Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Playing Whack-a-Mole ...

Chasing rarities in New York is like playing Whack-a-Mole; a good bird pops up on Long Island then quickly vanishes, then one pops up 600 miles to the NorthWest, and promptly vanishes, and so on ....

Given the distances, and the time required to cover them, I have to be a bit selective about what I chase.  Running to Buffalo to a bird means that I'm going to miss anything that shows up on Long Island for a day, perhaps two.  Conversely, bashing the bushes on Long Island might not yield anything while a good bird in the NorthWest might stick for a day and, in retrospect, have been possible to see.  Given that many birds stay for short periods during the October migration, the calculus can drive one insane.  Is this bird going to stick?  Should I do a 1,000-mile round-trip for that bird?  What does the weather look like tomorrow, and am I going to miss a wave-day by going?  In October, I find myself asking these questions almost daily.  I'm also a little gun-shy to be honest - two long range dips recently (Franklin's Gull and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper) have made me reluctant to run North.  On the other hand though, Long Island has just not been performing this Fall so far.  What to do?

On Thursday I committed to Long Island for the weekend and moved Out East for a four day stay.  Was hoping for Western Kingbird, Northern Wheatear, and who knows what else.  On Friday afternoon, a Western Kingbird was reported at Montezuma NWR!  That's a 9-hour drive from East Hampton on a sunny weekend day, so there was no way I could get there while it was still light.  So I decided to skip that bird, and as luck would have it, it stuck for only a couple of hours in any case.  So had I gone, I would have missed it.

Swamp Sparrow (juv.)
So I stayed out East and kicked bushes on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and saw .... well not all that much really.  I did see lots of sparrows including another Clay-colored Sparrow, a bird that, while no doubt still over-reported, is definitely getting more abundant in New York as it expands its breeding range East.  But still, no rarities on Long Island.

Clay-colored Sparrow
Then on Sunday night Richard Fried posted a sighting of a LeConte's Sparrow at Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn.  Rob Jett had found the bird earlier in the day and had posted it on a Brooklyn Text Alert system but the posting hadn't made the jump to broader distribution until the evening.  Too late to go then, but a 4am start on Monday morning put me in Brooklyn by 7am where I heard from Andrew Baksh that the bird had been seen that morning.  Well, to cut a long story short, turns out that the bird had not been seen.  Looking at photos in better light, Andrew decided he couldn't be sure he'd seen the LeConte's and quickly put that word out (a stand-up thing to do). While many of us flogged the area for hours that morning, there were no further sightings of the LeConte's.  And so another bird, slipped by me.

After birding Floyd Bennet for a while (which was crawling in huge numbers of common migrants) the rain finally drove me in to the City.  Just as I got home I got a text from Benjamin Van Doren saying that a Franklin's Gull had been found at Montezuma NWR.  Now here was a dilemma.  On the one hand, if I left right then, I could (just) make it to Montezuma while it was still light.  On the other hand, both the previous 2012 Franklin's Gull records had stayed in one place for only a couple of hours.  To play Whack-a-Mole or not?  In the end I decided that if the bird stayed until the evening, then I would go the next day.  Sure enough, the bird was reported at 5:40pm (meaning of course that I could have seen it if I'd gone straight up that day) so I set the alarm for 3:30am.

By 8:30am on Monday I was passing Syracuse on I-90 when Benjamin texted again to say that Jay McGowan had just seen the gull.  So by 9:30am I pulled up on Towpath Road, got some positive news from a passing British birder, parked, grabbed the scope, scanned the roosting gulls, then scanned out further on the mud, and .... FRANKLIN'S GULL (NYS 2012 #343)!

Franklin's Gull - an iPhone shot of the bird about a mile away!
So success, a finally a break in the run of consecutive dips (which I really needed to be honest).  Showed the bird to a few people, some of who were looking for it, and some of who had no idea it was there.  Then spent a very pleasant morning birding Montezuma, adding an American Avocet, some Long-billed Dowitchers, and just generally enjoying seeing Bald Eagles, Sandhill Cranes and the like.  Then 6-hours back to NYC for dinner, and on to the next species ...

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the FRGU - about time you successfully chased something in the western part of the state!