I was looking forward to the New York State Young Birders Club kickoff meeting this year, as I have in the past. I go not just for the birding, I go because these are my kind of birders: the ones who have the energy to keep up with my style of birding. The birding part was shorter than I would've liked, but it was really cold that day, although we still got a few good birds, mainly Fox Sparrows, Common Merganser, Bald Eagle, American Goldfinch, and a Merlin.
Our checklist can be found here: ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41895421
Once we had warmed up, we met at the Mariandale Retreat (where we met last year) and introduced ourselves. Then we started our presentations: Lila Fried gave a presentation on her work as a field biologist, Jordan Spindel on digibinning, Garret Van Gelder on the evolution of birds, Nick Kachala on his big days. During our lunch break, Ryan, Jordan, Hannah, Kai, and myself discussed some of our past birding plans, what was happening with other young birders, and future birding plans. After lunch, we listed some potential trips for this year. We had already confirmed a Montauk trip for February, as well as adding the following possibilities:
I had to pop out early because I wanted to chase a few rarities, or more realistically, a rarity. I had two options: Black-headed Gull in Brooklyn and Ross's Goose in Queens. Knowing that Brooklyn was impossible to get in and out of during rush hour, my dad and I went for the goose, which I had quickly spotted upon arrival. On the drive home, I saw a flyover Common Raven. Would that be my last new bird from winter break???
The morning of my return to ESF, I didn't have time to chase any rarities, so the only new bird I got was a Northern Flicker in my yard.
To be continued...
Lifers indicated in bold
With one week before school starts, was I going to take it easy? No. I was going to step up my game and work harder to get as many species as I can before I went back because I knew that once I was back at ESF, rare birds I could only dream about seeing in New York would stay dreams. First thing I needed was to knock off several members of the duck family, starting with King Eiders at Jones beach. After getting lost in search of a bathroom, my mom and I walked out towards the jetty only to turn back because it was too windy at the beach. Not without me getting Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, and other assorted birds (including American Pipit)
Eiders: 1. Me: 0
The rest of the week went like this: birding on one day, then a hiatus for the next. Tuesday was the hiatus while Wednesday is when I actually got to go birding again. The plan was this: start with a rarity that was the farthest away and work our way back (I say our because I'm dragging my mother who is a birder in training along and I can't drive yet). Most of these sites were places to get there, check for the bird, and then drive off again. The first one we went to was Mill Pond in Sayville, where a Eurasian Wigeon found before Thanksgiving Day last year (which I got last year). Needless to say, it was still there.
Next spot was Brightwaters canal where a Barrow's Goldeneye had been reported. Unfortunately, the canal was frozen and as a result, no goldeneye.
The last rarity we went for was a continuing Townsend's Solitaire, which I had missed by minutes and got my shoes and pants coated in snow for nothing.
Well, one out of three targets isn't that bad, I've had much more painful* dips on rarities (missed those rarities by an hour, a day, and SECONDS respectively, even though GOEA isn't rare for Colorado)
After leaving Thursday as a break day, we were going to look for geese in the distant sod farms of Yaphank. Specifically Ross's and Cackling. The fog was too thick for me to see anything. My mom suggested we go to a pond in Centerport that I always manage to find something good in. This time, just a raft of Canvasbacks as well as Ruddy and American Black Ducks, or so I thought. While I was looking for stuff on the other side of the road, a small flock of Canada Geese had flown in to the main pond, followed by more. Now was my chance to find a rarity. Careful scanning of the Canadas revealed a Cackling Goose.
Today I decided would be for round two of the King Eider search. The previously reported immature male and near adult male Kings had been joined by two females. Sounded like a walk in the park? NO. This time, my dad was back on rotation. While we got farther than last time, the wind forced us to abandon the jetty and move on to my new plan: search for a Snowy Owl. Unfortunately, that was a no show too.
It wasn't until after we birded at west end that the eiders were last seen at Point Lookout, not Jones Beach. My mom volunteered to take me, and we quickly ran into another pair of birders whom I would later find out that one of them is Brian Whipple. The four of us scanned the jetties and quickly found a few Common Eiders among the raft of Greater Scaup present. Shortly after a large flock of Common Eiders flew up Jones Beach Inlet towards the Great South Bay. While my mom had backed out, the other birders and I had found an eider which we thought was one of the female Kings and it was... another Common
Were the King Eiders in the northbound flock of Commons? Probably, it's most likely we overlooked them...
To be continued...
Lifers indicated in bold
I didn't do any real birding until I got to McAllen even though I tried for longspurs at the airport, and didn't even wait to get off the plane before I got new birds in the form of Great Kiskadee, Eastern Meadowlark, and Great-tailed Grackle (no Boat-tailed or Common this far south, so the only confusion would be with cowbirds). Shortly after, we got Ringed Kingfisher and Brewer's Blackbird
On our first full day, we made the long trip to Salineno in Starr County. Shortly after sitting down at the feeders despite my insistance on looking for river birds, we racked up Green Jay, Altamira Oriole, Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Black-crested Titmouse, and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Along the river, I added American White Pelican, Green Kingfisher, White-tipped Dove, Greater White-fronted Goose, Orange-crowned Warbler, Bewick's Wren, Mexican Duck (a subspecies of Mallard), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and my most wanted bird, a male White-collared Seedeater providing excellent views. Unfortunately, the seedeater disappeared before I could get a photo. As we were leaving, I had heard an Audubon's Oriole, but my dad wouldn't let me count it because he didn't see it and wouldn't let me count "heard only" birds. The problem with this rule is there is no rule like it in the rules of the American Birding Association. There is literally no rule in the ABA Area Big Year recording rules that says "someone else has to see the bird and confirm your identification" or that "the birder has to see the bird." ABA Recording Rule 1C states "'Encounter' means seen and/or heard live and not remotely." It was "within the prescribed area when encountered" meaning within the prescribed area when observed, the encounter occurred within the prescribed time period (1A, see my caption for the Black Phoebe picture for an example of the observer not needing to be in the same area), it was on the ABA checklist (Rule 2), and lastly it was "alive, wild, and unrestrained when encountered" (Rule 3). In conclusion, it counted.
My dad had to be on a work call, so while he waited in the parking lot, my mom and I went ahead to look for birds, while the latter and I fought about what I could count and what I could not. I had seen a Curve-billed Thrasher up the trail, and while she refused to let me count it, I did anyway because as I mentioned while talking about Salineno, my parents don't make the rules, the ABA does.
Later, we went to the National Butterfly center where we got a lot of new birds, but also confirmation that Audubon's Oriole would count (despite this rule not even mattering)
Time was running out, and I wanted to find a Sprague's Pipit at Anzalduas Park as well as the Granjeno Burrowing Owls, but unfortunately we couldn't get in and the owls were not showing. We went home after that.
I was really excited about going to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, as it is one of the best places for birding in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Despite some minor arguments on the trail, I got a very good list including many Rio Grande valley birds I had missed, as well as a close encounter with a Nine-banded Armadillo.
Next we tried for the Hammond's Flycatcher and Tropical Parula at Estero Llano Grande State Park. While I couldn't find either rare bird, I still got some good birds out of this stop. These include Clay-colored Thrush, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Northern Pintail, Common Pauraque, and Tropical Kingbird. We also got good photos of some other birds I had previously seen this trip.
My dad and I had gone to Quinta Mazatlan to look for the Blue Bunting (ANOTHER no show, I might add), then to pick up mom to go to Anzalduas Park again to try for pipits again. We got into the park, but we were not allowed on the dike that overlooked the field they usually in (sad reacts only). I wanted to go back to the hotel, but my mom insisted on going to the water despite my disappointment. After getting Lesser Scaup after fighting over our next action (I had to begrudgingly cut my losses with the Sprague's), we decided to go back to Granjeno to look for the Burrowing Owls. As we stood atop the levee, the presence of a border patrol officer made me uneasy. After a few minutes of waiting for anything (still hoping for a pipit), I chickened out and insisted that we cut our losses with the owls. In the end, it was not the clock that beat me, it was my own cowardice. As I would find out later, I didn't have reason to be scared for my safety at all. A recent fact check of one of Donald Trump's tweets stated that the crime rates in U.S. border counties are actually lower than many similar inland counties. Oh well, my irrational fears cost me a chance for Great Gray Owl in 2017, and in 2018 they had cost me a chance for Sprague's Pipit. While doing non-bird related stuff that evening, I heard screeching and chattering that did not resemble a grackle or a Brewer's Blackbird. Suddenly, a huge flock of Green Parakeets flew in with the icterids. I had finally found the parakeet roost I spent the past two days looking for!
Checklists: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41654652, ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41656552, ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41657393
I wanted to go to Laguna Atascosa first so I could get on the early tram and have time for Tamaulipas Crow and Snowy Plover on the way to Brownsville, but as most of my plans on this trip, this did not go as planned. My parents insisted on going to South Padre Island first for shorebirding, which I consented to thinking I could get the plovers on the way. I was wrong: the pullout area for the plovers was on the left side of the road and we could not stop to look for them, so we continued to SPI. Despite missing a chance for two lifers, I still got a lot out of the Convention center, mainly shorebirds and waterfowl, but also Reddish Egret, Marsh Wren, a lingering Scarlet Tanager, and a good candidate for Franklin's Gull mixed in with a flock of Laughing Gulls. Next we WERE going to try for the Tamaulipas Crow at the Sea Ranch Marina, but like with the Port Isabel boat ramp, we missed the turnaround on our way to Laguna Atascosa
Moving on to Laguna Atascosa, I silently accepted that Tamaulipas Crow would be another miss of the trip as we headed to try for Mountain Plover outside the refuge (again, nothing). Fortunately, the morning tour of the Bayside Drive had seen an Aplomado Falcon that morning, which greatly increased my chances of seeing one. We hadn't even gotten to the wildlife drive when we had seen a Greater Roadrunner, then shortly after a herd of Nilgai.
For those who don't know mammals very well, Nilgai are a species of antelope native to the Indian Subcontinent but were introduced to south Texas for hunting purposes. Without any native predators in the area, the Nilgai population has exploded and now they are somewhat of a nuisance.
As the tram continued on, we got a good variety of birds including Long-billed Curlew, Stilt Sandpiper, American Avocet, Black Skimmer, Marbled Godwit, Wilson's Warbler, Whimbrel, and several sparrow species (Clay-colored, Lark, Savannah, and Vesper). The real highlight was just as we were nearing the end, we had seen an Aplomado Falcon perched in a low-lying tree; that made TWO sightings by the habitat tour in one day! Because I initially spotted it, I was given the nickname "Audubon" for the rest of the trip.
After missing the Tamaulipas Crow on South Padre, it was logical to conclude the next spot to try for them was at the Brownsville (which was closed, but I still picked out a flyover Lesser Black-backed Gull). The sun was setting fast, so I needed a new place to bird before it got dark. We tried Oliviera Park at dusk to look for parrots, of which I only got Red-crowned (countable) and Red-lored (not countable), but I also had a dark corvid fly over. Was it a Tamaulipas? Was it a raven? I wasn't entirely sure, but it's easier to say what it most likely was rather than to say what it most likely was not, so I counted it as a Chihuahuan Raven.
Since I was leaving for New York this day, I didn't have too much time to bird; so I decided to try my luck with the Tropical Parula and Hammond's Flycatcher again, to no avail again. As I was getting ready to leave, I met young birder Michael Turso just as he was getting ready to search for the parula as well. Having struck out on the two rarities twice, I concluded I had gotten everything out of south Texas in just three full days of birding before we left for home (and for attempt two at finding any longspurs at the Dallas airport, no luck again). Tamaulipas Crow, Sprague's Pipit, Tropical Parula, and Blue Bunting would go down as the biggest misses of my odyssey...
While I joined the 600 club in world life lists (Aplomado Falcon was the magic bird), unfortunately some of the rarities I wanted would not be among them...
UPDATE: After reviewing my sound files and comparing what I heard to the Macaulay Library's extensive audio collection, I heard the Tropical Parula but was not able to see it.
To be continued...
Lifers indicated in bold
I started off 2018 in the same way as I had the past two years: by walking down to the ponds near my grandparents' house in Florida to find the first few birds of the year. The first bird (or more accurately, first three birds) was a Snowy Egret followed by an Egyptian Goose and a Limpkin. Unlike the last two years, I wasn't going to bird locally on the first day, nor was I headed back home (so glad I don't have to deal with short high school breaks anymore); I was chasing a mega rarity. On December 29th, 2017, Eva Matthews and Andy Lantz found a LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, a species with only five previously recorded observations of this species in the ABA Area according to the Florida Ornithological society and a code 5 on the ABA checklist. A code 5 in the same state I was currently in and less than 2 hours away meant I had to get this bird while I'm in the area. After a whole day of bargaining with my parents (plus some encouragement from my friends), I got my dad on board to chase the kingbird. After an hour and a half driving down to Key Biscayne, my dad realized something: I had no idea where to look for the bird once in the park. Luckily I was able to get us back on track (in other words, follow the other birders) and on the path of the kingbird. It wasn't long before I saw more birders congregating on one part of the trail, they were also after what I had come for. The Loggerhead Kingbird was perched on a small tree a few feet from the trail. The mob of birders who were also looking for it followed it several times as it moved to new perches before disappearing into the forest.
Other birds I managed to list in the same area as the kingbird were Black-and-white and Prairie Warblers, White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, Northern Parula, and Summer Tanager. Now on to see what else I could find, mostly Caribbean birds I won't see elsewhere this year, but anything is good this time of year. Shortly up the trail, I alerted my father to a White-crowned Pigeon, which disappeared before he could get a photo. I also managed to add Northern Mockingbird, Common Ground-Dove, a flyover Anhinga, and the "Golden" race of Yellow Warbler (I think ssp. gundlachi). Other than that, I missed only two targets, but fortunately one I would eventually see that day.
Crandon Park was a smaller but equally good spot for birding, where I added Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorants, Sanderlings, Royal Terns, and Magnificent Frigatebirds to my 2018 list. Unfortunately, the Wilson's Plovers, Short-tailed Hawks, and Common Mynas I was hoping for were not present.
Making our way back to Lake Worth, we stopped at a site where a Bananaquit wintered last year, but no reports of this species from December. As far as year birds go, there were just several Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and a Northern Cardinal (the first of thousands I will probably see).
Later my mom and I went birding again at Wakodahatchee wetlands. There were numerous birds I could add here, but the challenge was not that I couldn't spot them, it's that my mom kept staying behind to take pictures. Wako is home to a locally rare Neotropic Cormorant, so I needed pictures to get confirmation.
"I think we should still go" was my first reaction to how hard it was raining when I woke up. My thoughts were that the rain would keep birds at lower levels in the forest at Spanish River Park making them easier to spot. I was s o o o o o wrong. The bird garden that I had seen Spot-breasted Oriole and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at a few days earlier was empty: no woodpeckers, no Painted Bunting, and especially no oriole. The fact that I saw any new birds on the barrier island was a miracle: a lone Ovenbird. Pushing our way up the coast, the conditions got worse. Not only did the driving winds at Boynton Beach Inlet make holding an umbrella difficult, the parking lot was flooded in some areas. Fortunately, my binoculars are waterproof so I was still able to pick out Bonaparte's Gulls, Ruddy Turnstones, a lone Herring Gull, Forster's Terns, Northern Gannets, and my main target, Sandwich Tern. Then we tried birding at Snook Islands, which were also pretty much dead with the exception of two new birds: American Oystercatcher and Black-bellied Plover.
While on coffee break (gotta power myself somehow while birding, plus I caught several Pokemon there), I decided to go to Peaceful Waters Sanctuary in Wellington. This was a much better idea, as I picked up several more species there in between rain showers. I also found a whole flock of Roseate Spoonbills (after missing them the day before at Wakodahatchee) along with Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teals, and three birds for my state list: Green-winged Teal and Least and Spotted Sandpipers. Peaceful Waters boosted my yearlist to 97 species, but there were still more I needed to get to 100 for the year. Despite the heavy rain, I powered on by going to Green Cay (this time with my mom), where the rain made birds harder to see. I still managed to see a Caspian Tern and a Pileated Woodpecker. Just as we were about to give up, I spotted a female Painted Bunting at a feeder on the way back to the car. This was followed by several adult males at the feeders near the visitor center. I had recorded 100 species in just the first two days of my Young Birder Odyssey! Having achieved such high numbers in two days, I decided to put my bins away for the night. Let's hope I know what I'm getting myself into
To be continued...
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