With much anticipation, I got out of bed around 7:30 a.m. with one question burning in my mind, what will be my first bird of my Big Year? In prior years a European starling would inevitably be my first bird despite my best efforts, but with 2013 being my big year, I wanted this year's first bird to be a native bird. To make my wishes come true this January 1st, I simply opened my window and with out looking at the sky to avoid any starlings that might be flying around, I pished a little and without waiting a northern mockingbird responded and my first tick of the 2013 list was made!Keeping our long time tradition, Dave Eib, Mike Shanley, Isaac Grant and I spent the first day of 2013 "doing a big day" on Staten Island. The day started with picking up Dave from our usual meeting location at the Tottenville Train Station. Our first scan of the rocky shoreline between the end of Bentley St. and Angelina's Restaurant at the end of Ellis St revealed only American wigeon, a common winter resident of the island, but not the real prize that has hanging out along the shoreline, a Eurasian wigeon! Thankfully, after a couple more minutes of scanning, and ticking off some more native species, we finally located the Eurasian wigeon... the first "good" species of 2013!
After ticking off some waterfowl in the Cemetery of the Resurrection, it was time to head to get some woodland birds. We noticed that hundreds of gulls and waterfowl were taking flight along the beach as we pulled up to a red light at Hylan Blvd and Sharrotts Ave. This usually only means one thing, a raptor, most likely an eagle was cursing somewhere nearby. Quickly pulling the car to the side of the road, putting it in park and grabbing by binoculars, I got right on a large bird and in a moment in banked and I could clearly see it was a 4th year bald eagle! Unfortunately, Dave couldn't get on the bird before it flew east, but little did we know at the moment that this would be the first of three bald eagles we'd come across today.
After this Dave and I preceded to make some quick "birding by car" stops to check off some of the easily located songbirds and waterfowl around the south shore. Working up an appetite, but stopped to get breakfast sandwiches and coffee and decided it was time to start making our counter-clockwise trip around Staten Island. While planning this day's adventure, I was contemplating the strategy we would take... do we try to build the biggest list possible? or do we hit up some of the spot which aren't part of the usual route? Finally, I made the choice to visit some of the less visited location in hopes that maybe a goodie will be hanging out. A "goodie" being either a rare species or an out-of-season species.
Leaving Tottenville we headed up the west shore to investigate the marsh around Sawmill Creek. Our hopes were to find a northern harrier, kestral, etc but after a few moments of scanning over the fields at the GATX property (the land that was being looked at for a Nascar track) our hopes were dashed due to the lack of any bird activity. So, we pulled to the end of River Road to scan the marshes before heading off to Silver Lakes. Our luck was a little better here when a single pine siskin flew over and moments later, three mute swans came flying-by. Off to Silver Lake and Clove Lakes to tick off waterfowl...
While checking out the marsh on the west shore, I got a call from Mike Shanley saying he was on his way to Silver Lake and would meet up on the walk away in about a half-hour. Dave and I had one more stop to check for canvasback at the Van Pelt cover before heading to meet Mike. Walking down to the edge of the water all Dave and I could see were gulls and gadwall in the cove. After a few minutes of scanning around and hoping canvasback would show them selves it became clear that there were no canvasback and it was time to leave. As we walked back up to Richmond Terrace, I noticed a large metal spike projecting upwards from a railroad tie and though that would be painful to fall on. Well, as fate has it, right at that moment I tripped on some roots and tumbled to the ground. Luckily, I fell between the large spike and a rusty old pick-ax head and was able to stand up and brush my self off.
Reviewing the logistics and roadways we needed to take in terms of the quickest route possible, I decided it would be quickest to stop at Schoenien's Ice Pond and Clove Lake, a good locations for waterfowl, before heading over to Silver Lake. Our stop paid off with a coot, a ruddy duck and northern shovelers. One coot was even walking around on the grass near the bridge on Clove Lake... on to Silver Lake finally.
As we stepped out of the car, I felt a vibration in my jacket pocket that signaled a text-message had arrived. Quickly taking my phone out of my pocket I saw it was from Mike, "dozen redpoll just flew over heading into Silver Lake golf course". Pffff... one of the best birds to tick off on the first day of any year, missed by minutes! As Dave and I walked down the hill from Forest Ave to Silver Lake, we were reviewing where else we need to go and what we needed to get to fill out the day's list. Upon reaching the walkway at the edge of the reservoir, we quickly found about a hundred northern shoveler with a few ring-necked duck lining the northern shoreline...check, check!
At last, we can upon Mike scanning the waterfowl at gulls resting and foraging on the large-side of Silver Lake. He had just had pied-billed grebe mixed into some Canada geese on the far end of the lake, so I asked to get on the scope and find one. I couldn't locate the little bird at that distance, but I did see a double-crested cormorant come flying in, check! After a moment, I let Dave get a look at the cormorant so he could count it for the year and asked again about the grebes. Dave quickly responded, "there one right here" and in the next minute a little pied-billed grebe came to the surface, check! While standing and scanning Dave called out, "Raptor" and we all got on the bird and once it banked around we saw the bright red tail of an adult red-tailed hawk, check! After that it was time to go to Isaac's house in St. George to see if the Cape May Warbler was still around.