Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rochester all is forgiven ...

So I haven't written in a while.  It's not as though I haven't been birding - I've been out every day - it's more that I haven't been *seeing* anything.  Sure, there are Pine Siskins and Red-breasted Nuthatches at my feeder (and I've already had fly-over Evening Grosbeaks and expect them to join soon too) but simply no year birds.

Pine Siskin on the feeder on the deck (I have a lot of feeders)
Hit one of those rough patches recently where I didn't seem to be able to do anything right.  Was mostly out in East Hampton and birding Long Island every day but didn't seem to have any luck finding, or chasing, anything.  On Sunday I dipped Brown Pelican (again) on Staten Island, and on Monday I dipped Say's Phoebe at Robert Moses S.P.  I even contrived to jigger last week's scheduled to drive back from a board meeting in Boston so as to get 3 hours at the Wood Sandpiper site in Rhode Island.  I was there from 12pm to 3pm but the bird wasn't seen between 9:20am and 4:15pm.  One helpful birder even called me as I was on the New London (Connecticut) to Orient Point (NY) car ferry at 5pm to let me know that the bird was back (!).  I believe the young people use the term "FML".

So when I saw Monday's reports of a huge (77 birds) CAVE SWALLOW flight at Hamlin Beach State Park near Rochester, I figured it was time to head North to break the routine.  Checking with Greg Lawrence, who assured me that 'this was the week' I headed North on Tuesday morning for the 10-hour drive from East Hampton to Hamlin.  By the time I got to Syracuse though, the weather was starting to look pretty iffy and texting Greg, he helpfully suggested that maybe Thursday or Friday might be better days to come up.  By that time though I was committed but, by the time I got the the Marriott in Rochester it was pretty clear that it wasn't exactly swallow weather.

Wednesday was bit of a bust.  Nasty North winds and rain showers made for tough birding but I slogged away all day alternating between bouts of Seawatching, sorry I mean Lakewatching, and checking local ponds, creeks and marshes for swallows.  No Cave Swallows but I did find a few White-winged Crossbills, some Snow Buntings, a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and a decent selection of birds given bad weather (I even had a swallow, albeit a Barn Swallow).  At about mid-day I made the decision to stay another day and so called the Marriott to extend my stay and also relaxed, knowing I'd have another chance in better weather tomorrow.

Then at 4pm I checked my email - Jay McGowan had reported 5 ROSS'S GEESE from Montezuma.  I jumped in the car and headed South, wondering if I had enough time to get there in good light.  As I drove, both Greg Lawrence and Benjamin Van Doren texted me with the same news (thank you) and so I was really excited when I pulled up on East Road and jumped out to scan Knox-Marsellus at around 5:40pm.  The only problem was that white geese really stand out, and there were no white geese in the marsh!  Suppressing a moment of panic I started to scan the Canada Geese and, as I was about half way across the marsh, Snow Geese flew through my scope.  I tracked them until they landed; a group of about 30, with 3 'Blue Geese' among them, but when I scanned them it was obvious that none were Ross's.  Then, not a minute later, a group of five more white geese dropped into the Snow Geese and it was immediately apparent that they were much smaller.  Cranking the scope up to 60x I could also see the facial structure, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.  ROSS'S GOOSE (NYS 2012 #345).

So back to Rochester, and after room service, a movie, and a decent night's sleep, up again and back to Hamlin Beach SP at dawn.  The weather didn't look too promising but as I watched the sea, I mean lake, it started to improve.  There were some shady looking characters in the parking lot so I stayed well clear of them until I realized (bins are wonderful things) that it was Andy Guthrie, Dave Tetlow and (later) Kurt Fox.  Andy was kind enough to come and retrieve me from the beach, and reposition me in the parking lot where I stood a better chance of actually seeing the swallows I'd come for (local knowledge is also a wonderful thing).  And then, CAVE SWALLOWS (NYS 2012 #346) started flying over, at first in pairs, but later in large groups.   I saw 102 of them in total before I had to leave.

Cave Swallow
It turned out to be a great morning of birding (what a difference from the day before) with lots of Cave Swallows, Pine Siskins, and even a Parasitic Jaeger thrown in for good measure.  Plus it was great to connect with so many people I knew only as eBird posts before.  There was even a fly-over Lapland Longspur (NYS 2012 #347) for good measure, although I missed all the Evening Grosbeaks that came through earlier.  By 10:30am though I had to leave if I was going to make dinner in New York City (NYS is big!) and so I drove for 7 hours back to the city.  As I was almost home Corey Finger called with a possible Pink-footed Goose in Queens, but I persevered and went back to the apartment.  Suspect that's a wild goose chase story for another day ...

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