Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January 1st 2013 - Not Doing a Big Year!

So on New Year's Eve I put my 2012 New York State Big Year to bed.  I had mixed feelings about it if I'm honest.  At one level I was very glad to be done with the obligation part of project but at another level I knew I'd miss the adrenaline that comes from the hunt and the chase.  It was going to be really odd not chasing reported rarities and even odder getting what would no doubt be (and were) voluminous 'Needs Alerts' from eBird.  All these birds would in fact be seen by others, but the truth was that I didn't really 'Need' them any more.

Since I was a kid I've always gone out birding on January 1st, even in years where I really wasn't all that interested in birds I still found a way to get to Central Park or to the Hudson River for a couple of hours and to get a few species on the year list.  Some years I mounted a full-on birding day with a real list, while on others just getting something beyond House Sparrow, Rock Dove and Herring Gull was enough.  This year though I had to think about it and whether it was a good idea to keep birding or to perhaps take a break.  After folks started speculating that 2012 was just a dry-run for the real big year in 2013, I thought I should definitely take a break (!) but then when Slaty-backed Gulls showed up at Niagara and the Common Pochard at Lake Champlain, I knew it was safe to do some local birding.  No-one doing a big year would miss out on a chance of getting Common Pochard on their New York State list.

So at Dawn on Tuesday I pulled into the parking lot at Montauk Point SP for a the almost mystic experience of birding at first light on January 1st.  The experience wasn't quite what I'd expected as it seems that several hundred Asian Christians had had a similar idea and the parking lot was crammed with Church busses from Long Island and from the City.  Still, whatever religious thing they had going on seemed to be happening at the point so, absent a small stream of middle-aged ladies looking for a rest room, I more or less had the Concession Sea-watch to myself.  Not quite a mystic wilderness experience but it would have to do.

Despite the fact that this species had apparently started to Winter in Florida,
we still have quiet a few Razorbills at Montauk Point.
The sea-watching wasn't epic, but it was nice.  Eiders and three Scoter species were present along with Northern Gannets, Red-necked Grebes, and Razorbills.  Nothing unusual but a nice tally of common Winter species and a pleasant time.  I was joined for a while by Menachim Goldstein and his mom and they tagged along as I wound my way West so that they could learn all the local sites.  We had American Pipits at Teddy Roosevelt County Park, 2 Iceland Gulls at Montauk Inlet and a nice mix of Crossbills at Kirk Park.  Heading over to Napeague I was able to pick out a super-distant Snowy Owl and a closer Lesser Black-backed Gull.  And then Angus Wilson texted that he had re-found 'my' Black-headed Gull at the South-End of Lake Montauk.

This gull has been a challenge.  I found this bird on December 1st and then saw (and photographed it) again in December 4th.  It then wasn't seen again until December 17th when Andy Guthrie and I saw it just West of the Inlet.  Then it vanished again until Angus found it yesterday.  So we backtracked and had distant inconclusive views of the bird in a blasting, freezing wind (although I went back today, got better views and got some more bad photos).

Black-headed Gull at Montauk (2 shots).  

Not a bad haul for Montauk in January but it was time for me to head home (via the grocery store).  On the way back I stopped at the ECO Farm in East Hampton where I met up with Angus and we saw 2 Clay-colored Sparrows and 2 White-crowned Sparrows among the common skulkers.  Clay-colored Sparrow seems to be expanding rapidly, unless this was just a remarkably good year for them.  We had a lot in NYS this year and there are currently 5 wintering birds in down-state New York.  They used to be rare but seem to be almost regular now and, from my perspective at least, they're a nice addition to our regular birds.

Clay-colored Sparrow used to be almost unheard of New York in the Winter.
So I birded all day, saw 70 species, and didn't succumb to any urges to rush off to Buffalo in search of Slaty-backed Gulls.  Looks like I survived the Big Year and can get back into 'normal person' birding.  Looking forward to seeing what that's like ...

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