Friday, February 16, 2007

Longspurs in New York

I just received a report that the Smith's Longspur Ed Coyle found is still enjoying our arctic weather here in New York. It has been seen in the same area where it was first discovered next to the Jones Beach Nature Center.

I may have mentioned previously that this is only the second time one has been seen in the entire state. There's been stories bandied about among New York birders regarding the "alleged" fate of the first bird. I've heard varying accounts of the events that unfolded on that cold day 32 years ago. The following first hand report was posted on the New York State Bird List by Hugh McGuinness:

"Subject: RE: Smith's Longspur @ Jones Beach (!!!!!)
From: Hugh McGuinness
Date: Sat, 10 Feb 2007 16:05:49 -0500

OK, lest Tom Burke be crucified, I had better tell the true story of New York's first Smith's Longspur, which was found in 1974. It may surprise many of you to learn this, but this was a time before digital cameras, cell phones and (brace yourself and sit down youngun's) the internet. That year five or six of us (including Tom Davis, Bob Smart, Peter Polshek, Paul Lehman, yours truly and perhaps Joe DiCostanzo) were engaged in a friendly effort to set the New York State year list record.

On that fateful day, Sep 22, 1974, I was birding with Tom Burke and his girlfriend Susan Stappers and we decided to go see a "woodlot" in Far Rockaway that John Bull frequented. We ran into John and found a Golden-winged Warbler there. Later in the day we birded Jamaica Bay and I remember mind-gripping looks at a Connecticut Warbler walking through the grass in the south garden. At that point I thought that I had had a pretty good day.

Further east, Tom Davis, Bob Smart, Peter Polshek, Joe DiCostanzo (which explains why I didn't seem him at Jones this morning) and a fifth person, who may have been Marc Chamberlain, found the Smith's Longspur along the roadway at Robert Moses. Although the bird was tame, they wanted to get hand-held photos of the bird. They new it was a first state record, and they didn't want anyone to doubt their record. Tom Davis who had an active banding permit also carried mist-nets in his car. The bird was so exhausted or tame that they were able to throw the net over the bird. The first time they did this the bird escaped. So they tried it again, and much to everyone's surprise, it worked again. Peter Polshek was closest to the bird. He was vehemently urged to make sure that the bird did not escape on his side, and so he pounced. Peter was not in those days his current 190 pounds, and probably only weighed in at 120 or so, however compared to the mass of a Smith's Longspur his mass was almost infinite! When the dust settled, New York had its first specimen of Smith's Longspur. That is what they reported that night when we talked on the phone (a land line), and so it must go down as the official version of the incident.

Needless to say, for Tom Burke and me the news that there was no chance of finding the Smith's Longspur the following day was a bitter pill. Thus it seemed fitting that we were standing next to each other this morning when we found the bird; for me it felt like a bit of redemption. The 32 year wait didn't seem quite as long, nor the freezing temperatures quite so cold.

So if you didn't read all this and skipped to the end, let me reiterate:

Tom Burke DID NOT KILL the first Smith's Longspur. Peter Polshek, who remains one of my dearest friends in the world, has been haunted by his rash act ever since that fateful day (and has had to bear enormous therapy bills). I'm sure he too will feel a great sense of relief when he gets my e-mail tonight.

Hugh McGuinness:



Smith's Longspur (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Edward Coyle)


(Photo credit - Edward Coyle)


(Photo credit - Edward Coyle)


(Photo credit - Edward Coyle)

3 comments:

Pamela said...

There is a rare sighting around here of Lapland Longspur... but if I saw it I don't think I would know.

When I see the some variety of sparrows... I think they all resemble each other so. I would like to hold them in my hand so I can tell for sure.,

Pamela said...

There is a rare sighting around here of Lapland Longspur... but if I saw it I don't think I would know.

When I see the some variety of sparrows... I think they all resemble each other so. I would like to hold them in my hand so I can tell for sure.,

Rob J. said...

The more your look at them, the easier it becomes. I recommend a very good field guide on sparrows written by James Rising. The very long-winded title is, "A Guide to the Identification and Natural History of The Sparrows of the United States and Canada." There are also some very good videos available.

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope