Sunday, February 7, 2016

Chasing Gold in Dutchess County

A quick run North for a Golden Eagle (because sometimes you have to do things like that)

So, to be honest, I might just be getting a little tired of Long Island birding, so this morning I figured it was time for a change. One of the most intriguing eBird reports locally this year has been a single Golden Eagle that has been seen regularly in Dutchess County (about an hour and a half North of the City on the East bank of the Hudson River).  So for a little variety in the birding diet, I figured I'd head up that way on Sunday morning and so hit the road at 7am with eagles on my mind.

Based on the eBird reports I had just the vaguest idea of where the eagle was hanging out but when I got to the area it didn't take me long to work out what was going on.  I quickly added Pileated Woodpecker and Eastern Bluebird to the year list and then was thrilled to add a Ring-necked Pheasant.  Then I saw another pheasant, then two more, then .... well let's just say they were everywhere, with perhaps 50 or more in the fields near Dover Plains.  Turns out that the area has several gun clubs and that they obviously stock a LOT of pheasants (all the birds I saw today were male by the way).  These pheasants were also obviously recently released ... by which I mean they were DUMB!  I had to stop the car to let one of these birds wander slowly across the road in front of me .... he was lucky that time ... but when I came back to the same place an hour later, sure enough there was a roadkill pheasant on the roadside.  But it solved the mystery of why so many raptors seem to be hanging around in this rea ... lots of pheasant meat ....

One of many, very dumb, pheasants ...
I wasn't here for pheasants though so I started cruising the roads looking for raptors and soon started to see eagles ... well Bald Eagles, and lots of them.  There were at least ten Bald Eagles just loafing around on tall trees in the river valley and, with more time looking, also lots of Red-tailed Hawks, a Cooper's Hawk and a really pretty adult Red-shouldered Hawk.  But no Golden Eagle, so I spent a couple of hours scanning and driving the roads hoping to bump into the star bird.

After almost two hours of this routine, I drive a road I'd tried several times before, but which gave a good view of a broad river valley, and there, I finally saw a kettle of soaring birds.
2 Red-tailed Hawks ...
2 Bald Eagles ...
a Sharp-shinned Hawk ...
a super-high Black Vulture ... very cool ... and a year bird ...
and what's that ....
GOLDEN EAGLE!
So I jumped out of the car to try to get some records shots ... and I'm afraid that's pretty much all I got ....

Golden Eagle (two shots) - distant and heavily cropped, but it's a Golden Eagle! 

So very happy with my morning in Dutchess County, and I managed to move my Dutchess County list from a 'pitiful' 18-species to a 'just embarrassing' 43-species ... still, it's progress.

On the way back I stopped in another much neglected county, one I really never bird in), and chased a Black-headed Gull in Larchmont in Westchester County.  Needless to say I dipped (second Black-headed Gull dip of the weekend), but I was still pretty happy with my expedition to the North of the City.

Update:  turns out that the area I birded today was subject to some controversy in past years where birders did not respect local landowner rights and trespassed on private property.  Would not have published the exact location had I known, and I've since removed many of the exact details.  If you saw the original post and plan to go, please be very careful to respect the locals and property rights.  Lots of places to see eagles, no need to cause controversy.


Harlequin Ducks and Purple Sandpipers

A few more year birds from (mostly) Nassau County, NY ....

A late start today but I'd worked out an itinerary in advance so I felt like I was getting some productive birding in anyway.  First stop was Jamaica Bay where a quick, snowy, hike in to the East Pond produced a good mix of waterfowl including all three mergansers and a drake Eurasian Wigeon.  Then on to Nassau County and a quick stop at Caarmann's Pond Park to pick up Black-crowned Night Heron for the year list - this seems to be a great spot for wintering night herons with at least ten in view while I was there.  As an added bonus I also saw a Rough-legged Hawk from the Meadowbrook Parkway shortly thereafter - the day was starting out really well.

One of 10 Black-crowned Night Herons at the pond
And then on to Jones Beach, which I've visited several times this year so far, but today I vowed to get out of the car and do some real birding.  Ironically, the first good bird I saw was very much from the car - as I pulled into the West End parking lot several birders had re-found the Lark Sparrow that I originally found a few weeks ago.
I found this Lark Sparrow several weeks ago ...
The bird was on narrow entrance road, so while the birders wanted to see it, the non-birder cars behind resented the delay in getting to the beach parking lot.  I tried to stop and get photos but in the end I had to just grab a record shot and move on.  Interestingly, of the 5 (?) Lark Sparrows that showed up in late December / early January, only this one is still here (or still alive?).  

I've always thought of the walk out to the Jetty at Jones Beach as a bit of a 'death march' as, despite being only three-quarters of a mile, the soft sand makes the walk a cardio work out.  Today of course a layer of soft snow lay on top of the soft sand so extra cardio for all ... but it's not like I don't need it.  Once I  eventually got there though, it really was quite birdy - Common Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks, Horned Grebes, Red-throated Loons, and a single Razorbill under a flock of 30+ Bonaparte's Gulls.  The jetty itself also had a very photogenic group of 15+ Purple Sandpipers and a single Harlequin Duck, both of which I managed to get photos of.  This tiny jetty is an isolated piece of rocky shore habitat in a land of land featureless sand beaches and so it does tend to be a regular spot for both these quintessential rocky shore birds - very nice to get them so close and cooperative though.

15 Purple Sandpipers and a Harlequin Duck were hanging out at the Jetty. 

After slogging back to the parking lot, I decided to stay on foot and keep working the pine trees in the entrance road median,  The weather was actually a balmy 40-degrees so it was actually quite pleasant trying to pick up some land birds.  Nothing super-unusual had been seen recently but my goal was Red-breasted Nuthatch for the year list and a half an hour later I managed to find one closer to the Coast Guards Station.  Mission accomplished and on to other things.

After that I hit a bit of a lull.  Poking around Jones Beach and Southern Nassau County hoping for some shorebirds didn't really produce very much so I decided to look for Monk Parakeets instead.  Driving along route 27A - a densely packed and busy strip of suburban shops and small businesses - is usually a good bet for finding them.  I found one nest fairly easily in Babylon but there were no parakeets in residence.  Short thereafter though, while stopped at a red light, I happened to look up, waiting for the light to turn green, and sure enough, there was some 'green' on the light.  I wonder if these lights are heat lamps for the parakeets, they certainly seem very adept at using man-made heat-sources to make the Winter more bearable for them.


And so back to the City.  A stop at Bush Terminal Piers Park, where several good gulls (a Black-headed Gull and a Glaucous Gull) had been seen earlier in the day, was cut short when the park ranger (?) closed the park at 4pm and asked all the birders to leave.  But here will be other days ....


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Jaguars in the U.S.

Sharing a great article from the L.A. Times ...

Always fascinated by stories about big cats in the U.S. there are many more than people think - Ocelots, Margays, and Jaguars along with the more common Mountain Lions, Canadian Lynx and Bobcats.  I also have terrible luck with them - in 25 years in the US I have seen precisely one Bobcat (Florida) and one Canadian Lynx (Alaska).  Cats therefore hold a powerful mystery for me and I'm quite intrigued when I see an article about them.

Jaguar photographed in Arizona (Credit Wikipedia I think)
So I saw this great L.A. Times Story today (which I wanted to share here) with video of a Jaguar in the mountains near Tucson.  We've known they were there for some time, but eh article says this is the only wild Jaguar living in the US (I doubt that's true).  Apparently the big spotted cats once ranged widely across the Southern and Southeastern US, but of course we pushed them out of most of their historical range at the point of a gun.  The cling on in Mexico, although the treatment of big carnivores was not better there than it was in the US and I'm amazed that a few manage to hang on.  The story in Arizona isn't always inspiring either - incompetent biologists (who 'accidentally' killed a Jaguar while trying to collar it), hostile landowners, etc. - but still there are a few of these magnificent creatures in our country, which means that a population survives South of the border, and that there is hope for the species in this part of its historical range.

Jaguar by John James Audubon - the background looks more SouthEastern than
SouthWestern and apparently these cats once called much of the US SouthEast
home too.
I know I'll never actually see one in the US, but somehow it feels great to know that these magnificent big cats still can find a place to live in our country.  It's also a tribute to the amazing resilience of the big cats that they can survive when we were able to wipe out the Mexican Wolves and Mexican Grizzlies that once shared the apex predator role with them in the South West.

I've had terrible luck with Jaguars in South and Central America, and have never seen one - once missing one by a heartbreaking 5 minutes in Belize - but one day, hopefully, I'll bump into one of these amazing cats.  Until then, it's enough to know that they're still around and even still hanging on in the Southwestern U.S.



Sunday, January 31, 2016

Owling and Year-birding Out East

More local birding in the Hamptons

Friday January 29th - Calverton Area

I hadn't really had a chance to do a lot of birding over the past week or so.  Work, and a snow storm had kept me indoors with the exception of one quick walk through Central Park between meetings. So, with the weather improved, and some free time ahead, I was itching to get out and see some birds.

'Red' Fox Sparrowin Central Park
One of the species I most wanted to see was Short-eared Owl two of which had been regularly showing for birders over at EPCAL (Grumman) in Calverton.  The site is an old Jet-figher factory, with mostly disused runways and some wonderful grasslands that harbor a decent selection of increasingly rare birds on Long Island.  Unfortunately the battle to preserve the site seems to have been long since lost and the Town of Riverhead, which controls the site, seems determined to turn it into an industrial park, chipping away at the habitat each year, and progressively making access more difficult for birders.  Still, we have to make the most of what we have now, and two owls had been reliably hunting at dusk for a week or so, delighting many local birders (and joining a few year lists).

I was surprised to see that I needed Short-eared Owl for Suffolk County, but that discovery made my urge to go see these birds even more acute.  The problem was finding time, and for a week or so, I just hadn't been able to find a way to be over at EPCAL at 4:30pm for a sunset vigil.

This Friday was different though, and I was able to juggle meetings, slip away, and pulled into the parking area at EPCAL at around 4:15pm.  There were actually quite a few cars that joined me for the  vigil - two photgraphers, a couple of cars of birders, and a couple who seemed more like interested naturalist types, making me wonder how the word had gotten out so broadly.  While we waited, we were treated to a flock of Eastern Meadowlarks (good), and a thorough low-level buzzing by a small helicopter out for a joyride (not so good).  By 5pm, the light was starting to dim and, with the prospect of good photographs dimming with it, the photographers left, followed shortly afterwards by the birders.  I'm stubborn though (as I've said before), and having come all the way over there, I was going to stick it out until the bitter end - as long as the sky was light enough for silhouettes, there was still a chance - and at 5:15pm, a silhouette of a Short-eared Owl glided through my field of view, whirled above the tree line, and dropped out of sight.  It, or another owl, did the same trick a few minutes later.  No mistaking the bird.  Glad I stayed.

And here's one I made earlier - it was too dark to shoot the owls at EPCAL but I took this pic last month in Orange
County, NY.

Saturday, January 30th - North Fork of Long Island and Dune Road

I didn't really have a clear plan of action for Saturday and with me that's more or less always fatal for birding as I tend to end up driving around and not spending enough time out of the car.  The day started off on the wrong foot when, after taking the ferry over to Shelter Island and arriving at Mashomak Preserve in search of some recently reported Rusty Blackbirds, I was told that they required "a good six-mile hike" to get to (I'm guessing the staff could dive there).  So a quick disappointment and it threw my general idea of where I was going to spend the morning completely off.

I decided to take another ferry over to Freeport to see if I could find some birds on the North Fork, but not having a clear plan, I ended up just drifting  around, checking some goose flocks, checking a few ponds, but not finding much.  Even the vineyard that I planned to drop by (to re-stock on local reds) was closed, and before long I had come off the North Fork and was at Reeve's Avenue Buffalo Farm without having seen very much of note.  The rot stopped there though when I bumped into a flock of American Pipits (a year bird) and that sighting changed my mind and my mood, sending me off to Dune Road to dig in and do some proper birding.

Dune Road is one of my favorite spots and it does yield good birds if you are patient and persistent.  I thoroughly worked the marsh between Dolphin and Triton Lanes - I knew there were Clapper Rails and Seaside Sparrows in there somewhere - and although I came up blank on my targets, I did get great looks at an American Bittern close to the road.  I also picked up two year birds, a Sharp-shinned Hawk and some Horned Larks closer to home.  Feeling much more motivated, I decided to try some owling later that evening and so wrapped up, and headed out into the NorthWest Woods of East Hampton after dark where I heard a Great Horned Owl and saw an Eastern Screech Owl.  Five year birds for the day.  Not a bad day of birding in the end, despite the slow start.

The famous American Bittern of Dune Road - many local and visiting birders see their Bitterns right here, and I suspect
it's often the same bird year after year.

Sunday, January 31st - Montauk

Back to the usual Montauk routine today with some sea-watching (nothing unusual) and some poking around the beaches and harbors, hoping for Purple Sandpipers but not finding any.  I did see some more American Pipits, an Iceland Gull, and the usual ducks.  I also picked up a couple of year-birds with Savannah Sparrow and Wood Duck joining the year-list.  A pleasant enough morning, and I put in my time, checking a few less covered places, just to see what was around.

American Pipit - one of four that were feeding on the Montauk Inlet Jetty and in nearby dunes.
So I finished January with 137 species for the New York Year List - a respectable haul and ranked 3rd among New York birders.  The current leader is Ken Feustel who racked up a very impressive 146 species, and somehow managed to get two species ahead of his wife Suzy.  Both totals are shy of my record breaking 2012 pace though where I amassed 150 species in January.  I definitely don't have the energy for another big year but I think I will set myself the goal of 300 species this year in New York State, just for some added motivation to get out there and bird more locally.  It's been a fun month bird-wise, and so on to February.

Monday, January 18, 2016

First Snow of the Season and White Birds Arriving in Suffolk County

Snowy Owls and White-winged Gulls Out East

Saturday, January 16 - Dune Road and Calverton

I had to stay in the City on Friday night but forced myself to get up early on Saturday and run out to East Hampton with a plan to drop off the dogs, fill the feeders, then double back and do some Winter birding. The temperatures had started to drop Out East, with the threat of snow later in the weekend, so it seemed like a good chance to round up some recently reported, and newly arrived, Northern birds.

The weather was not really cooperating, it was cold, windy and wet, but I stuck with the plan and forced myself over to Dune Road in Hampton Bays by mid-morning.  Shinecock Inlet was unpleasant but I did get out of the car and scanned the gulls in the rain, adding a Lesser Black-backed Gull to the year-list.  I got soaked though so decided to do some car birding along Dune Road in the hope of seeing a recently reported Snowy Owl or American Bittern.  The Owl was a no-show but I did get the Bittern near Triton Lane where it was feeding in a ditch, inches from the road, and flushed before I could get a photo.  Still, this bird isn't going anywhere, it'll be around all Winter, so I'm sure I'll see it again.

Field Sparrow - EPCAL, Suffolk County, NY
Given the weather, I decided to head inland so ran up to the Calverton area in search of sparrows for the year-list.  Got a good haul of those, with Field, American Tree and White-crowned Sparrows quickly joining the list.  I then went over to McKay Lake where I relocated a Golden-crowned Kinglet I'd seen in November and got a real bonus when the continuing, but elusive, Common Gallinule put in an appearance.  This bird showed up in the Fall, seems to have a broken wing, but somehow has managed to cling on, spending its time with a single Mallard on this shallow pond.  Have to feel a bit sorry for it, but I hope it manages to survive the Winter somehow, seems to be a plucky little chap.


Feeling better about my quick haul of year-birds and now that the weather seemed to be improving, I decided to head back down to the barrier beach and this time worked my way out to Cupsogue County Park.  It's a long, slow, drive through the beach houses to get there, and the speed limits are rigorously enforced by the quaintly named 'Bay Constables' who must make a good amount of revenue off visitors breaking the 25-mile-an-hour limit (yes, they still ticket even in the Winter and I saw one poor soul contributing to the town budget as I drove out).  When you get there though, Cupsogue is a pretty neat place.  The location if famous as a Seal haul-out with up to 60 Harbor Seals and occasionally other species coming out of the water to loaf and socialize at low tide.  Now that the weather had brightened up, there were actually quite a few locals taking a Saturday walk to see the seals, but I had birds on my mind, found a high vantage point and started a big circle-scan across the whole bay area.  First up shorebirds, where I picked out 5 Red Knot among the hundreds of Dunlin and Sanderlings.  Then I checked the duck, picked up my first Belted Kingfisher of the year and, after walking a little further down the road, got what I came here for - a flock of 33 Snow Buntings.  All good stuff, but running out of time, I had to head back to the house, so reluctantly left and started to work my way back East.

As I got to my turn at the Ponquogue Bridge, on a whim I decided to go a little further and check the dunes to the East.  Finding nothing of note I turned to go home, but just as I started back, a curious lump stood out on top of a Dune.  No question what this was .... my first Snowy Owl of the season!  A couple of quick shots from the car, and back home.  Despite the cold, wet, start to the day it actually turned out to be a really nice day of birding.

Snowy Owl - Ponquogue Beach, Suffolk County, NY


Sunday, January 17 - Montauk

Up early and out to Montauk Point to meet Menachem Goldstein (another of the seemingly infinite number of Cornell University undergraduate birders) for some sea-watching.  I couldn't stay long but we covered the Point area fairly thoroughly, picking up quite a few Razorbills, several thousand assorted sea-duck, the continuing drake King Eider, and Menachem's lifer Black-legged Kittiwake.  Then on to the West Jetty at Montauk Inlet (stopping briefly for 4 Snow Geese in keeping with the snow theme) in the hope of more 'white birds', in this case White-winged Gulls.  The Inlet didn't disappoint, and we soon had good views of a 1st-cycle Glaucous Gull with a 1st-cycle Iceland Gull for a close comparison,  There were also two 'Kumlien's' Iceland Gull in the same group of birds along with some Bonaparte's Gulls and a 1st-cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Eight species of gulls at Montauk ... Winter is definitely coming.


Adult 'Kumlien's' Iceland Gull (bottom left) and 1st-cycle Iceland Gull (right).  Almost all of our Iceland Gulls are 'Kumlien's' but you can't really tell with the 1st-cycle birds so we just call them 'Iceland Gulls''- Same species - Montauk Inlet, Suffolk County, NY
'Kumlien's' Iceland Gull - one of two at Montauk Inlet, Suffolk County, NY 
Glaucous Gull - Montauk Inlet, Suffolk County, NY

With time running out, and dinner plans back in the City, we decided to make one last stop to see if the Virginia Rails found during the Christmas Bird Count at Big Reed's Pond were still willing to make a little noise.  A quick hike into the pond until we found some likely habitat, and I played a couple of blasts of 'tape" (I know, I know, but in this case where multiple Rails are wintering at the pond and calling to each other anyway, I don't think there's any harm done) which started two of the rails clicking and grunting back to us, and each other, from the cat-tails.  That was enough for the year-list so we let them be and, after stopping and failing once again to see the Napeague Snowy Owl, I called it a day.

As a postscript, the snow did in fact come that afternoon and coated East Hampton and the City with a light covering.  The ride back to the City was a bit interesting too, in that I narrowly missed a multiple car collision when some oblivious driver plowed into the rear-end of another (while texting?) and started a chain reaction involving at least 5 cars in the lane next to me.  Ah the joys on Winter ....




Sunday, January 10, 2016

All Eight New York Goose Species Accounted For

Getting the last of the eight New York Goose species on the year list

Sunday, January 10th - Rockland and Suffolk Counties

So the forecast for today was 'showers' at least according to my iPhone.  I'd planned to run North to Rockland County to try to catch up with a Western Grebe that many New York birders had seen on Saturday.  After that I intended to run East, drop off some stuff at the house then head to Cutchogue on the North Fork of Long Island to see if I could catch up with the Barnacle Goose that Tom Burke and Gail Benson had seen on Saturday afternoon.

So off I went into the 'showers' a half-hour before it got light and I have to admit I was a little confused, because these 'showers' seemed to involve gusting winds and torrential rain.  Still, I assumed it would pass so I pushed up the Palisades Parkway, hoping to be at Piermont not long after it got light, if it ever got light that is - the weather did not seem to be improving at all.  In fact, as I got to Piermont Pier the weather was downright awful and the wind seemed to be pushing the Hudson River right up into town, flooding the entrance road (maybe 7 inches of water) and making birding all but impossible.  The pier itself is long, thin, and juts straight out into the Hudson.  Despite the various signs, I figured it would be OK to drive out onto it and, when a police SUV came by later and didn't stop me, I'm guessing that was alright.  Still, the visibility was limited, the rain was sheeting down, and the wind was howling ... not the most auspicious start to the day.

I'm stubborn though, so I persevered and did some car birding, picking up an assortment of ducks and even adding 6 species to my Rockland County list (which consists almost entirely of land birds seen at Doodletown Road and Hawk Mountain).  When I finally gave up the ghost and headed back to the mainland, it was obvious that the water along the entrance road was now much deeper than when I'd arrived (and had waves crossing it!), and I started to wonder if I'd made a stupid mistake by heading out onto the pier during the storm.  Still, in Range Rovers we trust, so I pushed ahead and, apart for some very white knuckles when the water briefly washed over the hood and onto the windscreen, the car got me out of another scrape.  Cheated Death once again ... but no Grebe ...

The drive to East Hampton was not much better, with torrential rain most of the way.  I took advantage of a brief lull to stop in a Seatuck Creek to check the waterfowl, but the numbers and variety were greatly reduced from last month.  A brief attempt to run along Dune Road was also abandoned when I lost my nerve after driving for a mile or so with no pavement in sight (probably shouldn't have driven around that "Road Flooded" sign).  East Hampton itself was also getting soaked, with Steven Hand's Path basically a turbulent brown river for much of it's length and the locals were having to get their Range Rovers dirty for once.  A long driving morning but I eventually made it to the house just fine.

While I was filling the bird feeders though I looked at the phone and saw that Ethan Goodman had just reported a Barnacle Goose from Babylon, which being on my way back to the city, led to a change of plan.  So back in the car, back through the flooded streets and an hour or so later, I pulled into the parking lot of North Babylon High School where a group of birders were standing around looking exactly like the kind of birders who had already seen the rare bird.

Barnacle Goose - Babylon, Suffolk County, NY
 Not only was the Barnacle Goose there, but there was also a bonus Greater White-fronted Goose among several hundred Canada Geese.  Only my 6th Barnacle Goose for New York (and for the ABA for that matter, although I have seen this species in Europe).  It also meant that I'd completed the 'goose-sweep' getting all eight on New York's goose species for the year.  No more goosing for me!

Not really having much more in terms of plans, I headed to Captree State Park and picked up five Boat-tailed Grackles, another year-bird.

Boat-tailed Grackle - Captree State Park, Suffolk County, NY

Then with no better idea I headed to Jones Beach to see if I could come up with some shorebirds, or passerines.  As I drove along the barrier beach though the fog started getting thicker and thicker, so by the time I arrived at the Jones Beach Coastguards Station, I couldn't see the beach from the parking lot.  Oh, well, some things are not meant to be I guess.  I felt like I fought the elements all day, so I was happy to come away with five year-birds and an ABA rarity. Plenty more Winter weekends ahead.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Goosing and County Listing

A quick scramble for year and county birds on Long Island.

The first week of January is a great time to bird, especially when the weather is as good as its been this year.  The only problem is that I've had to work, and with college kids off school, and people with more flexible schedules out and about, every day brought word of good species that I couldn't get out and see.

I did grab a few minutes of birding this week - a quick lunch break in a pocket park on 46th Street added a clutch of over-wintering half-hardy species, and a quick morning walk through Central Park added a few more, including an Orange-crowned Warbler.  I'd been waiting for Saturday though and planned out an itinerary to hopefully catch up on all the goodies that others had been seeing all week.

Saturday, January 9th - Long Island (Suffolk, Nassau and Queens)

Up early to rush out to Smithtown to try to get to Miller Pond before 8am.  A Pink-footed Goose had been roosting on the pond the last few days but left fairly early each morning.  If I was going to see it, without chasing around all the parks and fields in the area, I needed to be there by 7:30am.  Mornings aren't really my friend in the Winter, but I still dragged myself out of bed and into the car in time go get to the lake at 7:40am.  The geese were still there (phew!), but distant at the other end of the lake in one of the ice-free areas.  Still, I have a killer scope, so I zoomed up to 70x and started working through the flock, quickly finding the bird.  There were some other birders nearby, but they were standing above the lake's outlet and couldn't her my shouts above the sound of rushing water.  I walked over to let them know I had the bird, gave them directions, and .... none of us could pick it up again.  Awkward ....

My birding reputation was saved 10 minutes later by Tim Healey who, borrowing someone else's scope, picked out the bird exactly where I said it was (it must have tucked it's head in for a while).  Lots of happy birders and one relieved one, and my 5th ABA Pink-footed Goose, all of which I've seen in Suffolk County.

Next stop was Blydenburgh Park in search of a Red-headed Woodpecker and some other good birds recently reported.  The woodpecker isn't super-rare in New York; I see it most years even though we are right on the edge of the species' range.  I had however, never seen one in Suffolk County, and embarrassing gap in my home county list, so I was quite keen to get this one.  Luckily the bird was super cooperative and gave good views, even if the other recent goodies at the site all refused to show.

Red-headed Woodpecker - Blydenburgh Park, Suffolk County, NY (two shots)

 So, now I was on a roll so off to Amityville to look for a previously reported Ross's Goose at Avon Lake.  This particular bird seems to have been around for a while but the word hadn't got out, with locals apparently worrying about access and local resident concerns.  Still, it was seen the day before so I thought I'd give it a try, and I was very glad that I did.  Avon Lake was a pretty little spot, stuffed to the gills with ducks including 30 Redheads, and the locals were chatty, and quite lovely.  Oh, and the goose was also quite cooperative.  Nice stop ....

Ross's Goose - Avon Lake, Suffolk County, NY
Funny thing happened when I was there though.  Ross's Goose is a good bird so I posted it to the New York State Listserve at the same time that Derek Rogers was reporting the same bird at nearby Unqua Lake in Nassau County.  Two birds?  A call from Derek and a quick visit to the neighboring lake confirmed that fact - we had 2 Ross's Geese on Long Island this week.

Ross's Goose - Unqua Lake, Nassau County, NY 
And so on to Jones Beach where I planned to shamelessly Year-List and hoped for a big haul of Year-Birds.  That didn't work out quite as planned, although I did pick up 6 year birds.  The best bird I found there though was another Lark Sparrow.  This is a species that we usually get one or two of in the Fall, maybe one in the Winter, but this year they seem to be everywhere.  By my count, this was the 7th Lark Sparrow found in lower New York this Winter, a quite unprecedented surge for this species.  It was also my second on Long Island for the year, but I got the word out and was pleased to hear from Dale Dancis later that folks had gone over to look for it and that the bird was being seen by other birders later in the afternoon.

Lark Sparrow - Jones Beach, Nassau County, NY
And so the last stop was at Flushing Meadows in Queens (picture the end of the Men in Black movie) where an amazing little mixed flock of birds had been found weeks before on the Christmas Bird Count.  I'd been meaning to get over there to see this little group for a while but found the time today and, after picking up a Cackling Goose (there may have been two but some construction workers on a golf-cart flushed everything while I was scanning), I set out to look for the magic Junco flock.  It actually took me a while to find it but when I did, what a cool mixed flock!  There were 25 Dark-eyed Juncos, 2 Pine Warblers, a Clay-colored Sparrow, and (yet another) Lark Sparrow.  A very cool little group of birds.

So, great day.  Dragged the year list to 100 species.  More importantly it added 5 County Birds - Cackling Goose, Clay-colored and Lark Sparrows for Queens, Ross's Goose for Nassau, and Red-headed Woodpecker for Suffolk.  A very nice day out on the Island.