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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Ilsa" the Rufous Hummingbird update

I just received the following update from Norm. It seems really strange, but his words made me both sad and happy. Sad that she's no longer brightening our short winter days, happy that she, presumably, found her way home.

From: Norman Klein
Date: January 31, 2007 10:05:23 AM EST
Subject: Ilsa update

I am sorry to report that Ilsa was last seen at her feeders late afternoon on Monday, January 29.  I have waited until this evening (Jan.31) to post this since I was hoping that she might return.  I am also keeping her feeders going until the end of the week, and I might keep them going longer just in case another stray might linger into the area.  We can't help looking at her feeders and expecting her to be there.  We've had 65 pleasurable days of her company (November 26,2006-January 29,2007) and we can't help but miss her.

I am grateful to all of Ilsa's fans for their encouragement; and am pleased that so many of you came here to see her. (I believe that it was well over 150 of you)  Perhaps if she survived, she will pay us another visit next year.  It is not unheard of.  There are the returning stories of Perdita and Viola, and maybe Ilsa will join their ranks.

Finally, I hope that Ilsa has survived, and is bugging around some lush garden to the joy of another unsuspecting hummerphile.

"Here's looking at you, Kid!!!"


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Croton Point Park

Ice Fingers (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Today I lead a group of birder’s from the Brooklyn Bird Club on a field trip to Croton Point Park and the nearby George’s Island Park. Both parks are located on the shores of the Hudson River north of New York City. They are primarily known for overwintering Bald Eagles, but other winter specialities can also be found in these spots. Croton Point Park is approximately 36 miles north of Prospect Park, as the crow flies.

Several people had to cancel at the last minute so, with the small group that did come, it felt to me more like a casual day of birding than leading a trip. Just what I needed. Factoring in the peculiar winter weather we’ve had in the northeast, I wasn’t too optimistic that I would locate many winter species. The highest number of Bald Eagles that I’ve recorded in this area on a winter trip was 19. It’s also typical to observe Short-eared Owls, Northern Harriers, Great Horned Owl, American Pipits, Horned Larks and, on the water, a nice assortment of waterfowl. Croton Point is a good place to view Rough-legged Hawks during years when this species moves south in the winter.

There are several different habitats around Croton Point; Croton Bay (south of the point), the Hudson River, mixed hardwood forest and grassland. An extensive grassland that makes up the largest land mass of Croton Point Park is the result of a reclaimed, capped landfill. When one walks the north/south trail over the top of the man-made mountain it’s not unusual to see kestrels, harriers, short-eared, Savannah Sparrows and pipits.

We began the day at the end of the train station road near the train trestle that cuts across the east side of Croton Bay. It was brutally cold at 7:30am but we quickly shook off the chill when we spotted several adult Bald Eagles perched in the trees across the water. There were five eagles perched in the trees in a 100 yard stretch south of the highway. Before we left we watched a sixth eagle fly in from the north, chase off one of the birds and take his roost.

Young Red-tailed Hawk at Croton Point

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

We weren’t able to locate any owls in the park. The annual Great Horned Owl nest had blown down in a storm and a resident screech owl also lost his favorite roost to wind damage. I’m not sure if the unusual weather this year is to blame but the grassland on the mound was virtually devoid of bird life. There was a single Red-tailed Hawk surveying the area but pipits, owls and other winter birds were mysteriously absent. The grassy areas south of the mound were very active with mixed flocks of American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, both nuthatches, woodpeckers and other common species. We even located two Gray Catbirds, who are usually far south of this part of the country in late-January.

Ice Crust

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Geometric Patterns in Ice Crust (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob Jett)

Croton Bay was mostly open water with only a narrow strip of window-pane thin ice formations. The ice sounded like glass as it fractured under the subtle wave action beneath its surface. Normally, at this time of year, Bald Eagles would be seen standing on ice flows in the bay eating fish and being harassed by crows or gulls. The diversity of waterflow on both the bay and river was meager. Common Goldeneye are usually fairly common but there were very few seen today. Common Merganser, on the other hand, were seen in higher than normal numbers. From the southern end of the point we aimed our scopes across the river towards Hook Mountain. Several hundred mergansers could be seen in flocks stretching across the western horizon. I suppose large numbers remained in the area because of the extensive open water.

We spent almost the entire day at Croton Point Park, even bushwhacking through some areas that I’ve never explored in the 9 winters that I’ve birded the park. Before the sun went down we drove the short distance to George’s Island Park. I thought that we might observe some eagles coming in to roost. We didn’t, but as we were packing up our scopes to head back to Brooklyn, Kellie spotted something interesting. She’s like the Energizer Bunny in that, when everyone is exhausted and running on fumes, she’s still birding. This time she called out that there were some odd-looking black birds on the shore across the cove. I walked back from the car, focused my bins and said, “That would be a flock of Wild Turkeys.” On a stretch of beach colored red by the remains of the area’s former brick industry, were 8 Wild Turkeys. As they took turns sipping water from the Hudson River, we could hear their comical cackling and gobbling carrying across the cove. It wasn’t your typical ending to a winter bird trip along the Hudson River, but it was a memorable one.

-Click here for info on Croton Point Park History-

Where's Croton Point?

Click to Enlarge

Finally, I tried an experiment with 360 degree panoramas from the top of the mound at Croton Point Park. It probably would have looked a bit better if we had some sun.

360 degree view from the hill (click and drag image)

(Quicktime plug-in required)

The large body of water to the west is the Hudson River. The smaller body to the east is Croton Bay.

- - - - -

Croton Point Park & George’s Island Park, 1/27/2007
Common Goldeneye
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Bald Eagle (10-12.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Wild Turkey (8, George’s Island Park.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
American Tree Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Friday, January 26, 2007

The little hummingbird that could

I just received the following e-mail from Norm Klein regarding his visitor from west of the Mississippi:

"From: Norman Klein
Date: January 26, 2007 9:03:13 AM EST
Subject: Amazing Ilsa

Ilsa is at her feeders on this coldest morning of the year. She is Ilsa and not just any vagrant selasphorus rufus one night stand. After all, she has been here since November 26, and I believe that we have a meaningful relationship, and I can call her by her first name.  She really is a cheap date; only a little sugar water, and then, oh yeh! (A little fact: sugar water freezes at 27degrees farenheit. Please correct me if I'm wrong.) Anyway, she is still coming to the feeders at 21 Woodhull Place, Northport. All birders and hummerphiliacs are welcome.
It is with scary anticipation that I keep posting these updates knowing that one day I might have to post a final message. But she's at her feeders today. "So, here's looking at you, kid."


If I haven't mentioned it in previous posts, the name "Ilsa" is a reference to the film "Casablanca". In one of his first e-mails regarding the Rufous Hummingbird Norm added the quote:

"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she had to walk into mine." - Bogart's "Rick Blaine" referring to Ingrid Bergman's "Ilsa Lund".

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hummingbird update

Despite an arctic blast that has had the temperature below freezing for a few days, I received the following good news:

"From: Norman Klein
Date: January 21, 2007 9:42:07 AM EST
Subject: Northport hummingbird

The Northport selasphorus (rufous) hummingbird named Ilsa is alive and well and happily coming to her feeders. She is at 21 Woodhull Place (red house fronted by three large norway spruces). Also had a low flyover rough-legged hawk which temporarily emptied my backyard of birdlife.

Happy birding!
-Norm Klein"

-Click here to learn about vagrant hummingbirds-

New York Times Article

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Several months ago, I was contacted by writer Paul Berger. He was writing a story for the "New York Times" about the Red-tailed Hawks in Brooklyn. I gave him a tour of Prospect Park, shared my experiences with our local hawks and introduced him to Marge and Joe, who watch the hawks in Green-Wood Cemetery. The story just came out in today's city section.

-Click here to read "Love, and Death, Is in the Air"-

I guess it would be kind of silly for me to continue using the vaguely anonymous "Rob J" signature. ;-)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Blustery day around the lake

Merlin above Center Drive (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It seems as if winter can't decide whether to arrive or take a sabbatical. In between long stretches of mild weather, there have been scant days that feel appropriately blustery. Some people have probably appreciated the respite, but I actually like the seasonal changes. All of Prospect Park's waterways remain free of ice as the short blasts of cold haven't lasted long enough to freeze them. During one of the few blustery days this month the lake held a nice assortment of ducks and 4 or 5 Pied-billed Grebes. One or two grebes usually overwinter as the lake is seldom completely covered in ice. During the Christmas Bird Count in December there was an astounding 17 of these cute little grebes present on the 60 acre lake. As expected, Northern Shovelers were the dominant species of waterfowl. Another nice sighting on the lake was of a young Hooded Merganser drake. The juvenile duck hadn't developed the bold black and white hood of an adult and still sported mostly brown feathers.

I looked around for the Pine Warbler at the Breeze Hill feeders but didn't find him. In fact, most of the birds in the area disappeared briefly when a hungry Cooper's Hawk zipped through the woods and perched in a pine tree overlooking the feeders.

Great Blue Heron

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Northern Shovelers

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Hooded Merganser on Prospect Lake (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Prospect Park, 1/20/2007
Pied-billed Grebe (4, Prospect Lake near West Island.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Gadwall (Drake & hen, behind Three Sisters Is.)
Northern Shoveler (Common.)
Bufflehead (3, Upper Pool.)
Hooded Merganser (1, juvenile male near West Is.)
Ruddy Duck (Fairly common.)
Cooper's Hawk (Adult, Breeze Hill near feeders.)
Red-tailed Hawk (1 adult, 1 juvenile.)
Merlin (Female, perched near Nethermead Arches.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
American Crow (2.)
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2, feeders.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (3, feeders.)
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Back to birding

I wrote this last week and finally got around to posting it.

* * * * * * * * * *

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk at Nelly's Lawn

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Yesterday I returned to birding after a short break since New Year's Eve, when I completed my first big state year. Shane Blodgett, Sean Sime and I began 2006 by trying to find 300 species in the state as a group. I was at a little disadvantage as I don't own a car. Since I wasn't able to put in the same hours as Shane & Sean I didn't lose my mind quite a thoroughly. We spent as much time as possible birding the state together and helping each other find species that we "needed". I tried to cover most of our exploits on this blog. Between the three of us, we were able to document every observed rarity. A huge "Thank You" to all the people who helped us reach (and exceed) our goals. You kept us updated on sightings and passed on a wealth of information on the state's species abundance and migration patterns. I think I learned more in 12 months than I have in the combined past 5 years and finished 2006 with a respectable 315 species. Now, back to yesterday...

It was exhilarating to finally feel "normal" winter weather after such a mild first half of the season. Somehow, though, observing a Pine Warbler at a bird feeder on Breeze Hill didn't totally surprise me. The bright, yellow male appeared to be eating millet and cracked corn. Aren't warblers supposed to be insectivores? With the sudden cold snap the center of most of Prospect Park's bird activity was on Breeze Hill at or near the four feeders. There was a single Chipping Sparrow hanging out within a flock of juncos. Between the two pools on the west side of the park and Prospect Lake there were 8 species of waterfowl, the highlight being 4 Ring-necked Ducks on the Upper Pool.

Click to enlarge

(Photo credit - Rob J)

One other highlight was of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk in a conifer at the edge of Nelly's Lawn. There are several red-tails that call Prospect Park and the adjacent botanic garden home but this individual has unusually light head feathers. It appears to be the same bird that Sean and I saw and photographed in that area on 4/21/06.

40 down, 260 to go...just kidding.

- - - - -

Prospect Park, 1/11/2007
Pied-billed Grebe (Prospect Lake.)
Great Blue Heron (Prospect Lake.)
Northern Shoveler (abundant, Prospect Lake.)
Ring-necked Duck (4, Upper Pool.)
Bufflehead (2, Upper Pool.)
Ruddy Duck (Common, Prospect Lake.)
Red-tailed Hawk (Juvenile at Nelly's Lawn.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
American Crow (4.)
White-breasted Nuthatch
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Next to Wellhouse Dr. & Park loop.)
Hermit Thrush (Breeze Hill.)
Pine Warbler (Breeze Hill feeders.)
Chipping Sparrow (Breeze Hill.)
Fox Sparrow (Breeze Hill feeders.)
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
House Finch (Breeze Hill feeders.)
American Goldfinch (Breeze Hill feeders.)

Other common birds seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Still humming

The following note was just posted to the New York State birding list. It refers to the Rufous Hummingbird that I wrote about here..

"From: Norman Klein
Date: January 16, 2007 7:45:17 AM EST
To: NYSBirds
Subject: Northport hummingbird

The Northport selasphorus (aka rufous) hummingbird continues to feed at 21 Woodhull Place (red house fronted by three large norway spruces). She is working on her eighth week here, having arrived on November 26. Tomorrow's wintry blast will be a real trial for her; though she is a tough little survivor.

-Norm Klein

Monday, January 15, 2007

Birding Map

I've created a Google Earth map of all 132 locations that we birded in 2006. You'll need a copy of the free Google Earth program, which you can get here:

-Google Earth downloads-

The map's "KML" file is here:

-Download the Google Earth data file-

I'll keep a link to it in the sidebar, "Links" section.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Finishing a year of birding

Last Road Trip (click to enlarge)

(Map credit - Google Earth)

Just a quick note before getting to my post. I don’t have many photos from this last trip. Unfortunately, when the temperature drops below freezing, the batteries in my camera freeze and stop working. I just found some home-made solutions that might help for future cold outings.

On Friday, 12/29, Shane picked me up in front of my place at 2:00am. Thursday had been a long day travelling from Montauk and back, but today would be grueling. I slept for a couple of hours on my living room sofa so that I wouldn’t wake my wife as I prepared for the last leg of our big year of birding. Our birding agenda was Webster Park and Penfield (near Rochester), Willsboro and several ports along Lake Champlain, then the Saranac Lake Christmas Bird Count in the Adirondacks.

Shane wanted to finish the year with 344 species on his list. His tenacity, skill and good fortune had generated a low buzz among many New York City birders as he likely already observed more species in a single year than anyone in the state. But Shane had set himself a goal of 344 species and nothing would stop him from squeezing every last drop of daylight out of the year.

From Brooklyn we drove all night to Webster Park, on Lake Ontario. At first light we met Dominic Sherony, a birder from Northern NY, in the parking lot. He had offered to help us find some Bohemian Waxwings in that location. We had been to Webster Park once before, back on March 11th. On that date we were looking for a Varied Thrush but were unsuccessful. Nothing is really certain in nature but I was very confident that we would find a Varied Thrush today as one had been hanging around someone’s bird feeders about 10 miles south of Webster Park. Shane had made arrangements with the homeowner for us to come by at 9:30am to see the thrush, so we had limited time to try and locate a Bohemian Waxwing. We concentrated on searching shrubs and small trees that still held berries. Both cedar and Bohemian Waxwings would be feeding on fruit. Not far from the park entrance we encountered a small group of Cedar Waxwings perched in a small sapling, but no bohemians. We hiked the West Loop trail which traverses a large secessional habitat. It’s probably normally frozen by mid-winter but today the ground was soft and slick with mud. At the south edge of the loop is a dense stand of conifers. We only encountered two or three other people and, unfortunately, the park seemed equally devoid of bird life. Dominic lead the way as we headed south, to Rick Flood’s house.

Rick isn’t a birder but is observant enough to recognize an unusual and striking bird at his feeders. He contacted a birder friend who identified the bird as a Varied Thrush. The sighting was posted on the Genesse birding forum and Shane contacted Rick. Varied Thrushes are rare vagrants in the northeast so, once the word got out, Rick was probably inundated with e-mails from people requesting his address. He was extremely hospitable and happy to share his discovery with us. His bird feeder area is shaded by two or three large hemlocks. Rick explained that, when coming to feed, the thrush would perch high in the trees then gradually move down the branches until he felt it was safe to hop to the ground. Dominic and I settled in a spot on the floor near a sliding glass door that looks out towards the base of the hemlocks. At 10:15, just as Rick described, the Varied Thrush appeared perched on a branch high in the hemlock. He slowly made his way to the ground where he pecked at a piece of bread. Next to him was a female House Sparrow, which created an interesting juxtaposition of the non-descript and the showy. His plumage was more intensely colored and patterned than I had expected. He was like a robin in royal garb. I could have stayed all morning watching that bird but Shane reminded me that we had about 225 miles of road ahead of us. We thanked Rick for allowing us into his home, Dominic for helping us in Webster Park, then hit the road heading to Willsboro.

Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius) in Penfield, NY

(Photo credit - Rick Flood)

-Click here for a free Varied Thrush desktop photo-

Willsboro is a small village on the Adirondack plains at the western edge of Lake Champlain. We chose that location because someone had reported seeing a flock of Bohemian Waxwings in a tree next to the Paine Memorial Library. The library was easy to find, the waxwings were not. There was a cherry tree adjacent to the building that still held lots of fruit. Several recently planted saplings across from the library, at the edge of the Bouquet River, were also filled with fruit. I felt optimistic that all those food sources would have the waxwings remaining in the area. Unfortunately, it was beginning to get dark and the only waxwings next to the library were Cedar Waxwings. We were going to be staying in Saranac Lake at my friend’s Jason and Gail’s home, so we had at least another 37 miles ahead of us.

Jason and Gail are friends from the city who moved north 6 or 7 years ago. I’ve stayed in touch with Jason and this would be the first time I’ve seen him, his wife and their boys since they’ve moved. Matt Young, who was also participating in the Saranac Lake Christmas Bird Count, would meet us at the house later that night. It was great getting to catch up with old friends; it was even nicer finally getting a full 8 hours of sleep before spending the day birding.

We awoke Saturday before sunrise to a snowstorm. The wind was calm so, despite the fact that our binoculars would be nearly useless, it was actually really nice outdoors. Shane, Matt and I met Joan Collins, Sean O’Brien and Fuat Latif at the Bloomingdale Bog trail on route 55. After brief introductions we drove two of the three cars to Oregon Plains Road, near the end of Bigelow Road. Bloomingdale Bog traditionally has the highest count of Black-backed Woodpeckers on the Adirondack count so there was a very good possibility that Shane and I would get to see one. We birded along Oregon Plains Road up to the intersection of Bigelow Road. I was walking with Sean ahead of the rest of the group when Sean thought that he heard something. My head was so bundled up I could barely hear anything. He walked a few yards to the edge of the woods and pointed up at a Black-backed Woodpecker whittling wood from a tamarac. Unlike most woodpeckers who use their bill like a jackhammer, the black-backed uses his bill like a chisel to chip off pieces of wood. Their work is much quieter than other woodpeckers. I waved the rest of the group over. Shane got to us first but couldn’t see the bird. Then it flew across the road and into the woods. Black-backs don’t pay much attention to humans so Shane walked into the woods to find her. When he returned he had a wide grin and small wood chips mixed in with the snow on his wool cap. He described to me how he stood directly beneath her as she carved away at the tree looking for insects, never giving so much as a look at him. For Shane that was two species down and two more to go.

Bloomingdale Bog CBC morning (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Matt is an ornithologist who’s area of interest is, what birders refer to as, winter finches. In particular he is interested in the family of crossbills. Generally, the Adirondacks is the only location that one can reliable find the northern finches. For reason that I don’t understand, some winters large numbers will move much farther south than their normal range. The first White-winged Crossbill that I ever saw was at Fort Tilden in the borough of Queens. Anyway, he was good to have around as I hadn’t seen a Red Crossbill for the year and, without the use of my binoculars, his knowledge of their call would be helpful. Less than 10 minutes after we got to see the woodpecker, Matt called out that he could hear a Red Crossbill. I watched as it approached us then flew directly over our heads. A few minutes later I spotted one at the top of a conifer. At that point Shane reminded me that he still needed to find the Western Grebe on Lake Champlain and the unconventional bohemian. Joan, our group’s leader, was sympathetic to our fervor and didn’t mind that we left the count early to head east...again.

-Click here for info on winter finch irruptions-

When we arrived at Port Kent the snow had stopped but the lake was virtually blanketed by an opaque fog. The lake wasn’t completely obscured from view, but we could only see a short distance out into the water. I would have preferred the snow. We drove south along the coast periodically stopping to scan the water at wide, lakeside vantage points. We observed a nice assortment of waterfowl, Common Loons and Horned Grebes, but no Western Grebes. I’ve never seen a Western Grebe but have read and seen nature programs about their incredibly complex courtship dance. I searched the Internet and found a short video example of their elaborate ballet:

At about 5 miles north of Westport we decided to drive back towards Willsboro on the small side roads. We turned onto Clark Road and zig-zagged our way through a patchwork of farms eventually ending up back at route 22 in Willsboro. Bohemian Waxwings still managed to escape our checklist. We did have an amazing experience, though, along the route.

On Cross Road, just east of Christian Road, Shane pulled the car over. We had noticed a large flock of Snow Geese descending onto one of the fields south of us. What, at first, appeared to be just a few hundred geese, grew to a couple of thousand over the next 30 minutes. Skeins of Snow Geese arrived from all directions. I scanned each flock for the more compact Ross's Goose but never located one. As the noisy birds were landing in the distant field, Shane spotted a Northern Harrier standing silently on the ground in a field much closer to us. Then, flying in from the field behind us, a flock of Horned Larks landed on a berm of tilled soil a few yards from the edge of the road. We searched through the flock for something different and Shane located a pair of Lapland Longspurs and a single Snow Bunting. A truck rumbled down the road and flushed the entire flock of birds. They merely circled around the edge of the field then returned to the same spot. I wanted to stay longer but it was overcast, getting close to sunset and the chance of finding any new birds was slim to zero.

We returned to Saranac Lake in time to change our muddy boots and drive to the Christmas Count compilation dinner at the Saranac Lake Hotel.

After another good night’s rest we packed up the car while it was still dark. We decided that, instead of driving straight back to Brooklyn, we’d skirt the edge of Lake Champlain, as well as, check the library at Willsboro, one final time. The weather was sunny and clear. Visibility on Lake Champlain was excellent. We made four or five stops at the edge of the lake, each time spending at least 20 minutes trying to find the grebe. On the lake we tallied Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Wood Duck, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Mallard, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and Hooded Merganser. Unfortunately, we never located the previously reported Western Grebe. We drove one more loop through the farmlands looking for Bohemian Waxwings, stopping at every single tree, shrub and occasional orchard we found. It was a beautifully scenic drive but we eventually admitted defeat (by the waxwings and grebe, anyway) and pulled onto the expressway, heading south to Brooklyn.

Shane finished the year two species short of his goal of 344. I ended our big year 15 species above my goal of 300. On the way home, we were, at first, fairly quiet and pensive. I would guess that Shane’s lack of conversation had a lot to do with exhaustion. Over a four day period he drove his car for over 1,000 miles. My head was clicking through images, like a slideshow, from 12 months of birds, people and places. I asked Shane what he thought his most memorable moment was from the year. We talked back and forth for nearly 5 hours about highlights, missed birds and people who helped us throughout the year.

Shane Blodgett, Sean Sime and I began 2006 by trying to reach 300 species in the state as a group. I don't own a car and wasn't able to put in the same hours as the other guys so didn't lose my mind quite as thoroughly. We spent as much time as possible birding the state together and helping each other find species that we "needed". I tried to cover most of our exploits on this blog. Between the three of us, we were able to document every observed rarity. So many people helped us, either directly or through the various state birding forums, that it would be impossible to thank them all personally. They kept us updated on sightings and passed on a wealth of information on the state's species abundance and migration patterns. I’ve learned more about birds and New York State in 2006 than I have in the combined past 5 years. But, more than anything else, I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie and, sometimes silliness that results from cramming three (or four; I haven’t forgotten you Doug) men with unconventional personalities into a car for hours at a time.

Sean Sime will be giving a slideshow and lecture about the year on March 27th at the Museum of Natural History:

“A ONE-YEAR SEARCH FOR THE BIRDS OF NEW YORK STATE”, Sean Sime, The Linnaean Society of New York, Photographer

Information on the program time and location can be found here: Linnaean Society Programs

In the meantime, here's a brief, chronological look back at our year in pictures:

- - - - -

Saranac Lake, Bloomingdale Bog, Port Kent, Port Essex, Willsboro, Westport, 12/30/2006
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Snow Goose
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Black-backed Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Gray Jay
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Boreal Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Varied Thrush
Cedar Waxwing
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting
Purple Finch
House Finch
Red Crossbill
White-winged Crossbill
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Rock Pigeon, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Sparrow

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Montauk Point to Long Beach

Montauk Lighthouse

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It has been nearly one week since Shane and I returned from our whirlwind tour of New York State. It has also been a week since Sean, Shane and I completed our big New York State birding year. For the last six days I’ve been mulling over some of the highlights and low points. I’ve also thought a lot about newly formed friendships and cemented older ones. This week there has been a strange feeling in my stomach, an emptiness, as if I hadn’t eaten in a long time. I couldn’t say how many miles we’ve each travelled to see birds or how many cups of coffee we drank to help keep us moving. Yesterday was the first time that all three of us were together since Christmas eve. Sean is moving and we sat in his box-filled livingroom talking about the year. There were times when a particular event was mentioned that seemed like it occurred years ago, rather than months. In the words of Jerry Garcia, “What a long, strange trip it’s been”.

With less than a week remaining of the year, Shane was revved up and determined to find at least four more species. Both Sean and I, for various reasons, had already taken our foot off of the “Big Year” accelerator and decided, instead, to help Shane reach his goal. He still needed to locate Western Grebe, King Eider, Black-backed Woodpecker, Varied Thrush and Bohemian Waxwing. In addition to those species, I was also hoping to locate Harlequin Duck and Red Crossbill. For one final push to the finish, I travelled with Shane to act as an extra pair of eyes (and ears) and Sean remained home, in cellphone contact, periodically checking the Internet for any unusual sightings.

Thursday, December 28th began with Shane picking me up in front of my apartment at 5:15am. Doug was already in the car. Our first stop would be at Montauk Point. We wanted to be there at first light and spend as much time as necessary to find a King Eider. King Eiders are rare but regular winter visitors at Montauk and along coastal Long Island’s eastern end. There had been scattered reports of one off of Montauk Point. Shane hadn't had good luck with this bird and Thursday would be his fifth attempt to find it. We also planned to check the water off of Culloden Point. If time allowed, on our way back to Brooklyn we would stop at Jone’s Beach (to find a Lapland Longspur for Doug) and Long Beach (to find a Harlequin Duck for me).

Montauk Point State Park (click to enlarge)

(Map credit - NYS Office of Parks)

I love Montauk Point in the winter. When bone chilling arctic winds are ripping across the beaches and bluffs, the peace that I find in the solitude of the point insulates me from the cold. Beneath the watchful eye of the lighthouse, we scanned the ocean from the massive boulder buttress at its base and from the windbreak of the adjacent seasonal restaurant. For the first time, we also walked down a sand trail to a beach at “Clark’s Cove” to get a view of the north side of the point.

Locating a King Eider among thousands of Common Eiders really was like trying to find a needle in the haystack. The three of us scanned the ocean until we were bleary-eyed, we then took a short drive to Camp Hero for another perspective of the sea ducks. Still “kingless”, we returned to the point to search some more.

Common Eider (Somateria mollissima), male and female

(Photo credit - Sean Sime)

The ocean beneath the bluff in front of the restaurant was dotted with thousands of birds. Like a layer cake, the different species seemed to remain within specific borders from the shore. The eider flocks were closest to the shore and spread out along a stretch parallel to the beach. Farther out, and in choppier water, were flocks of scoters. Even farther from shore were white patches of gulls bobbing on the waves. At first light we spotted a dense line of bright white birds far to the north. As some birds began to move we realized that it was a huge flock of Northern Gannets. At approximately 9:30am the entire flock lifted off the ocean like a waterspout and spread out across the sky like a thin cirrus cloud. Suddenly, as some of the birds spotted a school of fish, they began folding their wings back and plunging into the water like arrows. It was as if an expanding hole was torn in the center of the cloud and the gannets poured out, first from the middle, then rapidly spreading out to the flock’s edges.

Gannets feeding

(Movie credit - BBC)

At some point I realized that I didn’t need to move my scope to scan for the King Eider. The ocean current was flowing from the southwest to the northeast. From our vantage point on the bluff behind the restaurant we watched all the ducks drift from the cove just south of the lighthouse to “False Point”, on our left. As the birds reached the point, they’d take flight and return to their starting point near “Turtle Cove”. I left my scope trained on a spot in the ocean that covered the depth of the eider flock. I focused on one bird and timed it's movement. It took about ten seconds for a single duck to drift from the right edge of my field of view to the left edge. Shane did the same thing and estimated the number of fields from the extreme right edge of the flock to the extreme left edge. We then multiplied that number by the ten seconds it took for an eider to pass through our view. After searching unsuccessfully for a King Eider for three hours we reluctantly admitted that, in a fraction of that time, we had examined all of the eiders at the point. We packed up our scopes and left.

There were very few eiders at Culloden Point. A Red-necked Grebe that I spotted near the shore, while nice to observe, really didn’t make up for missing the King Eider. We spent more time than we had anticipated looking for the eider and there was barely enough time to check for a longspur or Harlequin Duck. I could tell that Shane was disappointed as he was unusually quiet driving back to Brooklyn. It was one of the few times this year that we went looking for specific birds and didn’t find any of them.

Tomorrow I’ll cover the next leg of the trip - Brooklyn to Webster Park (near Rochester) to the Adirondacks. I'm also working on a highlights video that I'll post after I wind up the end-of-year reports.

- - - - -

Montauk Pt., Culloden Pt., Jones Beach, Jones Inlet, 12/28/2006
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Red-necked Grebe (Culloden Point.)
Northern Gannet
Great Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Northern Shoveler
Common Eider
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-tailed Hawk
Purple Sandpiper
Bonaparte’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Flicker
Tree Swallow (small flock perched on snow fencing at Jones Beach.)
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Dark-eyed Junco
Brown-headed Cowbird

Other common species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Brant, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, House Sparrow

Monday, January 01, 2007

Dash to the finish line

Bloomingdale Bog, CBC morning

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We only had a few days left to pick-up some more species for our Big Year. Sean was moving into a new home and couldn't join us. Instead, he acted as a team manager and kept us up-to-date on any rare bird sightings posted on the Internet. Some people might think we're a little crazy, but Shane and I closed the year by dashing from Montauk Point to Webster Park and, finally, Saranac Lake. I'll fill in the details and our final tallies tomorrow.

12/28 to 12/31 (click to enlarge)

(Photo credit - Google Earth)