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.

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