Monday, December 31, 2012

NYS 2012 Big Year Summary (Part 4)

Is a very birdy month with lots and see and lots to hope for.  I spent a lot of time (most days) on the barrier beaches and at the East End of Long Island hoping for Western Kingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Northern Wheatear and the like but really didn't turn up much in terms of new birds.  I did chase, and dip a Say's Phoebe, and did finally manage to connect with a Western Kingbird at Breezy Point.  The Kingbird was my only year bird from Long Island though and one of only 5 that I managed to turn up all month.

Western Kingbird - this one was at Jones Beach.
The other four year birds all came from road trips.  After dipping Franklin's Gull once in Niagara County I was a bit gun shy about chasing another one up there, but when one showed up at Montezuma NWR I took the risk and managed to get the bird the day after it was found.  Montezuma also gave me my only Ross's Geese of the year on rain-challenged trip to the Rochester area.  I also managed to add Cave Swallow and Lapland Longspur at Hamlin Beach SP, and even though I subsequently saw both species down on Long Island, seeing Cave Swallows migrating along the shore of Lake Ontario was a very memorable experience.

October also brought us Hurricane Sandy which did not bring me any birds, a single Leach's Storm-Petrel was the only bird I could legitimately call a 'Storm Bird'.  I did however bring a lot of destruction and misery to many of the low-lying coastal areas of Long Island, and effectively closed large areas of the barrier beaches for the balance of year.  We actually got off pretty lightly out in NorthWest Harbor with no real damage other than some downed trees.  It did create a sort of 'lost week' phenomenon though as we hunkered down with no heat, or power, and with limited gasoline supplies keeping me close to home.  I spent weeks looking for my Brown Pelican, but still no luck.

So into 'rarity season' at 347 species.  It seemed like I was close to breaking the record back in June and then had crawled along, seemingly no closer to the record, ever since.  I still needed 6 more species, and perhaps a couple of spares just in case.  As I looked over the prospects, absent pelagic birds (which I never got in any case) I'd really need a spectacular crop of goodies to show up in New York if I was going to break that 352 mark.  And we did indeed get a spectacular crop of November rarities ...

On the vagrant front I ran up to Canastota for a Harris's Sparrow, and to Athens for a Western Tanager.  I got Virginia's Wabler (!) and Painted Bunting in Queens,  and Northern Lapwing and Brewer's Blackbird at Montauk.  Both ends of Long Island producing at once, and who knows what we might have had if the Sandy-damaged beaches had been open to birders.

Pine Grosbeak - part of what turned out to be an epic 'Finch-Year' with large
numbers of Crossbills, Siskins, and other Winter Finches invading the State.
Ironically, with all these high profile vagrants my 352nd species (tying the record) was Pine Grosbeak and my (record breaking) 353rd species was Dovekie.  Both good birds, but neither a vagrant per se.  The Dovekie, part of a very good year for this species at Montauk so far, came on November 24th and was a huge relief.  After slogging away all Summer/Fall the November spurt hurled me over the record very quickly so it felt very strange to not be chasing that number after so many months of looking at it stubbornly staying out of reach.

And so into the home stretch with 356 species and still time to add a few more to 'put it out of reach'.

 I did try to get out to sea on fishing boats but had four December trips cancel for lack of bookings.  Pelagic birds really did become the big gap in my list this year with 5 or 6 additional species left on the table due to my less than impressive pelagic effort.  I did however manage to catch up with a Brown Pelican (no-one expects to get their year Brown Pelican in December) thus avoiding an embarrassing miss for the year.   I also got to catch up with another long-time nemesis bird, one which I had chased and dipped often including two painful missed already this year, when Corey Finger gifted me a LeConte's Sparrow in Queens.

LeConte's Sparrow - a long-time nemesis on the East Coast.  I chased it this
year in Brooklyn and Ithaca before getting this gift in Queens.
With the year waning, and my enthusiasm fading as thoughts turned to next year, I did still manage to summon the energy to chase a few more things.  A Tufted Duck in Western Suffolk County was a quick run, but a Townsend's Solitaire in Seneca County wasn't.  Finally on December 28th I ran up to Lake Placid to add Hoary Redpoll, giving me my 361st and last NYS year bird of 2012.

And so I guess I'm all done and I wonder what it will feel like tomorrow not having a New York Big Year to work on.  Although I'll be honest and say that this project was a bit of chore at times, especially during the Summer, overall it was a wonderful experience.  I saw a lot of really neat birds, got to visit some great places, and met a lot of really interesting people.  It was a terrific way to get back into birding in the NorthEast after years where my only serious birding was done on vacations to the far-flung corners of the world.  I learned a ton, and am slowly getting back up to speed in terms of birding skills.  Was it worth doing .... yes, absolutely.  Would I do it again .... hell no.

I'll do one last post with some stats and 'Thank Yous' and then the Big Year is done ...

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