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?.

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