Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Eastern Long Island MLK Jr Birding Weekend 2017

JAN 14, 2017

We had to visit 1625 North Sea Drive in Southold first thing this morning. You may be wondering what's at this seemingly ordinary residential address in North Folk. Well, there was a report by the New York Rare Bird Alert of a TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE. Townsend's Solitaire is the only solitaire native to America north of Mexico and its range is usually limited to the western/central part of the country so how this bird ended up in easternmost part of the U.S. is anyone's guess but the fact is that it was going to be our 451st North American life bird if seen. Despite today being the first day of the long weekend, the drive there from Brooklyn was rather smooth and we got to the location in about an hour and a half. As usual, it was not hard for us to find the spot: For a rare sighting like this one, we just look for a crowd rather than the bird itself. There already were two birders with enormous camera equipment lurking in the area. They told us that the bird had been seen on and off since early morning. After waiting for about 20 minutes, the bird suddenly flew in and perched on top of a cedar tree, quite a charming one with a bold white eye-ring. We hang around at the spot for about an hour enjoying the sight of this rare visitor from the West. While we were there, there was a steady flow of birders coming to see the bird.

After saying good-bye to the solitaire, we made a quick stop at nearby Arshamomaque Preserve in Southold to check out the Virginia Rail sighting but no luck this time.

We then drove to the Southold town center to grab a sandwich at the Grateful Deli then headed to catch another rare sighting. We were quite excited to hear a report of a lone juvenile SANDHILL CRANE at Wainscott Pond. After-all, last time we saw Sandhill Cranes was over 10 years ago at  the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado in 2005. Though good-distance away, it was not hard to spot the crane hanging out with a deer (really) at all. While chatting with a local birder, the bird suddenly took off , flew towards us and away. Soon we realized that a duck hunter spooked the bird away by entering the area by the crane to get to the hunting blind located by the pond. Unfortunately, our rendezvous with the crane was cut short by an unexpected disruption but on the bright side, we got to see the majestic young crane flying right above us. Hopefully, it won't be another 10 years till our next encounter.

Our last stop of the day was Dune Road in Quogue. It was already pretty late in the afternoon so for the little time we had, we were going to look for Snowy Owls and an American Bittern. Unfortunately for us, a little after getting there, it started to snow pretty hard and also got dark fairy quickly so we had to call it a day. It was a fantastic day to see two very special birds.

JAN 15, 2017

We had to start at where we left off so we decided to spend a day exploring one of our favorite birding spots in Long Island. Yes, we were back at Dune Road in Quogue with vengeance. We started our day at the Cupsogue Beach County Park known more for seal watch than bird but is a good spot for shore birds. We did see quite a few seals in the bay...

While other visitors were busy watching seals, we saw some interesting shore birds resting at the beach. We saw RUDDY TURNSTONEsBLACK-BELLIED PLOVERsAMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERs, plus usual DUNLINs, SANDERLINGs and GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLs.

After leaving the Cupsogue Park, we drove by many million-dollar mansions on Dune Road. Western half of Dune Road is fully developed with outrageously luxurious homes for the riches and the rest is left for wildlife where we would be looking for American Bittern and Snowy Owl. On the dune, we saw many NORTHERN HARRIERs flying low to the ground in search of pray.

At the spot where an American Bittern had been reported numerous times, we saw a car stopped on the road side and inside the car, a man was looking at something through his binoculars. The man came out of the car as we approached the area and a large bird flew into thick tall reeds. We were pretty certain it was an AMERICAN BITTERN but they do resemble juvenile herons so we could not be certain. Bitterns are extremely secretive birds so the chance of it coming out of the reeds was nearly nil so this sighting must remain a mystery. To make up for the missed opportunity, we saw a nice COMMON LOON swimming in a small paddle adjacent to the road. At the end of Dune Road, there were several HARLEQUIN DUCKs hanging out by the jetty. Those birds generally do not come too close to the shore so it was nice to see them up close.

As planned, we spent a day birding Dune Road. Though we did not see our target birds (well, did see the bittern, sort of...) but we had a blast.

JAN 16, 2017

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! We decided to celebrate this very special day by visiting our ever so reliable go-to spot in Long Island, Jones Beach State Park. As soon as we drove into the park, we noticed that the place was filled with birders/photographers and we instinctively knew that there was an owl sighting. A month or so ago, we saw a beautiful Long Eared Owl in this very park. Snowy Owl is a regular winter resident (this year being no exception). I guessed/hoped the reported sighting was for the Saw-whet Owl and I sure was right. It was seen three days ago and everyone was there to find it again. Saw-whet Owl is a very small owl, about 7.5 inches tall, consequently is very hard to find. We saw it in Central Park years ago by accident and would love to see it again. While others looked for the owl, we kept ourselves busy with more common birds around the park. There were many RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHes, NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDs, NORTHERN CARDINALs, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERs, AMERICAN GOLD FINCHes and NORTHERN FLICKERs.

One of the birders told us that there are a group of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERs displaying by the coast guard station so we decided to check that out. Oh quite performers they were.

At the end of the day, no one saw the Saw-whet Owl today. The little guy probably had flown away or may have been watching birders frantically looking for him/her all along. Well, only the bird would know.