Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How to Turn Blah, Blah, Blah Into Oooo! Lala!!

For many birders, this time of year is rather blah. Not a lot of birds around, and those that are around are 'seagulls' and ‘LBJ’s ( little brown jobs). Where are the colorful Warblers?  In South America where many of us wish we could be as well.

For those afflicted, er... addicted, er...  passionate about birding, this is a great time of year. Sure the birds aren’t as colorful or plentiful, but the former is dispelled by the obliging Painted Bunting in Prospect Park, while the later, well what’s wrong with working a bit harder some times? 

Mostly, its the vagrants. At this time of the year the unexpected is expected, so what is lacking in quantity is made up in quality. AKA 'something good.'

As the year is drawing to a close, I as well as others trying for a big year (as many species as we can see within this year), are hoping that something good shows up, and that we will be able to get to it within our time and responsibility constraints.

The good news was that as if by magic a slew of 'good' birds got reported. A Pacific Loon, upstate, then a Ross' Goose out on the island, yet another Kittiwake report from out on the island, and then a very special surprise.

I am still waiting on details about the Pacific Loon. It is so far away that I want it to establish some site fidelity before going after it. Closer to home, a learned that a Rufous Hummingbird was coming to the feeders at a private residence, and better still, I had been invited. Trouble is, the home owner did not want the bird publicized. More accurately, he could not have the bird publicized. Seems he has an overpopulation of asshole neighbors.

Well, I rounded up a posse and we met to go and see “Lala” as the hummer was being called. Why? Because it is supposed that the hummer hailed from California, AKA lala land. We took up station waiting for the bird to appear while exchanging greetings. And then I spotted the bird perched on a twig. 

Rufous Hummingbird

At first the hummer was shy, but soon it grew tolerant of our presence and feed on the Salvia and the feeder. Yes! YB 325 for me and John Gaggle-o-geese, and lifer for Arlene Rails, Phil Jabiru, and Pelican. A great start to a unseasonably mild day. All of us remarked how great it was to get such great looks at this bird that was far off our radar.

And then it got better! An email came through that Dovekies had been found at Mattituck. And that was nearby! We raced over there and set up scopes.  We did our due diligence searching; I spotted some likely candidates on the far side of the far jetty. The birds in question gave fleeting views between waves and diving frequently, but eventually they rested on the surface affording good looks.

Of course we all wanted the birds to be Dovekies as reported. Certainly, it would have been a year bird for me and a lifer for some, but the birds we were watching were clearly Razorbills. Two Dovekies were reported, but we spotted two Razorbills. You may draw your own conclusions.

Certainly Razorbills are nothing to sneeze at, and we enjoyed our looks but there were other birds we wanted to chase. Our next stop was admittedly a longshot, but what they hey.  Kittiwake at Agawan pond was a bust as soon as we arrived - there was a distinct paucity of gulls of any sort.

When we exhausted this location, we headed back to Eastport to try for the Ross’ Goose. After the report from the morning that the bird was present, another shortly thereafter said it had flown out. Now that it was about 2pm, we were hoping it had returned. Nope.

Okay, so after a brilliant start, the day was in gradual and then serious decline.  But just when we thought all was lost, came the email alerting us to none other than a Tufted Duck at Capri Lake, practically in my back yard. I alerted Phil who had bailed earlier, and he met us there.

Though spending some time looking before we arrived, Phil was flummoxed by the duck’s plumage. It was not in the sharp black and white, but the less common rich brown. Some searching and the bird was spotted at the back edge. Yes! YB 326 for me and another lifer for Arlene.  Ahhh. Another great day out birding.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tree Shmee, There’s a Painted Bunting in Brooklyn!

Two weeks ago there were hundreds of Franklin's Gulls, seemingly everywhere, I was in the office, and the next day it was like it never happened.  A report of a bunch of Kittiwakes followed last week few. Was this to be a repeat occurrence but with a different gull species? Well at least there were subsequent reports from Montauk.

Sunday, the plan was to get an early start and head out to Montauk to be there by sunrise. Would have worked a whole lot better if Arlene Rails had set her alarm properly, but she called me shortly after she was supposed to have arrived, and an hour and a half later we finally set off. Groan, I was all woken up with nowhere to go.

Upon departure, it was cool, but not cold. When we got to Montauk point it was downright raw. The wind was blowing and the air damp, and we may have been a bit under dressed. Fortunately the restaurant at the end of the univer... er... end of the road always provides shelter from the wind.

Compared to last year the waterfowl were sparse. All three Scoters were present, as well as some Oldsquaw and Common Eider. The most prevalent birds were the Red-throated Loons which seemed to be everywhere, and out numbered the Common Loons.

Gulls were sparse too. Where did all the birds go?  We exhausted this location and moved on to Camp Hero, and it was the same if somewhat out of the wind. No small birds either except for a pair of White-hatches. Our next stop was the jetties at Lake Montauk. Nothing to write home about, except for an Iceland Gull.

Time was limited, as Arlene needed to be back early. As nice as it was out there we had to head back. On the way though, we got an email informing us of a Painted Bunting in Brooklyn. Sure, taunt me with a great bird by placing it at the other end of the island! What is more, this was a ~male~ Painted Bunting, one of the most exquisite sparrowesque birds.

I have seen this bird numerous times in Florida and Texas. I have also seen a female back in 2011. But last year a male was coming to a private feeder and it was tauntingly close yet so far away, as the home owners wanted no visitors.

Of course, this year it would also be a year bird for my NY state big year. The RBA message indicated that it flew off and was being searched for without success so far. Ah, all the way in Brooklyn... By the time I got home, I was tired and hungry and no subsequent emails had come through.

And then they did.  Groan. Was it too late to venture west? A text message from Arlene implored me to go for it. There was much hemming and hawing, as I knew the threat of traffic was great. I threw caution to the wind though, figuring I should not wast any more time thinking about it.

I navigated the roadways pretty well, and the slow drivers were at least kind enough to not bunch up so tightly as to prevent my zigging and zagging to get past. And then I got to the edge of Brooklyn.

At the end of the Jackie Robinson parkway, the first of many traffic lights tormented me. The thought of having wasted my time swirled repeatedly within my brain. Progress, though slow, continued. Could I beat the sunset deadline of 4:30?  It was going to be close. On too many occasions bad intersections or turning cars prevented normal flow but finally I got to the park. It was 4:10.  I drove down Ocean Avenue, hoping for spot. I passed Lincoln street, and then as if by magic, found a spot right in front of the entrance to the park adjacent to the Lefrak ice rink.

It seemed too good to be true. Was this actually a legal spot? This is after all, New York City, where one can easily be lured into a bad decision. Yes! It was good!! I ran off with binoculars in hand; it was too late in the day for photos anyway.

Jeez, shouldn’t there be a hoard of birders here looking at the bird? I panicked slightly, then called John Gaggle-o-geese, who had texted me earlier that the bird was there. He directed me to the proper location, and soon enough I spotted two fellow birders; the last two left on location.

One said: "Oh, we were watching it for the past half hour, it was sitting right there until it flew."  Panic ensued again. This same birder then said she had had enough, and was headed home. It was now just me and the other birder named Nina. She showed me where the bird had flown off to and we looked around.

She stayed in one location, while I anxiously searched more afield. After I made my way back around the path, I noticed her with glasses up, and she beckoned me closer. I ran. Nina pointed into the plantings and there was the little gem! It was quite obscured but a few pedestrians passed by and this prompted the Punting to fly away and it landed in a much better viewing location. Ahhhhh. Such a beauty. YB 326. Thanks Nina!

Painted Bunting by Nancy Trogan

Painted Bunting by Nancy Trogan
Flash forward to Thursday.

I’m birding with Phil Jabiru at Robert Moses STPK. Lots of wind, and lots of Gannets. Scoters, Loons, the usual stuff. Again, no passerines. Quiet. A few texts from Nancy Trogan, and since neither of them had seen the Painted Bunting, we decide to swing by Nancy’s on the way to Brooklyn for us all to get a look.

When we finally arrived, ( driving through Brooklyn is quite daunting for those not used to congested city driving ) the parking gods once again smiled upon us, getting a spot right near the entrance to the park yet again.  A short walk to the “green-roof” of the rink, and we met up with the mob. 

Da Mob

The bird was there, steadfastly munching on seeds provided by the wonderful plantings done by the planners of the ‘green-roof’. Lifer for Phil and Nancy. Of course, as small birds are want to do, it was skulking. But it cannot be blamed as there was a seething mass of ogling birders and photographers transfixed by its every move.

Also present were members of the news media. Marla Diamond of CBS 880AM radio fame was speaking with Rob Bateleur, president of the Brooklyn Bird Club, and Joe Mauceri Of WPIX11 TV in NYC was filming and interviewing the birders. Coco Changeable Hawk-Eagle, fellow member of the Queens County Bird Club, took it upon herself to be our impromptu and defacto ‘press agent’, and got Nancy and I interviewed by both reporters. 
L > R: Nancy Trogan, Marla Diamond CBS880 AM, Me, Rob Bateleur

L > R:   Me, Marla Diamond CBS880AM, Nancy Trogan.  Photo by Coco.

This is the piece by Marla Diamond with me.

L > R:  Me,  Nancy Trogan, Joe Mauceri WPIX11 TV.      Photo by Coco

This is the video by Joe Mauceri Of WPIX11 TV: