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Well, it seemed that during the course of the day some sort of kerfuffle took place and the home owners rescinded their offer.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

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