Friday, June 23, 2017

The Uppies and Downs of Birding When the Birding is Tufted

A fun part of birding is the drive to see as many species as one can. Sure, you can just bird your local patch and delight in whatever discoveries befall you, but that is not necessarily sufficient stimulation for everyone. 

So, for some of us we occasionally ( or perpetually ) do 'big years'. The parameters can be as limited as your town for example, or as extreme as the entire US or the entire world even!

In my case, it is a state big year; trying to see as many as possible of the birds that pass through, within the state and calendar restraint. Yes, its a game; a fun game, that gives an added  dimension to an enjoyable pastime.

As a benchmark, I have posited that 300 species seen in New York State within the year is a good benchmark. After several attempts, my personal best to date is 330, and the record which was being broken a few years running, is currently at an incredible 361.

As of this writing I am at 292 species, and its only June! Others have broken the 300 species barrier, and so far about 350 species have been reported in New York. With all these species being seen, one might conclude that amassing these sightings is easy and a piece of cake.

No doubt, rapid dissemination of sighting information via email, texts and what have you have drastically facilitated the game, but sometimes the birds themselves have other thoughts on the matter.

Some examples...  Early this year, a posse including Pelican, Arlene Rails, and John Gaggle-o-geese went after a delightfully cooperative Ross' Gull way upstate. In addition to the gull, we scored Bohemian Waxwing. At my urging, we made a last minute try for Tufted Duck up that way, but failed miserably. How miserably I will describe...

I gaffed on the directions and ate up valuable scanning time. It didn't matter though, as the flock of ducks was absent from the location all together! Dang. Presciently, Pelican said: "oh, one will show up on Long Island" and she was right!

The trouble was, it showed up on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I tried Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. There were additional attempts as well. I mean WTF?

Then a Clark's Grebe showed up in Oswego Harbor.  I went for that and got it easily, but the reported Thayer's Gull nearby was missed by me and all that day, including Steve Tanager, who being unable to sleep the night before, decided to drive up there for the grebe on his own. 

Originally Pelican was supposed to be part of the posse, but she and John Gaggle-o geese opted to go the following day to avoid the reported storm. We got wet, but their going the next day meant that they missed the storm and got both birds!

The missed Thayer's was eating at me, and I revisited that location this time with Captain Bob, who also wanted the Great Grey Owl, for which I hatched an insane plan. We, together with Arlene drove up and got a hotel. we made good time so we looked for the gull before dark, and we saw it except for Bob who missed it and it flew off.

The next day we awoke and went for the Grebe and got great looks. We told a birder from Connecticut at the grebe site about the gull, and he headed there as well. When we arrived he was looking through the gulls without success, but a quick scan of the birds and I was able to find it with ease. I got the CT birder on it as well and there was much rejoicing.

At that point Bob told me that there was someone across the water waving at us. It was Steve! Once again he could not sleep and ventured up there for the gull as did we. What he didn't do, was plan to continue on to Keene for the Great Grey Owl. 

We traversed the Adirondacks to get there and in short order we saw this magnificent bird; the second individual for me. But there was more...

So in exchange for traipsing all over the state, seeing as how we were in the area, I made another attempt at the Tufted Duck, or as Bob likes to refer to it, the tuff duck. 

It was cold and windy, and those two chose to stay in the car until I found the bird. An hour being blasted by the wind and no luck yet again.  ... :(

I must be a sucker for punishment, and not just because I love puns, and it gets worse...

So Bob was not the only birder who wanted to see that Owl. The next  time I was coerced by Liz Ardcuckoo. It also gave me another opportunity for the tuff duck. I am so weak...
So we went for the Owl and had great looks at it and a Barred Owl in the same vicinity! 

Returning to Lake Champlain, I braved the wind and cold again and this time finally succeeded! HaloF-ing Loolya. Liz waited in the car, and missed the bird. Oh well. I got it :)


Lest you think that has been my only nemesis this year you would be quite incorrect. Purple Finch that everyone else had seen, again on the days I was not able to visit Shu Swamp -still- eludes me despite 6 attempts. Still.

And then there was more....

I led the anual trip upstate called Doodle-bash where we end the day Sunday at Blue Chip Farms and Shawangunk grasslands NWR. In over 20+ years I have never missed Upland Sandpiper. At the grasslands we did get spectabulous looks at Dickcissel, but again no Uppie. 

The next week gave me another opportunity with the heartening  appearance of the most cooperative Henslows Sparrow ever. A beauty, and ever so close to he trail! But could we find the Uppie? No. 

A week later I decided to try again enroute from returning from visiting family in Massachusetts. I shot straight out 84 and made good time. I did not ~have~ a good time though; the nice day gave way to rain and another dip.

Uppie came up in conversation at the Shearwater show recently. Its sad as a lot of birds were found dead along our south shore, but a storm brought in a Brown Booby ( found dead the next day ) as well as 100's of Great Shearwater very close to shore at Jones Inlet. Cory's Shearwater is expected to be the more numerous birds, but the proportions were reversed. I saw about 100 or so greats, 6-7 Cory's, 2 Sooty Shearwater, and a Manx Shearwater. 

Besides the Shearwaters, Ed Thrasher, Bob Prothonotary and I discussed how we had all missed Uppie this year, and a plan was hatched. We headed upstate where we tried unsuccessfully for Sora at 6.5 station road, and then on to Blue Chip.

Careful searching of the farm did not reward us. Neither did walking the blue trail at Shawangunk NWR. We did hear what we believe may be a ~second~ Henslows that we could not locate.

We continued on to Galeville park where others had reported sightings. Nope. So we decided to try Blue Chip again. Along the way we spotted some birders sitting by the road, and I inquired of them. Mary (?) recognized me from a previous meeting at Shawangunk, and informed us they had spotted the Uppies there 3 days prior. We decided to join them. 

We were there for over an hour and Bob hinted that we should be leaving, but Ed and I impressed upon him that we try a bit longer. Shortly thereafter, the Uppie delighted us by alighting upon the same post that Mary had pointed out. It then flew toward us and called while banking and calling before returning to its field. Yay! and Phew; we discussed how much longer the trip seems if one dips, but we were stoked!

With some work, sometimes a LOT of work, nemesis' fall by the wayside. And speaking of nemesis birds, just a few days ago a White-winged Dove was found at Jamaica Bay. I was at work and thought 'great, another infamous one day wonder I'll miss'. 

Then some successful reports encouraged me, along with a last appointment being canceled. Could I make it to JB in time, ~and~ make it to dinner before the meeting I had to host? Dam the torpedoes, I was going to try!

Waze, for the uninitiated is a 'fastest route' navigation app similar to Google Maps. Previous use had not impressed me, as there was a lot of turns and no discernible benefit. On this occasion it routed me through back streets and saved me a load of time. 

I arrived at JB where Earic Miller had been searching. Eventually I caught up with him and he guided me to where the bird had been reported to have been seen. As we walked through the South Garden, we kicked up lots of Robins and a few Mourning Doves. And then I heard the flapulence of a dove that alerted me to it's presence as it took off from the ground. It sported a rounder tail with white edges, inconsistent with MODO!  Earic and I searched the area more, and then he spotted it in a tree affording great looks! Nemesis no more and NYS lifebird 418 / NYS yearbird 292 for me. 

Sometimes it keeps going wrong over and over, and yet sometimes it all remarkably falls into place oh so right!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Montauk & Massena

Not every birding trip is an epic journey, and travel is fun. Seeing great birds close to home is fun too. I made the effort to get the Barrows Goldeneye that had eluded me and was rewarded with nice looks at its usual haunts, the ever so posh Sands Point.

Earic Miller and Lisa Shrimpke joined Liz Ardcuckoo and I, and we were coerced into a vain attempt at relocating the Yellow-breasted Chat Liz had found months ago.  We did not succeed, but Earic heard a Winter Wren and we got to see it. It was a year bird for me so a nice get.

After much debate, and Liz bidding us adieu, the three of us set off to Patchogue to try for the spurious Tufted Duck. What kind of maniacal quackster frequents a pond on alternating days? Once again, we, and yes I, was skunked. Perhaps the terminology should be updated to: “I was tufted”?

Tuesday night I picked up a new car, perhaps long overdue. Thursday was a major snowstorm after Wednesday’s inexplicable 65 degree weather. Over a foot of snow meant shoveling and household chores I prefer to postpone instead of a ride in my new wheels. Or did it.

Late in the afternoon I heard through the grapevine that a Yellow-headed Blackbird had been seen at a feeder in Nassau county! It was discovered because the home owners took a picture and being unable to ID it, posted it on Facebook. I made an effort to secure permission to visit despite the snow, but by the time I heard back it was too late in the day top arrive before sunset.

I did go there the next day before work and met Mike Zino’s Petrel and Pat Pallas Reed Bunting. There was a flock of 50+/- Grackles circling the area, but no definitive sightings. One bird Mike and I both saw had white flashes in the wings that we saw as the flock flew over head, but time ran out for me and I had to depart.

The weekend arrived and I was still not feeling a trip to New Jersey. I wasn't feeling like I was ready to travel long distances anywhere. Though after some musing, I met Arlene Rails and we decided to give the very Tuff ted Duck another try.  We scanned this 'popular with the quacking crowd' pond for some time without the desired result.

And then I got a text from Pelican. It read: “So are you chasing the Guillemot, or the Great Gray Owl?” WTF?!?!  I checked the intertubes and saw a report of a Black Guillemot in Montauk harbor. I coyly asked Arlene “Would that be a life bird?” she smiled and said yes, and said “lets go!”
Great Gray Owl
I am not one to refuse a lady. We high tailed it to the highway and made our way to the west jetty. Setting the car in park I leaped out to get a look while she prepared herself in the warmth of the car.

The inlet was devoid of much save three Common Loons. The end of the west jetty had two SandPurples, while the east jetty had three Great Cormorants. I turned my attention to the back of the harbor, and there by the coast guard’s patrol boat was the bird! I ran over to get Arlene and she got an ‘insurance’ view of this lifer.

I suggested that we relocate to get a better look at the Coasties. As we pulled in, I saw Bobby Sanderlingi pulling out, having tried to relocate the bird himself. I told him it was hidden behind the patrol boat, and we all went over to get a closer and better look. Nice find Bobby!
Black Guillemot
During the jubilation for Arlene’s life bird, we got another call from Earic. He was out in Pennsylvania looking for the Black-backed Oriole of questionable provenance, and was inquiring about a run for the Great Gray Owl way upstate in Massena NY.

After the ensuing conversation, we contemplated a run. The caveat was that it would have to be an overnighter. I did not want to push a run for this bird, and did not think Arlene would want to do it. Unexpectedly she was enthusiastic and the wheels started turning.

As time passed and things progressed, we were en route home when we decided to go for it. Part of my rationalization was spending the night [ because 400+ miles each way was a stretch even for me ] ~and~ the birds we could get in the Adirondacks on the way back. We had missed Evening Grosbeak on the Ross’s Gull twitch, and it stung being so close to where they were and blowing it.

We contacted Earic again, and relayed our plans to leave in a few hours. Thing was he was still in PA! This was a deal breaker for us, and it greatly disappointed him.  We carried on, secured a room, and did logistical mapping etc,. Importantly we prepped and psyched ourselves for an epic journey.

Hours later on the thruway several counties away from home, the phone rang. It was Earic again. His question: if he got a ride up there could he get a ride back with us. Seems he had talked Shrimpke into going, but she had decided to extend her trip into Canada for other Owls that were around. A ride back? This was fine by us.

We had an uneventful expeditious trip up the thruway to the exit for Lake Placid, and then had to deal with the smaller roads, speed restrictions through towns, and murderous lake monsters trying to hitch a ride.

A stop in Saranac for fuel and leg stretching was amusing for observing the winter festival’s ice castle and ice moose. The conversation with the clerk while she was making me an root beer float ( hey, it has the word ‘beer’ in it, and its Stewarts ) was a modicum of disheartening though, when she said she used to live in Massena and how far and how long we still had to go...

But we pressed on in the teen degree temps and eventually reached our lodging. Ahhh. Finally! Thing was, the clerk on duty seemed to be more fatigued than I was if that was possible. Took way to long to simply acknowledge my presence. He inquired nothing of me, simply came out of his office in response to my ringing the bell. He went straight to the computer, never looked my way, and after a lot of clicking around, eventually reached over to a sheet of paper on the counter which was my reservation. He placed it on the counter and asked for my ID. After inspecting it he handed me the keys, pointed to where I would find our room, and said good night. All without making any eye contact. Odd and somewhat creepy.

Arlene bless her heart and several other internal organs ( but not her spleen. Definitely NOT her spleen ) saw fit to bring some beer. In our rush to get to the room we left some things in the car, but when I found out that was one of the items I had to rescue them! 10 degrees will make them explode, and while you shouldn’t cry over spilled milk, beer? No way!

She brought some delicious Cappuchino Stouts that Mike Zino’s Petrel hates for some reason. It was the perfect way to unwind from the long ride. Thanks Leanie :)

The next day we awoke in no particular rush much to her delight. We took our time getting ready for the day’s adventure, and ate breakfast at our leisure. An atypical start to a birding day!

By 8:30 we headed off to the frustratingly named Robert Moses State Park. Why you ask? Because there is a Robert Moses State Park here on Long Island. Really? They couldn’t come up with another name or a differentiating modification? How about “Bobby Mo State Park?”

We appeared to be among the first there, and we drove the roads slowly hoping to find the majestic creatures. We had flocks of Robins, but not a whole lot of bird activity. Eventually more and more cars arrived, and they were all birders except for the a state trooper.

Checking in with Earic, I learned that they were still a short distance away and that Laura Corella had joined him and Shrimpke on the trip. They left at midnight Saturday, instead of earlier as we had done, hoping to arrive by around the time we would get to the park. Laura texted me asking if she could get a ride back. I said yes of course, and asked how then would Earic get back?

They finally arrived, and we crossed paths. We as well as others were cruising the area hoping to find at least one of the two birds. Eventually we saw some folks stopped by the side of the road. We inquired of them, and were told this was the area they were located the day before. We decided to give waiting here a try too.

After a while, another person stopped along the road, but he got out and was carrying a camera and started pointing it at something. I started the engine and drove up. There on top of a broken tree was a superbly gorgeous Owl. There was much rejoicing! A splendid only second ever sighting for me, and a lifer for Leanie!
Great Gray Owl
I called the others because they were not with the growing crowd. Those chucleheads went off to find a bathroom! While birding?? What are they nuts??? They eventually deigned to join us, and we all enjoyed this evocative creature. We transferred Earic & Laura’s stuff to my car, and after we had our fill of this bird we made tracks.

There were two reasons for our hasty departure. One, was it was a long ride home any way you slice it. Two, lucky us - they were predicting a major snow storm, that they named Orson. Yay. We hit the road for Tupper Lake as the first flakes fell.

The roads progressively worsened, but we made it to Tupper Lake in okay time. Passing the factory with the large smoke stack, we didn’t even have to slow down to see the reliable Northern shrike that was perched on his favorite tree. And we didn’t stop because we were on our way to try for the blasted Evening Grosbeaks we missed the last time around.

We went to the incongruous house: the one with the bird feeders and confederate flag ( Yay! We lost!? ) and pulled over to observe the desolate feeders in the falling snow.  It was some time before a few birds flew in; Leanie was the one to see the Goldfinches that alighted upon the far feeder.

Studying them I was elated to spot a Pine Siskin with them and blurted out SISKIN! They have been scarce so far this season, so it was a gratifying year bird get. But sitting there for a while longer we were still without our target.

I for one had to use a restroom ( and yes, its okay if I need to ) so we all decided to take a break from the stake-out and utilize the nearby McDonalds. We then headed back to the feeders and as I drove up I saw a bird and YES! It was a lone Evening Grosbeak!! Hey one Siskin and one Grosbeak, I’ll take it!

Satisfied, we continued on our way, not having room to dawdle. Our next stop was not too far away at the feeders on Sabbatis Circle road where the Gray Jays were more than accommodating. There were lots of Chickadees too, though nary a Boreal Chickadee. Other birds were Blue Jay, Hairy Woodpecker, and Redhatch.

The snow relentlessly falling, we delayed the inevitable no longer and hit the road home in earnest. It was slow going all through the rest of the ‘dacks, with not much improvement once on the thruway. As I predicted, once we were below Albany the roads were clear, but then another road hazard was present.

The road is only two lanes, and some folks like to travel in the left lane. Too many of the bastards don’t want to relinquish it and allow you to pass! Flash your headlights? They’ll just ignore you, and most of them had NJ license plates. Just another "nice" thing to say and think about Joisey.

Despite the road constipation, we made it home in good time and thankfully not too late. I hit the pillow like a sack of potatoes. Nice! And to think, what are the odds of two recent trips to Montauk on a Saturday were followed by an epic journey upstate?  This brings my NYS year list to 157 and my NYS life list to  to 415 :)
Not every birding trip is an epic journey, but this one sure was!

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Tour of the Black Dirt Region with the QCBeasties

After discovering this productive region of New York some years back, the Black Dirt Region has become a regular trip for me to lead. A group of us met in Goshen consisting of Rich Kelly, Pat Aitken, John Gaglione, Arlene Rawls, Phil Uruburu, Ian Resnick, Donna Schulman, Bob Hayes, and Liz Patrick. We also met up with Steve Walter, but he was not on the trip proper; just doing his own photography thing.

We began by diverting to a local hot-spot to follow up on a report of a Barred Owl. We had a lovely walk in the cold yet windless morning air and enjoyed the sunrise if not an owl. Typical dickie birds were about and the area was capped off with a Ring-necked Pheasant spotted on a berm along side the road.

After hitting the beginning of the tour, we began to see the sought after specialties. We had numerous Canada Geese in the Walkill River, but searching within them did not reveal any goodies. That’s because they flew over our head in a nice V formation; they being 12 or so Snow Geese.

Of course there were ample Red-tailed Hawks, and as expected, Harriers, but upon reaching ‘the’ area, we had one then another Rough-legged Hawks. Better still, we spotted one, then three, and finally four total day flying Short-eared Owls. The birds were very cooperative and we all got great looks and photos.
Short-eared Owl      Photo: Steve Walter

Short-eared Owl      Photo: Steve Walter

That is to say, ~without~ going off the dirt road and into the farm fields. I have come to learn that after we departed, something approaching a small hoard of birders and / or photographers were in the same location enjoying the owl spectacle. I am not privy to whether access to the farm fields at this time of the year is permitted, ignored, or has not yet been realized by the owners, but not having first hand knowledge of what can and cannot be done with respect to this patently private property, I chose to lead my group within the bounds of what I knew to be absolutely permitted: restricting ourselves to the public road.
Rough-legged Hawk

There was much chatter about the trespassers on fazebuk, where some distressing opinions were voiced. One offered that in the absence of “no trespassing” signs, it was okay. No. Its not.

Unless you obtained permission, or were informed by a reliable source that entry was permitted, stay the heck out. Just because you saw others doing it, doesn’t mean they had permission, and if not for you, then for other birders and photographers who subsequently visit the area.

Suppose you saw a shop with a broken window and people running in and running out with TV’s. Would you then similarly presume that ‘they were doing it’ so it was okay? 

American Kestral
For the umpteenth time: Do Not Trespass. It is a lot harder to get permission ~after~ you have aggravated someone than before.  Trespassing shows a lack of respect, is unlawful (duh), and paints birders and photographers in a bad light. Again, it will ruin it for subsequent visitors.

If that doesn’t dissuade folks then soon we will have animosity towards all of us, be us guilty or not, and perhaps a switch to how they treat trespassers out west: shoot first.
Northern Harrier      Photo: Steve Walter
...Back to the trip. We continued to mission island where we scanned the nervous Horned Lark flocks, but could not find any Longspurs with them. Walkill NWR had more waterfowl in the open water and Harriers, but nothing unexpected. We did an abbreviated walk looking for sparrows, but the after lunch sluggishness, and the wind having picked up discouraged a more lengthy exploration.

At this point we normally would depart for Shawangunk, but as we had the owls so well,   I suggested a different option. I had heard reports of Evening Grosbeaks in Ulster county, so the group agreed to try our luck.

We checked numerous locations and despite our best efforts, we never did locate any. Most of us then did some additional exploring of the winding Ulster roads and enjoyed that, if not seeing some birds. The day was capped off with a tasty dinner at Mr Sushi.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Um, Of Course Its A Day Trip...

The last time a Ross’s Gull. showed up in New York was on March 20, 1994. It was in Jones Inlet, and insinuated within a flock of 1000's of Bonaparte’s Gulls. Trying to find it and stay on it was very challenging. VERY challenging. I was one of the lucky folks who saw it.

The 1994 bird was the second NYS record. The first was many years prior at Montauk Point, and is questioned by some or so I am told. March 20 was a special day at the inlet for other reasons: I had 10 species of gull that day: Herring, Lesser Black-backed, Greater Black-backed, Ring-billed, Iceland, Glaucous, Bonaparte’s,  Little, and Black-headed in addition to the Ross’s in the inlet.

Undoubtedly, the first accepted / well documented sighting was in 1975 in Massachusetts. You can read about in this archived article that appeared in the New York Times.

As you can see, this bird is a really big deal. Normally one would travel to the arctic circle to see it, so a trip upstate is a relative bargain! ( And not indicative of impending mental collapse)
Ross's Gull

That I had many inquiries regarding a trip to see this bird should not come as a surprise. But I was not ready to commit because my chase-ability algorithm had not indicated a high probability of success as of yet. That and I had committed to cover leading a trip for a friend who needed to be there for his mom.

That is not to say that I did not keep my nose to the wind.

During the course of the day on our trip to Montauk, we read our emails. After all it would be rude not to; what with someone making the effort to write them. It became clearer and clearer that there was ample food around and that the bird would most likely stick. Tupper Lake hosts many ice fishermen and apparently they gut the fish and leave the offal on the ice for the Bald Eagles... and the occasional Ross’s Gull. 

In the car with Pelican, she was doing her best: “I’m a rational responsible person” imitation. But her friend Charlotte Kiskadee was not having it: “Who are you kidding Pat, you know you want to go”. Add a text inquiry from John Gaggle-o-geese, and then a plaintive inquiry as to my interest, and we had a plan. A quick text to Arlene Rails and she was in too.

We met at 5 am for the 330 mile trip. It was a beautiful day, and just as always, once we were into the Adirondacks it began to snow. I think it’s a requirement.  But Pat is a good driver and she has an all wheel drive car so we had no issues.

Once we were near the lake, I reminded the others that the bird had been seen along the highway on the lake’s open water, so we switched to being birderers. As we passed the Tupper Lake boat ramp, I saw folks with scopes and cameras and yelled out “pull in there”.

When the car stopped, I grabbed my bins and camera and ran over to find the bird. YES! For some reason the others took their time, and Arlene complained that I had not waited for them. What? Are we eating dinner and I have to wait for everyone to be served? You guys can dawdle all you want, I was there to see a bird and didn’t want to risk missing it.

She further disparaged me by reiterating that I had claimed it was not that important and yet I ran off without them. I reminded her that yes, I had previously seen this bird, but that it was a ~lifer~ for them, so dawdle if you must, but having traveled all that way, you bet your sweet ass I wanted to see it and wasn’t in a rush to ~miss~ it you dawdlers! Two of those present it is worth mentioning, were ever so slightly delayed in their arrival at another good bird, so my concern was not without merit nor precedent. Also of note, this sighting was at 11am, and by 12:30 the bird had vanished and could not be relocated much to the dismay of those that arrived later than we did. So there Arlene. Dawdler.

The view from the boat ramp was okay, but the gull kept returning to a spot a short distance away where some edible stuff was on the ice. We noticed other birders there, and went to that location. The views were spectacular! There was much rejoicing.

Notice the look of 'joy' on her face.

Other birds were about the area, and we went off in search of them after we had a sufficient fill of this cutie. John and Pat had heard of a Northern Shrike, so we went to its last known location. We drove around and tried to dodge the snow flakes. Amazing sunshine one moment and near blinding snow the next.

The first places we tried were a bust, but later we saw likely Shrike habitat, and pulled into a convenient parking lot. We got out of the car and were preparing to walk and search when John said: there it is! It was perched as Shrikes are supposed to be, at the top of a tree. There was much more rejoicing!

Northern Shrike

We then perused the scene of the crime ( the home where the Ross’s Gull was first located ) where Earic and Shrimpke had seen a Barred Owl, but the snow began to fall in earnest again and we could not find it.

We then checked some feeders in and about town in hopes of finding Evening Grosbeaks that those two had also had, but dipped again. So after a quick bite to eat we hit the road for Newcomb. We stopped in the visitor center where the feeders had nothing unusual, but the docent there gave us a map to houses in town where Bohemian Waxwings had been seen.

We drove around, and stopped but saw nothing. Then as we were pulling away I spotted the Waxwings in the Crabobble tree right in front of us. More rejoicing!

Bohemian Waxwing

We made a few more circuits hoping to score the Grosbeaks, but we did not. We then made tracks for Lake Champlain. Despite an unfortunate course selection, we corrected and made it there before the sun set. Scoping the available ducks did not find us a hoped for Tufted Duck, and ironic comments were made that "they are going to show up on Long Island".

Son of a B... the very next day ( Monday ) they ~were~ found on Long Island. What’s worse, on that day at Lake Champlain both Tufted Duck ~and~ Barrows Goldeneye were located. Doh!

And it gets better. The next day ( Tuesday ) a few of us went in search of the TUDU and despite many eyes and much time spent looking, we could not find it. Then it was relocated Wednesday. Double Doh! Unbelievably, Friday I learn it returned to Swan lake. WTF!! I take Tuesdays and Thursdays off, and so does this duck! Gaaaaaaa!

UPDATE:  Brendan Frogmouth has informed me that: "We've had ROGU a few times in between though: 1995 Niagara, 2003 Rochester, 2008 Niagara, 2012 Cayuga Lake." 

Today on the plus side I was able to see the Barrows Goldeneye with Liz Ardcuckoo Patrick, though depressingly yet another attempt for the Swan lake TUDU was for naught.  But at least I've gotten some leads on more goodies!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Leading Some QCBeasties on a Trip to That Fabulous Place: Montauk Point

Pat Aitken, Rich Kelly, Charlotte Miska, Nancy & Lou Tognan, Bob Hayes, Gary Straus and guest Blair Brounton met on a really nice winters morning at the point. After the requisite pit stop we set up scopes behind the restaurant. The birding was good right away. All three Scoters, both Loons, ( Common and Red-throated; ~not~ Rich and Pat ), Common Eiders and Oldsquaw. In the distance, but not to far to get ~great~ looks, were numerous Razorbills.

At some point Rich said to me: hey, take a look at that Eider down there... Yes! It was a female King Eider and nice and close! Further out were Gannets along with a few Bonaparte's Gulls.
f. King Eider

f. King Eider

There was a modicum of wind, and as time marched on it grew stronger. We moved closer to the lighthouse, and then over to the Camp Hero side, but nothing of note beyond the Herring, Great Black-backed Gulls, and Red-breasted Mergansers, so we moved on to Deep Hollow at Rich's insistence.
Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

The large flock of geese we spotted on the way to the point was gone, but we perused the area anyway. Here we added Ring-billed Gulls before we noticed a bunch of geese flying over head. In with them was a Snow Goose. We went across to the park and climbed the hill to look into the ranch’s pond. From here anyone who had not already gotten a look, got to see the Snow goose.

East Lake drive was a bust. We stopped at a vantage point to look for a potential Barrows among the Common Goldeneye, and despite a candidate it didn't pan out. That and the wind became quite annoying making the shake of the scope and the diving of the birds the definition of ‘challenging’.
Rich however did enjoy saying "Osmia". At the east jetty we scored a nicely plumaged Great Cormorant
Great Cormorant

We had better luck at the west jetty where Rich spotted an immature Iceland Gull, and then I spotted an adult. Next we went to the ice house and fort pond bay and then fort pond. As predicted we found Pied billed Grebe. By Kirk Beach we scored Redhead and some Ring-necked Ducks.

We made stops at Napeague and though somewhat bird-less, we saw a cute young seal on the beach.
Harbor Seal

At East Hampton there were we saw lots of geese we could not find any rarities but a few of us saw a Peregrine blast by.  Our next stop was at Wainscott to try for the Crane which was a no show, but Pat somehow picked out a Greater White-fronted Goose in the ridiculously large flock of Canada Geese. The rest of us had quite a lot of trouble finding it as it was obscured by other geese. You also could not see its legs in the tall grass, and while feeding it kept its head down where it could not be seen except for the most brief looks. But we all eventually saw it.

With lots of geese in the air as well, I looked up to see a smaller bird and picked out a Cackling goose for us. Again, no Crane but a 4 Goose day ain't bad.

Our final stop was at Shinnecock and Dune Road. The Harlequins were enjoying the surf just west of the west jetty. The inlet and the ocean was sadly unproductive, as the wind was blowing hard. In the back of the inlet we saw lots of seals resting on a sandbar in the back of the bay.

Snow Buntings were in the dunes, but Boat-tailed Grackles were absent. Nor could we find the Snowy Owl or Bittern. Dang. We headed back towards the inlet to have dinner at Oaklands restaurant, but a banner said it was closed for an event. Not trusting it, we drove in to the lot and saw another banner, so yes, it was not available for dinner. While there I suggested we scan their docks for a Glaucous and there it was! A nice cap to the day bird wise, and we set off in hopes of finding a place to eat. We were going to try up by Montauk hwy, but passing Tully’s market I remembered they had a restaurant around back. We went there for dinner and were all pleasantly surprised: a nice ending to the day. 


The recounting of this saga would not be complete without mentioning the ever present specter of a mega rarity looming over our heads all day. That being the Ross’s Gull up in the Adirondacks by Tupper Lake.

Some people remarked that they were surprised that I had not jumped ship from leading the Montauk trip to chase this bird. Yes folks, I did not. All of us contemplated the great distance involved and the unpleasant possibility that it might not stick even if we had gone.

But as the day wore on and reports came in that the bird was being seen it both delighted and tormented us. Another long day with an even longer journey after the day’s birding? What, are we nuts? ( don’t answer that)

The turning point came when Pat made another disparaging remark about committing a chase and Charlotte rebutted by saying: “Who are you kidding Pat, you know you want to go”. Pat's perfidy exposed, she asked if I was in. How could I say no to a lady? (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

Friday, January 27, 2017

Rainbirder, Rainbirder, Go Away

1. One who seeks to disparages other birders by raining on their parade due to excessive consumption of sour grapes.

Once again I am flummoxed by folks who look down upon those who are more enthusiastic than themselves. The last time was when the Ivory Billed Woodpecker was supposed to have been rediscovered. Many birders were excited at the prospect.  The question was posed would you go looking now that its been relocated and most responded in the affirmative. One dissenting comment came back: "Why? - isn’t it enough that it exists?" No. Birding is an experience.

So when I saw this posted on the intertubes, I let out another groan.

"In our quest for rare birds to add to our lists, are we pushing too hard?  Is this what has become of our use of social media?  This single post has found its way to the personal address of a homeowner. I am so regretful for the lengths that some of us have gone to capture the unusual bird in the unusual setting. This practice just doesn't feel morally considerate of both the bird populations and the human code of conduct. A single photo and observations of this fascinating find would have sufficed.

I hope someone else is feeling this concern

I can find not a thing to agree with in this opine.

I’ll presume that this person is a birder to some degree, otherwise why they would be browsing the lists?  That birders by definition seek out birds seems to have escaped his attention as does the added appeal of rarities. That and one’s level of participation is ~voluntary~.

I like rock and roll and I like going to concerts but stop short of following a band around the country to all their shows. I am prevented by responsibilities that hinder that freedom (or is it a lack of good acid?)  But that doesn’t mean I would disparage friends who do this, (but tie-dye, really?)

So look at the commentary.

"In our quest for rare birds to add to our lists, are we pushing too hard?"  Compared to what? Some folks travel around the world in search of birds which is arguably more of a push.

"Is this what has become of our use of social media?" By far not its worst use; that’s the bizarre fascination with cat photos. It is however a method of communication which allows for rapid dissemination of information. Who among us would rather ~wait~?

"I am so regretful for the lengths that some of us have gone to capture the unusual bird in the unusual setting." One wonders about the feeling towards zoos...

"This practice just doesn't feel morally considerate of both the bird populations and the human code of conduct."  Chasing birds is a sin! Now that’s a new one. If anything, a greater desire to experience birds will translate into a greater desire for conservation. But see below, and lets just look at pictures...

"A single photo and observations of this fascinating find would have sufficed." For whom? Birding is about experiencing birds, its not looking at pictures. Did you see the game? Nah, I’ll just read about it tomorrow.

"I hope someone else is feeling this concern," 


Monday, January 23, 2017

Shhhhh. Don't Tell Anyone

Despite the rain, Captain Bob, Earic Miller and I tried for some things on this past Tuesday on some other Island. The main target was a cooperative female Painted Bunting frequenting a weedy patch.

We arrived at the location and began birding, first coming across a what looked like a modest flock of Juncos. Earic spished and they scattered instead of queuing up. They flew off some 50 feet down the road, and revealed themselves to be very numerous, say 40-50 birds. Despite the overcast and drizzle, we could not pick out a Bunting among them.

We walked up and down the surrounding area, and retreated into the car whenever the rain picked up.  After a while, we had spread out and were trying to cover more area. And then I saw a relatively larger bird moving with a mixed flock of passerines that had come in to feed. Boy did the green of that bird stand out! I called out that I had found the bird, and Bob was able to scramble over and see it. But by the time Earic arrived, and despite suitable orientation landmarks, it dropped off the pokeweed it was feeding on in time for Earic to just see the movement, and miss the bird.

We hung around for a while longer, and I spotted the bird again, and again Earic was just a bit to far away to get there in time to see it. Thankfully though, the bird remained faithful to this small area and he got great looks whe he relocated it on his own.

Next we moved on to an area that had sporadically hosted a Red Crossbill and Dicksissel in the recent past. It was raining, and my two co-conspirators had lost some interest. That and the pines were ever so sparse and we were not feeling particularly lucky. We walked around a bit, dodged raindrops, but saw nothing interesting.

We were by the beach, and Earic told me he heard House Sparrows chirping by the house across Fr. Capodanno Blvd 450' away! (yes, I measured it on google maps) Blimey!

We ended our birding by going to a wooded area Earic had heard tales of Pileated Woodpeckers being around. It was a nice walk but no luck on our target. He did find a Creeper, and that being a year bird for me, was as good a consolation as I was going to get.  After parting ways with Bob, Earic suggested a restaurant he discovered that had good food and a good beer selection. Twist my arm. We met his Laura for dinner and we all enjoyed the food but curiously she seemed disinterested in the recounting of our birding adventure.

Thursday I had non-birding tasks to perform in the morning, and thankfully my estimation of time was accurate and I was able to meet up with Pelican. We made a trip to Pelham park and sought out the Barred Owl.

This owl is reliable, though very fussy and can be flushed easily. The pines that it likes are frequented by all sorts of park goers, so it may sleep with one eye open. Many times I have heard other birders say that they got it because it flew away when they were looking for it.

My method is to walk very slowly and quietly, and refrain from talking while seeking owls. It took a while, but I finally saw a clump of something that didn’t consist of leaves. It was well hidden, and difficult to get a good look at due to branches blocking most of the view no matter where you were standing. I called Pelican over, and she got a look too. Not the best of looks mind you, but I did see its brown eyes when it turned its head toward me. And that’s birding: sometimes you get killer views, and at others disappointing ones. This was not a lifer so it was certainly acceptable as another year bird.

Saturday was another overly ambitious day. Arlene Rails and Pelican and I first tried for the Sands Point Barrows Goldeneye. We went to a road where you can get a view of the Sound, but struck out. We contemplated trying from the preserve, but decided to skip the long walk in favor of getting the targets we had upstate.

All along the way we were taking note of the incredibly numerous Red-tailed Hawks. I mentioned to the others that a Red-shouldered had been seen in Forest Park, but had not been relocated AFAIK. I also mused that I sure would like to see one...

And then a short distance down the road we spotted a hawk sitting in a tree. Its red breast was so different from all the Red-tails we had seen and I blurted out: “That’s no Red-tail!” while pulling into the ever so convenient driveway of a gas station.

We got excellent views of the bird, and I had Arlene hand me my camera. But just, and I mean just as I was going to take a photo, someone pulled up along side and got out of their car, scaring it away. Oh well, nice bird, nice view, and nice example of the universal birding law of ‘Casual Incantation’.  And oh yes, a year bird for us all.

Elated, we continued on. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and we made it up to Ulster county without a problem. On the last stretch just a few miles from our destination, Pat now called out attention to some birds across the field and a casual look revealed Bald Eagles. I found a convenient pullout, and we scoped from roadside. We had a nice selection of adults and juvenile eagles as well as Ravens and more Red-tailed Hawks.

A very short distance up the road was the town of Dover, and where an ebird sighting had placed a marker. While its possible to see our target from there, we moved to the location I had seen them in the past. Unfortunately, at the time of our arrival the view of the ridge was dreadfully into the sun. We decided to try our luck elsewhere.

The roads along the ridge are bucolic and scenic and have numerous signs indicating that the lands are owned by a hunting club. No doubt, that is why we saw so many Ring-necked Pheasants in the fields. We also heard gun fire.

We stopped occasionally to bird and take in the sights. Eventually we saw some others who we presumed were birders, and we sidled up to them. They were actually photographers, with large lenses and dressed in full camo.  We were happy to hear that they had seen our target: the Golden Eagles, and advised that they would be in the area again as they had been doing throughout the day up until then. They had ventured up here from Staten Island. Go figure.

This location was very good because it provided an ample pullout for cars, a great look out over the fields, and the sun was at our back.

We again saw a lot of Bald Eagles, Ravens, and Red-tailed Hawks. And then Pat and Arlene called out to me that a Golden was in the air! Yes!! We had nice looks, and lingered for a bit longer before deciding to hit the road for some additional targets before we lost daylight. I also posted an alert to the NY list complete with a map link for the benefit of other birders...

We grabbed a quick bite and continued on down to Nyack to get Pat the Drumpheter Swan. As it was a splendid day, the parking lot was far more occupied than the day Arlene and I had last visited in the snowfall. The swan was also not in the water adjacent to the park like it had been!

Pat may have had a modicum of consternation, but undeterred I scanned and off in the distance I saw a white ‘stick’ moving behind a distant pier. I got Pat on it, and there was much rejoicing. I then ran back to the car for scopes and the bird deigned to swim out into the river where there was a much better view.

Light was fading, so we called it a day and planned our next day’s targets.

Sunday we three met Rich Veery and went back to Sands Point; this time walking the beach. The fog had something else to say however, and despite our best efforts we were stymied by the less than 100 foot visibility.

On the way out we passed other birders, one of whom stated he had seen my post on the eagles and that I should not have posted it. Really? Now you can’t post eagles? It seems that the hunters on the expansive hunting preserve had gotten grief in the past from people observing them hunting. If they were casual passers-by or birders I wouldn’t know, but I was told that their disdain was expressed. Oh well. So then the explanation was that the hunters would call the police. Despite my detailing that we did not trespass, nor did we verbally assault any hunters, and that the roads are ‘public property’, it was deemed a bad thing to have revealed to that festering cesspool of the public that is the folks who read the NY bird list. Shame on you dirtbags!

If you despise hunting, want to visit a hunting site to view birds, and feel compelled to berate the hunters doing their thing: Don’t. Consider for a moment the effect it will have on fellow birders who will visit afterwards and have to deal with the residual hostility. Not fun. There are better ways to achieve what presumably you want to do, unless yelling at hunters and ruining it for other birders is your thing. I am sick and tired of hearing about birds being kept quiet because some selfish inconsiderate oafs felt that they were entitled to do what they wanted irregardless.

It bears repeating some points on birding etiquette. First, do not trespass. Second, remember that folks can become uneasy if they see you looking into their property, even if you remain on the street etc. If you see them checking you out, do not shy away but be polite and friendly and *explain* what you are doing and try to put them at ease. If you are respectful of private property, and are polite and friendly, you will be amazed at the access you may be granted. People who may know nothing about birds can become quite piqued at your display of enthusiasm.

Always ask permission first, rather than after they catch you if trespassing.  Most importantly remember to approach it with the understanding that its *their property* so if they deny you access, that’s that. Also consider the consequences for birders that visit after you do.  Just be polite; this may pave the way for others when they see that birders are not all jerks.

I have almost never been denied access, and in many cases have been invited onto property because I did not trespass first. So don’t ruin it for others by doing the wrong thing and perpetuate the ‘don’t tell anybody’ mentality that has made birding divisive.

“Sightings beget sightings.” Just look at ebird reports after a bird that has not been reported in a while shows up. You will see the subsequent reports follow this sighting and then subsequent sightings. Sure its most preferable and enjoyable to find a rarity yourself, but the statistics don’t lie and most of us will look for something that has already been found simply because its easier and the odds are better.

So I’ll get off my soapbox, but to reiterate: don’t be a dick and ruin it for subsequent birders, and don’t be a dick and keep sightings from others.


So we dipped on the Barrows, and headed over to try for the King Eider in Center Island. The fog was less and the visibility better, but that was about it. A double dip. The only saving grace was the Pintails we saw on some ponds on the way. Alas, it was a year bird. At 137 for the year so far. I’m not tired of all this running around, are you Barbara Snohe?.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Good Day, Sunshine!

I like to bird and when the birds are out
I've got something I can laugh about
I feel good in a special way
I'm doing what I love and it's a sunny day

Like the previous day, it was a sunny beautiful day. Arlene Rails and I had planned to revisit the elusive ( for her anyway ) Crane, and some other east end goodies.

We began by trying Pepperidge Lake in Eastport. Previous attempts for birds on Eastport Lake were unsuccessful due to the freeze; we found out afterwards that they often relocate here in that case. It is a quite picturesque body of water, and the ducks thereon were a pleasure to observe in the golden morning light. More pleasant still, was getting our mutual target Eurasian Wigeon for which I shot off an alert to the intertubes... a quick stop at Eastport Pond revealed nothing else quackworthy, but we got a year Kingfisher.

Our next stop was in Westhampton at Stevens Park Yacht Basin where the reliable Lesser Black-backed Gull was easily spotted there for Arlene, and we continued on to Dune Road and Shinnecock.

Hoped for Bittern and Snowy Owl was disappointingly absent even though we spent a lot of time looking in all the right places. My only consolation was a year Great Cormorant at the inlet, so we headed out for the Crane that Arlene so sorely desired.

We arrived at Wainscott Pond and found another couple there who were scanning unsuccessfully for the past half hour. After we spent about that amount of time, and having being told by them there was a road on the south side of the pond, we tried looking for other things or other vantages.

We explored the nearby roads, and came upon the massive Canada Goose flock in the same filed we had them in previously. They continued to be devoid of interlopers unfortunately. The road at the south end of the pond was a bust, as were other roads we tried, so we went back to the primary location.

As we arrived, we noticed that John Gaggle-o-geese and Pelican were arriving as well. And it also turns out they had intercepted my earlier alert and diverted to the Eurasian Wigeon! We all were scanning the field and pond and I pointed out to them the Meadowlarks infesting the field.

When a Harrier landed by the pond, Arlene called my attention to it, whose ID I confirmed for her. While looking at it though, I saw a head in the cattails and phrags. It was the Crane!!!

I got her and the others on it, and when the couple who were there earlier returned, got them on it too. Yes!

Just goes to prove my adage: “Bird every bird.”  That is why we didn’t miss the Crane, and why we didn’t miss the only Yellow-headed Blackbird we had in California this past August, in among the populous Brewers Blackbirds and Starlings.

Satisfied, we all decided to head back to Dune Road again for another try. We all stopped at Starpuke’s; the others for their dreadful ‘coffee’, while Arlene and I availed ourselves of the pissotiere. And that’s when things started getting interesting...

I got a call from Bob Prothonotary that the Long-eared Owl had been relocated at Jones Beach! Thanks Bob!!  He gave me directions, and I shared this info with Pat and John. Hmmmm. Big smiles... Pat and John continued on to Dune Road, while Arlene and I diverted for a mid day repast.
Long-eared Owl
With perfect synchronicity, we were finishing our meal when Pat and John alerted us that they had found the Snowy Owl! They also relayed that they were observing it devour a Black Duck. It is not often one gets to witness a “wild kingdom moment” but Arlene was revolted and didn’t want to see that. Just the thought upset her.    :(

We made haste getting there, and the Owl was where the others had promised it to be. Then as if on queue, they texted again to let us know they had found the Bittern. We made more haste and caught up to them and the bird. Nice! And it felt good and symmetrical that we had gotten them two birds, and they had gotten us two birds.

And then we decided to make a break for Jones Beach and hopefully get the Long-eared Owl. Traffic on Sunrise Highway was blessedly light, and any potential volume on the Southern State Pkwy was avoided by bolting to the Ocean Pkwy.

At about 15 minutes out I got a call from Sam Jacana, who was updating me to the Owls location and volunteered to stay so as to lead me to it.  When we arrived we were greeted by a waiting Sam, and inquiries as to potential excessive velocity were deftly deflected.

He led the lot of us to the bird, and we got great looks at this elusive winter resident. A concierge! Thanks Sam!!

A Point Lookout + QCBC Trip

I led a QCBC trip on Saturday January 14, 2017 with an excellent turnout of 11 participants. Pat Aitken, Nancy & Lou Tognan, Ian Resnick, Bob Hayes, John Gaglione, Steve Schellenger, Bill Weissman, Charlotte Miska, Arlene Rawls, Rich Kelly, Laura Weir, and Maria: a guest visiting from Virginia. 

Scheduling of this trip had been fraught with problems initially, because the ongoing beach and sea wall construction had the potential to cancelling or at least relocating the outing.  Recent reminders that winter was in fact upon us could also have kept birders of a lesser god at home.

The day turned out to be gorgeous, with almost no wind at all. This meant that the ocean was flat flat flat. Those of us who did not go on the winter pelagic that had been rescheduled to this same day might have thought they missed out based upon the favorable conditions, but we had a great day nevertheless and a great mix of species.

At the park at the end of Lido Blvd, we began by seeing impressive numbers of Brant. In the past, the inlet was known for its impressive numbers of Bonaparte’s Gulls but we did not see a single one. Expected sightings were Oldsquaw, many Red-throated Loons, a few Common Loons, and Red-breasted Mergansers.

By the jetties we had Common Eiders, and Horned Grebes. But the celebrities were an Eared Grebe and a Red-necked Grebe. On the water was not the only place with goodies though. While looking at the grebes, we discovered numerous sandpipers hiding on the rocks of the second jetty. The first ones were obvious: Sanderlings. While studying them, a few Dunlin were discovered. But surprises hiding under our noses were three Ruddy Turnstones, and one Purple Sandpiper. 

Exploration was cut a bit short when we were asked to leave by the local safety officer, so we moved on to our next stop, the Lido preserve. It was lack luster, so we went to Nickerson beach on word of a Cackling Goose. That turned out to be a wild goose chase, though we did find a Horned Lark.

After a coffee stop, we explored Jones Beach west end. Oystercatchers and Black Scoter were a nice add, as were Flicker and a very unexpected Hermit Thrush. A lone flyover Tree Swallow was also a surprise, but a hoped for owl or two did not materialize.

Not known for saying “lets quit” I led the troops to Cammann’s Pond for the delight of a Black-headed Gull. It did not disappoint. We also had nice close looks at Shovelers and Gadwall, but by this point some were getting hungry or had to depart. A few went around the neighborhood to track down the Monk Parakeets we were hearing, while the rest of us went to Hendrickson park for some more rarities.

The Pink-footed Goose was easy to find, and always a pleasure to see. We also helped two random birders find the bird; one from out east, and another visiting from Virginia. We also found and showed them the Red-headed Woodpecker.

At this point, the trip came to an end for our club and we broke for the day. On the other hand Arlene and I made a last minute decision to bolt upstate to Nyack and try for the Trumpeter Swan. Despite the snow we succeeded and capped the day nicely.

Sighting Record Listing - 1/14/2017 53 records

    Point Lookout
Canada Goose
Common Eider
Long-tailed Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Eared Grebe
Ruddy Turnstone
Purple Sandpiper
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Horned Lark
House Sparrow

    Jones Beach
Black Scoter
American Oystercatcher
Black-bellied Plover
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Northern Flicker
Tree Swallow
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Dark-eyed Junco
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch

    Cammann's Pond
American Black Duck
Northern Shoveler
Lesser Scaup
Hooded Merganser
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black-headed Gull
Ring-billed Gull

    Hendrickson pond
Red-headed Woodpecker               
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch

    Nyack Beach STPK ROCKLAND

Trumpeter Swan                    

Friday, January 13, 2017

Impromptuesday VS Targethursday

Some good birds being around is always a suitable excuse for an adventure. Add to that a friend who wanted to get some of them and a plan was hatched.

But sometimes not planning is not so shabby either. This past Tuesday I found out about a Yellow-breasted Chat at Jones beach, and was able to head there after completing some crucial tasks. I arrived to find Bob Prothonotary, Caesar Chaffinch and Joe Jacana there trying to find it. In short order Caesar spotted it low in the bushes and we all got great looks. Pat Pallas Reed Bunting who told his co-workers: “I have to use the rest room” or some such excuse I imagine, arrived and got the bird as well. Yellow-rumped Warbler was another year bird, as was a fly-by Bonaparte’s Gull, the later having become so much less numerous than in the past. Walking to my car, a stranger pointed out the Peregrine on the Coast Guard station. Four year birds, not too shabby.

Captain Bob and I began the day in a fruitless search for Owls, but we gave it a good try. We also did not cross paths with the Pipet, Rough-legged Hawk, Chat, or Orange-crowned Warbler. As I was departing the parking lot I stopped to speak with Pelican, and she told me she had just had the OCWA. Doh! Oh well, Bob needed that.

Then we made tracks for Southold, and the Townsend’s Solitaire. We diverted to Alvah’s lane and perused it and the roads nearby in hopes of relocating the previously reported Pipets, but saw no small birds at all. There were lots of Canada Geese though. Thousands.

After this we arrived at the Solitaire location and found Dave LaSagra along with another birder Jacqueline. After a short bit we got great looks at the Solitaire. Captain Bob got a lifer, and Dave and I year birds. I then coerced Dave to join us a short distance away for the Virginia’s Rail. We walked the trail to the observation tower and all remarked that it seemed to be a farther distance than what we recalled, but eventually arrived there.

For those who have not been to it is has to be one of the nicest and best constructed towers. After a short bit of searching we had a rail right below us in the cattails. Yes! Great looks and another year bird. Bob and I took off, while Dave waited for his friend Jacqueline to arrive; she had lagged behind us a bit.

We had gotten 10 miles away when Dave called. He was at Alvah’s Lane and he had found four small white geese! I told Bob: “I’m going back” and made a U-turn! I have been searching for Ross’s Geese unsuccessfully since the new year. The freeze and foxes at Robert Moses STPK had them on the move, and of late they were not lingering anywhere for even the whole day!

I made ‘haste’ getting there, and drove quickly even by Bob’s standards. We met up with Dave who had stayed put so as not to risk spooking them prior to our arrival. One appeared to be a slightly larger than the others and gave Dave pause, but they appeared to be all Ross’s Geese as far as I could tell. We decided to drive further down the road for closer inspection, and before we could they took off! We followed them, and arriving near the end of the road we relocated them with a flock of Canadas on the other side of the road. With the sun at our back, it became clear that they were in fact all Ross’s. Thanks for the call Dave!  FYI, this page has good DDX info on Snow vs Ross vs hybrids.  

Once again, Bob and I took our leave. We made our way to Southampton in search of a Commonule, ( Common Gallinule ) at Cooper’s Neck Pond. For the first time in the day, it was feeling seasonably appropriate; up until then it was downright balmy. We saw lots of quackiderms in the far side which was not frozen including Shoveler, Wigeon, Coot, and Gadwall; as well as a PB Grebe ( a YB ). The Commonule was there, but in lieu of seeing the bird we heard it repeatedly calling from the phrags right next to us. That’ll work!

We didn’t have a lot of daylight left, but we tried Dune Road. Nada. Oh well, who knew that bitterns that everyone else has been seeing and had heretofore been easy to find would now be eluding me. At least I conquered the Ross’s geese that had been curiously hard to cross paths with. Another great day of birding: Bob got a lifer and I got 4 year birds. But what a contrast from Tuesday's!

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Crane Mutiny

Saturday was supposed to be the day that I went after all the birds Arlene couldn’t get during the week due to work.  The weather had other plans. Amongst the lot of birders, she was apparently the only one smart enough to heed the warnings and not brave the roads.

I went out to Belmont Lake and saw the Barnacle Goose again, having seen it at the Colonial Springs golf course recently. Funny how you find stuff so easily when you are no longer looking for it... ... or do you?

Not having luck finding a Cackling Goose, I ventured to Southard’s Pond. Here I scored a Greater White-fronted Goose, and accumulated a lot of snow in my telescope because the snow was blowing horizontally from the direction I had it pointed. That not being the most pleasant of circumstances, I moved on to Capri Lake and a few other ponds but with weather conditions deteriorating and no additional finds I called it a day. Great. Now no excuses left to avoid doing neglected household chores.

Later that day I learned that other craz... er, dedicated birders had in fact ventured out for a newly discovered visitor. I’m sure the experience was good but I’ll bet the trip back was hell.

The next day, Arlene and I commenced our postponed trip. We began by finding the cooperative Tundra Swans at Lake Ronkonkoma. We then ventured out to Southhold for the Townsend’s Solitaire. On arrival on this remote road we spotted two folks walking way off in the distance, and as they appeared to be devoid of canine companionship, we concluded they were birders.

We were correct and drove up upon Menachem Goldfinch and his mom Karen, the later doing the best “I’m not freezing, really”, I have ever seen. They had not had the bird yet, and offered that there was a parking lot a short way further up the road.  We joined them shortly thereafter, and soon enough the bird snuck up and landed at the top of a cedar. Arlene spotted it first, and I was particularly please by this. First of all, it was a lifer for her, but also when one had shown up near Albany two years ago she was unable to join a bunch of us who went and got it, and worse yet, when we were in the vicinity some time later we tried but could not find it for her. Better late than never!
Townsend's Solitaire
Unlike Karen, Arlene expressed no pretense and clearly voiced that she disliked the cold. Having gotten killer looks at this bird we headed off. We made a pit-stop on Oregon Road, but did not hold hopes high with all the snow cover. In the rear of the fields we did see Snow Buntings, but could not find Larks or Pipets. Further along, many dickey birds were busy feeding after the previous days storm, and she deftly picked out a lone Fox Sparrow in the bittersweet.

We continued on, now in search of the Sandhill Crane way down in Wainscott. Just before the last jog off of Montauk Highway, we came upon a massive flock of blackbirds. Pulling off on the shoulder we did our best to scan them, but their flightiness and the ambient traffic conditions were not conducive to picking out an oddity like a desirable Yellow-headed Blackbird. They were mostly Red-wings and Common Grackles, but a few smaller tanner streaky birds were insinuated and I tried to get a convincing look but could not. My impression was female bobolink, but we’ll never know.

We pulled along side the snow at the pond and began scanning. The pond was largely frozen, and Canada Geese were concentrated in the open water. I found a Cackling Goose intermingled, and got Arlene on it. We also saw the continuing Meadowlarks flying about the snow covered field. Their yellow breast was brilliantly illuminated by the reflection off of the snow, but their distance and movements made for a difficult photo.
Eastern Meadowlark
After 45 minutes, we determined that we had given it a good try, and despite numerous vantage points and much movement back and forth, the Crane was simply not there. We did some holistic birding in the surrounding fields, and had one weedy field populated by 50+ sparrows, availing themselves of the exposed seed heads. Mostly Juncos, White-throated, and Song Sparrows, we found some Savannah Sparrows too. 

And then a Sharpie flushed them all. We next found a cedar teeming with Robins and spent a good while checking them as best we could in hopes of a Euro-turd. I think New York is overdue for one. We meandered more, and then I saw a message that the Crane had been seen 10 minutes ago! 

We raced back the ½ mile or so, an began looking again. And again. If there was a Crane out there we sure couldn’t find it. Desperate at one point, we decided to walk out to the pond edge to see if getting closer would reveal hiding spots, but we instead kicked up a Wilson’s Snipe; a suitable consolation for me. Arlene remained disappointed.

We returned to the car and decided to try a while longer. A Great Blue Heron flew in and disappeared into the phragmites. We reasoned that if the Crane were still present, that is where it was: how unlucky were we that in the short time we were gone the bird put in a brief appearance for others, only to go and skulk again. 

We began heading back, with planned stops on the way. The first stop was Eastport lake where we scored Canvasback and Greater Scaup. The previously reported Eurasian Wigeon was AWOL.  We then headed to the new gull hotspot in a Bellport apartment complex. We drove right up and immediately found the loafing Glaucous Gull. Its nice to have it easy after getting skunked a few times. Arlene liked not having to get out of the car.
young Glaucous Gull
It was about this time that we saw a report that a Ross’s Goose had been relocated in Deer Park by Bob Prothonotary. We made haste to that location, but yet again dipped on the bird. Dang. We searched several other nearby locations without success, and decided to make a pit-stop at home before giving it one last try at Belmont Lake.

With fading light, we arrived to find lots of geese present, and a continuous stream of additional flocks coming in to roost. We could not find anything other than an immature Snow Goose amongst them. A consolation was a warbler spotted practically at our feet which darted into the weeds exposed at the edge of the water. It was a veritable cavern for the small bird, and we could not lure it out with spishing, but were able to see it working within by the movement of the vegetation.

After some time, it did come out, and we got looks at an Orange-crowned Warbler. And Earic Miller wasn’t even nearby - go figure.

We ended a pleasant day of birding with a lifer for Arlene and 10 year birds for me.