Sunday, May 8, 2016

An Epic Day of Roadkill Watching in Western New York

A Long Drive to Dip a Gray Kingbird

A few weeks ago, a Loggerhead Shrike was found in Western New York.  I want to see a Loggerhead Shrike in New York State but Western New York is a long way from the City, about 5 hours drive each way.  So I dithered and procrastinated and in the end I didn't go (which turned out to be just as well as the day I could have gone was the day after the last sighting of the bird).  Then, a week later, someone found a Gray Kingbird in Western New York ... oh come on!  This bird too seemed to be sticking around and every day last week I saw reports of the bird being seen.  I wanted to go, but I also didn't want to do a 10-hour drive on my own, so I hinted on-line and Corey Finger, blogger, union organizer, left wing agitator, and notorious enabler of birding misadventures, suggested he might like to come along.  So 'what the hell' I thought, let's do it, and extending invitations to two young birders (Adrian Burke and Tom Socci) who'd been helpful to me recently in regards to Seaside Sparrows, I planned to leave early on Saturday and do the long drive to the Kingbird.

Gray Kingbird, Photo: Nathan Goldberg (used with permission)
Saturday morning at 4:45am I got a text from Corey Finger, he was downstairs, ready to go.  Went down, grabbed a Latte, picked up the Land Rover and then picked up Adrian (Tom couldn't make it) and we were off.  Out across the George Washington Bridge, an hour or so across New Jersey, take a right in Pennsylvania and drive North for an hour or so, then take a left at Binghamton in New York (stopping for McDonalds and gas) and head off into the wilds of Western New York.  Just 5 hours after leaving, and having been pulled over for speeding only once, we arrived at Conesus Inlet ready to bird.  Did I mention that Western New York is a long way away?  We were sooooo ready to get out of the car by the time we got there ...

Truth is though, we'd arrived in an apprehensive state of mind.  We weren't the only New York City birders heading up to chase the Kingbird that day.  Sean Sime and his Brooklyn crew had gone up early and reported that the bird had not been seen that morning so far.  As we arrived we picked up another voicemail from Sean saying that his team had to leave, but that they hadn't seen the bird.  Still, I wasn't too stressed, the Kingbird had been seen the day before only in the afternoon, and there was obviously a lot of habitat for the bird to wander around in.  We grabbed scopes and set out to find us a Gray Kingbird.

Lots of snags and lots of bugs, but no Gray Kingbird ...

Three and a half hours later ... no Gray Kingbird.  We scoped every snag we could see, tried all the likely areas, and just couldn't come up with the bird.  I guess the change of weather (it wasn't raining at Conesus after 6 days of rain) gave the bird the chance to move on, or even head back to Florida where it belongs.   We had officially dipped ...

Ironically, while we couldn't find our target bird, and had just experienced an epic long-distance dip, it actually retuned out to be an excellent day as a general natural history experience.  There were a lot of herps, and it was very cool to see some after the long New York Winter.  We saw Leopard Frogs, Bull Frogs, Green Frogs, a Wood Frog, American Toads, Eastern Garter Snakes and lots of Northern Water Snakes.   There were bumblebees and dragonflies and even a few Spring flowers and butterflies.  There were also a few returning migrant birds and I added 5 year birds during our time in Livingston County - Cliff Swallow (224), Eastern Kingbird (225), Marsh Wren (226), Common Yellowthroat (227) and Lesser Yellowlegs (228).  The most interesting bird however was a Great Horned Owl that Adrian spotted in trees in the marsh ... not so often you get to see a big owl in the day time.

Northern Water Snake - fat and happy eating frogs ... don't pick these
up, they're very bitey ...
So back to New York.  Another five hour drive with Corey doing his best to distract us with gratuitous eBird checklists in every county, often featuring nothing more that American Crow, Common Grackle, and Red-tailed Hawk ..... but now many eBird reviewers knew of our passing.  We did however amass an impressive (and somewhat macabre) list of roadkill for the day ... yes we list roadkill, we're birders, we list everything.   Among the species highlights on the days roadkill list were Black Bear, Beaver, Coyote, Porcupine, Woodchuck (plus a probable Fox Squirrel - a rare mammal in New York) along with the ubiquitous White-tailed Deer, Gray Squirrel, Virginia Opossums, Raccoons, and Striped Skunks (Smelled only).  Hey, it's a natural history experience of a sort, and it was a very long drive.

Until next time Western New York ....


  1. So. Much. Roadkill. Thanks again for driving!

    The next good bird had better be closer...

  2. Hey, next time come up for more than a day! Lots of birding at the north and south ends of the Finger Lakes, and you can combine it with wine tours and charming B&B's :-)

  3. Hey, next time come up for more than a day! Lots of birding at the north and south ends of the Finger Lakes, and you can combine it with wine tours and charming B&B's :-)