I know. At least I can do a year’s-end wrap-up.
In several parts, so I’ll have something to post for a few days…
Part one: Extralimital chases!
I always gripe about missing birds that everyone else saw, so this year I’m happy to say I had several successful long-distance expeditions! First, of course, was the glorious Gyrfalcon in Wallkill, told in more detail here. In late December a very similar bird showed up in the same location. A return visit? Nobody knows — this time it was a one-day wonder.
In April, in roughly the same area, a much weirder wanderer dropped in. Crested Caracaras are not migratory birds – they aren’t expected north of central Texas and Florida. So what was this one doing in Orange County, New York? Mostly hanging out at a small golf course, eating roadkill possum provided by the owners. It looks like an attenuated Bald Eagle with a bad toupee, and walks like a Secretary Bird. This one was was especially interesting, because it was missing its left eye. That didn’t seem to interfere with its scavenging or flying: it was seen a few months later in Massachusetts. I hope it finally figured out where South is…
In June I added two species to my ‘Heard Only’ life list (yes, I have multiple subcategories of life list, don’t we all?), both skulky birds with fortunately distinctive songs. Yellow-breasted Chat is a large unwarblerish warbler with a Catbird-like jumble of song fragments and noises. Some observers were lucky enough to see it perched high and displaying, but when I was there it never came out of dense tangled cover.
Henslow’s Sparrow, searched for on our annual club trip to Perch River WMA, was even more frustrating. We stood by the roadside in the drizzling rain and maybe saw a wingtip flash by. I suspect the bird doesn’t fly, but rather crawls on its belly like a reptile. An Amish family on their way to Sunday service just shook their heads: “Crazy English.”
Many years ago, before eBird, listservs, or the all-knowing internet, I tried to find a Painted Bunting in Florida based on a location in a birding guide that had last been updated… when? No luck that day, so when I heard a spectacular male was hanging out in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, it was time to revisit The City for the first time in years. Things sure have changed, especially bird-finding. GPS to find our way, eBird to check it was still present, and a whole network of cooperative birders to get to the exact spot. And there he was:
We ran out of adjectives. Technicolor! Luminous! Tie-dyed!
Media coverage was non-stop. Not just the bird, but vagrant birders got a moment of fame. If you’re curious what I look like when geeking out, here you go.
So that’s the year in out-of-town lifers. Tomorrow, local surprises!