Birding often requires one to look at the finer details, especially when a potential rarity is involved. One of the biggest ID challenges in my opinion is Snowy vs Little Egret. Snowy is common throughout North and South America, while Little occupies the same niche in Africa, Eurasia, and Oceania. When Little Egrets wander into North America, as they have done regularly since the 1980s after colonizing Barbados, identification becomes harder, but possible. I usually tell new birders to look at the bill and feet to distinguish between Great and Snowy Egrets (opposite patterns of black/yellow), but the possibility of a vagrant Little Egret makes that rule obsolete when comparing three species (don't get me started on Intermediate Egret, that's a new can of worms I am not ready to open). In an ideal situation, I would distinguish Little from Snowy by looking at the nuptial plumes, which are long on Little but short on Snowy. Unfortunately, both molt their head plumes in mid summer, which makes identifying one from a distance in late summer and fall a challenge. Up close, one has to look at the shape of the head (flat vs rounder) and lores on the bird, the patch of bare skin in between the eyes and the bill. On Little, the lores are dark gray in nonbreeding plumage while Snowy has yellow lores all year round, except for a short period of time in high breeding season when the lores turn bright red in Snowy (Little briefly has yellow-orange lores around the same time, but has mostly yellow lores in breeding season). I wasn't expecting a Little Egret to show up in New York, but when one was reported from Oceanside, I wasted no time getting there. Unfortunately, an hour of searching got me nothing, and one of the birds I considered to be the Little turned out to be a Snowy Egret...
One of the photo misidentifications Ryan caught me on was the Cackling vs Canada Goose complex, which seems to get me every time. To compensate for the one I had in January turn out to be a Canada Goose, I set a goal to find a Cackler of my own instead of chasing one someone already found. I thought I had found a good candidate for a Taverner's Cackling Goose, but after checking with several other birders, it turned out to be a small Canada Goose.
Today was the last day I had to do shorebird counts at the Coast Guard Station this fall, and I wasn't expecting to find anything unusual. However, besides the huge number of staging American Oystercatchers and Black-bellied Plovers, I found a small group of continuing Marbled Godwits, which have been around for a month already.
It was getting dark, and my dad and I decided to call it a day. As we were leaving the barrier island, we saw an unusual white bird fly across the causeway as we were driving. From the brief glimpse we had, the most distinctive feature we could see was the neck. Unlike egrets which hold their necks in an S-shape in flight, this bird was holding its neck straight out. Another feature that made me think it was not an egret was the way it flew; unlike the deep wingbeats of an egret, this bird’s wingbeats were quick and shallow. The only conclusion I could make was that this was an ibis, specifically a White Ibis! I had seen hundreds of White Ibises in Florida, but to see one in New York is extremely rare. According to eBird, there had been three previous records of White Ibis for Nassau County!
I was walking in between classes when I noticed another Canada Goose flock had landed on campus. In hopes of finding a Cackling Goose, I walked closer and managed to get one side by side with a Canada for comparison. This time, I was rewarded for my diligence.
The Evening Grosbeak is a snowbird, but not in the way most people would expect like Dark-eyed Juncos or humans who travel to the southern states for the winter from the northeast and upper Midwest. Typically, they stay in the boreal forests year round, occasionally moving south when seed crops up north run scarce. Ron Pittaway predicted that Evening Grosbeaks would be moving south in large numbers this fall. My first reaction when I found out one was seen at Sunken Meadow State Park was that I had to get over there immediately. When I got there, the grosbeak was gone, although a large group of Purple Finches was already at the same grove of berries where the grosbeak was first seen. There would be other opportunities to see Evening Grosbeak this year, so I was not very disappointed.
When you devote an entire year to looking for birds, one of them will inevitably be your birthday. For my birthday this year, I had talked my parents into taking me to Race Point, which is a renowned seawatching site on the very tip of Cape Cod. We spent the whole day before traveling to the Cape from Long Island. Even before we got outside, I had a Razorbill close to shore from the hotel window we were staying at. The weather report showed that we would be right in the path of a Nor'easter, but this didn't bother me because Tim Swain said it could make for great seawatching. Well, could. In practice, visibility wasn't good when I got to the cape, but I was able to pick out two Dovekie flying west. Seabirds that breed in the high latitudes were the reason I wanted to come to Race Point in late fall; the beach's position on the end of Cape Cod make it ideal to spot seabirds. On a day with considerable winds, one can see either shearwaters or alcids from shore, depending on the time of year. Among the other seabirds I got in the storm were three (that I was able to count) Black-legged Kittiwakes, a flyby Black Guillemot, a Northern Fulmar, and hundreds of scoters, gulls, and Common Eiders. A loon flew over, which I initially considered to be Pacific, but then identified it as Common just to be safe.
From there, we went to First Encounter Beach, where I saw in addition to Brants and gulls, a Manx Shearwater and a Red Phalarope flying in the bay. Then we searched for a Berkshire Hathaway store in Massachussets, where my mom took a picture in front of the store for reasons I will never understand. The last spot we went birding at was not in Massachusetts, but in Rhode Island. There, I managed to get Nelson's Sparrow for the year before it got too rainy and we had to drive home.
The Northern Wheatear is an interesting bird. It resembles a thrush and was even once classified as one; this arctic breeder is a flycatcher, not one related to the tyrant flycatchers farther south, but one of the old world. Widespread in Europe and Asia, Northern Wheatears are also present in disjunct breeding ranges Alaska and eastern Canada in the summer. All populations migrate to sub-Saharan Africa in the winter, even flying over the Atlantic Ocean to get there. Usually one or two gets lost and migrates in the opposite direction south towards the lower 48, and when that happens, birders take notice. I wasn’t expecting to see any wheatears this year, so you can imagine the shock I was feeling when a probable sighting of one in Suffolk county appeared in my New York needs alerts. Initially thinking it was a hoax like the recent sketchy reports of Eurasian Wren, Curlew Sandpiper, and Goldcrest; but when I saw the photos, my heart started racing because this was definitely real. I literally stopped what I was doing and was out the door 15 minutes later. By the time I got there, several other birders were lined up scoping the Northern Wheatear out. We stayed for about 20 minutes to get photos as it flitted between shrubs, fence posts, and a traffic cone before heading out.
As we were leaving, I got an alert for another Evening Grosbeak at Sunken Meadow, this time an adult male. My dad and I were originally going to head home after the wheatear chase, but I decided to go for the grosbeak while we were still on the road. As we got there, I saw the wing flash of the grosbeak as it flew across the road. I soon discovered I wouldn't be alone in the search for the Grosbeak, many other birders had the same idea to go for the grosbeak after the wheatear. We relocated it several times, but only managed to get photos the last time I relocated it, when the bird finally decided to stay put.
To be continued…
Lifers indicated in bold
In January, I got the first 100 species for the year within two days birding in Florida, and I had predicted that I would get to 400 for the year before or while my mom and I were back in Florida. Nine months and a 298 additional species later, it seems my ability to predict the future has proven much better than the last time I predicted when I would reach a milestone for the year (am I now Doctor Strange?), I rather boldly (and cautiously) claimed on The Bird Herd Discord server that "Tomorrow might be the day I finally get to 400 for the year." The last time I predicted I would get to a milestone, things did not go as I imagined and the results were, um, explosive for those who did not see my rather unprofessional Instagram story highlighting the trip. Can I prove my ability to see the future? Or will this be another claim that went up in flames?
I’m not exaggerating when I say the first thing we did upon arriving in Florida was look for more birds. Specifically, Florida Scrub-Jay, a species I normally save for last, but couldn’t because I would be in Hawaii in December, not Florida. I knew the “Scrub-Jay death march” at Jonathan Dickinson State Park like clockwork: park at the trailhead between the ranger station and the campground, walk all the way down until you find one, then head back at the trail intersection. A Short-tailed Hawk flew overhead, #399, as we set out for the trail. A Gopher Tortoise crossed the road. I was doubting we would even see a jay by the time we got to the tree where I had seen a pair in the last two years (Florida Scrub-Jays rarely stray far from their birthplace). Near the intersection, I saw the shape of a perching bird, which my mom thought was a mockingbird, but I had other thoughts. The wings, tail, and head were blue, and I could make out an eye stripe and white throat. I had no doubt this was a Florida Scrub-Jay, #400 for the year! Shortly after, I saw another three jays flying around the intersection. We stayed with them for about five minutes before heading back to my grandparents’ house where we would be staying for the weekend. Now that I had proven myself right by getting to 400 on the first day in Florida, I was full steam ahead on to 500.
Usually when I get up to bird the ponds outside my grandparents’ house, it’s on the first day of January and my yearlist is at zero. With the possible exception of Sandhill Crane, which has eluded me in Florida, Texas, and upstate New York, I wasn’t expecting to add anything new, just to get the ball rolling for October big day. I quickly got the usual cast of waterbirds, doves, and passerines (including bonus Magnolia Warbler and Yellow-throated Vireo). As I was studying a small group of sandpipers, I saw two Sandhill Cranes fly in and land within feet of me! I was beginning to worry that I would not see them this year, after they had eluded me on previous trips to Florida, Texas, and upstate New York, especially after being at Derby Hill and a birder seeing them after I left.
Being in Florida for October Big Day gave me a good reason to go to as many spots in Miami for non-native species as possible. The trip to go to all the spots for non-natives does not have an official name, but I’ve decided to refer to it as the Miami Exotic Run. Birders who go on the Exotic Run typically go to the following spots: Brewer Park for parrots and macaws, Markham Park for Spot-breasted Oriole, Charles Deering Estate for Scaly-breasted Munia, Kendall Baptist Hospital for Red-whiskered Bulbul, Ocean Bank for White-winged Parakeet, and Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens for Common Hill Myna. I had initially planned to go to all these spots as well as Bill Baggs for Thick-billed Vireo, Crandon Park for Wilson’s Plover, Black Point Marina for Mangrove Cuckoo, Lucky Hammock for Smooth-billed Ani, Brian Piccolo Park for Burrowing Owl, the agricultural fields in Kendall where a Zenaida Dove had been seen, and Green Cay to add Purple Gallinule, Gray-headed Swamphen, and Painted Bunting to the day list. Since we were leaving an hour behind schedule (I wanted to leave as early as possible to maximize birding time), I had to cut several spots out in order to be home by dinnertime. Since no recent reports of the ani, dove, or vireo had come in, I cut those spots out. I also cut Deering Estate out because I would have more opportunities to see munias in Hawaii, along with a whole menagerie of introduced species from Asia, Africa, and South America. The first spot we went to was Highland Oaks Park, one of many spots to see them, but I had picked this spot because it also had Gray Kingbirds nearby, which are fairly common in suburbs and coastal areas, but I wanted to get both native and introduced birds efficiently as possible, which meant I would need to get them in the same spots (I could've gotten more at Lucky Hammock along with Smooth-billed Ani, but I did not plan to go there unless an ani stuck around). Almost immediately upon arrival I found a pair of Gray Kingbirds perched on electrical wires, if only I can find the orioles. I first asked a group of birders if they had seen anything of interest, which they replied by asking if I could help them identify a sparrow (which I wasn't ready to call Clay-colored). I then made a path towards a large lake, where I found a Black-whiskered Vireo in one of the trees and a large group of Egyptian Geese and White Ibises on the shore. While checking the perimeter, I heard the screeches of a parrot, most likely Orange-winged, but I ignored it because I could not count it for the year. Two loops around the park later, I finally located a Spot-breasted Oriole.
Wilson's Plover is a shorebird, so by definition, this is a native bird. In Florida, the best spot to look for them is on the Gulf coast, but a few have been seen at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne. I had looked for them at the beginning of the year, fresh off the excitement of the Loggerhead Kingbird, but did not have much luck. My mom and I went back to the spot in hopes of seeing one, but did not see much of anything in terms of birds in the heat of the Florida sun, mostly iguanas basking on the shore.
Most parakeets are not countable in the ABA Area, but a few exceptions, Green, Monk, Nanday, Rose-ringed, and White-winged, have established populations large enough to count. Of these five, the one I needed most was White-winged (I would hopefully get Rose-ringed in Hawaii), the rarest of the seven established parrots in the ABA Area (Red-crowned Parrot and Rosy-faced Lovebird are the other two, while Thick-billed Parrot has been extirpated from the southwest and Carolina Parakeet is unfortunately extinct). Hundreds of thousands were imported to the US until 1972, and many of them escaped and bred. Unfortunately, due to competition with the similar Yellow-chevroned Parakeet and starlings, their populations have suffered a massive blow, declining up to 99% in their introduced range in just 5 years. As Yellow-chevroned and Blue-crowned Parakeets expand in population, Ocean Bank in Miami is the last stronghold of the White-winged Parakeet. My mom and I parked across the street and waited for a parakeet to appear, only seeing a Common Myna, before deciding to move on...
The next species we searched for is even harder than the parakeets to find: Mangrove Cuckoo, among the most poorly known North American birds. As their name implies, they only inhabit mangrove forests of South Florida, but can be found in other coastal habitats in their more extensive neotropical range. Skulking and secretive by nature, it is usually difficult to observe. As a result, most aspects of this species' reproductive biology, ecological requirements, and population dynamics remain a mystery. I was not expecting to see a Mangrove Cuckoo on this trip, let alone hear one. One of the few reliable spots to see a Mangrove Cuckoo is Black Point Marina, which is also home to manatees and crocodiles. Despite the low probability of seeing a cuckoo, I decided to try my luck at the marina anyway. We searched the mangroves along the shore of the marina with no luck, then decided to get lunch because we weren't having much luck with anything other than iguanas (one of which I spooked from its resting spot). As we were eating, I spotted a large gray mass emerge from the marina. This was definitely not a bird, but the closest living relative ever since non-avian dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago: an American Crocodile! Unlike American Alligators, which I usually give a passing glance while birding, crocodiles are the rarer of Florida's two native crocodilians. While alligators prefer freshwater swamps and marshes, American Crocodiles hunt in coastal estuaries and mangrove swamps, one of only two living* pseudosuchians to be comfortable in both freshwater and saltwater, along with the extremely dangerous Saltwater Crocodile of Oceania and Southeast Asia. Both alligators and crocodiles suffered from hunting for their skins to make handbags and belts, until the US government declared them endangered in the 1970s. The alligators made an incredible comeback, to the point of legal, carefully managed hunting to resume, but the crocodiles never made as big of a recovery and are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. Many people at the restaurant, including myself, watched as this ancient predator swam through the boat basin, then disappeared below the surface. Having come to my senses that finding a Mangrove Cuckoo was going to be harder I imagined outside of the Everglades and Florida Keys, we moved on to our last spot of the exotic run.
*I say living because a now extinct clade of pseudosuchians, Thalattosuchia, was widespread during the Jurassic and lower Cretaceous.
As we were leaving the marina, I was shocked to see a female Indian Peafowl on the side of the road. I have seen peafowl numerous times in captivity and running free in neighborhoods, but unlike this bird, they were domesticated. Until recently, I would've ignored this bird and kept moving on, but as of May 2018, the ABA deemed feral populations to have been breeding long enough to count for an ABA year list.
The last non-native species I needed from Miami is the Red-whiskered Bulbul. During the 1960s, populations of introduced Red-whiskered Bulbuls became established in southern Florida and southern California, although these populations remain small and limited in distribution. In contrast, a released population O‘ahu has proliferated. In Miami, Kendall is the best area to see the small population bulbuls left in the lower 48, and the preferred spot to see them is even weirder: the grounds of Kendall Baptist Hospital. We first tried driving around the hospital grounds after a mob of Muscovy Ducks attacked us for food, but that didn't get us too far. It was getting late, and in an act of desperation, I walked around a small garden near the entrance. I got a brief look at a Red-whiskered Bulbul before it dropped back into the brush, but as I was searching, a flock of parakeets flew over. These were mostly Mitred Parakeets, another common, but unfortunately non-countable species. In that flock, I spotted a Red-masked Parakeet, which is also not countable, several also non-countable Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, and my most-wanted White-winged Parakeet. My first attempt at birding the Miami Exotic Run has been a success!
I considered two options for birding the next day: either to try another spot on the coast where Wilson's Plovers have been reported, then go inland in search of King Rail, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, and Snail Kite; or try for the inland stuff first then bird on the coast. My mom, however, had a different idea: she wanted to get my grandfather interested in birding, so she insisted on going to Wakodahatchee to get him interested in birding, which I begrudgingly agreed to. Fortunately, as we were arriving, I spotted a Fulvous Whistling-Duck in a ditch across the street from the parking lot at Wakodahatchee, but I eBirded it for the main hotspot. When we got to the spot, I learned that after I explained how to identify a bird, I had to leave future identification on this trip to my grandfather. Among some of the more interesting finds were, aside from most of the stuff I got at the beginning of the year, the continuing Neotropic Cormorant, an also continuing Neotropic X Double-crested Cormorant hybrid (which my mom "accidentally" deleted my photos of), and two acts of predation: a Great Blue Heron stalking a tilapia and a White Ibis wrangling a snake, with the birds succeeding in each act.
In all the years I’ve been going down to Florida for birding, only one relatively easy (for the record, Mangrove Cuckoo and Antillean Nighthawk are not easy, as I've learned the hard way with the former) specialty bird has eluded me: Snail Kite. True to their name, Snail Kites only eat apple snails, which are common in freshwater wetlands throughout the neotropics. In North America, these snails are only found in Florida, preferably away from the highly-developed coast. I had found a reliable spot for one in Wellington that I was eager to try after going to Wakodahatchee. We started on a paved trail that extended to a boardwalk, where I saw many wading birds, including a heard-only King Rail. Shortly after, I picked out a female Snail Kite as it flew over the marsh looking for prey. Success! I decided to continue further on, also finding several Roseate Spoonbills, a Bachman's Sparrow as it flew across the path in a forested section of the preserve, more herons, swamphens, Limpkins, and Wood Storks, another Fulvous Whistling-Duck, and several Blue-winged Teal. As we were leaving for the airport, a Western Kingbird flew over the parking lot, ending a productive weekend in Florida. On to 500!
Back in New York, I found out that not only had Key West Quail-Dove and Bahama Mockingbird appeared in Palm Beach County a few days after I left Florida, but also a Kirtland's Warbler was there while I was there and not reported until after I left. I was slightly irked by this after having missed the one in Central Park this spring by an hour, but I had little power to do anything about it. Next time...
To be continued…
Lifers indicated in bold
Like many birders, the last week of August gets me excited, and with good reason: fall migration begins to pick up. While shorebirds have been passing through all summer, the long distance migrants between the arctic circle and southern South America are beginning to arrive. One of those I’ve been looking forward to is Baird’s Sandpiper. These large peeps are most common in the plains states on migration, but regularly occur in small numbers every fall. One was found on a sod farm in Yaphank, and I had nothing but time on my hands to look for it. My grandmother and I drove out to the spot, where I got out with my scope and scanned the field. At first I saw only Killdeer, Mourning Doves, and European Starlings, but then I spotted the shape of a Calidris through the haze. Long primary projection, buffy face and neck, clean break between buff and white underparts. This was a Baird’s! I got pics through my scope (keep in mind, my camera broke on the pelagic), then my grandmother and I headed back to eat lunch and get my camera fixed.
There are four species of godwit worldwide: Bar-tailed, Black-tailed, Hudsonian, and Marbled. Of those, Hudsonian is both the least studied and the only regularly ocurring one in North America I needed for the year (all four have been recorded in North America; Siberian Bar-tailed also nests in western Alaska and Black-tailed can show up anywhere, including a Black-tailed reported minutes after I booked a surprise flight home this spring). Breeding in disjunct areas across the Arctic from western Alaska to James Bay, they are capable of flying nonstop to the "cone" of South America. Several of them stop over on the east coast between late August and September each year. They can show up at any location on the coast, but one of the most reliable spots for them in New York is Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (managed by the National Park Service, not USFWS). I had signed up for NYC Audubon's Jamaica Bay Shorebird Festival in the hopes of getting one there, and, just as according to plan, one was reported from the east pond. I made sure to get onto the shorebirding trip to the pond for my best bet at seeing the godwit. I trekked out onto the pond with a large group of birders, where many sandpipers, plovers, Double-crested Cormorants, Canada Geese, and a Little Blue Heron. Soon enough, we spotted some of the more desired shorebirds such as Western, Baird's and Stilt Sandpipers, and my most wanted Hudsonian Godwit. As I was walking out the pond, I realized the extent to which my boots and socks were covered in mud, and without a change of shoes handy, I was unable to do anything else for the rest of the day.
Today I really felt like a mess: I first tried to do a shorebird count at the coast guard station, though I saw absolutely no shorebirds at all. Next, I went looking for a Lark Sparrow at West End, but came up empty handed. Finally, I went after a Western Kingbird, which, despite the name, is annual in the east in fall. Unfortunately, I got there an hour after it was last seen and it did not come back...
With Hudsonian Godwit down, there was one shorebird I needed for the year: Buff-breasted Sandpiper. A true "grasspiper," this species prefers sod farms, airports and farmland to mudflats and beaches on their migration from upland tundra to the pampas of South America. One particularly good location on Long Island to check are the sod farms outside of Riverhead. Two days before fall semester started, I ventured out to the sod farms along the Doctors Path, which often gets this sandpiper on migration. When we got there, other birders were already on something, which turned out to be a pair of Baird's Sandpipers. After scanning intently, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper flew in and landed near a tractor in the middle of the field. Having seen every northeastern shorebird for the year except Upland Sandpiper, Red Phalarope, and the always alluring chance of an out-of-nowhere rarity, we headed home to make final preparations for school.
The common names given to birds don't always make sense at first, a lesson taught well by the Connecticut Warbler. One would think the best place to look for them is Connecticut, but they are named for the state Alexander Wilson first collected one on migration. Basically you have three options on how to see one in North America: find one in the midwest in spring, go to their breeding range in central Canada and the northern Great Lakes, or in the Northeast in fall. Unlike most warblers, which hop around through the canopy of forests, the Connecticut is a master skulker, preferring to lurk in dense undergrowth and walk on the ground, making them hard to spot in fall unless you know where to look. I figured my best chance to get one for the year would be in Central Park. I asked Ryan if he would help me look for one after I got out of a bar mitzvah for my cousin (the only reason I went was to bird in the park afterwards), which he gladly agreed to. I considered that the cooler temperatures compared to the last few days would make songbirds more active and visible, and Ryan said these were good conditions to find a Connecticut. All we needeed was one to cooperate. We started near the Conservatory Pond and then weaved through The Ramble, checking out areas with lots of bird activity as we went along; some of which included eight warbler species, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, 6 Baltimore Orioles, among others. As we were making our rounds through the Ramble, Ryan got an alert for a Connecticut Warbler in Manhattan. However, there was a catch: it was seen on Governor's Island, in the far south of New York County. Ferries to and from the island leave on the half hour, which left us with a dilemma: do we continue through the park so I can get back to the party so I can head back to Long Island the same time my parents did, or do we take the gamble on the Connecticut? Naturally, I suggested the latter, so we made our way out of the park and towards a subway station to the ferry terminal. En route, Ryan gave me some tips for my upcoming trip to Hawaii in December as well as pointing out some mislabeled photos in previous chapters, which resulted in me taking three species of my yearlist: Franklin's Gull, Cackling Goose, and American Golden Plover. Fortunately, Ryan said, I still had time to find the latter of the two before the end of the year, but if I would find another Franklin's Gull candidate is uncertain. Once we got to Governor's Island, we started our search for the Connecticut Warbler by heading straight for Nolan Park, where the bird had first been seen. To cover more ground and have a better chance of finding the bird, Ryan, Gabriel Willow (the finder of the warbler), and I split up to check different areas of the park. Ryan and I were checking the bushes off to the side of one of the island's many buildings surrounding the park when he said he thought he had the Connecticut, but as I was getting my point-and-shoot ready to get documentation, it turned out to be a Common Yellowthroat, false alarm. We continued to search the island for an hour and 15 minutes before running back to the ferry terminal to catch a boat back to Manhattan and a subway back to Penn Station so I can take a train home by myself. As I was leaving, I told Ryan that I would hopefully be able to drop in next time a rarity was seen either in November or December, to which he said I would be even rarer, "you're still flagged." I got back to the nearest train station to my home around 7 PM, satisfied with a full afternoon of birding despite not finding what I was looking for.
I thought I had all the regularly occurring northeastern shorebirds excluding Upland Sandpiper with the recent addition of Buff-breasted, but with my American Golden-Plover report from this spring turning out to be a Black-bellied Plover, I needed to improvise. After class, I went to Breezy point in search of one but came up empty.
I went to Jones Beach in search of a Connecticut Warbler reported there, but unfortunately came up empty. The next day, I got an alert for another American Golden-Plover, this time at the Coast Guard Station. Upon arrival, I saw a large flock of Black-bellied Plovers take off, and with them was the American Golden-Plover which I picked out by the “to-whit” call as it flew off. I continued to scan the flocks gathering on the spit when I saw three unfamiliar shapes land near a group of Red Knots. At first I thought they were Willets, but then I realized that those upturned bills could only belong to godwits. I quickly identified them as a Marbled and two Hudsonian Godwits! Guess I didn't need to go to Jamaica Bay after all...
I went back to Jones Beach in search of a Philadelphia Vireo reported there, with no luck refinding it. Later, I went to Alley Pond Park to look for a Western Kingbird, but also came up empty handed. To add insult to injury, the kingbird was refound an hour later.
NOAA's radar showed strong winds overnight, so I got up early the next morning to bird in my backyard in the hopes of finding new birds there and save myself the trouble of chasing something I need (if you remember, Max and I found a Mourning Warbler in my yard this spring). I didn't find anything new or rare, but I added two new birds to the yardlist: Black-billed Cuckoo and Red-breasted Nuthatch. While I was in class (thankfully my last one for the day), Ryan texted me about another report of a Philadelphia Vireo at the coast guard station, so I went over after class to check it out. This time, I was much more lucky, as I managed to identify one by call and see it fly across the path.
Finches are starting to move. Up north, seed crops of birch and pine cones are poor according to Ontario field ornithologist Ron Pittaway, who predicts the scale at which northern finches will move south in the winter and publishes his forecast for the northeastern states and eastern Canada through Jean Iron's website every September. He predicted that this would be an irruption year for nearly all finches; redpolls, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, the highly coveted Pine Grosbeak, but not crossbills, which irrupted last winter (I saw both in the Adirondacks). Red-breasted Nuthatches and Bohemian Waxwings are also predicted to move south in large numbers. If the irruption is as good for all species as Pittaway predicted it would be, I should not have to go far to find finches and waxwings. For the time being, I had a good bird with a silly name on the brain, Dickcissels. This relative of cardinals is a common breeder in the grasslands of the continental interior between the Rockies and Appalachians, irregularly occuring further east. My best bet to find one on the coast is in fall, where they are scarce but regular in migration. With a fresh report of 3 from a morning flight earlier that week at Robert Moses State Park, I decided to check if at least one was still there. I first checked the volleyball courts, where a Lark Bunting that I missed by an hour was seen last year, and circled the perimeter looking for other migrants, including Blackpoll and Wilson's Warblers. As I was about to move on, I flushed a Dickcissel, which I identified by its "bzzzt" call. In addition to birding the parking lots, we also decided to check out the Fire Island Hawkwatch, which my mom wanted me to go to in October with my local Audubon Society (fat chance), where we totaled over 20 Merlins and over 30 Monarchs
I went back to Robert Moses State Park determined to find a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker before the end of the month. I searched the dunes first, coming up with mostly sparrows (including Clay-colored) and Yellow-rumped Warblers, plus another Dickcissel. As we were leaving, I spotted the silhouette of a sapsucker perched on a tree. Mission complete!
Meanwhile, farther south, birders in Cape May reported an impressive high count of 1,570 Red-breasted Nuthatches from morning flight. Begun, the irruption has.
To be continued...
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Whimbrel Birders Club
The Eyrie (ABA Young Birders)
The Birding Place (Aidan Place)
Lost In Nature (Jared Gorrell)
Bird Boy Canada (Ethan Denton)
Prairie Birder (Charlotte Wasylik)
Wing Tips (Tessa Rhinehart)
Soar Birding & Nature Tours (Noah Kuck)
Setophaga dominica (Oscar Wilhelmy)
Is yours not featured? Let me know