Documenting the Birding Adventures of Scott Whittle
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Sunday started as a "clean-up" day for me and turned into a 2-day birdathon that left my head spinning. I started out looking for Monk Parakeets, a "gimmee" for local birding. These birds are sometimes called Quaker Parakeets and are sold in pet stores, and these Monks were escapes from that trade. They found a way to survive the New York winters, and now have an established wild population in Brooklyn. They've built their nests in a few spots around the borough, but the largest and easiest to see is the nests on top of the main entrance to the Greenwood Cemetary. When I asked the lady working at the cemetary entrance where the Parakeets were, she just smiled wearily and pointed up...that poor woman. Unlike the Pine Grosbeaks, which are parrot-like but fairly silent, these are actual parakeets, and they make a racket. On the spires of the entryway there are several large communal nests, and the birds are both in the nests and feeding nearby. I followed my ears to one noisy flock feeding in a nearby tree and snapped a few shots before moving on to Point Lookout.
I've been looking on and off a Red-Necked Grebe for the past week or two, and Point Lookout is a good place to find them. This is the kind of bird that's not really a rarity, but just uncommon, and not something you want to have to chase. Luckily I ran into Seth Ausubel, and he pointed out a bird in the channel...sure enough, a Red-Necked Grebe. This was the second bird Seth had pointed me to this year, the other being the rare Barrow's Goldeneye on the North Shore of Long Island in Oyster Bay. I headed there next--although I'd seen the bird, it was too distant to photograph, and I wanted to get a photo for my 2008 Gallery. On the way I stopped in Massapequa and got photos of another bird I'd seen but not shot, the Long Billed Dowitcher. Also spotted a Greater Yellowlegs in the same pond, and apparently there was a Common Teal there, too, but I missed it.
The Goldeneyes were much closer this time, off the point of Center Island, and I was able to get a few decent shots of the Barrows. It was about 4:30 now and the light was fading, so I started back to Brooklyn. On my way I checked my email and got a start when I saw a Pacific Loon and Eared Grebe were both seen on Cayuga Lake, above Ithaca. These are both rare birds and worth a chase, so it looked like my day wasn't over after all. I grabbed a few things at home and headed upstate. Now it was about 9pm and I was nearing Ithaca, and I checked my email again. Ross's Gull in Niagara! This is one of the rarest occurences on the East Coast, and a very exciting bird to have nearby. So I just kept driving, and got into Niagara around 1am. At 6:30 the next morning I was at Goat Island with Jim Pawlicki, a great local birder who was also excited to look for this beautiful little gull. We worked the area above the falls for about 2 hours, scanning through the thousands of gulls that regularly congregate here in the winter. We were walking back towards the parking lot when Jim spotted a small gull flying nearby and alone...it was the Ross's! I immediately started shooting, and got a few flyby shots before we chased the bird upstream. We watched it fly with some Bonapartes gulls for a few minutes, and then lost it again. Jim called all the locals, and within 20 minutes there were about a dozen of us trying to refind the bird. Just as I was about to leave, someone spotted it sitting on the ice, and we all got really nice looks at it through our scopes. It's so satisfying to find a bird and then really get to study it, as opposed to some quick flyover. And it was really very lucky to have seen this one...there were lot of ways that I could have missed it. I didn't have my passport with me, and I had Monkey in the car, so if it had turned up somewhere on the Canadian side that I couldn't see, them I would have missed it. Also, if it had been on the Canadian side and visible, I would have gotten to see it, but not to count it as a New York bird! So all in all a very successful chase. I headed back to Ithaca and never did see the Pacific Loon or Eared Grebe, but went home satisfied nonetheless.
My name is Scott Whittle and I'm a professional photographer (www.scottwhittle.com). I have an MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I started birding as a teenager, and then dropped it for many years. I started to bird again in 2007, and have been birding since then in Brooklyn, NY and Cape May, NJ.