Friday, March 08, 2013

Rare Bird in the Snow

In lieu of my weekly "Friday's Foto" posting, here's a cool sighting story from today...

Late yesterday Peter texted me that a Varied Thrush was reported in Prospect Park. To my knowledge, this rare western species has never been recorded in Prospect Park, so my first inclination was to write back and ask about the reliability of the report. His response was that he didn't know the birder, Mark Salvadalena, but that he was from Washington state, so should certainly know a Varied Thrush when he sees one. I thought, what are the chances that a West coast birder would find, what for him would be a relatively common bird, in Brooklyn? It would be akin to me visiting Seattle and spotting a Blue Jay. It was late in the afternoon, so I hopped on my bike and peddled over to the location, hoping to find what would be my 300th Brooklyn bird.

I didn't find the bird yesterday, but Tweeted the news, hoping someone would be able to relocate this beautiful cousin to the American Robin. Fast forward to this morning. I was about to get into the shower when I received a text from Keir that he had relocated the thrush a few yards from where it was originally spotted. The snow was coming down, but the winds were calm and it was relatively warm. I grabbed my parka, pulled on my boots and rushed into Prospect Park. Keir was still present and explained that he was able to find the bird again for Peter and described the area along Quaker Ridge where it had been frequenting.

Every year around this time, when large flocks of robins begin to gather in our local parks, I always think about Varied Thrushes and the likelihood of finding one mixed in with the common birds. I've actually seen two Varied Thrushes in my life, ironically, both were in New York State, one of them was in Central Park. Neither was in a flock of robins. Several years ago, while vacationing in Washington State, this locally common bird somehow managed to elude me. When I met Mark Salvadalena I picked his brain about Varied Thrush behavior and was surprised to learn that they rarely associate with robin flocks. In fact, they rarely feed out in the open and are mainly found at the edges of wooded areas. That makes perfect sense as he found it away from all the robins and blackbirds feeding in the meadow and, instead, along the edge of Quaker Ridge's woodlands.

Keir stuck around helping me this morning for about 20 minutes then had to leave for work. I spotted Bobbi walking along Center Drive a moment later. After describing the area where the bird had been seen, we decided to cover a circular path near Center Drive, walk under the Nethermead Arches, then back to the start at the North side of Center Drive and the edge of the wooded Quaker Ridge.

Rob B. was coming down through the Ravine from the opposite direction and we joined up with him as we came out from under the arches. There was some bird activity near the edge of the path, but it was primarily just robins, cardinals, White-throated Sparrows and Fox Sparrows.

There is a bridle path that runs parallel to the roadway and hillside. Normally, lots of birds can be found feeding along this path as horses kick up seeds and insects. I had the idea to kick away the accumulating snow to expose the leaf litter below and, with some luck, attract the thrush. We then headed back down to the South side of the bridge to continue circling the area. At a steep incline below the bridge a small group of robins were feeding on the ground. While standing next to a young conifer, I heard the "yeep" alarm call of a robin then spotted the bird flying across the path and perching up to our right. I said something stupid like, "Probably just the robin I heard calling", and didn't bother to lift up my bins. Thankfully Rob did and said, "No, that's a Varied Thrush!" I should have done my Homer Simpson impression ... "DOH!" Instead of feeling stupid, though, I just reveled at the sight of this gorgeous bird. When it flew back towards the North I walked under the shelter of the arches and Tweeted the good news. We spent a moment or two high-fiving and feverishly thumbing out various messages on our phones, then headed back to the stairway and up to Center Drive to try and get some photos.

Back on Center Drive we scanned through the huge flock of birds that had gathered in the clearing we created in the snow on the bridle path. As we watched the feeding birds I spotted the Varied Thrush as it flew to a low perch near the footpath at the edge of the woods. The bird vanished into the forest a moment later.

A short distance down Center Drive I could just make out the silhouette of a person emerging from the snowy haze. It was Steve with his every-present 40 pound camera rig. After explaining our morning's sightings and locations he told me that it would be a life bird for him. I'd already seen it three times, but decided to stick around to help find him a "lifer". Like Rob, Bobbi and I had done, we just circled all the areas where the bird had been seen. Eventually, our perseverance paid off when Rob motioned us to the top of the stairs. I hung back and let Steve move towards the front of the group (at this point there were 7 of us searching for the bird). The thrush had been feeding on the ground near a yew tree and had just flown up to a low perch. Once everyone got on the bird I walked up to the top of the steps. Steve looked very happy having not only found a life bird, but also managing to take a great photo under less than optimal conditions.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The Varied Thrush was my 300th Brooklyn bird. Woo hooo! I'll post my entire Kings County list next week.


Chicken Underwear said...


Lee R said...

Congratulations! BEAUTIFUL pic! :D

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