Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Birding The Adirondacks NY

It has been a few years birding up north in the Adirondacks so when the idea began floating around leading to a discussion with my friend Joe Giunta, I was all psyched to do a trip with him. My first trip to the Adirondack was with Joe Giunta in 2010 so it was only fitting that I was returning after a few years of not enjoying any northern birding. Our trip did not get off to such a great start, dipping on a state bird (more on that in another post) which we worked into our trip. Nevertheless, we kept up our spirits and by 3:00 p.m. began our first bit of northern birding in Keene Valley. We thought we might have lucked out with one of our target birds, when a flock of Waxwings popped into view but after pulling over and carefully studying them we were satisfied they were all Cedar Waxwings. Nice to see but they were not the Bohemian Waxwings we wanted. We decided to check in to our hotel and then to hit Bigelow Bog before the light faded. After checking in, we drove to our parking spot near our rooms and heard Pine Siskins. We scanned the nearby Cedars and picked up a mixed flock of Pine Siskins, Purple Finches and American Goldfinches. Nice birds to get anywhere and it lifted our mood.

Once our travel gear was off loaded, we were back on the trails again at Bigelow Bog. We immediately picked up a few Purple Finches but the rest of the way, it was quiet; the icy conditions made it quite a treacherous walk so we did not get too far in on the trail. With light fading, we called it a day and headed for dinner. We had gone 0 for 3 but kept our spirits up. Dinner at Nonna Fina was nothing to write home about. Joe seemed satisfied but I had a hard time putting away the "Personal Pizza" we shared.

The next day, breakfast at McKenizie's Grill was very good and our hostess, kept our coffee cups filled and often. By 7:00 a.m. we were on the road heading back to Bigelow Road. This time we scored quickly and bagged Gray Jays who followed us around on the trail looking for handouts. We had some peanuts which they gladly took. We left Bigelow Bog after trying for and not finding any Boreal Chickadee or Black-backed Woodpecker. Next, we headed to Keene Valley where we decided to drive around in the hopes of running into Bohemian Waxwings. We tried several areas that looked reasonably good but with no luck. I checked in on local reports and mentioned to Joe that Evening Grosbeaks were reported in an area about an hour away. We had decided that we might be better off taking a shot at the Grosbeak area and reluctantly decided that we had dipped on Bohemian Waxwings again. Before heading off, we decided to give one area another crack. We had almost reached the area where we would split off for the drive to the Grosbeak location when I heard Waxwings. I asked Joe to stop the car and strained my ears to listen. At first, nothing and I began to think that I was talking myself into hearing Waxwings, when I heard the sounds again. I quickly tried to get a bead on where it was coming from. Across the road a flutter of wings caught my eyes and I glassed the area. We got Waxwings, I yelled at Joe. As Joe tried to get a look around me through my window, I yelled again. There are Bohemian Waxwings in that flock. We hurriedly parked and scurried over frozen ground, crossed the road and pulled up near a house that had a Mountain Ash Tree with Berries. Frustratingly, by the time we crossed the road the Waxwings were nowhere to be seen but I could hear them. It was Joe who spotted them in a nearby Blue Spruce, they apparently flew up there as traffic went by but came back to the Mountain Ash Tree shortly after. The home owner who is bird friendly came over to chat and extended an invitation for us to spend as much time on his property. I love the generosity of nature loving people and I love Bohemian Waxwings. Joe was patient with me and I eventually very reluctantly pulled myself away after getting in a rather extended satisfied view. I could have stayed there much longer. We had scored a big one, talk about luck!

The rest of the day did not work out well bird wise but we did great with people. We dipped on Evening Grosbeak but met Paul whose Intel sharing led us to Lynn who was radiating with positive energy--a very kind soul. We were invited into her home and she made tea and coffee for Joe and I. Her bird feeders setup was amazing and we were invited to roam her property to look for birds. It was a very cold morning so Lynn's hospitality was spot on and we sipped Coffee and Tea and watched birds coming to her feeders. We were not doing great with the birds but when it came to people, we had struck gold! After warming up, we decided we had taken up enough of Lynn's time and decided that we would take a run at Paul Smith's VIC. I got to be straight, I was thinking we should bird somewhere else but went along with the plan anyway.  It turned out to be a rather wasteful drive to Paul Smith's VIC (Visitor's Interpretive Center). I have not had much luck in the past few trips there and this trip was no better. It was a short visit and we quickly headed back to Evening Grosbeak searching but had no luck. We did visit Lynn again and met her husband John who was just as welcoming and shared his stories of nature encounter. These are my kind of people, I could have stayed up there much longer.

Dinner that night was much better at Meet and Eat in Saranac Lake, which I mostly have to thank Betsy, Joe's better half at finding that spot. Even though she was not with us, Betsy's influence played a role in me having a much better dinner experience than the previous night. Joe and I refueled and planned for the next day. We had debated on what time to get started the next day but Joe after sleeping on it woke up the next morning at 5:00 suggesting we needed to get on the road. Breakfast was going to have to wait but who cares when there are birds to see...I was ready! We made a stop for coffee and I was wondering if we made a misstep after getting a call from our new friend Lynn who called me to let us know that Evening Grosbeaks were in the neighborhood. Luckily, we were ten minutes away by then and made it in the nick of time. The Evening Grosbeaks, which we picked up calling in some trees did not stay long and we counted our lucky stars that we made it in time. Lynn, John and Paul were very happy for us and we thanked them for their hospitality and especially for Lynn keeping an eye out for those birds. We birded in the area and picked up some nice birds including multiple Pileated Woodpeckers. With lots of time left in the day we decided to try Sabattis Bog for Black-backed Woodpecker and Boreal Chickadee. Neither of us had birded there and it turned out our prep work was not done properly as we could not find the right area for an entrance to the bog and so settled on birding Circle Road. We saw additional Gray Jays, Turkeys and a nice adult Bald Eagle but none of our target birds. I talked Joe into leaving so that we could take another crack at Bigelow Road for the Woodpecker and Chickadee. We got one out of two when we managed to spot a shy Boreal Chickadee moving with a flock of Black-capped Chickadees. We had another target bird but it had taken us all day. By then the light was fading and after one other stop elsewhere to try for Black-backed Woodpecker, we called it a night. Dinner was once again at Meet and Eat and we planned out our last day over our meal

We were up early, had a quick breakfast, checked out and hit the road. We had decided to try Sabattis Bog again after deciding to adjust our plan to once again make a run at the rare bird we had dipped on during our inbound ride up north. Sabattis Bog, again proved to be tough for us but with time running out on we managed to pull out Red Crossbills. It wasn't easy leaving but we had to finally bid the Adirondacks farewell. As with any trip up north, you head there with a target list of birds and hope to get as many as you could. We had missed a few but neither of us were complaining, we had a couple of nice days birding up north, met some very nice people and we did see some neat birds. The trip in my opinion was a success. Next stop Ulster County.
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Friday, March 4, 2016

Banded Ring-billed Gull - BZHC

On December 7th 2015, I documented a banded Ring-billed Gull at Flushing Meadow in Queens. After submitting my report to the banding station in Quebec Canada where there is an ongoing research program on the ecology of Ring-billed Gulls. I received word from Professor Jean - Francois Giroux who sent me information about band BZHC. This is the first time I have seen this many re-sight entries for a RBGU (Ring-billed Gull) an encouraging sign that more observers are submitting their reports.




Banded Ring-billed Gull BZHC (B=Blue)
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Monday, February 29, 2016

Greater White-fronted Goose, My Newest Queens County Bird

It is getting harder to add new birds in my home county of Queens NY. When I found out via the RBA (Rare Bird Alert) on the 12th of February that a Greater White-fronted Goose was seen at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens on February 10th. I was like Blistering Barnacles!?! With all the tools these days that are used to report birds, I was disappointed that this bird was not posted or shared for several days. It is not like GWFG is a common bird in Queens. Heck, according to eBird this was only the 4th such record. I looked for the Goose the following day (Saturday) in frigid temperatures with no luck.  Another Queens birder, Corey Finger, who works his county list with religious fervor, also had no luck on that day. An entire week went by and life and work got in the way of checking for that bird again. Truthfully, I had chalked it up as a miss. On Sunday February 21st, when I got a text message from Corey that the Greater White-fronted Goose was being seen again at Flushing Meadow Park, I swung into gear, elated that I had another crack at the bird. Not without some drama though, as Corey texted me while I was suiting up to report that the Goose had flown after being flushed by a dog. It did not go far though and ended up at the north end of Flushing Meadow Lake and was still there when I arrived.

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)
I spent some time watching the Goose on the lake and then on the shores where I observed its behavior as it fed among a flock of "white-cheeked Geese" it was associating with. This was one of the palest GWFG, I have seen and it seemed a good fit for a. albifrons it seemed rather paler looking than a.flavirostris which is the Greenland race .  It appeared comfortable and only got nervous when dogs were in the vicinity. It was a dog that caused it to relocate as I watched it get spooked onto the Lake by one park visitor who thought nothing to have his dog wander off-leash.

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)
Here is one of the last looks that I had that day of the Greater White-fronted Goose as it sat on the lake after being flushed by an unleashed dog. There are park rules about dogs off-leash but it seems most people don't care to follow them and often no one from Parks is around to enforce these rules. Too bad because several birders who arrived a bit later could not re-find the Greater White-fronted Goose. Making me even more grateful that I saw it when I did.

2nd from R- Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)


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Friday, February 26, 2016

Cackling Goose - A Photo Study

As a supplement to my post on the Cackling Goose Conundrum, I present a few photos of Cackling Goose (presumably b.h.hutchinsii). I have been looking at the subspecies of Cackling and other interesting "White-cheeked Geese" and the variation makes the ongoing study quite interesting.

This Cackling Goose shows a small bill and head and really falls well within the range of the Cackling species of "White-cheeked Geese." This is considered to be Richardson's Cackling or Branta Hutchinsii Hutchinsii. The head shape is not as blocky looking; however, keep in mind that head shape could show a lot of variation for a number of reasons such as posture.



This Cackling Goose also shows the classic small bill expected on a Richardson's Cackling or Branta Hutchinsii Hutchinsii. Note the head and forehead shape. There is more of a sloping effect instead of the steep look often seen with b.h.hutchinsii.



Here we have two Cackling Geese side by side for comparison. Small bill and small head all stay consistent. Note the variation in head shape. Do you think this is legitimate or a result of the difference in posture. In this photo you could see that the plumage is a bit different where one is slightly darker than the other. Also, look at the cheek patch to see the subtle differences.



Rather than posting additional individual Cackling Geese photos, I have decided to throw this out. Take a look at this crude collage of "White-cheeked Geese" head shots.  How many do you think might be Cackling Geese? Identify them by number.



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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Reporting Banded Ring-billed Gulls

On Sunday, while I was ticking my Queens County Greater White-fronted Goose, I put in some Gull study time and was rewarded with a banded Ring-billed Gull. As with every time I find a banded bird, I was thrilled and ensured I was able to read and document the band. Last night, I processed and submitted my find and within hours, Professor Jean-Francoix Giroux had a reply. See the certificate.


If you see a banded Ring-billed Gull (RBGU), please try and get the information and submit your find to goeland.uqam.ca.



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Cackling Goose Conundrum

Where do I start with this post? Let's see, I have written in the past about finding Cackling Geese at several locations in the NYC Metro and Long Island areas. In one such post, I included several tips on how to identify Cackling Goose in the field--in our case, this was related to the expected subspecies b. Hutchinsii Hutchinsii. The post (see here) was not very technical but I did provide some starting points that any birder with a critical eye and patience to sift through flocks of "White-cheeked Geese" would find useful. Additionally, I also included a link to David Sibley's online series (a work in progress) that is an excellent starting point in distinguishing Cackling from larger "White-cheeked Geese."

Is the 3rd bird from the right a Cackling Goose? What about the 8th Goose from the right?
A recent "White-cheeked Goose" (see link to photos here) in Central Park NYC which was first identified as a Cackling Goose then as a possible Lesser Canada Goose has stirred up a useful discussion. For some, it was a bit amusing while others like myself, took it quite seriously. Some have mused that the fuss about the Central Park Goose, is much ado about nothing. Apparently, birders on Long Island and other parts of New York deal with these types of larger than average "Cackling Types" every season during Geese migration. Contextually, that may be true but the discussion opened up a very interesting debate on what do with the odd "White-cheeked Goose" that shows up whose features does not fit the conventional wisdom (ID features from literature by Bird Experts) that birders have relied on since the AOU split in distinguishing Cackling Goose from other "White-cheeked Geese." While much has been written on how to identify and separate the Cackling Geese subspecies, almost one feature has been consistent in the literature and is considered a primary indicator. It is HEAD and BILL shape. Size and plumage are considered to be secondary indicators by birders and researchers.

Classic looking Cackling Goose (b.h. hutchinsii) in Queens NYC
The Central Park Goose to many, including those considered "Geese Experts" did not not pass the expected Richardson's Cackling Goose ID features and so began the debate on what it was? I myself took the position that it was not a Cackling Goose based on my experience of observing Cackling Geese in the field and speculated that it was one of those "Lesser Canada Type" things (for lack of a better term) or a Runt Branta Canadensis. The question on identification was posed on ID Frontiers (a listserve for BIRD identification discussions) and it set off a discussion that was quite educational. When Geese researcher, Ken Abrahams, responded that he thought that the Central Park Goose was a very difficult ID and conservatively called it a "Hutchinsii Variant" I was not surprised at all. I have often suspected that we probably had larger than the expected b. Hutchinsii Hutchinsii slip past us but wondered at the use of "variant." It seemed to me a term used for lack of knowing what the Central Park Goose really was--still, it was interesting to have a researcher confirming that on the breeding grounds, larger Cackling Geese have been observed. What bothers me though, is the lack of evidence in the form of photographs. I have crawled the web for such examples and I have yet to see these larger than average Cackling Geese clearly identified in any photos with supporting literature. Perhaps, someone will set me straight after reading this post and point me to resources.

A very pale breasted Goose. B.c. Canadensis or something else??
Additionally, out of the discussion was the premise that there was no chance of "Lesser Canada" (B.c. parvipes) occurring in our area. I had long decided, based on records and range, a Lesser Canada would be quite rare in our area; however, I was still intrigued that some commentators were taking the position that the chances of seeing B.c.parvipes in our area was almost zero percent. To make matters even murkier, the discussion got into whether there was any difference in Taverner's vs Lesser Canada. Hello...say what!?!  That bit, was even more astounding with several researchers weighing in having different opinions! It seems from this discussion that there is a need for a re-write on the subspecies of Cackling Geese. The thread on ID Frontiers has hit a lull but could get active again; at the moment the consensus is that the Central Park bird is NOT a Cackling Goose. With species overlap, environmental changes and an obvious learning curve with the "White-cheeked Geese" complex, we are sure to have this discussion again. My advise to birders who encounter Geese like this would be to document it but don't get hung up on affixing a label.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Kumlien's Gull in Queens NYC

These days, I have been spending more time with Gulls instead of worrying about my year list which I should add is not too shabby at over 140 species for the state. Gulling in my home county of Queens is not easy due to the lack of good Gull spots. Nevertheless, every now and again while not even looking for the uncommon Gull, something of note will show up like this Kumlien's Gull that I saw on 1-17-2016, flying over Jacob Riis Park and landed at Fort Tilden where I got good looks. Below are a few photos.

Kumlien's Gull at Fort Tilden Queens NY
Kumlien's Gull, is considered by many authorities a subspecies of Iceland Gull. There are two subspecies: nominate glaucoides and kumlieni. The latter birds are called Kumlien's Gull. Birds that appear intermediate between Kumlien's and Thayer's are referred to as hybrids. The American Ornithologists' Union (1998) checklist (and supplements through 2006) allows two races of Iceland Gull within North America: L. g. glaucoides, breeding in Greenland and wintering as far south as the northeastern United States, and L. g. kumlieni, breeding from Baffin Island north to Ellesmere Island and as far west as Coats Island in northern Hudson Bay (Gaston et al. 1986 (http://gull-research.org/glaucoides/rings.html)Kumlien's, is the default subspecies for North America because of the range. This bird, is considered to be an adult Kumlien's Gull.

Kumlien's Gull at Fort Tilden Queens NY
Confused as yet? It gets even muddier. The species intergrades with Thayer's Gull on northern Baffin Island and Southampton Island (Snell 1989; Gaston and Elliot 1990) and was considered conspecific with it by Godfrey (1986) (http://gull-research.org/glaucoides/rings.html). Some in our NY area will not even entertain the talk of "Thayeri" type, preferring to suggest that Thayer's Gull, is just another form of Iceland Gull. Fascinating stuff which every now and again leads to interesting discussions on our local NY list serve.

Shot showing the primaries as the bird was landing.
I would have loved to get good spread wing shots of this bird but it began to snow and the light deteriorated rather quickly. I barely managed one decent flight shot of this bird as it moved from one location to the next. Iceland Gulls are worth studying carefully, especially if you come across 1st - 3rd winter types. If you have never heard of the Hampton's Scale, check it out.  Steve Hampton's scale, is a neat tool that can be used to work out where your bird might fit in terms of the glaucoides-kumlieni-thayeri form.
Kumlien's Gull at Fort Tilden Queens NY

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