Monday, February 26, 2007

February 26 - Ivory Gull

Yes, you read that right !
An Ivory Gull was found on the pier in Piermont, NY late yesterday afternoon. Once it was re-found this morning, I immediately took off to see this mega-vagrant.

The Range Map shows the bird breeding in the high-arctic.

Click image to enlarge

I arrived around 8:30 am and was able to see the bird immediately. It was about 20 yards north of the pier, sitting on the snow covered rocks that resulted from last night's storm. I was concerned that the weather might force this bird away, but luckily it stayed in the general area that it was seen yesterday. This is the same spot as the Snowy Owl, which continues as of today.
Word has it that this gull is feeding on the carcasses leftover from the Snowy Owl's meals.

The bird is an adult, being purely white except for it's black eyes and black legs. The bill is partially yellow. However it is darker at the lower portion of the bill.

A truly amazing bird to see here in NY, and I believe there are less-than-a-handful of records for this bird in NY. In my home state of New Jersey, there have only been a few records.

Another example of the "Patagonia Picnic Table effect" phrase, which was coined from the southeastern Arizona hotspot, whereby once one good bird is found and others come to see it this provides concentrations of skilled people who notice things, and those things sometimes turn out to be rare and valuable events that would have otherwise been missed.

Such is the case of this Ivory Gull, for had it not been for someone going to see the long-visiting Snowy Owl yesterday the odds are pretty good that the Ivory Gull may not have been found at all.

More photos at the Rockland Audubon website.

Monday, February 19, 2007

February 17 - North Shore trip

Since all the local ponds are frozen-over, it was time for a trip south to the open water of the shore and ocean.

The first stop was Twilight Lake in Bayhead, where I was able to locate a target bird in the Lesser Black-Backed Gull. This gull was among two Greater Black-Backed Gulls, so it's smaller size was evident. Also, the bird leaned forward a couple of time showing off it's bright yellow legs, which also distinguish it from the Greater. Also seen here was an early Killdeer.

Red-Necked Grebe - credit unknown

A stop at Manasquan Inlet failed to yield any alcids, but did provide a nice look at a Red-Necked Grebe. The bird was just a few yards off the shore, and turned it's head a few times to reveal it's yellow bill. A Bonaparte's Gull flew by here as well. Numerous Common Loons and Horned Grebes were feeding in the Inlet, but I could not find any Purple Sandpipers along the jetty.

Belmar Marina produced a few Great Cormorant, looking smart as they approach breeding plumage. Being here at low tide resulted in thousands upon thousands of birds feeding in the shallows and mudflats. I could not locate a Eurasian Wigeon, which appears here annually, but I did locate three Redhead. The male looked stunning in the bright sunlight.

Shark River Inlet yielded more close Horned Grebes and about 15 Black-Bellied Plovers.
While the bellies are no longer black in their alternate plumage, the dark axillaries (wing-pits) did allow for some color on the otherwise dreary-appearing birds.

Of surprise was a lone, immature Snow Goose on Deal Lake in Asbury Park.

Out of time, I made a split-second stop at Conover Pavilion in Deal hoping for a Razorbill.
No luck on that, but here there were two large rafts of scaup. Mostly of the Greater species, I scanned quickly looking among them for a very rare visitor in the Tufted Duck, but I could not detect any.

Here's a list of noteworthy birds seen this day:
Ruddy Duck, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, Gadwall, Black Duck, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, N. Shoveler, N. Pintail, Green-winged Teal, both Scaup species, Bufflehead, C. Goldeneye, DC Cormorant, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Turkey Vulture, Coot, Herring Gull, Ring-Billed Gull, Fish Crow, and Boat-Tailed Grackle.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

February 10 - Smitty and Screech

photo credit - Ed Coyle

Today, my friend Rob F. and I made a trip out to Jones Beach on Long Island to look for the Smith's Longspur that had been reported the day before. This would be only the 2nd-NY State record for this bird ever. The first one was seen back in 1974, however by just a handful of people before it's un-timely demise.

We arrived at the Teddy Roosevelt Nature Center, in the West End 1 lot, just after 7:30 am.
We were among the first groups of birders gathering for this mega-rarity, as you can see from the bird's normal range.

Soon after the ranks of spotting scopes had grown to nearly fifty. We were all watching a group of Horned Larks, and a half-dozen of the annual, but uncommon Lapland Longspurs.

I had a beautiful male Lapland Longspur in my scope that I was describing to a birder next to me. However he could not locate the bird I was seeing, but instead announced that he had located the Smith's Longspur just a few feet away from my bird.

We were able to get on this bird right away, and the lifer-tick was made !! The word soon spread throughout the group, however due to it's small size, camouflage, and the numerous tufts of grass in the area, not all the birders could see it well, nor see it at all !!

Fortunately for us the bird decided to stay put for well over an hour. At times hidden by grass, and other times out in the open. At one point we had fantastic looks at both species of Longspur in the same field of view in the scope.

Here's a picture of Rob F. and I (we are left of the blue jacket/red backpack (click to enlarge):

photo credit: Rob Jett

Not having much time, we had to leave Jones Beach. On the drive back, we made a brief stop so that my friend could see the long-staying Snowy Owl that has been in Piermont, NY for several weeks now.

After seeing that bird, I decided to make a quick try for the elusive Greater White-Fronted Goose that has been in Mahwah, NJ since mid-December, but I had missed seeing on three previous tries.
Today was my lucky day, as we spotted the goose on Lake Henry right away, and at close range.

With things going so well, we decided to take a short walk around the lake to see what else was around. I was very fortunate to spot an Eastern Screech-Owl (gray morph) sitting in a tree cavity sunning itself.

What an excellent way to end an exciting day !