Sunday, November 30, 2014

November 30 - Success!

I ended last weekend with 298 species on my New York State year list for 2014. Ann and I decided that the Thanksgiving holiday weekend was a good time to try to find two more species to get me to 300. Initially, we discussed going upstate - we planned to visit our friend Loretta in Columbia County Friday to Sunday. There were several possible year birds in the vicinity or on the way. However, when we spoke to Loretta on Wednesday evening she told us the area had had about a foot of snow and she had no electricity, heat or running water and she did not know when her road and driveway would be plowed. Ann and I changed our plans for the weekend - now only Saturday and Sunday - to a trip out Long Island to Montauk and back. We drove out Saturday, stopping at a park/preserve near Stony Brook. We chose the Avalon Preserve because there were recent reports on eBirds of both Northern Bobwhite and Ring-necked Pheasant there and I still need these two species for the year. We had never been to this spot before and it proved to be a lovely little park area with a number of trails through woodland and old field habitat. We concentrated on the field areas as the most likely areas for my two target species. We hoped to at least hear the birds, even if we did not see them. We tried imitating bobwhite calls by whistling, but got no responses. Neither did we see or hear a pheasant. Finally, deciding we needed to move on we went back to our car. Ann was already sitting in the car and I had my door open when I happened to turn my head and glance back the way we had just come. I was stunned to see a lovely, male pheasant walking across the path we had just left!

Ring-necked Pheasant                                                                                 © Joseph DiCostanzo
# 299! Unfortunately, no bobwhite proved to be equally cooperative, but that really would have been too much to expect. We continued east from there. Approaching Montauk we drove the Napeague Meadow Road around and just after sunset, hoping for a hunting Short-eared Owl, but again struck out. From there we went onto the town of Montauk where we checked into the Daunt's Albatross Motel, where I have stayed on my visits to Montauk for over thirty-five years. We were checked in by James Daunt; we told James how we fondly remembered his late grandmother, Fran, who used to always greet us with a friendly hello when we stayed there. Ann and I had a nice dinner of roast duck (Long Island duck we hoped) at a nearby pub and went to bed.

Sunday morning Ann slept in and I took a taxi to the pavilion at Montauk Point State Park, getting there around sun-up. It was a lovely morning. I immediately spotted Northern Gannets flying off-shore. There were also thousands of scoters of all three species and probably about a thousand Common Eiders; also Common and Red-throated loons, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers and a few other species. The ducks were doing what I call their "conveyor belt" routine. As you watch to the north from the pavilion the outgoing tide carries the ducks eastward. When they get to a certain point off the point they takeoff and fly back westward into the Sound. Thus watching from the shelter of the pavilion you have a constant stream of birds to scan through. I was hoping for a King Eider on the "conveyor". Most of the birds are fairly far out, but with a spotting scope an adult male King Eider is pretty distinctive. To my disappointment, none appeared. Then, much closer in I noticed a smaller looking female eider flying westward just a little way off-shore. It obligingly dropped in just west of the pavilion and enabled me to confirm it was a female King Eider, most easily identified by its bill shape - smaller and not as sloping in profile as a female Common Eider's. This was # 300 for the year! A few minutes later I spotted four Razorbills flying by further out. Any alcid is always a welcome sight anywhere from shore on Long Island, but these were not new for my year list since I had seen hundreds on an of-shore pelagic trip last winter. Later Ann joined me at the Point. By this time the "conveyor belt" had shut down - probably the tidal conditions had changed, but there were at least a thousand Common Eiders now sitting on the water just off the Point.

Montauk lighthouse                                                                                 © Joseph DiCostanzo
In the late-morning we headed back to town, checked out of the motel and had a late breakfast at around noon. Sean called to tell me that a Black-headed Gull was being seen back in Westchester, but there were no reports on the bird-lines from eastern Long Island. (Other than mine that morning which I had had Sean post for me when I was at the Point.) After eating, Ann and I continued to bird the Montauk area, we picked up some more waterfowl species - Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck and a few other species, but nothing unusual. A few minutes after 1:00 pm, as we arrived at Culloden Point, west of Montauk Harbor, Sean called again. This time he had the amazing report of a Le Conte's Sparrow found by Heydi Lopes at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, not far from the continuing Cassin's Kingbird that had been part of last Saturday's spectacular day's birding. Like the Cassin's last week, the Le Conte's would not just be a year bird, but would be a new bird for my all-time New York State list. Ann and I were about as far as it was possible to be from the sparrow and still be on Long island, but we decided we had to try for it. All plans for birding other areas on eastern Long Island were scrapped as we dashed westward for Brooklyn. We knew that it was going to be a near thing getting to Floyd Bennett before sunset and that everything would depend on traffic. That it was Sunday of a holiday weekend made the trip that much more doubtful. Most of the way we were amazed with our luck and though traffic got heavy in some stretches, it continued to move well. Sean called again in the afternoon to tell me he had gotten to Floyd and seen the bird and had gotten some nice pictures (below).

Le Conte's Sparrow, Floyd Bennett Field, Nov 30, 2014                                                                           © Sean Sime
Not surprisingly, traffic got heavier the further west we got, but the really heavy traffic was on the last stretch once we got to the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. It was now past 3:30 pm and Ann and I knew time was running out. As we approached the Flatbush Avenue exit, I received a text from Sean that he was back home. I called him just as we exited the Belt. He agreed to stay on the phone with us and talk us into the spot at Floyd Bennett where the sparrow had been found. We pulled into Floyd a few minutes after 4:00 pm. With Sean on the phone we got to the correct parking area. Going around an old building I told Sean we must be in the right place because I could see birders gathered up ahead. He wished us luck and we headed for the birders. In my post last week about the Common Ground-Dove at Jones Beach I wrote that one of the best ways I know to locate a rare bird is to look for Tom Burke. To my delight, as Ann and I approached the group of birders I spotted Tom Burke and Gail Benson. Tom pointed to the bird in the grass and very kindly let Ann and me get nice views of it through his spotting scope. The Le Conte's was # 301 for the year! It was also my 10th state bird of the year, bringing my total New York State list to 413.

There is still one month left in 2014, but it has been a fabulous year and I am content.

At least for now.

Birders are after all, basically somewhat crazy.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations!! Even crazier is the vicarious thrill of rooting you on. Well done, Joe!


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