Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rusty Blackbirds and Thick-billed Murres

Mopping up some year birds and county birds on Long Island

So the plan today revolved around two target birds - Rusty Blackbird, which I needed for the year and for my Suffolk County Life List, and Barrow's Goldeneye, which would only have been a year bird, but I like them a lot, probably my favorite duck in the world.

First stop was Fuch's Pond in NorthWestern Suffolk County, one of a number of potential Rusty Blackbird spots I'd planned out from eBird.  This is a species that really isn't doing well in the US, with populations having crashed over the last twenty years.  On Long Island it's gone from being a regular wintering bird in numbers to being decidedly scarce during the time I've lived here.  When I first moved to New York I'm guessing that hundreds wintered on Long Island, but today the number of wintering birds might be a dozen or so, and given their wandering nature they've become decidedly hard to see.  My plan today was to devote the whole morning to the species though, and hit all the spots where they had been seen this Winter.

By 8:00am, I pulled into Fuch's Pond, having already had a year bird when a Killdeer flew over the car on the way in.  Rusty Blackbirds had been seen here regularly over the past couple of week so I was pretty optimistic about bumping into one (although I had three other possible sites lined up just in case).  Indeed, as I walked the trails at the preserve and could swear I was hearing a blackbird but couldn't see one, but as I came back to the parking lot, there it was, a Rusty Blackbird perched on top of a tree doing it's weird gurgling call - Suffolk County Bird #309!

Luck was clearly on my side this morning so I hit some other local spots and quickly added a couple more year birds with Purple Finch and Winter Wren joining the list.  So by 9:30am, I'd run out of things to do locally, and knowing that I had to wait for the low tide in the late afternoon for the Barrow's, I suddenly had time to burn.  Checking the Listserve, the answer was obvious ... time for a quick trip to Montauk.

During the week someone had found a Thick-billed Murre at Montauk (same place I had one last Winter).  While it was just a year bird, any Murre is a good bird in New York and I was surprised that this one had lasted so long.  Generally speaking, a Murre that comes into a harbor is not a healthy Murre and so by now I thought this bird would be making its way through the digestive system of a Great Back-backed Gull.  So when I saw that it had been reported alive and well in the morning, I though I may as well go and see it.

Bonaparte's Gull (2 shots)

By 12:30pm I arrived at Montauk Inlet and started to scan ... and nope, no Murre.  Remembering where last year's bird had spent it's time, I repositioned to Star Island and joined some other birders in scanning for the bird, but still no Murre.  Then, as luck would have it, some birders who I'd never seen there before showed up and said they'd just had the Murre on the East Jetty of  Montauk Inlet.  So everyone back in the cars, quick run around Lake Montauk and scopes out at the East Jetty.  Couple of Snow Buntings, nice ... five Great Cormorants, nice ... Thick-billed Murre!

Thick-billed Murre - not yet Gull food ...
Turns out we seemed to be a having a mini Thick-billed Murre invasion this week with several other birds reported on the East End and even one found that day in Brooklyn.

So mission accomplished and back to the original plan, an almost certain Barrow's Goldeneye at Sand's Point in Nassau County.  Well let's just say that lucky streaks don't last forever and there's no such thing as a certain thing in birding.   After an hour and half of scope work, I came up empty.  Oh well, such is birding ...

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