Sunday, February 15, 2009

Winter Highlights

It's been six weeks since the end of 2008, and I've been adapting to a life without constant chasing. I've been going over the birds of 2008, and I created a Google map of where I saw them (see links at right). I'm submitting my record to NYSARC as 348 birds for the year (neither Pink Footed Goose nor Scott's Oriole are on the countable list yet, Scott's Oriole since it was a first for New York, and Pink Footed because there has been some question of whether these geese are escapes or wild). As for going out, I've been doing a lot more in Prospect Park. I led a tour there on Valentine's Day, and we had some very nice birds, including Siskin and Purple Finch. I've also been photographing birds in snow, and am really pleased with some of the images I've gotten so far.

Now all that is not to say that I haven't done a little chasing in 2009, but I'm trying to limit it to life-birds only. The year started with the Thick-Billed Murre that showed up in a lake in Hemstead Park on Long Island. I had amazing looks at it with Shai Mitra and Doug Gochfeld, and photographed it as it floated within feet of the shore. This is normally a bird seen only on the ocean, so there were concerns that there was something wrong with it. Sure enough, it was found dead on the lake a couple of days later.  There were also two interesting "non-countable" birds nearby on the Island:   Eurasion Teal at a nearby lake, and an Audobon's Yellow-Rumped Warbler out at Oak Beach, a very rare bird for New York even if it's not a separate species from the Myrtle Yellow-Rumped. 

Jess and I took a trip to Block Island in January, and took a shot at Tufted Duck in Providence along the way. No Tufted, but we had Black Guillemot and Common Murre from the ferry, as well as a surprise appearance of a Northern Fulmar! While we were up there the Ivory Gull was reported in Massachussetts, and I just couldn't resist. I stayed over and was in Gloucester the next morning before daybreak. One other birder was there, and we waited as the sun began to dimly illuminate the snowy scene (it was mixed snow/rain that morning). We began to see forms in the air...just the shapes of gulls moving towards and then past the point we were on. We strained to see the ghostly white ivory gull, and several times thought we might have it, but each turned out to be an Iceland Gull...normally a good bird, but in this situation something to note and discard. The other birder walked a little way down the rocky shore, and then suddenly I saw a bird whiter than the Icelands, whiter than the snow itself, come soaring in from behind us. "Ivory!" I was shouting, "Ivory!", and the other birder was now shouting it, too. Over then next hour several more birders arrived, and we watched the gull as it glided right over our heads, and then landed just a few feet away on a patch of ice. I would watch it for several minutes, and then look around a bit at the other gulls (which included probably a dozen Icelands, one or two Glaucous, and a very good Thayers candidate), and then look back for the Ivory, startled again as if seeing it for the first time. It's the most striking bird I think I've ever seen.

On the way home I stopped for the Bullock's Oriole that was coming to a feeder in mid-state New York, and then worked my way back to Brooklyn. In early February Jess's sister had a baby, so we drove to Cleveland for the briss. Of course, we had to do a little birding...on the drive there I counted 33 Red Tailed Hawks, plus a Black Vulture, many Turkey Vultures, a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks, and a group of Ravens. On the way back I got in touch with some folks in Pennsylvania about a Harris's Sparrow that was coming to a feeder there. We met up and were lucky enough to have the big, unmistakable bird come in and give us very nice looks.

Finally, I went back up to Rhode Island for the Tufted Duck, and not only found it but also saw the reported hybird Tufted Duck x odd bird that has white flanks, a dark grey back, and a mini-tuft. It was gratifying to have both after having missed them in January, and it was an education to see the hybrid...something to file away for when I'm scanning big Scaup flocks in the future.

So it's back to birding as usual, with just enough chasing to keep things spicy, and if the winter is any indication, we seem to be headed for another good year in birding.