Friday, January 23, 2015

No Complaint; We Still Had a Great Day Both Then and Today.

Common Loon
On the heels of a great QCBC club trip out to Montauk, comes reports of birds we missed. Doh!

A Thick-billed Murre is great bird anytime, but from shore is wonderful. That we scoped Montauk harbor and did not discover it is disappointing. I guess the multiple Iceland Gulls and the Common Redpoll by the jetty distracted us.

But its report, better late than never, made me venture east again. A number of co-conspirators were consulted for car pooling, but declined for one reason or another. Then Wednesday evening Phil texted me that the day had freed up and was not only available, but offered to drive. Life birds will do that I guess. He had been all set to do things with his wife Thursday, but she learned of this bird and changed her schedule to free him up. I bet many of you reading this are thinking of the lyrics from that Rick Springfield song: “why can’t I find a woman like that...”

Amusingly enough, in the morning of January 22, 2015 as I was approaching Phil’s place, Gary called to inquire where I was. “Pulling into Phil’s driveway” I said. This amused me as he had declined previously.  Learning that we were indeed headed out to Montauk, he planned to meet us out there. Once again, good birds will make you change your plans.

Thick-billed Murre

It was snowing harder as we headed east, but the forecast was for warming and we were not concerned. We made our way to Star Island and parked by the Coast Guard station. Scanning the harbor north of us we were treated to flat waters and expected birds, but no murre. There was a sad Grey Seal present, swimming with more of its back out of the water than the more common Harbor Seals. I asked it: "why the long face?"


We then scanned the harbor to the south and the bird was present smack dab in the center of the waterway with Common Loons. Yes! YB1. We watched for a short while, but then a small boat with two hunters motored towards the bird, and appeared to circle it. They eventually moved on, and Phil thought they might have been trying to collect a wounded duck they had shot.

Unfortunately, the bird moved closer to the west side and out of clear view. We relocated to the marina a wee bit south of there and found the bird. At the same time Gary caught up to us, and we all enjoyed views. We also got distant unspectacular photos.

We then moved on to try for the Barrows Goldeneye. Again, on our QCBC trip we spent time scanning the Common Goldeneye flock as I (correctly) presumed the birds were probably there, despite not having been reported this year / yet.  As viewed from South Lake drive, the flock had been more distant due to the ice coverage, but on this visit the flock was closer to shore.

Finally, some more birds emerged from a sheltered area east of us, where the water was open and formed a small bay near a wooden bulkhead. In with them was a female Barrows Goldeneye, its orange bill giving it away. YB2.

We continued to scan the waters and the flock, hoping to find the male. As I was scanning a Red-necked Grebe swan into view. I had also been looking for this species and it was a nice find. Unfortunately, this bird became the consolation prize for the MIA male Barrows.  YB3. Gary stayed behind in hopes of finding it but told us later he did not.

We then headed to Hook Pond for our yearly Tundra Swan fix. They did not disappoint; sort of. What a pair of lazy birds. Once again they are found sleeping on the shore instead of floating on the water doing swan things. Waiting for some time, one eventually turned his head a bit to reveal his head and bill, cinching the ID. YB4.

Our final stop on the way home was Shinnecock inlet. Phil was hoping to get a look at the King Eider, and I to relocate the Glaucous Gull that was ubiquitous prior to the new year. Dips on both. 

In the back of the inlet the sandbars were exposed due to the very low tide conditions. On them were easily 100 or so presumptive Harbor Seals. It would have been nice to have gotten closer to see if any other pinniped species were represented. I had a Harp Seal in Montauk some years ago, but at this distance, no way to tell.

American Bittern

We ended with a Bittern on Dune road. Pretty darn good day any way you slice it, then off to Jamaica Bay for the update on the West Pond. Or: How long does it take for the government to fill in a hole?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Barney Hates Floridians

So with a shameful inability to capture reflected photons off of an otherwise consistently roosting Cackling Goose at nearby Belmont Lake, another attempt was made yesterday January 20, 2015. I arrived to find several others on site, and together with Arlene and Rich we scanned and scanned.

Most present were interested in Barney, the Barnacle Goose that has wintered here for several years now. Not me. I have seen it umpteen times, and multiple times already this year so I concentrated on getting Cackling Goose for my year list. But as the lake was less frozen due to the recent thaw, and with light appearing earlier and earlier, the geese were on the move and mostly cleared out by 9am.

On location were three fellows from Florida, who having already scored the Pink-footed Goose and other goodies had their sights set on Barney. With it clear that Barney was not present, what were they to do? We discussed the other locations and then I decided that it would be most efficacious if they followed Arlene, Rich and I over to their feeding locations by the cemeteries.

We succeeded in locating a large flock of geese on the lawn just south of the LIRR station.  With some time and effort the Cackling Goose was located, YB1! but Barney was not.  The flock then dispersed when a groundskeeper drove up and flushed the birds. Having given those fellows directions to Shinnecock, they headed off in pursuit of the King Eider and the Redpolls nearby.

I heard they tried again this morning but Barney was a no-show once again. Just like when Carlos came to visit from Florida back in 2013, Barney was around before and after his visit. Go figure.

The three of us decided to head to Point Lookout. Each of us had tried more times than we will admit for the Eared Grebe there, and it was particularly stinging when it was reported that there were two. WTF?  Jeez, how could so many miss these birds so many times?

After a lunch break, Rich suggested that we park in the beach lot and work our way east. We walked out to the water and scanned the water, finding many Horned Grebes. And then Rich said: look at that one! We did, and sure enough there was the mythical Eared Grebe. YB2. 

Nice profiles of Eared Grebe [left] and Horned Grebe [right]

Appropriately enough, Tuesday yielded tue year birds. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Head ~East~ Young Man

Had Horace Greeley been present, he would surely have said the above.  The second of our two QCBC annual Montauk trips took place yesterday January 18, 2015. People are always ‘interested’ and at the same time reluctant to commit due to ‘weather’.  Three bailed because of family obligations and others I’m sure didn’t like the forecast.

The weather however was fine, better in fact than back home! The black ice conditions were not present out east and it was balmy and the wind held off for a good part of the day, and the rain didn’t start until after we were seated for dinner!

Starting at the point we were all disheartened to see two hunting boats out in the ocean to blast the ducks. Common Eiders were still present in good numbers despite being shot at. Compared to last year with massive rafts of thousands, there were much less of all three Scoters, but White-winged were present for YB1. Common Loons were out in force all around; a big contrast to how the prominent specie is Red-throated Loon further west and on the south shore. Of course there were Red-breasted Mergansers, and Horned Grebe as expected, but most pleasing were the hoped for Razorbills estimated at 70, which had been portended by the three present at Point Lookout Saturday. We also had a few Gannets, YB2, which have been somewhat scarce.

Moving on to Camp Hero, we saw the same from the bluffs, and headed to the picnic location after a remarkably quiet drive through the grounds. Much of the dickie birds expected were neither seen nor heard. This was excepted by a large flock of Robins which included a few Cedar Waxwings in their midst. YB3.

Before taking a seat to consume our repast, we walked down the path past the decommissioned batteries. A lone gorgeous male Purple Finch sat motionless and posed nicely in a tree for us all to gawk at. YB4. Back at the picnic tables, we sat in the unseasonably comfortable temps to consume our victuals.

Our next stop was the east jetty. I lamented that the hoped for Great Cormorants did not appear to be stationed on the jetty’s navigation towers, but Rich Kelly pointed out that the two white lumps were in fact immature Great Cormorants. Yay! YB5.

Other birds appeared in similar representation and dispersion. Though at first glance it appeared that we would dip on the Sand-purples, I walked out the jetty and lo and behold three were doing their thing on a small rock next to the water. Yay! Another hoped for species and YB6. 

Walking back to the cars, I mentioned to Ian: “ Remember that time we had a Redpoll in the grasses here”...  We proceeded to our next stop South Lake Drive.

At the south end, we found the Common Goldeneye flock, but alas, could not pick out a hoped for Barrows. Oh well, we were doing pretty so far, what’s one miss?

Continuing on to the west jetty, the obligate Iceland Gulls were present. In fact we ended the day with 7!  And before we left here a small bird flew past Nancy and landed on Primrose and began to chow down. She pointed it out to others who exclaimed: “REDPOLL!”  I waved manically at Pat and Rich who where being lazy in the car, for them to join us, and we all got killer looks at the accommodating winter finch. This was especially pleasing as I had earlier checked email and learned that a flock of Redpoll had been found at Tiana Beach. Of course we were planning to head to Shinnecock, but now the pressure was off. Yay!  YB7 and an example of the ‘casual incantation law’. 

Common Redpoll
We made a few more stops around Fort Pond, but the ice cover made it less than ideal. A notable discovery however, was a DC Cormorant on one of the small ponds with the Hooded Mergansers; the former an excellent find for this time of year in Montauk.

We also stopped at Kirk Beach. This place had been an unexpected hot spot in previous years because Crossbills enjoyed the pine trees there. Well, no need to worry about that anymore; the town removed the islands that had housed the trees within the lot, to make room for more parking spaces. Dang. But we got out to investigate here briefly, and while looking at the dunes I spied a flock of small birds.  The lot of us climbed to the top, and the movement once again caught my eye. More Redpolls! It seems that overnight they had invaded our area in multiple places. Yay!

On the road again, I had told the others to be on the lookout for Turkeys, as they are present in the woods. The Turkeys did not disappoint, and we found a group feeding beside the road. YB8.

Arriving at Shinnecock, we found more of the afore mentioned Iceland Gulls, but search as we could, the Glaucous evaded us. The wind had pick up dramatically by this time, and made scanning much more difficult. But with intel from Mike Cooper { or is that Mike Sharpie, I have difficulty telling them apart ;) } we searched for and succeeded in locating the King Eider.

With light fading, some of us made a last ditch effort to search the ditches for Bitterns and the Snowy Owl. Neither. So we headed back to the restaurant to join the others who passed on birding in the dark to enjoy an excellent meal, and be sheltered from the heavy rain that we had the good fortune to miss up until this point.

Sighting Record Listing - 1/18/2015 - 1/18/2015

47 records

Canada Goose                        
Mute Swan                           
American Black Duck                 
Ring-necked Duck                    
Greater Scaup                       
King Eider                          
Common Eider                        
Surf Scoter                         
White-winged Scoter                 
Black Scoter                        
Long-tailed Duck                    
Common Goldeneye                    
Hooded Merganser                    
Red-breasted Merganser              
Wild Turkey                         
Red-throated Loon                   
Common Loon                         
Horned Grebe                        
Northern Gannet                     
Double-crested Cormorant            
Great Cormorant                     
Great Blue Heron                    
Red-tailed Hawk                     
American Coot                       
Purple Sandpiper                    
Bonaparte's Gull                    
Ring-billed Gull                    
Herring Gull                        
Iceland Gull                        
Great Black-backed Gull             
Rock Pigeon                         
Mourning Dove                       
Northern Flicker                    
Blue Jay                            
American Crow                       
Black-capped Chickadee              
American Robin                      
European Starling                   
Cedar Waxwing                       
Song Sparrow                        
Red-winged Blackbird                
Purple Finch                        
Common Redpoll                      

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Wild Goose Chase Fit For a King

So with reliable yet irksomely difficult at times to get a look at geese in the area, Gary Straus {Grouse?} and I went to nearby Belmont Lake, the now annual winter lodging of Barney, the Barnacle Goose.  map

Gary was in search of the Greater White-fronted Geese, and I the Cackling Goose.  He arrive a bit earlier than I, and got the GWF. We assembled on the east side of the lake with others and scanned some more. Some time later another birder with a British accent whose name I did not catch informed us that both the Barnacle and Cackling were visible from a vantage further south.

Thanking him, the lot of us went there and we got nice looks at Barney again. But the Cackling was evasive. Eventually we decided to try our original location again, where the same fellow told us he just had the Cackling. Groan. We never did locate it that day, and the geese all took off for feeding at St. Charles cemetery or Colonial Springs golf course. We did get Barney for some Red Sox Fans before we left though.

So that the location was not a total year birder's loss, a Belted Kingfisher flew across the lake for me, while Gary had added GWF for his year list.

Next we went over to the west Sayville golf course, where we had a Eurasian Wigeon no more than 15 feet from us standing on the lawn next to the pond. The lot of them reconvened on the pond where the lighting made it near impossible to relocate. Nevertheless, YB 2 for both of us. 

Encouraged, we set our next sights on the Riverhead-Northville area where Gary was hoping for the Pink-footed Goose; both of us for Cackling and or Ross' Geese. A stop in Southahven park was devoid of geese, but a large raft of Ring-necked Ducks and ca. 10 Pintail was nice to see.

Arriving out east, all the fields were empty! We did have nice looks at a Merlin at the Buffalo Farm, and then Canada Geese started to loiter in earnest. Flock after flock dropped in until a local deliberately drove his truck out onto the field in what I can only imagine was a deliberate effort to discourage them. It worked. 

Once again we drove about hoping to locate them, to no avail. I had suggested trying Shinnecock, but Gary was not interested. We went to Iron Pier instead, where he got the YB resident Iceland Gull. 

We returned to checking the fields, and continued coming up empty. But then an email  by the Red Sox fans alerted us to a King Eider and RN Grebe at Shinnecock. Gary's wrist was a bit easier to twist. We beat a hasty retreat.

Arriving at the inlet, we joined Mike Higgiston who was scanning, but w/o success. We also met up with Bob Adamo, and we discussed that we all were a bit uncertain of the exact  location in the post. To make sure that the birds had not been sighted from the old bridge lot, Gary and I went over there after exchanging cell #'s.

We scanned for some time, but the calm waters revealed no sought after sightings. We decided to head back to the inlet, and then back to the  original location and try again. The Eider raft had moved closer, and was now north of the point rather than north east of it and further away. After a very short scan I found the King Eider who tired of playing hard to get. As Bob had stayed behind at the inlet, I informed him of the discovery, and he arrived to a waiting scope and view. I attempted to locate the RN Grebe, but sated by our success, Gary said: "can we go home now?"

Interestingly enough, Gary had thought that the geese were coming into the fields later than by Belmont, and sure enough the Red Sox fans found the PF goose up in Northville. Had we stayed we probably would have found that bird too.

Not bad. I got 3 YB and Gary got 4.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Happy and Birdy Start to 2015

So the new year arrives and despite morning breaking I was in no rush to get moving. And especially no need to rush out and find any lingering drunks on the road. Eventually, a plan materialized to try again for the Black-headed Gull in Setauket. Arlene an I had dipped on it a few days prior. Another email also alerted us to a Yellow-headed Blackbird out in the Riverhead area, and we got a move on.

We arrived at the pier in Setauket, and saw a slew of species feeding on the tide exposed bottom of the harbor. We also saw Dave LaMagna {Dave the bird magnet? } on site, manning his scope.  He turned to greet us, and said the words all birders love to hear: “ I have the bird in the scope.”

Of course in the time it took Arlene and I to get out and look the bird moved, but we re-found it as well as Bonaparte’s Gulls, which in a previous epoch was both common and numerous. Yay! First good birds of the year. And first lifer of the day for Arlene.

Conferring with Dave, it was rapidly obvious that he too had planned to go after the reported Yellow-headed Blackbird further east. We collectively took off eastwards.

Approaching the Riverhead area, huge numbers of Canada Geese were seen in the air, and rather than continuing on to the Blackbirds location, I diverted down Doctor’s path to get a look at all the geese. Halfway down the road we received a call from Dave, alerting us to his having just found a Greater White-fronted and Pink-footed Goose in a field... on Doctor’s Path! He asked me where we were, and I replied: “about 1000 feet north of your present location”.

We pulled up and once again he exclaimed that the birds were in his scope, and once again they moved before we could see them. I set up a scope myself and together we relocated both geese and we all got looks.  I posted a report of the birds, and we all moved on after having satisfied our eyeballs. Lifer number two for Arlene.

Try as we did, we could not locate a blackbird flock. So due to proximity, we went to Iron Pier and found the faithful Iceland Gull.  We also got two other birders on it, who overlooked it sitting on the beach in front of them.

With light fading, we made a dash to Calverton to try for Short-eared Owls as the sun set. Arriving, who should we happen upon but Dave again. What a surprise. We set up position at a reliable vantage point and waited for the owls to arrive.  We were not disappointed, as two owls flew about the field and pursued hunting in the twilight. Lifer three for Arlene, and contemplation that perhaps we should just follow Dave around.

Before the show was over, late arrivers Michael McBrien and his mom came over and I pointed out the location of the owls. Michael also told me that they had been at Jones Beach looking at another Black-headed Gull when my goose post came through. They drove out and found them for themselves before coming for the owls. ...and I thought ~I~ drive fast!

What a fantastically great and birdy start to the new year!