Sunday, August 28, 2011

Checking In

I have not been out birding since the gray hooded gull chase. I did go up to Brooklyn, NY and Boston a week ago, but ended up not looking for the hooded crow in New Jersey because it had disappeared again. I also chose not to go to the NC coast yesterday in hopes of seeing lost seabirds as a result of hurricane Irene.

My main reason for doing a post today is to congratulate John Vanderpoel who yesterday saw his 700th and 701st bird for the year. The photo above is of a dusky grouse that my wife and I saw last year in June in Colorado. Yesterday John found a few female Gunnison sage grouse also in Colorado for his 701st bird, and earlier in the day he saw a group of pinyon jays for #700--you can read all about it on his blog (see link on mine).

John is out today looking for the greater sage grouse, and then is off to AK for a couple of weeks before returning to California to do some pelagic trips. I will see him then when we go out of Half Moon Bay together in mid Sept. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Tale of 2 Hoodeds

I wish that the 2 photos above were taken by me yesterday, but alas that is not what happened. So I asked Doug Koch to send me the above pics (click on photo to enlarge) that he took on Tuesday morning when I was originally supposed to be at Coney Island with him, Ken and John. But I am ahead of myself.

Having missed out on Tuesday to see the gray hooded gull, I kept checking to see if it was still showing up. I knew that some birding buddies of mine from Ohio--Dan, Doreene and Bill--were planning to try to see the gull yesterday before flying off Friday evening to Brazil for 3 weeks of birding there. As a result, when the gull was seen again on Wednesday, we hatched a plan to try to see it together on Friday.

Also on Wednesday, reports came in that the hooded crow, which had been found on Staten Island in late June, but then had disappeared, was relocated on the New Jersey shore. This bird, which lives in Europe and is largely non-migratory, created a big stir when discovered because it would be a first North American record of the hooded crow. But because its origin/provenance was unknown, there was much doubt whether it would eventually be accepted by the ABA as a wild bird that had arrived in the US unassisted.

As a result, my Ohio friends had chosen not to chase it back in June when it was first found. However, since my friends were driving from Ohio to NYC, we decided if the crow was seen again on Thursday to meet in Philadelphia on Thurs. nite. I checked the listservs all Thursday morning waiting to see if the gull and/or crow were being reported. My friends began driving at 3 PM towards NYC.

A very tardy report finally came in about 5 PM that the gull was seen briefly from 7:30-8 AM on Thursday, but not for the rest of the day. At that point no one had reported seeing the crow. Since there is still uncertainty that the hooded crow will be accepted by the ABA, my friends decided not to go to Philly, but instead took a more northerly route towards NYC. When the crow was finally reported about 9 PM as having been seen Thursday afternoon, it was too late for them to change their routing, and it was definitely too late for me to get to Philly on a plane Thurs. nite.

I had a ticket on hold to fly to NYC at 6 AM Friday, but was not all that confident that the gull was still at Coney Island since Thursday was the first day of 8 days in a row that it had not been seen during the afternoon. Also, there was a big Aretha Franklin concert happening Thursday nite at Coney Island which might or might not affect the bird. But since I had the reservation, and because my friends were going to try for it, I finally decided to cross my fingers and hope that it would show up on Friday.

Unlike last Monday evening, my plane took off on time and even arrived at JFK airport early. I rushed out to catch a cab to take me to Coney Island. Fortunately there was not much traffic, and I was on the beach at 8 AM greeting my friends plus a birder from Texas that I had met last year. The weather was not bad--sunny, low 80's and a nice breeze. We proceeded to work up and down the beach, stopping to talk with other birders as we patrolled. We met birders from Colorado, Maryland, and upstate NY as well as locals. The first birders on Friday had been there at first light--6 AM--but as the day wore on the gull still did not come in.

About 1:30 a young woman excitedly informed us that she had just seen the gull on the pier. About 20 birders made a mad dash toward the pier. She said she saw the bird 1/2 way out flying around. We did not find the gray hooded gull, but did find a common tern which like the gull has a red bill and red legs. We figured that she had seen the tern, and thought it was the "bird with a red bill and red legs" that all the birders were seeking. When we relocated her she showed us the picture she had taken on her cell phone of "the bird" to find that it was a common tern.

At 2:15 we had to call it a day so that Dan, Doreene and Bill could return their rental car at JFK, and be ready to catch their flight to Brazil. I decided to join them since I had a return ticket on hold for 7 PM. When I got home last nite I found that the gull never was seen yesterday, and so far not today either, but the crow was seen several times yesterday and again this morning. I did enjoy seeing my friends, but came home with sunburned lower legs and no gray hooded gull or hooded crow for my effort.

While I got used to chasing during my big year in 2010, I much prefer to go birding. I don't really like beaches, but it is pretty funny that the one time I have been to the world famous Coney Island beach was to chase a gull. I am returning to NYC in a couple of weeks to see my son who lives in Brooklyn. Maybe I will get another chance at both the gull and the crow. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Of Mice and Men

The best laid plans of mice and men was the theme of yesterday. I was all set to catch a mid day flight up to New York City in order to have a chance to see the gray headed gull, which is also called a gray hooded gull. But the first sighting of the day did not occur until about 1 PM. As a result, I booked my flight to leave Chapel Hill at 5:20 to fly to LaGuardia. I arrived at the airport at 4:20, and settled in to wait to board the flight when I noticed that the flight to JFK was on a ground delay. I asked the agent about my flight and was told we were still going to leave on time.

So I am thinking if JFK is closed how is LaGuardia still open. Sure enough 10 minutes later my flight is put on ground delay. At 6 PM they load us on the plane, taxi out and shut down the engines because now there has been another ground delay. At 8 PM we taxi back to the gate, but are told we still will be flying to NY that evening.

I am at this point highly skeptical, so I decide to see what the prospects are for getting on the flight to Washington, DC. John Vanderpoel and 2 other birders were driving from Hatteras north, and I checked to see if they might pick me up there around midnite when they passed thru the city. They said no problem. The gate agent said that both DC flights were also grounded, and I should wait for the NY flight. At 9:45 PM they announced my flight was going nowhere, and the earliest flight out today would be at 11 in the morning.

About 10:20 we were informed that the DC flights were also going nowhere. All of this was very perplexing since my son, who I had planned to stay with, kept telling me that the skies were clear or partly cloudy in Brooklyn. As it turned out, there were massive, 40,000 feet high thunder storms in the DC/Philly area that had messed up the entire flight corridor. That said, somehow the JFK flight that I first noticed was grounded did get off while we were sitting in our plane from 6-8 PM.

I called John, Doug and Ken to tell them I could not get to NY or DC that night. Given that they were going to be at the gull site at first light, and the earliest I could get into NY was around 1 PM today, I told them as much as I would have liked to see the gray hooded gull with John during his big year, I was not going to fly up this morning.

It proved to be the right decision when I received a call from them at 8:30 AM telling me that they were standing looking at the gull, and were ready to head off to catch flights home, or to drive home. Doug said he would send me photos of the gull as my consolation prize.

The gray hooded gull raised John's year to date bird total to 691. In the ABA coding system, this gull is an accidental, code 5 bird which is the 2nd code 5 bird for John's big year list. As a reference, last year I had four code 5 birds. John is in excellent shape to pass the 700 level by the end of August. He will be going to Alaska again in September and October, so with some good luck he could end up with a very good total for the year.

For those who have followed this blog, I have discussed the significance of passing the milestone of 700 birds in a calendar year in the full ABA area. Last year I did some research, and based on American Birding Association data, and Wikipedia, as best I could determine, only the following 11 people have seen at least 700 birds in a calendar year:

1) Benton Basham in 1983, 710 birds
2) Sandy Komito in 1987, 721 birds
3) Steve Perry in 1987, 711 birds
4) Bill Rydell in 1992, 714 birds
Sandy Komito in 1998, 748 birds (full ABA area record)
5) Greg Miller in 1998, 715 birds
6) Al Levantin in 1998, 711 birds
7) Dan Sanders in 2005, 715 birds
8) Lynn Barber in 2008, 723 birds
9) Bob Ake in 2010, 731 birds
10) John Spahr in 2010, 704 birds
11) Chris Hitt in 2010, 704 birds in just the lower 48 states (record)

So John should soon be joining a quite small group of birders in the "700 club". I have also mentioned that Matt Stenger is doing a full ABA big year, and provided a link to his blog (716birds). Matt recently passed the 600 bird level. Finally, Gabriel Mapel, an 11 year old from Virginia, is doing what he calls a junior big year (see his blog link). He is currently in Alaska, and has reached this week 334 birds for the year.

Back to the gray hooded gull, I will keep checking to see if it is still at Coney Island over the next few days. I might make a quick trip up soon, or since I am going to Brooklyn on August 17th, I might wait to see if I am lucky enough for it to hang around until then. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 1, 2011

2 Days of Pelagic Birding Out of Hatteras, NC

This year has been a phenomenal spring and summer for white-tailed tropicbirds off of the outer banks of NC. As a result, I decided to do 2 pelagic trips this past weekend on a boat captained by Brian Patteson that is based at Hatteras, NC. Like Debi Shearwater on the west coast, Brian is the predominant pelagic bird trip provider on the east coast. I have been out with him over 20 times in the past 10 years, including 9 days as part of my big year in 2010.

Even though I really do not like summer pelagic trips because of the intense heat and humidity I wanted to go out in hopes of finding a mega-rarity like black-bellied storm petrel. I also knew that John Vanderpoel who is doing a full ABA big year in 2011 would be on the boat. I have been following his blog and progress during his big year, and wanted the opportunity to be able to talk with him about it.

We left the dock at 5:30 Saturday morning with high expectations. John had his fingers crossed that he would get 5 or 6 new birds for his big year. The photo above is of a group of Cory's shearwaters with one smaller audubon's shearwater floating with them--click on any photo to enlarge.

During the day we would occasionally have bottlenose dolphins swim by the boat. Once the fish oil slick is started, which is usually about 8-9 AM, we begin to get a good group of wilson's storm petrels following behind the boat over the slick (photo just below). Your hope is that a rarer storm petrel will also show up. Over the 2 days we only had fleeting glimpses of a couple of band-rumped storm petrels.

We did get a fair number of great shearwaters (photo just above), and black-capped petrels. We had one fly by parasitic jaeger on Sunday. But the highlight of the 2 days was yesterday morning about 10 AM when a white-tailed tropicbird came into the boat, circled us a couple of times, flew off but quickly returned for one more loop before flying on its way. Unfortunately I was not able to get a photo of it, but if you use the link in the right column of my blog to go to John's blog (big year 2011) you can see the photo he took of the tropicbird.

John was quite pumped since this is the kind of very rare bird he needs to build up a big total number of birds seen during his big year. The tropicbird plus Cory's and greater shearwater, and black-capped petrel raised his year total to 690. Over the 2 days we had a chance to compare notes on our respective big years sharing some of our more memorable birding days.

John is out on the boat again today trying for more rarities. Then tonite he will be driving from Hatteras all the way to New York with 2 other birders in hopes of seeing a gray-headed gull that was found at Coney Island a few days ago--this gull is a South American bird, and is only the 2nd one confirmed to have visited the US. If the gull is reported again today I will be flying up to NY to join them. Stay tuned!