Sunday, November 11, 2012

Virginia's Warbler in Queens .... really?

So in late October, one of the best birds I didn't see was a Virginia's Warbler (a first for New York State) reported from Alley Pond Park in Queens by Eric Miller.  It was a single observer sighting with no photos but the Queen's birders took it seriously given that Eric had reported it (Eric is a Warbler-whisperer apparently).  Needless to say there was a mob of birders there the next day, but they failed to find the bird.  I couldn't get over there that day, so frankly put the bird out of my mind and stayed local.

White-winged Crossbill, Napeague (local).
Fast forward a week or so.  Eric said he'd seen the bird one more time after the initial sighting but no-one else seemed to be able to get so much as a glimpse so it didn't seem like something I'd waste precious gas on.  Then, last night, everything changed when I got a text from Andrew Baksh saying "You better gas up and plan on a visit to Queens.  I just refound the Virginia's Warbler and photographed it".  And so, at 4am, I was gassing up and heading to Queens ...

Thanks to some good local advice, I found my way to the right area and met up with a 'mob' of birders who were searching for the bird.  I partnered up with Isaac Grant and we spent the next 7 hours 'flogging' the woods and checking all the previous sighting locations.  We did find a Northern Parula and got a see a Northern Saw-whet Owl but we couldn't turn up 'The' bird.  It was cold frustrating work with just enough snow to seep through your boots and chill you, but not enough snow to limit the habitat available to the bird.  By early afternoon the birders had begun to drift off but I was determined to keep plugging away until I absolutely had to leave at 3pm.  At around 1:30pm we found a trail that we hadn't tried before and so pushed down it and kept birding hard.  Isaac, who had been dragging a bit was refreshed by a sandwich and a 'Little Debbie' cake that almost certainly contained not a single natural ingredient.  Nevertheless it perked up his spirits and, as we went into the new area he seemed inspired proclaiming that he could 'almost smell' the bird.

Not five minutes later I noticed a gray bird on the forest floor about twenty feet off the trail to our left.  We lifted out bins simultaneously ... gray bird ... huge yellow undertail coverts, white eye-ring.
"Thats it!" I said.
"I'm on it, yes, thats it" said Isaac.
We watched the bird for a thirty seconds, double checking field marks and frankly beaming with the delight of finally finding the little bugger.  Then both of us lowered our heads to turn on our cameras (and did a quick high-five).  When we looked up, the bird was gone.

Virginia's Warbler. Photo: Andrew Baksh (used with permission)
The bird may have vanished but we could hear it chipping just up hill from us so, as all good modern birders do ...... we whipped out our smart phones and started calling, emailing and texting other people to get over here as quickly as they could.  Within minutes the 'mob' had reassembled on the trail near our sighting and while there was no bird, there were plenty of eyes looking.  Ten minutes later, the bird was seen again by one or two people.  Five minutes after that it popped up and gave good views to the bulk of the group.  Hugs and high fives all around.  A tough bird that required nearly seven hours of searching but now almost every serious New York City birder had a chance to see it.  Lots of happy faces.

By 3pm I figured I could safely leave and, after thanking Andrew Baksh again I jumped in the car and headed back East.  The traffic was horrible and it took me nearly 3 hours to get home.  As a result I was too late to chase the Northern Lapwings that had been found in Montauk that afternoon and, to add insult to injury, I also heard about a Painted Bunting at a nearby feeder (but the homeowners won't let people come and see it).  So from the euphoria of the Virginia's Warbler, I ended up a little down and with plans for another pre-dawn start, this time for Lapwings.  Will I ever get to 352 species?

1 comment:

  1. Holy crap, what an amazing find and great recounting of a successful twitch.