Monday, April 28, 2014

Point Peninsula - Apr 27 - White birds in trees

On Sunday, April 27, I went birding far from New York City. Sean Sime and Doug Gochfeld picked me up sometime after 1:00 pm and we headed up to Point Peninsula in Jefferson County, New York on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario in hopes of seeing the winter plumaged Willow Ptarmigan that was discovered there a few days ago. It was a nearly six hour drive, but prior commitments prevented us from leaving any earlier in the day. We knew from postings on the Internet and cellphone calls from friends that the bird was being seen. We also knew that the navigation software Doug and Sean were using projected an arrival at the bird's location of about 7:15 pm with sunset less than an hour later a few minutes after 8:00 pm. We had very little margin for error (or traffic delays). In the end we arrived at about 7:20 pm, hoping there would still be birders around watching the bird so that we would not have to waste time in searching for it. In our final few miles to the site Sean noticed another vehicle behind us and Doug recognized that it was Richard Crossley of New Jersey. When we got to a "T" intersection on the lake shoreline we turned left following the directions to the GPS coordinates we had been given and Richard turned right. When we didn't find the bird or any birders we decided to turn around and go the way Richard had gone. We quickly encountered Richard coming back, he also having had no luck. Doug and I both got on our cellphones trying to reach friends who had seen the ptarmigan earlier in the day while Sean continued driving, declaring, "I'll spot it before you reach anyone." He did! It was walking around in a small tree that extended out over the water, feeding on buds.

Willow Ptarmigan                                                                                                        © Joseph DiCostanzo

Once found, the bird was extremely tame and didn't seem to take any notice of us.

Willow Ptarmigan                                                                                © Joseph DiCostanzo

In the picture above, note the black tail and the large feet, feathered to the ends of the toes. The only previous report of the species for New York State was in 1876, but John Bull in his book, Birds of New York State (1974) relegated that report to the hypothetical list.

While we enjoyed watching the ptarmigan, I believe it was Doug who called attention to another large white bird in a tree top behind us, across the road.

Snowy Owl                                                                                             © Joseph DiCostanzo

Out on the lake there were flocks of Long-tailed Ducks, a few Buffleheads, Common Goldeneyes, Common and Red-breasted mergansers, a White-winged Scoter and a Common Loon. It was definitely a case of black-and-white birding!

[UPDATE: I was exhausted when I wrote the above last night. I should have mentioned the ptarmigan was my 405th species for New York State. I will have a second post about the following day's birding.]

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