Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pretty Fly For An Empid

 Give it to me baby. pseet-ptsick-seet.
Give it to me baby. pseet-ptsick-seet.
Give it to me baby. pseet-ptsick-seet.
And all the birders say I'm pretty fly
For an empid.
Uno, dos, tres, split or lump, ID’s a mess
A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was reported from Central Park. An unusual sighting given the date but not enough to motivate me to shlep into Manhattan. I had seen the bird earlier this year up in the Adirondacks, so I had even less motivation to try to see this bird. Flycatchers for the uninitiated, are a group of birds that look remarkably similar, yet are different species who differentiate themselves by discreet invariable calls. While some birds learn their calls or songs from their parents and thus can have regional variation, this group of birds does not learn the songs or calls. 

Naturally when a difficult to ID bird appears one cannot be faulted for defaulting to the most likely candidate. In the case of this bird the ID evolved into something far more interesting: a Western Flycatcher. Hold on there you say, as you declare that there is no “Western Flycatcher” in your filed guide. True ‘nuff, unless you check an older one in which it had not been split into the charmingly rolls-off-the-tongue names of Pacific-slope and Cordilleran Flycatchers. Better still, try to get definitive ways to separate them other than by location. Tough call.

So a way out of range bird that wasn’t talking much presented quite a dilemma; unless the two species are lumped back together. ;) With consensus growing towards Western if not which one of the two splits it was, either way it would be a NYS bird for me and a lifer for Arlene. Who can argue with starting the day tracking down a good bird when later on in the day the plan was to attend a child’s <groan> birthday party.

We left early to beat traffic and find a parking spot. I know you’re thinking: “There’s a parking spot in Manhattan?” but yes there is, and I’m not telling you where. We walked through the park, and deftly merged through the runners to get over to the boat house. We walked past the feeders, and didn’t know that there was a Great Horned Owl way up in a tree there! He was no doubt waiting for dark to munch on the rodents that would scavenge the spilled seeds. In a hurry to get to our target bird, we revisited him later.

We met up with Peter Reef-Heron was staking out the flycatcher. With a less than cooperative bird at that moment, he led us to where the Red-headed Woodpecker was. We never made it there as on the way we crossed paths with Anthony Collared Dove who had more information about where the flycatcher had been so we doubled back. And then shortly thereafter we got the bird exactly where he said it would be! Lifer for Arlene and another [ as yet to be determined species ] NYS #411 and YB  #324!


Of course this rarity meant that birders came out of the woodwork, and it was a virtual who’s who of birders. Even a contingent of Albany birders were even present, despite Will Scaup poo-pooing a visit downstate  recently declaring: “when something good shows up.”  “When” was within one week!

So there was lots of discussion about what the bird is. Pacific-slope or Cordilleran, or could one even tell the difference? Or was this split legitimate and should it be re-lumped? Then there is hearing the calls and songs... Isaac Brant heard it both call and sing; the benefit of being quiet and separating himself  from fellow birders who lapse into conversations instead of trying to listen. Later on recordings were made that as of now seem to point to Pacific-slope Flycatcher too, and yet there is continued tumult. And no shit, someone collected its droppings for a DNA analysis. Binos? Check. Scope? Check. Camera? Check. Pooper-scooper? Check. Yes Virginia, birders want to know what species it is so badly that they’ll collect it’s poop. How about rethinking species that are just about indistinguishable by almost all measures? After all, there are lots of examples of separate, hybridizing birds that are less logically lumped.

Other nice birds seen were the immature Red-headed Woodpecker that we bailed on half way earlier, and the Great Horned Owl we had walked right past on the way to the flycatcher. 

Great Horned Owl

Priorities. Now the priority was a nice cup of coffee and a croissant in the boat house café.
It was a nice day in NYC, and despite flycatchers not being the most inspiring of birds, it was accommodating and a lifer or state bird is worth the trip.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Glorified Version of a Pelican

Have optics
Fact quite a few
Thats okay man, 
Cause I love birds

Glorified version
Of a Pelican
Feel so manly
With avians

Its coming down to the wire, and birds for whom I thought the appearance window had closed are giving me another opportunity. This past Tuesday a White Pelican was located at Jamaica Bay by Ed Thrasher. He notified me, and having had enough of leaf raking and disposal at my house, I grabbed my optics and prepared to head there. I called Arlene Rails, who was working from home, but all she said was: "Pick me up on the way".

We made good time, considering there is no such thing as non rush hour. We parked at the visitor center and made our way to the trail to Big John's Pond. A short way down, we crossed paths with Bob Prothonotary, Pat Pallas Reed Bunting, and Ed Thrasher. 

So we were expecting them to say in blase tones that the bird was in the north end of the pond. Instead we were told that the bird was consorting with a flock of Snow Geese, and... well... the flock just up and flew a few minutes ago. I wasn't sure if they were pulling my leg or not. Surely they would not do this to Arlene.

They offered that the bird might still be there, yada yada yada. We parted ways, figuring it may and we might as well look. There were plenty of Mute Swans to taunt us with deceptively similar appearance at that distance. But try as we might, no Pelican. Were we victims of YSHBH5MA? 

We decided that it was too soon to give up. We went to the west pond and  looked around. We went to Big Egg Marsh, and then to the north dyke. We looked all over, but there was no Pelican. Dang.

The next day I learned that it had been relocated, and thus exhibited site fidelity. This morning was our next opportunity and I picked up Arlene for a deja vroom.  We made it to the Cross bay Blvd. when I got an email that said: "Pelican is here" so I responded to her by asking: "Do you always speak in the third person?"

We met up with her at the edge of the east pond, and set up my scope. Pelican had it queued up in hers and Arlene got a look. I found it and watched as it dipped that large bill into the pond. Yes! A lifer for Arlene and YB #323 for me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Partying With Such A Sweet Sparrow

Querula, Querula, wherefore art thou Querula.

On Friday Nov 14 an email came through that despite initial reluctance, the home owners up in Albany who were hosting a Harris' Sparrow decided to let people visit. Yay! Then I got the same message forwarded to me from Arlene. It said: "5 o'clock departure?" YAY!  Or, ahem.. how could I refuse?

Well, it seemed that during the course of the day some sort of kerfuffle took place and the home owners rescinded their offer. Booooo.

So Saturday was spent at the shore trying to get a Franklin's Gull for Arlene, they having been present the day before in heretofore unprecedented numbers up and own the coast. Despite a noble effort from Robert Moses to Jones Beach, we failed to find a single FRGU, when the day before people were running from them, shrieking in horror. {..or so I heard}

There were numerous flocks of small birds, mostly Goldfinches, but also some Purple Finch and Cedar Waxwings. I presume there must have been some Siskins amongst them, but the lighting and wind and their not stopping made that empirically difficult.

With reports of Cave Swallows, we were disappointed to have not found one of those either. What we did find was a Bald Eagle, not bothered by the high winds present the whole day.

Crossing paths with Ed Thrasher, we brain stormed and thought checking Point Lookout might give us a better result. We were set to go there when he sent us a message that Cave Swallows were present at Venetian Shores in West Babylon. We made a bee line for there instead.

When we arrived they were swooping right past the car, and then as we approached the other birders on the beach, they were swooping right past us! A lifer for Arlene and YB 321 for me! It took a while for me to get a good look at these birds because they swoop by so quickly. Were they actually Cave Swallows and not Cliff Swallows? Trying to get a good look at the throat was a challenge, but necessary to correctly ID them.

Talk amongst those gathered about a trip upstate for the Harris', began circulating now that “all had been forgiven” and birders were once again welcome. Arlene and I ruminated. It was a no brainer for me; I wanted to go. And not for nothing, she had researched some additional fun things for us to explore up that way. Thing was she had tentative plans. Could they be changed?

Yes they could. I'm sure she felt more guilty than she let on. So what we did was follow our plan from the previous day, and <groan> depart by 5 am.

Now mind you, I am want to object to waking so early. The rear of my eyelids are quite captivating at that hour of the day. Regardless, to blast past the annoying traffic that strangles movement about the metropolitan area this is what one must do. Remarkably there was a modicum of traffic on the Southern State at that hour and much to my dismay, there was no shortage of lollygaggers.

Okay, so you don't like to drive as fast as everyone else, but why must you do so in the passing lane, and why must you seek out other slugs and clot together? If you are going to 'enforce' the speed limit, why are you blatantly disregarding the rule that one must vacate the left lane if not overtaking other vehicles?

Well we made it past this and the bridges and once we were on the Sprain pkwy, it was smooth sailing. The sun coming up in the valleys in the distance was a very pleasant sight. The thermometer on the dash stating 28 degrees Fahrenheit in Dutchess county was a bit unexpected though.

We made great time, and arrived in Loudonville at 8am. We were the first to arrive and I was a bit surprised as this is a pretty good bird for New York. That and I wanted to make sure that we were in the correct place. It would be funny if we were not at the correct address.

Harris' Sparrow

We quietly walked to the backyard and followed the directions that had been posted on the internet. Shortly thereafter another birder joined us, and we looked around hoping to find our bird. It was obvious that the bird was not near the feeders, so I looked in the back yard, hoping at least to locate the Bohemian Waxwing that had also been reported. No luck there, but there were many small birds moving around through the brambles, and after looking at lots of Juncos and Goldfinches, one bird caught my eye. Yes! The sparrow was sitting on some wooden gardening structures and staring right at us. I got Arlene and the other birder on it and there was much rejoicing. Lifer for Arlene, YB #322 for me :)

We observed this fellow as he made his way to the front of the yard and to the feeders. Following up on contact with others from L.I., I told them we had the bird, and inquired where they were. Still on the way. Slackers.

It was at this point that I decided to attend to the disagreement my used coffee was having with the allotted storage space, and we made tracks for a privy. Stewart's is always good for this. They have good ice cream and coffee too.

Having rescued my teeth from floating, we returned to the scene of the crime for better photos and to drop off the 20lb bag of bird seed we had brought the home owners. We discovered more people on site, including Will Scaup, Rich Fregetta, Bob Prothonotary, Ed Thrasher, Dave Clapper, and Phil Jabiru. Thankfully they all had gotten good views of the bird. There was an unusual bird present we had seen before, and when relocated we all marveled at the aberrant White-throated Sparrow with too much white on the head, a victim of leucism.

White-throated {and eared} Sparrow
After we were satisfied with our looks, and conferring with the others, we decided to try for the Townsend's Solitaire that some including Arlene had not seen. But before we did, another birder arrived and said she had both a Red-headed Woodpecker and Pileated at a nearby home, 5 minutes away. She could give us nothing more than its at 4 Vly road. I put this in the GPS and there was only one hit nearby. Arriving, we discovered there was no such home matching that address. Various obscenities were stated aloud. Oh well. Definitely ~not~ the right place.

We then set off for John Boyd Thacher State Park. It was far more of a beautiful day methodologically than the last visit, but the foliage spectacular on that visit had gone completely. And so it would seem, had the TOSO. Oh well. We gave it a good shot. The others departed and Arlene and I set off exploring the places she had found in preparation.

The first spot we were looking for was the Vosburgh Swamp Natural Area. Unfortunately the routing was not as precise as it should have been, and we had to explore a bit on our own to actually find the entrance. We tried some likely looking roads, and in doing so, we found 4 Mile Point Preserve  which had nice looks along the Hudson. A few all too short trails, but nice nevertheless. We continued down this road and eventually found the entrance, but noticing that there were hunters present and our highly allergic response to bullets, we postponed exploration for another time.

With light drawing down, we went to our next destination for the requisite celebratory brews at  Crossroads Brewing Company.  A good brew pub as a finishing touch on a birding trip is great, and finding one along the way can often be as much of a challenge as finding a target bird. The numerous good reviews for the beer and food was key, and that it was not likely a noisy college hangout more to our speed.

With time to sit and converse in a non-noisy atmosphere was heavenly. The place is actually a former opera house, and renovated into a pub - restaurant was done really nicely. We enjoyed the mussels and fish cakes, as well as the pretzels along with several of their beer varieties. Arlene got their pumpkin ale and I even liked it as it was not overly nutmeg or pumpkin flavored: accented, not overwhelmed. I always avoid the pumpkin varieties but this is one even I would drink: that says a lot. I had their Black Rock Stout and it was superb, and then was delighted by their Midnight RYEder which is a Black Rye IPA. Typically I have found very few IPAs I enjoy; those of similar taste to mine { ie enjoy stouts } find many an IPA way too hoppy. The waitress suggested we sample it, and it was like nothing I had tried before. Initially, it had an unusual after taste. But for both Arlene and I after a few more sips it grew on us exponentially. I enjoyed a pint, and then afterwards the waitress also suggested their Brady's Bay Cream Ale. This was a much lighter bodied brew and a nice finish to the evening. Ah, beers to match the colors of the bird we had seen earlier in the day. What could be better?

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Low Spark Of The Hybrid Duck

Half-breed, that's all I ever heard
Half-breed, how I learned to hate the word
Half-breed, they're no good they warned
Record committees were against me since the day I was born

 Well a Cinnamon Teal showed up at Montezuma NWR. Woohoo I thought, a potential NYS bird! But then like a herd of horses, the nay sayers showed up. Seems like clockwork that if a rare duck shows up, it will be labeled an escapee or a hybrid. What is it about hybrids? Sure you technically can't count it as a this or a that, but its not like they don't exist at all. Why aren't they both, or two halves? And what ever happened to the aphorism: “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck..”

Well we all know that ducks are quite amorous, and from whence we get the phrase: “hey baby, once you go quack, you never go back”. So are we ever seeing pure birds or are they back-crosses etc? And once these birds step out of this line, does that tend to make them 'wander' in more literal ways?

Cinna-blue Teal?
One thing is for sure, while the experts were using their scopes to have a monkey trial debating the origin of the species, some of us decided it may be better to have gone and seen the bird while it was there and let the chirps fall where they may.

Having lived in Boston and made numerous trips back and forth to visit family here in New York, this distance was on par and not that onerous. In fact, for my money the western section of route 17, soon to be I-86 is quite picturesque, and a pleasure to cruise. So when other birders inquired if I was going to have a look, taking the trip became that much easier.

We waited a sufficient amount of time to hear various origins comments, and to see if the bird was being site faithful. With that confirmed, we decided it was better to see it than wait and risk missing it. Bob Prothonotary and Earic Miller joined me on this trip.

We got a reasonably early start; departing at 5am. Unencumbered by traffic, we arrived before 10am and to a few birders on site with the bird queued up for us. Beautiful bird, But a wee bit skulky, spending its time in the far back corner and feeding behind vegetation. We all got decent looks, but after 20 minutes all the birds in Larue pond were scared by something and flew away. Talk about good timing! I hate YSHBH5MA.

We birded the wildlife drive, and saw an impressive assortment of quackidillians. (And yes we skipped over the shorebirds because.. well, they're shorebirds. ) So many varieties were represented, it looked pathetically difficult to try to relocate the teal since it seemed to like to hide in the vegetation. I did however impress a bit by locating a Eurasian Wigeon in the teeming masses.

With a good scanning of the main pool completed, we headed off to Knox- Marsellus marsh where 60+ Sandhill Cranes had been seen recently. Having dipped on this bird on numerous visits, it was quite a pleasure to see at least 30+ of them and not have to try that hard. Also on site were Snow Geese and Tundra Swans. 

After a while, we decided to give Larue another shot. We were not disappointed! Not only had the teal returned but is was now much closer. I took several shots, but the distance, overcast and ..? made the pictures suck.

We capped the day with a pint of Guinness at a descent restaurant that Bob goes to in Weedsport when he’s up that way. The food was good, the day was good. The bird was good; even if it was a hybrid.