Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ptarming is Everything

7:30 am Friday April 25 the phone rings.

     Terek Goosepiper: { in a casual, nonchalant voice } Hey, what're you doing?

     Me: {slightly perplexed } I'm having a coffee and getting ready to go to work, why?

     Terek Goosepiper: There is a Willow Ptarmigan upstate NY.

     Me: WHAT?!!

Much excessively adrenaline charged conversation ensued. Was it legit. Was the ID correct? Would it stick. What the heck is it doing in NY? When could we go... Well despite every hint just short of 'take the day off and lets go get the bird now' I informed Terek that I had to work, and that the next day, Saturday, I had a scheduled trip I was going on in NJ. Damb.

Later on while at work, Terek called again, and told me the bird was relocated and in relatively the same area. Doh! I called Junco Lins and inquired about our trip. No one else had contacted him about it so it would be me, Avian, and one other who was dependent upon us for a ride.

I informed Junco Lins about the Ptarmigan, and his interest was piqued too. But he had obligations later in the day Saturday, and could not get out of them, nor Sunday for that matter. He wanted to go after the Ptarmigan, but he would have to wait until Monday if he were to go. I reluctantly but dutifully told Junco Lins that we would attend.

I called Avian, and updated him. We discussed various permutations of how to go after this bird, with departure after the trip Saturday, spending the night, and searching Sunday morning, or early departure Sunday... But the more we talked, the more we were steering towards going Saturday and skipping the NJ trip all together. Avian enthusiastically agreed, so all that was left was to tell the others.

Having told Junco Lins that we would be attending earlier that day, I felt kinda guilty. Doh! So I suggested [pleaded ] Avian pass along the change in plans, while I gave the 'bad news' to our car poolee. I then called Terek...

We were all set. I thought we should leave Queens by 5am, but Terek said he'd be at my house at 3:45. Somehow, I knew it would be pointless to try to change his mind. Bah, who needs sleep anyway, and this would put us in Queens to pick up Avian at 4:15 and to get the hell out of Dodge.

Or so I thought. It was early and there should be no traffic. HA!  It is the law, There must ALWAYS be traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway. Here we were at a standstill with nowhere to go. Groan. The traffic crawled, and it had yet to merge into one lane. Finally, we got to the 3rd Avenue exit, and Terek used his phone to search an alternate route. A delay of 1/2 hour: inauspicious.

Success! We made it around the jam and got onto the highway just before the bridge. From here we had smooth but oh so very long sailing. It was very easy, heading west on I-80 to catch I-81 all the way to Watertown. For the next few hours I was amused as Terek kept saying “I can’t believe were going” and “ I hope the bird is still there” and “Are we there yet”.  Avian said Zzzzzzzzz.

With much anticipation we got to the turn off from Watertown and Terek navigated us the rest of the way. Closer and closer we got, and he checked in with his friend who had found the bird, to learn that it was resting comfortably under a tree.

I’m not certain the car came to a complete stop before Avian and Terek ran off.  I joined them shortly for delightful looks at the bird as it rested under a tree on the beach, alternately opening and closing it’s eye.

For the next hour or so all that was heard was the constant clicking of camera shutters, and  exclamations of “I can’t believe we got it” and “I can’t believe there are not more people here”

I sent out confirmation and coordinates to the listserve for those anxious and still on their way.
We scoped the bird until it awoke, and then the cacophony of shutter clicks began again as it walked around  to get a drink and began to feed on willow buds.

Mmmmm. This Zebra Mussel broth is delicious.

This bud's for me.

It was aware of our presence, but clearly was not even slightly concerned. All kept a good distance, but the bird approached us! In fact it got so close that my telephoto was rendered useless and I switched to taking a video with my cell phone.

I ain't afraid of you.
The bird continued walking towards us eventually getting to less than 5 feet from us.

"No, I don't need a loan, now get out of my way." 
Said the bird to someone sitting on the beach.

The bird took flight but probably to get around the tree it had to pass and its not wanting to go into the water, although at one point it had walked into the water and got its feet wet!

We followed the bird as it walked down the road and asked “why isn’t the chicken crossing the road” and “why aren’t there more people here”?

At this Point we had been awake for 9+ hours, and it was time to contemplate the long ride home. Except for intermittent rain, the ride home was pleasantly traffic free and uneventful.

Yes! A perfectly executed twitch for another lifer, another first New York State record bird, and ABA bird # 698 for me! And yet another completely unexpected bird. WOW!

As of the following Monday, the bird could not be located. It may have wandered onto the private areas, or it may have met its demise. either way, when it comes to  getting a rare bird, Ptarming is everything.

A Most Excellent Morning of Birding in Suffolk County NY


Look at the birds,
Look how they smile for you,
And everything you do,
Yeah, they were all yellow.

The Warblers are coming, the Warblers are coming! Some of the first to pass through are also the most colorful and sought after. One such bird is the Prothonotary Warbler, and a very confiding one showed up at Fuch's Pond.

I got there at about 7am and joined a few others looking for the bird. We started to spread out when someone yelled out: "it's here". We ran back as fast as we could and were treated to this ball of avian sunshine that had been moved our way inadvertently by a dog walker.

It spent it's time foraging along the shore of the pond in close proximity to us gawkers, and allowed great views and pictures. YB 171.

Yes, I'm gorgeous and I know it.
If that were not enough a Green Heron flew in to everyone's delight. YB 172.

Satisfied with my good luck, I decided to try again for the Yellow-throated Warbler at Connetquot STPK. I made my way to the comfort station building, and soon heard a warbler's call. I looked about for it, and it made it's presence known by singing prominently from a deciduous tree. YB 173.

Yelow-throated Warbler
What a nice day of birding.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Birding is Such Sweet Sparrow


Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Normally found overseas a small population is present in the St. Louis area and in nearby areas in Illinois and southeastern Iowa. Its one of the 'Pilgrimage' birds; at some point you make the trip to see them in their limited range just like the Kirtland's Warbler.

So when one shows up in Cape May, a place hardly in need of coercion to go to for birding you know what happens to a powerbirder. And Avian, so much less in need of arm twisting than in the past, was a wiling co-conspirator. Or enabler - depends on your point of view. I inquired of many others but the only takers was the ever so overly enthusiastic Shrimpkee.

We made good time down to the location, and started by checking one of the two locations it had been seen at. Not there, but shortly some others came by and told us it had just been seen at the other. We took a brisk walk over and waited with some others. I passed the time by chatting with an affable chap from Philly, though his accent was distinctly British. I guess the cheese-steaks will do that to you.

One thing I didn't do is take my eye off the prize. All too often at a 'stake-out' folks degenerate into war-story groups, recounting tales of when they saw this and that, and the time they were so absorbed in conversation that they didn't notice the Harpy Eagle that carried off their child.

With my ears in conversation but my eyes trained on the trees and feeders where the bird had been, I was rewarded by spotting the bird and getting the others on it. Yay! ABA bird # 697!

Eurasian Tree Sparrow [ on left ]

My impression from the field guides was that the bird would be painfully similar to the dreaded House Sparrow. In actuality, it looked quite different, and dramatically so such that it's difference leaped out at you. The back was a light tan vs the dark back of the HOSP. The head was distinctly brown, vs the grey head of the HOSP. and the nice cheek spot. Yes!

We walked over to the light house to use the facilities, and after Shrimpkee noticed the Purple Martin Gourds, I then spotted one flying over the parking lot. By the hawk watch we had our first Pine Warbler and a smattering of ducks in the various ponds.

We then headed over to the beach for a mid day ensnackulation, after which we found Laughing Gulls, Bonaparte's Gulls, and Fortster's Terns, as well as lots of Red-throated Loons [ perhaps all the ones that seemed to be missing from LI's shores?] and some Scoters.

By this point it was clear that we picked a good day to be out birding, as it seemed that every time we looked we found more and more species. The trend continued at the 'beanery' where we had Pine, Prairie, and Myrtle Warblers. Overhead we had Rough-winged, Barn, and Tree Swallows.

We made a stop at Stone Harbor where we got Piping Plover, OysterCatcher and Snowy Owl, as well as hundreds of Dunlin and Sanderling on the beach.

Our next stop was Brigantine where we had more ducks, and Bluebirds. All in all a great day to be out birding, finishing the day with almost 90 species! And lets not forget, lifer!

I Got The Blues, But then Again I Also Got A Great Set Of Pecs


The last time I had the opportunity to try for Blue-winged Teals, it was raining really hard. I went to Miller's Pond in Smithtown, and even though I was able to scope the whole body of water from within the car, all I got was wet. Yes, the rain was actually falling angled into the car.

Today after hearing that they were still present, Capt'n Bob and I made a late morning trip. We arrived at the filled lot to find it was a popular spot for people to pull into so they could talk on their phones. We squeezed in to a spot, and then got out to scan the lake.

It took a while but after a few passes, the Blue-winged Teals literally flew into my field of view as I was panning the scope. Their nominate blue wings caught my eye. Nice.

After satisfying views we headed off to Sunken Meadow park for the reported Pectoral Sandpipers.  They were frustratingly distant on the mud flats; other vantage points were not able to get any, let alone a better view. I got scratched by briars for my trouble, but did manage a Snipe.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If Its Thursday I Must Be Birding #21


Another day that was devoted to getting stuff done around the house... That was until Capt'n Bob called.  He was most persuasive in getting me to go birding instead of completing my tasks. He said: " I heard there's some good birds at Hempstead Lake, wanna meet me there? " A fiendishly manipulative bastard.

On my way there I spotted an Osprey over the lake before I got out the exit. YB1. I met Bob in the lot and we began by scanning the ducks in the creek. Mallards, Gadwall, and Green-wing Teal were present, but we could not find a diagonal teal [ the hybrid ].

There were Phoebes all over the place though and making their presence obvious by chasing each other around. YB2. We crossed paths with Ed Thrasher, and he clued us into stuff he had seen earlier in the day. Unfortunately the Pine Warblers and other birds were not around in the time we had allotted,  so we made a quick stop at Massapequa to get Capt'n Bob a look at the cooperative Screech Owl.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Woodcocks Pint When They Are Quarting?


A relaxed day of birding. That’s what is was because nothing far away was in need of pursuit, and the available choices did not require a lot of time or effort. Avian and Garouse and I met at Kissena to look for Woodcock.

While waiting for Garouse to arrive Avian and I checked out the grassy field at the velodrome. It was populated by a lone samoyed being left to run around in the enclosure; I amused myself by noting the sign prohibiting dogs.

The field was not without birds though, as many Robins were evident. We looked closer and I found a group of 5 Chipping Sparrows. YB1. Garouse joined us, got the chippies, and we made our way to the orchard.

The orchard has a maze of trails with a lot of off shoots. I walked slowly on these side trails and discovered two things. One, there were Woodcock where I though they would be, and two, their camouflage is quite good. YB2.

The first one I came across put up and flew towards Avian and Garouse. I yelled out to them but only Avian was quick enough to see it fly by. No matter, in a short time I flushed another and this time we all saw it.

As we were approaching the far side of the orchard, we either flushed one of the previous birds, or yet another, but this time we saw where it landed and were able to approach and get a few shots, and much better looks!

We then headed over to Oakland Lake to see what was around, and the Redhead Duck was still present [ as was the one on Alley Pond ] but no Rusty Blackbirds. At Alley Pond, the restoration area was quiet, and Garouse called it a day.

Avian and I continued on to Massapequa Park, where he finally had the opportunity to see a Screech Owl; one of the two [ or three?] present for some time, and particularly easy to locate as they are usually several people looking at or photographing them. We also tried Belmont Lake where a Screech had been seen recently, but did not locate that one.  A nice epi-spring day. 

If Its Thursday I Must Be Birding #20


The March doldrums. Oh, yay.

The sun is stronger, and so is the wind. At least the sun is lifting out from being perpetually in the eyes, though it also appears that the birds are busy packing for a trip rather than making themselves obvious.

Garouse and I made another foray out east. It seems that Elvis has left the building, and took the birds with him. We braved the wind to look at gulls, but to no avail.  He, being more heart set on getting Black-headed Gull, spent the previous day up in Connecticut. Also without success.

Today, together, we fared no better. Groan. We did some exploring though, and found some places that might prove productive on occasions where birds are actually present.

On the way back, we stopped at Shinecock. The highlight is we finally saw a Gannet! YB1. They hve also been curiously absent. Boy, I can’t wait for migration....

Monday, March 17, 2014

New Riders Of The Purple Sandpiper


Cheese and crackers! How hard can it be to find a so called ‘common’ bird?  I am embarrassed to say how many times I have targeted this species since January 1, so I will leave it at ‘way too many’.

I had been out yesterday with Garouse in desperate hopes of pinning down the Black-headed Gull out east; dismayed to hear the RBA report listing them as having lingered there during the winter. So much for folks bothering to post sightings. And so much for the bird being any easier than it has been for being found.

I had awoken with a headache, and scanning in the glare of the sun was contra-indicated, but I did so anyway hoping to pick out the Black-headed Gull from within the group of resting Bonaparte’s Gulls on the flats. That the Bonies were there was at least encouraging, as was finding a Lesser Black-backed Gull, but the BHGU was as elusive as ever. More Green-winged Teal had arrived since my last visit, as well as several Pintail. 

We decided to try Mecox, and on the way found this 'uncommon' bird napping with some Mergansers and Ruddy Ducks. Again, last year difficult, this year - everywhere.

Red-necked Grebe
Red-breasted Merganser

We also tried elsewhere, but no luck. Okay, so Black-headed isn’t necessarily a common bird, but jeez, how hard can it be to squeeze out a Black-headed?

Today Jean LeConte Sparrow gave me a call in the morning as I was preparing to go out for the day. We decided to meet up at Point Lookout and give the Sand Purples another go. None visible, but I did get my first Oystercatchers. YB1. The Harlequins were not present either despite the beach rejuvenation having been completed. The missing ducks were upsetting to David LaMagna, who was out trying to get the duck for his friend who would thus get a lifer. 


With neither birds present, I mentioned that the best course of action was to try the numerous jetties at Long Beach. We all met up again there, and by the fourth jetty or so I spotted a Sand Purple at a great distance. We got closer, and finally the pipers submitted to my persistence. Phew! YB2. 

Purple Sandpipers!
David and his friend kept going west, and we don’t know if they ever got their ducks, but I sure hope they did. Jean and I moved on, eventually stopping at Massapequa Preserve. We scouted a bit, hoping to turn up a Woodcock that are being reported everywhere. No luck there, but in keeping with the general theme of birding, we easily located a Screech Owl. It was made all the more enjoyable as the light permitted some photos, we were shown a second bird, and told of a possible third bird as well! To review, I couldn’t find a Screech Owl last year if it were nailed to a coffee table. This year two, the most I had ever seen at once. Go figure. That birding goddess is a mischievous, capricious and fickle one...

Screech Owl 1!

Screech Owl 2!!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Going, Going,... Not Gone!


Planning today's outing was more difficult than usual. In the recent past so much good stuff was around that was being reported, it was easy to plan. In fact I had been looking forward on many occasions to go after one thing or another. But today was different. Nothing except a Thick-billed Murre off Brooklyn, but Capt'n Bob and his boat were unavailable. Looking for it  from limited and unknown shore vantage points was less than desirable.

After much mulling, Earic's secretary Shrimpkee suggested going after the Golden Eagle again, because he had heard a positive report recently.  We met Garouse at our usual location at a later than usual [ read: very casual ] time and set off for our quarry.

We arrived at the park and once again were pleased to have practically no wind, bright sun, and a colder than desirable yet pleasant nevertheless day. Like the previous times, we had to wait a bit before we saw any birds about, but the Turkey Vultures led the guard and soon enough were joined by Black Vultures, Ravens and Crows.

We all scanned the skies and the south face hoping for a sighting. I wandered south to see if a different vantage would reveal a hidden perched bird, but had no luck. After a while though, Earic spotted a bird come around the bend being harassed by a Peregrine. He followed it to a perch on the side of the mountain.

Alerted, I ran over to join the others and got my scope on the bird. Success! After two dips, this gorgeous bird remains loyal to its favorite haunt. YB1.

The view from the parking lot. Yes, the bird is in the photo, dead center, +/- 3500' away

Close-up of the above.    Heat distortion and distance :(
We were enjoying views of the bird for some time when we were joined by Gerhard, a birder from the area who has been keeping tabs on these birds for some time. As you can see from the above, the birds are quite a distance away and getting a decent photo was a challenge.

Having made some RFI inquiries, there had been little info about the presence of these birds. If people were seeing them, no one was bothering to post. The least fellow birders can do is post reports of good sightings. This climate of not posting is sad. I sent out a report to the list, but could not include coordinates as I usually do because I could not get a GPS fix. I also predicted that I would get requests for location info because this was missing, and was correct. 

Once our desire was satisfied, we set off further north to try for the Sandhill Cranes in Ulster Park for Earic and Shimpkee. In keeping with my observation, he had that bird easily last year, and dipped today. But a great day of birding nonetheless.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Goosing, on a Sunday Afternoon


On the road yesterday, the conversation touched on many things, including places desired to visit, and birds of the year desired to get. Garouse mentioned having dipped on Greater White-fronted Goose and wanting to find one, while I mentioned that I still need Ross's Goose.

Wouldn't you know it, we arrived home to receive reports of an impressive slew of 8 geese species out east. Amongst them were the two species sought, and D Ro aka 'Goose Man' unsatisfied with having had 'a' Pink-footed Goose (his declared favorite) found an unprecedented second bird!

I made my way to the Buffalo Farm in the am, and scanned longingly for the blackbird that I have continually missed. I'm sure it's gone, but what the heck, I was there anyway... Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and Cowbirds, and lots of geese landing in the field across the way. I made my way down Reeves avenue, and stopped at a vantage to scan for the geese.

It didn't take long to find a single white bird even in a flock of 1000's of brown birds. YB1.  But the field was huge, and the birds were far away! It appeared that the Ross's Goose was closer to the vineyard on the other side and there were others scanning from there, so I gave it a shot. Who did I meet but Bilrick, Andy and Jennifer from NJ. Bilrick was certain of the ID as were everyone else, but truly, I wish the bird was closer for a better look. I got a look through the new Swaro 95mm scope, because someone Welshed on a scope. Yes I got a better view of the goose, but as envious as I was of the monstrous scope, after the shock of the reported cost, my rapid conclusion was that any benefit was not worth the exorbitant cost. Humility dictates however, that should anyone feel it necessary to donate one to me so that I might further evaluate it's wonders,  I would of course oblige.

Even digiscoping has its limits - Ross's Goose

I made a post of the sightings, and folks started arriving. Garous and D Ro called to tell me they were on the way and wanted updates. With the birds moving around, we eventually ended up where I had started on Reeve Avenue. Both Pink-footed were found though at opposite ends of the flock, as well as the Greater White-fronted for Garous. And I thought that the birding activity was slowing down!


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ulster-ial Motives


Catching up on misses. Reading another's post that they had also tried for the Golden Eagle last week made me consider an additional try. Garous, Capt'n Bob and I made the attempt back up to Storm King, though did not do quite as well as last week. It was a bright and sunny day, cold but not too much wind, but the birds were more scarce. We didn't have Peregrines, nor sadly, the Golden Eagles; the reason for the trip.

On a brighter note we had a Flicker and 3 Bluebirds came in to feed on the Sumac right in front of us, as Robins had done last week. Garous and I got our cameras to get a shot and wouldn't you know it, some folks showed up and naturally, had to explore right where we were, spooking the Bluebirds in the process. A whole rest stop, and all who stop felt like joining us despite all the open space.

Satisfied our luck would not improve, we continued on to our next location: Ulster Park. Sandhill Cranes have been frequenting a creek here, and with multiple reports I felt we had a good chance. This was also a bird I missed despite many attempts last year. As we approached the location, we were delighted to see a birder with a large lens photographing something in the creek. Stopping adjacent to him on the narrow road, we got our quarry! YB1.

The road here was very narrow. Too narrow to linger long, thought quite a few others stopped for a look. Beautiful birds, and probably the closest looks I have had of them.

Sandhill Cranes

Back on the road, we made our way down some picturesque country roads on the way to Shawangunk NWR. Here and there were flocks of Juncos, and down a road to a horse farm we found another group of Bluebirds.

Approaching the perimeter of the  refuge, Garouse spied some raptors, and we got our first of many Rough-legged Hawks. We had nice close looks at dark and light morphs interacting. The Galeville park was closed so we continued on to the refuge entrance and it was cleared all the way.

In every direction, it was hard to look without finding perched or flying Rough-legged. And out in the fields Capt'n Bob spotted a Coyote hunting rodents under the snow. But probably due to the bright sunshine, Short-eared Owls remained hidden.

None of us felt like sticking around for sunset, so we got on the road after we had our fill. This gave me time to reflect and if I had to specify a recurring theme for this years birding so far, it would have to be that some easy birds of last year are being difficult to find this year, and vice versa.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Black Dirt Region of Orange County NY


Last year, I was introduced to the Black Dirt Region because the Pink-footed Goose showed up there. It was worth exploring more, particularly since it was a bit of a ride. This year, I was the first one to find the Pink-footed Goose out in Riverhead, so that justification was eliminated. Rough-legged Hawk has been in the area as well as Lapland Longspur. But why see one when I can see multiples up there?

We started off by diverting to Storm King hoping to repeat last year's acquisition of Golden Eagle. It had not been reported on the lists I subscribe to recently, but that doesn't mean anything necessarily. We arrived on another nice day, and scanned the peaks. We had several Bald Eagles, Ravens, Both Vultures, Peregrine Falcons, but no Golden Eagle.  I have found out though, that the Golden Eagle had been present in the prior weeks as suspected.

We then set out for the 'region'. Arriving, we tried to reprise our last visit but we were thwarted by lingering snow on dirt roads. Doing what we could we prevailed nevertheless. Chiron Road had a flock of Horned Larks feeding on the snowy edges of the road. While most were feeding, one bird appeared to be acting as sentry.

Secreted amongst them was our first Lapland Longspur. YB1.  I had thought finding one might be more challenging, but we got one straight away. Trying to sneak up on them, and turning the car sideways to facilitate photos we saw at least three Lapland Longspurs in with the ever skittish flock.

Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting

In the fields nearby we had a Kestrel, a bird I was surprised to find out upon returning home was YB2. It is harder to keep track of what I've seen by memory, than meets the eye. There was a Red-tailed Hawk, and also our first Rough-legged Hawk. YB3. 

We tried the other locations including the Camel Farm, full of an odd assortment of animals, but nothing of interest otherwise. Heading towards Wallkill, we explored Mission Island Road and were rewarded with multiple flocks of larks. In amongst them, more Longspurs.

How many Longspurs can you find?

In one flock, we counted at least thirteen, but we had more over the course of the day.

At Wallkill, we observed several Rough-legged hawks hunting the fields, and hovering, and returning the their favorite perches. Sometime they would approach closely.

Rough-legged Hawk
 In  addition, there were a few Red-tailed Hawks, a Harrier, and when 6pm came around, 3 Short eared Owls. Judging by the crowded lot and the large number of assembled birders, the choice to experience the longspur and rough-legged show was a good one.

The day signed off with a lovely sunset accented by a passing flock of Canada Geese.

Friday, February 21, 2014

If Its Thursday I Must Be Birding #19


Due to the temperamental weather lately, previous plans for a trip out to Montauk Point had been put on hold. Conferring with Garous earlier in the week, it seemed that it was time to go. Earic, Shrimpkee, and Capt'n Bob joined us and we set out to see what we could find on a day without wind and temps in the mid forties!

We started at Hook Pond, though quickly the tenor changed. Capt'n Bob has true four-wheel drive, while Garous has all-wheel drive. The latter means that one wheel in the front and one in the back turns at a time. Better than two-wheel drive, but loose sand, snow, and low clearance meant that Garous' car got good and stuck. Really stuck.

We pushed and pulled and tried to dig a bit but it took jacking the car up, getting discarded wood to place under the tires, and a rope tied tied from one to the other car so that Capt'n Bob could pull while we tried to drive the car back out the path. It wasted at least an hour of precious birding time, and all we got to show for it there were two Tundra Swans.

Finally, we arrived in Montauk, and the point was visibly full of sea ducks as we drove up. Scanning from the restaurant, there were Scoters of all three flavors as far as the eye could see in all directions. A smattering of Common Eiders were around, but curiously no Oldsquaw. Common Loons were common, but no Red-throated Loons, Northern Gannets, or Alcids.

The most interesting item though, was the courting Black Scoters. Males were chasing females and audibly whistling. Perhaps due to the low wind we were able to hear it quit well. Not as odd sounding as the winnowing of Snipe, but a 'life sound' that makes for a new experience.

Not finding anything of interest from the eastern corner, I left the others to look at the gulls resting on the beach. My efforts were rewarded by locating an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. YB1. I made use of my contrivance: a digiscoping adapter I made myself. I had wanted to get one of the Meopta adapters, but they fit my phone only without a the phone in a case, and matching the eye-piece barrel diameter was another issue.

I will have to clean it up aesthetically, but it seems to do the trick. I have discovered however, that my new graphite tripod has a bit less stability than my older aluminum model. This means that for digiscoping I have to keep the center post un-extended for stability and less shaking.

As  result, my initial attempts are not sharp as with my camera so more tinkering is necessary.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Our next stop was South Lake Drive, for our first attempt at finding the Barrows Goldeneye. In the past multiple vantage points were necessary to find them amongst the other birds. Shortly after our arrival, I found the female, at the same time that Earic found the male. YB2. Great looks at both, and curiously absent from the lists. I predict additional reports if I post...

Male Barrows on left, facing away. COGO center. Female Barrows on right, preening.
There were some gulls in the s/w corner of the lake, and they were comprised of the three common ones as far as I could tell. But suddenly they were all put up by a Peregrine who had designs on a small gull. It escaped, and after the Peregrine moved on they settled down, the small gull turned out to be a lucky Bonaparte's. By this time last year, I had four Black-headed Gulls. Its like the bird species are tag teaming their presence.

We then continued up East Lake Drive, slowly checking the sides for any passerines. In the vicinity of Little Reed Pond, we drove up to a flock of ca. 10 sparrows, most of which were Am. Tree Sparrows, but with them were also a few Field Sparrows. YB3. I was hoping to find them and had a few places lined up as probable, but this was a nicer way to get them.

Continuing on to the jetty, we found more of the usual suspects, and one then another adult Iceland Gull.We then went for lunch at the pizza place in town and Semper Aucupium Earic spotted a Coopers Hawk on a pole nearby and tried to turn it into a Goshawk without success.

Coopers Hawk

We returned to the west jetty via 2nd House Road, but had nothing of note until at the jetty itself, where we found an imm. Iceland Gull to add to the others. The day had gotten decidedly quieter, and a stop at Rita's horse farm was disappointing too.

On the road was more interesting though, and while driving by I spied 3 Turkeys in the woods. I had Capt'n Bob pull over and make a u-turn, while calling the others who had sped by. YB4.

One final stop was Napeague, where again the quietude reigned, but at least Larry the resident Lesser Black-backed Gull was on station. Standing next to a Greater Black Backed Gull, we remarked how nice it is in these circumstances to have the direct comparison.

With light fading, we called it a day. Not bad for the middle of February.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Trip Down The Jersey Shore With QCBC


Avian looks forward to leading this trip every year, and it is easy to understand why. It has always proved to be a great birding experience. The best part? The birds allow much closer approach!

This year was no exception. Me, Avian, Dunlin, Shrimpkee, Capt'n Bob and new member Matthieu threw caution to the wind and it fell to the ground. That is because there was no wind, making this sunny February day with temps in the mid-twenties a pleasure. Cold you say? Dress properly, stop whining, and enjoy the outdoors. That's why they invented VCR's, etc. The show nature puts on cannot be Tivo-ed. And it IS reality.

Despite a later start, Capt'n Bob and Shrimpkee arrived just after we did, while Dunlin let us know she would catch up with us further down the shore. We began birding at the Monmouth Cultural Center. The stairs over the sea wall was an exercise in not slipping on the ice and killing yourself, but we all survived.  The sea was flat and sparkling in the sunlight, and full of Black Scoters. Initially blocked by the sunlight's reflection, the raft of birds seemed to go on and on.

Looking west instead of east out on the ocean, Aigle-eyed Matthieu caught sight of an imm. Bald Eagle and got the rest of us on it. They truly are everywhere!

We continued south, making stops at lakes; some frozen, some open. Nothing unusual was found, but we were seeing a lot of Robins. A lot.  A real lot, perhaps 5000 or more all told. At Bradley Beach we stopped at a small park when it was noticed the place was filled with Robins in the trees, lawn, and air. I was intent on finding something in with this bunch, but for the time we spent [ all too short ] we could not find anything other than a lone Cedar Waxwing amongst them. Matthieu assured me that if there was a Redwing or Fieldfare in with them, he would find it for us, as he has seen many back in Remulac.

Robins on the ground

Robins in the air

Robins in the trees

For some reason, the others were not as enthusiastic as I was,  I reluctantly, and we moved on. At Belmar we got a great close-up look at a Red-throated Loon, that was close in to shore because it as tangled in fishing line.Hopefully it will be okay.

Red-throated Loon

The Shark River held an impressive amount of birds. Brant in particular were quite numerous, but to our dismay there were easily hundreds of Mute Swan. The controversy has just begun, but plans to remove this invasive and destructive species have been made public. Time will tell if this is a good idea or not.

Nearby at the Inlet, we had the first of many confiding birds. On the beach were Dunlin [ the feathered kind ] and Black-bellied Plovers, who didn't particularly see to mind us walking right by them

Dunlins and Black-bellied Plovers

Out on the jetty, we scanned the numerous birds and the first good find was a Red-necked Grebe. I got Avian and Matthieu on it, then waved at the slackers Capt'n Bob and Shrimpkee who were lagging behind.

The first of many Red-necked Grebes

We were looking for Purple Sandpipers, and looking all over both jetties. And then out of no where a flock of small pipers flew by. We thought initially they were Dunlin, but Matthieu called out that they were in fact Sandpurples!  Best of all the landed right in front of us!

Sandpurples on the wing

Sandpurples on the jetty

Time ticking and stomachs growling, we concluded our perusal and headed off for lunch at Kubels before the long walk out the jetty at Barnegat. We met up with Dunlin here, [ the non-bird, though birder extraordinaire ] who clued us in to the goodies she had found in the area.  A Horned Grebe was in close behind the restaurant, and just a short step away at a boat basin were two more Red-necked Grebes. There had been four earlier in the day! The word about the large influx of Red-necked Grebes is that it is due to the Great lakes being frozen over.

Horned Grebe

More Red-necked Grebes

Continuing on to the Barnegat Lighthouse, this time we wisely decided to park outside the lot, because when they say they close the gates at 4pm, they mean it! Last year they locked us in, an we had to wait for them to come back and let us out.

Looking over the sea wall here we saw the water racing out with the  tide, and under a small pier was our first Harlequin and a life-bird for Matthieu! It is interesting that upon seeing this female bird I knew what it was, but so up close, I second guessed myself. A quick check of the guide and yes, my initial impression was correct. At times I remind myself how important it is to review.

Female Harlequin Duck

Approaching the inlet, we saw a flock of 100 or so Snow Buntings, but the area was devoid of larks or sparrows. The sea birds did not disappoint, and we had great looks! Most important, we saw the male Harlequins for the benefit of Matthieu who had this bird high on his wish list. But just to keep our enthusiasm in check, Shrimpkee pointed out that the light was not optimal for photographs. As a result, Avian took out his tuning fork, and we called her Steve Walnut in four part harmony.


Black Scoter

Ruddy Turnstone

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck

Surf Scoter

The light was fading, and we returned to the cars to the relief of Capt'n Bob. He was not up for the long and arduous walk and had waited in the car for Shrimpkee's return so that they could head home. He had hungry cats to attend to, and though he has a gun, lives in fear of their reprisal.

The rest of us made one last stop: the "road to nowhere". We were relieved to find that it was clear of snow, and made our way down it looking for the Kingfisher usually present. We had Great-blue Heron, and three Tree Sparrows along the road before the first of several cars drove past and spooked them.

We have consistently observed that this road is very popular for people to drive down, turn around at the end, and drive back. They really need to put a movie theater or something in that town.

At the end of the road we found Harriers, and saw a Snowy Owl in flight, and another sitting on a sign way out in the marsh. The trend continues, Snowy's are everywhere. As if on queue, as the Harriers stopped harassing the owl, a Short-eared Owl took over harassing it, getting a hoped for bird for us all, and a life bird for Matthieu.

It was now just about dark, so we bid Dunlin adieu, and no one bid higher, so she went home while we went for dinner at our perennially favorite spot: The Office.

Yet another great QCBC Barnegat trip.

Weekend, { or Weakened } Oportunities


Its winter. It snows.

This year it has been snowing a whole lot more than usual. This really puts a crimp in the ability to bird, so sometimes you squeeze in what you can. Lousy forecasts made for a slow beginning to the day and encourage doing chores, but a fortuitous post informed me of two birds that were high on my list, especially since they have eluded me several times.

The beach restoration has been upsetting to the otherwise resident and 'reliable' Harlequin Ducks. In keeping with the theme of this year's efforts, many birds including these have required repeat efforts. Recently however, they were found further west along the groins of Long Beach. Not wanting to spend an inordinate amount of time again tracking them down in unfamiliar territory, I was ever so happy that the email stating they had returned to Point Lookout, and they were with Purple Sandpipers as well!

I threw on my boots and grabbed my optics and headed over. The parking lot of the town beach was essentially un-plowed save one path, meaning it would be a slightly longer walk. The Harlies were there! Reliability is something anyone can appreciate.

But the Sand Purples were not. I checked all the jetties before the snow and rain began, and then headed home 50% victorious. YB1

Harlequins on the rocks. Ahhh.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Trip To Croton On Hudson with QCBC.


We did our annual trip to Croton with a pleasantly good turn-out for the trip. 14 people braved the cold temperatures of 10 degrees, but mitigated by little to no breeze.

Bald Eagles were everywhere! We started by finding a tree across the railroad tracks that had six birds perched in it. As the day went on, it was equally easy to find Bald Eagles in trees, on the ice, and flying past. Also from this general vicinity we heard many Fish Crows, while just a short ways away we had American Crow.

On the river we had the usual suspects but a Great Blue Heron was a surprise. Moving on to Croton Point, we hiked the camp ground but found no owls. At the lot some thought they heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch, but no one could locate it. White-breasted Nuthatches were present however, in expected numbers. Birds were quiet in general though. I found a less than typically friendly Golden-crowned Kinglet YB1. Along this stretch we had a Brown Thrasher, and a Grey Catbird, for YB2. At the feeders we had a Fox Sparrow, always a welcome sight.

Fox Sparrow

We hiked over the landfill, the first good bird being a Savannah Sparrow, and then a half dozen Tree Sparrows partaking of some exposed soil; most everywhere else covered in snow and ice. Moving up to the summit, we spotted a flock of mostly Snow Buntings and some Horned Larks. We didn’t get the chance to sift through them though as a park employee in his truck inexplicably decided that it was necessary to drive over the hill, and flush the birds.

A Dunlin and a Pelican on the landfill
After checking some more locations in the park we tried the feeders at the nature center. We added Carolina Wren for the day,  and the naturalist on staff invited us to have our lunch in the warmth of the building rather than the frigid picnic tables our cruel leader Avian had envisioned for us.

The last stop in the park was the model aviation field where we had been told there was a Screech Owl, and my current nemesis: a Red-headed Woodpecker. Eagle-eyes Dunlin spotted the Screech before it ducked down into it’s hole, leaving only one eye and one tuft barely visible. We all thanked her for spotting it for us and then I chided her for having the Eagle's eyes, reminding her that her so-called 1/32 Indian blood did not excuse her for removing and possessing them. We even saw Eagles flying around using a Walking Cane! Avian said they were nesting material though... what does he know?

Yes, there is a Screech Owl peeking out at us!
But the woodpecker was another story. Or the same story, if by that one means we could not find it. What’s up with this bird? I have missed it here for the past 4 or more years. Sheesh!

Our next stop was Croton Gorge where the ice an snow made exploring out of the question, but we did see many good birds including Ring-necked Duck, Hooded and Common Merganser, Common Goldeneye, and Coot. The reservoir offered beautiful vistas and a deer carcass, but no takers during our visit.

We moved on to Verplank, George’s Island, and Indian Point where we gorged on more Eagles, and had nice looks at Great Cormorants, and a fly-by Peregrine. Here new member and Scopier Matthieu B. made sure we all finally got to see Ravens, particularly since JuncoLins was seeing them everywhere while the rest of us languished Raven-less. YB3.

At the end of the day we estimated at least 80 Bald Eagles, and a total of more than 53 species. Not bad for February and frigid temps.

But for Avian, Dunlin, Matthieu and I, the day was not quite over. With ample light and enthusiasm, and Matthieu’s drop off location being ever so close to Pelham Park, we decided it was worth an attempt to see the Red-headed Woodpecker by the driving range at Turtle Cove.

It sure seemed like a good idea at the time, but the parking lot we had to cross was a sheet of ice and Dunlin wisely turned back and waited in the car. The rest of us foo... er, enthusiastic birders continued on in the difficult conditions. The top of the snow was an inch thick crust of ice that cracked under your weight, to expose the powder below that had similar walking quality to that of loose sand on the beach.

We did make it to the location where we had seen them on the Bronx CBC, and scanned the trees. Then as if on queue, a Red-headed came flying in! It perched prominently in the same trees we had seen in back in December. YB4, and nemesis no more!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Saturdays Are For House Work... Yeah, Right.


Things to do at home... But a call from Earic and the suggestion of catching a few misses at Kissena Park made me make haste and complete them. By the time I could meet up with him, he had conferred with Shrimpkee, and we all met at Kissena Park.

Shrimpkee was joined by Pam from Virginia, in town to visit a niece, but catching up on some good birds as well. She had contacted me, Avian, and some others but Shrimpkee was the one who stepped up to the plate and offered to take her around to find some owls.

They started by meeting at Floyd Bennett Field where they had the Snowy Owl, followed by the Screech Owl at Massapequa. Kissena was supposed to provide us with the Great Horned Owl and the Red-headed Woodpecker, but neither came to pass.

We decided to try Alley Pond Park, and see if we could find them there. In the snow covered park, sparrows and other small birds were making use of the very few areas where the snow had been scraped off the grass. Besides the expected Juncos and White-throats, we had three Fox Sparrows, always a pleasure to see. This year they have been around in good numbers.

Song Sparrow [L]   Fox Sparrow [R]
We walked the Mel Kaplan Trail, and Earic heard a Blue Jay complain. Looking up in that direction we found one then another Great Horned Owl. Earic then asked us to all thank Mr. Blue Jay for finding the Owls. We were happy to do so. YB1 for me.

Great Horned Owl

From here we went to Oakland Lake where a controversial 'Northern Pintail' was being seen. A young bird, and looks correct, but its drastically small size, smaller than the Mallards, has everyone scratching their heads.

Northern Pintail ???
We also tried the rear of Oakland Lake by the ravine, hoping for some Rusty Blackbirds. There were  lot of Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, but if there were Rusties we could not pick them out. A suitable compensation was a Winter Wren however, hoping from clump to clump and inspecting the labyrinth for what it could find. YB2

Winter Wren

Earic packed it in, but Shrimpkee, Pam, and I wanted more Owls. First we tried Jamaica Bay for the Barn Owls, but if they were home they were hunkered down and trying to keep warm. Undaunted, we set off for the Rockaways and one final chance.

The Edgemere dump has been drastically improved and made into a park. No more sneaking in. In the past it was never certain what would be the result of a visit. Would the gate be closed? Would we be chased out? Would we be chased by a pack of wild dogs?

We drove to the base of the landfill, Shrimpkee disappointed that there was  a car present where she usually parks. She had seen the Short-eared Owl from right there, but it was obvious that would not work this time. Being later in the day, and not having gotten any warmer, I volunteered to walk up the road to see if I could find the Owl.

A short way up, I ran into the occupants of the car, a banker from overseas, and his military escort.  They confirmed the owl's presence, and shortly thereafter it appeared flying over the far edge of the dump. YB3. I waved at Shrimpkee and Pam, and they joined us. It was a distant though nice view of this bird and a few Harriers.

With light fading, we brought Pam back to her car at Floyd Bennett field. We tried one last time for a possible additional look at the Snowy Owl, but we could not find it. A nice day, and a great job by Shrimpkee showing an out of towner an incredible four species of owl!