Friday, January 31, 2014

If Its Thursday I Must Be Birding #17

With such cold and brutal weather lately, today's relative moderation was such a pleasure to be out chasing the goodies out east. The day began with retrieving my car from the mechanic's before Earic joined me. We made our way to the west end  of Dune Road, and birded our way east.

Various expected species were along the way, and we got our first more desired species at the Quogue nature trail. Tree Sparrows called which Earic heard, but I was able to see one queued up nicely in a phragmite on the way in. We had three Flickers, and on the way out we stopped on the section over the marsh cut. Earic tried to spish out the Tree Sparrows to no avail, then I squeaked to perhaps attract a marsh sparrow. To our delight the squeaking caught the attention of a Clapper Rail.

Clapper Rail
We continued east down Dune Road, stopping periodically where the water was open and found a Killdeer and a Black-crowned Night-heron, and then a Seaside Sparrow darted out from under the cover of the drooping marsh grass. We got a few looks in as it flew from one hiding spot to another.

Black-crowned Night-heron
 We also searched and searched, but try as we might we could not locate a Bittern, even though this area is probably one of the most reliable places to find them at this time of year.

Our next stop was near Triton Lane. Earic spished and I spotted a short tailed sparrow flit from one clump of brush to another. We tracked down the bird and found that there were three of them, and learned from others that they have been in this area for at least a few weeks now. Nelson's Sparrow!

Nelson's Sparrow
We also learned that we had missed a Black-headed Gull that had been at the inlet earlier in the day, but flew off as has been its M.O. The inlet also had the usual suspects as well as the Eiders, but nothing much else of note.

At this point we headed north to the Riverhead area to look for geese. We criss-crossed the area hoping to find flocks on the numerous fields, but it was remarkably devoid of geese. Merrits Pond was also empty. So we stopped at the Buffalo Farm, and while there was no blackbirds to be found, we had great close up looks at a dozen or so White-crowned Sparrows right along the fence.

White-crowned Sparrows

More fields were passed on the way to Northville , and again no geese. But we stopped at Church lane and there on the roof of the house on the north side of the road were several Turkey Vultures, and one Black Vulture.

Black Vulture [left ] Turkey Vultures [ center, right]

We did more exploring, hoping to find the elusive geese, but never did. Instead we found an enormous mostly Common Grackle flock, with some Red-winged Blackbirds mixed in. No one else had reported this flock, and a flock like this was where a Yellow-headed Blackbird had been found last year. Sadly, the flock was west of us ie with the sun in our eyes, and constantly swirling around, both of which making scanning through them difficult if not impossible.

We ended the day at Gruman, where we easily saw Meadowlarks, but could not find a Short-eared Owl as hoped. All in all a pretty darn good day. 8 year birds for 113 so far, and 2 Suffolk County birds.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Making The Rounds on Sunday 1-26-14

When a lot of good stuff is around it is quite exciting. Yesterday, a Barnacle Goose had been located on Randall's Island, adding much excitement to the recently [re] located Mew gull in Brooklyn. I had seen the latter a few years back when it was frequenting a location just a short way down the shore. What is more, a Barnacle Goose had briefly been at Belmont Lake, though very few, but not me, got to see it before it departed.

Avian, Dunlin, and I met in the morning to go to the Bronx to catch up on some goodies and see what else we could find. The birding gods cooperated splendidly; it was far more birdy than anticipated, especially with the harsh weather recently. In fact the birds were in a manner uncharacteristically confiding. White-throated Sparrows would hop up but only go 3-4 feet away, and even fly towards  locations by us.

The Towhees, Titmice, and Fox Sparrows were very welcome, and kept us company on the way to locating a Long-eared Owl. We also looked for Barred Owl that we could not find, but had great looks at Brown Thrasher enjoying the sunshine as much as we did.

Next we tried for Great Horned Owls which we found in numbers and so easily before the new year. At the head of the trail, Avian casually remarked that this was usually a good spot for American Tree Sparrow, and lo and behold, a few minutes later there was one 2 feet away munching on weed seeds. We were so close and the bird did not seem to care! Of course, I wanted to travel light and did not bring my camera, informing Avian and Dunlin that this of course meant that they would be capturing some fine shots. Sadly though, Dunlin's camera was left on an improper setting, and what should have been great were less than so. Oh well, the eye candy was nice either way.

We had a spectacular walk, that turned into quite a strenuous effort thanks to the snow. But it was not without goodies as in addition to the care-free Tree Sparrow, a Red-shouldered Hawk flew by, and we had nice close looks at an Eurasian Wigeon.

After finally returning to the car famished, we set off for lunch while learning that the Barnacle Goose was still present on Randall's. We scarfed, then set off on our wild goose chase! Arriving on site we were surprised that there were not any birders visible. But then we spotted 3 birders heading off, and they confirmed that the bird was present. I ran off to find it while Avian and Dunlin layered up.

The large flock of Canada Geese was on the field and easily and closely viewed from under the Hell Gate railroad bridge. As I scanned from a prudent distance, Dunlin walked right up to the fence near the geese and they didn't spook and fly off. As a result she also found the Barnacle Goose which was up close and just behind the concrete stanchion. Was it the phase of the moon or alignment of the planets? No matter, I was enjoying closer than usual views of all the birds today.

Barnacle Goose on Randall's Island

I got a few pix with my phone, and satisfied, we decided to go for the Mew Gull that had just been reported as having arrived at its favored roost. We were happy that the goose was present on the field instead of further away in the water, but irony is a wicked mistress, and as we entered the bridge on-ramp to Queens, I received a post that a Red-necked Grebe had been located in the water where the geese had originally been located. Doh! But too late to do anything about it.

So we made our way to Brooklyn, battling traffic for the ten mile trip that seemed much further as a result. And wouldn't you know it, a report came in that the bird had flushed and flown down the shore about 15 minutes prior to our arrival. We scanned and looked for some time anyway, hopeful of its return, but it never came back. Oh well. A great day out birding nevertheless. Year birds at 105.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Back In The Saddle Again For 2014

Birding got derailed in the midst of last year when I had to relocate my office. Getting everything settled took a bit longer, and blogging was lowest on the priority list.

But remarkably, all the good stuff that shows up at the end of December / beginning of January around here is like the siren's call. As of today I am up to 91 species, having seen and photographed American Pipits; a bird I missed many times last year! Yes, I have been sucked into 'the game' again.

Last year was not too shabby all things considered. I ended up with 300 species for New York State. A few out of state trips were good too, with a nice score of lifers, but I'll get to those at another time.

What really got my juices flowing was a day out east in Riverhead looking for a number of goodies previously reported. It began with a stop at a Buffalo farm, where a Yellow-headed Blackbird was hanging out with the Brown-headed {buffalobirds?} Cowbirds. Not home. The Sharp-shinned Hawk in the tree and the Merlin swooping through the field probably was responsible.

Satisfied we would not be successful, Earic, Garouse and I explored other places without turning up anything unusual. Then we decided to head up to Iron Pier Beach where an Iceland Gull had reportedly returned for another visit. On the way, we passed farm fields on Roanoke Avenue, and I spied a big white bird in with a large flock of Canada Geese. I told Garouse to stop, thinking it was probably a Snow Goose. It turned out to be a Tundra Swan, unusual as I have seen this species many times before, though always on water.

The large flock of geese begged a going over, and I was hopeful to find a Cackling Goose. As I scanned through my scope, a different bird came into view and I blurted out Pink-footed Goose! Earic grimaced while he made a remark reflecting a modicum of doubt but I implored him to look in my scope and any doubt evaporated. Garouse then got a look while I made a hasty post to the list with all pertinent info about the sighting.

A few days earlier, I had run into D Ro at Belmont Lake. I was departing as he showed up, both of us seeking the Barnacle Goose. Amongst other things, perhaps prophetically, we mentioned Pink-footed Goose. So it was no surprise that shortly after my post I heard from him and he was on his way to join us and try to get a view of this bird.

We went on to Iron Pier while D Ro did his best to get there in a hurry. We dipped on the Gull, and went back to find D Ro had arrived and was busy digiscoping the goose.

The only thing better than finding a good bird is getting others on it.  I was happy that the rapid post got a few people on the bird that very day despite the late hour, and eventually quite a few more over the successive days.

I made a repeat trip out there a few days later with Earic, Jeff Critter and Lisa Shrimpkee, but we could not find the YH Blackbird, nor the goose, but at least we found the Iceland Gull. We Also stopped at Gruman and scored Meadowlark, and diverted to a pond for heroic try at a reported Lesser Black-backed Gull that we did not find.

We ended the day with a Screech Owl that Shrimpkee brought us to in Massapequa Preserve. This was another bird I missed last year! Can I do better this year? Time will tell...