Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Last Post - 23rd June

And so our American adventure comes to an end after a hair over 3 years. We'd expected a longer stint, but life sometimes has other plans. We'll be  moving to Ireland on 30th June. When reflecting on the time I've spent here the thing that strikes me is the sheer variety of birds that can be seen in New York. The state itself is big, and stretches north into the boreal zone which boosts the potential birds that can be seen, but I'd had no idea of the variety of migrants that pass through the city each year. The south shore of Long Island was also a big surprise, I was astounded at the general birdiness of places like Jones' Beach and Fort Tilden. I wasn't completely unaware of the spring warbler scene in Central Park, but it was still a thrill to be able to witness it.

All in all the birding has been excellent. I wish I'd got to grips with the songs and calls sooner than I did, a good ear is essential here, but in general I'm happy with what I've seen. The only birds that I feel that I've missed are mainly pretty scarce or tricky to see. Some are irruptive winter visitors, mainly to The Adirondacks, such as Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill and Pine Grosbeak. My first winter trip to the north was this year (an unsuccessful twitch for a Ross's Gull), and I should have done more. I also dipped several times on Thick-billed Murre (Brunnich's Guillemot). One more winter would probably have been sufficient. Of the three phalaropes that occur I saw the rarest (Red/ Grey), bit not Wilson's or Red-necked. I dipped several times on Wilson's which is annual at Jamaica Bay on the East Pond. The Red-necked is most readily seen on the spring pelagics out of Brooklyn, but they are very inconveniently timed in the middle of exams so I was never able to get on one. Had I done so I might have had a chance at another big miss, Long-tailed Jaeger (Skua), and even South Polar Skua. I love rallids, and I was especially disappointed with my failure to see a Virginia Rail. Inexcusable really, I just didn't get into the right place regularly enough, too distracted by warblers I suppose.

I did quite well for warblers to be fair, recording 36 species in NY state (and one other in Texas). I missed none of the regulars at all, and only 3 other species were recorded in NY in the time I was here; Hermit, Virginia and Black-throated Grey, each of them being one day birds at best.

Sparrows are a big feature of the avifauna here, and most are pretty easy to get onto. Nelson's took a while and a few false starts, as did Clay-coloured. LeConte's was the only semi-regularly occurring species I didn't connect with, but they are less than annual and rarely twitchable.

North American forests are well -populated with another of my favourite groups, woodpeckers. I basically cleaned-up on the eastern half of the country with the exception of American Three-toed Woodpecker which is now very scarce in the northeast (last sighting in The Adirondacks was 2012).
If we had stayed I would have started to do a few more trips. Our family road trip to Florida last year, and this year's Texas excursion were great fun and I had my eye on a few birding holidays:

  • Great Plains grouse round-up: It's possible to design a one-week road-trip through Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas that will produce Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken, Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse. The trip would have to be timed to coincide with the lekking behaviour these birds are known for, which means early April. Very inconvenient for my school timetable! A great trip, but a lot of driving.
  • South-east Arizona: The northern limit of a lot of Mexican birds, loads of birds!
  • Alaska: All those Auks!
  • Pelagics: Seattle and San Diego to mop up all the north Pacific seabirds, Mmmmmmm!
As to numbers, my US list stands at 457, and New York is 333 (triple Nelson!). I wasn't particularly bothered about chasing some of the more humdrum species (Tufted Duck, Ring-necked Pheasant etc.) so I could have seen more, but that seems to be a decent total for a reasonably active birder spending 3 years in NYC.

It's been a great 3 years!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Adirondack specials - 15th June

My last birding excursion in the US was to The Adirondacks to catch up with a handful of birds that I've missed in the past. I hired Joan Collins of Adirondack Avian Expeditions, and gave her a shopping list. Top of the list was Bicknell's Thrush. A high elevation specialist with a restricted range in NE USA and Eastern Canada, one of the only really 'easy' places to see this is on Whiteface Mountain, and Joan is the best person to find it! It means an early start (2:15am) in order to be on site for dawn when the birds are most vocal. We heard dozens, but only really saw three, of which only one was photographable.

Next up was a trip to Bigelow Road in the Bloomingdale area where Joan very quickly picked out a quiet chirp that she said was Boreal Chickadee. Sure enough a pair soon showed themselves. Two targets down, just one to go...

The last main site was on private land somewhere north of Tupper Lake where Joan had staked out nesting Philadelphia Vireos. We got to the site easily, and could hear the birds immediately, but seeing them was a problem. After quite a wait we eventually go on to a foraging bird and had great views. All targets achieved!

Joan then showed me a Northern Goshawk nest that she knew about, and it had two young birds in it which had clearly only hatched recently.

Other birds seen during the day included: a small colony of Cliff Swallows, Ruffed Grouse crossing the road, Broad-winged Hawk hunting said grouse, nesting Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, calling Barred Owls and Wilson's Snipe.

Bicknell's Thrush. A real skulker, we saw 3 birds in about 3 hours, but must have heard 30.
Boreal Chickadee. A really nice bird, much more interesting than I was expecting!
Philadelphia Vireo. At last! I feel like I've chased this bird all over New York. Quite tricky to see even though we had at least 3 birds singing around us for about an hour and a half.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. This pair were working flat-out to feed the nestful of youngsters we could hear clearly complaining about empty bellies.
Cliff Swallow. A small colony of 8 or 10 nests under the eaves of a farmhouse.
Ruffed Grouse.