Wednesday, December 12, 2012

OK, One Last Twitch - Townsend's Solitaire at Seneca Lake.

So I was beginning to think that maybe my year list was done.  My fourth attempt to get on a Winter offshore fishing boat was cancelled due to lack of bookings and there still haven't been any chaseable Hoary Redpolls as of yet.  So perhaps 357 species was as far as I was going to go, although I'd often tell people that perhaps a Townsend's Solitaire would be turned up on a Christmas Count somewhere.

Turns out I had the species right, but my timing was way off.  On Sunday Benjamin Van Doren texted me to say that Tim Lenz had found a Townsend's Solitaire at Sampson State Park on Lake Seneca.  It was too late to run for it then, and initial reports that the bird was with (typically nomadic) waxwings didn't bode well for it sticking.  Nevertheless, the bird was seen by several birders on Sunday afternoon so, despite the long drive, I knew I'd probably try for it if it stuck.

Townsend's Solitaire (photo by Jay McGowan - used with permission)
Monday and Tuesday were "City Days" for me and I couldn't get away at all, but I was encouraged to hear that the bird was still present, albeit not always easy to see.  The bird was also observed chasing Cedar Waxwings around, a much better sign, suggesting it had established a Winter feeding territory.  So when I heard that it had been seen on Tuesday afternoon I set the alarm for 4am and got an early start on Wednesday.

At 9:35am I pulled into the site and found five other birders, including Joe Giunta and Janet Akin, who reported that the bird had apparently been seen at 7am and 8:55am.  In both cases it had stayed true to its pattern and followed a long period of feeding invisibly in the dense juniper scrub with a brief appearance on top of a leafless deciduous tree.  And so with nothing to do but wait, I started a circuit, wandering the trails and roads nearest to the favorite area and scanning trees for distant birds on the sky-line.

By 10:45am the birding group had changed with some leaving (Joe planned a quick visit to Montezuma NWR for Tundra Swans and Sandhill Cranes and had just left, planning to return) while we also had some new arrivals.  Then as I walked the road for the fifth or sixth time, I saw a promising bird sitting high in a tree some distance away and as soon as I got my bins on it yelled out that I had the bird.

Townsend's Solitaire (honestly)
The nearest birders ran over and at least three of them got a view of the bird before it took off and flew South, vanishing in the dense vegetation.  I also got a few shots - perhaps the worst Townsend's Solitaire shots published so far, but at least there was no doubt about the ID.  TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE (NYS 2012 #358) and a State Bird for me.

Given the the bird typically only showed once every two hours I decided against waiting for a repeat performance and headed on back to the City for dinner.  On the way I did get a call from Joe Giunta to say that the bird had showed again a couple of hours later and that all the birders present had great views (and better photos I'd imagine).

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