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.

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