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. }


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