Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How to Turn Blah, Blah, Blah Into Oooo! Lala!!

For many birders, this time of year is rather blah. Not a lot of birds around, and those that are around are 'seagulls' and ‘LBJ’s ( little brown jobs). Where are the colorful Warblers?  In South America where many of us wish we could be as well.

For those afflicted, er... addicted, er...  passionate about birding, this is a great time of year. Sure the birds aren’t as colorful or plentiful, but the former is dispelled by the obliging Painted Bunting in Prospect Park, while the later, well what’s wrong with working a bit harder some times? 

Mostly, its the vagrants. At this time of the year the unexpected is expected, so what is lacking in quantity is made up in quality. AKA 'something good.'

As the year is drawing to a close, I as well as others trying for a big year (as many species as we can see within this year), are hoping that something good shows up, and that we will be able to get to it within our time and responsibility constraints.

The good news was that as if by magic a slew of 'good' birds got reported. A Pacific Loon, upstate, then a Ross' Goose out on the island, yet another Kittiwake report from out on the island, and then a very special surprise.

I am still waiting on details about the Pacific Loon. It is so far away that I want it to establish some site fidelity before going after it. Closer to home, a learned that a Rufous Hummingbird was coming to the feeders at a private residence, and better still, I had been invited. Trouble is, the home owner did not want the bird publicized. More accurately, he could not have the bird publicized. Seems he has an overpopulation of asshole neighbors.

Well, I rounded up a posse and we met to go and see “Lala” as the hummer was being called. Why? Because it is supposed that the hummer hailed from California, AKA lala land. We took up station waiting for the bird to appear while exchanging greetings. And then I spotted the bird perched on a twig. 

Rufous Hummingbird

At first the hummer was shy, but soon it grew tolerant of our presence and feed on the Salvia and the feeder. Yes! YB 325 for me and John Gaggle-o-geese, and lifer for Arlene Rails, Phil Jabiru, and Pelican. A great start to a unseasonably mild day. All of us remarked how great it was to get such great looks at this bird that was far off our radar.

And then it got better! An email came through that Dovekies had been found at Mattituck. And that was nearby! We raced over there and set up scopes.  We did our due diligence searching; I spotted some likely candidates on the far side of the far jetty. The birds in question gave fleeting views between waves and diving frequently, but eventually they rested on the surface affording good looks.

Of course we all wanted the birds to be Dovekies as reported. Certainly, it would have been a year bird for me and a lifer for some, but the birds we were watching were clearly Razorbills. Two Dovekies were reported, but we spotted two Razorbills. You may draw your own conclusions.

Certainly Razorbills are nothing to sneeze at, and we enjoyed our looks but there were other birds we wanted to chase. Our next stop was admittedly a longshot, but what they hey.  Kittiwake at Agawan pond was a bust as soon as we arrived - there was a distinct paucity of gulls of any sort.

When we exhausted this location, we headed back to Eastport to try for the Ross’ Goose. After the report from the morning that the bird was present, another shortly thereafter said it had flown out. Now that it was about 2pm, we were hoping it had returned. Nope.

Okay, so after a brilliant start, the day was in gradual and then serious decline.  But just when we thought all was lost, came the email alerting us to none other than a Tufted Duck at Capri Lake, practically in my back yard. I alerted Phil who had bailed earlier, and he met us there.

Though spending some time looking before we arrived, Phil was flummoxed by the duck’s plumage. It was not in the sharp black and white, but the less common rich brown. Some searching and the bird was spotted at the back edge. Yes! YB 326 for me and another lifer for Arlene.  Ahhh. Another great day out birding.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tree Shmee, There’s a Painted Bunting in Brooklyn!

Two weeks ago there were hundreds of Franklin's Gulls, seemingly everywhere, I was in the office, and the next day it was like it never happened.  A report of a bunch of Kittiwakes followed last week few. Was this to be a repeat occurrence but with a different gull species? Well at least there were subsequent reports from Montauk.

Sunday, the plan was to get an early start and head out to Montauk to be there by sunrise. Would have worked a whole lot better if Arlene Rails had set her alarm properly, but she called me shortly after she was supposed to have arrived, and an hour and a half later we finally set off. Groan, I was all woken up with nowhere to go.

Upon departure, it was cool, but not cold. When we got to Montauk point it was downright raw. The wind was blowing and the air damp, and we may have been a bit under dressed. Fortunately the restaurant at the end of the univer... er... end of the road always provides shelter from the wind.

Compared to last year the waterfowl were sparse. All three Scoters were present, as well as some Oldsquaw and Common Eider. The most prevalent birds were the Red-throated Loons which seemed to be everywhere, and out numbered the Common Loons.

Gulls were sparse too. Where did all the birds go?  We exhausted this location and moved on to Camp Hero, and it was the same if somewhat out of the wind. No small birds either except for a pair of White-hatches. Our next stop was the jetties at Lake Montauk. Nothing to write home about, except for an Iceland Gull.

Time was limited, as Arlene needed to be back early. As nice as it was out there we had to head back. On the way though, we got an email informing us of a Painted Bunting in Brooklyn. Sure, taunt me with a great bird by placing it at the other end of the island! What is more, this was a ~male~ Painted Bunting, one of the most exquisite sparrowesque birds.

I have seen this bird numerous times in Florida and Texas. I have also seen a female back in 2011. But last year a male was coming to a private feeder and it was tauntingly close yet so far away, as the home owners wanted no visitors.

Of course, this year it would also be a year bird for my NY state big year. The RBA message indicated that it flew off and was being searched for without success so far. Ah, all the way in Brooklyn... By the time I got home, I was tired and hungry and no subsequent emails had come through.

And then they did.  Groan. Was it too late to venture west? A text message from Arlene implored me to go for it. There was much hemming and hawing, as I knew the threat of traffic was great. I threw caution to the wind though, figuring I should not wast any more time thinking about it.

I navigated the roadways pretty well, and the slow drivers were at least kind enough to not bunch up so tightly as to prevent my zigging and zagging to get past. And then I got to the edge of Brooklyn.

At the end of the Jackie Robinson parkway, the first of many traffic lights tormented me. The thought of having wasted my time swirled repeatedly within my brain. Progress, though slow, continued. Could I beat the sunset deadline of 4:30?  It was going to be close. On too many occasions bad intersections or turning cars prevented normal flow but finally I got to the park. It was 4:10.  I drove down Ocean Avenue, hoping for spot. I passed Lincoln street, and then as if by magic, found a spot right in front of the entrance to the park adjacent to the Lefrak ice rink.

It seemed too good to be true. Was this actually a legal spot? This is after all, New York City, where one can easily be lured into a bad decision. Yes! It was good!! I ran off with binoculars in hand; it was too late in the day for photos anyway.

Jeez, shouldn’t there be a hoard of birders here looking at the bird? I panicked slightly, then called John Gaggle-o-geese, who had texted me earlier that the bird was there. He directed me to the proper location, and soon enough I spotted two fellow birders; the last two left on location.

One said: "Oh, we were watching it for the past half hour, it was sitting right there until it flew."  Panic ensued again. This same birder then said she had had enough, and was headed home. It was now just me and the other birder named Nina. She showed me where the bird had flown off to and we looked around.

She stayed in one location, while I anxiously searched more afield. After I made my way back around the path, I noticed her with glasses up, and she beckoned me closer. I ran. Nina pointed into the plantings and there was the little gem! It was quite obscured but a few pedestrians passed by and this prompted the Punting to fly away and it landed in a much better viewing location. Ahhhhh. Such a beauty. YB 326. Thanks Nina!

Painted Bunting by Nancy Trogan

Painted Bunting by Nancy Trogan
Flash forward to Thursday.

I’m birding with Phil Jabiru at Robert Moses STPK. Lots of wind, and lots of Gannets. Scoters, Loons, the usual stuff. Again, no passerines. Quiet. A few texts from Nancy Trogan, and since neither of them had seen the Painted Bunting, we decide to swing by Nancy’s on the way to Brooklyn for us all to get a look.

When we finally arrived, ( driving through Brooklyn is quite daunting for those not used to congested city driving ) the parking gods once again smiled upon us, getting a spot right near the entrance to the park yet again.  A short walk to the “green-roof” of the rink, and we met up with the mob. 

Da Mob

The bird was there, steadfastly munching on seeds provided by the wonderful plantings done by the planners of the ‘green-roof’. Lifer for Phil and Nancy. Of course, as small birds are want to do, it was skulking. But it cannot be blamed as there was a seething mass of ogling birders and photographers transfixed by its every move.

Also present were members of the news media. Marla Diamond of CBS 880AM radio fame was speaking with Rob Bateleur, president of the Brooklyn Bird Club, and Joe Mauceri Of WPIX11 TV in NYC was filming and interviewing the birders. Coco Changeable Hawk-Eagle, fellow member of the Queens County Bird Club, took it upon herself to be our impromptu and defacto ‘press agent’, and got Nancy and I interviewed by both reporters. 
L > R: Nancy Trogan, Marla Diamond CBS880 AM, Me, Rob Bateleur

L > R:   Me, Marla Diamond CBS880AM, Nancy Trogan.  Photo by Coco.

This is the piece by Marla Diamond with me.

L > R:  Me,  Nancy Trogan, Joe Mauceri WPIX11 TV.      Photo by Coco

This is the video by Joe Mauceri Of WPIX11 TV:


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pretty Fly For An Empid

 Give it to me baby. pseet-ptsick-seet.
Give it to me baby. pseet-ptsick-seet.
Give it to me baby. pseet-ptsick-seet.
And all the birders say I'm pretty fly
For an empid.
Uno, dos, tres, split or lump, ID’s a mess
A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was reported from Central Park. An unusual sighting given the date but not enough to motivate me to shlep into Manhattan. I had seen the bird earlier this year up in the Adirondacks, so I had even less motivation to try to see this bird. Flycatchers for the uninitiated, are a group of birds that look remarkably similar, yet are different species who differentiate themselves by discreet invariable calls. While some birds learn their calls or songs from their parents and thus can have regional variation, this group of birds does not learn the songs or calls. 

Naturally when a difficult to ID bird appears one cannot be faulted for defaulting to the most likely candidate. In the case of this bird the ID evolved into something far more interesting: a Western Flycatcher. Hold on there you say, as you declare that there is no “Western Flycatcher” in your filed guide. True ‘nuff, unless you check an older one in which it had not been split into the charmingly rolls-off-the-tongue names of Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatchers. Better still, try to get definitive ways to separate them other than by location. Tough call.

So a way out of range bird that wasn’t talking much presented quite a dilemma; unless the two species are lumped back together. ;) With consensus growing towards Western if not which one of the two splits it was, either way it would be a NYS bird for me and a lifer for Arlene. Who can argue with starting the day tracking down a good bird when later on in the day the plan was to attend a child’s <groan> birthday party.

We left early to beat traffic and find a parking spot. I know you’re thinking: “There’s a parking spot in Manhattan?” but yes there is, and I’m not telling you where. We walked through the park, and deftly merged through the runners to get over to the boat house. We walked past the feeders, and didn’t know that there was a Great Horned Owl way up in a tree there! He was no doubt waiting for dark to munch on the rodents that would scavenge the spilled seeds. In a hurry to get to our target bird, we revisited him later.

We met up with Peter Reef-Heron was staking out the flycatcher. With a less than cooperative bird at that moment, he led us to where the Red-headed Woodpecker was. We never made it there as on the way we crossed paths with Anthony Collared Dove who had more information about where the flycatcher had been so we doubled back. And then shortly thereafter we got the bird exactly where he said it would be! Lifer for Arlene and another [ as yet to be determined species ] NYS #411 and YB  #324!


Of course this rarity meant that birders came out of the woodwork, and it was a virtual who’s who of birders. Even a contingent of Albany birders were even present, despite Will Scaup poo-pooing a visit downstate  recently declaring: “when something good shows up.”  “When” was within one week!

So there was lots of discussion about what the bird is. Pacific-slope or Cordilleran, or could one even tell the difference? Or was this split legitimate and should it be re-lumped? Then there is hearing the calls and songs... Isaac Brant heard it both call and sing; the benefit of being quiet and separating himself  from fellow birders who lapse into conversations instead of trying to listen. Later on recordings were made that as of now seem to point to Pacific-slope Flycatcher too, and yet there is continued tumult. And no shit, someone collected its droppings for a DNA analysis. Binos? Check. Scope? Check. Camera? Check. Pooper-scooper? Check. Yes Virginia, birders want to know what species it is so badly that they’ll collect it’s poop. How about rethinking species that are just about indistinguishable by almost all measures? After all, there are lots of examples of separate, hybridizing birds that are less logically lumped.

Other nice birds seen were the immature Red-headed Woodpecker that we bailed on half way earlier, and the Great Horned Owl we had walked right past on the way to the flycatcher. 

Great Horned Owl

Priorities. Now the priority was a nice cup of coffee and a croissant in the boat house café.
It was a nice day in NYC, and despite flycatchers not being the most inspiring of birds, it was accommodating and a lifer or state bird is worth the trip.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Glorified Version of a Pelican

Have optics
Fact quite a few
Thats okay man, 
Cause I love birds

Glorified version
Of a Pelican
Feel so manly
With avians

Its coming down to the wire, and birds for whom I thought the appearance window had closed are giving me another opportunity. This past Tuesday a White Pelican was located at Jamaica Bay by Ed Thrasher. He notified me, and having had enough of leaf raking and disposal at my house, I grabbed my optics and prepared to head there. I called Arlene Rails, who was working from home, but all she said was: "Pick me up on the way".

We made good time, considering there is no such thing as non rush hour. We parked at the visitor center and made our way to the trail to Big John's Pond. A short way down, we crossed paths with Bob Prothonotary, Pat Pallas Reed Bunting, and Ed Thrasher. 

So we were expecting them to say in blase tones that the bird was in the north end of the pond. Instead we were told that the bird was consorting with a flock of Snow Geese, and... well... the flock just up and flew a few minutes ago. I wasn't sure if they were pulling my leg or not. Surely they would not do this to Arlene.

They offered that the bird might still be there, yada yada yada. We parted ways, figuring it may and we might as well look. There were plenty of Mute Swans to taunt us with deceptively similar appearance at that distance. But try as we might, no Pelican. Were we victims of YSHBH5MA? 

We decided that it was too soon to give up. We went to the west pond and  looked around. We went to Big Egg Marsh, and then to the north dyke. We looked all over, but there was no Pelican. Dang.

The next day I learned that it had been relocated, and thus exhibited site fidelity. This morning was our next opportunity and I picked up Arlene for a deja vroom.  We made it to the Cross bay Blvd. when I got an email that said: "Pelican is here" so I responded to her by asking: "Do you always speak in the third person?"

We met up with her at the edge of the east pond, and set up my scope. Pelican had it queued up in hers and Arlene got a look. I found it and watched as it dipped that large bill into the pond. Yes! A lifer for Arlene and YB #323 for me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Partying With Such A Sweet Sparrow

Querula, Querula, wherefore art thou Querula.

On Friday Nov 14 an email came through that despite initial reluctance, the home owners up in Albany who were hosting a Harris' Sparrow decided to let people visit. Yay! Then I got the same message forwarded to me from Arlene. It said: "5 o'clock departure?" YAY!  Or, ahem.. how could I refuse?

Well, it seemed that during the course of the day some sort of kerfuffle took place and the home owners rescinded their offer. Booooo.

So Saturday was spent at the shore trying to get a Franklin's Gull for Arlene, they having been present the day before in heretofore unprecedented numbers up and own the coast. Despite a noble effort from Robert Moses to Jones Beach, we failed to find a single FRGU, when the day before people were running from them, shrieking in horror. {..or so I heard}

There were numerous flocks of small birds, mostly Goldfinches, but also some Purple Finch and Cedar Waxwings. I presume there must have been some Siskins amongst them, but the lighting and wind and their not stopping made that empirically difficult.

With reports of Cave Swallows, we were disappointed to have not found one of those either. What we did find was a Bald Eagle, not bothered by the high winds present the whole day.

Crossing paths with Ed Thrasher, we brain stormed and thought checking Point Lookout might give us a better result. We were set to go there when he sent us a message that Cave Swallows were present at Venetian Shores in West Babylon. We made a bee line for there instead.

When we arrived they were swooping right past the car, and then as we approached the other birders on the beach, they were swooping right past us! A lifer for Arlene and YB 321 for me! It took a while for me to get a good look at these birds because they swoop by so quickly. Were they actually Cave Swallows and not Cliff Swallows? Trying to get a good look at the throat was a challenge, but necessary to correctly ID them.

Talk amongst those gathered about a trip upstate for the Harris', began circulating now that “all had been forgiven” and birders were once again welcome. Arlene and I ruminated. It was a no brainer for me; I wanted to go. And not for nothing, she had researched some additional fun things for us to explore up that way. Thing was she had tentative plans. Could they be changed?

Yes they could. I'm sure she felt more guilty than she let on. So what we did was follow our plan from the previous day, and <groan> depart by 5 am.

Now mind you, I am want to object to waking so early. The rear of my eyelids are quite captivating at that hour of the day. Regardless, to blast past the annoying traffic that strangles movement about the metropolitan area this is what one must do. Remarkably there was a modicum of traffic on the Southern State at that hour and much to my dismay, there was no shortage of lollygaggers.

Okay, so you don't like to drive as fast as everyone else, but why must you do so in the passing lane, and why must you seek out other slugs and clot together? If you are going to 'enforce' the speed limit, why are you blatantly disregarding the rule that one must vacate the left lane if not overtaking other vehicles?

Well we made it past this and the bridges and once we were on the Sprain pkwy, it was smooth sailing. The sun coming up in the valleys in the distance was a very pleasant sight. The thermometer on the dash stating 28 degrees Fahrenheit in Dutchess county was a bit unexpected though.

We made great time, and arrived in Loudonville at 8am. We were the first to arrive and I was a bit surprised as this is a pretty good bird for New York. That and I wanted to make sure that we were in the correct place. It would be funny if we were not at the correct address.

Harris' Sparrow

We quietly walked to the backyard and followed the directions that had been posted on the internet. Shortly thereafter another birder joined us, and we looked around hoping to find our bird. It was obvious that the bird was not near the feeders, so I looked in the back yard, hoping at least to locate the Bohemian Waxwing that had also been reported. No luck there, but there were many small birds moving around through the brambles, and after looking at lots of Juncos and Goldfinches, one bird caught my eye. Yes! The sparrow was sitting on some wooden gardening structures and staring right at us. I got Arlene and the other birder on it and there was much rejoicing. Lifer for Arlene, YB #322 for me :)

We observed this fellow as he made his way to the front of the yard and to the feeders. Following up on contact with others from L.I., I told them we had the bird, and inquired where they were. Still on the way. Slackers.

It was at this point that I decided to attend to the disagreement my used coffee was having with the allotted storage space, and we made tracks for a privy. Stewart's is always good for this. They have good ice cream and coffee too.

Having rescued my teeth from floating, we returned to the scene of the crime for better photos and to drop off the 20lb bag of bird seed we had brought the home owners. We discovered more people on site, including Will Scaup, Rich Fregetta, Bob Prothonotary, Ed Thrasher, Dave Clapper, and Phil Jabiru. Thankfully they all had gotten good views of the bird. There was an unusual bird present we had seen before, and when relocated we all marveled at the aberrant White-throated Sparrow with too much white on the head, a victim of leucism.

White-throated {and eared} Sparrow
After we were satisfied with our looks, and conferring with the others, we decided to try for the Townsend's Solitaire that some including Arlene had not seen. But before we did, another birder arrived and said she had both a Red-headed Woodpecker and Pileated at a nearby home, 5 minutes away. She could give us nothing more than its at 4 Vly road. I put this in the GPS and there was only one hit nearby. Arriving, we discovered there was no such home matching that address. Various obscenities were stated aloud. Oh well. Definitely ~not~ the right place.

We then set off for John Boyd Thacher State Park. It was far more of a beautiful day methodologically than the last visit, but the foliage spectacular on that visit had gone completely. And so it would seem, had the TOSO. Oh well. We gave it a good shot. The others departed and Arlene and I set off exploring the places she had found in preparation.

The first spot we were looking for was the Vosburgh Swamp Natural Area. Unfortunately the routing was not as precise as it should have been, and we had to explore a bit on our own to actually find the entrance. We tried some likely looking roads, and in doing so, we found 4 Mile Point Preserve  which had nice looks along the Hudson. A few all too short trails, but nice nevertheless. We continued down this road and eventually found the entrance, but noticing that there were hunters present and our highly allergic response to bullets, we postponed exploration for another time.

With light drawing down, we went to our next destination for the requisite celebratory brews at  Crossroads Brewing Company.  A good brew pub as a finishing touch on a birding trip is great, and finding one along the way can often be as much of a challenge as finding a target bird. The numerous good reviews for the beer and food was key, and that it was not likely a noisy college hangout more to our speed.

With time to sit and converse in a non-noisy atmosphere was heavenly. The place is actually a former opera house, and renovated into a pub - restaurant was done really nicely. We enjoyed the mussels and fish cakes, as well as the pretzels along with several of their beer varieties. Arlene got their pumpkin ale and I even liked it as it was not overly nutmeg or pumpkin flavored: accented, not overwhelmed. I always avoid the pumpkin varieties but this is one even I would drink: that says a lot. I had their Black Rock Stout and it was superb, and then was delighted by their Midnight RYEder which is a Black Rye IPA. Typically I have found very few IPAs I enjoy; those of similar taste to mine { ie enjoy stouts } find many an IPA way too hoppy. The waitress suggested we sample it, and it was like nothing I had tried before. Initially, it had an unusual after taste. But for both Arlene and I after a few more sips it grew on us exponentially. I enjoyed a pint, and then afterwards the waitress also suggested their Brady's Bay Cream Ale. This was a much lighter bodied brew and a nice finish to the evening. Ah, beers to match the colors of the bird we had seen earlier in the day. What could be better?

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Low Spark Of The Hybrid Duck

Half-breed, that's all I ever heard
Half-breed, how I learned to hate the word
Half-breed, they're no good they warned
Record committees were against me since the day I was born

 Well a Cinnamon Teal showed up at Montezuma NWR. Woohoo I thought, a potential NYS bird! But then like a herd of horses, the nay sayers showed up. Seems like clockwork that if a rare duck shows up, it will be labeled an escapee or a hybrid. What is it about hybrids? Sure you technically can't count it as a this or a that, but its not like they don't exist at all. Why aren't they both, or two halves? And what ever happened to the aphorism: “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck..”

Well we all know that ducks are quite amorous, and from whence we get the phrase: “hey baby, once you go quack, you never go back”. So are we ever seeing pure birds or are they back-crosses etc? And once these birds step out of this line, does that tend to make them 'wander' in more literal ways?

Cinna-blue Teal?
One thing is for sure, while the experts were using their scopes to have a monkey trial debating the origin of the species, some of us decided it may be better to have gone and seen the bird while it was there and let the chirps fall where they may.

Having lived in Boston and made numerous trips back and forth to visit family here in New York, this distance was on par and not that onerous. In fact, for my money the western section of route 17, soon to be I-86 is quite picturesque, and a pleasure to cruise. So when other birders inquired if I was going to have a look, taking the trip became that much easier.

We waited a sufficient amount of time to hear various origins comments, and to see if the bird was being site faithful. With that confirmed, we decided it was better to see it than wait and risk missing it. Bob Prothonotary and Earic Miller joined me on this trip.

We got a reasonably early start; departing at 5am. Unencumbered by traffic, we arrived before 10am and to a few birders on site with the bird queued up for us. Beautiful bird, But a wee bit skulky, spending its time in the far back corner and feeding behind vegetation. We all got decent looks, but after 20 minutes all the birds in Larue pond were scared by something and flew away. Talk about good timing! I hate YSHBH5MA.

We birded the wildlife drive, and saw an impressive assortment of quackidillians. (And yes we skipped over the shorebirds because.. well, they're shorebirds. ) So many varieties were represented, it looked pathetically difficult to try to relocate the teal since it seemed to like to hide in the vegetation. I did however impress a bit by locating a Eurasian Wigeon in the teeming masses.

With a good scanning of the main pool completed, we headed off to Knox- Marsellus marsh where 60+ Sandhill Cranes had been seen recently. Having dipped on this bird on numerous visits, it was quite a pleasure to see at least 30+ of them and not have to try that hard. Also on site were Snow Geese and Tundra Swans. 

After a while, we decided to give Larue another shot. We were not disappointed! Not only had the teal returned but is was now much closer. I took several shots, but the distance, overcast and ..? made the pictures suck.

We capped the day with a pint of Guinness at a descent restaurant that Bob goes to in Weedsport when he’s up that way. The food was good, the day was good. The bird was good; even if it was a hybrid.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Sparrow and a Booby Prize

With reports of Nelson’s Sparrow being seen all about, I of course wanted to see one for the year before they get lumped back with Saltmarsh. Several trips to Cupsogue, Dune Road, and Gardener’s Park but I kept missing the bird. Dang.

With a report of two at Plumb Beach back on Monday the 26th, Tuesday seemed like a good opportunity. Phil Jabiru, Nancy Trogon, and I met there are walked out into the full moon flooded marsh. Not very birdy, but about half way down I spished up a bird. We got nice looks before it flew back into hiding. Sometimes birds are very accommodating and queue up nicely, while at other times they are frustratingly skulky.

Well at least we saw the bird nicely. Nancy got one frame off, but the bird as you can see below appears a bit blurred. Oh well you can’t have everything, though I now have my 320th bird for the year. 

Nelson's Sparrow
After this success, we tried Floyd Bennett Field and had a very nice walk. White-crowned, White-throated, Savannah, Field, Swamp, Song, and Junco were seen. The deep red of the Virginia Creeper and the Sumac really colored up the place nicely. But more birds to write home about could not be turned up.

By lunch time it was time for Nancy to get going, so Phil and I headed to Jones Beach. Again we did a lot of walking; I was thinking how soon enough it would be colder and the walking outdoors might be a bit less pleasant. Nevertheless it’s a great place to walk around, and we had a repeat of the mornings sparrows, except for the Nelson’s, but with the addition of the persisting Lark Sparrow.

For a change, we decided to try field 6 and look for gulls. Nothing unusual, but with reports of Jaegers, we scanned the ocean. Lots of Gannets were about, but not that close in. No feeding flocks of gulls to harass, so no Jaegers either.

But one ‘Gannet’ caught my eye. It was different in having a black trailing edge to the wings. Look as I might, I could not discern any speckling nor disruption of either the black nor the white parts. OMG. Could this be a Masked Booby? 

Distance, lighting, and angularity necessary to observe this bird as well as desired were a challenge. I studied the bird for as long as possible, and tried to get Phil on it as well but could not. I left the bird feeling like it was not a Gannet. Coloring my thoughts was the report five days earlier of a putative immature Masked Booby from Cape May.

Probability states that it would not be a Masked Booby. Possibility influenced by a marked uptick in the number of vagrants everywhere and especially first state records seemingly being reported every week meant to me that nothing can be taken for granted.

I went home and poured over my references. The more I looked and read, the more I felt like it was a Masked Booby. But was the look I had sufficient to rule it in? I consulted with a few experts who offered me their opinions and assistance. Apparently some of the markings require quite a good look from much closer, and together with structural differences the distinction can be made. Begrudgingly, I have had to accept that it was most likely a 3rd year Gannet; the plumage most similar to Masked Booby. 

I will keep looking. At least I will be better prepared should another similar looking bird crosses my path. And who knows, maybe I will find one.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Powerbirder et al In Search of A Power-chord Player

A bird that I was hoping to have visit NY this year, Townsend’s Solitaire, made an appearance albeit upstate. It was discovered on October 18th and relocated on successive days, so with an opportunity to go see it available on the 22nd, a posse quickly formed.

John Gaggle-o-geese , Phil Jabiru, Pelican, and I met at 6am. The traffic gods had other thoughts though. It was a slow tortuous crawl to the bridge, made a bit more pleasant by a nice sunrise.  

Sunrise on the Throgs Neck Bridge
Then it was smoother sailing from then on. The thruway is uninspiring, but a good way to get upstate expeditiously. Once we got off the highway, I was at home with the types of roads I love: small, winding, and picturesque.  With the fall foliage, it was blessed eye candy. 

The beautiful roads in upstate New York
With a lot of turns here and turns there, it was amusing to me on how the GPS routed us, especially compared to the more grid-like roads downstate. But that’s what makes a road trip more interesting.

Eventually we arrived at John Boyd Thacher State Park  and began looking for a sign for the visitor’s center and the Indian Ladder trail.  

Indians used to use this...
We stopped in to the visitor’s center and inquired of the park staff, but she was unaware of the celebrity in her midst. She did point us in the right direction, and we headed off to find our bird. A photo of the tree the bird favored had been posted online, and it proved helpful. The trail actually turns sharply and heads down from the Helderberg Escarpment to the valley below. We diverted to the picnic area adjacent to where they were busily and noisily constructing a new visitor’s center.

Arriving in this small field, we were immediately disappointed that there were no other birders present, and then fell into more disappointment as we could not locate the bird! We looked around, and realized that as tasty and tempting as the abundant fruits on the Juniper were, the bird was elsewhere.

With no bird to wow us, we explored and looked at the other birds present. Not a whole lot, but certainly better than nothing. Robins, Bluejays, Juncos, Chipping Sparrows, and 2 flocks of Pine Siskins flying by. 

The Posse
If the bird was there we certainly would have found it, but it was adept at hiding. This is counter to my previous experiences where it liked perching prominently. So we looked more, hoping that we had not gone a long way for naught.

The views off of the escarpment were spectacular. The foliage was brilliant yellows, oranges and reds and looking into a valley made the vista all the more impressive.  We walked around and we all could not help but take a lot of photos. 

What a view!
At some point, a birding couple happened by, relayed they had not had the bird today, but had seen it the day before. Groan. Later still another local birder John R. joined us, and despite more eyes we could not locate it.

With hopes that reports might give us a plan of action, we learned that it had been seen at the overlook the day before, and that it had been seen at this location earlier in the morning.  We exchanged cell#s with John R. and we went exploring elsewhere. 

Overcast yes, but again, what a view!!
What this place lacked in birds [ at least on this day ] it more than made up for with scenery. Clearly the view and the foliage was the star. We checked numerous spots down the road but to no avail. And the day was an odd day meteorologically. Lots of different clouds at different altitudes, and intermittent sprinkles of less than 2 minutes. Then John R. sent a text message that he was giving up. I was hoping it was a “it’s here”, but no.

Then it started to rain on us. Great. But it stopped rather quickly as we headed back to the car, and the sun came out for an ambient lighting experience that was unique: dark and foreboding over that way, bright and cheerful over there, and meh in that direction. And then a rainbow appeared right in front of us in the valley. One end appeared to head straight to the ground, and it was all I could do the restrain Pelican from pushing me off the cliff to retrieve the pot of gold. 

A Sign From the Birding Gods?
We decided to head back and have another look to see if our luck could turn. Back at the trail-head lot, with a light drizzle, Phil and I opted to leave our cameras behind. I joked: ‘that’s a way to guarantee we’ll see it!” Pelican and I headed off down the path, with John and Phil trailing behind.

Once we got to the clearing, I saw a bird sitting on top of the chain link fence enclosing the construction site. It swooped down for a bug or such and then landed, but the view was all I needed. THATS THE BIRD!  Pelican and I got good looks and I yelled out some more to Phil and John.

They arrived in time to see the bird in the nearby tree, and camera-less, we were forced to take photos with our phones. I still have not mastered aiming that thing, and the bird was in the top of the view instead of the center, but there it was. The ‘insurance shot’.

Bad shot, but its in the top left corner
Shortly there after it flew to a Juniper by the edge and I volunteered to go back for the cameras. I instructed Phil to keep an eye on it, and made my way back up the trail. I also called John R. To let him know we had the bird and he simply replied: “I’m making a u-turn.”

By the time I returned the bird was squarely hidden in the back of the Juniper, but Phil was great at keeping a tab on where it was, helping me, another birder who showed up, and that fellow John R. when he returned.

Finally, the bird flew out from its seclusion and alighted at the top of a tree as is more characteristic. It called a few times softly. We all then got great views and enjoyed the  visitor from out west. The bird was at 42.655473, -74.016603.  

Townsend's Solitaire
Clearly we were all pleased and relieved, and John G. mentioned that one of my observations: ‘Chasing a good bird often brings one to remarkably nice places that one might not otherwise explore’ was right on the money. What a beautiful place this park is. I had never even heard of it.  Goal accomplished for us all, and I am at YB 319.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Don't Shoot Until You See The White Of The Ibis

A nice group of 10 of us met at the Prospect Park Zoo for a QCBC walk I was leading on the brisk morning of October 18. Most of us were surprised by the chilly weather, and those that brought a bit of extra warmth were glad they did. At one point, though happy with my new  tchotchke-enabled gloves, ( they permitting swiping on the screen of the smart phone ) I was perturbed by presence of chilliness in my hands which I thought should not be. Checking the weather, it was only 38!  In the shadows of the trees it felt cooler, and thankfully, in sunlight it felt oh so good. What a gloriously beautiful day to be out though, without a doubt. Quite a difference from last year’s dreary overcast. And kudos to Mr. Olmstead for a spectacular park. Beautiful.

The birds thought so too. They were all over, and in good numbers. At the entrance was a large flock of Grackles, perhaps 50 or so being characteristically noisy.  One of the first good sightings was a Turkey Vulture also as we entered the park. Coopers Hawk and Red-tailed Hawks were about as well.

The joint was jumping, with Rublets and Goblets all around, only competing with Butter-butts for sheer numbers. But with a lot of skillful eyes picking through them we also found Parula, Magnolia, Blackpoll, lots of Palm, and Black-throated Blue. But this was not the end of the warbler show...

By the ponds in the lullwater we had a nice showing of quackiderms, highlighted by a Wigeon and a few Shovelers, as well as a geriatric ward of Coots. Not to feel left out, woodpeckers put in a good showing as well predominated by Flickers, but Red-bellied, Downey, Hairy, and Sapsucker were also spotted.

Last year’s Philadelphia freedom was not reprized. On that trip we had a remarkable 7 of those Vireos sighted. Zilch were seen today, but Red-eyed and Blue-headed were seen, the later in good numbers.

Also in large numbers were the following: Phoebe and Hermit Thrush. Requests were made for Swainson’s Thrush, but it was not to be. The other requests were for Connecticut Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Nashville Warbler. Two out of three ain’t bad, or so says Mr. Loaf. Which two? Read on.

As the day went on, more and more people began to show up at the park, turning into thronging masses present to walk and show support for breast cancer awareness. The park was eventually turned into a sea of pink clad marchers, enthusiastic cheerleaders, music and event support stations and noise! Lots of noise! As near as we could tell they were completely oblivious to our desire to find birds! Sheesh! But it was so encouraging to see so many out in support of an important and worthwhile cause.

We did our best to stick to less traveled paths and quieter areas, and did pretty well. But even so, there is a curious phenomena in busy city parks where some birds become oblivious to people. One such bird was along the lake by the cemetery path, but being passed by lots and I mean LOTS of people. This Pine Warbler was at our feet, a mere 3-6 feet away affording great looks and photos. What a thrill! And oh how I wish more birds were so amenable. 

Pine Warbler
Eventually, we ended up at the ‘picnic house’ area, and off in the distance I spotted activity by an enclosure where they were encouraging native plant restoration and planted saplings. From the picnic tables we spotted movements in the grass in front of the enclosure, and though made up of a lot of Chipping Sparrows, other goodies were present as well. One such was a drab little warbler that satisfied one of the ‘requests’, and was confidently IDed by Steve S. as an Orange-crowned Warbler.

Checking the weeds, (though some objected to that moniker,) we saw much activity. The best by far was a Nashville Warbler, satisfying another ‘request’ and going above and beyond. This little beauty posed for us in sunlit splendor. 

Nashville Warbler
It was about this time that the crowds and the noise were overtaking us, noon was approaching, and an email was received via the listserve from Isaac Brant alerting to the location of a White Ibis in nearby Staten Island. As it was, some had to depart anyway, and a quick inquiry of the group had half having to head home shortly while the other half was enthusiastic about chasing a rarity.

So it was decided to conclude the Prospect Park portion of the trip, which by all accounts was quite good, and attempt to incorporate an impromptu twitch into the wilds of Staten Island. Note: yours truly had attempted to find what appears to be the same Ibis when it had been spotted at Prospect park and then Greenwood cemetery back on the 13th. 

Three cars set off while the others bid us adieu. John Gaggle-o-geese and Pelican set off on their own, while Caesar Cassin's Vireo followed Arlene and I.  Following the GPS directions, and being frustrated by Sunday traffic, I was further annoyed by the navigation instructions unexpectedly changing its mind from time to time. Bear in mind I could not simply decide to turn when I thought I had to proceed straight ahead; traffic congestion and being followed made that untenable.  Eventually I decided to follow a course to the highway and ignore previous suggestions for turns and even u-turns!

I made it to the Verrazano bridge, and thought it was clear sailing from there on. But the traffic gods are consistent in punishing those who venture onto this island by strangling them in slow traffic. A few miles down the highway traffic slowed to a crawl, so what else is new. And then the phone rang.

Pelican and John were still in Brooklyn having been hamstrung by traffic, closed on ramps, and bad GPS info that sent them in circles. Having touched base we continued on to our quarry, while they informing that they were being delayed a bit.

Fortunately, we got to where we wanted to be. Picturesque? Far from it. This was a very industrial area and the polar opposite of picturesque. Oh well.

We parked at the end of River Road behind two other cars. Other birders no doubt, always an encouraging sign. And as we started for the railroad tracks to walk upon to the requisite pond, Isaac Brant and Michael Sharpie came walking out. They informed us that the pond was on the left about a half mile down, and that the bird was there, but sometimes obscured by walking behind the Phragmites.

We walked on, hobbled a bit by the uneven spacing of the rail ties and the rock ballast. But walk on we did. Eventually we arrived at the pond and looked around. There was a Great Egret off to the left where we were told the bird was, as well as some Yellowlegs. Off to the right was a Great Blue Heron, and when I put my bins up I spotted the White Ibis right behind it!
In with the mix was also a female type Pintail.

We got great looks and set up the scopes for even better looks.   I set upon photographing the Ibis. This bird was a lifer for Arlene and a NY State bird for Caesar and I. For me it was NYS yearbird #318, and NYS #410 for me.

White Ibis (l) Great Blue Heron (R)

White Ibis
Pelican and John G. called again and had just arrived, but they had to traverse the tracks to get to us. We told them the bird was still there...

We observed the bird for just about 10 minutes. {I now know this from the time stamp on my photos.} Then a Great Egret landed next to the Ibis and flushed it! We watched as it circled over the pond, and we hoped it was going to land again. It just kept circling however, and getting higher and higher.

I called Pelican, but she didn’t hear her phone ring, and then as she and John came around the corner Arlene and I were jumping up and down arms flailing and pointing up and own in the air, desperate for them to see us and catch a glimpse of the bird as it flew past them.

They never averted their eyes from the ground. In an effort to not stumble on the uneven surface, the missed an opportunity to have possibly seen the bird at last as it flew by. GAAAAAAAAAAAH. 

Shortly thereafter a text message came in from Isaac, who was still at the parking area. He inquired if the bird had flown, because they just had a White Ibis fly by. I was saddened to report that the bird had in fact just taken off. He said that he and Michael watched as it disappeared into the distance far to the south and east.

Due to the vagaries of Brooklyn traffic and the capriciousness of GPS navigation, our co-conspirators just missed the bird as did other birders who showed up afterwards. A bittersweet end to an impromptu twitch, and I did my best not to impose the "YSHBH Constant" upon the others.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hiking? Nope, Birding Cha Cha Chat

The weekend began by wanting to do some exploring and be active. More active than birding per se, the birds alas, do not let one maintain a continuous high level of activity leading me to conclude that birding is in a sense a lazy pursuit.

Caleb Smith Park was ripe for exploration. I have discovered some superb places as a result of chasing a bird to a given location. I figured if we were not distracted by knowledge of birdiness, we could explore and hike and be active like we know we want to be.

We were in the car and ready to leave when an email came in from the listserve. Isaac Brant found a LeConte's Sparrow at Floyd Bennet Field. I mentioned it to Arlene and she just smiled and said “Lets go!”. She's such an enabler. ;)

Well, it would be a year bird for me and a lifer for her, and a pretty uncommon bird to boot so we made our way there. The place was stupid with sparrows, and wind! But not the LeConte's. We did have White-crowned, lots of Savannah, and other birders had a Nelson's but with the high wind we eventually decided to go elsewhere.

Fortuitously a report came in about a Yellow-breasted Chat at Jones Beach, and that was a bird I had missed on several occasions so far this year. We headed that way as it was on our way home and arriving at the Coast Guard station we saw a phalanx of birders congregated at the hedgerow, waiting for the Chat. Isn't that usually how one sees a Chat?

An inquiry revealed that the Chat had actually been seen regularly and recently, but was, well, acting like a Chat: being furtive and skulky. Steve Tanager, who had seen the bird earlier, suggested to me that the line of birders right in front of where the bird liked to sun itself was keeping it scarce. If we were further away, the bird would probably reappear. Not sure how to affect this I declined waiting around per his advice, instead walking behind the hedgerow to peruse the nice selection of sparrows. Vesper, Field, Swamp, Song, Chipping, White-throated and White-crowned. 

Vesper Sparrow

We went back to the other side when the crowd had dispersed. We took up position on the far side of the outer hedgerow and this spectacular bird took up position on a branch to sun itself. Wow. And after several failed attempts, YB 317. 

Yellow-breasted Chat

A Lark Sparrow was also reported from the entrance to West End 2. Arlene, Pelican and I decided to head that way, spotting a Creeper and Red-hatch along the way. 

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Pat Pallas Bunting saw us walking, kindly offered us a ride to the Lark Sparrow, and showed us exactly where to look. Another nice bird for the day and a lifer for Arlene.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Its my favorite time of the year. Vagrants can show up and all the rules about what ~should~ be present are thrown out the window. What will show up?

The first goodie to show up was a Say’s Phoebe in Staten Island, but it was a one day wonder on the 28th of September. Missed it. Dang. Such poor manners.

Then a Western Kingbird was discovered at Robert Moses STPK. on October 1 but reportedly disappeared pretty much as soon as it was found, and could not be relocated.  I attempted to do so that day later in the afternoon but the cold and wind and general unpleasantness of the environment provided no encouragement to being successful in my quest. I struck out.

Then a few days later on October 4 another was found in Queens. I was pleased to have gotten a heads-up call about it on that Saturday, but stayed home to take care of Arlene Rails who had one F%$# of a bad headache. Fortunately the next day she felt all better, and Corey Shearwater reported that the bird was still present and that it had the good moral fiber to stick around for an additional day. Arlene and I went to look for it and I got a nice year bird for number 316, while Arlene enjoyed a lifer courtesy of Lisa Shrimpke, who found it.

In the intervening time I had made several visits to Bobby Mo STPK., and of course attempted to find the WEKI that had been reported at least once more since its discovery. The golf course and  the volley ball courts seem to be good migrant traps, and with the marsh at Captree and Captree STPK. so close in proximity, an all around good place to bird in Suffolk county.

Additionally I have been scouring the marshes looking for one of The Nelson’s Sparrows that have been appearing here and there, but sadly, not when ~I~ am looking; at least not yet. Arlene and I walked all over Cupsogue this weekend looking. All we got was wet feet.

On October 11 Klemens Thrasher spotted and photographed an adult White Ibis fly over Prospect Park, and more remarkably, it was relocated the next day at nearby Greenwood Cemetery. What a place! Definitely worth a visit to bird and for its picturesqueness and history. Sadly, upon the arrival on the 12th by my posse which included Earic Miller, Jean LeConte Sparrow, and Lisa Shrimpke, the Ibis was nowhere to be found. Dang again!!

Also on this day Pete Myarchus re-found the WEKI at Bobby Mo. So naturally, Phil Jabiru suggested we attempt to relocate it. Why not? We arrived on site to find Keith Cassowary*  and his father searching without luck. Phil and I decided to walk the outer beach access path instead of the one adjacent to the golf course, and we saw lots of bird activity. That activity was made up of a lot of individuals of a few species though: Robins, Yellow-rumps, and Flickers. *They got the bird later in the day.

There was a smattering of other birds too, like Goblets and Rublets, and Savannah Sparrows, and the occasional hungry Merlin. And then I saw an unrobin-like Robin land at the top of some Autumn Olive and it was the bird! We got nice looks before it and we moved on.

We decided to try the gold course, and ran in to Dave Clapper and Pelican on the way. They were directed to where we had the bird. After an uneventful perusal of the course, we returned to the scene of the crime, dismayed to find that all assembled there had failed to relocate it.

We joined the search, and after a while Dave and Pelican having had enough, figuring the bird was gone, and departed. Ugh. Phil and I remained along with Sy Schiffornis and Joe Jacana. And while as is often the case on stake-outs, the focus shifts to BSing rather than birding per se, I happened to look up at the right time to see the bird flying towards us  and was able to yell loudly enough to alert Dave and Pelican and get us all on it, . It seemed that this was the day the WEKI relaxed a bit and let its hair down and afforded looks. Other days it had not been as cooperative.

Afterwards we headed over to the volley ball courts and the board walk at field 5. We added Swamp, Field and White-crowned Sparrow.

I think this is the first time I have ever had 2 separate WEKI not counting places where they are normally found. To add some additional intrigue, as I am writing this another[?] was just reported from Jones Beach.

So where’s the %$%# Say’s, Ibis, Hudwit, and Nelsons that I have missed so far??? (Says the greedy author.) 

I shall have to console myself with a seasonally appropriate beer.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Its Never The Same.

All the time I hear folks mention trends they have observed over the years, and I  am amazed at how many have committed to memory the arrival and departure dates of various migrants. For myself, I have noticed a precipitous decline in the number of the individual birds I see since having started in this addictive pastime in the 70's; though my not having been in the habit of keeping a record of numbers seen versus just keeping track of the species makes it harder to quantify. And it adds fuel to the fire of ebird reviewer’s taunts about not recording numbers.

So this weekend was not as birdy as I would have liked, though not completely devoid of birds. An early arrival on Saturday at Jones beach was just a wee bit not early enough to see the Bay-breasted Warbler photographed by others. I was however rewarded with 4 Prairie Warblers and an early Orange-crowned Warbler. The latter was quite remarkable...

With the birds drying up, Arlene Rails, Pelican and I decided to try Robert Moses. We were looking for the Dickcissel and the Clay-colored Sparrow. Quite a number of us were looking without a whole lot of success, until Dave LaSagra and his Ruby-throated daughter arrived and seemed to pluck the bird out of the ethers. When I say activity was dead it was door-nail dead. Yet he saw movement and alerted the rest of us to the Dickcissel. It was in a bayberry on a berm separating the picnic area from the parking lot, and we went around to the other side to try to relocate it. Once again Dave picked it out. WTF! He said to me: “I have young eyes”. I said “ouch”.  But a nice bird and ever so cooperative and photogenic. Of “amusement” to many of us there, Grouse showed up just after the bird was found, walked over and saw it, and left. Timing is everything...

After giving up on finding the Clay-colored, we had returned to our cars, and were about to depart when Pelican texted me as an email came in. “Ruff at Jones beach”. Needless to say this was an opportunity too good to pass up. We arrived at the ponds to find a throng of other birders, all trained on what little of the bird could be seen. Eventually though the bird moved out into a more exposed area and better looks were had.

Of course with those better looks came various comments on the plumage. Snowy Mitra made detailed plumage observations of the piper and the ID began to be called into question by he and other very knowledgeable persons. I shared my impressions regarding Ruff vs Pectoral Sandpiper being posturally different, ie that the jizz seemed wrong,  and he concurred this bird didn’t look right. Of course it was the knowledge of plumage details that ultimately cinched the ID, and perhaps made Michael Guan, a bit crest fallen. {Crest-fallen Guan? } Oh well, It was a tough call on his part and we all have made mistakes.

I took this opportunity to inquire of Snowy regarding the warbler of earlier in the day. All I said was: “Orange-crowned Warbler”. Apparently news travels fast in the birding community. He replied that it seemed early for this bird, and suggested other possibilities that have previously and often led to mistaken early reports.

At that moment I was not sure if his suggestion could be correct; though always a possibility from which one can learn. I made mental notes of what I had seen and upon arrival at home I checked Garrett & Dunn’s Warbler Guide and The Warbler Guide by Stephenson & Whittle. I could not make it into another species no matter how I tried and despite some doubt having been planted in my head.  I had seen it with Bob Plover who upon inquiry later indicated he was quite certain of the ID and dismissed the other possibilities for the same reasons I had. Always a good feeling to have confirmation and a learning experience as well.

The next morning I returned to Robert Moses with Phil Jabiru to look for the Dickcissel and the Clay-colored I had missed the day before. Dickcissel yes, once again Clay-colored no. We decided to try Jones beach as he is still missing Caspian Terns. No dice, but the most Oystercatchers I have ever seen on Short beach. And then two photographers walked out there and spooked all the birds. Too bad they didn’t have a telephoto lens... oh wait, they did. I guess they wanted to be close enough to whack the birds with the lens.

We went over to the hedge row by the coast guard station and we were not entertained by birds. So when Bob Neotropical Cormorant came over with a smile on his face, showed us the screen on his camera, and asked: “what’s this” I immediately said Clay-colored Sparrow! He had just found it at west end 2. Phil and I headed there right away.

We found a group assembled looking for it, and we joined them. Curt and Stacey Meyer's-Friarbird saw the bird fly into a clump of bayberry, and we all waited patiently to get a view where they indicated. Doug Philentoma decided the bird needed encouragement, and gingerly approached to coax it into view. It worked! This bird cued up nicely and gave all with cameras easy opportunities. That is until it flew into another patch of plants.

Clay-colored Sparrow
The bird then eventually came out onto the sidewalk next to a bunch of us and we were no more than a few feet from it. It was fearless, and I took shots with my phone! Why can’t all the birds be like this?!

So it’s never the same: How often are there Dickcissels and Clay-colored Sparrows essentially together at two beaches on Long Island? { There was also currently a Dickcissel by the coast guard station though not as cooperative as the one at Robert Moses. }


Friday, September 11, 2015

A Bushel Of Pectorals

In my experience, Pectoral Sandpipers have not been that hard to come by. And yet this year for me at least, that has not been the case. I have heard reports of one here and there, but had not connected with one. 

On August 16th of this year I participated in a QCBC trip to the east pond at Jamaica Bay, where we spent a considerable mount of time with lots of eyes looking around for what the pond had to offer. The Western Sandpipers were especially nice, as were the Blue-winged Teal. The 'star' of the day was an Americn Avocet, which was a highlight and draw for many who participated. 

If a Pectoral Sandpiper was about I have no doubt that we would have located it, but alas, we did not. On our walk I crossed paths with Sean Camaroptera, a fellow who works two jobs which cover six of the days of the week so sadly he has limited time, or should I say, not as much time as he would like for getting out to bird. He found one! He was also kind enough to have texted me about it, but by the time we got to that location it had become hidden again. Doh! Sure... The guy with ~limited~ time finds one... 

Add to the consistently changing bird variety that keeps birding interesting, is the near drought conditions we have had this past month. Places I have checked in the past that held water are bone dry, and without the water, they are unattractie to the shorebirds passing through.

So after a posting by Derek Ross's Goose I took advantage of yesterday to try for them yet again. Sandy Pond in the Calverton Ponds preserve was a place I had never explored, and once again chasing a bird brought me to a wonderful place and a pleasant discovery. His warning and the big sign at the trail head was disquieting; there be lots of ticks around. Oh great. 

Deet and the right clothing was the precaution Phil Jabiru and I took, and I am happy to say we emerged w/o a tick. Of the nasty biting arachnid type that is. We ticked some nice birds in a very picturesque place. The water level was distressingly close to non-existent though.

Just when we approached the pond, a Sharpie swooped down and flushed the pipers that were pretty close to our entry point. Would have bee nice to see them from that close but it was not to be. They settled down a ways away, and joined a few Yellowlegs, Spotted, peeps, and Killdeer. By the numbers seen recently, it appears to have been a banner year for Killdeer. That and Solitary Sandpipers, what numbers!

But to the point, there were several lovely Pectoral Sandpipers present, and following another swoop by the Sharpie we were able to count 9 of them before  they settled back down. Also present was Blue-winged Teal. Nice place.

From here we ventured a small way to Epcal, and McKay Pond which I use to only be able to bird from the road. Phil and I scoped the shore and again saw far more Solitaries than usual. We also had a few Northern Waterthrushes and a Bairds that Phil found. 

As I was looking at the Bairds, the Common Gallinule came walking out of the phrags right behind it. Talk about looking at the right spot! Sadly the bird has a broken wing.

After we spent quite some time scoping this pond, we decided to move on and further east. As of the morning we weren't sure we would even be able to go due to the heavy rain, but so far it had held off.

Our next stop was Northville Tpke where the Golden Plovers and the Buff-breasted Sandpipers were still present ( and curiously, a few days before we had missed them )

With our success on a really good streak, we ventured even further and tried Hummel Pond where Soras had been reported in the recent past. Here our luck ran out, but it was a nice place to discover nevertheless.

After a thorough look we headed back, and got caught in the promised heavy rains. Not bad for a day's birding. And with the Pectoral Sandpiper I am up to 311 for the year.