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.

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