Sunday, March 22, 2015

Late March Cabin Fever

Just itching for Spring .... and recovering from Gull-issues

I keep meaning to do a blog post, truly I do, it's just that I haven't really had much to blog about nature-wise so far this year.  To date 2015 has been dominated by work (yes, I do work) and snow, and neither of those things has really been very conducive to looking at nature or nature blogging.  Even my travel - Montreal, London, Wales, Washington DC) has not really been very outdoor oriented so far, and I just haven't seen a lot of stuff worth reporting.

This week, it snowed again, but at least there's something about a late March snow storm that makes you feel like the worst may now be over and that Winter might be finally behind us.  For whatever reason, I was really feeling the cabin fever today, a sure sign that Spring is coming and that my nature addiction is close to kicking back in again after a dormant Winter.  Looking forward to putting Winter away and getting out there once again.

 The 2015 birding year actually started out relatively well for me and I managed to grab some free time and get out a few times locally in the first few weeks of the year.  Some good birds quickly joined the list - Couch's Kingbird in the West Village, Cassin's Kingbird in Brooklyn, Harlequin Ducks at Montauk, a drake King Eider and Iceland Gulls at Shinecock, Tundra Swans in East Hampton, and a Cackling Goose near Riverhead.  I even managed to get a State Bird when I chased down a THICK-BILLED MURRE in Montauk Harbor (NYS #381).

Thick-billed Murre - lousy shot but it was a state bird!
I soon started to get that slipping feeling though.  Others were going out birding more, and finding great birds, and I simply wasn't keeping up, not with the time I had available to me to get out into the field.  For a brief while I fought the rot, chased the Pink-footed Goose (dipped) near Riverhead, the Barnacle Geese (dipped) near Calverton, and the GYRFALCON (yes!) near Wallkill, but eventually I had to recognize that this is just not going to be a big year list year for me in New York.
As of today, I've seen only 110 species this year in New York State, while the more serious guys are already in the 160s.  I've missed way too many Winter birds to be able to catch up - no Snowy Owls, no Glaucous Gulls,  no Barrow's Goldeneye, etc.  I'll just have to enjoy what I see and not worry about year-lisiting this year.

Harequin Ducks (above) and Common Redpoll (below) good January birds
out on the East End this year.

The bird that really killed my year-list this year was actually a gull.  A Common Gull no less!  Well technically a Mew Gull (although that's currently the same species as Common Gull), and actually not at all common here, thousands of miles away from the Pacific NorthWest where it makes it's home.  The bird was found by Shane Blodgett and showed up, as rare gulls are prone to doing, in a shopping mall parking lot in Brooklyn.  Many birders got to see it the first week or so it was there (while I wasn't able to travel) and then it fell into an infuriating pattern of vanishing for days or weeks before suddenly and unexpectedly popping up again in the same area.  I really wanted to see this bird which would have been a new species for New York State for me, and it also happens to be a species I've tried for and missed previously.  So I decided to devote a few hours to a search......

Herring Gull, MEW GULL, and Ring-billed Gull - photo: Shane Blodgett (used with permission)
And so I ended up spending the better part of five (5!) days standing, freezing, in parking lots in Brooklyn (and not the trendy bits of Brooklyn), looking at gulls.  Every couple of hours a little old Russian lady might come by, empty a bag of stale bread, and start a mad swirl of activity as hundreds of gulls, dozens of Rock Pigeons, and even a few Brown Rats squabbled over the feast, but most of the time Mew Gull 'watching' involved just standing around in the cold, periodically checking hundreds of Ring-billed gulls to see if 'the bird' had flown in.  After each session I swore I would give up on this gull and go look for other things, and then a few days later someone would see the damned bird, and I'd give it one more try.  In total, this single bird took more than 50% of the free time I had for birding in the first quarter of 2015.  And no ... I did not see the bird.

Iceland Gull - people often reported seeing the Mew Gull with
this Iceland Gull.  It was stubbornly solo while I was there though
And so, as we roll in to Spring I'm ready to put the Mew Gull behind me and move on. I almost gave it one last try this Saturday after a sighting was reported on Friday.  In the end I was saved my Shane though, he emailed me to say that he'd seen photos of the Friday sighting and that the bird was just a dark Ring-billed Gull.  Even though I'd already sworn that I wouldn't try again, Shane new that I probably would (and he was right - I am that stubborn).  But now I'm letting it go, and moving on, and getting excited for Spring.

Postscript:  I finished writing this blog post, went out to brunch with Kelvin and had a mimosa or two(enough to ensure that I could no longer drive for the day).  After brunch I checked my emails and, total predictably, Andrew Baksh posted that he and Angus Wilson had been watching the Mew Gull in Brooklyn for the past couple of hours.  After a week or so absence, the bird had literally reappeared while I was writing this post.  I give up ....

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