Sunday, November 27, 2016

Western Birds in South Florida

A Quick Trip to Miami-Dade County Florida

Just back from a lightening, two-day, trip to South Florida where I met Madeira bird guides and old friends Hugo Romano and Catarina Fagundes, and local birding expert Carlos Sanchez for a brief, but very birdy weekend.

I had no real targets for this trip, and with no Caribbean rarities around I was just looking for a good few days of birding and a change of scenery.  As it turns out, the highlights were mostly Western vagrants and scarce Western wintering birds.  Added six new birds to my Florida State List and had a great time.  A few photos below ....

Best bird of the trip by far was a BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD, a species I'd seen only once before in Texas.  This bird, a great bird for Florida, was unfortunately not very photogenic, staying largely inside a dense tangle of flowering shrubs, but we did get good views and enjoyed a nice hour with three species of hummingbirds (the Buff-bellied, a couple of RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS, and a lot of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds) at a small park South of Miami.

Rufous Hummingbird, immature male.
While we were at the hummingbird site we got word of a WESTERN SPINDALIS (which would have been an ABA bird for me) just re-found by Rangel Diaz, but unfortunately had to wait for Saturday morning for access to the site.  There bright an early, we joined a gaggle of locals hoping to see the bird but after three hours we had to admit defeat, drawing a consolation prize with a local WESTERN TANAGER, not a bad bird for Florida even if it wasn't the hoped for super-rarity.

Western Tanager
Another treat, which took several attempts to see but ended up surrendering, were a group of Burrowing Owls at a local airport.  We also managed to get a few other 'goodies" with two SHORT-TAILED HAWKS and a couple of BROWN-CRESTED FLYCATCHERS.

Burrowing Owls
In addition to the rarities, Florida always provides a great opportunity to see local specialties up close ...

Tri-colored Heron (above) / White Ibis (below)

Bronzed Cowbird (above) / White-crowned Pigeon (below) 

And also a rare chance to go to the beach in shorts ....

Royal Tern (above) / Lesser Black-Backed Gulls (below)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Dipping Curse Continues ....

A good weekend on Long Island and Another Dip in the West of New York

Saturday, September 24th - Long Island

Birding today with Corey Finger and Carlos Sanchez who was visiting from Florida.  Started out at Jamaica Bay, and while things started slow, it ended up being a pretty solid day.

Started late and caught up with Carlos and Corey a fair way up the East Pond.  They hadn't seen much of note and were generally belly-aching about the lack of decent birds.  There were a group of CASPIAN TERNS on the Pond (a bird I'd only added to my Queens list a few weeks before) but not much in the way of good shorebirds.

Caspian Tern
Turning around though, we started to add a few good birds on the way back South, including a couple of close STILT SANDPIPERS, and few WESTERN SANDPIPERS and then a really interesting BARID'S SANDPIPER.  This last bird was an ABA bird for Carlos (he'd seen them before only in Ecuador) so his mood was transformed.  The bird also seemed to be injured and only has one eye, making us wonder how it was going to make it down to Argentina.  Out concerns were well founded it turns out as we heard later that the bird was caught at eaten by a pair of hunting Peregrines not long after we left.

Stilt Sandpiper (above) / Western Sandpiper (below)

The unfortunate, one-eyed, Baird's Sandpiper during the last couple of
hours of it's life.
After Jamaica Bay, we hit Jones Beach then rushed out to Riverhead, hoping to catch up on all the grassland shorebirds that had been seen regularly the week or so before.  Unfortunately, they all seemed to have left the area for points South so we gave in, parted ways and Carlos and I headed out to East Hampton to join friends if mine for an amazing dinner in Sag Harbor (who doesn't like Portuguese Seafood Stew?).

Highlight of my weekend ...
Sunday, September 25th - Suffolk County

A very pleasant morning birding some of the hotspots in The Hamptons.  Late Least Terns, lots of Royal Terns, Saltmarsh Sparrow, and Clapper Rails all made for a good morning.  Bird of the day however was a migrant SORA, Suffolk County Bird number 315 for me (and day you get a County Bird in your home county is a good day!).  Then back to the City to pack Carlos off to warmer climes for the Winter.

Friday, September 30th - Cayuga / Tomkins Counties

While we were on Long Island, as inevitably happens, a good bird was found (or in this case re-found) upstate.  A BROWN BOOBY was pinned down on Cayuga Lake and, anyone who knows me knows that this species if fast becoming my New York State Bogey/Nemesis Bird.  So, with a quiet calendar, and daily sightings of the bird, I took a day off on Friday and drove 5 hours to Cayuga Lake to try to get it.  I was so confident of getting this bird - which had been sitting on a particular favorite buoy ever day - that I made plans to do some county birding on the way back, hoping to fill in some white spaces on my eBird profile.  Needless to say though, that twitches to Upstate New York are not really my fiends and, after spending the whole day scanning buoys on the lake, I dipped and had another 5 hour drive to savor my failure and shame.

p.s. the bird was of course seen the next day at a new location further down the lake and has been seen sporadically since.  Of course ....

Friday, September 9, 2016

Last Gasp for Shorebirds and a Hurricane Of Sorts

A Big Weekend Year-Birding Blitz on Long Island

Well after a spectacular pelagic trip, and three State Birds (plus 8 year birds) I turned my attention back to New York State year birding.  I'd set a goal this year of 300 species in the state (after the pelagic I was at 290) and staying in the Top 10 of the "Hot 100" top eBirders for the state this year (before the Pelagic, I'd dropped to 10th.  Two things quickly sunk in:

1. It's going to take a lot more than 300 species to stay in the Top 10 this year, lots of people seem to be birding hard so I'm guessing 310 or 315 will be required.
2.  I'd almost completely missed shorebird season (and most of tern season) so had missed a dozen relatively easy birds to add to my list.

Friday, September 2 - Jamaica Bay

So how to salvage some birds.  Step one, off to Jamaica Bay on Friday morning for a mid-morning tide and hopefully some catch-up shorebirds.

Heading into the East Pond (with my super cool French knee-high mud-boots and lots of sun-block and bug spray liberally applied - I felt very prepared) it was quickly obvious that it wasn't going to be an amazing shorebird day.  There were lots of Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, quite a few Short-billed Dowitchers, and a scattering of Oystercatchers, both Yellowlegs and a few Semipalmated Plovers ... but not much of the good stuff.

Short-billed Dowitcher and Lesser Yellowlegs

But patience is a virtue, so over the next three hours I slowly worked North along the East side of the East Pond and scoped every single shorebird I could find.  And that kind of thorough scope work, does produce, adding a single WESTERN SANDPIPER (291), two WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS (292), a PECTORAL SANDPIPER (293) and a solitary juvenile STILT SANDPIPER (294).  I was hoping to come up with a Baird's Sandpiper too but one one eluded me, still four year birds was worth the long walk in the mud.

White-Rumped Sandpiper - not the spiffiest shorebird
Apart for the shorebirds, there was the usually selection of gulls, ducks, etc.  plus a very aggressive Peregrine Falcon that delighted in torturing the shorebirds at regular intervals.  Birds of the day though were probably two CASPIAN TERNS which were my first ever at Jamaica Bay and my first for Queens County (#235).  Always good to add a county bird.

So six more species to go ....

Saturday, September 3 - Riverhead "Sod Farms" Suffolk County

With the dogs in the car, and plans in East Hampton, the idea of birding on the way out East on Saturday was a bit impractical, but having made good time on the drive out, I figured I could grab a half hour to see if I could get some of the recently reported "grasspipers".  For this to work though, it had to be a 'surgical strike' so I ran up Doctor's Path and crossed Sound Avenue, as much hoping for birders with scopes as actual birds (I really didn't have time to do thorough scans).

Today my luck was in, I bumped into a group of birders who'd found a flock of birds including many Killdeer, Semipalmated Plovers, a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER (295) and two BAIRD'S SANDPIPERS (296).  This group also had heard rumors of plovers over near Osborne Avenue so, not three minutes after jumping out to scope their birds, I was on my way again looking for my third target.  As it happens, I didn't quite make it to Osborne Avenue, as just before I got there, I passed a field full of 50+ AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS (297) ... and I was on my way again in under 25 minutes.  Efficient listing ....

American Golden-Plovers just hanging out next to the road
Now, I was on a roll so, after I dropped the dogs off at the house, I decided to see if I could find a lingering Roseate Tern at the Fish Traps (a spot where terns hang out) at Sammy's Beach near the house.  There was in fact a ROSEATE TERN (298) there along with 50 Common Terns and a surprise of two ROYAL TERNS (299) a bird I've never seen at Sammy's Beach before.  And at 299 I obviously wanted to end the day at 300 species to checked a few more local spots before setting up for a nighthawk vigil (someone I've done many nights so far this year without luck) and was rewarded this time with a COMMON NIGHTHAWK (300) at dusk.  Perfect birding day.

Monday, September 5 - Amagansett Beach, Suffolk County

The weekend forecast has been wind and rain, but Hurricane Hermine was staying well offshore and not really producing the kind of weather that leads one to expect storm-driven seabirds.  Still, it's always worth sea-watching so I slogged down to Amagansett on Monday morning and put in a three hour sea-watch over messy, swirling surf in decent, but hardly storm-force, winds.

It was obvious pretty quickly thought that something was up.  Being the swirl of gulls offshore there were tubenoses moving, but most were too distant and to too briefly seen to identify to species.  Over the course of the watch though I did pick up a couple of Cory's Shearwaters, 2 Sooty Shearwaters (301) and a single Manx Shearwater (302) plus some gannets, and a Parasitic Jaeger (303).  All good sea-watch birds Out East, but soon quickly eclipsed by a bird that I immediately 'felt' was a pterodroma based of flight style.  The bird arched and power glided effortlessly across the waves, making the shearwaters look sloppy and sluggish by comparison - brown uppers, dark heard, and a big white rump could mean only one of two things and as the other one was too super-rare to really consider seriously, I went with BLACK-CAPPED PETREL (303), a very, very good bird from land in New York.

Turns out that others were having a good day too, and others also had shearwaters and Black-capped Petrels.  Ironically, the weather didn't really suggest a great sea-watch day, and birders closer to the city struck out.  Right time, right place I guess ... until I heard about the booby!

Turns out that Nadir Souirgi, who was just a few miles to the West of me, had an adult BROWN BOOBY pass him, heading East.  That would have been a state bird for me, and a very much wanted one ... but alas I never did pick it up and missed out on what was probably the best bird of the day.  Can't win them all I guess ....

Thursday, September 1, 2016

To the Gulf Stream and Beyond!

A Successful Pelagic Trip out of Brooklyn.

My track record with New York State Pelagic Trips has been mixed, at best.  One of the reasons I have such a terrible State List is all the pelagic birds I've been missing over the past few years, largely for lack of actually getting out on the water.  While I did go on a few trips back in the 90's, they were frankly terrible - trolling endlessly through a brain-numbing birdless dead-zone - but over the past few years things seem to be getting better out there, and so this year I figured I'd give it another shot.

To be honest, I'm not sure that the birds are getting better, rather I think the birders are getting a lot more knowledgable about when and where to go look for seabirds.  Paul Guris of Paulagics (really the only people doing group trips in the mid-Atlantic) in particular has been refining the New York pelagic trips that he offers and seems to be hitting more productive spots at more productive times.  The results have been impressive with several species, not really on offer years ago, now seemingly real possibilities on a group trip.   So this year I decided to give it a go.  I booked on the Winer Pelagic trip, which was cancelled due to weather, leaving me still needing Atlantic Puffin and Northern Fulmar for the State List.  So I tried the June trip, hoping for South Polar Skua, but that was also cancelled due to weather.   Then I rolled over my booking to the August trip ... and this one actually went out!

5am on Monday morning, and instead of crawling out of bed to go to the gym, a sharp poke in the leg from Nathan Goldberg (who'd spent the night sleeping on the metal floor under my comparatively luxurious plastic bench) woke me from a couple of hours of crappy sleep on a fishing boat 125 miles out in the Atlantic.  Time to go!  Hoping for petrels in the chum at dawn and, as the light slowly came up, we started a great morning of pelagic birding off the Hudson Canyon, in a 80-degree eddy of 'Blue Water' - perfect conditions for some gulf-stream specialties, and state birds for me.

I look thoughtful, but I'm actually half asleep and wondering why I'm
 out here (Photo: Sean Sime)
Pre-dawn there ween't any birds to be seen while the crew busily chopped chum and started to lay a slick.  I did see a couple of squid come to the boat lights and some off gelatinous critters, some I thing were shell-less pelagic snails, one I had no idea but didn't really want to get much closer to.  Once the light started to come up though, revealing a flat sea with beautiful blue water and scattered sargassum weed, things started to get interesting.

Fist birds of the day were a couple of Leach's Storm-Petrels (283) bouncing around in the dawn light like crazy ocean nighthawks.  They were closely followed by some Audubon's Shearwaters (284), Cory's Shearwater (285), and a couple of Great Shearwaters (286).  Not a bad start to the day!
Next up came some BAND-RUMPED STORM-PETRELS (287) a NYS State bird (#388) for me and a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels (288).  And then a presumed Great Shearwater seemed odd and invited  a second look ... BLACK-CAPPED PETREL! (289) and another NYS State Bird (#389).  With the Band-rumps and more Black-caps, you could have been forgiven for thinking we were in North Carolina not New York, but I didn't really care because I'd just racked up 7 year birds and 2 State birds in a couple of hours.  Good times .....

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel and Black-capped Petrel
Both State Birds for me.

While the birding was pretty awesome, we also had some visits from groups of dolphins (I don't care how experienced a birder you are, dolphins in the bow wake makes a giggling kid out of even the most jaundiced old hand).  First up a couple of groups of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, then a big pod of smallish dolphins that didn't easily fit an ID.  At first I thought they were going to be Short-beaked Common-Dolphins, then maybe one of the more pelagic species, but when we got closer we realized that these were STRIPED DOLPHINS ... a life mammal for me (and I'm guessing for most others on the boat as they were only the second sighting ever for Paul Guris!)

Striped Dolphin ... a life mammal!
With everything going so well, the next episode was a bit of a turn around that soured the mood of most of the participants on the boat, at least for a while.  A few of us got glimpse of a small gray petrel low to the water, and Tim Lenz, looking at photos of an Audubon's Shearwater, noticed another bird photobombing his shot ... a WHITE-FACED STORM-PETREL.  There was lots of chatter and everyone was rushing to the other end of the boat, so I assumed that people were on the bird, but apparently not, and long story short ... only 3 or 4 people got views of the bird, and 50+ people were very unhappy.  Awkward ....

White-faced Storm-Petrel was a major target for the day, seen in New York only a handful of times ever (and indeed almost never seen in the Western North Atlantic away from a single Massachusetts pelagic trip that has been 'the place' to see this species historically).  Recently, there had been a few sightings in New York waters, and this trip was largely designed to have a chance at this rare (ABA Code 4) species.  The fact that some had seen one, and in the confusion not called it out, made some people very unhappy and much grumbling ensued.  Things soon blew over though and everyone got back to looking for seabirds.

So having been guilty of not shouting out (what was at best a 'maybe' sighting of) the bird, I set myself to make amends and scanned intensely for another one.  About an hour later I saw a small gray bird heading towards the boat, got bins on it, then proceeded to yell like a mad man ....

"White-faced Storm!  Twelve O'Clock ...
White-faced Storm!  One O'Clock ...
White-faced Storm!"

And people sort of got the point (it's hard to ignore a large Welshman bellowing at the top of his lungs), and the captain was able to keep us close to the bird for a good ten minutes so everyone got amazing looks at what I'm sure was a lifer for many (followed by a second bonus bird for good measure).   WHITE-FACED STORM-PETREL (290) and NYS State Bird (#390).

Two different White-faced Storm-Petrels.

So what do you do to top three White-faced Storm-Petrels?  Well apart from an Albatross, there really isn't much you can do, and besides with a seven hour run back to the dock ahead of us, it was time to head to shore.
Short-finned Pilot-Whales (guessing short-finned based on water temp)
So back to Brooklyn we went, and I took the opportunity to get a long nap after a largely sleepless night.  From time to time I'd wake to a scramble where someone outside had called a bird out (causing nappers from the cabin to run outside, usually too late to see anything) but the ride in was not terribly eventful bird-wise.  There were however lots of other critters, most notably over 300 SHORT-FINNED PILOT-WHALES in scattered groups, but all basically lounging that surface.  Then there were some other 'non-avian' highlights ... a large Hammerhead Shark sp., a Loggerhead Sea-Turtle, a breaching ray, a breaching Basking Shark, flying fish, etc.  So much life out on the ocean ...

Great Shearwater.
And so all too soon the adventure was over.  But everyone was thrilled with the day, and I can't wait to get out there again.  New York is redeemed in my mind, no longer pelagic bird-dessert, this had been a really high quality pelagic trip.

Special thanks to Paul and Anita Guris for organizing, and for the various spotters for helping get people on birds.  Now if only I can actually get some calm weather to finally get the damned Atlantic Puffins on the New York State List !

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Back to New York

From 3-Michelin-Star Restaurants in Paris to the Muck of Jamaica Bay

Saturday, June 25 - Jamaica Bay

Flew back from Paris this week and started getting back into New York mode.  I hadn't missed a lot of birds but there were a few year birds on offer down at Jamaica Bay.  Decided to do a leisurely morning visit and wandered down to the preserve by about 8:45am.  The main target was a White-faced Ibis, a bird that had been found two weeks ago and seen on and off since then, but not for a few days.

Settling in at a nice shady patch in the phragmites at the South end of the East Pond I decided to just wait it out and see what came along.  There were a few Ibis around but all seemed to be Glossy Ibis.  I could tell though that there was turnover, with a Ibis or two leaving every 10 minutes or so, and a few new ones dropping in for a freshwater drink after feeding in the salt marsh.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
There were a couple of other year birds I was hoping for too, and they actually popped up pretty quickly,  A trio of Black Skimmers (280) swept past not long after I arrived, and some diligent scanning produced a single Gull-billed Tern (281).

Black Skimmer and Gull-billed Tern seen later from the "Raunt"
I was here fro Ibis though so every 5 minutes or so, I scanned the little group of Ibis on the far bank to see if the target bird had dropped in.  There were never more than 6-8 Ibis present, but while I was there perhaps 25-30 individual birds made brief appearances before heading off to feed again in Jamaica Bay.  After about 45 minutes, and scan 9 or 10, a White-faced Ibis (282) magically appeared in the little group.  Very nice ...

Crappy record shot - digiscoped at 70x on the scope (and extra zoom from the iPhone)
And so on to Big John's Pond, which had an intriguing bird I was curious to see (or more realistically hear).  The Blind (hide) at the pond was predictably full of photographers taking thousands of shots of the resident breeding Barn Owls, but I birded the area for a bit listening for quite a different species.

Barn Owls in Boxes ... pretty much how I see all my Barn Owls these days ...
The U.S. has good turtles ... Eastern Painted Turtle ....
The 'Other' Night-Heron .... Black-crowned ....
Standing quietly on the trail I could hear at last two Willow Flycatchers ("Fitz-Bew") and then, after drifting South a bit, I heard a distinct Acadian Flycatcher ("Pee-Zah").  A new bird for Queens County New York for me (Number 233).  It had been previously reported, an odd location for the species, but not entirely unsuitable habitat.  Good bird.

So after checking the West Pond, and toying briefly with the idea of going back to the East Pond, I headed back to the City.  When I got out of my car, I checked emails and saw that Ken and Suzy Feustel had just reported a Ruff from the East Pond.  Hmmmm ... I'd had such a good morning, seen all my target birds, I guess I should have expected a karmic rebound like this.  Still, there's always tomorrow .....

Sunday, June 26 - Jamaica Bay

Got to the East Pond at around 7:30am, and on the way got updates that Corey Finger had already seen the Ruff (yay!) but that he couldn't relocate it a little later (Boo!).  Spent the next four hours with many other birders carefully scanning the East Pond but alas, at least as of when I had to leave, no Ruff.

"So are you doing a big year?" someone asked while I was there.  "Never again" I replied.  It does seem that some have speculated through.  So let me give some context ....

By the end of June in 2012 my New York State year list was 322 Species.  Ironically, Ruff was that 322nd species, seen at Montezuma NWR on June 25th.  That's 40 species ahead of where I am this year.   Even if I did want to do a big state year, which I don't, I'm way behind the pace and have missed way too many rare, and not so rate birds already.  You can't just bird hard (which I am) in New York and build a big year total, Big Years are a completely different game requiring lots of chasing and few misses.

I do have a New York State goal for this year though, which was to see 300+ species and stay in the Top 10 of the NYS "Hot 100" on eBird.  Just something to motivate me, and so far I seem to be on track ... but another New York Big Year?  Hell no!

Just setting the record straight ....

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Second Chances

Another attempt at the Garganey in Western New York

Well after promising that I wasn't going to do another drive to Western New York after two 10-hour round trip dips (!) of course the Garganey at Montezuma stuck around and was seen Tuesday, Wednesday, but not on Thursday.  I'd been chatting with Corey Finger who wanted to go try for the bird on Saturday and finally, and against my better judgement, agreed that if the bird was seen on Friday, we would do the drive again on Saturday in hopes of un-dipping this bird.

Sure enough, the bird was seen in Friday, and after reassuring Corey that there was no rush to leave early as the bird was only ever seen in the afternoons we left Manhattan at 6am Saturday morning and pushed across New Jersey, Pennsylvania and up into Western New York, again.  All the way, I kept telling myself that, if I didn't see this bird, I was never chasing a bird in Western New York ever again, but at around 8:30am we got word that the bird was being seen.  Sounded promising.

By the time we got to Montezuma NWR at around 11:15am though, the people who'd seen the bird earlier had all left, and the bird was no-where to be seen!  Not again!

Nothing to do but try though, so we set up to scope and spent the next three hours carefully scanning the area where the bird had been seen earlier that morning.  Slowly the number of birders built up as more people joined the vigil, so that by 2:30pm there were maybe 25 or so birders spread out along the road.  The bird however refused to show, and losing heart, Corey and others decided to make a side trip to look for the local Prothonotary Warblers while I opted to stay and keep scanning.

Just as the Warbler crew started to drive away, I got a glimpse of pink and white, a tiny, but promising hint of the right colors, hidden behind some cattails at great distance at the other side of a body of open water.  With the car leaving, I opted to shout out, and folks quickly gathered, only for a Wood Duck to emerge from behind the cattails.  Duh!  How could I possibly have done that?  I shouted "Never Mind, My Bad" and people dispersed and got back into the car .... and then the GARGANEY (279) emerged from cover just behind the Wood Duck!

I think this is what they call a "record shot" but it is a Garganey
Photo: Corey Finger, used with permission.
What followed was a mad scramble and I juggled getting taller people looks through my scope, and running to other people, who were not on the bird, and focussing their scopes on the spot.  Shai Mitra took charge of giving directions, but the bird was distant, partially hidden in the cattails and drifted in and out of view.  After a manic five minutes though we were able to get everyone on the bird which slowly drifted out into the open, giving the whole crew distant but clear scope views.  Talk about an adrenaline rush ...

So that felt good!  And even if the drive back to Manhattan was very, very long, we were both still happy that we came for the bird.  I'm sure there'll be debates about the provenance of this bird (like any rare duck) but date and location seem good and video I've seen of the bird doesn't seem to show bands (rings) or any odd plumage wear, etc.  Not sure you can ever be 100% sure with any bird that is kept in collections, but for me I decided to add this bird to my ABA and New York State lists unless someone coms up with a good reason not to.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

June Birding on (and off) Long Island

A few random birding thoughts from the early Summer

I don't really do a lot of birding in the Summer.  Instead of standing in mud looking at shorebirds and being bitten by nasty bloodthirsty flies, I tend to prefer floating around in my pool drinking Caipirinhas.   Can you blame me?  Plus June tends to be a bit of a travel month, with inevitable trips to Europe (London, Copenhagen and Paris planned this year) so I tend to miss a lot of stuff in June.

Saturday, June 4 - Long Island

A state bird was on offer!  A Black-necked Stilt, a bird I needed for my New York State list, was found on Thursday at Shirley Marina Park in Suffolk County.  Would it stick until Saturday?  Yes, it did, and I rushed out to see it on Saturday morning.

Arriving at the "Marina" (which is really just a parking lot and a boat ramp), I drove around trying to get a view of the ponds to the East of the lot where the bird had been reported.  No luck there, so I parked and tried to walk back to a sand dike that might offer a view, only to find a bunch of birders on top of it, no way up, and directions to walk back all the way to the other end of the lot and come around by a different path.  But at least the bird was still there and Gail Benson was kind enough to let me have a look at it in her scope ... Black-necked Stilt (269) and New York State Bird number 386!

After hanging around at that spot, enjoying some Seaside Sparrows, Little Blue Herons, Purple Martins and other coastal birds (plus catching up with Tom Burke, Garry Chapin and other birders who had come for the Stilt).  I headed over to EPCAL in Calverton in the hope of catching up with a Blue Grosbeak for the year.

Blue Grosbeak is one of three species (along with Yellow-throated Warbler and Summer Tanager) that I think of as "Southern" birds that Climate Change has brought to Long Island.  When I first came to New York in the early 90s, these were species I saw only in Southern New Jersey, but now all three breed in small (but presumably expanding) numbers on Long Island.  I had good directions to a pair at the airstrip (an old jet-fighter manufacturing plant) at EPCAL and so pulled up, walked along the trail, passed a close and incredibly photogenic Grasshopper Sparrow (always bring your camera!) and got close-up views of a beautiful singing male Blue Grosbeak (270).  Nice.

Back to the road where I passed a couple of Long Island birders I recognized.  They had just tried for the grosbeak and not seen it (oops), and had been looking for a Summer Tanager that Shai Mitra (probably the most prolific and diligent Long Island birder) had seen a week or so ago, but again had drawn a blank.  So I gave them fresh directions to the grosbeak, and wished them good luck, then crossed the road and started hearing a singing male Summer Tanager!  That bird at least stuck around, and I saw it, a female, and perhaps a third (immature male?) bird, and was able to get several other birders good looks at the male.  I guess I just had good karma today.

So, with no real plan, I drifted back towards the City and sat in traffic a lot as I got closer in.  On a whim I decided to go to Jamaica Bay to look for Clapper Rail and Tricolored Heron for the year list, but as I was crawling along the Belt Parkway, quite close to the exit for the preserve, I picked up an email from Karen Fung noting a "phalarope" (later identified as a Red-necked Phalarope) at the East Pond in Jamaica Bay ... perfect timing!  Not 20 minutes later, I emerged from the reeds at the South end of the pond and joined Andrew Baksh and Adrian Burke (later joined by Corey Finger, Tristan Lowery, and other Albany birders) for good looks at a close, male Red-necked Phalarope (271) (always bring your camera!).

Then to the West Pond, where I did add the planned Tricolored Heron (272) and Clapper Rail (273) before fighting traffic back to the City.  Nice day (although when I got home I found out that I'd driven right past a singing Prothonotary Warbler ... oops).

Snapping Turtle laying eggs at Connetquot River SP

Sunday, June 5 - Connetquot River SP

Well if Saturday was charmed, Sunday was cursed.  I was supposed to be going on an offshore, overnight, pelagic trip on Sunday night with dreams of South Polar Skua and Yellow-nosed Albatross (hey, it could happen), so I didn't want to do too much birding on Sunday, figuring I'd need a nap before an overnight run out to the Hudson Canyon a hundred miles offshore.  On Saturday though, Ken and Suzy Feustel had found a Prothonotary Warbler and a Least Bittern at Connetquot State Park (the two species I said I'm missed for the Spring in the last post, and both potential Suffolk County birds for me) so I figured I'd run out there quickly, mop up those two species, then head back to the City for a pre-pelagic nap.  Great plan, right?  But things did not go as planned.

For a start, we could find neither of the target birds, and even though we thought we heard the Prothonotary at one point, it turned out to be a vocally talented Common Yellowthroat instead.  Then while we were there, we got word that Jay McGowan had found New York State's first ever Garganey, a mere 6.5 hour drive away at Montezuma NWR (so not enough time to get there and back in time for the pelagic).  And then the pelagic was cancelled due to weather .... ho hum.  Oh, and there were an awful lot of ticks, and terrible traffic back to the City.  Good days and bad days balance out I guess .... I went home and had a cocktail.

Black Terns are common breeders in Upstate New York
Monday, June 6th - Montezuma NWR

Well from cursed to heartbreaking.  I just could not resist chasing the Garganey and so got up at 4am and drove five hours to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (New York is a very large state).  When I arrived at around 9:30am, I met a whole gaggle of New York birders but no-one had seen the bird.  So we scanned, and we scanned, but drew a blank.  Even after taking a break to get some local year birds - Trumpeter Swan (274), Blue-winged Teal (275), Black Tern (276), Prothonotary Warbler (277) which improbably breeds up that far North, and Sandhill Crane (278), I kept coming back to scan the area where the Garganey had been seen.

Prothonotary Warbler (habitat), there's one singing in there, trust me ....
A straggling Snow Goose at Montezuma
But it simply wasn't going to happen that day and, despite hours of scanning, I came up empty and had to leave at 3pm to make the five hour drive back to the City for a dinner appointment.

The drive back was long, and I got pulled over by a local cop again (and again got let off with a warning - thank you polite cops of upstate New York).  So after four hours of driving, when finally stuck in traffic and feeling safe to check my emails .... I learned that the Garganey had just showed up again .... I decided to give up and find another hobby.

A bit of a cursed weekend.  I guess that's birding .... maybe fly-fishing would be a better hobby ...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

After the Wave - Filling Out the List

Peak Migration around New York City - Week 3

Tuesday, May 10 - Central Park

Sunday did in fact turn out to be the 'day of the year' in Central Park (and many other City Parks) with over 120 species of bird, and 28 species of Warbler reported in Manhattan's "Green Lung".   Monday was also very good, with many of the same birds remaining, but unfortunately I had to work that day.

Tuesday morning was beautiful, perfect weather setting off the amazing fresh green leaves of late Spring.  There were quite a lot of birds around too and I saw about 50 species, including 14 species of warbler in an hour-and-a-half on the way to the office.  I also added two year birds, ironically within seconds of each other, with a Solitary Sandpiper (242) flying by Bow Bridge and a Blackpoll Warbler (243) in a  tree overhead.  I also looked hard for the Summer Tanager, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Black-billed Cuckoo that I'd missed over the weekend but no luck there.  Plus I realized that I was still missing Orchard Oriole for the year ... fast becoming my Spring nemesis bird this year.
Not the ugliest place in the world to bird ....
Thursday, May 12 - Central Park

Another gloriously beautiful day and a few more birds.  Bumped into a lot of birders in the Park that morning (including old friend and global conservation hero Nigel Collar of Birdlife International) and all agreed that it was really quiet.  I felt it was really quiet too, but at the end of the brief morning walk-through I'd seen 16 species of warbler, although mostly just 'onesies and twosies' with no particularly rare species.  Best bird of the day came as I walked into the Park and heard a distinct "Where -We" call from dense cover near the Upper Lobe.  No question what it was but I wanted to at least lay eyes on this Empidonax flycatcher for additional confirmation, and managed to get a brief look at this Alder Flycatcher (244) before losing the bird as it moved North.

Not long thereafter I saw a tweet about a Bobolink near the Delactorte Theater.  I was close so wandered over, heard the bird, and joined a small group of birders nearby who I assumed were watching it.
"Sorry, it flew North" they said.
"Nope ... it's right here, figured you were watching it" I replied.  And we all quickly repositioned and at least hear the Bobolink (245), the R2D2 of birds, singing high in a tree for a while.  Good morning.

But still no Orchard Oriole ....

Saturday, May 14 - Rockland / Orange Counties

Time for a break from Central Park so I picked up Michael Duffy at 6:30am and headed North to Doodletown Road in Rockland County.  There we met up with Tom Socci and spent a couple of hours working one of my very favorite birding spots in New York.

Doodletown is an old settlement that has since been abandoned and left to the woods to reclaim.  The remains of the roads are still there though, affording relatively easy, and tick-free (important in New York) trails into great habitat.  It's famous for it's warblers but all sorts of good mid-atlantic species breed here, and of course there were lots of birders there today too.

The habitat at Doodletown Road and a Cerulean Warbler at the top of a tree 

We started climbing the trail as soon as we got there and struggled to penetrate the wall of bird song that overwhelmed us.  Soon enough though we heard the distinctive buzzy song of Cerulean Warbler (246) and blocked out the rest of the chatter to focus on these star birds.  While we were watching then we also got a glimpse of the nemesis Orchard Oriole (247) but I was so focused on trying (and failing) to get decent Cerulean shots that I pretty much ignored it.  Further up the trail we had plenty of cuckoos, with at least five Yellow-billed Cuckoos and a single Black-billed Cuckoo (248).  I also heard an Acadian Flycatcher (249) but, with over 20 species of warbler in the bag, we then mostly focussed on getting Doodeltown's most desired warbler species.   We had good intel and headed to the spot where it had been heard singing the week before.  As we got closer, returning birders confirmed we were on the right trail and then, just before we got to the site, we heard a Kentucky Warbler (250) singing.  A few tense minutes of listening later, the bird broke cover and, quite uncharacteristically for this usually skulking species, sang loudly from trees right over our heads for five minutes.  Great bird.

Kentucky Warbler - Photo: Tom Socci (used with permission)
After a quick, and unsuccessful, look for Timber Rattlesnakes - we'd bumped into superb all-round naturalist Rick Cech who gave us directions, but no luck - we decided to rush over to Sterling State Forest in Orange County while the birds were still singing.

Scarlet Tanager
Sterling is another great spot, although I always have mixed emotions when I come here.  It's the last stronghold of Golden-winged Warblers in Southern New York but they are slowly being replaced/overwhelmed by Blue-winged Warblers and no-one is sure how much longer they can hold out.  Sure enough, it didn't take us long to find a pair of Golden-winged Warblers (251) and got to watch the familiar pattern of the male Golden-winged trying to keep a male Blue-winged sway from his female.  Make Golden-winged Warblers spend a large chunk of their day doing this and it has to impact breeding success.  Every year there are more hybrids and few Golden-winged Warblers in New York.  It's quite sad to watch in real time.

Prairie Warbler
Two different Golden-winged Warblers 

Indigo Bunting ... always a crowd-pleaser
At Sterling we also had an unexpected bonus bird.  A Broad-winged Hawk (252) flew low over the woods and must have crossed close to a Barred Owl (253) nest, unleashing a storm of complaints from the owls.  Always good to get an owl in the day ...

Sunday, May 15 - Nassau and Queens Counties

I made a tactical mistake today and headed to the coast rather than going to Central Park.  Of course, all day the Manhattan Twitter Bird Alert buzzed with sitings of rare birds and now potentially missed year birds for me.  Bay-breasted Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, and even a Common Nighthawk.  Oh well, can't get them all ...

I did have a great few hours at Jones Beach though, added a few year birds and got to see a nice smattering of migrants on what turned out to be a cold and windy day.  That at least kept Jones Beach's infamous mosquitoes at bay so the birding was chilly, but pleasant.

On the year bird front I quickly added Least Tern (254), Common Tern (255), Semipalmated Sandpiper (256), Semipalmated Plover (257) and a couple of fly-over Short-billed Dowitchers (258) at the Coast Guard Station.  Then I put the scope away and wandered off into the Median area in search of migrants.  There were actually quite a few to be had too, with Magnolia Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, American Redstarts, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and a late Blue-headed Vireo all scattered through the pines.  Along the medians were yet more warblers, one group containing two Yellow Warblers, a Magnolia, a Prairie and a spiffy female Blackburnian.  Other goodies included a female Bobolink, a White-crowned Sparrow, and a Chuck-will's Widow (clearly the bird of the day for most).
Blue-headed Vireo (above), and Blackburnian Warbler

I also got a crash course in flycatcher ID when I spotted an Empidonax flycatcher, clearly a Traill's but looking all contrasty and big-eye-ringed to me (both good signs to Alder Flycatcher).  Looking back at the photos though, the bird seems to be less distinct, and given the habitat and location, seems more likely a Willow Flycatcher (259).

Willow Flycatcher ... probably ...
Next stop Jamaica Bay where visions of Tricolored Herons, Clapper Rails, Black Skimmers, were all to be quickly disappointed as the West Pond turned out to be almost birdless.  I did add some Least Sandpipers (260) and spent a lot of time looking for a previously reported roosting Common Nighthawk but alas, it wasn't to be, and getting chilled I decided to call it a day and head back to Manhattan.  I should probably have gone to Central Park instead, but hopefully some of those goodies will stick around into next week.


I stopped blogging the Spring, but I did add a few more year birds in Central Park before migration was over (although I did not take my camera) :

Monday, May 16 - Central Park

Gray-cheeked Thrush (261), plus one that I was worried that I was going to miss - Bay-breasted Warbler (262)

Wednesday, May 18 - Central Park

Tennessee Warbler (263), and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (264) and a Summer Tanager (265) that appeared at exactly the same place and the same time.

Thursday, May 26 - Central Park

One last gasp for Mourning Warbler (266), plus lots of Eastern Wood-Pewee (267), and a clutch save on Olive-sided Flycatcher (268)

So overall I did pretty well.  35 species of warbler including two rarities (Swainson's and Hermit) and missed only one .... the striking, crowd-pleasing Prothonotary Warbler which just didn't show up in Central Park this Spring.  As for other Spring migrants, I missed Blue Grosbeak (which I could get as a breeder on Long Island) and a few random, not really expected, goodies (like a Least Bittern that showed up in Brooklyn).  But overall, I pretty much mopped up.  On to Summer ....