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!