Monday, March 3, 2014

Eight (8!) Species of Goose on Long Island

An amazing weekend of Winter birding on Eastern Long Island ...

So February was "urban" with a lot of time in New York City and long-weekend trips to Miami and New Orleans.  Great restaurants, good company, and lots of fun, but by the end of the month I was having what I call a 'biophylia attack" and really needed to be outside a city for a few days.  Drove out to East Hampton on Thursday morning and did work conference calls from the house in Northwest Harbor so I could be totally free and unscheduled (and outside the City) by dawn on Friday morning.  The plan was to go birding all day Friday, Saturday, and perhaps part of Sunday.  I had no other plans, and I was very excited for some totally uncluttered "outdoor time" ...


Well, Friday dawned .... cold ... and windy ... but mostly cold.  I let the dogs out for a run, re-filled the feeders in the yard, and drank coffee on the deck.  After ten minutes I was wondering if this outdoor thing was such a smart idea and whether it might not have been a lot smarter to fly down to Florida for the weekend.  But I'd made my choice, and I was already Out East, so I layered-up, jumped in the car, and headed off to Shinecock to start the weekend.

Shinecock (pronounced Shin-eh-cock, after the local Native American tribe - just thought I'd clarify that) has been very birdy this Winter and Derek Rogers had reported that there was sand-replenishment activity going on near the jetty earlier in the week; almost always a magnet for interesting gulls looking to have their lunch pumped up onto the beach for them.  I got there early and set up to scope the gulls but quickly realized that my time there would be short as I was shivering within minutes of getting out of the car.  Still, there were lots of gulls to be seen and even a quick scan turned up two Iceland Gulls, an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, and a Glaucous Gull along with a good mix of commoner gulls, Brant (Goose Species #1) and sea-duck.

Glaucous Gull - Shinecock Inlet, Suffolk County, NY (March 2014) - two shots
Saw this bird on February 28th and March 1st.

Admitting that I'm basically wimp, or at least wasn't prepared for the weather, I gave up on scoping the sea and decided to do some car-birding along Dune Road.  I found two Snowy Owls fairly easily - the stragglers from this year's incredible invasion (I'd had three there earlier in the year) but couldn't turn up a Bittern or a Rough-legged Hawk from the car, and given the cold and the wind-chill, decided to head inland where I could actually do some real birding.
Snowy Owl - Ponquogue Bridge, Suffolk County, NY (January 2014)
Took this photo in January but saw the same bird this day in February.
My next stop was the Riverhead area and particularly the fields around Roanoke Avenue where three good birds had been sighted earlier in the year (Yellow-headed Blackbird, Black Vulture, and Pink-footed Goose).  I'd looked for all three on several previous occasions and seen none, but I figured I'd give them another chance.

Arriving at the Reeve's Avenue Buffalo Farm (yes, real Buffalo, or Bison I guess) I actually found a big flock of Canada Geese (Goose species #2) and jumped out to scope it.  I quickly found a Cackling Goose (Goose species #3) but once again couldn't find the Pink-footed Goose and, given the cold, soon gave up to go and look for the blackbird at the buffalo farm.  While I was scanning the buffalo field though (blackbirds like buffalo "chips" it turns out) I heard more Canada Geese flying in and then a loud squeaky call leapt out from among the honks of the Canadas.  Spinning around I got bins on the flock and there, among them, was a Pink-footed Goose!  (Goose species #4).  Only my second ever Pink-footed Goose in the ABA Area, and so I was feeling pretty proud of myself (and cold) and gave up for the day, returning home in the early afternoon.


My original plan for the day was to work Montauk but given the lack of interesting sightings there recently, and the fact that many New York City birders were coming out to look for geese, I decided to re-route to the same area as the day before.  First stop was to confirm that the two Tundra Swans were still present on Hook Pond (Corey Finger has asked me to scout them for him) and then I checked several of the local ponds, finding some Redheads on Cooper's Neck pond for a welcome year bird among ponds that were mostly iced-over.

Shinecock had basically the same species as the day before (but many more birders including the Brooklyn Bird Club group), although I did manage to add an Ipswich Sparrow and a (probable) Seaside Sparrow after "flogging" some sparrow habitat in the much warmer weather.   By the time I got to Reeve's Avenue I though the excitement was done or the day and I pulled up to a group of birders including Derek "Goose Man" Rogers expecting to chat rather than add more species.  We soon had some excitement though when Derek found a second Pink-footed Goose in the assembled flock of 5,000 Canada Geese (there had been rumors, but this was conformation) and re-energized we picked out two Cackling Geese, and a Greater White-fronted Goose (Goose species #5) in the minutes that followed.

Just then we got word that Ken Feustel had found a Barnacle Goose over in Sagaponack (about 45 minutes East of us) and several of us got the sense that this was shaping up as an historic goose weekend on the East End.

I decided to try for the Barnacle, even though I was nervous about leaving the main goose flock (turns out I was right to be nervous), and so I headed off East, stopping briefly to pick up a Snow Goose (Goose species #6) on the way.  Arriving at the Daniel's Lane goose field I set up to scan but it was quickly obvious that the Barnacle Goose wasn't there at the time.   I did see another Greater White-fronted Goose, and so felt optimistic, especially given that there were lots of geese flying into the field.  Opting, for once, to be patient, I set up to wait/scan, and about 20 minutes later was rewarded when the Barnacle (Goose species #7) flew in from the West in a group of Canadas.  Seven species of goose in one day, how could it get any better?  I felt pretty good when I headed home right after ... that is right up until I got home and checked my email only to find out that Shia Mitra and Pat Lindsay had just found a Ross's Goose back at the Buffalo Farm.  Oh well ....

Barnacle Goose - Sagaponack, Suffolk County, NY (March 2014)

Now I had to get that Ross's Goose, so I headed back over to the Riverhead area at first light and started working goose flocks.  The first two flocks I saw just had Canada Geese, but as I got to the Roanoke Vineyard area I saw Ari Gilbert and Bob Adamo scoping something South of Sound Avenue and, pulling a "legal" U-turn, I was soon looking at the Ross's Goose (Goose species #8).  For a while I thought about trying to see all eight species in a day but after scanning the area for a while, and seeing both Pink-footed Geese, and a White-fronted goose, but failing to find a Cackling Goose, my time ran out and I had to run home to get back to the City for a dinner reservation.

Ross's Goose - Riverhead, Suffolk County, NY (March 2014)
Record Shot (a mile away at 70x and an iPhone with no adaptor)
Still, eight species of goose in a weekend was a really neat experience and I was very happy with my haul of waterfowl for the trip.  Twenty-eight species of waterfowl, including eight species of goose.  And maybe I will go to Florida next weekend ....

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