Saturday, November 22, 2014

November 22 - The quest for 300.

As I mentioned a while ago I am trying to get to 300 species in New York State in 2014. This was not a goal at the beginning of the year - I was not really trying until my friend Sean Sime suggested it in, I think, September. Today, after doing our regular Saturday shopping at the Farmer's Market on Isham, Ann and I headed directly out to Jones Beach to look for the Common Ground-Dove that has been present in and around the West End 2 parking field for a couple of weeks now. Ann and I had been planning this for a couple of days, but it was good to get a phone call from Sean just as we were leaving for the market that the dove was seen this morning. We arrived at the West End 2 parking lot and immediately turned east along the north side of the lot - the dove has most often been seen around the easternmost exit from the lot. We spotted a car pulled over near the north edge and I told Ann to head for it. I thought I recognized the car as Tom Burke's. It was indeed Tom and Gail Benson. Sure enough as we got close Ann said; "There's the dove!". Many years ago I told Ann the best way to find a rare bird you are searching for is to look for Tom Burke. It has worked many times and here it was working again. The dove was # 296 for the year for me.

Common Ground-Dove, Jones Beach S. P.                                                          © Joseph DiCostanzo
While we were looking at the dove Sean called on my cell to tell me that Tom and Gail had just posted the dove was along the north edge of the parking lot. I told Sean we were sitting about 20 feet from Tom looking at the bird. Sean also said a Western Kingbird had been reported from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. In talking to Tom and Gail while we sat in our respective cars, Tom told us about some Lapland Longspurs they had seen in the swale on the south side of the lot. They also asked us if we had heard about the kingbird report. I said we had. Ann and I planned to spend a few minutes trying to photograph the dove before going to look for the longspurs. I already had the species on my year list, but they are always nice to see. Suddenly Sean was back on the phone to report that the kingbird at Floyd Bennett was not a Western, but was in fact the Cassin's Kingbird that had been seen and photographed by one observer last weekend, but which hadn't been seen since. I quickly told Ann to roll down her window and I yelled the news across to Gail. I heard from Sean later that after hanging up with me he had called Tom and Tom told him: "Joe's yelling the news to us right now."

All thought of the longspurs was forgotten as we left Jones and headed for Floyd Bennett. Not only was the Cassin's Kingbird a year bird, but it would be a New York State bird for me. There is only one previous record for the species in New York, out at Montauk in 2007, and I hadn't gotten out to see that bird. I called Sean from the road to get specific details about the location of the bird at Floyd - he was on his way there with his daughter. He had been in Prospect Park with her when he got the word about the kingbird. When Ann and I arrived, we heard the bird had been spooked by a Sharp-shinned Hawk and now good numbers of birders were hunting for it. While we looked in the area it had last been seen in, word went out among the hunters that it was back near the community gardens where it had first been seen. Ann and I (and a bunch of other birders) hurried back only to find the bird had disappeared again. Everyone spread out again. Ann and I had gotten separated during the hunt, but Ann called me on my cell to say she was heading back to our car to rest her knee while I continued searching. I happened to be standing in front of the car at that moment, facing the picnic area the bird had been frequenting. I told Ann I would call her if I found it. I had gone only about 15-20 feet forward when I spotted the bird through some trees flycatching from a low post. I instantly called Ann who turned out to already have me in sight, so she hurried over. I looked around for other birders to signal and then saw birders gathering off to my left. Clearly they had also spotted the bird. Finally, the kingbird was cooperative and many got to enjoy good views of it perching and sallying forth from perches on some short poles.

Cassin's Kingbird, Floyd Bennett Field.                                               © Joseph DiCostanzo
Cassin's Kingbird, Floyd Bennett Field                                                                  © Joseph DiCostanzo
I was able to get a few distant shots of the bird (above). Note the gray head and back and the yellow underparts. The pale terminal band on the end of the brown tail distinguishes Cassin's from the similar and much more to be expected Western Kingbird which has white edges on the sides of a black tail. The Cassin's was # 297 for the year for me and # 412 for my all time New York State list. It was my 9th state bird of the year, which is really quite incredible!

Our day, however, was not done. Ann and I headed over to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens to look for one more year bird for me. Last winter I had somehow managed to miss seeing Snow Goose, despite having seen many much rarer waterfowl. At Jamaica Bay, Ann decided to rest her knee while I walked out the West Pond trail. I went as far as the breach caused by Hurricane Sandy. The tide was in and there was some water in the currently defunct West Pond and thousands of Brant, but no Snow Geese. I headed back towards the headquarters, intending to check the East Pond when I heard calling Snow Geese approaching. Seven Snow Geese flew over coming from the direction of the East Pond - # 298! Back at the car in the parking lot, more than a hundred Snows flew over. There was also a flock of Boat-tailed Grackles perched along Cross Bay Boulevard, but these were not new for me for the year.

Three year birds in one day in late-November - one of them a new State bird!. A fabulous day! Only two to go - but Snow Goose was the last easy one. Now it really gets hard.


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