Saturday, June 28, 2008

Barred Owls and Stilts

Summer is here in full force and the birds are mostly still up in their breeding territories, so in addition to my trips in Cupsogue I've been making some little "clean up" trips for birds that I can still see. On Thursday I did a short drive up to Bedford in Westchester, to the Mianus River Gorge. Tom Burke had reported 8 (!) Barred Owls there, and I was happy to hear about such an accesible way to see them, especially after missing them in the Adirondacks. The area on the way up is full of VBGs (Very Big Houses) - one of those super-wealthy enclaves tucked away above the city. I half expected to get pulled over for breathing the air up there, but it was quiet as I pulled up to Mianus. The Gorge is a private preserve, only open from 8:30 am to 5 pm, but the owls have been active during the day, and so I got there around 10am. I hiked about a quarter mile into the woods, feeling like I could easily miss an owl in the dense pine and deciduous mix that lines the river. I was looking at tree trunks as well for any whitewash, when I caught a little movement and saw a big bird fly over the trees and perch a little ways off. I called to it a couple of times, without any luck. I stood there hoping something would happen, when I heard a "hoo, hoo" above me...I looked up and there was an adult Barred Owl checking me out not thirty feet away. It seemed huge, and with its all-black eyes it was an intimidating presence. I got some photos despite the very dim light, and as I was I heard a screeching behind me, which turned out to be a first-year Barred Owl perched nearby. In contrast to the adult, the first year still had down in its plumage, and a fluffier stuffed-animal appearance. It called continuously for several minutes, perhaps hoping for some food from the adult. All told I spent about an hour there before heading back to the city.

Today (Saturday), I got a call at 7:30am from Shane Blodgett...Black Necked Stilt at Jamaica Bay! I'd chased Stilt twice this year, and this was probably my last best chance. I had a previous commitment until about 9:30, but by 10 or so I was at the West Pond at Jamaica. At first the bird was not apparent, but after a few minutes I took another scan of a large flock of geese and there it was. Even though Stilt are impossibly long-legged, they are still much smaller than a Canada Goose, so this one had probably been blocked by its larger, less elegant avian brethren. We got fairly close and I got some shots through my scope, which were still a little fuzzy due to the heat haze. I joined Sy Schiff and when we were done looking at the Stilt we checked the East Pond as well, but aside from a lot of Mute Swans (a couple of hundred, probably), and spotted sandpiper, there wasn't much else to see. In a week or two this spot should start to heat up with "fall" migration shorebirds (yes, it's July, but the early bird gets the fall migration, I guess)...meanwhile, the Stilt was a nice bird to tide us over until then.

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