A Travellerspoint blog

Island hopping!

Fisher’s Island, NY

all seasons in one day 70 °F

Today, I was up before the crack of dawn and Will drove me down to New London to board the ferry to Fisher Island, NY for a beautiful, big(ish) day with his friends Skyler and Lily! It turned out to be an incredible day, so without further ado — to the birds!

We saw a number of species from the ferry especially as we exited the harbor, such as these COMMON LOONS:

And distant SURF SCOTERS:

LONG-TAILED DUCKS, my first-of-season!



And a distant RED-THROATED LOON silhouetted against the sun, another first-of-season!

GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS were everywhere, of course!

We wasted no time upon disembarking and immediately started birding. CEDAR WAXWINGS:


Will lovingly refers to Fisher Island as “Accipiter Island” because of all the migrating Accipiters, and they were evident this morning such as a couple SHARP-SHINNED and a number of COOPER’S HAWKS, which are pictured below:


Our first main destination on the island was Race Point which came through for us!



More Eiders:

Then, Skyler had an amazing spot — a couple of BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER just chilling right next to the adjacent airport’s runway!


And it was nice to see this RUDDY TURNSTONE:

These guys were so dive-y so didn’t allow for great photos, but it is always a rare treat to see HARLEQUIN DUCKS and apparently this was one of the first ever records for Fisher Island! It is certainly early for them and always wonderful to see as they are one of our least common sea ducks for sure.

A few different comparison shots of an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL with HERRINGS and the larger GREAT BLACK-BACKED.

After birding the point, the four of us continued birding beachside in hopes of just a few more aquatic species; however, our next fabulous sighting came in passerine form — an “Ipswich” SAVANNAH SPARROW! This is an imperiled subspecies endemic to the northeastern US and this was my lifer of this subspecies (I had seen “regular” Savannahs before but not this type). Notice overall how pale it is compared to your run-of-the-mill Savannah.

This uncooperative RED-BREASTED MERGANSER flew by at one point:

A wonderfully fun sighting was a pair of ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS that gave, for once, great views.




Another Cooper’s Hawk.






Hundreds upon hundreds of DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT were streaming by:

After that, we found an almost two-months-late RED-EYED VIREO — crazy!



Then, as the four of us were sitting down in the middle of the day after walking the whole morning, a bird dashes overhead calling “Pit-ti-tuck, pit-ti-tuck!” And this can mean only one thing: SUMMER TANAGER!!!! For those of us in the northeast, this name proves accurate since it is a very scarce summer breeder up here and migrates to tropical areas for winter. So, to have one in November (I would be surprised to see any after September 1, honestly!) was absolutely unprecedented and probably one of the first November eBird records of this species on either Long or Fisher’s Island (Fisher’s shares Suffolk County with Long Island).

Unfortunately, the bird was wildly uncooperative but after we all obtained brief but separate glimpses of the bird, I managed to snap the ONE photo that anyone was able to get of this bird. I’ll admit it — it is not that great due to extreme backlighting (even after tweaking settings). You can; however, deduce this bird’s identity because of the rather heavy, stout bill indicating one of the Piranga tanagers and the diagnostic crest on its head narrowing it down from genus to species — Summer Tanager! These are the kinds of things that go through birders’ heads within seconds when presented with a possible self-found rarity (or with most identifications for that matter).



In the middle of the afternoon, we happened upon a field laden with boards (herper’s delight!) so we immediately started flipping. We found 2 Eastern Garters and this juvenile Northern Black Racer which was a lifer for me! Absolutely awesome — have been wanting to see these for a couple years and they are actually not that tough of a find — but it’s just tricky when you’re seldom in their habitat. And yes, true to racer form, it tried biting me several times! (they are completely harmless FYI)

At another pond on the way back, we had a couple HOODED MERGANSERS with AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS:


We also hit a beautiful outlook onto the Atlantic Ocean on the way back, wow! One of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in New York state!

And we even pulled a GREAT CORMORANT!

On our way back — the obligatory road mirror selfie.


This BLUE-HEADED VIREO in the nearby berry bush was beautiful:


One of the final additions to the day came in the form of this GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET in a front yard:

Though we dipped on owls after dark, we did pick up two new birds for the day: a KILLDEER calling loudly overhead in the total darkness, and a few accidentally-flushed BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS at the ferry port:

Wow, what a day and thanks to Will for organizing this! Super fun to do a November big day of sorts, on an ISLAND, and we ended with 71 species — all of which I have listed below. As always, stay tuned, though I do not have any birding plans for a bit because the next few weeks will be crazier than ever before — auditions, classes, and my Carnegie Hall debut!

Happy birding!
World Life List: 1142 Species (no life birds, but one lifer subspecies: Ipswich Savannah Sparrow, and one lifer reptile: Northern Black Racer!)

Protocol: Traveling
7.0 mile(s)
71 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose 74
Mute Swan 1
Mallard 7
American Black Duck 27
Common Eider (Dresser's) 7
Harlequin Duck 5 **rare for the island and early. Exact count of a flock of 5 birds by the rocks near the airstrip. Dark seaducks with white dots behind their eyes and at the base of the bill. Dainty bill and overall shape rules out scoters. Photos
White-winged Scoter 6
Black Scoter 4
Bufflehead 10
Hooded Merganser 2
Red-breasted Merganser 1
Mourning Dove 72
Black-bellied Plover 4
Semipalmated Plover 1 Weird. One "kerweep" at about 5:35 PM at the airstrip.
Killdeer 1 Heard at 6:22pm
Ruddy Turnstone 2
Laughing Gull 170
Ring-billed Gull 40
Herring Gull 50
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1
Great Black-backed Gull 12
Common Loon 5
Northern Gannet 60
Great Cormorant (North Atlantic) 4
Double-crested Cormorant 399
Black-crowned Night-Heron 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Northern) 1
Cooper's Hawk 3
Bald Eagle 1
Red-tailed Hawk (borealis) 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker 5
Downy Woodpecker (Eastern) 18
Hairy Woodpecker (Eastern) 1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 7
Blue-headed Vireo 2
Red-eyed Vireo 1 *very late. At the duck pond. Greenish vireo with pale underparts and dark eyeline. Did not look like any rarer vireos. Poor photos
Blue Jay 9
American Crow 22
Black-capped Chickadee 54 *flagged as high. Not unusual given the distance covered but a good amount. Accurate total, tried not to double count.
Tufted Titmouse 18
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 9 Surprisingly numerous
Brown Creeper 1
Winter Wren 1
Carolina Wren 27
European Starling 120
Gray Catbird 2
Brown Thrasher 2
Northern Mockingbird 6
Hermit Thrush 2
American Robin 45
Cedar Waxwing 10
House Sparrow 6
American Pipit 3
House Finch 60
American Goldfinch 5
Chipping Sparrow 1
Field Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) 14
White-throated Sparrow 75 Many
Savannah Sparrow 2
Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich) 1
Song Sparrow 42
Swamp Sparrow 5
Eastern Towhee 2
Orange-crowned Warbler (Gray-headed) 2 *flagged. Two birds seen together. Drab yellowy parulids with gray heads and pale eye arcs. Photos and audio.
Common Yellowthroat 2 *high; one at South Beach, one at Race point. Pics of one
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 7 Shockingly few
Summer Tanager 1 **very rare. Certainly the highlight of our day. Behind the museum
Northern Cardinal 44

Posted by skwclar 19:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)

On the hunt for Bruce’s lifers

Jones Beach State Park, NY

semi-overcast 67 °F

Today, I met up with my friend Bruce B who was in town following a cruise to Bermuda and we decided on Jones Beach State Park as our location to hit today. There had been a couple notable birds including Marbled Godwits (a would-be lifer for Bruce and a NYS lifer for me), and Black Skimmers, a would-be lifer for Bruce and a noteworthy bird since it is getting quite unseasonably late for them.

We arrived at Jones Beach State Park and before even stepping out of the car, I had spotted Bruce’s first lifer of the day: a NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD! Though common here, Mockingbirds are not found in western or northern Wisconsin where Bruce calls home. Awesome!

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS abounded in the bushes.

We made a bee-line for the sandbars behind the Coast Guard Station where the Godwits and Skimmers had been reported and immediately found a nice conglomeration of birds: BRANT geese, one FORSTER’S TERN (center), and three shorebird species (from largest to smallest shorebirds pictured here: BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, DUNLIN, and SANDERLING.

More of the birds above with a RING-BILLED GULL:

There was also a small group of GREEN-WINGED TEAL:

We found three immature BLACK SKIMMERS which were lifers for Bruce though I foolishly accidentally deleted my photos of these. I will upload Bruce’s photos when he sends them!

I spotted a lone female SURF SCOTER in the bay:

And then there were two:


Black-bellied Plover in flight:

Over in the dunes we looked for the pale “Ipwisch” Savannah Sparrows rumored to be around, but could only turn up “regular” SAVANNAH SPARROWS:

And we had a few seabirds during a brief seawatch such as Bruce’s lifer BLACK SCOTERS (I got my lifer Black Scoters on the Long Island Coast, too!):

And NORTHERN GANNET was great to see:

A few AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS in a swale back near the visitor center:

And right as Bruce and Kathy dropped me back off at the train station, I snagged Bruce another lifer: FISH CROW on top of the Dunkin’ Donuts! Awesome!

There were a good number of them around and they confirmed their identity by calling.

A wonderful day out and fantastic to bird with Bruce. Black Skimmer would be my bird-of-the-day had I not deleted my photos of it, so Black Scoter will take the prize. Runner-up to Fish Crow and honorable mention to Northern Mockingbird, Bruce’s other lifers today. Finding other birders lifers is always exhilarating, especially in a location where it is tough to gain new lifers oneself.

Stay tuned: my next adventure for this week’s “Saturday Series” will take me to Fisher Island, NY via ferry with my friend Will and his friend Skyler. Hopefully we will get a few more seabirds, and it is supposed to be a beautiful Indian Summer day.

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1142 Species

36 avian species identified today:
1. Brant
2. Canada Goose
3. Mallard
4. American Black Duck
5. Green-winged Teal
6. Surf Scoter
7. Black Scoter
8. Rock Pigeon
9. Black-bellied Plover
10. Dunlin
11. Sanderling
12. Ring-billed Gull
13. Herring Gull
14. Great Black-backed Gull
15. Forster’s Tern
16. Black Skimmer
17. Northern Gannet
18. Double-crested Cormorant
19. Great Egret
20. Downy Woodpecker
21. Fish Crow
22. Tree Swallow
23. Black-capped Chickadee
24. Red-breasted Nuthatch
25. Golden-crowned Kinglet
26. American Robin
27. Northern Mockingbird
28. European Starling
29. House Sparrow
30. House Finch
31. Yellow-rumped Warbler
32. Chipping Sparrow
33. Dark-eyed Junco
34. White-throated Sparrow
35. Savannah Sparrow
36. Song Sparrow

Posted by skwclar 00:22 Archived in USA Comments (0)


Continental Shelf, Atlantic Ocean

all seasons in one day 60 °F


Finally, after over two and a half years of delays and cancellations due to Covid, conflicts, rough sea, weather, and more…I was able to take part in a 24-hour NEW YORK PELAGIC!!!

Last night, I boarded the American Princess vessel (accommodating about ~300 people) at 8pm and we were on our way out of Sheepshead Bay and into the Atlantic Ocean within 90 minutes. We sailed into the deep seas far southeast of Long Island — specifically, to the edge of the Continental Shelf since deep waters tend to be much more productive for pelagic birds — over night.

Here is my first look at the American Princess on sunday night prior to boarding:

Departing Jamaica Bay on the “redeye” cruise southeast to the Continental Shelf.

By the time I woke up at 6:40am, land was nowhere in sight: pelagic time!!! My target birds included (but not limited to) possible lifers in the form of Black-capped Petrel, Northern Fulmar, Leach’s Storm-Petrel, Pomarine Jaeger, and maybe Atlantic Puffin. And this isn’t even considering “out-of-range” species, which is really not even a thing since seabirds are all so nomadic by nature.

First light came and went and of course I was up and birding on deck in no time. Within a minute, I had spotted our first pelagic bird of the day, a WILSON’S STORM-PETREL! I was stoked as I’ve only seen these once before, in the Drake Passage on my way back from the Antarctic!

We also began to notice number of migrating warblers, especially YELLOW-RUMPED, passing by intermittently (even though we were so far from land we couldn’t see any land). Other warblers we managed to snag as fly-bys out over the deep sea were BLACKPOLL (probably on its direct flight to South America as they do New England - S America nonstop!), and BLACK-THROATED BLUE.

Then, one of our trip leaders pointed out a Pteredroma species of petrel, this BLACK-CAPPED PETREL, my first lifer and target bird of the trip!! Note the black cap, contrasting white neck band, and the conspicuous white rump patch. Incredibly, this species would be our most common pelagic species…until the afternoon!

And Wilson’s Storm again. Note the legs projecting behind the tail — this is a helpful fieldmark in separating this from the other similar species.

Next, somebody called out or first CORY’S SHEARWATER which is a bird I hadn’t seen since ferrying across the Bosphorus in Istanbul — in 2014! Note the nice warm, gray head.

As if it could get any better than this already, another birder called our “Jaeger!” and it was quickly identified as a dark-morph POMARINE JAEGER, the only Jaeger species I had still needed for my life list!!!

Soon enough, another came by as well, giving even better views. Note the white wing flashes which are characteristic.

One of our most random sightings of the day was a pair of GREAT BLUE HERONS that streamed directly overhead! Neat seeing these birds far from land, and it goes to show that anything can happen during the migration season.

Soon, we started seeing GREAT SHEARWATER after shearwater (another species I’d not seen since the Atlantic north of Antarctica. It soon surpassed the Black-capped Petrel as the most abundant pelagic species.

All absolute hell broke loose when somebody screamed at the top of their lungs “Fea’s Petrel!!!!” Now, Fea’s would have been an absolutely awesome bird for today. but it turned out to be something even better — not five seconds later, he screams “BERMUDA PETREL! BERMUDA PETREL! GET OVER HERE TO SEE THIS BIRD!!!!”

And before you knew it, we were marveling at this wonderful, endangered Petrel species. Note the lack of a white collar, the conspicuous white stripe above the beak, and the small bill. All these markings together confirm this not as its lookalike cousin the more-common Black-capped, but as the Bermuda! Wowzer!

I didn’t even realize how rare it was at first — we were then informed that this species has less than 400 individuals remaining the wild, and this would represent a first EVER confirmed sighting of the species in New York State! Furthermore, I was informed that it is the second-rarest Tubenose species in the world, only edged out by the critically-endangered Chinese Storm-Petrel. I would feel confident calling this the rarest bird I have seen in my entire life, factoring in combination of its more-expected range, and its endangered species status. Absolutely mind-blowing, and it was thankfully one of the most cooperative birds seen today!

Another weird flyover Heron:

LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL — these were surprisingly common far out where we were birding, on top of the American Continental Shelf.

At one point, a pod of Pelagic Bottlesnose Dolphins passed by our vessel. Unfortunately, the winds and waves really started picking up at this point so I was not able to capture anything crisp of these creatures.

Another neat aquatic sighting was this Mola-Mola fish which is a rather unslightly creature that drifts by on its side.

Lighter morph Jaegers made other brief appearances throughout the day which was awesome!!!

Then, the waves got so rough and high that the boat didn’t get a single break from all the pitching and yawing it was doing. For the first time in my life, I felt dreadfully seasick and though I managed to not actually get sick, many others did not have my stomach of fortitude. It was miserable though, and even a bit scary as the boat would lean steeply to one side, only to come crashing down with spray and all just a second later. Repeat X 1000.

Even though the typical afternoon slump in birds coincided with the roughest of the seas today, there were sporadic highlights including flocks of Great Shearwaters:

And a group of WILSON’S STORM-PETRELS sitting on the water!

And I briefly got another lifer in the form of AUDUBON’S SHEARWATER though the waves were too rough and the bird was too fast for any photos. Was glad to have the other birds with me for this as especially this one would have been a tough ID for me.

The large flocks of Great Shearwaters mixed in with gulls like Herring:

And Lesser Black-backed:

Here you can see a deep-sea fishing boat, the Atlantic Pearl, struggling in the high seas — I was glad to be on a boat (The American Princess) a decent bit bigger than this.

One nice avian surprise that came at the peak of my seasick agony came in the form of a WHITE-WINGED SCOTER, our only sea duck of the day oddly enough:

Later towards the evening, we had some more wonderful aquatic animal sightings like a pod of Common Dolphins (my northern hemispheric lifer I think). Again, rough waves + fast-moving creatures = crappy photos.

A nice rainbow appeared at one point:

Slightly more obliging was this Humpback Whale which allowed for a couple photos before disappearing into the depths. Awesome!

And we all enjoyed a beautiful sunset at sea before continuing the last two hours back to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn (the only new bird in this stretch was a distant, unphotographed NORTHERN GANNET).

What an absolutely terrific day, one of my best ever! It was such a triumphant way to bird after missing this particular pelagic for over two years due to various reasons. Bird-of-the-day goes to the Bermuda Petrel, the rarest bird species I’ve ever seen hands down, with runners-up to two of my other life birds: Pomarine Jaeger and Black-capped Petrel. No awards to unphotographed lifers today (looking at you: Audubon’s Shearwater!).

I would also highly recommend checking out Tim Healy’s great post about this pelagic (with even better photography) on his blog, Nemesis Bird: https://nemesisbird.com/birding/secrets-deep-pelagic-legends-come-life/

The next few weeks are incredibly busy so I doubt I’ll be doing much birding, though fall is rarity season and I love twitching rarities, so you never know!

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1142 Species (4 life birds today: Bermuda & Black-capped Petrels, Audubon’s Shearwater, & Pomarine Jaeger)

Posted by skwclar 03:02 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Twitch: Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

Wave Hill, The Bronx

semi-overcast 63 °F


This afternoon, I chased a rare Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, a would-be life bird, that had shown up in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, NYC. For unichecklist days, I enjoy showcasing the trip report in the form of a checklist with photos so you can get an idea of the cumulative species + individual counts for the day, so I will be linking again to my eBird checklist for the afternoon — read to find out whether or not I was successful! To enlarge the photos on my checklist, click on them.

Good birding,

Posted by skwclar 17:02 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Queens Big Sit!!!!

New York, NY

semi-overcast 62 °F

Today was the best birding I have done since Idaho this August — a day I had been looking forward to all semester. Corey Finger generously organizes this annual outing where Queens-county regular birders sit on top of the Battery Harris observation platform to observe migrating songbirds, seabirds, and raptors in a day-long stationary big day! Corey got there around 5:30am but due to my two-hour commute, I didn’t arrive until almost 7am and therefore missed his first species of the day: Great Horned Owl! To read the full trip report with bird photos, check out my eBird list from all day at the platform here — a whopping 87 species which is incredible for october in one spot! https://ebird.org/checklist/S120263212

And I will include my non-bird photos here illustrating our wonderful, beautiful day of birding:

The only bird species I couldn’t “count” for my day list that I got today was these two SAVANNAH SPARROWS on the way out since I saw them away from the viewing platform. Count circle rules dictate that all species must be identified from the official count circle itself! (regardless of how far, as you can see from my photos, some birds were DISTANT, with us even identifying a few all the way across the bay in Brooklyn!).

It was an AMAZING day of over 7,000 individual birds and 87 species! Bird-of-the-day to the Common Loons with runner-up to the record-breaking Common Nighthawk! Stay tuned: week from monday, I will be on my first NEW YORK PELAGIC!

Happy birding,
World Life List: 1139 Species

Posted by skwclar 02:54 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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