Friday, August 4, 2017

Back In The Dax

It started out as an “incidental” comment regarding birds we wanted to see this year, while witnessing a spectacle at Jones inlet. I was alerted by co-conspirators Bob Prothonotary and Ed Thrasher that hundreds of Shearwaters were flying by, giving particularly ~rare~ views of these birds from shore. Normally, these are birds viewed via scope, or out at sea on a pelagic trip. The next day unfortunately, many of these birds were found dead in what is a sad but not an unprecedented event. The cause is unknown, and drew lots of speculation on the intertubes.

What we discussed was that there were good birds up in the Adirondacks and how we all would like to see them. This quickly tuned into serious planning and others soon expressed interest. Unfortunately for them, responsibilities and other encumbrances  limited our posse to the aforementioned, myself, and John Gaggle-o-geese.

I formulated a plan, scanned reports on the lists and eburd, and contacted a few folks. Most birders I find, are happy to help and share info; after all, they may be in need of some info in the future themselves...

It is sad to say though, that one contact though previously helpful, was not forthcoming. Instead they stated that they cannot help because it is their "business". I know what you may be thinking, but a birder in the car with me during that conversation which was on speaker, was appalled. Having mentioned this surprising turn of events, i found other birders who feel strongly negative about persons who are advertising their business on the NY listserve, which is supposed to be against the rules.

I conveyed my disappointment and informed them that at least here on Long Island / NYC metropolitan area we have an excellent network of birders who are generous with their help. This has also been my experience while I lived in Massachusetts and in California.  Of particular note, I have inquired of professional guides in Arizona *many* times, and they have been very cooperative. I guess they see it as goodwill and good for business; seems that the economy in the Adirondacks dictates a more stringent approach.

No matter. I set up maps of desired locations and sought lodging. A place I can recommend is Shaheen's Motel in Tupper Lake. Very well run, and have never had complaints on my many stays, and no complaints from folks on my club trips either. Unfortunately they were booked. They kindly recommended alternatives, so we stayed at the nearby Park Motel. Nice enough, as were the proprietors, but quite outdated so definitely not a first choice.

The plan was to meet for car-pooling Wednesday night and drive up to our motel. We were blessed by light traffic and with the relaxed speed limits we arrived an hour before anticipated. I like this method over driving up early in the am, as being awake that much longer wears you out.

For those of you who might be planning a trip, and who plan to use navigation on your phone, a caution. Stand alone GPS devices will work fine, but apps such as ‘Google Maps’ or ‘Waze’ only work as long as there is a 4g data connection, such as within metropolitan areas or on major highways. The small towns in the 'Dax will give you a signal, but very shortly after leaving town it will be gone!

In this case an 'offline' app is needed, and I currently use 'Here Maps'. It allows you to download maps so a data connection is not necessary. I do my planning in Google's ‘My Maps’, export the data to a KML file, and import it into the 'MyPOI' app. POI is an abbreviation for Point Of Interest. Clicking on a marker allows navigation to that location with your choice of offline capable navigation apps. ( yes, that was a mouthful of computer info, but worth it )

We awoke refreshed and raring to go, though the weather put a damper and literally dampness on the enthusiasm. It was raining, and forecast to do so for the next few days. Undeterred, we headed to our first location: a Philadelphia Vireo hotspot. Reports had them nesting in a tree at the listed site, but the coordinates did not correspond to the landmark 'tallest poplar tree' nor did it reveal whatever 'temp site 4' was. 

We did have Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing ( everywhere this trip ), American Redstart, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and the best sighting IMHO: a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks with a begging fledgling in tow.

Perhaps it was the on and off again rain that drowned out the PhiVir's singing, but we did not succeed so we decided to try here again when we would be on route to Spring Pond Bog planned for another day.

We headed to Oregon Plains Road.  In addition to the resident boreal specialties we all desired, luck would have it that there had been a recent incursion of White-winged Crossbills. We were stoked. No sooner had we arrived when we all questioned what the loud long song we were hearing was.

I believe it was Bob who first postulated Crossbill, and then I spotted one sitting atop a spruce. YES! John got a nice shot, and I was able to record the song with my phone! What a way to start the trip! We saw at least 5, but we think there were many more. Lots of loud singing.

We birded the site more before walking the length of Bigelow road headed west some three miles to the bridge, and then back. There were numerous Redhatch, Goblets, and BC Chickadees, Hairy Woodpecker, Least Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Gray Jay ( who followed us closely), Blue Jay, and American Crow.

Then we went to the other side, and hoped for but dipped on Black-backed Woodpecker which we had seen in that area a few years ago, and then we walked Bloomingdale Bog north trail heading south of route 55. It was quiet, and devoid of hoped for Lincoln’s Sparrows.

Our final stop of the day was up Blue Mountain Road in Paul Smiths, where a recent Spruce Grouse beckoned us like a siren’s call.  The plan was to get there near dusk, hopeful that Spruce Grouse would again be out on the dirt road dusting themselves. It was a beautiful ride up a long dirt road to a place somewhat west of Madawaska and we were ever so hopeful.

On our way to this location we spotted a Ruffed Grouse on the road! I was able to stop quickly so as not to spook the bird and we all got looks before I ventured closer. It turned out this bird was a hen with a few young, and while one or two crossed the road to join mom, a few must have been left behind because it stayed close to us in the undergrowth. We got some good close looks, but we  left shortly as the bird was anxious to rejoin its other offspring.

Walking and exploring the area did not get us the much desired target, but we did find signs posted alerting hunters and others to the difference between this and Ruffed Grouse. This area is high on my list of places I have to explore and devote more attention to!


On the way back from a superb first  the day, we pondered potential choices for dinner. John suggested the Raquette River Brewery, which had a placard mentioning BBQ.  Beer, BBQ... we all agreed it sounded like a good choice. My arm was of course twisted...
We then learned that Thursdays are ‘beer and a brew night’, where one could get a burger in one of 7 styles and a beer in one of 13 styles for a measly $10!! I had the Salted Caramel Porter, followed by the Munich Helles Lager. Yum!!!

Friday we again awoke to cloudy dreary skies, but at least it was not raining. We went to Bigelow Road again. We had time to kill before the road to Whiteface opened, and the low clouds did not portend well. We saw much of the same, and with the overcast keeping the birds quiet, we added a trip bird here and there but nothing to write home about.

Then we went to Whiteface Mountain. We equivocated a bit due to the clouds, and the memorial drive is a bit pricy IMHO, but it is the easiest place to see Bicknell's Thrush. Or you can certainly see them in migration and hopefully you will hear them sing ( good luck otherwise... ) .

This was a much desired lifer for Ed, and he was a bit apprehensive due to the massive amount of fog and general dread but I assured him we would prevail...

Thankfully, by the time we got to the end of the road at 4600+', the clouds parted a bit and afforded us views we feared would otherwise be obscured. White-throated Sparrows were singing, as were Juncos, but no obvious Thrushes. It took a while, but finally the Thrushes began to sing and Bob who has much better hearing than he gives himself credit for, heard a distant BicThr.

After he pointed out the approximate direction from which the call was coming from I was able to spot it on a dead snag and got us on it. I then ran back to my car to get my scope for Ed to get a satisfying look at his first lifer of the trip. Remarkably, we heard WWxbills again here!

It is worth mentioning, that on trips to high peaks in the Catskills, I have always found BicThr and they were singing at all times of the day. One might ask then, why there have been reports posted in the past that seemed (to me and others ) to make the suggestion that one must be at the proper elevation by 4am or they will not be singing or able to be found. This has NEVER been my experience.  Maybe if you want to hear all of them singing at the same time, but most of us are satisfied by one or two.

We had a few more sightings of warblers and sparrows, and then ventured back down the roadway. We stopped at the various pull-outs where BTGreen was heard, but while musing over the BTGreen's call, I of all people heard a finch like call which I alerted the others to. They had not perceived it; concentrating instead on the other calls. But when it called again the others concurred it was a Purple Finch. A brief playing of the call had the bird come out front and center and led to an amusingly far greater bit of rejoicing by Bob and myself, as compared to Ed’s lifer celebration. For one thing, as compared to Bob and I, Ed is decidedly more low-key. But Bob and I have experienced a frustrating lack of connection with this bird despite an embarrassing amount of attempts over the past 7 months. So Ed got a lifer and Bob and I got a nemesis year bird finally. Thankfully I hope this means an end to Liz Ardcuckoo's ceaseless tormenting me about this former miss. Or else...

At the end of the day we revisited the brewery. After all, the food and beers were good and the town was a bit sparse on suitable good places where we wanted to eat at... and beer!

Day three we went to the PhiVir spot and this time with much better weather. Bob heard a vireo from across the field, and he and I went to investigate. Ed and John stayed behind on the road because below the tall grass was a lot of wood most likely left over from clearing out the timber. This made walking a bit tricky.  Bob and I never spotted the vireo, but shortly thereafter Ed and John heard a vireo from the road and we rejoined them. We finally got our bird!

We then moved on to try Spring Pond Bog which
FYI one must get permission to visit in advance from the Nature Conservancy's Adirondack chapter. It was further down the same road, but I mistakenly tried to use navigation, as the location coordinates were for the center of the bog ( very NOT useful ) and not for the parking lot, which would have been more useful.  The result being that the navigation routed us onto a road that was not where we wanted to be, and caused us to come across some very deep water on the road. Also I should have been more conscious of the small, low to the ground signs along the road. Oh well...

At one point near a pond the water was flowing across the road!  Bob got out to assess how deep the water was by walking along a berm.  He didn’t get bitten by the snake he found, nor fall in, but after relaying that it was no more than 8-10 inches deep, we traversed it. Unfortunately it was not possible for him to cross completely, and I had to back up so he could jump into the rear seat. Happily, no mishap :)

Continuing on, it soon became apparent, to me anyway, that we had gone the wrong way. Back through the deep water I was not crazy about crossing the first time but boy an I glad I have a Subaru Outback! We stopped at another picturesque pond where we listened to the birdsong, and tried in vain for BorChi, though Bob thinks that he did hear a distant one. I spotted a new bird at the far end of the pond, and getting bins on it found a nicely colored YBFlycatcher!  We then got to the correct road to Spring Pond Bog, and walked around the beautiful place that was disappointingly quiet. 

With some time to spare, we again went to Bigelow,  Bob again proving to be a great resource with his hearing. This time it was the Black-backed Woodpecker peeling bark from a pine; not quite tapping or drumming. We all were elated as it seemed to be inordinately difficult  to cross paths with this bird on this trip as compared to my previous experience. Ed was especially pleased with his second lifer of the trip.

We met some birders at a cross-road near the failed bridge, and they told us that BorChi had nested nearby. We explored. No luck. Back at the foot of the road we ran into more birders from long island and their guides John & Pat Thaxton. We exchanged information about what we had seen, and they gave us info on where we could find Lincoln's Sparrow, a bird we had as yet to find.

We thanked them and headed to Paul Smith's VIC, and to the 'Boreal Trail'. The maps at the VIC leave MUCH to be desired, as we could not orient ourselves correctly and went the wrong way ~twice~. This sucked especially for John whose leg was bothering him, and didn’t need any additional walking. It turned out that due to these mistakes he opted to stay behind for this bird, and the rest of us went to the board walk. When we finally got to the right place ( don't ask ) we saw some sparrogenous beasts and did our best to get good views. One queued up but despite our feeling it was a LinSpa, it just was not colored as well as we would have liked. We continued to study it and when it was joined by another, this time the buffy swath across the breast stood out and with this bird we had no doubt as to the ID. Phew

That nigh we celebrated with 3 beers each! Yes the brewery ~again~. We knew there was supposed to be a ‘battle of the bands’ that night, so we figured that if its too loud we'll leave. Fortunately we spotted a table behind a wall that blocked enough of the loudness for us to be happy. Once again we partook of very enjoyable food and brews. Salted Caramel Porter and Smoked Red Ale were my favorites. At Ed's insistence that we celebrate adequately, and who am I to argue, I tasted and then imbibed the IPA. 

Now mind you I am not a fan of IPA's. Most are way too hoppy, and ruin the balance of flavor: kinda like coating a slice of pizza with a dense layer of oregano. Sure oregano is a tasty spice, but that would ruin the pizza. Not the case with their IPA. Finally, a place that does beer right!  In all I tried 5 of their 13 offerings and am very impressed that I enjoyed so many of them. Bravo Raquette River Brewery.  Boooo that you have no plans to distribute down here :(

The final morning we tried our luck at Sabattis. A nice Yellow-bellied Sapslurper and Hairy woodpeckers were pleasant to observe, as well as even more Grey Jays. We also lucked out with another Ruffed Grouse sighting, but besides Creeper we added nothing new for the trip. Yes, we were leaving the ‘Dax, but no matter, we did great and enjoyed this marvelous place. Sigh... 

It was a nice finish to the dax portion of the trip; our final results were as follows.  √ PurFin, √YBFly, √BicThr, √BBWoo, √WWcro, √PhiVir, √LinSpa, √RufGro, √GraJay, SprGo, RedCro, BorChi.  9 out of 12 target species, with 7 year birds for me and 2 lifers for Ed. With so many birds ~feeling~ harder to find than my experience in the past, I was concluding that a trip a few weeks sooner would have been better.

We headed south towards home with a diversion to the Washington County Grasslands hoping for a previously reported Clay-colored Sparrow. No dice. But we added Field Sparrow and Brown ( not Ed ) Thrasher  for the trip.

Further on and closer to home we were hoping for updates on White Ibis in Orange County. I made several inquiries, but it looked like a lost cause and we pressed on homeward. It hurt that they were relocated, but by the time they were and we were notified, we were already home.

Prior to the trip,  because of the report of the Ibis, Bob asked if I might want to go that following Tuesday. You probably already know the answer. So Tuesday Bob and I unsuccessfully chased down several local birds, and then met Liz Ardcuckoo and Earic Miller to try for the Ibis.

We got to a beautiful location called Wickham lake, where we ran into some local and not so local birders. Carena Potoo, and Menachem Goldfinch and his mom Karen but despite our hopes and efforts, we did not prevail.

Of very mildly amusing note, I had been criticized a bit for not having had Great Horned Owl yet. Okay, actually criticized a lot!  But it was a bird I knew I would probably cross paths with during the course of routine birding. No worries. While we were collectively scanning and checking the trees for any sneaky Ibises, I spotted a DC Cormorant in one, and Earic found a GHOwl. Go figure, but it was a year bird and I'll take it. And as preicted, one would cross paths with me.

We stayed until it was just about dark, and hoped to hit the craft brew place in Sloatsburg Seven Lakes Station which has both great beers and fine wines and some food. We were too late, so Liz found us a very good alternative in Suffern called Curley's Corner, open and serving late! 12 beers on tap, good food and blatantly inexpensive! 

Phew! I need a vacation.... ;)

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