Weekend of January 12 & 13

I have created a monster. Captain Bob used to be your typical police officer / dive boat captain: always ready to throw you overboard or worse. This earned him the name Captain Surley. Mind you I was never on the receiving end of such behavior, but to observe him deal with a transgressor, [ and always only if a very deserving one ] was admittedly amusing.

But now he’s just inexplicably happy all the time, ever asking: “Where are we going birding next?” and slightly more often “When do we eat?” I assert he has a tape worm, though he vigorously denies it.

So Saturday was supposed to be a day to catch up on chores ever the more neglected. I got a call from Bob trying to find the location and the Eurasian Teals of Smith Pond. He saw my post of the previous day where I spur-of- the-moment decided to leave early and get two target birds on my way in to the office The Eurasian Teal and Wilson’s Snipe

One thing led to another and I ended up meeting him at Massapequa Preserve where we unsuccessfully searched for the Wilson’s Snipe, but he reported that he did find the “horizontal” Teal. After a quick lunch, we then back tracked to Jones beach.

Arriving at the West End Coast Guard lot we saw some folks with very large lenses trained on the ground. A quick peek thru my glasses revealed it was a Lapland Longspur. We approached via the boardwalk, and were able to get up close and personal with the bird. It was alone on the grass quite unperturbed by the gawking birders no more than 15 feet away. As far as Lapland Longspurs go, this was by far one of the most colorfully plumed, and one can only imagine how beautiful it might have appeared if there were more sunlight as opposed to the grey overcast. 

Lapland Longspur
We walked the median and down to West End 2 lot, but it was late in the day quiet, and we called it a day not seeing too much more. We made tentative plans to pursue an number of different options the following day, and parted company.

Conferring with Jean later, she claimed to be ‘up for whatever I decided’ but seeing how she only returned home from work at 10:30pm, I chose a not too early start and a trip to Central Park where we hoped to find the Bard Owls. Some of you might be saying to yourselves: “Shouldn’t that be Barred Owls?” To which I respond “No, they haunt the environs of the Shakespeare Garden”, so the former is more appropriate.

We had a nice variety of birds, including a disturbing quantity of Tufted Titmouse, but dipped on the Owls. Perhaps the huge gathering of dogs and their owners on Sunday mornings had something to do with it. We grabbed a bite to eat and then headed back to Queens.

No sooner had we driven off, than we got an email alerting us that Robb Jett and Heydi Lopes had found a Thick-billed Murre off Dead Horse Bay in Brooklyn. Bob immediately recognized that the birds location was a stones throw from his boat, so I applied ample pressure to the gas pedal and tried to get there as soon as possible.

In the past, I had several experiences where upon return from diving off Bob’s boat, I was alerted to the presence of a good bird. In a Dramamine induced stupor, I would try to have my enthusiasm overcome the drowsiness and chase the bird. What was amusing to me was in this instance here we were birding, and the alert had us headed to the boat!

En route we contacted Eric Miller, who had called me earlier in the day to update me on his findings, and invited him to meet us and join us on the boat, and Jean called Robb and Heydi, but we had no takers.

So with Bob’s confidence, my excitement, and Jean’s trepidation {and a dose of Dramamine} , we headed out Shellbank Creek towards the Belt parkway; the last location reported for the bird. As we approached I spied a small black bird low in the water and there it was! 

I took a dizzying number of easy shots, though the lighting was poor. Sated, I got a GPS fix and sent out an update to the NYS list, and called Eric to give him updated info on where best to park and look for the bird. Unfortunately for him, he was a bit of a way away, and it took a while to arrive at the end of Gerritsen Avenue. Had he arrived sooner, he would have been able to get up close looks right from the end of the road. 

The bird cruised from this side to the other, and remarkably close to shore at times. We tried to keep our eyes on it for the others. By the time Eric and others arrived, the bird had swum up Gerritsen creek. We updated them and others and Eric walked all the way up the creek and was able to get views. 

Bob knowing the area like the back of his hand, informed me that he best vantage would be the Marine Park Nature Center parking lot on Avenue U, so we sent that info out, and a host of others later reported getting nice views from that location. Sweet!

Even Jean had a good time; she being of the “technicolor yawn society. As assured by Bob and I the foggy conditions also meant low pressure and no wind, so the water was extremely still. Add to that our being in protected back waters and Jean was singing: “I’m on a boat!”

Epilogue: Today I received reports that other Thick-billed Murres had been found out in Nassau County and in New Jersey as well.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Perfect Storming {and Triple Dipping}

So Friday came along and after dinner and killing time at Jean’s place, I headed off to JFK to pick up Carlos Sanchez, here to do a hit and run weekend of cleaning up some great rarities and a chance at birds not often or never seen down in Miami Florida.

As airlines are way too often want to do in my experience, there was a delay. Carlos called me to inform me of that, though I was far from surprised. I went to the Jetblue website and signed up for text alerts, and waited. Supposedly, the crew needed a break, and the flight was delayed for 50 min. In the end they probably flew a bit faster and made it to New York just about as scheduled. With the text alerts, I knew about when to head to the airport, and waiting in cue before the actual terminal, I got a text on the status, and went to the curbside pick up. A port authority officer asked me and others to leave, but when I showed him the text that the flight had arrived, he radioed in and confirmed my story and let me stay. The others had to go though!

Carlos hopped in, and we made a hasty retreat for my place. We made good time at that hour, and had a chance to catch up. Of course we got back later than we wanted, and this was compounded by aquaculture talk as he inspected my planted 125. With a planned departure of 5 am, less sleep was gotten than I would have liked.

We did get up and out without a hitch however, and in the dark we blasted out to Montauk Point for the first of many targets. As the sun started to peek out, I got a call from Derek Rogers who I had invited to join us. He was making his way out in his own, and was only minutes behind us.

Our first stop was at Hook Pond in East Hampton, as well as the nearby Further Lane. Largely frozen, a quick perusal did not reveal much either at the pond or on the lane where there were zero geese. No time to waste, we continued on.

Next stop was Kirk Beach where we hoped for the long lingering Crossbills. On arrival, it was quiet. We walked around a bit and then heard some call notes, and I caught sight of some birds alighting in a pine in the far corner of the lot. Approaching closer, I was able to resolve three White-winged Crossbills, though Carlos could muster only silhouette views. When we tried to view from the other side, they snuck out.

Shortly afterwards, a nice flock of Red Crossbills landed in one of the bigger pines next to the main road, and we both got good views though they were noticeably more wary than usual. And in short order the cause became obvious. A small raptor zoomed by, scattering the flock and explaining their behavior. [Lifer 1]

The next stop was Montauk Point. We arrived to find Tom Burke, Gail Benson and Doug Futuyma and Derek Rogers on site, as well as a disappointingly barren seascape. Typically, the ocean around the point is coated with thousands of ducks and seabirds, and arriving at sunrise is the best way to get the best effect - before they take off for the day.

We did manage to see Common Eider, Black and White-winged scoter, Oldsquaw, Common and Red-throated Loon, and Razorbill. Out in the distance, we saw a paltry number of Bonaparte’s Gulls as has been the trend in recent years. Scanning, we searched in vain for Dovekie and Kittiwake, but like a magician pulling a rabbit from his hat, Tom Burke alerted us to an adult Black-headed Gull [lifer 2] way out, not to far below the horizon. We were all able to get on the bird and view it through our scopes.

Stopping at Camp Hero, we had much the same assortment and lack of density but as I had anticipated, we had Am Tree Sparrow in the brush that afforded photographic opportunity to Carlos,  [Lifer 3 ]on the way out. Stopping at Deep Hollow Ranch we were quickly rewarded with Cackling Goose and Snow Goose.

Coming up East Lake drive, we managed to arrive just in time to see Tom and Doug stop at a hitherto unknown vantage point, where we were able to get a good view of a flock of Goldeneye, but the slight chop and their incessant diving made getting on the prizes; a male ~and~ female Barrows Goldeneye a bit of a challenge. Tom, ever the eagle-eye was able to find them repeatedly and helped everyone else in attendance get on the birds, including Carlos who got Lifer 4. The female with the bright orange bill was actually easier to find that I had previously thought.

In short order Michael McBrien and his dad joined us, after alerting us to their finding the immature Black-headed Gull from nearby South Lake Drive. Having good looks at the Goldeneyes, we went for a closer look at these gulls.

The Gulls were in a mixed flock of Ring-billed and Bonaparte’s in the corner of the bay, feeding on wind tossed morsels. From the lot we could not see the Black-headed, so we moved further up. Tom once again pulled the subtly different bird from the flock and we got good looks at it, before Carlos and I ventured even closer to afford him taking some photos.

Derek apprized us of the situation at the East Jetty, and we went off to catch up to him. We too could not locate any Purple Sandpipers, or interesting gulls, but we did have nice views of Great Cormorants and closer looks at both Loons. We stopped at Little Reed Pond where Carlos found a Grey Catbird, unusual for this time of year.

Having been alerted by Michael that the Eurasian Wigeon was not at Rita’s Stable, we went straight to the West Jetty. Michael and Derek had a Kumlien’s Iceland Gull sitting on the beach, but its position and the lighting made it indiscernible from the nearby Herring Gulls. We ventured a bit further south to the town dock where the angle was reversed and picked the bird out easily.

A shop at the head of the dock had a feeder and Carlos mused that he finally got House Sparrow. Wanting to try for the Crossbills again, we skirted the top of Fort Pond where we found Pied-billed Grebe and not much else of interest. Back at Kirk Beach the crossbills were scarce, but Carlos scored a Black-capped Chickadee for Lifer 5.

Hopeful for the Crossbills to return, we were interrupted by a call from Derek alerting us to a Lesser Black-backed Gull at Edward Ecker Park on the west side of Fort Pond Bay. We raced back and got it, and then on the way back Derek picked another one out of a flock on the bay a distance away. Hopeful for one final try for the x-bills, we were joined by Michael and his father at Kirk yet again, where Michael found yet another LBB Gull at Fort Pond across the street. Not surprisingly, Carlos was not interested in another LBB Gull, as he informed me that they were quite common back in Miami as well.

The reds returned briefly, but the White-winged’s were absent, so we decided to got to Napeague but ~not~ for the LBB Gull that had been a target! On the way, Derek called to inform us that the Snowy Owl was a no-show, and that multiple birders had struck out all day. He instead suggested that we head straight for Napeague Harbor Road where a Yellow-breasted Chat was being seen. 

As we turned down the road we came across Anthony Collerton, who also clued us in to the Chat, and offered that the Owl was absent on weekends probably due to the increased boat and clamming activity. This assumption would prove to be spot on, as the next day the Owl was re-found.

Driving down the road, as we approached the line of parked cars the Chat made itself obvious, and we enjoyed observing it; Carlos commenting that the Chat thought itself a Robin, as it was acting more like one that the typically skulky behavior it normally frustrates us with.

Our next stop we skipped as the Owl was a no show and we had our fill of LBB Gulls. We headed to Further Lane for a second try for the geese, where there was a modest flock, but nothing out of the ordinary. It was at that point that Anthony sent me a text with news that he had both the GWF Goose and Common Mergansers [Lifer 6] at Hook Pond.

We arrived and Carlos was able to get scope views of both birds thanks to Anthony. Amusingly, I had difficulty finding the GWF Goose, while Carlos Had difficulty finding the Mergs. We thanked Anthony and set off for Shinnecock Inlet and Dune Road where Anthony had previously found an American Bittern, and he offered too, that he had also had a Great Egret.

The inlet was quiet, and we saw the same variety of birds. We started down Dune road, with Carlos boasting that he would find the Bittern as he has so much experience with them back home. And find it he did. And then further along two more, as well as a Great Egret. Hoping to quell his boastfulness, I required him to find a fourth Bittern, and dambit, he did! And another Great Egret too.

We ended by trying to pull some more ducks out of ponds along Montauk Hwy, but the light was fading fast. What a day! Not only was the birding great, but the experience was made better by a seemingly choreographed effort by the participants. Thanks to Anthony,
Derek, Doug, Gail, Michael, and Tom!

Phew! That was quite a Saturday. Sunday I had a lot planned as well so we got to sleep a lot earlier than the previous night. Bob Hayes, Helen Wheelock, Jean, Carlos and I assembled at 6:30 am, and went to Belmont Lake STPK. Originally the plan was to go to the Cemeteries on Wellwood Avenue, but spurred on by a report the day before that the wily Barnacle Goose, potential lifer for both Carlos and Helen, was present on the lake we arrived before sun up and began to scan the numerous geese. Helen picked out a Cackling Goose, but we could not find Barney. More Common Mergansers were present, but not wanting to delay our attempt at Huntington Harbor after an hour we headed for the mercurial Tufted Duck; or as Bob refers to it: the Tough Duck.

We tried numerous vantage points and had no luck. Conferring with other birders we crossed paths with, neither did they. I decided to explore the west side and went as far as Lloyd Harbor, but no dice, or Tufted Duck. Dang, two strikes.

We then headed off to Heckscher STPK, being able to skip Seatauket with our success at Montauk of no less than two Black-headed Gulls! We explored the field east of lot 6, but no Horned larks or Longspur. At the other side of the field we found a lot of Tree Sparrows, a fallback if we had not gotten them the day before. As we walked farther, we passed more sparrows, and then Carlos picked out a Clay-colored Sparrow! This has certainly been the best year for them that I can recall.

After the long walk that Bob decided to do in his jeep, we found Snow Bunting in lot 7, and once we came upon the favored pines, there not to disappoint were the crossbills, and we got great looks at both species. [Lifer 7] Good thing, I was beginning to think I had lost my mojo. [ or maybe I had used it all up the day before? ]

A bit more exploring, and then we were off again. Originally I had planned stops for some other good species, but daylight was burning and I decided to go to another location for Longspur after we discovered a falafel and gyro restaurant just west of the Wantaugh Hwy on Merrick Road that really hit the spot!

Jones beach was disappointingly quiet, though Peregrine was a nice sighting. Horned Lark and Snow Bunting, but no Longspurs. Dang, another dip. With light fading, we bolted for Forest Park.

Blind-folded and sworn to secrecy, we made our way to a pine grove where we found a Saw-whet Owl. Cute little buggers. Carlos got some nice pictures, and Lifer 8. And then we headed to the water hole to clean up some year birds for Carlos, beginning with a BC Chickadee that ate out of his hand. Also scored was WB Nuthatch, and a very accommodating Winter Wren. The latter showed up right in the section of downed trees where earlier Jean had pointed out the Wren likes to forage. Spooky!

Well, the light was just about gone and after a nice sushi dinner we dropped Carlos at the airport to end one hell of a birding weekend.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Brooklyn Coastal Pelagic Trip

In what could best be described as ideal weather conditions for being out on a boat in January despite the cold temperatures, I led a trip out of Brooklyn on Captain Bob Hayes' boat the 'Karen II' that took us near shore and had us explore much of the coast of Brooklyn.

No wind, no waves, bright and sunny. This doesn't happen that often in the summer! So despite a slight delay caused by slow traffic on the Belt, we headed out looking for what was hanging about, particularly the shoreline where access is limited.

Heading out the creek, we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk resting under the Belt parkway roadway as we passed under it. Bob turned us around for a better look, but it flew away. On the way back in though, we found the bird again resting on the rocks and we all got better views.

Passing the sand spit that extends south from Plum beach, we caught sight of a lone Oystercatcher before getting into the channel. We cruised the Queens side along Breezy Point and out to the jetty. The outflow ‘castle’ is under construction so the Great Cormorants had to find other places to hang out. 

Great Cormorants on the can. No privacy
Common loons and Red-throated loons were present as expected, and remarkably numerous Oldsquaw filled the waters of the inlet. 

As we approached the tide line Shane Blodgett spotted the first of many Razorbills that were diving for their food. It was as it always is with Razorbills, a bit tricky as they dive a lot, and rest on the surface much less. Then there is the factor that they usually hide between the wave crests. But pleasantly, the waters were very calm and great looks were had by all.

At the mouth of the inlet, Gannets became more numerous, and who doesn’t enjoy watching them plunge dive? A few were in the inlet as well, and flew over the boat allowing close inspection.

Northern Gannet

Cruising west, we searched for Purple Sandpipers, and found several on close to all of the many rock groins.

Sand Purples
On one of the groins, a male Red-breasted Merganser was resting on a rock, atypically out of the water. It initially threw me as it was devoid of the signature red breast. 

Floating is hard work, This Red-breasted Merg needs a rest
If that were not bad enough, we came across a dark duck that was not a straight forward ID. Initial thought: what is that? Second thought: it's a Goldeneye, but which species? After some misleading field marks such as the white on the flanks and especially the white mark behind the bill that could have been construed as a crescent that caused some vacillation, Bob maneuvered the boat so that we were able to get up close and personal with the bird and resolve the head shape. It was not sharply pitched as Barrows, so we found it to be consistent with Common Goldeneye in eclipse plumage. 

Common Goldeneye in eclipse Plumage... Tricky
We cruised into Coney Island creek where we found lots of Brant as well as Wigeon, Mallards, and Black Duck, before heading across to Swinburne Island. Bird wise, it was devoid of life, but on the western side we came across about a dozen Harbor Seals that appeared as curious about us as we of them. 

Harbor Seal
Heading back, we came across about 30 - 50 Bonaparte’s Gulls feeding on the wrack line. They were not there earlier on the way out. It was nice to see a few as they have become much more scarce compared to 10 years ago when they would ride the inlets on the south shore of Long Island by the thousands.

After so many years of birding the pleasure is in still being able to experience new things even in birds that one has seen so many times before. It was a great day out on the water, but all around us we saw evidence of the destructive power of the ocean.

The effects of super-storm Sandy

A New Year, And The Birds Are All New Again!

Gone are the days of drunken revelry to welcome in the New Year { at least for me that is } I can drink too much at any time if I so choose, { but I don't } and I would rather be able to awaken less painfully and go out birding! 

With some great reports and a visit from Carlos looming ever closer, Jean and I went out to do more scouting, and score some new year's birds!

In a perfect example of 'the tide turning' it would appear that 'listing' is no longer as dirty a concept as it had been. In the '90's being a 'gasp' lister was down right despised, and gave some the opportunity to project an air of superiority whilst claiming not to list. Sour grapes *

So now that listing is out of the closet so to speak, and more and more people are doing big years, little big years, local big years, state big years and etc, I too have decided to make a concerted effort to be a more diligent birder for 2013. 

It also doesn't hurt that I have the added incentive of helping 'born-again birder' Bob Haze wanting to ever increase his life list. Heck, if I can't get a lifer for myself I can at least have the vicarious thrill of getting them for someone else.

2012 started off in an exciting way, what with the exceptional find by Doug Gochfeld of a Graces Warbler on the South Nassau CBC.  And spurred by this excited I had designs on making a big year effort in 2012. But as is often the case, I do have other interests and responsibilities, and sometimes it had been hard to muster the enthusiasm to chase a bird. 

So here I go again. I will try to see as many of the available birds as possible in 2013, and Bob wants to do a big year too. Someone will no doubt announce they are doing a NYS big year, though good luck breaking Anthony Collerton's extraordinary 2012 record of 361 birds! More reasonable are the announcements of county big years that are being thrown out there. 

But back to the birding! 

So Jean and I got in some birding on what looked like not the nicest of days. We headed for Heckscher stpk, a not too distant location with an eye on not spending the whole day out, but still getting some quality birding in.

Driving in the park road, our first nice find of the day was a Merlin prominently perched on a distant tree top. 

Making an all important 'pit-stop' at field 6 was fortuitous for a number of reasons. While it appeared a bit quiet bird wise, a lone Snow Goose together with a single Canada Goose flew over making a nice sighting for the day, and indicated that this bird was lingering in the park. 

We  also crossed paths with Ken Thompson, and he relayed some bird info. We had been slowly cruising and stopping here and there, and he offered that the lots further on were all closed leaving field 6 as the closest one to out desired location.

He headed off across the field, while Jean and I drove on instead, I wanting not so much to brave the semi raw conditions. As we drove past field 7, Jean heard some chipping and we stopped to investigate. Song Sparrow, lots of Chickadees, lots of Red-hatches, Downy Woodpeckers, and a Hairy Woodpecker! Doing her best Earic imitation, Jean spished out some furtive Tree Sparrows! This was great as it was one of the targets we were hoping to pin down for Carlos. 

Red-hatch:  a bird that is hard to miss this year
At that point, we turned to see Ken had caught up with us, and informed us he had almost stepped on a Lapland Longspur, right in that first grassy field he crossed leaving the field 6 lot. We decided that with the parking limitations and this bird we missed it would be best to head back.  

Jean availed herself of the facilities as she is often want to do, and I stepped out into the field, scanning with my binos.  Promptly, I located a group of 3 Horned Larks, adjacent to a pile of storm deposited schmutz. Blending in perfectly with the background items was the Longspur! Camouflage at work. 

Lapland Longspur
This little beastie that I missed last year did it's best to stay hidden, while its cohorts the Horned Larks, did not so much seem to care. Yes! 
Continuing on we stopped again at field 7 and tried to relocate the birds we had earlier, to no avail. 

Hello, hello, HOLA!
As we walked on, we saw several birders pass by and making a deliberate path to the trees by field 8. We saw them get out and train their scopes on the trees, a sure sign that they had something in view.

We finally caught up to them, only to simultaneously have the flock of 50+ birds fly off! What timing!! They flew off and landed prominently in a bare tree way on the other side of the internal marsh. What a tease; the light was so poor it was hard to make out that they were Crossbills, let alone which species. 

Convinced that they would return, we perused the pines while waiting for them to return. We added Junco to the day list while disturbing more Tree Sparrows. Compared to the other birds, they seemed to be the most shy, furtively making limited jaunts beyond the skirts of the pines. 

Finally, the Crossbills returned, and alighted in a bare deciduous tree. Both species were present, as were individuals of various ages and sexes. The lighting was horrid and the photos were slightly better than a silhouette. 
Both Crossbills nicely cued up in a bare tree
Getting hungry, we decided to depart. Walking back to the car some more accomodating Tree Sparrows posed for me. Another stop use the facilities, and we were thinking of making a try for the Tufted Duck.

Am. Tree Sparrow

We instead went to Smith Point Park. Black Scoters in good numbers were seen, as well as a few other day birds. 

Heading back, as we exited the parkway we passed a flock of Canada Geese in Belmont Park and we decided to make a pit stop. No Barnacle, but perusing the lake we found 3 Common Mergansers: another bird I was hoping to pin down for Carlos! Can't wait for the weekend...

So this is how my year began.