Sunday, March 3, 2013

What a day to take off work!

Having worked last Saturday, and required to work on Friday I could select either Wednesday or Thursday to take off, as to not go over my allotted weekly hours.  If you live around New York, you'll know that Wednesday was non-stop rain, so naturally the best day to go into work.  This left me with a beautiful Thursday to go birding in hopes of adding to my Big Year list. And this choice turned out to be better than I could have imagined!

Birding, as with most things in life, is all about luck and skill, but mostly being in the right place at the right time pays off the biggest dividends.  The latter statement was the case on Thursday.  My day started off with a stop at the bank, something I rarely do these days due to online or over-the-phone systems.  Then next I stopped at the usual deli to get a BLT and then, using some of the money I got at the bank, I stopped to fill up my gas tank.  I usually get gas in the afternoon on my way home from work, but I wanted to fill the tank to be ready to go on Saturday morning when Mike, Dave and I were driving out to Long Island for a pelagic trip.

So, after making the three stops, I had to pick where I could eat my BLT while looking for birds.  My first idea was to go to the Cemetery and sit near a pond, but this was quickly changed when I got there and workmen were driving around.  For my troubles, I did pick up the long searched for brown-headed cowbirds mixed into a flock of starlings and common grackles feeding on the lawn between the headstones.  But still, where to eat breakfast?

Next thought was to stop along Holten Ave to watch Wolfe's Pond for gulls or other birds flying in.  Fortunately, you'll see why I say this in a minute, the tide was very high so the pond was higher than normal.  This means there were no places around the pond for gulls to land.  Yes, they will land on the water, but having some exposed shore increases the probability they will stay.   So, where to go?  The answer was just around the corner - Lemon Creek!

Lemon Creek Park is still closed due to Sandy, but the gravel parking area along Johnston Ave is open and provide a vie of the small marina area.  This spot has turned up red-necked grebe and canvasback over the years, along with a few other I'm not recalling, so I though why not eat here.   As I picked up my sandwich and took the first bit.  Right as I got ready to take my second bite, I saw my friend and local bird Jeff Stetson come pulling along side me.

Jeff and I started chatting about our trip to Florida and the lack of "good" birds around the island lately.  Just as the conversation started to ebb, we both see a small black and white bird come floating into the inlet. "Is that a razorbill?", Jeff asks and I say "looks like it" without looking in my binoculars.  "But there no white on the face", I say to which Jeff replies, "maybe a young bird?".  So, we jump out of our vehicles and I hand my binoculars to Jeff so I could take photos with my point-and-shoot.

After a minute Jeff hands my binocular back and I get a look.  The bird just didn't set right with me for razorbill, so I express my uncertainty to Jeff pointing out the lack of white on the face and the pointed bill, not a blunt ended bill like a razorbill should have at any age.  The excitement started to build at this point. Taking deep breathes, we grab field guides from the car and start looking at other murres.  Too large for dovekie and common murre has even more white on the face than a razorbill, so the only murre left was thick-billed.  Another few looks at the bird and the field guides made us 99.9% confident it was a thick-billed murre.
Thick-billed murre, Lemon Creek, 2/28/13

I have seen thick-billed murre before, but not a few years.  Also, this would be the island's first thick-billed murre in about 50 years, so we wanted to be correct with the ID.  To get a second opinion, I took a photo of the back of my camera with my cell phone and sent it off to Isaac.  Within a minute Isaac replied with a positive confirmation on the thick-billed murre identification!  Feeling super excited, the text-messages and phone calls started up again.  At this point, Jeff ran back to his house to get his camera, and Tom St. Pierre showed up with his camera.

We were able to get great photos of the bird as it swam around the marina area.  Mike Shanley was the first person to arrive and get the bird easily.  About 30 minutes later, Cliff Hagen arrived on scene, but at this point the bird had swam up Lemon Creek and Cliff found it from Bayview Ave.  Finally, around 11:15, Ed Johnson arrived after driving from the Staten Island Museum in St. George.  I hopped in the car with Ed and we relocated the bird from Bayview Ave as it swam no more than 40 feet from where we stood.

After this it was time to head home for a break.  I last saw the bird at 11:30am from Hylan Blvd.  It was heading up Lemon Creek, oddly against the tide.  The search resumed around 2:30pm, but searching the entire creek until 6:00pm came up short.  Searches the next by also came up short.

So, with the REALLY BIG check, the list now stands at 104.

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