Friday, September 11, 2020

Three Days of the Quetzal


I’ll bet you thought this would be yet another blog called Quetzal Quest

Arizona rarities. They keep drawing me back. I stopped seeing patients back in March due to the pandemic, leaving a lot of time to think about chasing rarities. To be honest I’m usually thinking about chasing rarities, but back then I had even more time to do so, and so many of us have been lamenting the trips they had planned that were cancelled. 


 With reports of Crescent-chested Warbler and Eared Quetzal, thoughts and discussions revolved around the "how to's". Jason Hornbill of Pennsylvania revealed to me at the site of the Terek Sandpiper  that he and some co-conspirators rented a car and drove 36 hrs to try for the EAQU, but disastrously dipped. Doing so would avoid the confined space of air travel, but one must also dedicate enough time to locate birds in a huge area. 


 

That they had done so was encouraging and I probably could have mustered a posse. Agonizingly, I had brought in my car for a recall shortly prior with the dealership telling me: “You can wait for the repair which should only take a few hours.”  I am not one to want to wait around so I opted for a loaner car, and it was a good thing I did. “We still haven’t gotten the parts” meant that they had my car for 3 weeks; had I known in advance I too would have driven to Arizona. 

Bob Prothonotary was very interested in going for the Quetzal. He heard, but didn't see the bird ca. 40 years ago. No ‘heard only’ birds for him. He’s also trying to see all of the Trogon family, and the EAQU is supposed to be hard to see even where it occurs. 

Bob hopes to see a Quetzal
 
 For myself, I was in Arizona back in 1994. It was a commercial trip which meant that it was limited by the least able participants. It was run as a: 'hop out, tick the birds, and hop back in' type of trip. This meant that a hike to try to see the EAQU was ‘discouraged’. In fact, our guide told us the bird ‘wasn’t there anymore’, but at the bird's location a birder passed us who said he had seen it earlier that day! Doh!

Buff-breasted Flycatcher

Spotted Towhee - Spohee

Green-tailed Towhee

 

Originally being seen in Herb Martyr campground ca. 6 miles away as the Quetzal flies, flash forward and the birds are relocated in Rucker Canyon. Once again Bob and I discussed going, and finalized plans.



 

My cat likes to wake me at 3am by biting my hand. Why the heck do I have a cat? Beats me, or bites me, whatever... Thursday 9/3/20 I woke up without cat biting me at 3am, but an hour earlier than planned. Better than too late, but I would have wanted a bit more sleep. I drove to queens for a ride to the airport from a friend. Thankfully she didn’t mind getting up early to take me the rest of the way to the airport with a convenient place to park my car. LIRR not my favorite...

Townsend's Warbler

 

Using the AA app, I had downloaded my boarding pass. I went through TSA screening and went to the gate as indicated. Shortly thereafter Bob texted me, asking where I was. "At the gate" I said. He asked why he couldn't see me, as he 'too' was at the gate, and that was when I discovered that they had switched gates but not updated my boarding pass.  [expletives deleted] Mishap 1.

The flight was uneventful. Arizona had been taken off the 'don't go there' list, and for myself I was wearing a p100 respirator providing much more filtration than the disposable non air-tight disposable masks. A connecting flight to Tucson was completed without a hitch as we both chose carry-on versus checked bags, but abstrusely was $140 less expensive than had we gotten off earlier in Phoenix. I sure don't understand the math...

Yellow-eyed Junco
 

So we proceeded to retrieve our rental car, only to be told that there is no shuttle to the off site location where it was. WTF!!!??? I was livid, and lost it at enterprise for not disclosing that I would have to take a cab there for that rate; it being significantly more at the airport location. I was persuasive and they acquiesced giving me the same car at the same rate. Mishap 2

In the saddle and psyched, we bolted out of town for our first stop: a Walmart in Benson on the way eastward. For future reference, I will get a few disposable coolers for drinks and food. South east Arizona is quite barren with respect to services such as food, lodging, gas, and especially cell service. Definitely will plan to get food for lunches and dinner in case staying put was in order rather than departure for a long ride to places that close early.

Semper Acupium! We birded along the way to Rucker canyon, with a stop at a farm with a big kettle of Swainson's and Short-tailed Hawks. Other 'road' birds were Red-tailed Hawk, Western Kingbird, Barn Swallow, Rock Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Curve-billed Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, and Great-tailed Grackle.

Curve-billed Thrasher

White-winged Dove

Continuing on, we arrived at Rucker Canyon campground. On the way other birders stopped to give us intel and advice on how to follow the trail. Despite this it was easy to get side tracked, and at the first dry creek crossing we went astray. Bob realized this though and after back tracking we spotted the cairns to follow. Advice to anyone using this for your trip: look left and right constantly for cairns because its easy to pass some of them up and get waylaid.

This place is a beautiful canyon and a wonderful place to hike. Birds seen this day were Western Wood-Pewee, Black Phoebe, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Northern Flicker, Mexican Jay , Hutton's Vireo, Mexican Chickadee, Bridled Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Lesser Goldfinch, Yellow-eyed Junco, MacGillivray's Warbler, Painted Redstart, Western Tanager, American Robin, Rufous Hummingbird, Common Raven, and Black-headed Grosbeak. we stayed til dark, hoping... hoping... but it was not to be, despite having heard that the bird was seen that day around noon. We arrived a bit too late. Driving the dirt road on our way to Portal for the night, we scared up some Common Poorwill.

Said the straight man to the late birders
Where have you been?
I've been here and I've been there
And I've been in between.

I talk to the wind
My words are all carried away
I talk to the wind
The wind does not tell me where the Quetzal is
.




 

We arrived at the Portal Peak Lodge in the dark. Exhausted, a shower was welcome to wash away the dust, sweat, and disappointment. I fell fast asleep, dreaming of a better outcome the next day.

Portal is right next to the New Mexico border, and to get there one passes through New Mexico. This has the effect of resetting the cell phone's clock to mountain time, an hour later than Arizona time. This affected us when I set the alarm for 4am later to discover that it was in effect 3am AZ time! When we arrived at Rucker and it was still dark it was because it was 5am, not 6am as thought. Doh!

Bert from Philadelphia was there when we arrived, and as we had been there the day before, we navigated the route with the help of my flashlight. The trail follows the bottom of the valley which is also a rocky creek bed. With all the downed trees about one can only imagine the tremendous force that the monsoon rains scour their way down from the peaks. 




 

The trail crosses or parallels the creek. At the third crossing or so Bob heard one of the EAQU call, as did Bert. We could not locate them though, and we continued on. One of the places we stopped on our walks up and down the trail was the scree where it was said most of the sightings had been. It was just past two very large fallen trees that blocked the trail.

Birders accumulated here, as this was reported as a reliable site. Alex from Nevada came up the trail and joined us, and revealed that he was ( somehow) hearing the birds way up the top of the ridge that we were at the bottom of.  Bob also said he was able to hear them, and after a while Alex continued further on the trail. We should have tagged along!!

He went to the next scree and scaled the steep slope and spotted the birds.

With the heat, elevation of 6000'+/-, and steepness of the trail it imparted more difficulty than walking a similar distance on lever terrain. for 6 or so hours we birded up and down. Some time around 1pm Bob and I decided to head back to the car for lunch, while Bert decided to stay put. This was his second trip out to AZ for this bird.  

We ate, and lamented our fatigue and muscle soreness from all the walking and lack of sleep. We tried reclining on picnic table benches, but we both found it too uncomfortable. Eventually we decided to head back up the trail. This is when Alex told us about his success...

Up about two thirds of the way we encountered Bert who had just seen the bird a short way up the trail! We made haste, and encountered other characters who said the same thing; each time stating that the bird was further along...

Now further along than we had ever been, another birder, saying the same thing, said that: "the Canada Girl and an older guy were searching ( where else ) further along. Bob and I went as far as we could, because we missed where the trail diverted. Tired, we plaintively called out: "Canada Girl". She didn't hear us, but shortly there after appeared, and relayed her lack of success. She had caught up to others on the bird but moments too late and only heard the birds but did not see them before they flew off yet further along. 

I inquired if she wanted to make another attempt with us, but she declined as she was out of water. I offered her one of mine, and the three of us started back down, birding as we went. Shortly though, another birder made his way down from beyond where we had gone and said the same tormenting information: the bird was up the trail, being photographed so just continue to the sand bar and you'll see them. We did, heading back up the canyon yet again. Tortuously. In the heat, and well beyond but we never came across the birds or others. 

The three of us rested at this point ca. 3 miles up the trail, but none of us willing to go further. Bob and I were impressed with Canada Girl's energy and pace. She confirmed to me that Canada requires you to wrestle a polar bear to pass gym class. And her name was Diana by the way.

The three of us made our way back to the parking area as it was getting late. The march of shame, take two. "To the pain means the first thing you will lose will be your feet below the ankles."

Civilization to acquire food was very limited but we got microwave pizza for dinner and sandwiches for the next day and filled up gas. On the way Gamble's Quail and Say's Phoebe was seen. Then we made haste back to the hotel for much needed rest and contemplation of another attempt. Of course we would.

The morning was supposed to  begin at 5am, but thwarted by mountain time again, ( when did the clock reset?) we got up at 4 instead of 5 as thought. Doh! But better early than late and we reprized the all to familiar by now route to the canyon. A mile before the trail parking area, we passed a 16 y/o kid huffing it from his camp site to the same place. We parked, and I got out to put on my hiking boots. Then as we began to walk up the trail there was the kid! He ran up the road at 1 mile high. Oh, to be a teen again with that energy. 

Along the trail we met up again with the California dudes, the guy from Florida, the guys from Texas, and a few other minor characters. On the way I saw a large raptor and called out to the others: "get on that bird" and as suspected it was a Zone-tailed Hawk. We walked on to the sand bar area, and heard a Northern Pygmy Owl. As we tried to locate it, a Stellar's Jay began to call. Bob had walked across the creek bed to try if he could find the Owl, or other birds, and then drama unfolded.

A local? birder inquired why was someone walking out in the creek bed, and I replied that he was looking for the Owl. This guy said that he heard the EAQU call, and that he was angry that someone was out trying to get too close. Texas guy told him that the call was the Jay, not the Quetzal, so then he went on a rant about the ebird report from the day before by the Nevada guy who was the one who located them. He continued: "If I find that guy I'm gonna kick his ass, because that's why the birds had left the Herb Martyr area." I told him: "Maybe. Or maybe they just flew 5 miles over to this canyon because they can. Not to mention that yesterday all the many people who saw the birds reported that they were confiding and never appeared to be concerned by the presence of people". 

He left in a huff and continued up the trail, and the others did as well. Apparently some feel that birders shouldn't go off trail, but the trail and the creek bed were essentially one and the same. Birders getting their panties in a bunch, oh yay. 

Bob and I went back down and decided to wait at 'the reliable place' by the two large fallen trees. On the way lots of Wilson's Warblers were kicked up, as well as some MacGillivray's warblers. Bob observed that Mourning and Connecticut are supreme skulkers, while the MacGillivray's were more confiding. And we settled down and waited...

Not too long later, Bob noticed a group of folks down the trail and he though he heard the call of the Quetzal. I said "lets go and see". And in 2 minutes we had them point to where the birds were sitting! 

YES! 

Eared Quetzal

Eared Quetzal

Eared Quetzal

And the birds continued up the canyon and stopped where else? The 'reliable spot', right where we had been sitting. Florida guy walked up and we pointed out the bird, and he told us the others were just a ways up the trail. Having gotten satisfying looks, Bob ran off to alert them. The California dudes, Texas guys, et al got looks and we bumped fists, elbows, or just let out loud exclamations.

After nice looks and ample photographic opportunity, I declared lets go; we've seen pretty much every species in the canyon already, and I wouldn't mind relaxing. There was no argument. We were so relieved that we got the bird especially having agonizing that we might dip big time. Nevertheless, persistence pays! Bob spotted a Mountain Kingsnake, which California guy grabbed. Back at the parking area we ate lunch and I toasted our success with some Cazadores Tequila. 

Mountain Kingsnake

 



Returning to Portal we were not terribly surprised that no place had any vacancies. We birded the area and added several more species especially hummingbirds at Cave Creek Ranch, but not the Berylline. The evening was capped by a celebratory dinner and beer at the Portal Peak Lodge as well as being entertained by live music.  Some of the species seen were Broad-billed Hummingbird, Blue-throated Mountain-gem, Calliope Hummingbird, Cooper's Hawk, Pyrrhuloxia, Anna's Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird. 

 

Good tunes by the Heather "Lil Mama" Hardy Band

Ribs & a Pale Ale  Mmmmmm









Our last night we spent in Willcox with the alarm set for 7am. Preparing my items for travel, distress surfaced when I realized the tequila would not be able to be carried on. My solution was to get several small containers at the dollar store. Bob however, was convinced the TSA would find and confiscate them. "Whatever" I said.

Consuming our breakfast in no hurry, and then dumping out all the empty water bottles in the car, next stop was nearby Cochise lake proving to be a good birding stop. Huge numbers of Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Wilson's Phalaropes, Mexican Ducks, Mallards, were there in addition to Least, Stilt, Baird's, Pectoral, and Stilt Sandpipers. Sora, Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron and Yellow-headed Blackbird were also present. 


Black-necked Stilt

Brewer's Sparrow

 

At the airport the tequila containers went through no problem. They did find my Swiss Army knife that I forgot was in my toiletry bag, and not seen on the way to Arizona. Grrr. 

Booze Travelers...

 

Ultimately the trip was a success, though it didn't go quite as planned. Targeting the Quetzal meant we had to skip Guadeloupe Canyon for Black-capped Gnatcatcher, but the Quetzal was more important. Seen were 100 trip birds, 11 Arizona birds and one life bird; the Eared Quetzal.

 YES!




Tuesday, June 30, 2020

No Need For TVs, I've Gotten A T-rex!

Sunday June 28 was a great day for a bike ride. Arlene Rails and I rode 12 miles to the Seatuck Environmental Association, noting beautiful blue skies in some directions and ominous dark clouds in others. I also noticed that I uncharacteristically had not charged my phone the night before, so I placed it in low power mode.
On our way back we decided to take a break at Gardner park, and while there I upped the phone power setting to check for any messages, and the phone rang. Agent provocateur Bob Prothonotary called me to either alert me to the report of a Terek Sandpiper in Rhode Island, or admonish me for not already being on my way.
Much anxious discussion ensued, and we beat a hasty retreat back the 7 additional miles to my place as we decided to make an attempt to try for the T-rex Sandpiper, as Arlene referred to it. It was challenging as we were both a bit fatigued, but when we got to Babylon Village we got a break as the gay pride parade crossed in front of us and blocked traffic - allowing us to navigate the streets without having to deal with cars or lights etc. Half way there she started fading so I cranked away to get a head start on planning and she caught up in due time.
A number of co-conspirators checked in, and Dave LaSagra decided to join us. I made ferry reservations and we departed with little time to spare. Despite my flagrant disregard for the speed limit, we were thwarted at the last leg by a slow huge RV that got us there 10 minutes too late. What to do? We decided to wait for the next ferry - an hour later... 

Terek Sandpiper in flight

The trip was very pleasant, and we saw Roseate terns and a Black Tern en route. An hour and a half later we disembarked and drove the last half-hour leg to the Napatree Point. For “encouragement”, it started to pour, but we pressed on.
When we parked, the rain had thankfully stopped and we crossed paths with others returning from the point. They relayed that the T-rex had not been seen since 4pm; four hours earlier. Undaunted, we pressed on making the 20 minute hike to the lagoon. We joined others at the vigil, but despite our rationalizing that the tide was low, that there is plenty of light after sunset, and that the bird was ‘sure’ to want to return, it did not grace us with its presence. At 9pm, with minimal remaining light, we returned to the car defeated. I prepared myself for the “Drive of Shame” home.
No admonishments were bandied about though. Instead we were glad that we did not lose anything by missing the earlier ferry, meaning we would have been standing out there much longer and would have been caught in the rain. We agreed that if the bird sticks we would try again on Tuesday. With a long trip back ahead of us, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and much needed coffee, but no time for a consolation beer.
Periodically checking throughout the work day on Monday, I was encouraged to read that the bird was seen regularly much to my delight, though not as much as of the actual viewers. Though I learned that some of them who spent time waiting for the bird had to endure a drenching downpour.
With a pattern of behavior and probability that it would be present today, Arlene and I decided to give it another go. I picked her up at 4:30am to beat traffic and inevitable delays due to perpetual road repair on I-95. It’s a good thing we did. A realy good thing.
Some sections of the highway were reduced to one lane! And with all the truck traffic, had we left later we would have lost lots and lots of valuable time. Add to this by the time we were 4/5s of the way through Connecticut the skies opened up; just like it had on Sunday. 

A craptastic distant photo of the T-rex in the wrack

Despite these potential problems, we pulled into Napatree Point at 7am as planned, and the rain stopped! We also saw a couple of birders heading back to their car, and thy confirmed that the bird was at its original location and delighting the crowd there. 
We grabbed our stuff and made haste to complete the 20 minute walk to the end. We were greeted by many birders looking through their scopes. It’s a good sign when birders are looking trough their scopes and not just standing next to them. Initially the bird was obscured behind beach debris, but we were given a landmark to point our scope at and soon it came out of hiding! Yes!! Even though the T-rex was ca. 500' away ( measured on googull maps ) it was easy to ID by its distinctive upturned bill. Also seen was its dark scapular stripe, orange-yellow short legs, and white trailing edge of wings in flight.
As I said, it was a good thing we arrived when we did, because 15-20 minutes later it decided to fly west to Sandy Point island ca. 3000' away from where we were standing. The previous day’s pattern was for the bird to alternate between the SW end of Napatree point and east end of Sandy Point. It was bad enough to have the scope views from 500'; getting views from 3000' away would have been a bit disappointing.
Very satisfied with our change in fortune, we began our trip home with thoughts of finding a convenient place for breakfast comestibles. Three miles down the road was the Cooked Goose, where we had a nice outside table for socially distanced dining. The food was very tasty, but celebratory omelet is no substitute for a celebratory beer. Alas, 9am is too early for malty goodness. 


This bird was present / discovered on June 28 by Jan St. Jean. It is a Code 3 ABA rarity and a mega rarity 2nd occurrence for the north-east, and just the 5th  record for lower-48. It should be ABA bird 722 for me, but today I ~also~ learned that we have lost Northwestern Crow. You win some, you lose some. But at least with persistence my Epic Fail has yielded to an Epic Journey.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Tripods and Tuftulations

I am prone to wanderlust and enjoy birding in new and varied places. Earlier this year two waterfowl that escaped my purview showed up in close proximity to one another, if not in close proximity to me. Thus was the genesis of my journey.

Foolishl... er, eagerly hornswoggled into doing a NYS big year again due in large part because it started off so well, I found a window of opportunity to venture up to the Plattsburgh region. I also had an accomplice so that made the trip easier.

Capt'n Bob and I easily made our way up there on a beautiful if cold day, and arrived at Ausable Marsh Wildlife Management Area where A Tufted Duck was supposed to be. I scanned the huge flocks of waterfowl for a few hours but to no avail. I came across only one other birder, and though the report that the bird was typically seen a bit later in the day was encouraging, we decided to move on.

That would have been fine, but Bob had been listening to the radio with the car off, and unbeknownst to him, several internal lights were on as well. The cold and duration had weakened the battery enough to prevent its starting.

He was possessed of jumper cables though, so all was not lost. He cleared stuff out of the back of the car and I placed my scope on the ground so it wouldn't fall over in the strong breeze. The birder we had met before came back our way and obliged our jump request. With the car back among the living, Bob packed the trunk and we drove off to check some other locations.

With the wind and temp being what they were we did some car birding along the west shore, but a good vantage required scoping. Problem was, it wasn't in the trunk. Slight panic ensued, and we made haste getting back to where we had been. Seems he hadn't noticed it so didn't put it in the car with the other stuff.

We arrived and saw that the scope was still there, but upon closer inspection found out that the tripod had been run over when he backed up. My heart sank. Miraculously the scope was okay, but the graphite legs of the tripod splintered. Word to the wise: should you crush anything of graphite, pick it up with gloves and very carefully as well because the sprinters will get into all of your fingers!

No Tufted Duck, smashed tripod, and lots of splinters. The day was shaping up nicely...

We headed further afield and in search of Pink-footed Goose, also missed earlier home on Long Island. We took up station at a flooded farm field that was full of Canada Geese, and assorted other waterfowl. We spent about an hour in vain, and hunger pulled us away for lunch at a nearby eatery. Afterward we went back for another view. The hope that the goose would come in to join the others was not to be.

Somewhat dejected, we made one final attempt at the TUDU location and my luck changed for the better. Yes! Well at least it was not a total dip and loss.

I had gotten the graphite tripod because the original one I had was aluminum and heavy. The fluid head was okay so I salvaged it and re-attached it to the old tripod. I thought: “Okay, not so bad, at least I'm back in business...”

Not so fast. The plate with the screw that holds the quick-release plate to attach the scope to the tripod was disturbingly loose in the scope.

Bogen Quick Release Plate
Upon closer inspection the threads in the scope were stripped, and even closer inspection revealed they were all gone. Great.

Threads shot :(

Scopeless, I pondered if it was repairable, and if so how.

Spending a lot of time in the field, I come across a lot of 'parts' that fall off such as lens caps etc. One such part was a tripod hook; usually found at the bottom of the center post.

Random birder's detritus

I thought of getting a thread repair kit and brought the quick-release plate with me to the store. I had the aforementioned hook in the car and began fiddling with the two. They connected. Go figure - the threads were the same!!

What are the chances?

The wheels began to turn and I came up with a new plan: 

1. Cut off just enough of the female threads

This will do

Hey hey...

 2. Drill out and expand the hole in the tripod

Its now holier than thou
 3. Press in the threads and voila! 

I love it when a plan comes together

I'm back in business!  Now where be that blasted Goose?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

New 'Year' Birding Rocks!


Well the birds start coming and they don't stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running
Doesn't make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb
So much to do, so much to see
So what's wrong with taking the back streets?
You'll never know if you don't go
You'll never shine if you don't glow

It is accepted that many ( most?) people look forward to spring migration. On the other hand I have discovered that new year’s birding can be just as if not more challenging and exciting!

Now some of you out there are not to keen on chasing, but I insist that its all a matter of degree, and is influenced by available free time, finances, and access to co-conspirators willing to be enablers.

This year has started off with some really special birds, and the result has been it has sucked me back into the game of year birding.

This time of the year is the best time to see owls and rare waterfowl, and it has not disappointed. The second week of January delivered Saw-whet Owl, Barrows Goldeneye ( a few scattered in the Kingbird Region 10 area! ) Black-headed Gull, Iceland Gull, Eurasian Wigeon, Snow Goose, Cackling Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose and by sneaking out on a work day getting Common Murre.

Razorbill

Common Murre


The third week began with White Pelican and Barnacle Goose, then a mid-week trip upstate yielded Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin. We dipped on the Tufted Duck (or is it "Tuff"  Duck), but had a fantastic day nonetheless.  

Am. White Pelican

The week ended with no less than Varied Thrush, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Bittern on Satan Island. $17 toll! WTF!  No wonder so few outsiders want to bird there.  As hoped, there were numerous other birders assembled looking for these birds, and being able to spread out proved a successful method for birds that has been hard to connect with.

The fourth week I was able to get a decent look at a Black-legged Kittiwake out at Montauk Point; a bird I try very hard for every time I go there but for whom I have had disappointing results over many many years. Anthony Collared-dove said in response to my lament echoed my suspicion that there may be a degree of uncertainty in the credibility of more numerous reports. Who knows... For me, finally another sighting!

Week five began an unusual trend: dipping on targets but getting impromptu birds. My first stop was local, to pick up Monk Parakeet in a location I had not been aware they were present. I dipped, but saw a nice accumulation of birds in the local parks nevertheless.

Next I went further afield to try for Glaucous Gull. Again, a dip, and despite a valiant attempt at the location and others nearby, I remained un-gullible. Fortune looked up for more birds when a report came in that Clay-colored and Field Sparrows reported the previous day had stuck, and it was nearby!I had not given much thought to them as I thought they more probably would move on.

I made my way there and due to the location car birded so as to present as little threat to the birds as possible. I checked numerous locations nearby and then returned, and staked out the location from across the street. After some time another birder showed up and asked if I was there looking for these birds. Shortly thereafter, he spotted the birds sitting in some vines hanging from a tree. I had to pull my car up to see them, but they were sitting essentially right in front of me, though obscured at my chosen location. Doh! But I got them and that was a nice cap to the day.

Field Sparrow (L. Top)           Clay-colored Sparrow (R. Bottom)

The week ended and began a new month too. I made another attempt for Monk Parakeet and birded the south shore. While approaching an area where they had been reported previously, I spotted their large nests on some poles, embarrassingly close to where I had searched before. Doh! ...and I’m the one who usually admonishes others to look everywhere and bird every bird.

February’s first full week started off rather nicely. It was Superb Owl Sunday, so why not catch up on a cooperative Barred Owl in Da Bronx? In previous years, the Barred Owl present there had been exceedingly wary and easy to disturb, often flying out of a roost was the way it was spotted so stealth walking and no talking was they way to go.This year there have been many of them around.

The current resident is more amenable to people and has thus delighted many. I arrived with my posse, Dunlin and Avian, and we got this bird straight away.  The day was delightful so we enjoyed doing the Hunter’s Island loop and birding it. Another year score was Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Pleased with our success, we made tracks for Dutchess County. As I noted to them, Route 22 is a great place to see Red-shouldered Hawk along the road. That still holds true as I spotted one in Pawling while driving and stopped to let the others get a look too.

Dover Plains has a mountain ridge and farm fields that Golden Eagle has wintered in for some years. There are plenty of Bald Eagles there too, as well as numerous Red-tailed Hawks, Harriers, Sharp-shinned, and Cooper’s Hawks. We heard ravens and crows calling, but while enjoying the unseasonably warm and calm weather, we saw few eagles of any sort, and there are usually plenty flying about.There were a LOT of Ring-necked Pheasants though...

I inspected one and then another location I have had success at in the past, then settled on a location which gave a wide vantage. Zip-o. This place was along a field marked as private property for the hunting club, but the members and workers are very friendly and helpful. They are welcoming to birders, but it is my understanding that in the past some thoughtless birders may have trespassed and garnered the ire of the club and other birders. It bears repeating DON’T TRESPASS!  

For what its worth, there is the ability to get great looks from many places, so there is NO need to trespass at all. The hunters also all are carrying guns, so how stupid would that be...

We had lunch, then returned to try some more. We conversed with a worker there who kindly offered info on trees that the Golden liked to perch in, but it wasn’t happening. It was at this point that we learned that a Pacific Loon had been located back on Long Island and giving great looks!  This after earlier admonishing Avian that he’d better make sure that the one in NJ was present on his NJ trip.

What to do, what to do... I told the others that we were not leaving until we had the eagle. I left this area and cruised a bit, and we saw lots of other nice birds like Bluebirds. I then decided to try my first spot again. We were not there too long when I saw a dark large raptor cruising the ridge and headed our way. I got a scope on it and YES! We got great looks and Dunlin and I took many photos.


Golden Eagle
Sated, I instructed the others to strap in as I was hell bent on making it back to the Island to get to see the Loon. Traffic cooperated, and we got there with a cooperatively close bird on flat calm water and with enough remaining light to get some photos. Yes! 

Pacific Loon
In addition to the loon report, Ross’ Geese had been reported out at Montauk that same day. When Tuesday came, Captain Bob inquired if I was doing any birding, and while my though had been to possibly try for those geese, additional reports came in about some birds that were on my radar.

These birds were Blue-winged Teal and Vesper Sparrow. We unsuccessfully tried for the teal, an then moved on to the sparrow location. A short time after we left Bob Prothonotary called to say that he found the teal, but it was hard to see at times going in and out of covering vegetation. 

Having found the sparrows, I waited for Bob P. to get there and though there had been a report of 3, we had at least 5 and thought there might even be more. Captain Bob has difficulty walking, so we  spent more time there in an effort to get him the sparrows too, and then headed back to the nearby teal location. We found the other Bob there who had the duck queued up in his cope. I got a nice look, and then passed the scope to Bob who couldn’t find it!  The little bugger was frustratingly good at hiding at times, but we eventually all saw it.

Happy with our success, we headed out to Montauk. The ranch had some geese but they were all Canada's as expected, and other locations checked seemed to be pretty un-birdy. South Lake Drive once again had a collection of gulls on the near shore, and amongst the Bonaparte’s was a Black-headed Gull! I ran back for my camera and got one shot showing it’s red bill. Chimping to make sure the photos were adequate, I was relieved to see one was.

Black-headed Gull
Our next stop was the west jetty which had an immature Iceland Gull, but not much else. With remaining light becoming an issue, we made an unsuccessful stop at Hook Pond for Tundra Swan, then a quick stop at Shinnecock for Snowy Owl for Bob.  We located it partly due to others looking at it, and were disturbed to find two people on the dune encroaching on the owl. Ah, never underestimate the ability of people to disappoint you.

And that sums up how birding has gone so far this year, with 137 species to date. Fun fun fun!