Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Farewell To A Friend & One Of NY's Finest Naturalist: Rich Kelly

Rich Kelly (center) 
It was Saturday morning, September 6th, I was up around 4:00 AM and toying with the idea of where I would go in the field. I could not make up my mind and after some faffing around, I looked at my e-mail and saw the weekly RBA (Rare Bird Alert) report had made it to my inbox. I began to read the report to see what good birds had been reported when I came across a blurb about the passing of Rich Kelly. I was immediately heavy hearted. Rich was a friend who was battling cancer and I had been calling him occasionally but not too much since I knew it took some effort for him to be on the phone. I had seen him during the 2018 Southern Nassau Christmas Bird Count, when I handed him my data and he seemed in good spirits and indicated that he was doing better with the treatment. But, Cancer is a sneaky bastard. You never know when it would raise its ugly head and apparently it returned with a vengeance, claiming one of the finest naturalist that I had the pleasure of meeting.

Rich Kelly was an unassuming man. There was nothing pretentious about him. He was a genuine chap - a 'real' kind of guy. Intelligent, skillful but humble. The kind of individual who I could spend time with in the field and we did. A few times. Teaming up on several occasions to do Birding, Insecting, Butterflying, Botany and even doing some Conservation work. He was a well rounded naturalist, skillful but never boastful. He was also known to have an extensive Seashell collection. Rumor has it that it is perhaps, the largest on Long Island. I don't know because I never had a chance to see it. Rich was also known to be good at Herpetology the one area that I regret we did not explore together. By now, you get the picture, he was skilled in many areas.

Rich was the one along with Don Riepe who encouraged me to join the NYC Butterfly Club and while it was at first intimidating with all the talent at the meetings, I began to enjoy attending, if only for the laughter. Those meetings were very Sienfeldesque, the exchanges at times between our host Guy Tudor and attendees could be hilarious. It was Rich would later call me whenever I missed those meetings to ask about my absence and to let me know that I was on the "list" - the list of delinquents. But that was Rich, always making sure that others were keyed in on what was happening.

Rich (L), Gail Benson (C) and Tom Burke (R). Note Rich's "baby blue" Tripod.
Rich was involved in several Christmas Bird Counts (CBC). It was he who convinced me to join the 2013 Bronx/Westchester CBC. That year, I was inducted into his team with the old, "rookie has to buy breakfast" which I did, despite accusing the lot of a scam - though all in good jest as I could care less about buying breakfast when the camaraderie was good. I remained a member of that team until I was asked by Michael Bochnik, to be the West Bronx area leader. Rich was my area leader on the Southern Nassau Christmas Bird Count and I only joined the Atlantic Team because of him. He was the one who I partnered up with on one of my earliest Christmas Bird Counts in Suffolk county. The 2010 Montauk Christmas Count. Little did I know then that he was grooming me to take over his territory as he expressed to me later, "It's too much of a drive for me these days."

Rich Kelly, 4th from left.
Our friendship was not one where we hung out a lot but he and I had a very good relationship. I liked him and I would like to think he liked me too. We shared many a phone calls - one of the few people who I did not mind speaking with on the phone. Those of you who know me, know that I dislike chatting on the phone as I would rather a face 2 face conversation. With Rich, it was different. He made me laugh and I made him laugh. I remember him warning me not try this "tongue" sandwich that our friend Seth Ausubel loved to eat. The way he said it made me laugh so much; I am chuckling as I write this. His sense of humor was unique. A bit of sarcasm and a tad dry but funny. It was sort of "British." If you like British humor, you would understand what I mean. Rich was altruistic, always generous with his time and knowledge. In 2009, he and I teamed up to participate in a planting project at Jones Beach. Together, we planted over 300 seedlings. Today, many of those seedlings, now trees, act as cover for migrating birds, especially Owls. I bet some of Rich's friends did not know that he participated in the replenishing of Japanese Pitch Pines at Jones Beach West End.

In 2013, I put out a call for any naturalist interested in joining me for a nature walk at Van Cortlandt Park in Bronx Co. The walk was designed to highlight the adverse effect to wildlife of a pending paving project of the Putnam Trail being planned by City Parks. Rich Kelly was the only naturalist who answered the call; he came out to Van Cortlandt Park and participated in that walk with me, further solidifying our friendship.

In 2016, he alerted me to some uprooting of plants at an area called, "Sparrow Corner" at Jacob Riis Park in Queens Co. Because of his efforts and a coordinated response, we were able to get the area replanted in short order. That very same year, he was the only one to respond to a call from National Park Service Gateway, for SME's (Subject Matter Experts) for a 2016, BioBlitz at Jamaica Bay. We teamed up to catalogue insects and we had a great time in the field on that project. Rich was also very helpful in teaching National Park Service (NPS) staff about plants during the restoration of the North and South Gardens at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in 2015 and 2016.

We worked together with NPS, Tony Luscombe,  on the Rocky Marsh, restoration project. Rich's contribution to that effort was invaluable in him being able to locate and identify important flora in the area. This was yet another one of those projects where Rich's contribution to conservation was important yet it was quietly done.

These are just some examples that I am aware of showing Rich's generosity with his time and expertise. He was a gem of a man.  He used to tell me that he had the "patience of a flea" but I disagree. Rich had the patience of a saint. He would take the time to explain and answer questions from anyone who consulted with him. I did that, more than once, mostly on insects and he always helped me out.

Rich Kelly Far Left On The East Pond At Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
We birded too. Occasionally, he would call me about the East Pond at Jamaica Bay. I would teasingly respond by, telling him that the water level was not ready for him. He was there with me in Forest Park Queens Co. in  2011 when I scored my Queens County first Yellow-throated Warbler. He, Al Lindberg and I did a birding trip in 2011 where he saw me score my NY State Western Tanager that was coming to a feeder in Montauk LI. That day, I was introduced to the legendary number 14 Pork Sandwich which was deliciously true to its reputation.

Rich Kelly Still Kneeling Even With The New Tripod.
He was self-effacing, never interested in drawing attention to himself. Some saw him as frugal, I saw him as smart in spending. He had this old "baby blue" tripod (see second photo above) that some used to rib him about. It was so shaky, that he often had to kneel to use it. When he finally sprung for a new Tripod, he still knelt. Old habits die hard.

I was very saddened to learn of Rich's passing but if it frees him from the pain he was enduring, then I take some solace in knowing that he is now pain free, at peace and in a better place. It was not easy writing this piece about a man I admired for his unassuming brilliance. I will miss you my friend and will always remember you for all good times we shared and the kindness you showed me always.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Cackling Goose Study at Van Cortlandt Park Bronx Co.

On January 18th, I spent a few hours studying the Geese at Van Cortlandt Park (VCP) in the Bronx. I had reviewed previous reports from that location and was surprised that no one had reported any Cackling Goose (Branta Hutchinsii), this is the smaller bodied subspecies of the large bodied Canada Geese still referred to as Branta Canadensis.

Cackling Goose (Richardson's) at Van Cortlandt Park Bronx Co.


Winter brings Geese from up North and Van Courtlandt Park has been an excellent place for Geese studies. I have in the past found Greater White-fronted, Cackling and Barnacle Goose there.  On this day my good fortune continued as I found two Cackling Geese, in a flock of just under 1,000 Canada Geese (Branta Canadensis). Both Cackling, (likely Richardson's) were tough to pickup in the flock and it took some patience sifting through the flock until I found them. A few photos are provided in this post.

Cackling Goose (Richardson's) at Van Cortlandt Park Bronx Co.

Cackling Goose (Richardson's) at Van Cortlandt Park Bronx Co.


For tips on how to identify Cackling Geese see my previous posts: Cackling Goose - A Photo Study and In Search of Cackling Geese at Van Cortlandt Park. Both these posts, give readers a decent start; especially, for anyone who might not be familiar on what to look for. Additionally, I would suggest to maintain a very disciplined approach to settle on your ID. Do not fall into the trap of looking at size only.

Cackling Goose (Richardson's) at Van Cortlandt Park Bronx Co.

Cackling Goose (Richardson's) at Van Cortlandt Park Bronx Co.

Cackling Goose (Richardson's) at Van Cortlandt Park Bronx Co.




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Monday, March 19, 2018

Banded Herring Gull C47

Herring Gull C47 showboating for nearby Herring Gull 2-15-2018.

Over the past few seasons, I have become quite familiar with banded Herring Gull C47 who has made Brooklyn one of its favorite wintering sites. I have had countless encounters and taken many photographs. This bird was banded by Dr. Sara R. Morris in 2005 at Appledore Maine when it could not fly.  In 2017, it was in its 13CY (calendar year). My last observation was on 2-15-2018, where I watched it interacting with Fish Crows as they appear to have devised a plan to extract treats from a nearby garbage can. Some photos C47 from this Winter.

Herring Gull C47 negotiating with a Fish Crow for scraps 2-15-2018.


Herring Gull C47 on 12-9-2017 

Spread wing shot of  Herring Gull C47 on 12-9-2017



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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The listserv is dead, long live the listserv!

When older birders wax on about the methods used to report Rare Birds and how such information was shared with the wider birding community years ago, I am fascinated. How on earth did people manage to twitch rare birds in a timely manner? Some stories go so far as to suggest that one only found out about a good bird sighting if you were in the know. Meaning, one had to have the proper connections, was on "the list" or whatever terminology was used back then to suggest that you either qualified (whatever that meant) or lucky enough to be told of a rare bird that showed up.

I often wonder, if the lack of technology to disseminate information to a wider audience, then led to the creation of so-called cliques resulting in whispers of secret groups with names like "elite birders" a result of where some felt slighted that birds were only shared with a select few, not with everyone. In the "good ole days" as some refer to that time, people waited as much as an entire week, perhaps even longer to learn about some rarity in the area unless you were "in the loop" and got that coveted phone call.

Today, birders have a plethora of tools to share information about birds. The main repository of bird reports these days comes from listserves. If you are not yet aware, a listserv is an application that distributes messages to subscribers on an electronic mailing list. It uses what is referred to as pull technology, meaning a user would have to either go their e-mail inbox to read messages that were posted.

The listserv became the one stop shop for all birds reported with many states carrying multiple lists that covered various regions within that state. New York, for example, currently have 8 lists covering various regions. The ABA (American Birding Association) website now has links to reports from all the states on one page. It is easy to visit their website to get the most recent reports. Note, these lists are only good if they are populated with updated and relevant information.

Not long ago, there were several posts on the NY Listserv, pleading for bird reports.  As a result, I began to take a closer look at how birds were being shared by birders today.  Many birders who I spoke to have decided that the listserv is all but dead. They cite other resources such as eBird (an excellent tool used to gather and store data on birds observed) under the assumption that once they submit a checklist with their birds, that checklist information, is readily publicly available. eBird with the exception of a checklist with either hidden values or entries that need further documentation for validation I believe is usually updated on an hourly basis for a given checklist to become public data. This means that eBird reports are not really readily available for public consumption. This is a problem for some birders because we are in an age of instant gratification. The people demand their bird notifications promptly and often. So some birders have turned to other tools in the hopes of getting information in a timely manner suited to their needs.

In addition to using eBird, birders have also resorted to using other methods of sharing information, such as text messaging and using various social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to name two. The latter is mostly used to send short messages about a bird (s) to those people who follow that twitter account. Hashtags associated with that account are used as a way to reach a wider audience. Then we get to Facebook, which has become quite popular among newbies and some experienced birders. Other messaging tools like WhatsApp, popular in Asia have also found its way into the birding world among North American users.

With all of these tools, one would think the information is readily available to all or most. Not so fast. These tools while easy for some might be difficult for others for a variety of reasons. More importantly, I have found that many users will not crossover - meaning Facebook users may not use Twitter, text messages will not make it outside of the recipients and we end up with stovepiping. The end results are that there are often reports that never make their way to the wider audience until it is too late. This has frustrated many and once again, we are faced with the dilemma of data not being made available to everyone in a timely manner. Sounds familiar?

Some birders really do try their best to post across platforms but in the end what we see happening is a complete breakdown of how information is shared. Meaning, we are right back where we started; reports of birds are not shared with the wider audience despite all the advances in technology used in getting data out faster. This brings me back to the listservs. Despite the fact that this is a pull vs push technology, the listservs continue to remain a reliable source of information that can reach a wider audience.  If those of us who use more of the modern push technologies take the time to share our sightings to the listserv, we would ensure reaching a wider audience thus enabling more to share in our discoveries. The life of Listservs depend on the users and we should share our data or suffer the consequences of a "communication breakdown." Long live the listservs!


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Friday, November 3, 2017

In Memory of Robert J. Kurtz

I read the e-mail on the morning of September 28th, which was sent out the night before about Bobby Kurtz' passing away, I was shocked. Pat Lindsay's e-mail indicated that he was ill for several months. I felt sad and then ashamed. I had not seen Bobby's familiar face all summer on the East Pond of Jamaica Bay, yet it never dawned on me that something was amiss.

Bobby Kurtz at the North End of the East Pond at Jamaica Bay.
While I did not bird often with Bobby, the few times I met him in the field, I was endeared by his personality. It might also be that because we shared a love for shorebirds that I was drawn to his charm. Certainly, he was the only birder I knew that could break out in jerking moves that Shai Mitra described as a kind of Rumpelstiltskin dance. All for the sight of a good shorebird or raptor. For Bobby, that could have "merely" been the sight of a juvenile Least or Semipalmated Sandpiper.  I still remember his enthusiastic shout of "Whimbrel, Whimbrel" at Jones Beach Coast Guard Station in 2009 - he was practically foaming at the mouth. I had just started birding and his reaction to that bird that day was infectious. I felt that I wanted to celebrate shorebirds like he did.  He loved his shorebirds! But more so, he also loved his raptors! It was interesting to see how torn he became while viewing shorebirds on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay and his response after a Peregrine Falcon came through putting everything up. I would be frustrated but Bobby's reaction would be like a dad scolding a kid (gently). "Well at least, he did not get anything" in a voice more of admiration than admonition.

2012 Bobby Kurtz 3rd from L enjoying the 1st Ruff that I found on the East Pond.
I attended Bobby's wake on October 8th and listened to the outpouring of love from many of his friends. Kind, thoughtful, sorrowful words flowed from many. His friends from the Fire Island Hawk Watch talked about his never-ending joy at seeing migrating raptors. Bobby Berlingeri, whom he was close to, had it the toughest I thought, in speaking about their time together. John Askildsen, spoke to us about the secret on why Bobby used two walking sticks. I don't think anyone in that room knew before then. Who knew the solution to probable knee problems due to "deep knee bends" in the Navy would be to use walking sticks to make up for overworked knees. Clever and typical of Bobby.  I think Bobby would have approved at all the things everyone had to say.

Bobby Kurtz getting in on a Red Phalarope at Jones Beach in 2015
I am sorry I never got a chance to visit Bobby while he was ill. I would have loved to talk birds with him, to share with him the news of a Jamaica Bay West Pond restoration and of the shorebird numbers on the East Pond.  Farewell Bobby. A lot of us will miss you. Where ever you are my friend, may your vision and hearing be filled with the sights and sounds of the birds you love as you sip on a Franziskaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel. Rest In Peace!

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wordless Wednesday...





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Friday, October 6, 2017

Shorebirding at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC

Mixed flock of Shorebirds on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC.
Its October and most birders by now are cranking up their studies for fall migration. This is where we see a split between those who focus on Coastal migrant traps and others who work Inland migrant traps. For some, the choice is made for them for a number of reasons. Additionally, most birders give up on shorebird season. After all, it's over for the most part, right? Not really. Some of us who would rather spend shore-birding all season refuse to give in to "the shorebird season is over" mantra.

American Avocet on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC.
So, here I was today continuing to bird the East Pond at Jamaica Bay taking careful notes of shorebird movement while also noting the arrival of waterfowl. Today, was quite an exceptional day on the East Pond for shorebirds in October. I had 14 species of Shorebirds. The highlight was a juvenile Hudsonian Godwit, 1 American Avocet (continuing bird), 2 American Golden Plovers, 9 Stilt Sandpipers and 41 Pectoral Sandpipers (PESA)- the latter, my highest count ever on the East Pond. I had to count the PESAs several times to ensure that I was not seeing things but sure enough I had 41 and I am quite sure that I missed a few elsewhere on the pond.

Other notable birds on the pond included a Eurasian Wigeon, 3 Caspian Terns and 7 American Pipits. Duck numbers are up with Ruddy Duck and Scaup numbers expected to increase. Let's hope for more shorebirds before the season is indeed finally over.

Digiscoped - American Golden Plovers on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC.

Digiscoped - Eurasian Wigeon on the East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC.

Digiscoped - Hudsonian Godwit East Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge NYC.



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