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.

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