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Friday, December 01, 2006

There and back

Recent trips (click to enlarge)

It seems like weeks have passed since my last trip report. Oh, that’s because it has. Where do I begin? With the “Wunderschmucks” in the home stretch of our first “Big Year” in New York State, I think we’d all agree that it was more exhausting than we expected. Over the last 2 weeks we’ve collectively traveled from Montauk Point to Niagara Falls and made stops at, seemingly, all point in between. I don’t own a car and have had to rely on Sean and Shane for the more distant birds. With that in mind, I began the year hoping to reach 300 species in the state. As of this writing I have tallied 304 species. Sean and Shane, throwing caution to the wind (and lots of gas money) stand at 332 and 334, respectively. I find some aspects of marathon birding lots of fun but it also cuts into the quality of my observations. Over the last two weeks there were occasions when we would locate a new bird for the year, look at it for 5 minutes, then, literally, run to find the next one. There are days that I prefer to slow my pace and allow the natural environment to envelop my senses.

Collectively, we’ve been to the following locations in New York State since November 16th:

Tomhannock Reservoir (Troy), Bloomingdale Bog (Bloomingdale), Niagara, Savannah Mucklands, Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (Seneca Falls), Lenoir Preserve (Yonkers), Marshlands Conservancy (Rye), New York Botanic Gardens (Bronx) and Montauk Pt. (Montauk).

At this point in the year we have, for the most part, located all of the expected species of birds. The last 6 weeks of the year will have been spent chasing state rarities. So far, Shane has managed to tally almost all of the odd, western species that have been reported and will probably finish the year ahead of Sean. I expect to come in third, a few species ahead of Doug. Since my last report we’ve added the following rarities:

Ross's Goose, Cackling Goose, Barrow's Goldeneye, California Gull, Thayer's Gull, Rufous Hummingbird, Hammond's Flycatcher and Western Kingbird.

Ross's Goose among Snow Geese

(Photo credit - Shane Blodgett)

Cackling Goose (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

Canada Geese in flight (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

I wasn’t able to go along on a trip up to Niagara for some gull species that are, in all likelihood, not going to be seen any close to NYC. Sean is actually taking another run up there tomorrow to try and find a Thayer’s Gull. I don’t think I have it in me anymore to make that kind of “day trip”.

Thayer's Gull

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

California Gull

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

-Click here for info on gulling the Niagara River-

-Click here for more info on gull identifcation-

One of my more interesting days was this past Sunday. Sean picked me up at 5:40am and we drove to the Marshlands Conservancy, in Rye. It was still dark when we arrived and we flushed a Great Horned Owl from a tree near our parking space. He landed in a stand of pines near the entrance and called a few times. We searched for the reported Hammond's Flycatcher until approximately 10am but never located it. We found out that night that neither did the dozens of other birders that came later in the morning. We then headed over to Lenoir Preserve and, in about 10 minutes, found the Rufous Hummingbird that has been hanging around. It was very cooperative as it visited a feeder at the wildflower garden or perched in the adjacent shrubs.

Rufous Hummingbird at Lenoir Preserve

(Photo credit - Shane Blodgett)

We hopped back into the car then sped over to the New York Botanic Gardens to look for the Western Kingbird that was reported Saturday night. I called Shane on my cellphone for more detailed directions as we were following the signs to the "Rock Garden". His help was unnecessary, though, as Sean quickly spotted the bird above the Rock Garden nursery gate. This spot is about 75 yards short of where Shane had observed it. The kingbird was hawking for insects high up (most of the time) along the back edge of the restricted area. At one point, as the kingbird was sallying from a bare branch in a large oak, I noticed a Red-tailed Hawk perched above him. The hawk seemed mildly interested in the flycatcher and jerked his head from side to side, following the small, pale yellow bird's movements. I think a Merlin or Sharp-shinned Hawk would be more likely to snatch a kingbird from the air than a lumbering Red-tailed Hawk.

Western Kingbird in the Bronx

(Photo credit - Shane Blodgett)

Early Tuesday morning Sean and I made a mad dash to Tomhannock Reservoir to locate a Barrow’s Goldeneye. From there we planned to stop at the Marshlands Conservancy for a second try for the Hammond’s Flycatcher.

Barrow's Goldeneye (left) and Common Goldeneye at Tomhannock

(Photo credit - Shane Blodgett)

We were parked along side the reservoir when the sun came up and, from the car, could see several flocks of waterfowl. Sean found the Barrow’s Goldeneye almost immediately. I wanted to get better looks so we spent a little more time scanning large flocks of Canada Goose, American Wigeon, black duck, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Common Goldeneye and Common Merganser. It took a bit longer than expected by I finally got great looks at the Barrow’s Goldeneye at it paddled along about 20 feet from the shore.

-Click here for more info on Western New York Birding-

8 point buck at Marshlands Conservancy

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Trying to find the Hammond’s Flycatcher in Rye was more challenging. Arriving at around 11am we walked the grounds for almost 30 minutes scanning the areas that it has been seen previously. Sean had a recording of the flycatcher on his iPod and I brought along a pair of small speaker. The first time the call was played we thought that we heard a muted reply. There is a field next to the area where the flycatcher was discovered. What was once probably a rectangular patch of ground planted with fruit trees in now a tangled maze of multiflora rose vines, porcelain berry vines, wild raspberries and just about anything else that can trip you up or tear at your skin. It was within this area that we thought we heard the bird call. We moved to a spot where we had the best vantage point of the vine-draped garden. Sean played the recording again. Almost immediately after Sean stopped the recording a hammond's responded with the full three part song. We looked at each other in amazement. An extensive search that included many thorns in my arms and legs (and a tick on Sean’s leg) was unsuccessful. We’ve run down the list of all the birds in the area and none make a sound that is even close to that of a Hammond’s Flycatcher. However, since it is a bird that neither one of us has ever seen, we decided that the audio identification wasn’t sufficient to count the bird on our list.

-Click to see Andy Guthrie's photos of the Hammond's Flycatcher

-Where to go Bird Watching in Westchester-

This weekend (hopefully) we’ll be in a ship above the Hudson Canyon looking for seabirds. Tomorrow’s trip was cancelled due to bad weather but it has been rescheduled for Sunday. With a little luck I’ll have something interesting to post on Sunday night.

American Bird Grasshopper (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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