Friday, May 27, 2016

Doodle-ing Bash!

Doodle-ing Bash. If that doesn’t sound like a party I don’t know what does. I led this trip on May 21 &22 where weather reports unfortunately adversely influenced some folks. 11 of the 17 people who were supposed to go showed up not where it was not so bright, but we met good and early at the trail head. A 12th showed up late.

It seems that the weather forecasters do a good job of casting doubt into the minds of some people. Oh well, their loss; it didn’t rain! Over the course of the two days we were hit by a literally countable number of droplets.

The first goody we had was on the very steep initial section of the trail. There were Tennessee Warblers for the hearing, but none deigned show themselves. All through the day as we crossed paths with other birders where we got the same report: Tennessee heard, but not seen.

Of course Redstarts were in abundance, and it was not too long before we heard and saw our first Ceruleans and Hooded Warblers. It got better the further in we went as the trees were not so tall and the birds not so far away.

Of course we also got Olive-sided Flycatchers, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. A surprise was a Green Heron in the reservoir. I have never had one there as far as I can remember, but to balance things out, we did not get a Spotted Sandpiper here as we usually do. Feeling remorseful, the Spotted Sandpiper ultimately revealed itself to us at Iona Island later on.

Of late, as in the past few years, Doodletown has become a reliable location for Kentucky Warbler. This Oproronid, ( or at least it ~used~ to be in the Oporornis family. ) ( Can those dam ornithologists stop messing with us birders? Jeez, go get your jollies elsewhere...) Ahem. I was saying, this Oporornid, oh hell..., this Geothlypis is a much sought after bird. And we made tracks to the location where Mike Z. and Michele Z. had seen it the day before.

We were not disappointed. As we walked to the location, we heard a Worm-eating Warbler on the hillside it has favored for years, and on the other side sang the Kentucky. We came upon some fellow birders who were pointing cameras at it, and thus we quickly were able to get everyone on it. The overcast hampered any efforts at a decent photo, but birders can’t be choosers.

We birded our way to the “lunch rock”, and planned on an enjoyable lunch. All was going well until Ian “innocently” noticed a seemingly out of place rock. What was secreted beneath it? A note. I thought it said: “Arie Gilbert is a big winner” but the raucous laughter at my expense said otherwise.

After lunch we explored a bit more then birded our way back down. We stopped at the reservoir again, and exchanged info with fellow birders. There were lots of Orioles calling all over. This year was a good one for them. And one of the calling birds was distinctly different. I called others attention to it and posited that it was a Orchard Oriole. Ian at first dismissed this, but it turned out that I was correct! I am truly not sure what crease in my brain I pulled that out of, but sometimes we know more than we know we know. I am certainly not one of those folks who recognize things I hear in the same way that most of us recognize things we see. And it pays to have had my hearing aids set to stun.

We checked Iona Island. The tide was high and as stated before we had Spotted Sandpiper, but not much else. We continued on to Sterling Forest.

The Golden-winged Warblers did not disappoint, and we got Blue-winged, Prairie, and more Chestnut-sided as well. No Field Sparrow though. Huh? We missed Broad-winged Hawk too.

With the day drawing to a close and hunger calling, we headed off to eat and we were once again very pleased by the food and selection at Mr. Sushi. When we left the restaurant, we discovered that it had rained while we were inside. At most a few drops hit us on the way to the cars, and we went the rest of the distance to the hotel.

It was suggested that we could go out in search of Whip-poor-wills and Nighthawks, but I thought the rain and overcast would preclude that. Good thing - no sooner had my head hit the pillow than I was out cold...

We set to meet the next morning at 7am. I awoke at 6am, and was so wiped out that I headed to get coffee first. There I met up with most of the group already up! Oh well, miscalculated that one.  But I was in need of a large infusion of caffeine just so I could muster a shower!

We set off at the appointed time to the bridge on Haven Road. The sign for it is now missing, and the Moose Lodge has changed ownership, but I found the correct turn off.  A shot distance down the road was our first goody. John G. spotted a Pileated working on a fallen tree. Unfortunately most of us did not see it.

At the marsh we saw lots of Wood Duck flying around, and a few other species such as Black, Mallard, and Blue-winged Teal. Other birders who were there earlier had Bittern calling, but we missed that one. We did hear and see Common Gallinules, and this visit had by far the most we have had here.

Eagle eyed Pat spotted an Eagle { what else } sitting in a tree off in the distance. It is remarkable how prevalent this bird has become.

At the road to the stop sign trail, we had Chestnut-sided Warbler. This trip was one of the best for this species, on other occasions we had but one. Redstarts on the other hand were in their usual abundance and ubiquitousness. And now they had a new trick; a lot of song variations to confuse and confound us. It’s a good thing they are a great looking bird or we might get upset or something.

The usual birds were present, but it seemed that the overcast depressed their desire to sing for us a bit. We made the usual stops, and at one point Ian said: “ this looks like a good place for a Virginia Rail”. Well he was off by 50 feet. No sooner had he said it than John G spotted one.

We all gathered around and as luck would have it a major reason it was spotted is that it was intent on getting to the other side of the road. Killer views were had by all.

On the way back we heard a strange cal that none of us could ID though we all agreed that it was most probably a frog. I recorded the calls and upon returning home my suspicion that it was an American Toad was confirmed.

We stopped for lunch at the deli fields, and then moved on to Port Orange Road. We heard a few Louisiana Waterthrush, but I never got to see one. At the power line cut we again dipped on Field Sparrow. What happened? This and Sterling used to be very reliable; perhaps it was due to clearing that looked like it may have used herbicides.

We did get BT Green and Prairie, but our streak with Bay-breasted seems to have run out. At this point Coco and Benny, as well as Mike & Michelle decided to take an early departure and forgo the rest of the trip.

The rest of us  went to Mcdonald Road for Alder Flycatcher, and to be barked at by very large dogs. At Gumear Falls Road we got Blackburnian right off the bat. But try as we might we could not connect with an Acadian Flycatcher. We did get a very nice look at Magnolia in consolation.

After a pit-stop at Stewart's, we confused Ian R. by taking a short cut to Blue Chip Farms. It was shorter and far more picturesque. Arriving at the fields, I was initially dismayed to see they had been mowed. The concern was for naught.

Within a few minutes and with bins I spotted Bobolinks, and then found an Uppie walking a few fields back. I got everyone on it before we even had scopes! And to think of all the times we spend very long times searching almost to the point of giving up.

On the way to Shawangunk we stopped when we heard a call and it was a Pileated. This time we all got to see the bird. At Shawangunk we were delighted by Kestrels and Harriers flying around. Meadowlarks, Bobolinks, and Grasshopper Sparrows delighted us by voguing. Such great views! But we were surprised that we had not gotten Savannah Sparrow. At the direction of a local birder we found them on one of the paths. Phew! Would be odd to miss that one!

We went to ‘the bridge’, our traditional last stop before acquiring dinner. It is an unassuming place but it has produced a lot of nice things over the years. I was reminiscing with Ian about the Nighthawks we had seen there and shortly thereafter he looked up and found one then a few more! We had at least 5, some very high up in the air. 

I also told the others about how I had spotted a River Otter from the bridge some years back. So it came as a surprise when Steve S noticed tracks and scat and a slide on the bank. It was evidence of Otters!

We ended the day with a fine meal and a final stop at the thruway toll plaza for Martins. This was the first time we missed them.

And that’s been the theme of the trip: a lot of some things we usually struggle for, and difficulty with things we usually expect. Mother Nature always keeps us guessing!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Tyrannus, Saw Us. Yes!

Gray Kingbird
2016 is poised to be another great year for birding. Shifting weather patterns have promoted vagrancy which is great for your life list. Whether it is good for the birds themselves remains to be seen.

Already seen was Swainson’s Warbler on April 28th; a bird of the southern states which portended the trend of southern vagrants. Followed in rapid succession was a Fork-tailed Flycatcher in New Jersey. I was actually in NJ at the time leading a trip, but the distance and other factors precluded changing our plans. I was very happy to have received a heads-up from Dunlin, even if I could not partake of the birds presence.

On May 2, birders in the Finger Lakes region spotted a Gray Kingbird near Conesus Lake, the western most of the lakes. In a pleasant wetland south of the lake is the Conesus Inlet WMA

Like many desperately sought after species, this bird is a notorious one day wonder. { Not to be confused with the rapper who was shot to death after his phenomenal debut concert performance. } There are a surprising number of records for New York State, and more surprising to me anyway, is that they have for the most part been in upstate counties. Previous sightings can be found >here<   

In the not too distant past of 2011, one was seen briefly at Jones Beach. It would not have been a life bird, having seen them before in a few locations, but it would be a NY bird. This piqued my interest, but as I could not see get to it, it was placed onto my wish list. And then the report came in this Monday, with reports of site fidelity on Tuesday and Wednesday!

Of course, there is always that anticipation one has when searching for a place previously unfamiliar with. The first question is “How far away is it?” Then “Is it still being seen?”, and “Will I have the opportunity to go for it?” follow closely behind.

This bird seemed to buck the trend of flightiness and I inquired after co-conspirators. I was a bit surprised to find a less than usual amount of interest in a rarity of this magnitude. I theorize that bright colors or the unusually plumaged engender more interest than dull things. Oh well, I’m that jaded.

Eventually the plan was hatched and Earic Miller and I got an early start on the day in hopes of not having gone all that way and getting skunked. It was a long way. My usual way of thinking about these things was to say that anything under 300 miles was a day trip. This was more than 325.

In a sense, I felt as if ‘flying blind’. Down here in what NYSARC refers to a ‘region 10', folks are decidedly more liberal with updates on rarities. Sometimes ad nauseum. This was way up in ‘region 2' where folks are apparently less chase happy and concomitantly less communicative about it as well. It’s a long way to go without knowing if the bird was still being seen...

Wednesday night having prepared for the possibility and based upon a complicated algorithm, I concluded that we should go after the bird. I did not get enough sleep, but awoke at 4am anyway. After collecting Earic we made a delightfully unencumbered drive. No traffic, and no troopers to be seen anywhere.

Of inconsequential delay, the very last leg of the journey was through small towns. Previous experience told me that those speed limit signs are not just decorations, so I headed their advice. I would advise the same for other would be chasers. We arrived at the parking lot and found another birder from Elmira who was just arriving himself.

We joined a local birder at the end of the concrete path and a third from Binghamton who had ventured off to the left.  I was hoping that the bird would be in someone's scope, or at least the dead trees in front of us as it had been for some lucky folks the day before. Nope.

We all were scanning in earnest, but there were a lot of distractions. Tree Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a few Eastern Kingbirds, all to throw our eyes off a potential target. And then Earic spotted something, and got the fellow next to him on it with his better scope. YES! We had it!

The view from the end of the path -  The bird is next to the red arrow.

The bird was flying out in front of a few Willow trees, and the tree's coloration against the otherwise featureless area made orienting easier. We watched as the bird would feed then fly back and perch repeatedly.

Eventually we walked down the path to the right where a short distance down was a boardwalk and platform. From here we got closer views, as well as found other critters like green and leopard frogs, water snake, and a red squirrel. 

Red Squirrel

Green (l) Leopard (r) frogs

Water Snake

Leopard or Pickerel Frog?

But the trail continued and we were able to get behind the willows. From here we got the best views of the Gray Kingbird. NYS bird #413 for me of the currently listed 490 species.

Gray Kingbird

As we were leaving we spotted commotion in the stream and saw huge pickerels that were at least 18" long, and a medium sized 8-12" silvery fish with red fins. The latter were either a native fish called "Roach" or an introduced fish called "Rudd". Neat stuff.

The ride back was also essentially devoid of traffic, but the troopers seemed to be stationed every couple of miles or so. The pace was accordingly not as brisk and the  long day was a rewarding day.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cape M...Well Almost May, April 30

I've gone to Cape May many times over the past couple of decades and it's always proved to be a great place to bird. I led a trip there on April 30 and it was superbulous!

Last year when we were setting up the upcoming bird trip calendar I suggested a couple of changes. One of them was a ~day~ trip to Cape May. Now some of you may think that's an awful lot of trip to fit into one day for a group. You are correct. Nevertheless our group consisting of Ian Resnick, Phil Uruburu, Lou and Nancy Tognan, and Jeff Ritter made our way down there to see what goodies awaited us. We were not disappointed!

When we arrived at our first destination Higbee Beach, it was unseasonably cold and very  cloudy. As we began our walk another group was just finishing up theirs, and they told us that the birding was kind of quiet. Undeterred we headed down the path. We heard birds left and right but most were White-eyed Vireo and Carolina Wrens. Along with the expected Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures we spotted Black Vulture as well as an adult Bald Eagle. The latter was one of three we had throughout the day. Bald Eagle = ‘trash bird’ nowadays... YAY!

One of the benefits of having gone this early in the season as Jeff pointed out was that the trees had not fully leafed out so it was much easier to see birds. Even so it was good to have Jeff and Ian available because we still relied upon hearing to find most of the birds that we saw. Even I heard a few things by setting my hearing aids to stun.

Titmice played with us making really weird noises and the Blue Jays did this as well, alerting us to the presence of a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Later on we saw a pair of Cooper's Hawks circling and frolicking with one another.

One of the birds we heard calling all around were Field Sparrows. Ironically they were not calling from within the field but instead at the tops of trees. So why aren’t they called Tree Sparrows? Because Tree Sparrows sing in fields! At least the sparrows were kind enough to give us great looks at them while they sat there and sang for us.
Field Sparrow

And then we heard a Cuckoo. We all agreed it was a Cuckoo but it was a bit amusing that we all couldn't remember or decide whether it was a Yellow-billed or a Black-billed Cuckoo. We were all excited and walked towards the sound in order to see if we could track down the bird. Eventually we were able to figure out from where the bird was singing and Ian was the first to spot the bird sitting in vines behind a cedar. Although it was a bit obscured all of us got good looks and a few pictures. 

Black-billed Cuckoo

Continuing on I was surprised to spot a Green Heron fly by which only a few of us saw but a nice sighting nevertheless, while Phil deftly pulled a Purple Martin out of the air. The end of the field did not give up many warblers besides omnipresent Yellow-rumped, so we headed back. We added Indigo Bunting and Brown Thrasher and then heard another Cuckoo. This time it was a Yellow-billed! It was not as forthcoming as the Black-billed and I flippantly said it would show up back at the parking lot. It did! Not only that, it queued up in a tree and afforded great shots! 

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Cuckoos by the way, are responsible for parasitizing a species completely out of existence. They were known to be “cuckoo for it”.  No longer with us is Puffinis cocoa, or Nestle’s Auklet.

Our next stop was 'the Beanery'. Still overcast and late in the morning it was not as good as hoped but we added House Wren and Barn Swallow.

Our next stop was the lighthouse. Here we had more Martins and a full compliment of expected Gulls, Rough-winged Swallow, and Gannet. By now stomachs were grumbling and cannibalism was an imminent threat to me so we went off to procure victuals. With my demise averted and their attention focused upon their food I re-checked the local reports. 

The previously reported Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff had been seen that morning so when we finished we headed to Heislerville WMA. Upon arrival we saw a line of birders focusing their attention out into the impoundment so we pulled into the parking lot. Encouraged by all the eyeballs pressed to the scopes I made haste to join them. Unfortunately I soon learned that the Ruff had not been seen recently and that they had not spotted the Curlew Sandpiper either.

Undeterred we all set up Scopes and begin scanning. There were many birders present and one of them offered to show me a photo of the Curlew Sandpiper so I would have a better idea of what plumage it was in. We had not been scanning for too long when a Peregrine Falcon put all the birds up. Oh joy. But hey, a Peregrine Falcon!

Shorebirds flying around. { ignore the bystanders' talking }

There were hundreds of Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers,  Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and a handful of other peeps out in the impoundment, now swirling about in the air. For a while it seems like they might not ever settle down again. But they did and eventually we began scanning the ever-growing mass of birds. 

There were a lot of birds to pick through but despite the high numbers I saw a bird that was neither a Dunlin or a Dowitcher. It was the Curlew! I called everyone’s attention to it and Jersey birder Doug chimed in that he had just found it too. The Curlew Sandpiper cooperated for quite a while as folks lined up to get a look through my scope. It was one of those circumstances where the distance made explaining where the bird was for others to get on it exceedingly difficult. The bird however cooperated, and everyone present was able to get a view. Distance and lighting precluded a photo for me, but one was posted of this individual the next day >here< that is quite nice.

We continued to scan for some time, and checked other vantage points for the main pool hoping to find the Ruff. Unfortunately, we never were able to locate it, so with daylight burning we continued on to our next location.

The Belleplain Forest is a great place to bird. Here too, the trees were not leafed out yet so viewing was easier. We drove slowly and listened, and stopped here and there before getting to the first ‘stop’.

At the triangle, we got out and listened, and although it had been several years since I had been there I recognized the exact spot where I had seen Yellow-throated Warblers in the past, and that is where we heard singing and spotted one right away! Here we bumped into Doug and his co-conspirator Carole from the Heislerville location and the warblers kept coming! Black-and-white, Worm-eating, and Hooded! Great views of them all!

We didn’t scare up a Protho here, so we moved on to another location. There as before the birds were quite amenable and we soon got killer close up looks at the Prothonotary. Honestly, that bird is so gorgeous, I believe it ~wants~ us to look at it!

Prothonotary Warbler
We scored a bunch of glamour warblers. We were very happy. But daylight was burning and having done so well we moved on to our next stop, Brigantine NWR. We added a few day birds we missed elsewhere, like Great Blue Heron, Green-winged Teal, and Willet; birds we should have seen earlier but nice to score; better late in the day than never. We heard Clapper Rail, and had a singing Seaside Sparrow.

The drive was closed before the first turn, so we doubled back and headed to the other location. On route I spied Caspian Tern { the friendly Tern } and at the end of the road we scored Marsh Wren and Common-throat. Although only a few of us saw it, we got a glimpse of a Snipe as it flew from the nearby cattail stumps into the denser vegetation. Not bad!

We capped off the day with dinner at our traditional location,  ‘The Office’ in Tom’s River, where celebratory beer was consumed with much rejoicing of a days birding par excellence.

We ended with a total of 96 species for the day. Nice! A map of the locations mentioned is located >here<.

Species List:
Wood Duck                           
American Black Duck                 
Green-winged Teal                   
Great Blue Heron                    
Snowy Egret                         
Glossy Ibis                         
Clapper Rail                        
American Coot                       
American Oystercatcher              
Black-bellied Plover                
Semipalmated Plover                 
Least Sandpiper                     
Wilson's Snipe                      
Caspian Tern                        
Tree Swallow                        
Marsh Wren                          
Seaside Sparrow                     
House Finch                         
Canada Goose                        
Mute Swan                           
Northern Gannet                     
Double-crested Cormorant            
Laughing Gull                       
Ring-billed Gull                    
Herring Gull                        
Great Black-backed Gull             
Northern Rough-winged Swallow       
Barn Swallow                        
American Crow                       
Carolina Chickadee                  
House Wren                          
Gray Catbird                        
Blue-winged Warbler                 
Yellow-rumped Warbler               
Green Heron                         
Black Vulture                       
Turkey Vulture                      
Sharp-shinned Hawk                  
Cooper's Hawk                       
Bald Eagle                          
Red-tailed Hawk                     
Rock Pigeon                         
Mourning Dove                       
Yellow-billed Cuckoo                
Black-billed Cuckoo                 
Chimney Swift                       
Ruby-throated Hummingbird           
Red-bellied Woodpecker              
Downy Woodpecker                    
White-eyed Vireo                    
Blue Jay                            
Fish Crow                           
Purple Martin                       
Tufted Titmouse                     
Carolina Wren                       
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher               
American Robin                      
Brown Thrasher                      
Northern Mockingbird                
European Starling                   
Eastern Towhee                      
Field Sparrow                       
Song Sparrow                        
Northern Cardinal                   
Indigo Bunting                      
Red-winged Blackbird                
Common Grackle                      
Brown-headed Cowbird                
American Goldfinch                  
House Sparrow                       
Wild Turkey                         
Great Egret                         
Black-crowned Night-Heron           
Greater Yellowlegs                  
Lesser Yellowlegs                   
Curlew Sandpiper                    
Short-billed Dowitcher              
Forster's Tern                      
Peregrine Falcon                    
Yellow Warbler                      
Worm-eating Warbler                 
Black-and-white Warbler             
Prothonotary Warbler                
Common Yellowthroat                 
Hooded Warbler                      
Pine Warbler                        
Yellow-throated Warbler             
Prairie Warbler                     

Sunday, May 1, 2016

If Its Thursday I Must Be Birding, Again

Seriously, no matter how hard I try, the birds just keep sucking me back in. Take this past Tuesday for example. Phil Jabiru found a Ruff at Timber Point. I misunderstood the message he had sent me with blurry attached photos, so I did not stop what I was doing and waited over an hour before getting additional info that it was quite a good find by Phil.

So I headed over there, only to be told en route that the bird had flown. I continued on anyway, hoping the bird would double back. It didn’t. On site I found Phil and Snowy Mitra. Both projected a thumbs down regarding the bird; and I heard a rumor that a “hyper-aggressively competitive lister had seen the bird and flushed it to thwart others”, but I could not confirm that rumor even though I did my best to spread it around.

More birders congregated, and though seeing both Yellowlegs and some Least Sandpipers in the pannes, it hardly compensated for the bird we missed.

Flash forward to Thursday and I was coerced into venturing out agin. The great reports that were fast and furious the day before were quite influential. Phil and I met Nancy Trogan at Hempstead lake state park, and despite optimism the day was not like the day before. We did see a very nice Blue-winged Warbler, and an exceptionally confrontational Blak-and-white Warbler that flew straight at me while I was looking at it. We missed an Orchard Oriole that other birders had that day, but all the Chimney Swifts made up for it, sort of...

We decided to try Valley Stream State park next. Here we scored a few Vireo species, and met up with Bob Prothonotary. He came bearing news of a Solitary Sandpiper, but we found a Spotted Sandpiper instead. Most interesting was the Blue-grey Gnatcatchers attending to their nest building right over the path. 

Gnatcatcher on Nest
Then Bob told us about a Swainson's Warbler in Manhattan. Ugh, Manhattan. None of us were enthused about negotiating the inevitable logistical challenges. Not even Phil for whom it would be a lifer. As we approached our cars though, I began to be worn down to the notion. And rationalizing I could stop in to have a part installed at my mechanic on the way, I succumbed to my own weakness and we headed into the city.

The subway system posed modest difficulties, what with new line designations, but we got there soon enough. And the bird’s favored location was practically right at the train stop. We walked into the park and the reports of 200 or so birders in the morning had us get fooled by the crowd of tourists by the ‘Imagine’ circle in Strawberry Fields. I’m impressed by its continued ability to attract visitors. On the benches were folks selling souvenir photos, playing guitar, and even one guy with a sign offering to write a joke for $1.00. I asked Phil if that guy was kidding us ;)

The crowd of birders was more modest, but I spotted Jean LeConte Sparrow who beckoned us on and we got the bird in short order. We saw it as it hopped in the Barberry. Phil got a lifer! We hung out a bit hoping for better views. A fellow named Cappy was a wiz at locating and relocating this bird again and again, much to the delight of the constant stream of birders that came a looking.

While we were there the best and longest looks were had by lying on the ground and looking under the Barberry shrubs. Not the worst thing I’ve done to get a look at a bird, and at least neither of us were in dress clothes as were many who stopped by for a look and had to get prostrate for their look.

We also ventured to the Ramble, where we were treated to great looks at a Worm-eating Warbler, and a FOS BT Blue. Not too bad for a less than enthusiastic twitch. We returned to pick up my car and I delighted in having killed two birds with one stone. ...Oh wait, as a birder can I say that?