Thursday, December 24, 2009

Montauk LI Christmas Bird Count 2009...

After being cooped up for a few weeks, I was only too happy to participate in the Montauk LI Christmas Bird Count. When my friend Shai Mitra asked if I would be up to Owling, I did not hesitate even though it required getting out to Montauk much earlier than originally planned. The day came Saturday December 18th and I was out and on the road by 3:30 a.m. I made good time and arrived at my destination by 5:30 a.m. where I met up with CBC participant Vickie Bustamante and together we went off Owling. It was dark and cold when we entered the woods behind Vickie’s house. Our first attempt at calling in a Screech Owl was met with a distant call or so we thought we heard. Our second attempt was met with success! First, I spotted the silhouette of an Owl in the beam of the flashlight as it crossed in front of us, then we engaged in back and forth calls and in a matter of minutes we had an Eastern Screech Owl looking at us about 15 feet away. We quickly made our tick and went in search for Great Horned, but struck out. We headed back to Vickie’s house where we picked up our vehicles and headed out to a location named Big Reed’s Pond. Along the trail towards Big Reed’s we picked up White-throated Sparrows, Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren, Canada Geese and European Starlings.

I did not make it to the pond as I parted ways with Vickie and joined Shai, Patricia Lindsay and Pat Jones who had called to indicate that they had arrived in Montauk – it was around 7:00 a.m. I met the three all the way at the end of East Lane Drive and joined them in a sea watch; it was cold with the wind whipping into our faces and the waves were rough making our sea watch difficult. Eventually, after having enough of being numb, we split up taking various spots to cover our assigned area. Shia and I birded East Lane Drive taking the Left and Right sides respectively, while Pat J. and Pat L. birded along the beach. It was turning out to be a tough day for land birds as the pickings were slim, but we stuck to the task working hard to find whatever we could.

With the pending storm on the way we were birding against the clock, so once we got to the end of East Land Drive, it was onto Deep Hollow Ranch. The two Pat’s had already started the trail at Deep Hollow and here we got our first Fox Sparrows of the day, ending up with five in total.

From the Ranch, Pat Jones, Patricia Lindsay and I continued to the point, where we did another sea watch. There was decent movement of birds especially Northern Gannets that came in rather close to the shore; however, we did not add any new species. After about 45 minutes of sea watching, we birded a trail near the rest rooms. That trail produced our first Hermit Thrush of the day...a nice save for us. After about an hour, we headed back to East Lane Drive; on the way, we picked up a Red-tail Hawk and a Great Blue Heron, both first of the day pickups.

We took Pat Jones to get his car where they had first started their sea watch and while there confirmed Purple Sandpipers that were seen earlier. After that, we took a break for lunch and ate while reviewing our sightings. During lunch, the snow had begun to arrive and I decided that I would end my day and make the run back to Queens since I had the longest drive. Shai and Pat Lindsay continued birding for another hour and I later learned they added a Razorbill. Despite some interesting moments on the Sunrise highway which was icing up, I made it back home safely. The final tally for the Montauk count was 17,958 individuals of 109 species, which was not bad considering the shortened day.

Angus Wilson, our compiler, later informed us that the highlights of the count were an adult/near adult male King Eider (off Montauk Point in Point South), jaeger sp. (from Accabonac seawatch), Nelson's Gull (on Fort Pond in Lake West), Lesser Black-backed Gull (shore of Fort Pond Bay in Lake West), a good showing of Black-legged Kittiwakes (off Point South, Accabonac seawatch), Palm Warbler (in Point North), Yellow-breasted Chat (Amagansett field edge in Accabonac), and a Baltimore Oriole (fruiting junipers in Springs, Accabonac).

In all there were 22 participants: Shai Mitra, Patricia Lindsay, Vicki Bustamante, Pat Jones, Andrew Baksh, Tom Burke, Gail Benson, Andrew Farnsworth, Andy Guthrie, Bobby Berlingeri, Janice Berlingeri, John Todaro, Marguerite Wolffsohn, Miles Todaro, Bob Paxton, Sarah Plimpton, John Gluth, Jim Ash, Karen Rubinstein, Barbara Rubinstein, Naoko Tanese and Angus Wilson.

It was a terrific experience birding out at Montauk and I can't wait to get out there for a full day of birding. Hopefully, next year our Montauk Christmas Bird Count will have more species and a rarity or two :)
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