Sunday, January 6, 2013

Goosin' Around Long Island - Winter Waterfowl

So having survived January 1st with no obvious urges to run North for Slaty-backed Gulls and Common Pochard - and boy am I glad I didn't run up to the land of minus 20-degrees for a plastic pochard - I figured it was safe to do some local birding.  The world seemed to have pretty much taken the week off so I spent a pleasant five days just birding Suffolk County, my home county, on Long Island.

Greater White-fronted Goose like the very finest lawns in East Hampton.
This one was on Further Lane, a very choice address where people can afford
lawns large enough to host decent sized goose flocks, but don't mind them being
there.  Well to be honest they probably don't know the geese are there because they're
spending the season in Aspen.  Works out well for the geese though.
I suppose, to the rest of the US, Long Island is famous for it's geese - the result of a famous double a few years back where a Barnacle Goose and a Pink-footed Goose shared a field for a number of weeks and were seen by many traveling birders.  While we don't get the huge flocks of Snow Geese that some spots get I suppose we do get some good variety of geese and of Winter ducks.  That, coupled with the heavy birding coverage, probably means that many a birder has seen one or other life geese here.  It also means that during the first couple of weeks of the year the locals rush around year-listing all the waterfowl species that were found in December in case the weather changes as we lose the birds we have.

There are usually at least a few Cackling Geese around the East End if you
look.  This one was at Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk, just before year-end
but I've seen two so far this year in East Hampton/Southampton.
Watching Canada Geese is fun but for most people the star birds are the annual Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese and the challenge is teasing one of these good Eurasian species out of the Canadas.  While we haven't had a Pink-footed Goose so far this Winter (3 records last winter), and have been overshadowed by a very cooperative Barnacle Goose in Van Cortland Part in Bronx County, there was a Barnacle Goose out there on Long Island somewhere and so I needed to track it down.  Trouble was that the bird wasn't really pinned down as yet, but folks were out looking so it was only a matter or time before someone bumped into it.  So, not really knowing the birds habits, or the locations where it tended to show up, I just went about my business and waited for the call.  I chased the Tufted Duck at Huntington Harbor, saw two Barrow's Goldeneye at Montauk and tracked down one of the Eurasian Wigeon that have been hanging around the island.

Eurasian Wigeon have been pretty regular this Winter for perhaps 4 or 5 drakes
seen at various sites on Long Island.
Then on Friday, as I was stomping around in the freezing Winter winds at Hecksher State Park looking for Longspurs, I got a text from Derek Rogers that said simply 'Barnacle Goose (Yes)'.  Luckily I was close by so I could zip over to the site and got decent scope views of the Barnacle before it headed out to feed for the day.  In total, I had 33 species of wildfowl in Suffolk County this week; not a bad haul of for the first week of January.  I could also have added a few more if I'd crossed over into Nassau County, but I think I'll wait for the Harlequin Ducks to come to me.

Barnacle Geese do stand out, even among hundreds of Canada Geese.  Photo -
Derek Rogers (used with permission)
Away from the ducks and geese there has been plenty to see this week.  From scarce wintering birds like Lapland Longspur, American Bittern and Red-necked Grebe to exotic goodies like Black-headed Gull, there always seems to be something going on in Suffolk County.  I've also really enjoyed just pottering around tracking down half-hardy passerines like Yellow-breasted Chat and Common Yellowthroat.  This morning when I woke up I was serenaded by my local pair of Great Horned Owls and, rather than rush off in search some critical year bird,  I decided to take my coffee on the back deck so I could listen to them for a while (and they obliged me by duetting from 7am through to a little after 8am).  It's nice to be listening and not listing.

American Bittern is a scarce, but regular, wintering species in Eastern Suffolk
County, NY.  This one was on Dune Road in Hampton Bays.
So my time is up tomorrow and I have 'grown-up' things to do for the rest of the week, then house guests next weekend.  Won't be able to do any birding this week but I'm happy with my haul.  I saw 120-species in Suffolk this week (Jan 1st - 5th) and had a lot of fun doing it.  Who knows, maybe a Suffolk County Big year is on the cards ..... nah.

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