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.