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.
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.
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?