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 ...

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