Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sometimes You Get Second Chances .... Cassin's Kingbird in Brooklyn

A blunder then redemption ....

Got a late start today but when I finally got moving I decided to get off Manhattan and do some Brooklyn birding.  I headed over to Floyd Bennet Field (a disused WWII air base, now mostly wild space) not with any particular goal in mind but there had been a Cassin's Kingbird seen briefly at that spot last week and it seemed as good a place as any to look for late Fall migrants.  The Kingbird was a well documented single observer bird and only the second ever seen in New York State.  Many birders had searched extensively the next day and failed to relocate it, and with no sightings all week it was a pretty safe bet that the bird was long gone.  Rarities aside though, I had a good feeling about Floyd Bennet and figured I might find something interesting lurking in the grass and scrub around the disused runways and hangers.

Today started out well with a quick check through the Horned Lark flock on the Cricket Field actually producing a Lapland Longspur.  I always look for them here, but I never find them, so my luck was clearly in today.

Bad photo of a Lapland Longspur with Horned Larks but it's the only one
I got before the birds flushed (they came back but I didn't want to bug
them too much)
There were plenty of other birds to see too - some Red Fox Sparrows mixed with Field Sparrows, a flock of Eastern Bluebirds, lots of Myrtle Warblers and a good mix of raptors.  I got into 'the zone' and started having a really fun time working through the grasses and scrub just counting sparrows.  As I worked the area behind the communal gardens though, I saw a bird that stopped me in my tracks.  I got just the quickest glimpse of the bird flying away from me, but the subliminal impression it left was a "Western-type" Kingbird.  I saw only the back but the wing and tail shape fit really well - I turned around and spent the next 30 minutes trying to get another look at the bird.

Now while I was busy looking for the bird, my brain was working overtime.  Was it a Kingbird?  Was it the Cassin's Kingbird?  That seemed really unlikely given that it had been searched for unsuccessfully all week - so perhaps my mind was playing tricks on me.  Wishful thinking?  I was practically muttering to myself after a half and hour and had pretty much convinced myself that I'd hallucinated.   Fearing for my mental health I decided to take a break and drove out of the park to get some lunch.  Not 20 minutes later the phone rang.  Andrew Baksh was on the line.  "Are you still at Floyd Bennet?  The Cassin's Kingbird is still here.  It's in the area behind the communal gardens".  Perhaps I should consider another hobby ....

So humble pie for lunch and back to the gardens to look for the bird again, this time with lots of company as 30 or 40 birders had quickly joined the hunt.  When I got back the news wasn't good.  The bird had flown off to the East, survived an attempted attack by a Sharp-shinned Hawk, and vanished behind some pines lost to sight for 20 minutes or so by the time I got there.  With so many people looking though it was only a matter of time before it was re-found and sure enough it popped up a half hour later right back where I'd seen it in the morning.

Cassin's Kingbird (2 shots)

This bird was a second state record for New York State and a State Bird for me (I'd been close to the first record in Montauk - I was on a fishing boat just off-shore when it was found, but by the time I got back to land the bird had vanished).  My second State Bird in two weeks ....

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