Documenting the Birding Adventures of Scott Whittle
Friday, July 18, 2008
Cattle Egrets and Crossbills
A cattle egret was seen near Lake Cayuga associating with some cattle yesterday, and I figured to get a few species at once and chase that bird at the same time. Cattle Egrets are seen each year at Jamaica Bay, but I figured the bird-in-the-hand approach was best, and combined with the other targets I could make a little more progress in the year.
The egret was spotted at the home of a veteranarian, whose wife initially saw the bird hanging out with their cows. Cattle Egret are common in the south, but are pretty uncommon in NY...they look a little like Snowy Egret, but with a yellow crown, breast and bill, and an overall stockier appearance. They associate with cattle and eat the insects that the cows stir up. I left Brooklyn around 2pm, planning on getting to the spot by 7, but then hit an hour-long, construction-fueled traffic jam. I pushed on as fast as I felt was safe, and got to the house at around 7:45, as the sun was beginning to set. I was afraid I was too late, and at first the bird was difficult to see...it was in the back of their pasture in some tall grass, and I was staying on the road in order not to trespass or disturb the owners. After a few worried minutes I spotted a white something by the cattle, and there it was. I got a few blurry and distant but recognizable photos and was getting ready to go, when the owner returned home. He and his wife were very gracious and invited me onto their deck for a better view...just around then the egret soared up (I got some flight shots), and then perched on a telephone pole and posed for some nice portraits and satisfying looks.
I stayed in Ithica and got up at 3:45am the next morning to look for Red Crossbill in Pharsalia. Crossbill expert Matt Young had given me a lot of great advice, and I went to a spot he had recommended. It's a road that I had been to in the winter several times, looking for that same bird without luck. This time, though, I heard the birds fairly quickly, and for the first hour of daylight heard four or five separate birds and was able to make a recording of one. I sent the recording to Matt later that day and he confirmed it, and thinks it might have been a Type 4, which would be less common for that area. [Crossbills are currently broken into 9 groups, types 1 through 9, and may at some point be split into several separate species].
I was planning on going on for more birds (I still need a photo or recording of that Black Billed Cuckoo!), but had a change in my work schedule and had to come back early. Nonetheless, as I've learned many times this year, no chase is a guarantee, and two new birds is a good result. In fact, people looked for the Cattle Egret the next day and didn't see it...it's gone off to some other place and may never be seen again.
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.