Sunday, February 15, 2009
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.
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 Scaup...an 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.