My birding buddies decided to take a trip to New Jersey today, but due to my big year efforts I stayed on the island... very glad I did! Despite a slow start this morning, I've added more species to the year list than any other day this year (it is only January 4th, of course). With a little luck on some chases, I ended the day with 10 new species for a year total of 84!
I started the day along Page Ave hoping for field sparrow or maybe a good gull on the beach. Alas, there were only white-throated sparrows and our usual 3 species of gulls on the beach. My next stops were along Bayview Ave which runs along the western edge of Lemon Creek. The first stop at the each turned up just the usual suspects. The next stop was at the top of Lemon Creek where swamp sparrows have been seen in previous winters. After a few minutes of pishing and searching, nothing. From the top of a nearby sweet gum tree came a familuar laughing call of an American robin, check! First year-bird of the day was located and I was left wondering where I should go next. Just as I was thinking about my next destination, I received a text-message from Anthony Ciancimino say, "Come to cemetery if you need tree swallows".
Within 4 minutes I was pulling into the cemetery. Almost immediately I saw the two tree swallows flying over a frozen Perpendicular Pond. Oddly, as I pulled up to park, the swallows were actually landing on the ice. I joined up with Anthony, who was standing a few feet from the pond's edge, and he reported that the swallows had been landing on the ice since he first saw them. Mostly, the swallows were trying to drink from the unfrozen seem between ice and mud at the edge, so I walked to the edge and pushed some ice with the toe of my shoe so some water was exposed.
After the swallows, Anthony and I took a walk around the cemetery in hopes of finding me a few more year-birds. For all our efforts, I was only able to add American goldfinch to the year-list. While Anthony and I were walk, Mike Shanley texted me and we made plans to hit up some spots along the west shore.
Keeping a keen eye while driving along the West Shore Expressway, I picked up a flock of common grackles flying over the highway, check! Mike and I met in the Wendy's parking lot and I hopped into his car to start our hunting. The first target bird was a light-morph rough-legged hawk reported yesterday afternoon by Jeff Stetson and Tom St. Pierre. Pulling up to Schmul Park, we admired the recent renovations to the play ground. We then found a good vantage point at the edge of the phragmite and set up the scope. While waiting for the rough-legged hawk, we picked up American kestrel, Savannah sparrow, and northern harrier (marsh hawk). After a good 20-minutes wait we finally saw a large hawk with a medium length tail hoovering over the side of North Mound. Scope and binoculars up and on the bird! Indeed, there it was, a light-morph rough-legged hawk! A very good bird for the island, and the first I've seen here in 3 years. With our target found and a few extra species to boot, it was time to move on.
Our second target was northern pintail, another species reported yesterday by Jeff and Tom. This time the birds were seen along Gulf Ave, very near where I had the redpolls two days ago. We stopped at Geothal's Bridge Pond on the way to Gulf Ave. Nothing was on the pond, but as Mike spoke to his wife on the phone, I spotted an adult bald eagle soaring very high in the sky. Pausing for a moment, Mike looked up and got on the bird. On to find some pintails...
Our first spot along Old Place Creek turned up just a few gadwall and Canada geese, so on we went. Finally, we came across a bend in the creek were a large mixed flock of waterfowl was hanging out. Almost before we closed the doors Mike calls out "pintails" and I got right on them. At that same moment we saw two smaller ducks. Right as Mike said, "what are those", I called out, "green-winged teal!". Two year-birds with one scan! Looking a little further down the creek reveled about half dozen green-winged teal and ten or so more pintail mixed into the geese. Feeling satisfied with ten new species for the day, I was ready to call it quits so we headed back to my car. On the way, Mike talked me into a walk near Butterfly Pond. Meeting back up at the pond, we took a quick walk and found nothing really happening at all. With that the day was done... still a few more common species to look for tomorrow.