Friday, November 30, 2012

Pacific Loon and Western Tanager in New York.

Two days, two state year birds, but two very different stories ...

So the saga of the Pacific Loons on the East End of Long Island this year turned out to be an interesting one.  As previously mentioned the story starts last Saturday when Derek Rogers had a loon at Montauk Point that he couldn't quite pin down.  Angus Wilson and I were nearby, but I was short of time and Derek didn't seem too sure that the bird was something different so neither of us followed up at the time.  That night though, when Derek sent us some photographs we realized that Pacific Loon was a real possibility.

Pacific Loon is a tough bird on Long Island despite being regular just across the sound every Winter at Block Island.  Angus' theory is that we simply have too many loons making picking the odd loon out a tough task, especially in the rough seas around Montauk Point.  Having said that, Derek's photos looked good so I went back to Montauk the next day and spent about three hours checking the loons at the Point.  I couldn't come up with anything unusual though and made different plans for the next day when the Painted Bunting was found in Queens that afternoon.

Pacific Loon (photo by Derek Rogers - used with permission)
Of course while I was in Queens on Monday I got word that Doug Gochfeld and Tom Johnson had found (re-found) a Pacific Loon at Montauk Point, and later that day that Dick Bellinger had found a second bird in East Moriches.  Ok, so new plans for the week ...

So on Tuesday morning I headed out to East Moriches, checked all the likely spots, but couldn't come up with a good candidate for Pacific.  From Moriches I moved on to Montauk where I spent hours in the pouring rain scoping loons.  I usually wouldn't stand out in the pouring rain on an exposed headland in November, at least not for hours, but not long after I got there I had a pretty good prospect.  The bird looked good in the scope, good shape, color, bill-shape, and structure, but my attempts to get a photo with the iPhone ... through the scope ... in the rain ... and the wind ... with rough seas ... didn't really amount to much.  So I finally had to admit defeat and headed home, only to hear that the Moriches bird was apparently seen by Mike Scheibel in the afternoon (!).

Wednesday, and back to the loon-mines, in fact I spend a total of 7 hours scoping loons at Moriches and Montauk that day.  I did not see a single likely bird but, once again, late in the day, I heard that John Gluth, Mike McBrien and others got distant looks at the Moriches bird.  This was starting to get a little old ....

Pacific Loon prospect at great distance (photo by Michael McBrien
 - used with permission)
Thursday was meant to be a non-birding day (I know, I know, I really do have them) so I stayed home and did non-bird stuff.  By 2:30pm I was driving back into the City, with the dogs in the car, and dinner plans.  I really wasn't going to stop but, just as I passed Moriches, Derek Rogers texted me to ask if I was going to look for the bird.  Well five minutes couldn't hurt I though so I got off the highway and started checking the spots around East Moriches where the bird had been seen before.  There were a few people around looking but I drew a blank at Atlantic Avenue and Moriches Island Avenue.  Heading back to Maple Avenue for a last stop I scared two common Loons that had been close to shore as I pulled up, sending them panicking across the surface looking for a safer distance.  Stopping to get some photos, then to scope them as they pushed away offshore I noticed a third loon just behind them.  If the Common Loons looked large and brown, this bird looked smaller and very black-and-white and, cranking down the scope on the bird, all the field marks quickly fell into place.  So obvious when you see them next to Common Loons - PACIFIC LOON (NYS 2012 #353).  I quickly put the word out and others rushed over allowing at least a few to get identifiable views that night.  Quite a slog, but we got there in the end.

However if the Pacific Loon was tough, the Western Tanager was positively easy.  On Thursday morning I got an early start and shot up to Athens, New York where I easily found the home that I had previously obtained permission to visit.  As I pulled up close to the house, the tanager actually flew in front of the car and landed in a tree right next to the window (!).  Now if only they could all do that.  WESTERN TANAGER (NYS 2012 #356).

Western Tanager (shot through the bars of a deck)
Despite already having a view I went up to the homeowners front door, rang the bell and met Peter and Hope, two of the most gracious and welcoming rare bird hosts I have ever encountered while chasing birds.  I (and later Will Raup) were invited inside, offered coffee, and positioned in the warm next to a window where the bird promptly appeared at a feeder at close range.  A very pleasant way to spend the morning.

Monday, November 26, 2012

You Win Some, You Lose Some - Painted Bunting in Queens

So after the Dovekie euphoria on Saturday thoughts turned to Derek Rogers' Pacific Loon.  His photos were not conclusive; in some the bird looked really positive, in others not so much, but in all the photos the bird was distant, tiny, and blurry.  So on Sunday I did spend three hours at Montauk looking for the Loon (and other things that might be around).  No luck at all and, as always seems to happen just after I got home I got a call from Andrew Baksh who was looking at a Painted Bunting in Alley Pond Park in Queens (!).  The bird had been found by Eric Miller (who can apparently whisper Buntings as well as Warblers) and was still very much in view as we spoke.  Problem was that I'd agreed to meet Ryan at the Airport that afternoon, and had to bring the dogs with me into the city.  I played with all sorts of combinations and permutations of routes and timing before admitting that the bunting would have to wait for another day.  Wrong place, wrong time twice in two days ....

So at dawn on Monday I was winding my way though Queens trying to find a new parking lot (for me) at Alley Pond Park.  The entrance was underneath a highway overpass which made it tough to find on a map but I worked it out, pulled in, and wandered over to join Corey Finger who was staring at a bush.  We were soon joined by about ten other birders and split up, mounting a search of the area where the bird had last been seen.  For the first hour or so there was no sign of the bird but then, as the sun started to warm up, Junko Suzuki got a glimpse and quickly waved everyone over.  After a tense couple of seconds the bird popped up again in a yew tree and a half dozen cameras started whirring away.  PAINTED BUNTING (NYS 2012 #354).

Painted Bunting (4 shots) 

In the bright light, sitting up, the bird was 'goldfinch yellow' while down lower in the bushes it became 'parrot green'.  It could also be surprisingly cryptic when it sat still in green foliage (parrots are bright green too, and really hard to see when feeding in trees).  Eventually however it came out into the open and everyone got the shots they were looking for.

I was feeling pretty good at that moment and so could almost have predicted that the phone would ring with news of another bird elsewhere.  Sure enough, the call was from Derek Rogers to tell me that Tom Johnson and Doug Gochfeld had just reported a Pacific Loon off Montauk Point.  Oh well, maybe it'll stick around a few more days.....

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dovekie! NYS 2012 #353 - a new all time New York State record.

So I gave in, and against my better judgement rushed up to Ithaca on Tuesday (the day after every birder at Cornell University saw the bird), hoping to make LeConte's Sparrow the bird that broke the record.  I have terrible karma with this species, having chased and missed four in the NorthEast in previous years, but perhaps (I though) on this special occasion, one would actually cooperate.  Unfortunately, after having been flushed by the aforementioned student body innumerable times the sparrow departed for a new location, probably in search of trauma counseling.  And so, while it was a pleasant 9-hour round-trip drive (!), I went into Thanksgiving still tied with the record.

So back to the usual routine of seawatching, searching scrub for Ash-throated Flycatchers, photographing crossbills, and (for a little variety) thinking of new ways to cook turkey.  On Friday I did actually get some decent Seabirds with lots of Razorbills and a Red-necked Grebe out at Montauk.  The latter guaranteed a visit from Derek Rogers the next day as it seems to be one of his bogey birds in Suffolk County (although he's seen plenty elsewhere).  So when he said he'd come out on Saturday I made a note to go back to Montauk to try to help him find it.

White-winged Crossbill in Montauk
Friday had been beautiful, but Saturday dawned cold and with a blasting North wind.  Still, grebes weren't going to find themselves so I made my way over to Montauk and, after seeing more crossbills in various spots, met up with Derek at Montauk Inlet.  The wind was a challenge but, sheltered behind the cars, we managed to get some seawatching in and, even though the grebe was a no-show we did see Razorbills, and the usual scoters, eiders, gannets, etc.

Nearly an hour later a small black-and-white bird zipped through my scope, close to shore, but moving fast.  Alcid ... small ... tiny .... fat body .... big head .... long wings ..... whirring flight .... underwings .... underwings ..... dark!  DOVEKIE (NYS 2012 #353!).  Now to get Derek on it - a witness was very important at that moment but my directions unfortunately were worse than useless.  Turns out that "in front of the building in Connecticut" isn't all that helpful in finding a fast moving, starling-sized, bird in 50-square miles of water.  Luckily Derek was smart enough to look at my scope angle and move ahead of the bird to the red buoy and the jetty so that, when the bird got close, he picked it up easily. Whoops and high fives when he got on the bird and got good looks, confirming the ID.

So that was that. The record finally broken, although given that it only stood for one year I think I'll try and add a few more species to see if I can make mine last a little longer than Richards.  As an aside, I should also thank Richard Fried for being such a good sport this year.  He set an amazing record last year so to have someone chase after it and break it the very next year was probably a little galling at times, but he's been a good egg about the whole thing.

And so onwards, and a fly-over Lapland Longspur brought me back to reality a few minutes later (Suffolk County Year-Bird!).  So off to Camp Hero in Montauk where Angus Wilson was having a lot of good birds.

Joining Angus, he pointed out some Black-legged Kittiwakes and we spent a pleasant half hour watching large numbers of Red-throated Loons and Razorbills among a range of common seabirds.  Splitting up, we headed off to check different areas but I hadn't gone 50 yards before I got a call from Angus who had just had three Cave Swallows heading my way.  Heads up, but no sign of them until I got back to the Camp Hero parking lot where I saw three, then six Cave Swallows hawking over the lot.

Cave Swallow (2 shots)

While Angus and I were in the parking lot, Derek called to report two more Lapland Longspurs and then an odd loon that he couldn't quite pin down.  I had to leave soon so I didn't go over to the Point to look, but now that I've seen the photos I probably should have.  Pacific Loon is way overdue at Montauk and his bird looked like a good candidate.  Another day perhaps, and now I have another bird to obsess about at Montauk.

And so on to the next bird ...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings in the Champlain Valley

So I've been watching the reports of Pine Grosbeaks upstate for the past two weeks and holding back the impulse to run up for them.  The nearest grosbeaks are still at least a 5 hour drive from the City so I was hoping that perhaps a Hoary Redpoll would show up so that I could combine the trips.  Finally the temptation just became too much though, with all my Adirondacks friends reporting Grosbeaks, some even from their yards.  So I finally gave up and planned a quick one day trip to try and get the bird.

I left Manhattan at 4am and got off I87 at Westport in Essex County nearly 5 hours later.  There had been reports of Grosbeaks in the town of Westport but, after 10 minutes of driving around peering at bushes and apple trees in front yards (I really hate this type of birding) I had no luck.  Heading down to the lake I saw a sign for a boat launch which seemed familiar from bird-alerts, so I pulled in and flushed a flock of 60 BOHEMIAN WAXINGS that were bathing in a stream.  A blizzard of bohos came blasting past the car as they flew up into a nearby tree.  Not a bad way to start the day.

Bohemian Waxwing
So, giving up on Westport I headed to Elizabethtown where there had been reports of many more grosbeaks.  Stopping briefly for a Northern Shrike, I pulled into town number two and started looking for grosbeaks again.  After two or three streets, I passed the Community Center (?) and caught sight of birds in a roadside tree out of the corner of my eye.  A quick (legal) U-turn and I found a convenient parking lot to pull into.   I got out, and there they were ... 17 PINE GROSBEAKS (NYS 2012 #352 - Ties the All-Time Record).

Pine Grosbeak (4 shots - female, immature male, adult male)

After taking 318 photos (went a little mad apparently) I finally dragged myself away and went up to Lake Placid where I had lunch, got a local (negative) Hoary Redpoll update, and failed to find Pine Grosbeaks at two other recent sighting locations.  So figuring I may as well head home I turned South but decided to stop in one more time at the Elizabethtown site.  The Grosbeaks were still there, in fact there were a few more (so probably more in the neighborhood) and there was an adult male in the mix. A pretty neat sight, and a great bird for #352.  One more species to go ....

Friday, November 16, 2012

Photospot: Red Crossbills in Montauk

This is, quite simply one of my favorite species.  A good looking bird and fascinating in terms of behavior, but also very much evolution in motion as a single species seems to be evolving to 20 or more species 'as we speak'.  I managed to get recording of these birds and Matt Young (Mr. Red Crossbill at Cornell University) confirmed them as 'Type 3' which are wanderers/vagrants from the Pacific NorthWest. See, I told you they were interesting ....

Red Crossbill (4 shots)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Great Day in Montauk - Northern Lapwings and more.

So once again a pre-dawn start, this time to get to the last known location of the Montauk Northern Lapwings before first light.  I was pretty highly motivated to see these birds, not so much because I needed them for State or County Lists (I'd seen the one at Mecox in 1995) but because I'd missed a potential year bird right here on my own local patch.  I had probably checked the South Field at Deep Hollow Ranch at least once a day since the Lapwings had appeared in Massachusetts the week before.  I was quite sure that we'd get one and that I'd find it if I just checked often enough and then, when the birds finally did show up, they picked the day that I decided to go to Queens for the Virginia's Warbler(!).

So, with just a bit of nervous tension, I skipped coffee and rushed out to Montauk at first light.   I pulled up to the Montauk Airport (airstrip?) at dawn but, as the light rose, the Lapwings were nowhere to be seen.  And so I zipped from one potential location to another in the early morning, trying to find them and hoping that they hadn't left the area for good.  Soon more and more birders joined the hunt and, as the coverage improved, I decided to position myself at Teddy Roosevelt CP where I figured I'd have the best chance of a fly-over if they were still in the area.  Interestingly, the gate to the back field was closed and so I didn't hike back there for some reason, sticking to the 'sky-watch' plan instead.

After a couple of hours, my optimism was flagging a bit so I took a break to go and look for the previously reported Myiarchus flycatcher at Rita's.  No flycatcher, but while there I bumped into Michael McBrien who was watching a bird he felt sure was a Brewer's Blackbird.  I managed a few shots of the bird but it quickly flew off leaving us wondering.  It also was my cue to get back to the serious business of searching for Lapwings.

Then at 8:58am I got the 'magic text' when Peter Polshek messaged me to say that Jim Ash had refound the birds at the back field at Teddy Roosevelt CP (should have checked it earlier).  Rushing over, I joined a slew of New York birders, hiked up the hill and down the side trail, and sure enough, NORTHERN LAPWING (NYS 2012 #350).  The birds were feeding in the field but were also quite flighty and flushed twice meaning I probably would have seen them if I'd stuck to my plan (gotta work on my patience).

Northern Lapwing (2 shots)

So, Lapwings accomplished, we spread out to find more birds - a rare influx of serious birders to my local patch so I was excited to see if they could turn up anything.  Best bird found today was the previously mentioned BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (NYS 2012 #351) found by Michael McBrien and subsequently seen by many when it showed up again later at Rita's.  This is a tough ID and most of the birds reported as Brewer's on Long Island end up being Rusty Blackbirds in unfamiliar plumages.  So a great call by Michael, yet another teenage hotshot birder making the rest of us feel old.

Brewer's Blackbird
Among the other goodies found were two Cackling Geese, five Greater White-fronted Geese, and a presumed 'Dusky' Goose (which may be the rarest of the three on the East Coast).  Winter Finches were also around in numbers with sightings of Red and White-winged Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks and Pine Siskins all around Montauk (I saw all four).  Peter Polshek and I also had a Northern Rough-winged Swallow which, being super late, we watched for a long time hoping it would magically turn into something rarer.  And although we never did re-find the Myiarchus flycatcher, I can't complain because it was a truly great day of birding today.

And I'm now just one species away from the current NYS record ....

Virginia's Warbler in Queens .... really?

So in late October, one of the best birds I didn't see was a Virginia's Warbler (a first for New York State) reported from Alley Pond Park in Queens by Eric Miller.  It was a single observer sighting with no photos but the Queen's birders took it seriously given that Eric had reported it (Eric is a Warbler-whisperer apparently).  Needless to say there was a mob of birders there the next day, but they failed to find the bird.  I couldn't get over there that day, so frankly put the bird out of my mind and stayed local.

White-winged Crossbill, Napeague (local).
Fast forward a week or so.  Eric said he'd seen the bird one more time after the initial sighting but no-one else seemed to be able to get so much as a glimpse so it didn't seem like something I'd waste precious gas on.  Then, last night, everything changed when I got a text from Andrew Baksh saying "You better gas up and plan on a visit to Queens.  I just refound the Virginia's Warbler and photographed it".  And so, at 4am, I was gassing up and heading to Queens ...

Thanks to some good local advice, I found my way to the right area and met up with a 'mob' of birders who were searching for the bird.  I partnered up with Isaac Grant and we spent the next 7 hours 'flogging' the woods and checking all the previous sighting locations.  We did find a Northern Parula and got a see a Northern Saw-whet Owl but we couldn't turn up 'The' bird.  It was cold frustrating work with just enough snow to seep through your boots and chill you, but not enough snow to limit the habitat available to the bird.  By early afternoon the birders had begun to drift off but I was determined to keep plugging away until I absolutely had to leave at 3pm.  At around 1:30pm we found a trail that we hadn't tried before and so pushed down it and kept birding hard.  Isaac, who had been dragging a bit was refreshed by a sandwich and a 'Little Debbie' cake that almost certainly contained not a single natural ingredient.  Nevertheless it perked up his spirits and, as we went into the new area he seemed inspired proclaiming that he could 'almost smell' the bird.

Not five minutes later I noticed a gray bird on the forest floor about twenty feet off the trail to our left.  We lifted out bins simultaneously ... gray bird ... huge yellow undertail coverts, white eye-ring.
"Thats it!" I said.
"I'm on it, yes, thats it" said Isaac.
We watched the bird for a thirty seconds, double checking field marks and frankly beaming with the delight of finally finding the little bugger.  Then both of us lowered our heads to turn on our cameras (and did a quick high-five).  When we looked up, the bird was gone.

Virginia's Warbler. Photo: Andrew Baksh (used with permission)
The bird may have vanished but we could hear it chipping just up hill from us so, as all good modern birders do ...... we whipped out our smart phones and started calling, emailing and texting other people to get over here as quickly as they could.  Within minutes the 'mob' had reassembled on the trail near our sighting and while there was no bird, there were plenty of eyes looking.  Ten minutes later, the bird was seen again by one or two people.  Five minutes after that it popped up and gave good views to the bulk of the group.  Hugs and high fives all around.  A tough bird that required nearly seven hours of searching but now almost every serious New York City birder had a chance to see it.  Lots of happy faces.

By 3pm I figured I could safely leave and, after thanking Andrew Baksh again I jumped in the car and headed back East.  The traffic was horrible and it took me nearly 3 hours to get home.  As a result I was too late to chase the Northern Lapwings that had been found in Montauk that afternoon and, to add insult to injury, I also heard about a Painted Bunting at a nearby feeder (but the homeowners won't let people come and see it).  So from the euphoria of the Virginia's Warbler, I ended up a little down and with plans for another pre-dawn start, this time for Lapwings.  Will I ever get to 352 species?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Harris's Sparrow - 14 hours driving for 7 minutes birding ...

So after my lost week post Hurricane Sandy I really needed a year bird.  The Flame-colored Tanager/Streak-backed Oriole debacle didn't work out so well but there was at the same time rumor of  a HARRIS'S SPARROW at a feeder in Canastota near Syracuse.  Problem was that the feeder owner was a non-birder and while she had posted the bird (with a photograph) no-one had been able to contact her to arrange visiting details.

Let me just say that I loathe 'Feeder-Poaching' (what we call chasing rare birds at private feeders).  I feel intensely uncomfortable wandering a private neighborhood with binoculars and a giant camera, peering over a fence or pointing a scope in the direction of someone's house.  I won't do it at all unless I  have permission but even then I avoid doing it as much as I can.

With no permission forthcoming however this sparrow was just not on the cards.  I kept bugging Drew Webber (who lives not to far away) to keep me in the loop with the locals and even sent a Facebook message to the home owner but got no response.  Then, on Sunday night, Drew forwarded a message from a local birder who had made contact with the homeowner - the feeders were in the front of the house, could be seen from the road, and the homeowner didn't object to folks coming to look.  Game on!

That problem solved, the next problem was gas.  There really hasn't been a lot of gasoline available out here with most stations still closed and long lines for the few stations that get deliveries.  Hoping that an early start would help, I left NorthWest Harbor at 4:30am was lucky-enough, with almost no wait, to score $50 of Regular gas in Wainscott.  While the Range Rover probably didn't like the Regular gas, I now had enough at least to get out of the 'no-gas' zone and I was on my way ....

Harris's Sparrow
Nearly seven hours later, the navigation system guided me up to the address and, as I pulled up outside I could see some sparrows under the feeders.  Wrestled my bins out of the bag and ... Junco ... White-crowned Sparrow .... HARRIS'S SPARROW (NYS 2012 #348)!  I quickly grabbed my camera and fired off some record shots - at 50-feet, through the passenger-side car window, with the engine running, thus guaranteeing that they wouldn't be sharp.  Then the birds flushed.

Driving to the end of the road, I turned and came back to the house, positioning myself where I could take pictures from the drivers side and stopped the car.  There was no sign of the sparrow though.  Sitting in the silence, under the watchful eyes of the homeowners giant Tibetan Mastiff, and who knows how many suspicious neighbors, I started to feel really uncomfortable.  Within minutes, I'd convinced myself that my photos would be fine as 'proof' shots and started the car, heading South for another 7 hours drive and the promise of home-cooked Mexican food waiting for me in East Hampton. In total I drove for almost 14 hours and birded for almost exactly 7 minutes.  Not really my favorite type of birding but it was a great bird to add for New York State.

Update:  I heard this week that the Harris's Sparrow was apparently killed by a domestic cat.  Cats have a huge impact on wild bird populations.  Please keep your cat indoors (as we do), it'll live longer, be healthier, and do no harm.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Flame-colored Tanager, or Streak-backed Oriole, or Not ....

So bit of excitement today.  I just got back from a another fruitless and chilly sea watch at Sammy's Beach when the phone rang and an Upstate Birder (I'm withholding names for reasons that will become obvious) told me about a sighting of a FLAME-COLORED TANAGER near Buffalo.  Now that's a pretty amazing bird in New York but my source said they'd been to the feeders where the bird was being seen and that it looked good to the folks there this morning.

So I got on the phone with American Express and tried to find a flight that would get me there today.  Gasoline shortages have been a huge issue on Long Island so I figured that flying and renting a car might be a good choice but it soon became obvious that there just weren't any good flights for any reasonable amount of money.  So I resolved to drive, quickly packed a bag, and headed out to the car.  As I was opening the door I got a text from Greg Lawrence which referred to an unidentified Tanager that looked potentially good.  That stopped me in my tracks and I picked up the phone and called Greg. While the information was confused, that confusion gave me pause and I decided to wait and see if the bird was seen and photographed before committing to an 11-hour drive to Buffalo.

I put out more feelers and soon information was coming in.  The first major bit of news was that photographs had been distributed and that the bird had been "re-identified" as a STREAK-BACKED ORIOLE (!).  Now that's a pretty amazing bird for New York too, although a bird that could also potentially be an escapee as they are kept as cage birds in some areas.  Still, I was thinking that if the bird was confirmed, then Streak-backed Oriole was still something worth the long drive and I still planned to head out sometime after midnight.

And then, the news changed again.  This time when a wave of Buffalo and Rochester birders made it to the site and discovered that the bird was just a BALTIMORE ORIOLE (albeit a very, very orange one).

Flame-colored Tanager / Streak-backed Oriole / Baltimore Oriole
Photograph by Willie D'Anna (used with permission)
So I am *very* glad that I didn't spent a ton of money on a plane, car rental, hotel etc.  I'm also very glad that I didn't drive 11-hours to Buffalo.  But it was exciting for a few hours .....

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and the Lost Week ....

I've been out of touch for a week, largely because we've had no power and hence no WiFi out here in Northwest Harbor.  Hurricane Sandy turned out to be a much worse storm than we anticipated and roughed long Island up pretty badly.  Living without power means that we really didn't see a lot of the impact in other areas, and now as I look at TV coverage of New Jersey or Staten Island, I realize how lucky we were.  Five days with no hot water or heat isn't so bad when you consider how much worse it could have been.  Our thoughts and best wishes go out to everyone who was impacted by the storm.


It seems like so long ago but on Monday I was really excited to bird the storm.  Unlike last year when Irene brought many storm-driven seabirds to the East End of Long Island, this Summer really didn't produce much in the way of tropical sea-birds (yes, as I write I still need a Brown Pelican!).  So when Hurricane Sandy popped up I thought this might be a chance to catch up.

On Monday Peter Polshek and I did some seawatching and checked a lot of the local coastal freshwater lakes to see what was around.  To be honest we were mostly killing time, knowing that for sea-birds we needed the Southerly winds on the back side of the storm and really waiting for Tuesday morning and the anticipated bird bonanza.  By mid afternoon I'd gone home to get an early night for a day of Storm-Birding on Tuesday and even losing power at around 4pm didn't put a damper on the excitement.

Waking up on Tuesday though I knew things weren't going to plan.  The winds were strong and the trees around the house were swaying, but it clearly wasn't a hurricane.  Having no TV to watch for an update (and no WiFi) I drove over to Peter's house and we headed off to meet up with Jim Ash and check all the spots that had produced so well during Irene.  It didn't take long though to realize that the storm had passed through quickly and the relatively mild winds were not going to be enough to wreck or detain sea-birds.  Sure enough Hook Pond, Wainscot Pond, Sag Pond and Mecox had not a storm bird between them.  Realizing there'd be no wreck we tried to sea-watch but finding access to the beach was really tough.  The police had most of the beaches closed due to the tidal surge and even when we did find what looked like a safe place a local cop (who we knew) still wouldn't let us go through, telling us that there was a dead body on the beach (!).

So by noon, we'd given up on Storm-birding altogether.  Jim went home and Peter and I went out to Montauk just to see what was around.  No unusual seabirds there either but we did get a surprise when a CAVE SWALLOW flew over the point.  We both jumped out of the car and got good looks through bins but when I ran back for the camera the State Park Police showed up and moved us on before I could get photos.  The irony of a Cave Swallow showing up was interesting given my having spent the best part of 4 days successfully chasing the Cave Swallows up near Rochester the week before.  Still, always good to see a wanderer like that and it was a Suffolk County Year Bird at least (and a State Bird for Peter).

And so that was that in terms of the hurricane - a bust for me in terms of year birds.  There were storm birds - Leach's Storm-Petrels, Jaegers, and a Tropicbird sp. seen in New York City.  There was also a South Polar Skua on Staten Island and all sorts of oddities dropped into lakes upstate and further West.  There was even a Ross's Gull at Cayuga Lake (!) although it didn't stick around and so saved me a long drive.  Given the disruption I settled into a bit of a 'lost week' of birding locally and trying not to worry too much about what was going on elsewhere (the lack of power and a shortage of gas kept me pretty close to home).

Snow Bunting at Sammy's Beach, East Hampton
There were moments of excitement during the week.  A report of a VIRGINIA'S WARBLER in Queens got everyone excited overnight on Wednesday, but an army of birders couldn't turn it up the next day.  BROWN PELICANS and MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS were reported from a few spots in the NorthEast (and prompted many, many hours of sea-watching on my part).  There was even a second ROSS'S GULL sighting that came from just across the Canadian border near Buffalo.

For my part I did finally see a Leach's Storm-Petrel close to shore at Montauk on Wednesday - a bird that made me feel a lot better about all the sea-watching hours I put in.  I've also been enjoying the masses of birds (including Pine Siskins and Purple Finches) that are coming to my feeders, and the many wintering birds that are settling back in for the season out here.  In many ways it's actually just fine that nothing good showed up this week as the gas shortage means that I wouldn't be able to chase it in any case.

Ipswich Sparrow - Gin Beach, Montauk.
On the positive front, the power came back on on Friday night and there are signs that we may get gas again next week.  Let's hope that things get back to normal as soon as possible and then back on the road ....