2015 Great Gull Island Birdathon account and species list.

This year the Great Gull Island Birdathon was on Saturday, May 16 and Sunday, May 17. There were some changes in “personnel” on my 2015 Great Gull Island Birdathon. For only the second time in about thirty years Ann was not with me for either day. A few years ago it was because of knee problems. This year she pulled her back while doing her exercises a couple of days before the Birdathon. As is now normal, Sean Sime and I birded together for the two days. Also as usual, Sean’s brother Dave was with us for Saturday. In recent years Chuck McAlexander and Jeff Kimball have been with us for most of the two days, but Jeff could not make it this year due to family commitments. Instead, Jon Hyman and Chuck birded together and joined us for most of the two days.

Sean and I drove up to Wurtsboro, NY on Friday and did a little scouting on Friday afternoon before checking in to the Days Inn and going across the road to finishing shopping for supplies for the weekend. Dave joined us for dinner at Danny’s in Wurtsboro and then it was back to the motel to prepare sandwiches for the next day and get to bed early.

The forecast for Saturday was not good – it predicted rain for the morning, starting around first light. Therefore Sean and I decided to try a strategy we had never used before. We would start birding just after midnight, bird for a couple of hours for night birds and then go back to the motel for a couple of hours sleep before setting out again. My alarm woke me about 11:45 pm and I was out at the car waiting for Sean and Dave a few minutes after midnight. It was still clear with lots of stars showing, so if the forecast was correct, we hoped our strategy would work. We headed down to Bashakill and started birding at the pine boat launch/fishing station along rte 209. Our first bird, at 12:22 am was a calling Canada Goose. There were lots of frogs and toads calling, but our next heard animal was one I don’t think we have ever had on the Birdathon before. A pack of Coyotes started howling from somewhere to the south of us! Over the next couple of hours we actually saw two to three Coyotes running along the side of roads. We only picked up about ten species of birds between our start and about 2:15 when we headed back for some additional sleep, but they were good ones. Soon after the geese, we heard a Black-billed Cuckoo calling! Cuckoos are known to sometimes call at night, but this was the first time we had gotten one this way. At another spot where we always stop to listen for Barred Owls, we were amazed to hear a Northern Saw-whet Owl hooting nearby! This was a first for this species in thirty-five years of doing the Birdathon. From the causeway on Haven Road we heard a number of species calling from the marsh: Pied-billed Grebe, Common Gallinule, Sora, Virginia Rail, and Swamp Sparrow. We were startled by a loud splash that we at first took to be a large fish jumping, but then realized it was a Beaver slapping the water with its tail. At another location we heard both Barred and Great Horned owls calling, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. A cuckoo sweep in the middle of the night! Pleased with our nocturnal efforts we headed back to the motel for a couple of hours more sleep.

When we started out again at about 4:30 am we found that the weather forecast had, unfortunately, been on the money. It was now rainy and foggy. At least the rain was intermittent, not steady. Dave, Sean, and I parked out on the Haven Road causeway across the marsh and hoped for the best. Despite the weather, we did pretty well. Whip-poor-wills were calling and Common Nighthawks were flying around hunting for insects, when it wasn’t raining. A Beaver climbed atop its house with a large branch in its mouth. Wood Ducks were flying around and calling and a couple of Great Blue Herons flew by. As the light got brighter more birds could be heard calling and singing in and around the marsh: Yellow Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird, Wood Thrush, Eastern Kingbird, Song Sparrow, Warbling Vireo and more. An adult Bald Eagle flew by. Around 6:30 am Chuck and Jon joined us on the causeway, having driven up from New York City. We all drove to the end of the causeway and birded the orchard area in toward the main parking area. Despite the intermittent rain, we continued to pick up birds: Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, American Redstart, Louisiana Waterthrush, Baltimore Oriole, and more. In the main parking area we had White-crowned and later White-throated sparrows. After moving the cars into the parking area we walked the “Stop Sign” trail. The rain eventually let up, but it continued foggy. Birding was much slower than we would have liked, but we continued to add species: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Least and Willow flycatchers, Easter Wood-Pewee, Veery, Magnolia, Canada, and Wilson warblers, and more. Driving down the South Road we found an Eastern Bluebird near a nest box. At the boat launch we saw another Bald Eagle and spotted the Osprey across the marsh on its nest. A few Cedar Waxwings flew over and we heard and saw Black-billed Cuckoo. Just before heading back to the cars, Sean excused himself for a second and ended up flushing a Ruffed Grouse from the side of the trail. Since I once found a Spruce Grouse under similar circumstances in the Adirondacks over forty years ago, we decided that in the future instead of excusing yourself from the group to “water a bush”, we will now refer to it as “watering a grouse”. We continued to pick up species while birding the “nature trail” paths: two Green Heron, Cooper’s Hawk, Hairy Woodpecker and two good warblers – a pair of Ceruleans and a Tennessee. Further south along Port Orange Road, at the power line cut, we picked up Prairie Warbler, Indigo Bunting and Field Sparrow. Now that the weather had lifted Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks were up. Back at the south end of the marsh we found a couple of Spotted Sandpipers and saw a Pileated Woodpecker fly over (we had heard one earlier). Swallows were scarce, but we did get Barn and Tree. At another location an Eastern Screech-Owl stared out from its nest owl, which we checked out with our binoculars from a good distance away so as not to disturb him.

After checking out of the motel we drove up Upper Pine Kill Road, stopping at a few spots to watch and listen. The drive was productive: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Fish Crow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blackburnian Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco. Further up route 17, along the Neversink River we picked up Common Merganser, Northern Rough-winged Swallow and singing Pine Warbler. Then it was back down to Wurtsboro for a quick check along the canal in Linear Park. On the drive in there were more Cedar Waxwings and a male Orchard Oriole. Unfortunately, we had no luck with the Alder Flycatcher which we usually pick up here.

Because we had been fighting the weather for several hours in the morning and then trying to play catch-up all day, we did not leave the Bashakill vicinity until midafternoon, hours later than we normally leave. We left with about 110 species, but we had to start triaging our time since we still had a number of important places to bird before the end of the day. At a quick rest stop at a McDonalds in Pine Bush we picked up House Sparrow and Northern Mockingbird, two birds we often get here. Then it was on to Blue Chip Farm and Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. Sean and I had an Upland Sandpiper at Blue Chip, but unfortunately the bird disappeared before the others could see it. Bobolinks were also calling and flying around here, as well as Savannah Sparrows. At the nearby Grasslands refuge there were more Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks and several Grasshopper Sparrows obligingly perched up and sang. We couldn’t stay long since we were so far behind schedule. In New Paltz, at the entrance to the Thruway, as usual we added Purple Martin from the colony there. Then it was racing the sun down to Doodletown Road by Bear Mountain. We did not get there and start birding up the road until 6:15 pm. Despite the lateness of the hour, Doodletown came through for us with its nesting Hooded Warblers, more Ceruleans (which we did not need here this year since we had seen a pair at Bashakill), a perched Olive-sided Flycatcher, singing Nashville and Tennessee warblers and best of all one of the Kentucky Warblers that has nested here the last couple of years. We stopped briefly at Iona Island across rte 9W after getting back down the hill. We didn’t add anything new here, but were pleased to hear a Virginia Rail calling from the marsh. Then it was home to my apartment where Ann had ordered some Chinese food for Sean and me for dinner. After dinner, it was to sleep as quickly as possible since we needed to be back out at Jamaica Bay early Sunday morning.

We were up again a bit after 4:00 am Sunday morning for the second day of our mad weekend. We had hoped Ann’s back might be improved enough to come, but she decided she wasn’t up to it. Often on the Birdathon Sean and I get out to Jamaica Bay when it is still dark in hopes of seeing the resident Barn Owls coming in to their nest box, but we had decided this time we needed the extra sleep instead. When we got to the Bay, we found that for the second morning in a row we were fighting the elements. No rain this morning, but fairly dense fog instead. Chuck and Jon joined us on the West Pond trail. The West Pond at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge still has not been restored since it was breached by Superstorm Sandy two years ago, so the refuge is not the great birding spot it once was, but we still added many new species to our weekend list, mostly water birds: Brant, Common Loon, Great and Snowy egrets, Little Blue Heron, both night-herons, Glossy Ibis, Clapper Rail (calling and running around in the open), several gulls, Forster’s and Gull-billed terns, and more. We also started to seriously add to our shorebird list: Black-bellied and Semipalmated plover, American Oystercatcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Semipalmated and Least sandpipers, Dunlin and Short-billed Dowitcher. The gardens added a few birds to the passerine list: White-eyed Vireo, Brown Thrasher, Carolina Wren, and Bay-breasted Warbler. It was not new for our list, but an adult Great Horned Owl was perched in a tree with two young as we headed out towards the north marsh from the gardens. The species nested at the refuge for the first time this spring. When we went over to the east Pond the fog was still so thick all we could see were a few Mute Swans close to shore. In a little while the fog burned off enough that we could see partway up the pond and we added Ruddy Duck to the list. As with yesterday morning the weather slowed us down so we left Jamaica Bay later than we would have liked to so we decided to try to make up some time by skipping Forest Park. As we headed out Long Island our list stood at 155 species.

Our first stop on Long Island was Cow Meadow Park in Nassau County. We picked up Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Tern here, but did not see or hear the Monk Parakeets that have a nearby colony. Next was the West End of Jones Beach. At the Coast Guard Station we picked up Red-breasted Merganser, Piping Plover and Ruddy Turnstone. By the “swale” in the West End 2 parking field we heard Horned Larks calling. We drove the length of the Jones Strip and stopped in at Captree Island, but did not see any harriers, a bird we sometimes get on this drive. At least we did pick up a Peregrine Falcon at Captree Island. After leaving the beach we stopped in at Gardiners County Park on Montauk Highway, just east of the Robert Moses Causeway. We had never been here before, but Sean had been told it was a good place to find some saltmarsh specialties. It was indeed and we saw a Marsh Wren going into a nest, Seaside Sparrow and the best views any of us had ever had of Saltmarsh Sparrow. (I could never have dreamed that Ann and I would be back at Gardiners within a week with my Brazilian tern colleague Pedro Lima trying for a Little Egret, which alas, we missed twice!) After Gardiners we made a quick stop in Connetquot River State Park. Decades ago Ann and I included this park on out Birdathon itinerary every year because it was the only place we could count on seeing Osprey – times have changed and Ospreys have made a great recovery from those days. This year we were stopping in for a single species – a Yellow-throated Warbler that was present here for the second spring in a row. We were successful in our hunt and this became the second new addition to my all-time Birdathon species list.

Further east on Long Island we visited Gabreski Airport. Passing an incredibly ugly piece of “art” at the entrance, we were rewarded with Vesper Sparrow for our list. In a large flock of shorebirds along Dune Road we finally found some Red Knots. At Shinnecock there was a Long-tailed Duck by the old Ponquogue Bridge parking area. At the inlet we found Common Eider, Red-throated Loon, Great Cormorant and Northern Gannet. As had happened on Saturday, the poor weather in the morning plus the new stops we had added to the route meant we were now behind schedule. We had to pass up some places we have birded in other years in our race with the sun to Montauk. We did stop to scan the ocean in Amagansett and picked up White-winged and Black scoters. A surprise here, though not an addition to the weekend’s list, were several Purple Martins flying overhead. We checked a farm pond in Montauk for puddle ducks, but came up empty. The breakwater at the mouth of Montauk harbor also failed to produce the hoped for Purple Sandpipers. At the Point itself, Camp Hero added Bank Swallow to our list. At sunset we did our traditional wave to Great Gull Island, or in this case towards Great Gull which was invisible in the fog. For Sean and me our last bird of the weekend was the same one that has become pretty regularly our last bird in recent years – displaying American Woodcock at Camp Hero in the dusk after sunset. Chuck and Jon added a different last species. For them it was a calling Whip-poor-will; a bird they were too late to hear Saturday morning at Bashakill.

Finally we headed back to the center of Montauk where we checked in to the Daunt’s Albatross Motel for a well-deserved night’s sleep. Before sleep, however, there was a celebratory dinner and a final recount of the list. Sean and I counted up the list independently and then as always needed to reconcile some miscounting to find that we had ended with 185 species for the weekend. This is ten fewer than last year, but considering the weather, we were pleased with the total. Later I checked our totals for the last ten years and discovered our average over that period was 184.4 species.

Following is Sean and my total list for the weekend. I have not indicated every location for every species, some are widespread and were encountered in many places, but I have given an indication of the birds seen in the main birding areas we hit using the following abbreviations: B = Bashakill and vicinity (includes Neversink River to the north), C = Blue Chip Farm/Shawangunk Grasslands, D = Doodletown/Iona Island, G = Gardiners County Park, J = Jamaica Bay, M = Montauk and vicinity, O = Cow Meadow, S = Shinnecock/Dune Road, W = Jones Beach West End. I think all of the special birds can be found in my account above. (Bold face – new for my all-time Birdathon list.)

Brant - J, W
Canada Goose - B, J, W
Mute Swan – B, C, J
Wood Duck - B
American Black Duck - J, W
Mallard - B, J
scaup sp. - G
Common Eider - M, S
White-winged Scoter - M
Black Scoter - M
Long-tailed Duck - S
Common Merganser - B (see account)
Red-breasted Merganser - W
Ruddy Duck – J
Ruffed Grouse - B
Wild Turkey - B
Red-throated Loon - S
Common Loon J, W
Pied-billed Grebe - B
Northern Gannet - S
Double-crested Cormorant - J
Least Bittern - B
Great Blue Heron - B
Great Egret - J
Snowy Egret – J
Little Blue Heron – J
Green Heron – B, O
Black-crowned Night-Heron - J
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  - J
Glossy Ibis - J
Black Vulture - D
Turkey Vulture – B, C, D
Osprey – B, J
Bald Eagle - B
Cooper’s Hawk – B
Red-shouldered Hawk - B
Broad-winged Hawk - B
Red-tailed Hawk B, C, D
American Kestrel - C
Peregrine Falcon – Captree Island
Clapper Rail - J
Virginia Rail - B
Sora - B
Common Gallinule - B
Black-bellied Plover - J, W, S
Semipalmated Plover - J, W, S
Piping Plover - W
Killdeer - C
American Oystercatcher - J, W
Spotted Sandpiper - B, J
Solitary Sandpiper - B
Greater Yellowlegs – J
Willet - J, W, S
Lesser Yellowlegs – O
Upland Sandpiper - C
Ruddy Turnstone - J, W, S
Red Knot - S
Sanderling - W
Semipalmated Sandpiper - J, W, S
Least Sandpiper - J, W, S
Dunlin - J, Cow Meadow
Short-billed Dowitcher - J, S
American Woodcock - M
Laughing Gull - J, W,
Ring-billed Gull – J, W, S
Herring Gull - J, W, S, M
Great Black-backed Gull - J, W, S, M
Gull-billed Tern - J
Least Tern - W, O
Common Tern - S, M
Forster's Tern - J
Rock Pigeon - C, J, W, S, M
Mourning Dove - B, D, C, J
Yellow-billed Cuckoo - B
Black-billed Cuckoo – B, D
Eastern Screech-Owl - B
Barred Owl – B
Great Horned Owl – B, J
Northern Saw-whet Owl – B
Common Nighthawk - B
Eastern Whip-poor-will - B, M
Chimney Swift - B
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - B
Red-bellied Woodpecker - B, D
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - B
Downy Woodpecker - B, D, J
Hairy Woodpecker - B
Northern Flicker - B, D
Pileated Woodpecker - B
Olive-sided Flycatcher - D
Eastern Wood-Pewee - B
Willow Flycatcher – B, J
Least Flycatcher - B
Eastern Phoebe - B
Great Crested Flycatcher - B, J
Eastern Kingbird - B, D
White-eyed Vireo - J
Yellow-throated Vireo – B, D
Warbling Vireo - B, D
Red-eyed Vireo - B, D
Blue Jay - B, C, D, J
American Crow - B, C, D, J
Fish Crow - G
Common Raven - B
Horned Lark - W
Northern Rough-winged Swallow - B
Purple Martin - see account
Tree Swallow - B, C, D, J, W
Bank Swallow - M
Barn Swallow - B, C, D, J, W, S, M
Black-capped Chickadee - B
Tufted Titmouse - B
White-breasted Nuthatch - B
Carolina Wren – J, G
House Wren - B, J
Marsh Wren - G
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - B
Eastern Bluebird - B
Veery - B, D
Swainson's Thrush - J
Wood Thrush - B, D
American Robin - B, C, D, J, W
Gray Catbird - B, D, J
Northern Mockingbird - J
Brown Thrasher - J, W
European Starling - C, J
Cedar Waxwing – B, D
Ovenbird - B, D
Worm-eating Warbler - B, D
Louisiana Waterthrush - B
Northern Waterthrush – B, J
Blue-winged Warbler – B, D
Black-and-white Warbler - B, J
Tennessee Warbler – B, D
Nashville Warbler - D
Kentucky Warbler - D
Common Yellowthroat - B, C, D, J
Hooded Warbler - D
American Redstart - B, D, J
Cerulean Warbler - B, D
Northern Parula - B, D, J
Magnolia Warbler - B, D, J
Bay-breasted Warbler - J
Blackburnian Warbler – B
Yellow-throated Warbler – see account
Yellow Warbler - B, D, J
Chestnut-sided Warbler - B
Blackpoll Warbler - B, D, J
Black-throated Blue Warbler - B, D, J
Pine Warbler - B
Yellow-rumped Warbler – B, J
Prairie Warbler - B
Black-throated Green Warbler - B
Canada Warbler - B, D
Wilson's Warbler – B, J
Eastern Towhee – B, J
Chipping Sparrow - B, C
Field Sparrow - B
Vesper Sparrow - see account
Savannah Sparrow - C
Grasshopper Sparrow - C
Seaside Sparrow - G
Saltmarsh Sparrow - G
Song Sparrow - B, C, J, W, D, M
Swamp Sparrow – B
White-throated Sparrow – B
White-crowned Sparrow - B
Dark-eyed Junco - B
Scarlet Tanager - B, D
Northern Cardinal - B, D, J
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - B, D
Indigo Bunting - B, D
Bobolink - C
Red-winged Blackbird - B, C, J
Eastern Meadowlark - C
Common Grackle - B, C, D, J, W, S, M
Boat-tailed Grackle - J, S
Brown-headed Cowbird - B, C, W
Orchard Oriole – B
Baltimore Oriole - B, D, J
House Finch - W
American Goldfinch - B, D, G
House Sparrow - C, J, W, M

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