Saturday, March 10, 2012

About that Rosy-Finch...

Again, trying to get my blog up and running again now that I have some time to maintain it. Brad Carlson, Doug Daniels and I went up to see the previously reported Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch in southern Lewis County, NY. We stopped for coffee on our way up in the morning and as we were leaving, we spotted a Cackling Goose in a flock of Canada Geese. They are so small! It was a clear morning and there was no rain or snow in sight despite weather reports saying otherwise. We arrived at the Rosy-finch site around 8:30 and talked to many of the birders already there. No one had seen the bird yet-a bad sign as the bird had been early in the morning mostly every day it's been here. We stayed for a little while with no luck, but enjoyed nice looks at the many Purple Finches at the bird feeders.
We decided to drive along a few of the nearby roads in hope for some other unique birds and then come back to the feeders. Just down the road from the finch, we found a nice Northern Shrike near the bridge over Sugar River as well as some Pine Siskins. Next, we had nice looks at a couple Rough-legged Hawks and a Northern Harrier, as well as a beautiful adult Bald Eagle along a nearby creek. We checked back again for the Rosy-Finch but it still hadn't been seen all day.
We decided to go birding somewhere else close by and headed north to Whetstone Gulf State Park. Though the majority of the park was covered in snow, the greek and the deep gorge were pretty scenic. We had a flyover Bald Eagle but had little else in the park. On our way out, we spotted an immature Northern Goshawk flying over, doing a unique (display?) flight. A very cool sighting. On the outskirts of the park we had two more Bald Eagles, another Rough-legged Hawk and a Northern Shrike. We also found 5 Ravens feeding on a deer carcass along a roadside and also had some Horned Larks and a large flock of Snow Geese in the same area.
We decided to check back once more for the Rosy-Finch before heading home. On the way back to the finch, we spotted a beautiful Golden Eagle soaring over the car. We got out and had great looks at this magnificent bird. As for the Finch, we were again unsuccessful, as the Finch must have moved on as it hasn't been seen now since early Thursday morning. Before we left we spotted a Rusty Blackbird with the large group of Blackbirds in the yard. Having been defeated by the rosy-Finch we headed off through the snowy roads back to Rochester. Though unsuccessful, a fun chase nonetheless.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Signs of Spring in mid-February

The past two days have been in the lower to mid 50s and the snow from the many storms is melting quickly. It is really starting to feel like Spring. Went out to Waterport in Orleans county to pick up a new ATV and went birding at a couple places on the way home. The first stop was at Point Breeze, where the Barrow's Goldeneye has been seen all winter (and for the past 5-6 winters). When we arrived, we spotted the adult male Barrow's Goldeneye. In the channel at the outlet of Oak Orchard River, there were many ducks in very close. Here, I ran into Kathy Habgood, who was photographing a pair of Canvasback and some close White-winged Scoters. At Point Breeze, we also had many Greater Scaup, Common Mergansers, Long-tailed Ducks as well as close looks at a male Hooded Merganser.
Point Breeze-Orleans County, NY
Male White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca) just coming up and eating a mussel.
Another photo of a male White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca) just coming up and eating a mussel.
Another photo of a male White-winged Scoter (Melanitta fusca) just coming up and eating a mussel.
Female White-winged Scoter.
Canvasback (Aythya valisineria) with White-winged Scoters.

Later in the day, I went out birding with Kevin Griffith. We started out at Braddock Bay on the west spit where we trudged through deep, wet snow and spotted a lot of ducks at the mouth of the bay. Many of them included Greater Scaup but there were also good numbers of Redhead, Canvasback and Ring-necked Duck. Also present were Common Goldeneye and Common and Red-breasted Mergansers. However, our best birds were recent migrants and included 11 American Wigeon, 6 Northern Pintail and a male Wood Duck.

We checked the east spit of the bay for more waterfowl and found little more. Then, we went to Burger Park. Here, we spotted a nice Northern Flicker at the top of a tree as we drove in. However, the show had not begun yet. As we got to the bend in the road on the way in, we saw a show of Northern Harriers. There were five flying around in the fields and we even had them swoop down by our car a couple times. Unfortunately, I couldn't get any amazing pictures despite the opportunity but still came up with a couple good ones (click to zoom in for better looks).
Male Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) at Burger Park.
Male Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) at Burger Park.

After Burger Park, we drove a couple roads in Hamlin. Birds were few and far between, but North Hamlin Road had a good variety. We had a male Brown-headed Cowbird (early migrant perhaps or just an over wintering bird??) on the west end of the road.
Male Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) on North Hamlin Road.

On the east end of the road we had a couple good looks at Horned Larks and also found a flooded field filled with birds. There were many Canada Geese and we were happy to pick out two Cackling Geese in with them and a possible third. Also, we had a few more American Wigeon and Northern Pintail as well as a Hooded Merganser amongst the Mallards. It was a beautiful day to be out despite the wind, since the warm air was such a relief from all of the cold of the past couple months.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Pelagic that wasn't

After barely any birding (none actually) in the weeks after the Super Bowl of Birding, I attended what would have been the NYSOA-NYSYBC pelagic trip this past weekend in Freeport, New York.

On the way down, I got a ride with Mary Batcheller. We arrived early for the Pelagic birds workshop that was held by Angus Wilson, so we decided to do some birding at nearby Point Lookout. It was extremely windy when we arrived and it was not a pleasant addition to the cold air off the ocean. As we walked out onto the beach, we spotted a Sanderling right along the shore. We actually had a flock of about 50 a little ways down the beach. We had a couple of Gulls, that included a 2nd year Lesser Black-backed Gull.
A Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) flying around the beach.

Also along the beach was a small group of Brant which gave us some great looks.
One of the Brant (Branta bernicla) along the shore.

We also had some nice looks at two Horned Grebes very close to shore as well as a flock of Common Eider, some Long-tailed Ducks and a Red-throated Loon amongst other birds.
The beach and jetties at Point Lookout.

At the workshop Saturday afternoon on pelagic bird identification, presented by Angus Wilson, everyone received word that the trip was canceled due to high seas and winds. The workshop was very good though with a great presentation on Alcid identification as well as ID tips on Gulls, Gannet and other seabirds.

With the trip canceled, we took a trip out to Montauk State Park and did some extra birding out in Suffolk County. Ben Van Doren and I embarked at 4:45 AM (brutally early!) and met up with Seth Ausubel and Corey Finger. On our way out to Montauk we filled up our car even more by picking up Brent Bomkamp. We arrived at Montauk State Park at 7:15 and were greeted by a couple of Wild Turkeys on the way in. We made our way out to the seawatch location behind the snack bar. It was brutally cold and windy. Not very comfortable at all. However, we were able to pick out a few interesting birds amidst the clouds of Scoters (White-winged, Black and Surf).
Just a very small fraction of the flocks of Scoters off Montauk.
The lighthouse at Montauk Point.

We spotted multiple Razorbills flying by as well as one on the water pretty close to shore. We also had a bunch of Common Eiders.

After birding at Montauk State Park, we took off for the adjacent Camp Hero State Park.
The bluffs at Camp Hero State Park.

Here, we spotted a female King Eider fairly close to shore and had some nice looks. We walked back towards the lighthouse again and spotted a beautiful adult Northern Gannet circling out over the water. Then, we received call from Mike McBrien who had just gotten here and spotted four King Eiders. We walked back to where he was and quickly got on the Eiders.

After that we drove to Big Reed Path, where the previously reported adult male Western Tanager was. When we arrived, we quickly spotted a nice Fox Sparrow at the top of a tree near the feeders. After at least 15 minutes of waiting, the Tanager flew over our heads and landed in the thickets in front of us. We had some nice looks as it finally went up to the bird feeders. A very rare bird for New York State, it was a state bird for a few of us (including myself).

After that, we went to Ditch Plains Beach. We were greeted by a group of Purple Sandpipers close by along the rocky shoreline. Other than that, birds were pretty scarce here.
A few Purple Sandpipers (Calidris maritima) at Ditch Plains Beach.

We went to a couple of other spots after this including Hook Pond, Napeague State Park and Lake Montauk Inlet. We had a couple shorebirds at Napeague SP as well as two resident Lesser Black-backed Gulls. On the drive in we also had a Pied-billed Grebe. At Hook Pond, we spotted a Ring-necked Pheasant but saw very little on the pond itself and saw very few Geese on the day in general. At Lake Montauk Inlet, many of us members of the young birders group met up. We had nice looks at Iceland Gull, some more Sanderlings, Long-tailed Ducks in close and two Great Cormorants at the end of the west jetty. Also in the inlet of a Gray Seal.
Gray Seal (Halichoerus grypus)
We then went to a spot near Dune Road, our second to last stop of the day. Here, we saw very little, but someone spotted a white blob on a sandy island in the harbor. It had the shape of a Snowy Owl and our hopes were high. We walked out on a "pier" to get a better angle and then noticed it had two parts. Definitely not an owl!

We ended the day at Dune Road where we were looking for marsh birds, particularly Sparrows such as Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrows. We only got one of these species, Seaside Sparrow, despite diligent searching.
Hope, still trying to find another Sparrow in the marsh.

All in all, it was an awesome day to be out birding, despite the cold and the wind. The conditions were definitely much more tolerable than if we were on a boat in the middle of the ocean!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Super Bowl of Birding

So I am finally starting this blog up again after basically a half-year hiatus, so that is definitely good. I hope to update the blog fairly often regarding birding trips and news.

Anyways, I just got back from participating in the Super Bowl of Birding hosted by Massachusetts Audubon's Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport, Massachusetts. This is the sixth annual event and it takes place in just Essex County, Massachusetts and Rockingham County, New Hampshire (you can go birding in both or just one-each county has a separate award on top of grand prize). Unlike similar birding competitions, teams are scored based on a points system (1-5) based on the abundance/rarity of the bird (e.g.: a House Sparrow would be 1, a Snow Bunting would be 3 and a Common Murre a 5). All 5 point birds/birds not on the official checklist must be called in to Joppa Flats, and other teams can check up on what rare birds have been seen. If you are the first team to call in a five point bird, you get a three point bonus. Also, the competition lasts from just 5 AM to 5 PM.

Our team was sponsored by the New York State Young Birders Club and included four young birders (18 and under) in the club; Eamon Corbett, Jacob Drucker, Benjamin Van Doren and myself (the captain). Our team name was the NYSYBC Razorbills and we birded only Essex County, MA just as we did last year, when we won the NewBies Award (minimum 2 members under 18 on the team). Last year we recorded 61 species and 101 points. This year we were really hoping to top that and break 70 species.

We left our hotel in Amesbury, MA at 4:30 AM and took off for an area near Topsfield, MA on the edges of Bradley Palmer State Park. Unlike waking up to 3 degree temperatures last year with howling wind (a -25 degree wind chill), it was right around 30 and there was no wind-a beautiful calm morning; great weather for owling. Just after 5:00, we arrived at our destination for Owls. As we exited the car, an Eastern Screech-Owl was already calling very close to the parking lot. Soon after, we heard Great Horned Owls calling in a duet. We tried for Barred Owl, but were unsuccessful. We drove nearby in an attempt for Northern Saw-whet Owl but were also unsuccessful. In a final effort for Barred Owl, we tried another road near Bradley Palmer SP, but were still unsuccessful. However, another nearby pair of Great Horned Owls calling in a duet was spectacular to listen to.

Next, we took off for Flax Pond in Lynn, where we were going for a Northern Shoveler (5-point bird!) that had been reported all winter. Some teams had already spotted it in the dark but as we arrived at sunrise, the bird was not to be seen. However, we spotted numerous Hooded Mergansers, two Ruddy Ducks and about four American Coot. As we would find out later, there was actually another opening of water at the pond where the Shoveler was, that we had not known about prior. Despite missing the Shoveler, we went on to Nahant, a picturesque isthmus/peninsula southeast of Lynn. On the causeway, we had many Brant, as well as many Duck species including Greater and Lesser Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser and Bufflehead as well as White-winged, Surf and Black Scoters. Next, we went to the Nahant stump dump, where we spotted a few neat songbirds such as Carolina Wren and American Tree Sparrow among other common species. We also checked out the ocean on the north side of Nahant and picked up Common Loon and Common Eider as well as both Horned and Red-necked Grebes.
Brant at Nahant.
A view from the north side of Nahant.
Carolina Wren at Nahant.

After we left Nahant, we checked a couple spots in Lynn and then headed straight to Gloucester on Cape Ann. Here, we went to the Jodrey Fish Pier, where there were already hordes of birders, many also participants in the Super Bowl of Birding. Right away we spotted the Thick-billed Murre that had been previously reported. It was a lifer for many of us including myself (see my life list page-bird # 485). However, our highlight here included a Common Murre swimming out in the middle of the harbor. This was also a lifer (bird #486!) and was our first rare/5 point bird of the day. We called it in and realized we were the first to do so, gaining our team the 5 point bonus. Here, we also spotted the Peregrine Falcon in its normal roost spot on the Gloucester Town Hall, as well as our third Alcid species, a Black Guillemot. The Guillemot was doing something, it probably rarely does, and was sitting up on a log/tipped over piling over near the docks. It was our first of many Guillemots on the day. We then took off for Eastern Point in Gloucester at the mouth of Gloucester Harbor. Here, we spotted some Purple Sandpipers on the breakwater clinging to the narrow brick edges on the wall. They were all packed very tight and some even had trouble holding on, sometimes slipping off and flapping on the surface of the water before flying back up. Here, we were also able to spot a couple of Gadwall and our first Great Cormorant. Our next major stop was at the famed Elks Club at Bass Rocks, the site of the adult male King Eider. When we arrived, a very kind local birder pointed it out to us way off in the distance, not the best looks compared to the bird putting on a show at point blank range the day before. They are such beautiful birds and the colors are just amazing. Also of note here was a raft (!) of Red-necked Grebes, not something you see very often.
Common Loon at Jodrey Fish Pier in Gloucester
Harbor Seal at Jodrey Fish Pier in Gloucester.

We headed up to Rockport after birding in Gloucester and first went to Penzance Beach on Loblolly Cove, where an adult male Barrow's Goldeneye had been previously reported. Fortunately, we spotted the Goldeneye right away. We also had our first Harlequin Ducks of the day and were able to enjoy such a beautiful and ornately patterned duck. Next we went to the Granite Pier in Rockport where we had more good looks at Eiders, Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, and Great Cormorant. Then, we went to Andrews Point, where it was much less windy, cold and blatantly unbearable than last year. Here, we had another Alcid species, and our team mascot, Razorbill. We had tremendous looks at 16 of these birds straight out from where we were looking. The other highlight here was (finally) our first Long-tailed Duck as well as our second King Eider of the day, a first-year male close to shore. We had excellent looks at this bird as well as many more Harlequin Ducks and Scoters and a few more Black Guillemots.
The view from Andrews Point in Gloucester.

After Andrews Point we, went up to Newburyport, picking up both Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks on the way, and stopped at the Sunshine Farm, where a flock of field birds had been reported for the past few weeks. We had a large flock of Horned Larks and had some great views of two Snow Buntings and a Lapland Longspur mixed in. Next, we went to Joppa Park along the Merrimack River in Newburyport where we were surprised, yet relieved, to find the sought after Shoveler that we had missed in Lynn early in the morning. We called the bird in and got our second 5 point bird of the day. Here, we had hundreds of Mallards and American Black Ducks but failed to find much else mixed in. Next, we took off across the river for Salisbury Beach State Reservation. Here, we spotted a beautiful adult Bald Eagle eating a fish on a mudflat fairly close to the parking lot. It was a tremendous sight.
The adult Bald Eagle at Salisbury Beach.

With not much else of note here, we went back across the river to Plum Island's Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. On the way over we stopped by Joppa Park in Newburyport again and spotted a 2nd year Iceland Gull out on the river. At the refuge, most of the fields and marsh had turned into a desolate, snow covered tundra, making birds very scarce. We failed to even find a Northern Harrier, typically a numerous bird on Plum Island. However, towards the southern end of the island we were treated to great looks at a female Rough-legged Hawk sitting on an Osprey platform. However, our best find was at North Pool Overlook, where we were trying to find a previously reported Wilson's Snipe along the last remaining wet spot. There was no Snipe, but Jacob quickly pointed out a Brown Thrasher along the edge of the water. It was our third 5 point bird and we also got the bonus points for being the first to call it in. Unfortunately, our looks were short as a Northern Mockingbird flew in and scared the Thrasher into the thickets across the road. A stop at parking lot 6 at the refuge yielded nothing new but provided looks at 2 more Razorbills as well as a few more Purple Sandpipers. As it was getting towards 5:00 and sunset, we headed over to a Blackbird roost spot in Salisbury, where we finally picked up Northern Harrier as well as a few Red-winged Blackbirds.

It was now 5:00 PM and the competition was over. Our final tally counted 71 species of birds (10 more than last year!) and a total of 140 points (39 more than last year!), a dramatic improvement. However, it was not enough to win the NewBies award although the winner had only two youth members and four adults. We came in 11th overall and 5th in Essex County (I believe) marking an outstanding and exhilarating day of birding. All in all we missed a couple easy birds (we missed House Finch last year!) including Mute Swan and Dark-eyed Junco.

The list:

Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Northern Shoveler
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
King Eider
Common Eider
Harlequin Duck
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Common Goldeneye
Barrow's Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Great Cormorant
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
Purple Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Murre
Thick-billed Murre
Black Guillemot
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eastern Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow.

Thanks to my dad, Fred Lawrence, and Ben's dad, Dan Van Doren for driving, the New York State Young Birders Club for sponsoring and funding the team and for Mass Audubon's Joppa Flats Education Center for another great Super Bowl of Birding.

Monday, July 12, 2010


This summer, I have been helping out at two MAPS stations. MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) stations are set up to run during the summer months and you must visit them once in every 10-day period. When visiting, you must set up mist-nets for bird banding and open them a half-hour before sunrise. Then, you check the nets for birds every half hour for six hours.

One of the stations is at Braddock Bay, on Manitou Beach Rd. in Greece, New York. We have two nets on the north side of the road in a small overgrown field and five nets in shrubland/young deciduous forest (backing up to the marshes at Braddock Bay) on the south side. I hadn't visited the station until late June due to school and exams. The first visit yielded few birds as the only birds around are local birds focused on breeding activities. This time of year is typically slow, but picks up in mid-July when the young birds fledge and starting moving around a lot. Most of the birds we caught in the nets were retraps (birds we had caught before and banded). Though we have banded these birds already, they provide valuable information such as the knowledge that these birds are probably locals and a breeding here. During the banding process, we check for a brood patch (female breeding characteristic) or a cloacal protuberance (male breeding characteristic). If we notice these on any birds we catch, we know that they are in breeding condition. By looking more closely at them we can even monitor what stage in the breeding process each bird is in. Along with this, the band numbers are sent into a central database. We receive information back on the birds that we caught that were retraps. Since this is the second year of this MAPS station, we caught a couple of birds this year from the previous season as well as birds banded at the nearby Braddock Bay Observatory (

The other banding station is at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) in Henrietta, NY. Here, the habitat is a large marsh with some ponds along with some shrubby/young deciduous forest areas and then some more mature deciduous forest. This location is diverse and is a tremendous birding spot as well. During our visits here, we caught many Swamp Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, Gray Catbirds along with some other common birds. The birding during the visits was definitely better than the banding as we had tremendous looks at two Soras walking along the swamp trail and calling at the same time. Great Egrets, Green and Great Blue Herons, and Black-crowned Night-Herons were cool sightings out in the main pond along with families of geese, Mallards, Wood Ducks and 3 Green-winged Teal were neat. Also interesting were pairs of American Coot and Common Moorhen who have both declined significantly in the area and are limited to just a few local places in Monroe county where they breed. Pairs of Red-tailed Hawks and Pileated Woodpeckers were also fun to watch.
A molt-limit in the greater coverts here (along with other characteristics) on this Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia) makes it a second-year bird.
Here is an adult male Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
A male Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)
Third-year male Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
A big surprise at Braddock Bay in the Summer-adult male Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera)
An abandoned nest in the field (Woodcock or Snipe...)
Our first baby bird of the season! Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)