Posts Tagged With: life birds

Local surprises

I didn’t always have to travel to find cool birds this year. Some of the most unexpected were just a county away!

This first lifer has a kind of morbid backstory. We were traveling to Pennsylvania for a funeral, and my husband asked if I wanted to break up the drive anywhere. Well, I said, there’s this Acadian Flycatcher in Middleburgh… We followed directions, drove past floodplains and into the hills, and right on target we hear the bird loudly ordering ‘Pizza! Pizza!’ Not a big rarity for our area – Region 8 is just a bit north of where Acadians are comfortable. I wonder if they’re a species like Carolina Wren and Black Vulture experimenting with expanding their range.

The Lark Sparrow up in the Fort Edward grasslands last Christmas was the subject of my most frustrating search ever. So when reports came in of one at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve, I had to go for it. It took some patience, but finally emerged so we could admire its striking facial markings.

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The Preserve is very similar geologically to the Albany Pine Bush and hosts a population of the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. A major hatch was underway as we walked the sandy trails.

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Alert birders at Thacher Park noticed something odd about a Mockingbird – its wing patches were buffy instead of white, and it had a distinct eyering. That meant it was another western vagrant, Townsend’s Solitaire.   These thrushes frequent canyons and cliffs, eating juniper berries. I guess cedars at the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment felt just like home.

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At a suburban Albany bird feeder someone different came for dinner. Another sparrow that’s unmistakably different! Why can’t they all be this easy to pick out? Harris’s Sparrow is, for a change, a mid-continental bird that rarely roams, and this one drew admirers from all over the state. The homeowners patiently put up with gear-laden hordes roaming their back yard, but I’m sure they were grateful when the bird finally disappeared after Thanksgiving.

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‘The Patagonia Picnic Table Effect’ is a well-known birders’ phenomenon.

Basically, it means when birders turn out for a rarity, the concentration of skilled eyes tends to pull out more notable birds. In a fine example, the Harris’s wasn’t showing itself so we poked about into other promising tangles. One of the party urgently whispered and gestured towards a clump of multiflora rose where we saw… yes… a Bohemian Waxwing! The bird I’d hunted for three years, driving hundreds of miles in vain, right in front of me!

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After last winter I swore I’d never chase them again, that the damned bird would have to come to ME.

And it did.

In the end, the one lifer that I didn’t chase was the most satisfying of the year.

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, Life bird!, OMG bird | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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.

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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…

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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:

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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!

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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