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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Road Trip for 2009

Wednesday I took my last road trip of the year. Doug, Shane and I decided to try and find a Black Guillemot that has been seen on the south fork of Long Island. It was about 85 miles east of Brooklyn (as the eagle flies), so it would be a very early start to the day.

I'd never seen a Black Guillemot, so it would be worth waking up at 4:50am to be on the road by 5:30am. The bird had be hanging around a small inlet next to the privately owned Rams Island. A parking lot conveniently located at the end of Sebonac Avenue is adjacent to the small body of water where the bird has been feeding. Shane wanted to be at the parking lot by first light so we would have the best chance of seeing this bird. I really enjoy the first hour of the day, so it didn't matter to me that I'd only be getting a few hours of sleep.

We found the location pretty easily and there was already one car parked in the lot when we pulled in. Jerry Lazarczyk, a birder from Buffalo, had arrived early, but hadn't seen the guillemot. It was brutally cold and the inlet was completely clogged with ice flows pushed in by the north winds. In addition, there was about 1/4 mile of ice ringing the shoreline of Peconic Bay. We weren't very optimistic that we'd find the bird.

While Shane was pulling on extra layers of clothing, Doug was already scanning the distant open water. I set up my scope and started looking along the edge of the ice from the opposite direction. There were scattered groups of gulls sleeping on the ice. Bufflehead, Long-tailed Ducks, eiders and various scoters were beginning to dive at the edge of the ice.

After only a few minutes of searching Doug suddenly exclaimed, "I've got the bird!" With the bright early morning sun over our shoulders, the mostly white bird stood out like a beacon. The four of us had good views of a very distant bird. Shane suggested that we drive to Shinnecock Inlet to look for a reported Dovekie, then come back later.

There were few birds in the inlet at Shinnecock, but several hundred Common Eider were in the bay just north of the inlet. There were also several seals patrolling the choppy water within the two jetties.

After about an hour at Shinnecock we headed back to Bullhead Bay Inlet. Shane's plan paid off. Much of the ice ringing the bay had been reduced to just a few yards of slushy salt water. The Black Guillemot was extremely close to the shore. We watched the bird for about 30 minutes as it periodically dove and returned to the surface to eat. It was difficult to tell what it was feeding on, but much of it appeared to be long marine worms of some type. Sources that I check said that their diet consists of fish, crustaceans and marine invertebrates.

It's not often that I get to close out the year with a life bird, especially such a stunning looking species. Thanks, Shane. I look forward to finding many more birds in 2010.

Here's a short video I shot of the Black Guillemot

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