Saturday, January 7, 2017

Hummingbirds in the Snow

A truncated day of Winter Birding in Suffolk County

Plan A today was a Winter Pelagic trip out of Brooklyn with hopes of adding Atlantic Puffin, Northern Fulmar, and who knows maybe even Great Skua to my New York State Life List.  An approaching Winter storm killed off that plan yesterday though so on to Plan B.

Plan B was a quick, pre-storm, goose chasing trip in Nassau and Western Suffolk Counties and I started at Lake Ronkonkoma, the furthest East I'd planned to go, adding two Tundra Swans to the year list.  This pair of birds had wintered for several years at Hook Pond in East Hampton, but after arriving as scheduled this year seem to have found the pond not to their liking and moved on a new Winter venue.   Checked them off quickly there and then checked my emails and decided to move over to a new Plan C.

Plan C involved running much further East to the North Fork in Eastern Suffolk County (on the assumption that the snow would hold off for a bit longer) and chasing a TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE that had been found there the night before.  The email updates from the NYS Listserve this morning included one from Mike Higgiston that said the bird was still present.  And so off Out East ...

An hour later I joined a group of very cold birders, including Pat Lindsay who was nursing pneumonia but still keen to get this bird (the first in Suffolk County for 10 years?).  After a cold 25 minute wait, a couple of "beep" calls and the solitaire popped up on top of a dead tree, giving me Suffolk County Life Bird number 316 and another opportunity to take bad, silhouetted record shots of this species.

The distinctive silhouette of a Townsend's Solitaire - I have a history of
taking bad photos of this species.
By now though it had started to snow and a quick check of the weather indicated that, while New York City was expecting maybe 5 inches of snow, the East End of Long Island was due for perhaps 10-12 inches.  Clearly time to head back West before conditions got too dangerous.

There was one more stop I wanted to make though.  Not one, but two RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS had been wintering in a yard in Aquebogue (which was sort of on my way) and with the snow coming, this could well be my last chance to see these birds.  A quick call to Margaret, the very generous and gracious home owner, granted me permission to visit and so 20 minutes later I was standing in a very bird friendly yard with Margaret, Bob Adamo and Pat Paladino in what was now a driving snow storm looking for hummingbirds.

Margaret has at least four hummingbird feeders, two of them heated, and had even put up heated roosting areas for the birds.  Sure enough we quickly saw a Rufous Hummingbird visit one feeder, then (another?) visit a second.  Not sure I've ever seen Hummingbirds in snow, except perhaps in the high Andes, and these were only my 3rd and 4th individual Rufous Hummingbirds ever in New York State.

So heated feeders do seem to work ...
Shivering, and worried about the snow, I decided to call it a day and crawled back to the city behind snow plows, dodging car accidents and two-wheel drive cars skidding all over the road.  A little bit of a white-knuckle experience, but I'm very glad I got to be outside for a while.

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