Sunday, January 6, 2008

Chats and Kings

I had a wedding to shoot yesterday, so I squeezed in an hour of birding at Prospect Park at sunrise. There's a Yellow Breasted Chat which has been hanging around for several weeks. Remarkably, it's one of two chats that are probably in the park, one near the Boathouse and another in the Botanical Gardens. Chats are notorious for their skulkiness and secretive behavior, so it was a great relief to spot it almost immediately as I came into the park. I got some excellent views (Chat-wise), and a number of photos. Then back to my house by 8:30 to go to Bethlehem, PA, to shoot a cool wedding at the art center there. While we were doing portraits outside a large flock of crows began to fly overhead. An hour later, the flock was still streaming over...thousands of birds silently moving across the sky.

We got back to Brooklyn and in bed by 1am, and then up at 6am to go again for the Townsends Solitaire that's eluded me twice. I spent four hours at Oak Beach from sunrise to around 11:30, and got skunked again. The bird was seen yesterday, so I know it's still around (I was worried I might be killed or driven out by the frigid weather on Thursday), but it's been very uncooperative, and it's taking up a lot of the hours I'd like to spend looking for other birds. This is the rarest bird in NY right now--I believe this is only the 8th Solitaire to be seen in NY State--and it probably won't show up again this year, so I have to keep trying. At 11:30 I decided to go for a few other birds on the North Shore of Long Island that would also be great additions. I met up with Seth Austubel who is a much more experienced birder than I, and he helped me spot the Barrow's Goldeneye that was drifiting in a flock of Common Goldeneye off Oyster Bay (by Centre Island). The birds were so far away that they were almost invisible to the naked eye, but through the scope I could clearly make out the different head shape, the different sized and shaped white spot on the face, and most importantly the black streak that goes from the shoulder to the waterline that differentiates Barrow's from Common. It was too far for a photo, but I hope to return in the next few weeks and get a shot if the bird comes closer to shore. This duck has been returning to this area for a number of years, and should hang out for a bit. Seth also tipped me off to a King Eider nearby, and I drove down the road to look for it. The King can be a tough bird to find, and the females can be hard to differentiate from Common Eider without a great view. I couldn't find the birds at first but then located them a few hundred yards down the beach from where Seth had seen them. Luckily, this King Eider is an immature male, so he's pretty distinctive from the Common Eider he was with.

Next I went to Sunken Meadow State Park. It was 2pm and daylight was getting short, but this turned out to be a very easy bird to spot. The Black Headed Gull that has been seen here for several days was happily darting around a pond at the end of Parking Lot 3, picking up little bits of food out of the water. Gulls can be very hard to ID, but this one was very looks like a Bonapartes Gull, but with a bright red bill and legs. A few minutes for photos (and for my dog Monkey to stretch his legs), and we were back on the Sagiponack Parkway towards the South Shore to get the last hour of daylight looking for the Solitaire again. I met some birders from the North Fork of Long Island, who told me someone had seen the bird at 12:30, an hour after I gave up. And again, no bird, so now I've logged about 13 hours over 3 days on this bird. Aaaarrrggg!

As the sun set I drove down the beach to a spot where a Barn Owl had been called out a week ago. I tried playing a call for a few minutes, but no response. It's the exciting thing about birding...even though it didn't work this time, some day I'll do that and there will be a loud scream back (Barn Owls make a call like someone is getting murdered), or I might even have a big, all white raptor silently swoop down and flash in front of me.

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