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.