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 ...