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.          

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