Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Yes It's A Black-browed Albatross, And It Was Magnificent!

Tuesday December 15, 2015 was a beautiful windy sunny day. Very windy. Pelican and I had planned to spend the day birding, and hopefully catch up with some birds we had missed on a previous outing.

We began our day at the pond in Eastport, hoping that the irregular Ross’s Goose would have returned. A nice smattering of quackitude, but not our target specie yet again. Oh well. We explored the  surrounding areas hoping to find a where the congregation of geese go off to, but none were forthcoming.

A fill of the gas tank and coffee cup, and we ventured further a field. Dune road was bereft of birds due to the wind and Shinnecock inlet had waves breaking over the jetties. Gulls were huddled in the back of the lot, but nothing special was found there nor while scanning the ocean.

Our next stop was Mecox, and again, high winds were not our friend. It was beginning to seem like all the birds were elsewhere. After exhausting this spot we moved on to Sagg Beach. We had a flock of Snow Geese in the corn stubble just before the lot, which was nice for a change of pace, but at the beach it was just like Mecox.

From here we headed all the way out to Montauk Point. I had at one time asked if she wanted to bail and try for the Ross’s again on the way back, but the point was where we went. Ah road-trippers; mmmmm.

Montauk at sunrise 12-5-15
The Western Kingbird that Arlene Rails found on our last visit was still there, and still in pretty much the same spot. It was brilliant yellow in the late winter sun. We then walked over and set up scopes at the restaurant overlook and hoped for the best.

The numbers of sea ducks was low. The only numerous birds were the Gannets, as in the other places we had been. At some point I spotted a very long winged bird and got Pelican on it too. We followed it and I noted the field marks, but neither of us could believe our eyes or ‘amazing birding luck’ as it were, because of what the bird was. Pelican was the first to utter ‘is that an Albatross?’ Of course that occurred to me, but I dared not speak it’s name out of superstition, even though I know that being superstitious is bad luck. I especially wanted to rule out anything else and noted as many field marks as we could while the bird was in view.  What we had the extreme good fortune to see was a Black-browed Albatross! Holy crapenzoli!! We watched the bird which never flapped in the 15 minutes of observation as the sun was sinking lower and lower in the sky.

At home I read books, contacted others and searched the internet. As Arthur Conan Doyle said: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” It was impossible that this bird was anything else. Based upon field marks, we had eliminated the only other likely contender because this bird's  juvenile plumage eliminated Yellow-nosed Albatross. Trouble is the juvenile plumage is considered indistinguishable from Grey-headed Albatross. Great. There is ALWAYS a catch. There has however, never been a report of Grey-headed Albatross in northern hemisphere waters that I am aware of while there are several reports of Black-browed Albatross in the northeast, including one on May 1996 off Long Island. 

This article states, almost all sightings including that 1996 one, have not been accepted for the northeast. A birder from France in discussion about our sighting informed me that there are several records in the north Atlantic off of Brittany and Spain. So from a likelihood perspective Black-browed was significantly more probable. But beyond that it was impossible to have photographed this bird well due to distance, and even had I managed to do so, the inability to positively differentiate this plumage from GHAL without extraordinary examination means unlikely acceptance by the  records committee. 

Photographs, even for far more common birds are more and more becoming the acid test and de facto required: no photo, don’t bother. That and needing to have a records committee member there at the same time to see the bird because of ...

From a simpler more practical point of view, Black-browed is unquestionably the best fit and we have no doubts about the ID, having done our due diligence in researching the ID before reporting it publicly anywhere. Oh, and that’s YB 329, NYS bird 412, and a lifer for me!!

A surprising event associated with this sighting was the whining {really fellow birders?} that we didn’t post our sighting to the NY list; posting it to ebird instead. That no one would have been able to chase this bird due to a multitude of factors didn’t seem to matter.

One birder who generously could be referred to as “over reacting” { in addition to several more expletives } because of a history of over-the-top disproportionate nastiness, had to chime in with his trademark absurdities. On non-moderated forums he would be referred to as an “internet troll”; the moderator had to warn him to tone it down.

When I find a good bird I post from the field as soon as possible because “the only thing better than seeing a good bird is getting others on it, and good sightings beget more good sightings”. It can at times be frustrating that many birders either don't have the technology ie smartphones, or don't know how to use it. On the other hand, if a bird is not chase-able there is no need to post it right away if at all. Those who just can’t wait to hear about it should consider Prozac.

The irony is that this internet troll and I have had extended conversations lamenting the relative paucity of folks who post sightings versus the total number of birders. I informed him of all the birders who have told me in no uncertain terms that they will no longer post due to offensive messages they have received for various "misdeeds" including misspelled words, typos, and other cardinal er... egregious sins. 

As  matter of fact he told me that he tries to encourage more people to post, and he is bewildered that so many birders near to him do not post any bird sightings at all. It would come as no surprise to me if he was the cause of the problem he wants to solve, and behaving as he did will more likely make others ~less~ likely to share sightings, not more. Irony poisoning.

So while he may have made himself feel better by criticizing me, I can assure you that comes ~nowhere~ near as good a feeling as we had having seen a Black-browed Albatross in New York. 

God save thee, ancient birder
From the fiends, that plague thee thus
Why look'st thou so ? - With my cross-words
I shot the ALBATROSS viewer.

Ah. well a-day. what evil looks
Had I from old and young
Instead of the cross, the Albatross comments
About my neck was hung.
Back to birding. There is still time in the year but the year is winding down, so I ventured twice to Staten Island to see the Swainson’s Hawk. The first time was with Steve Tanager and Earic Miller and all we got was wet. The second time it was cold and windy, so Arlene and I sat in the car and eventually got a meh look at the bird. YB 329!

Another bird that had eluded me was the Ross’s Goose as described at the beginning of this essay. Much, much earlier in the year I also chased the one upstate found by the Hound of the Basherkill. Nice bird, but it was revealed to be a hybrid. The Hound later emailed me with regret for my having chased up that way for naught. Not at all; it was still a nice bird even if not countable. And more importantly, that’s birding.

And then one showed up more recently in the Riverhead area and I couldn’t find it, and for good reason. While we were looking at a Barnacle Goose in Cutchogue, Doug Rotuma received a call and it sounded like he said: “Pat Linnet shot the bird.” Boy, some people are ~really~ competitive with this listing stuff.     

Flash forward to the 22nd, and Phil Jabiru and I tried for the ‘unreliable’ one at Eastport; the one Pelican and I missed on the 15th. We parked, hopped out of the car and got the bird right away. Finally! The other half of the bird! We proceeded to head out to Montauk, as rain was threatening that day.

We arrived at the Fort Hill Cemetery and walked around. And around. We spend over an hour. No bird, or should I say no birds at all. It was pathetically devoid of passerines except two Robins and a single Song Sparrow. 

Another birder showed up, joined the search, and then we decided to go to Montauk Point and have a look around and come back later. The Scoters had moved back in good numbers, but despite my desire I could not find a Dovekie nor a Kittiwake, birds that I had heretofore missed. We saw the expected species and after we had enough we headed back.

On arrival we saw the same fellow, and he immediately beckoned us on. I ran towards him and he pointed out the bird sitting deep in the thicket preening. Yes! Phil and I both got on it. Lifer for Phil and YB 330 for me!

I made several more attempts at this and that as the year wound down, but nothing new was able to be added. But what a blast though! I did far better than anticipated; as I had set a simple initial goal of breaking 300 species for the year in New York state. With that goal having been achieved, I breathed a sigh of relief, as my two previous attempts came up just shy. Arlene repeatedly inquired what my new goal would be, so I set it at 315, but with that clearly in reach I set it at 325. Ending with 330? SWEET!

In 2015 I added 4 ABA area lifers 3 of which were in Arizona on a Trip with Earic Miller when I surpassed the 700 bird  milestone; Buff-collared Nightjar, Flame-colored Tanager, Tufted Flycatcher. Also 6 NY State lifers: *Crested Caracara, *Little Egret, Black-necked Stilt, White Ibis, *Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and *Black-browed Albatross. Better yet, Black-browed is my second species of Albtross in New York. ...As of this time the records committee has not decided upon the "*" birds.

Now its time to get back to doing so many other things that I enjoy and which had fallen way by the wayside as I obsessed over my passion for birding.