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Friday, January 03, 2014

December Birds

By the end of November I was getting very close to my one year personal best for Brooklyn. In 2011 I had observed 251 species in the borough of Kings. I needed 5 more to beat that number. Unfortunately, the month of December is not typically a time when one finds many new birds for the year. On average, I usually only add 4 or 5 species during the last month. Good birding skills can be developed over time, but the other half of birding is luck, which can only be stumble upon. I was going to need some to blow my way in order to succeed.

One of the birds that had escaped me all year was Orange-crowned Warbler. Unlike most warblers, this half-hardy species frequently hangs around all Winter, so I still had a chance. That chance came while Heydi, Peter and I were walking up from the beach at Raptor Point in Floyd Bennett Field. It was 3pm and the low Winter sun was blinding both Peter and I. Thankfully Heydi managed to spot this tiny, bright yellow bird foraging low in a shrub directly in front of us. I kept returning to Floyd Bennett over the duration of the month hoping to find at least a few more birds for the year.

Heydi and I had been religiously checking the conifers in Ecology Village for Long-eared Owl. We had located several owl pellets and a couple of trees appeared to be spattered with whitewash. It was my fourth visit to that spot in a month when I finally spotted the source, and it wasn't a Long-eared Owl. I had come into Floyd Bennett Field fairly late in the day and the sun was illuminating just the very tops of the pine trees. I also approached the area from the opposite direction that I usually did, so something unusual caught my eye. It was a bright, white patch near the top of one of the trees. More specifically, a heart shaped white patch...the face of a Barn Owl. After only a quick look, I turned and started to leave as I didn't want to disturb the owl and likely draw the attention of the crows in the area. I returned just long enough to take a digiscoped photo record with my iPhone. It's not a very good shot, but you get the idea.

One of the rare but regular Winter specialties found around the coast of New York City is the Lapland Longspur. They are generally found within flocks of the much more common Horned Lark. When I received a message from Doug the third week of the month that he had spotted one at Floyd Bennett Field, I was already in transit with the objective of looking for one. It was one of the coldest days of the season yet and Floyd Bennett appeared as close to the arctic as I'd seen it in a long time. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, then, to find the largest flock of larks I'd ever observed at that location. Over 200 Horned Larks and several Snow Buntings were feeding in the tiny 2 acre field North of the community gardens. I set up my scope with my back to the frigid winds and began sorting through all the birds. It only took me about 3 minutes to find the longspur (actually it found me by walking into my field of view as I was counting larks).

Three down - two to go.

One monkey-wrench in my birding plans was that my niece got married in North Carolina mid-month, so I missed the Brooklyn Christmas Bird Count and a full weekend of birding (and, as it turned out, a Cackling Goose). The wedding was beautiful, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world, rare birds or not.

Finding my next Brooklyn bird of the year became a fiasco that would have been downright pathetic had Heydi and I not eventually found the darn thing. I'm talking about the Glaucous Gull at Coney Island, which I wrote about at length in the posting entitled "Two Insane Birders with Metrocards".

Sticking with Coney Island, Dead Horse Bay and Floyd Bennett Field, I tried three more times to locate a new bird before the end of the month. Winter birding along the Brooklyn coast can be surprisingly productive as there is an amazing abundance and diversity of wildlife. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to beat my old record, but did match my previous high of 251 Brooklyn species. It was a lot of fun trying and (I can't believe that I'm saying this) I've already started the whole process over again. Maybe this will be the year...


NYS Total: 257
Kings Total: 251
Added in December: 4
Effort: 32.25 birding hours, 7 locations

248) Orange-crowned Warbler (Floyd Bennett Field, 12/01/13)
249) Barn Owl (Floyd Bennett Field, 12/11/13)
250) Lapland Longspur (Floyd Bennett Field, 12/18/13)
251) Glaucous Gull (Coney Island Creek Park, 12/22/13)

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