A Travellerspoint blog

Begging for a Barnacle

Babylon, NY

overcast 35 °F

Today, I was planning on sleeping in, but upon naturally waking up at about 8:45, I checked the Long Island Bird Alert and a possible life bird for me, a Barnacle Goose, was out in Babylon (Long Island)! I promptly checked the train schedule, got dressed like a madman, and hurried down to Penn Station in time for a 9:38 train out to Babylon. My final destination would be Belmont Lake State Park out in Suffolk County where this bird has been seen off-and-on for about two weeks now. Barnacle Geese are sporadic winter vagrants from Europe, with one or two expected to show up on Long Island each winter. The one to show up last winter turned up in a location very far from any public transport, so I was really hoping to find this more-convenient individual today. Barnacle Geese are smaller than Canada Geese and have a white face — overall, they are very beautiful birds!

The uber dropped me off at Belmont Lake State Park at about 11:15, and I promptly saw two birders who, to my dismay, said they missed the bird. Frustrating — I had come all this way! After deliberating with them, though, they said it would be wise for me to stick around and see if any other flocks of Canada Geese would fly in, as well as for me to scan the entire lake in case they missed the Barnacle Goose.

So, I set out, trodding along the lakeshore, scanning through hundreds upon hundreds of ubiquitous CANADA GEESE. There were also GADWALL present, as in the individual in the foreground:

Here’s a closer look at a male Gadwall:

An AMERICAN COOT was also swimming and diving in the vicinity:


I walked into a forested cove of the lake where hundreds of Canada Geese were roosting, so I dropped to my hands and knees to approach the water so as not to scare the geese any more than I could possibly avoid. No Barnacle! There was a lone AMERICAN BLACK DUCK though:

After crawling back out onto the main path, I scanned the far edges of the lake again and found a COMMON MERGANSER among some RING-BILLED GULLS:

A GRAY CATBIRD was also resting in the shrubs, a nice find since these birds are expected up and down the east coast in the winter, but certainly in much smaller numbers this far north than in the warmer months.

Its relative the NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was also around.

Then, I scanned through the large flocks of Canada Geese in the center of the lake and my eyes rested on a smaller, dainty goose with a white face, a black breast, and a somewhat scalloped pattern on its back: BARNACLE GOOSE! Amazing! Lifer!!!

Here is a shot where you can really compare this European vagrant side-by-side with the run-of-the-mill Canada Goose.

And here it is with CANADA GEESE and a MUTE SWAN:

WOW! Awesome! Bird-of-the-day to the Barnacle Goose, my first life bird since the Golden-crowned Sparrow I got exactly one day short of a month ago! Interestingly enough, both of these lifers for me were also in Suffolk County, the easternmost county of Long Island.

STAY TUNED — next time you hear from me, I will be posting from Buenos Aires, Argentina! Happy holidays!

Good birding,
World Life List: 979 Species (1 life bird today: Barnacle Goose)

Posted by skwclar 11:14 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Snowy Owl Search: Part II

Nickerson Beach, NY

semi-overcast 40 °F

After singing my last “Christmas choir gig” of the season this morning, I was ready to be in the field again and today I set my hopes on that Snowy Owl that I missed at Nickerson Beach last week. It was still seen earlier this morning, and thanks to the Manhattan Bird Alert, I had an exact location for the bird, so my hopes were high!

The 1 subway, Long Island Railroad, and a quick uber ride took me to Nickerson Beach where I was immediately reminded of its close proximity to JFK Airport. Metal bird!

After a bit of bushwhacking, I made it to the beach! It was a lovely afternoon.

Wait what?

SNOWY OWL! Yay! I have seen this bird a number of times before, but I will never, ever tire of doing so.

Immediately, she stretched her wings for me (which would prove to be the most movement I would see from her all day, hah!).

This is most likely an immature female due to the heavy black barring, which can be present but usually is lighter on young males.

At one point a male NORTHERN HARRIER quickly glided over the dunes, attracting the owl’s attention.

It scared up a few MOURNING DOVES, possible harrier prey items.

The owl was beautiful in front of the dunes.

And soon, “golden hour” set in which just simply enhanced the beauty of this enchanting bird.

The owl was tired out from posing for the (respectful) crowd of photographers and birders all afternoon. Thankfully, I caught it at just the perfect moment!

Then, I met two birders named Lawrence and Maia who very generously agreed to take me back to the train station. Thanks so much, you two! On the way, we were mesmerized by the awe-inspiring Long Island sunset:

It was a perfectly amazing afternoon of birding! Bird-of-the-day to the Snowy Owl, obviously, with runner-up to the Northern Harrier. Stay tuned, tomorrow I may go birding again, and then on wednesday I fly to SOUTH AMERICA for Christmas break!

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:20 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Another Brief Visit to Central Park

Manhattan, NYC

semi-overcast 45 °F

Yestersday I had only a short gap in between a gig and a concert I was attending, so I made a quick stop at the north end of Central Park where there is a water body called “the Pool.” It is no such thing; stagnant water permeates the depression in a remarkably forested corner of the park — no one would dare swim in it, but it happens to be a favorite haunt for migratory birds. I was keeping an eye out in particular for the Rusty Blackbird, a species which was noted here earlier in the morning and one that I have not seen in a while (it is quite uncommon and also declining steeply in population due to habitat loss).

Upon arrival, I saw a common resident of Central Park: RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER.

The area around the Pool was almost completely devoid of birds, other than the woodpecker and a few common WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS. I did remember, though, that Rusty Blackbirds have been seen throughout the north end of the park, so I hiked into the “Loch” which is an area with a wooded stream. I thought this would be a good place to find a Rusty Blackbird foraging in leaf litter by the side of the stream, like they tend to do.

There was a beautiful BLUE JAY that had just taken his or her afternoon bath:

And sure enough, I soon spotted a gaggle of birders pointing their binoculars and cameras across the stream at...two RUSTY BLACKBIRDS! The lighter bird would be a female and the darker, a male.

Then, the male flew across the stream towards us and gave some absolutely stellar views. Wow!

Super-duper cool to get views of an uncommon bird like this, so my bird of the day is obvious, Rusty Blackbird! Stay tuned — next week I fly down to SOUTH AMERICA with my family for a 16-day cruise to the Falkland Islands and around the tip of the continent. I am beyond excited!

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species

Posted by skwclar 10:20 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Long Day on the Long Island

New York

semi-overcast 34 °F

Today I trekked over to Long Island in hopes of finding some uncommon species including the one-and-only Snowy Owl!

I started my birding scouring Nickerson Beach with many other birders in hopes of the Snowy Owl. Things were not looking up, though. In fact, there were barely any birds around apart from a few HORNED LARKS and this RED-THROATED LOON in the water.

It was desolate but still beautiful.

Unfortunately, I learned that over-zealous photographers were earlier pursuing the owl and chasing it in order to get “flight shots,” so the owl took off and hadn’t been seen since early morning. Dang — how frustrating! And saddening that there are people so selfish to harass such a vulnerable bird. After a long, futile search for the owl in the sand dunes, I ordered an uber to nearby Point Lookout where a Harlequin Duck had just been reported! I arrived and found many BRANT:

And I heard an unfamiliar-sounding “chip!” call and, to my surprise, out pops an unseasonably late PALM WARBLER! Too cool!

Interestingly enough, a late-ish YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER was also in the vicinity:

Then, I finally made it to the jetty where the Harlequin had been reported. I saw two good-looking diving ducks briefly, but then a lady approached me and started talking my ear off while I was trying to get a better look at them! SO annoying! I love talking to people while birding, BUT when I am clearly focused on something in the field, people should know not the disturb the observer and chat his or her ear off.

And of course, I never saw the two ducks again. They were probably the Harlequins! Ugh!

Well, a cool sighting did happen in the form of a large flyby flock of SNOW BUNTINGS:

As well as some GREAT looks at Harbor Seals, very very neat!


As well as their relative the SURF SCOTER:


RED-THROATED LOONS proliferated:

And a COMMON LOON — note the considerably thicker bill:

And there were even some nice LONG-TAILED DUCKS, including some individuals with their namesake tails:

Perhaps the greatest frustration of the day, though, was my roundabout commute back to the city! Instead of taking the LIRR train back, I wanted to save money and take the N33 bus and the A train. But, upon getting on the A train, I learned that it was running in two segments today. So, in order to get to Central Park which was my next birding stop, I took an uber, the N33 bus, A train, 2 JFK AirTrains, & the E & the C trains before I finally got off at 96th street in Central Park. What a commute!!

At least I saw couple of AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS when the A train passed over Jamaica Bay:

My goal in Central Park was a juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker that had been seen near the North Meadow recently. At least one thing worked as planned today — I arrived to see a horde of birders & photographers peacefully observing the young bird, which still has gray head feathers (though note its namesake red head is just starting to come in):

Whew — what a day! And to cap it all off, tonight I sang the bass solo in Bach’s “Magnificat” with EnsembleNYC, my first solo gig here in Manhattan outside of MSM! It went great! It’s a crazy season in many ways!

Bird-of-the-day to the Red-headed Woodpecker which salvaged an otherwise irritating birding day, and runner-up to the very unexpected Palm Warbler in the morning. Stay tuned — Monday morning I’m thinking I will go chase my life bird Barnacle Goose out on Long Island!

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species

Posted by skwclar 19:31 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Quick jaunt to Central Park

Manhattan, NYC

overcast 43 °F

Today I took my girlfriend Tian to a morning doctor appointment so I had a bit of time to bird in nearby Central Park.

A few land birds on the walk into the park included the omnipresent WHITE-THROATED SPARROW:

And of course, BLUE JAY, a Central Park staple:


Then, I birded the beautiful Central Park Reservoir.

RUDDY DUCKS were present with their easily-identifiable cocked tails:


Two MALLARDS in the foreground with NORTHERN SHOVELERS in the background:

Close-up on the distant shovelers:

Tian was even able to join me for a little bit — yay!

And the three expected gull species of Central park: RING-BILLED (small & pale), HERRING (larger & pale), and GREAT BLACK-BACKED (large gull in the center).

Bird-of-the-day to the Hooded Merganser with runner-up to the Ruddy Ducks: a short and sweet morning out! Stay tuned — tomorrow will be my first significant birding day in a while, and I am debating about whether I should chase a Yellow-breasted Chat, a Snowy Owl, or various other uncommon species that have showed up on Long Island recently.

Good birding,
World Life List: 978 Species

Posted by skwclar 08:19 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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