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.

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