A Travellerspoint blog

Leap Day Birding

New York, NY

sunny 33 °F

Today I was teaching a piano lesson in Brooklyn so I wanted to have a morning of birding beforehand — I took the subway, bus, and uber to Breezy Point in the Rockaways of Queens to hopefully photograph some winter birds: Northern Gannet, Snow Bunting, Purple Sandpiper, and any diving ducks in the area. There wasn’t anything particularly rare reported in that area but I was simply hoping to get some of these species that I have missed (or only seen once) thus far this season before they migrate northward for the year. Plus, the Gannets have been seen here in huge numbers recently. Upon arrival, I noticed a small flock of songbirds in the surrounding sand dunes which consisted of YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, NYC’s winter-resident warbler species.
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And a SONG SPARROW:
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At the beach I found the hardy wintering flock of TREE SWALLOWS — Breezy Point must be one of the northernmost locations in this species’ winter range.
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A few diving ducks were present in the water, including BLACK SCOTERS:
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And sure enough, NORTHERN GANNETS were extremely prolific in and over the mouth of the Rockaway Inlet all the way from Breezy Point in Queens (where I was) to Coney Island in Brooklyn.
It was an impressive spectacle! I counted in excess of 1450 of these long-winged seabirds.
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LONG-TAILED DUCK:
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It was a crisp (borderline-freezing) but beautiful day to be out.
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A male BUFFLEHEAD bobbed just offshore:
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And here is a horseshoe crab that was washed up by the tide — the nature here makes it hard to believe it is a part of New York City.
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I connected with a group of very friendly birders from the Brooklyn Bird Club who were leading a Breezy Point tour this morning. Our “best” collective sighting, apart from a fleeting glimpse of a flyby RAZORBILL, was this male WOOD DUCK — totally unexpected given the fact it was flying out over the ocean:
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And the group leader spotted a far-away gathering of both DOUBLE-CRESTED & the less common GREAT CORMORANTS all the way across the inlet.
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Thanks to receiving a lift back to the bus stop by the generous Brooklyn birders, I had plenty of time before the piano lesson so decided to find an intermediate birding stop on the way back. Prospect Park looked like the perfect choice, so I decided to poke around to look for the Varied Thrush again, as well as a pair of Great Horned Owls which have been reported there recently. Upon arriving to the Prospect Park “Nethermead,” it seemed very quiet at first but I did see a couple of birds like this BROWN CREEPER:
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Then I found out why it was quiet. MERLIN! Awesome!!
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YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER:
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After quite a bit of walking around, I saw a large group of birders training their cameras and binoculars at a specific patch of woodland — always a good sign! Was it the Varied Thrush?
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Hell yes it was! Although my views were partially obstructed, I got a much more sustained look at this bird than last time I visited. So cool!
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Next, I caught wind of a report from of a Ring-necked Duck from the Prospect Park Lake, so I walked over to the lake in hopes of finding that fowl. There was a good amount of bird activity on the lake, including RUDDY DUCKS:
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HOODED MERGANSERS:
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NORTHERN SHOVELERS:
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And an AMERICAN COOT:
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But unfortunately, I dipped on the Ring-necked. There was a COOPER’S HAWK patrolling the area, though — always nice to see my “spark bird!”
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The view of Brooklyn and Manhattan from the G train on the way to the piano lesson was stunning:
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And after the lesson, I still had a fair amount of daylight left for birding, so I took the A and C trains to Central Park where a Green-winged Teal pair has recently been seen on the Central Park Pool. Sure enough, upon arriving, I very quickly spotted the smartly-plumaged male GREEN-WINGED TEAL:
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He engaged in quite a bit of self-care preening while I observed him. Gotta look good for the female who was also in the area!
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It is quite striking how much smaller these teals are from your run-of-the-mill MALLARD.
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Here is the pair of teal:
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And the female with her beautiful namesake green wing patch showing:
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An AMERICAN BLACK DUCK was also in the vicinity — this duck did have hints of green on the ride side of its head, which suggests some Mallard ancestry (the two look-alike species frequently hybridize).
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After a quick, uneventful stroll through the Central Park Loch, I spotted this RUDDY DUCK on the Harlem Meer:
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And I finished up my birding for the day here at the Harlem Meer (the northern end of Central Park) before the end of “golden hour” here in NYC. A great full day of birding!
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Bird-of-the-day to the Varied Thrush with runner-up to all of those stunning Northern Gannets, as well as the cute Green-winged Teal pair. Stay tuned, I am on spring break now, which means more BIRDS!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1111 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:49 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Quick Jaunt to Sheapshead Bay

Brooklyn, NYC

semi-overcast 50 °F

This evening I had an audition in Brooklyn at 6pm so I decided to take advantage of the afternoon and head over to Sheapshead Bay to see if I could find some of the more uncommon birds being seen there recently, including Razorbill and Black-headed Gull. The Harlequin Duck and Iceland Gull have also been continuing there, so I was hoping to see at least one of these less-than-common species.

Despite the subway taking foreeever today (MTA should have really run on a weekday schedule, despite it being President’s Day), I still had time for about thirty minutes of birding. BUFFLEHEADS were abundant and glowing in the evening light:
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They never fail to disappoint, not only with their vibrant plumages, but also with their wonderful antics:
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And soon, I once again found the first-year male HARLEQUIN DUCK which has been hanging around the bay for quite a while now! This is the second time I have seen this bird, but this time with much better views.
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LESSER SCAUP:
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There were plenty of RING-BILLED GULLS around, but I unfortunately failed to find both the rarer Iceland & the Black-headed Gulls.
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Still a great, quick trip though! Bird-of-the-day to the Harlequin Duck with runner-up to the fancy-pants Buffleheads. Interestingly enough, I gained two life birds “today” because through some inspection of photos from my South America trip over winter break, I found two birds that I had misidentified as birds I had already seen. The first was this Checkered Woodpecker I saw in Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur with my dad — at the time I had misidentified it as a Striped Woodpecker (which I also saw in Torres del Paine).
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And the second was a Wren-like Rushbird I briefly saw in Torres del Paine National Park which, at the time, I misidentified as a Grasswren (which I had already seen in the Falkland Islands).

The only difference between beginning and experienced birders is that the experienced have misidentified a greater number of birds! This goes to show that close inspection of previous observations (both of oneself & others) is always warranted.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1111 Species (2 life birds from winter break: Checkered Woodpecker, Wren-like Rushbird)

Posted by skwclar 20:33 Archived in USA Comments (0)

An Afternoon in Central Park

Manhattan, NYC

semi-overcast 43 °F

I took advantage of an afternoon of walking through Central Park with Tian to try to find some of the noteworthy birds which have recently been frequenting the park. A BROWN CREEPER was nice to start off the day:
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Look at that camouflage!
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Then, I found my friend the immature RED-HEADED WOODPECKER at its usual spot west of the ballfields. Its red feathers have even further developed since I last saw it:
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Every time I observe it, the woodpecker is either stashing nuts in one of its holes or on “excavation duty:”
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We found the large flock of COMMON GRACKLES by 96th St today, but unfortunately failed to track down the Boat-tailed. So, it was off to the Central Park Reservoir for waterfowl. A female RUDDY DUCK showed nicely:
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Male:
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As did NORTHERN SHOVELERS:
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And this male BUFFLEHEAD:
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Once again, I was able to locate the immature SNOW GEESE roosting with the Canada Goose flock in the southeast corner of the Reservoir. Luckily, they were awake this time!
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Snowdrops, a sure sign of warmer weather to come:
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As we continued south in the park, evening fell upon us rather soon, but one last bird seen in the Central Park Ramble was one of the park’s resident RED-TAILED HAWKS, a particularly impressive sighting for Tian:
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It was a great afternoon in the park — thanks Tian for putting up with my birding! Bird-of-the-day to the Snow Geese with runner-up to the Red-headed Woodpecker, both of which are very quality species for the park.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1109 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:42 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Cleaning up the recent misses?

New York, NY

semi-overcast 31 °F

Today, I took the subway to Brooklyn to try to find two continuing rarities there which I have continually missed: the Painted Bunting of Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Varied Thrush of Prospect Park. First on my agenda was the Bunting which has been seen reliably around Piers 4 & 5 in the Park, and in particular around the “upland” trails by Pier 5. My hopes were high!

This NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was one of my first birds upon arrival:
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Any photo can easily be considered “artsy-fartsy” if it includes a bird in a berry bush!
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There were some waterfowl in the harbor, including this AMERICAN BLACK DUCK:
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And several BUFFLEHEAD:
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But my focus was on the passerines, as the Painted Bunting has been observed of recent to be loosely associating with the sparrow flocks of the park. This FIELD SPARROW was a good sign:
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I spent over two hours fruitlessly searching the Pier 5 area for the Bunting, and I was about ready to leave for Prospect Park when I met a woman named Heather, who was the person to actually discover this bird about a month ago! She was fairly confident we could find it, if not in the Pier 5 area, then on Pier 3 in the grasses there, so I birded with her for a time.

A warbler in the winter is always a welcome sight; YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER:
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After we had circled back around the front of Pier 3 to inspect the switchgrass there in which the bunting loves to forage, we spotted a yellow-greenish passerine hidden among the grasses — could it be?!
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YES! My New York-state life bird PAINTED BUNTING — incredible! This is now the second state in which I have seen the species, the first being Florida. Other birders have observed this particular individual to be an immature male since some photographs obtained by others have included the bird preening, revealing several darker blue feathers on the bird, indicating he will mature into his brilliantly-colored adult plumage within the year.
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The bird was so close I could even get a discernible selfie with it!
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This was one of the most incredible views I have ever gotten of any bird — for fifteen minutes I was literally laying on the pavement, feet away from this neon-green beauty, snapping away!

Mission accomplished! Thanks a million, Heather! Now, it was time to chase target #2, the Prospect Park Varied Thrush. After a brisk walk to downtown Brooklyn, refueling at Dos Toros Taqueria, and a jaunt on the 2 & Q trains, I made it to Prospect Park where I found several birders scanning in the Nethermead area. A good sign for sure! They told me that the thrush was last seen with a group of robins about fifteen minutes prior to my arrival, and they recommended me to stick around a certain area of wooded trails the thrush was reportedly frequenting today. A high amount of bird activity was evident, including this RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET which was acting very flitty: typical kinglet!
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There were cardinals galore — this male posed particularly nicely for me:
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Then, after about an hour of unsuccessful waiting for the thrush, I saw on Brooklyn Bird Alert that a Barred Owl had been spotted at the southeast corner of Prospect Park. Accordingly, I rushed off to find the owl since I wasn’t having luck with the thrush. There was a nice YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER there:
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A good number of unhappy Blue Jays were in the area, so I thought finding the owl would be a no-brainer, but after thoroughly searching the suspected conifers where the owl was supposedly roosting, I came up empty-handed! So, I checked Brooklyn Bird Alert, and frustratingly, the thrush was once again being seen! Sometimes, this is just what one has to deal with as a birder with modern-day technology, so I rushed back to the other side of the park to find the thrush.

Upon arriving, I just saw a single birder watching a bird about twenty feet up, and lo and behold, it was the VARIED THRUSH!! Woohoo! From the front, it essentially looks like a small robin with a breast-band. Although a somewhat more “regular” vagrant, this bird’s typical range is Pacific-Northwestern rainforest, and I had never seen this bird before — only heard it once in Washington state! So I was excited out of my mind.
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And I was so lucky to arrive when I did because before I knew it, the thrush flew off and I lost track of it. After checking Manhattan Bird Alert and seeing that the Snow Geese I missed previously had returned to the Central Park Reservoir, I decided to hit Central Park as my last birding stop of the day since I had to come back to Manhattan anyway, of course. Upon arriving at the reservoir, there was plenty of waterfowl around including this RUDDY DUCK, among others:
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NORTHERN SHOVELERS, many of these:
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And I quickly spotted the two immature SNOW GEESE roosting among the other CANADA GEESE! Awesome — a third bird that I “cleaned up” today from previous misses. Interestingly enough, these geese have ranged widely recently: multiple locations in Central Park, Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, and Randall’s Island east of Manhattan have all been pit-stops for these two wandering juvenile geese (definitely the same birds in the sightings as per photographic evidence among different posts).
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And a male BUFFLEHEAD delightfully bobbed on the water a little further out:
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What a great day of birding, and it was capped off with a gorgeous view out and over the Reservoir:
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Bird-of-the-day goes to the Painted Bunting & Varied Thrush, of course, with runner-up to the Snow Geese! An awesome day of NYC birding!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1109 Species

Posted by skwclar 19:06 Archived in USA Comments (1)

A Pelagic Encore

Block Island, Rhode Island

semi-overcast 37 °F

Today, I woke up at the absolutely ungodly hour of 4:50am because I had one mission: pelagic birding! After taking that cruise over winter break, I have yearned for pelagic birding which may just be one of my new favorite types of birding! Out at sea, a completely different avian world awaits any birder who has the perseverance to get out there. I had been hoping to join two pelagic trips this winter led by the East Coast “Paulagics” company, but unfortunately both were cancelled due to high seas, so I knew I had only one other option for pelagic birding: the Block Island Ferry. Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, is served by many different ferry options in the popular warmer months, but only one steadfast ferry to Point Judith, Rhode Island serves it throughout the dead of winter. In order to get to the ferry, though, it was a hell of a trek: bus, two loooong train rides, and an uber, and this was all hoping that the ferry wouldn’t be cancelled like it was yesterday. I calculated the total cost of the day, though, and it came out to $138, a full 60 dollars less than the dedicated pelagic trips! My target bird for the day was probably an Alcid (puffin family) species called the Black Guillemot, which has been seen off the ferry on recent days. Like many birds, this species’ name is a misnomer in the winter since it is almost completely grayish white, hah! If I was lucky, I might also see a Dovekie, another uncommon species of Alcid. Other target birds included Razorbill, Common & Thick-billed Murres, and Black-legged Kittiwake. Hopefully, the pelagic birding gods would deliver on that 55-minute ferry ride!

I was treated to an incredible Connecticut sunrise on the train ride there; unfortunately the iPad photo from the train doesn’t do it justice.
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As soon as I got on the ferry I headed to the bow of the ship and immediately spotted this oddly-cute seal:
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As well as a COMMON LOON:
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COMMON EIDERS:
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And this gorgeous male RED-BREASTED MERGANSER:
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Then, it was time of the hour-long crossing of the Long Island Sound to get to Block Island. It was fun to be out pelagic birding again but remarkably lonely not to be joined by the Irish birders on the Coral Princess.
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As promised, flocks of thousands, even millions of waterfowl flew by. Here is just a tiny snippet highlighting two WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS with BLACK SCOTERS & COMMON EIDERS in the background. I was constantly keeping an eye out for Alcids.
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BLACK SCOTERS:
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And with these SURF SCOTERS, I had seen all three scoter species for the area!
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Soon, it became evident that the bow was not the place to be as the ferry crashed down onto the ten-foot swells, soaking everything and everyone.
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And not much longer afterward, I saw my first Alcids of the year in the form of RAZORBILLS! Awesome! These guys fill the niche that penguins fill in the Antarctic. Although Razorbills, with their namesake heavy bills evident, are the “expected” Alcid species, any day with an Alcid is a great day!
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WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS in front of Block Island, which the ferry was now beginning to approach:
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Then, I saw a small gull sitting with two BLACK SCOTERS and the little dark crown patch on the side of its head, as well as that diagnostic yellow bill make it a BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (white bird on the left). So awesome as this is only the second time I have seen this species!!!
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BLACK SCOTER as the ferry pulled into Block Island.
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Then, as I searched for a place to eat on the Island (which was not an easy task considering it’s the “slow season” here), a FISH CROW posed for me:
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Before I knew it, by two in the afternoon the return Ferry was already on its way back to the mainland: fingers crossed for more Alcids and other species! Upon boarding, I immediately spotted these two GREAT CORMORANTS resting among more common species on the breakwater rocks. The Greats can be told from the Double-crested by their white patch just below the beak.
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BUFFLEHEADS were in the harbor:
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On the ride back, I got extremely lucky: at one point, I spotted this pale-white alcid with bright-red feet: yep I got it! BLACK GUILLEMOT!!!!! Incredible, life bird!
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Distant LONG-TAILED DUCK:
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And then, a tiny, round-shaped Alcid quickly flew parallel to the ferry at one point. It had white trailing edges on its secondaries, a noticeably-thin “chinstrap,” and a cute, tiny bill: DOVEKIE! Another target bird for the day, and another bird I had only ever seen once before!
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The rest of the ferry journey was fairly quiet — the Dovekie ended up being my last bird photo of the day. So, it was back to Manhattan on the Amtrak! Bird-of-the-day to my life bird Black Guillemot, with runners-up to the Black-legged Kittiwake & Dovekie. A GREAT day of Atlantic pelagic birding!!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1109 Species (1 life bird today: Black Guillemot)

Posted by skwclar 13:15 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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