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.

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