Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wild Goose chases, either side of Xmas

A Pink-footed Goose at Assiscong Marsh found by Frank Sencher (possibly the Cushetunk Lake individual from earlier in Dec) had me braving the potential for bad mall traffic on the 24th - but I got through Flemington quite quickly and after 15 minutes of sorting through an infinite number of Canadas.  The early start was just as well - I saw the Pink-footed Goose at 7:20am, about 10 minutes before it decided to fly out of the marsh to go feed (it was re-found in a park nearby later on).  Good diagnostic looks, but I was hoping for pictures as well.  At least I managed to put the other birder present on the goose before it took off.  I've now seen Pink-footed in NY, NJ and PA.  Other waterfowl present included: American Black Duck, Mallard, Gadwall and Green-winged Teal.  A brief look around local roads didn't show any goose flocks but I didn't realize until later that there was a nearby park that I should have checked too.

On the 27th a report of a Barnacle Goose came up on JerseyBirds at Mercer Corporate Park found by Mary DeLia - this is just inside Mercer County near Allentown and within striking distance of where I was.  (This spot is also the Northern Lapwing location from this fall).  I'd seen Barnacle in NJ before (Califon) and Barnacle this year (NYC/Bronx) but the odds of getting another Barnacle Goose in Mercer Co seemed remote so I headed out to see it.  It had moved on to an adjacent field making for more obscured viewing but after a little walk up the hard shoulder I picked it out at the back of the Canada flock.  On the recent CBC there had been two Barnacles at Plainsboro Preserve and one at Lake Etra, so there are multiples here or hereabouts.

Both these birds are presumed Greenland-originated (although with Barnacle it's difficult to be certain), and increased numbers of both in the north-east are related to melting of the Greenland ice sheet due to global warming.  Nevertheless they remain some of the more prized winter geese by their scarcity.

Barnegat Inlet, Dec 23rd

The lure of alcids brought me to the NJ coast just before Xmas, but I was to be thwarted on the quest for either Razorbills or Dovekie.  In fact Barnegat Inlet was pretty quiet initially.  Long-tailed Ducks had put in an appearance in numbers compared to my last visit, Common Loons were around in decent numbers but everything else was pretty slow.  Minor novelties were a Canada Goose flock, probably bouncing down the coast as the weather hardens, and Hooded Mergansers flying up the inlet into the bay.  One female Black Scoter was at the bay end of the inlet and a female or subadult male Surf Scoter was along the rocks at once point.  Notable by their absence were any Great Cormorants (regular here in winter).

Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Northern Gannet
Double-crested Cormorant
Common Eider
Harlequin Duck
Surf Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Turnstone
Purple Sandpiper
Bonaparte's Gull
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dec 15th: White-winged Crossbill and CPK #200 (actually 204)

A brief visit to Central Park on the morning of Dec 15th was entirely mercenary with one species in mind: White-winged Crossbill.  Having dipped on Evening Grosbeak and Red Crossbill previously I was immensely relieved to find three female White-winged Crossbills in Mugger's Woods (charming name, historically accurate) feeding on sweet-gum seeds.  While Evening Grosbeaks were seen earlier that day they continued to evade me.  A Barred Owl was still present, although the vanishing leaves had led it to move roosts to an evergreen over its previous deciduous.

Other birds were an ongoing swarm of Tufted Titmice at the Ramble feeders, a Brown Creeper, a flock of Cedar Waxwings at Strawberry Fields feeding on holly, and a late Baltimore Oriole.  Judging from tail feather shape this oriole was a first winter bird.  Hopefully it heads south quickly because despite a fairly mild start to the winter I cannot imagine it's going to be as mild as last winter.

On Saturday I was elated about the Crossbills at least in part because I thought they were Central Park bird #200.  In fact I'd seriously undercounted and they were #204:
  • 204: White-winged Crossbill
  • 203: Brant (Nov 17th 2012)
  • 202: Barred Owl (Nov 17th 2012)
  • 201: Grasshopper Sparrow (May 4th 2012)
  • 200: Acadian Flycatcher (May 3rd 2011)
Given that #198 and 199 were Western Tanager Dickcissel (2008) and Varied Thrush (2010) it's clear that 2012 was a far better-than-average year for difficult park species and equally clear that I'm getting laissez-faire with my editing of some of my location species lists - Central Park is actually one of the ones I pay attention to, allegedly.

I'm still missing Red Crossbill and Evening Grosbeak in what is an invasion year for both, however.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Psychotic chasing: Cape Cod

While I'm not an obsessive chaser, the lists that I take seriously are my Life List, Year List and Central Park List.  I'm willing to travel a little distance to plug holes in my Life List, especially now that I'm at 675 and new birds are difficult to find to advance the goal of reaching 700.

So it didn't escape my notice that a Little Egret had been found the previous weekend on Cape Cod.  Although New England is a lot more compact than, say, the American west, it's still 325 miles of driving one way to get from central NJ to Hyannis.  That's a pretty long round trip and as I'm increasingly older also toward the upper limit of what I'm tempted to do in one day.

Nevertheless, Little Egret is something I've tried for and struck out on in the past, and it would make a nice "pairing" with the Western Reef-Heron in Brooklyn (July 2007).

So off I went up a dark and wet I-95 all the way from NJ, through NY, CT, RI and finally MA for a fifth state pre-dawn, ending up at Hyannis on the south side of Cape Cod around 8:45am.  I rolled into the first of two sites that the bird frequented - and where it was seen multiple times the previous day - whereupon an especially helpful birder told me it was over at the other location only a couple of miles west.  Within 10 minutes of looking, I was watching a Little Egret hunt down small fish at the outflow of a marsh using a foot-trembling method to disturb the mud and/or flush the fish.  All the expected ID marks where there - a more massive bill with gray-ish lores, greenish legs with yellowish feet, overall structure intermediate between Snowy and Great Egret.  While the ID is not trivial at range, this was a good look at a bird that could not be confused with a Snowy Egret.

If the Egret wasn't remote-enough odds, it was standing right next to a Black-headed Gull, itself a relatively rare bird in the USA.  Both of these species I've seen in Britain (memorably I once had about eight Little Egrets in GB in one day in February) where Little Egret have become far more numerous than when I used to live there and where Black-headed Gull is abundant.

In retrospect that quick and easy success with the egret (modulo 5.5 hours of driving) should have led me to turn around and head toward home, not least of all because it was drizzling with low cloud the entire day.  Instead I rolled the dice and when 50 miles further up the Cape to Provincetown in search of Thick-billed Murre.  I'd seen the murres this past summer in AK, but wanted a look in the East.  This was a trip I'd considered during the previous winter - and almost executed - but always delayed it due to bad weather and the sheer distance involved.  Provincetown appears to be one of the better mainland sites for finding TB Murre, however luck wasn't quite with me.  I had three Razorbills at MacMillan Wharf along with Common Loons and one Red-throated, Red-breasted Mergansers, American Black Duck, both Cormorant sp, but no murres.  Race Point at the northern edge of the cape had limited visibility (fog, rain) but had Northern Gannet and one Black Scoter.  Herring Cove on the western tip added White-winged Scoter, a quick return trip to the harbor netted exactly the same species, so I headed back down the cape to check First Encounter Beach where the low tide precluded finding any water bird within the visible range, and Corporation Beach in Dennis where there were a good select of water birds just off the breakwater (new: Horned Grebe) but no alcids.  I did have a single fly-over Redpoll here but simply could not find it in the dark gray sky.  The southerly wind that brought the moisture and relatively mild conditions wasn't exactly conducive to winter finch flight so I was unable to track down any (other) Redpolls or Crossbills.

Heading back to Hyannis once more and finding that the Egret had become elusive (various birders were looking for it) at either of its regular spots, so I decided to make an early start on the return trip, and left the cape around 2:30pm to start the 6+ hour drive home in rather heavier traffic conditions than the early morning outbound trip.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - US bird #676

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Van Cortlandt Park/Alley Pond Park Dec 1st

Some days my predictions are luckier than others.  A Barnacle Goose that originally frequented Inwood Hill Park (found Nov 11th, seen over the next few days) had pulled a vanishing act - I went looking for it myself and struck out - and given that there's precious few flat grassy areas in that area I made the prediction via my venerable list eBirdsNYC that it might turn up in Van Cortlandt Park, geographically close albeit in the Bronx and not Manhattan.   In one of those uncommon alignments between plausibility and actual events the Barnacle turned up in Van Cortlandt Park on Nov 26th.

So although I was denied a nice rarity for my Manhattan (NY County) list, I did find my NYC list Barnacle Goose on Dec 1st amongst a large flock of Canada Geese feeding on the parade grounds area on the west side of Van Cortlandt Park.  Taking its cue from the other tame Canadas in this park the Barnacle was not particularly wary, although the light was pretty bad for photography and the bird decided to take a nap, further limiting photo options.  Took me all of 5 minutes to find the bird after finding street parking.  In retrospect I should have stuck around and looked for a Cackling Goose - a rare bird in NYC - amongst the large Canada flocks rather than head out to Queens.

However, flushed with easy success for one NYC bird, I headed out to Alley Pond Park in Queens to search for a more elusive one - the persisting Virginia's Warbler.  Although present for a while it had acquired the reputation for being difficult since it covered a large area in a non-demonstrative way.  In real habitat Virginia's Warbler is rather skulky and difficult to find, too.  Alley Pond Park had clearly taken a beating from Hurricane Sandy with a lot of felled trees although the parks dept had cleared up all the trails.  I predictably failed to find the warbler, and there was really only one part of the park that was at all birding with a mixed flock including chickadees, titmice, robins, Winter Wren and multiple Fox Sparrows.  Most of the woodland was pretty quiet with only a few sparrows.