Monday, February 20, 2017

Another New York Nemesis Bird Surrenders!

Finally seeing perhaps the most common bird I still need in the State.

Saturday, February 18 - Montauk

Everyone has nemesis birds.  Birds that aren't necessarily all that rare and that other people seem to see regularly ... but you don't.  There are a few birds that show up in New York state more or less annually that I have never seen.  Some are what I call "Act of God" birds - a Magnificent Frigatebird or a Swallow-tailed Kite will fly over me one day, when the time is right and if I continue to be very kind to widows, orphans and small furry animals .... right?  Other species should be see-able with enough effort .... in New York, if you sea-watch as often as I do, you should have seen a BLACK GUILLEMOT or two over say the past 26 years, right?  It's a species that is seen almost annually somewhere in the state, usually at Montauk where I do all my sea-watching.  It's also a species I know well and have seen in several other states and countries (so we know I'm not overlooking it).  But in 25+ years of birding in New York State ... not one Black Guillemot had I seen before this weekend ....

Last weekend when I was 9 hours North of Montauk looking at Great Gray Owls, a Black Guillemot was found in the harbor there and seen by many birders.  My reaction was basically ... "D'oh!"  ... totally fits the pattern of many other Black Gullemot sightings I haven't had in New York.  But this bird stuck!  It was seen on Monday, and Tuesday ... and even though I had no chance of getting out to see it before the weekend, I kept checking the status daily, hoping that his would maybe be the one that broke the curse.  The bird was still being seen on Friday and on Saturday I headed out to East Hampton, but with guests, dinner plans, etc. I had no real hope of getting to the bird before Sunday.  Would it stick another day?  I couldn't stand the tension and wait, so I persuaded some of my guests that Saturday lunch in Montauk would be a good idea, bundled 3 non-birders into the Land Rover and chugged out to Montauk at noon on Saturday.

Surf Scoter
What happened next, never happens.  A perfect 'surgical strike' on Montauk with birds lining up to be seen in an improbably short time-window.

As we pulled into Montauk with 30 minutes to spare before lunch I checked the list serves and saw that Tom Burke and Gail Benson had just found a LITTLE GULL with a Bonaparte's Gull flock at Ditch Plains.  Would my guests like to visit the famous surfing beach?  Yes?

Pulled up to Ditch Plains ... bins up ... Bonaparte's Gull flock ... dark wings ... Little Gull ... Suffolk County bird #322 ... nice!

Next stop, down the street to Star Island, where I parked the car and jump out promising to be no more than five minutes.  Bumped into Frank Quevedo (and a birding group from the South Fork Natural History Museum) and Mike Scheibel (the Nature Conservancy guy from the Mashomak Preserve) and they have the BLACK GUILLEMOT all tee'd up in the scope.  Suffolk County bird #323 and and New York State bird #394.  Nearby an Iceland Gull also joined the year list right next to the restaurant we were heading to ... which was closed for the season.  Oops!

Black Guillemot and Iceland Gull

Sunday, February 19 - Montauk and East Hampton

After a fabulous home cooked Italian Dinner - picture home made Carponata, Italian cheeses, Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage sauce and Braised Short-Ribs with Polenta, all served with a great selection of Italian wines and homemade desserts - 8am Sunday morning came way too soon.  Michael Duffy was one of my dinner guests the night before and while everyone else planned to sleep until noon, we got up at 7am and headed off to Montauk to do some birding.

The day started well with a female KING EIDER at Montauk Point and some year birds for me including Great Cormorant and Purple Sandpiper.  We spent more time with the Black Guillemot but spent most of our time looking for the Little Gull (which Michael - who's a huge world lister and probably seen lots of everything we saw that day) was most interested in ... but unfortunately it seemed to have moved on.

Canvasbacks and Pied-billed Grebe in Montauk 

Coming to terms with failing to get the gull, and having to buy ingredients for dinner and be back at the house for lunch, we gave in and ran to East Hampton to shop.  With a few minutes to spare though we stopped at Wainscott to look for a Sandhill Crane that had been spending the Winter there.  I'd looked for this bird before and not seen it, but today after careful scanning I spotted it mostly hidden in the willows and phragmites along the North side of Wainscott Pond.  I have a soft spot for Cranes and this was only the fourth one I'd ever seen on Long Island so a nice bird for the day.

So not a bad haul of birds (Michael tried and dipped again on the Little Gull the next day but did get a Black-headed Gull) but I had to get back to cook a multi-course Portuguese dinner for guests ... lots of pork, clams, and even an olive-oil cake.  The weather was fabulous, the food and wine were delicious, the guests were charming, and the birding was good ... pretty much the perfect weekend.

Perfect Spring weather in East Hampton in February!

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