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Posts Tagged ‘Ring-billed Gull’

Last summer, my time in New York ended with 93 species on my state list and I wanted to get that number to 100.  Derek and I decided to go for it when I discovered that you can get to Staten Island without driving through Manhattan.  Our destination on Tuesday, July 14, was Wolfe’s Pond Park, less than three hours away, which had a species list in eBird making it appear that I could get seven new birds without even trying.  We should have known that nothing would be easy in the hot July weather, but we did accomplish our goal.  I now have 102 species of birds for my New York list, including the birds in the two photos below.

Mute Swan at Staten Island's Wolfe's Pond Park

Mute Swan at Staten Island’s Wolfe’s Pond Park

I’ve never liked Mute Swans.  They are non-native and aggressive towards our native waterfowl.  This particular swan, though, appeared to have become gentle and tame due to handouts from picnickers at the park.  This Snowy Egret had more self-respect and flew every time we got near, making me work to get a decent photo.

Snowy Egret at Wolfe's Pond Park

Snowy Egret at Wolfe’s Pond Park

We alternated big days and easier days, so it was off to nearby District of Columbia on Wednesday.  Derek has assured me that birders who care about lists consider it the same as a state and he wanted to see me get to 50 species.  We saw several birds at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens that were still on their wintering grounds when we visited the park on my visit in April 2019.  My favorite was this Green Heron, a species that I’ve seen many times.  However, I’ve never been closer and I couldn’t take my eyes off this bird as he stalked his prey and didn’t seem to care at all about our presence.

Green Heron at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

Green Heron at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

The gardens at Kenilworth are very pretty.  There were more visitors here than most of the places that we visited, but we felt safe.  We were impressed by the consideration and social-distancing displayed by park visitors.  Everywhere in DC people seemed to take appropriate actions to stay safe from the spread of coronavirus.  Many wore masks outside and we even saw young children wearing masks.

Derek at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

Derek at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

Edwin B. Forsythe NWR in New Jersey had a lot of birds that I wanted to see – Gull-billed Tern, Willet, Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrows – and I was excited about our visit there, but we had been putting it off waiting for the right day.  We were rewarded for our patience.  The daily temps had been hitting the high 80’s, but a high of 77 was forecast for Thursday, so we took advantage of the break from the heat and spent several hours at Forsythe NWR.  Flies bit us again, as at Bombay Hook, but otherwise the day was perfect.

One of two beautiful American Avocets at Forsythe NWR, flagged by eBird as rare

One of two beautiful American Avocets at Forsythe NWR, flagged by eBird as rare

I have seen hundreds of Willets, but this species has both a western and an eastern subspecies.  It’s expected that they will be split into two separate species sometime in the next few years.  Western Willets winter in Florida and on the East Coast and can arrive as early as June, so I did not have a single sighting that I could be absolutely certain was an Eastern Willet.  My quest was finally accomplished at Forsythe NWR where Eastern Willets breed in the saltmarsh.

Eastern Willets

Eastern Willets

We saw several species of terns – Gull-billed, Least, Caspian, Common, and Forster’s.

Common Tern

Common Tern

Black Skimmers are in the same family as gulls and terns, but their feeding style is distinct.  These graceful birds fly low over the water and literally skim the surface with their long lower mandible.  When it strikes a small fish, the upper mandible snaps shut, capturing the fish.

Black Skimmer, one of the world's three skimmer species

Black Skimmer, one of the world’s three skimmer species

Marsh Wrens were difficult to see, but there were probably dozens of them in the saltmarsh.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

We saw many Osprey during my trip.  They appear to be as common along the Atlantic coast as they are in Florida.

Osprey nest in the marsh

Osprey nest in the marsh

We spent a few minutes walking Jen’s Trail (in a wooded part of the NWR) after the wildlife drive and added a gnatcatcher and a phoebe to my New Jersey list, but I still had only 99 species when we left Forsythe NWR.  Number 100 ended up being Rock Pigeon on a highway overpass just before dark.

A Great Egret stands out due to its size and color, but the saltmarsh is teeming with unseen wildlife.

A Great Egret stands out due to its size and color, but the saltmarsh is teeming with unseen wildlife.

After our day at Forsythe NWR, it got really hot with daily highs hitting the mid-90s and limiting our birding to morning and late afternoon.  With our other goals accomplished, Derek was on a mission to help me get my Maryland list to 100.  He promised (threatened?) that I could get an injured Snow Goose, but I declined the opportunity to list a bird that would have been farther north on breeding grounds were it not for an injury leaving it unable to fly.

Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park

Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park

On Friday, we found a Yellow Warbler and a Willow Flycatcher at a retention pond.  We looked for Horned Larks at a known location and were successful on our second try.  Derek is participating in the Maryland breeding bird atlas surveys so we were thrilled to find recently fledged juveniles, proof of breeding.  Later, we looked for Grasshopper Sparrows at the Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park.  It was a confusing place and by the time we figured out where the sparrows had probably been seen by others, it was nearly dark.  Singing Eastern Meadowlarks were a nice consolation prize.

A Ring-billed Gull flies overhead at Ferry Point Park

A Ring-billed Gull flies overhead at Ferry Point Park

Saturday was my last day in Maryland and I still needed nine new birds if I were to reach 100 species.  We decided that the Eastern Shore of Maryland would provide our best opportunity.  At the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, I added Red-headed Woodpecker and Brown-headed Nuthatch to my growing list along with Great and Snowy Egrets.  Now we needed gulls.  We joked that neither of us had ever had to work to find gulls before, especially common species like Laughing and Ring-billed Gull.  On to Jackson Creek Landing where we picked up Laughing Gull.  Next to Ferry Point Park where it took more effort than expected, but we finally found Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls.  My Maryland list was then at 99, but it was hot and we needed a break.

A Grasshopper Sparrow singing atop a post in the goat pen

A Grasshopper Sparrow singing atop a post in the goat pen

Late that afternoon, we tried for Grasshopper Sparrows for the third time. The first time, a few days earlier, mowers were cutting the sparrow field as we arrived.  Our second try had been at a different location, Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park, the previous evening.  We headed there again and walked directly to the field where we thought the sparrows were breeding.  There is a nice path around the field, but you can’t even see it from the parking area.  Derek’s hearing is much better than mine and it wasn’t long before he heard the sparrows.  We saw one on a post in the goat pen adjacent to the field that the sparrows must have used for their nesting territory.  What a nice bird for my Maryland #100 and a lovely end to my visit.

Goats at Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park

Goats at Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park

I was very happy that Derek got new birds for his lists, too, 21 state birds and 132 county ticks (birds seen for the first time in a county) including county birds in all eight states we visited.  The focus on our state and county lists gave us direction and enabled us to see new wildlife and landscape.  While it’s currently not safe to travel many places for birding, I am very grateful for this experience.

 

 

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On Sunday morning, August 18, Derek started home, David set off on the first ride of Cycle Adirondacks‘ Ultimate Cycling Vacation, and I headed out to see if I could find any birds.  I went to Crown Point State Historic Site, about 12 miles north of Ticonderoga.  I enjoyed walking around this lovely spot on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Champlain.  The birds like this spot, too, especially the gulls.

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

I drove over the Lake Champlain bridge and walked around Chimney Point on the Vermont side.  I enjoyed watching an Osprey’s hovering flight over the lake before it plunged down to catch a fish.  Osprey are the largest birds that are able to hover.

A poor photo of an amazing Osprey hovering over Lake Champlain

A poor photo of an amazing Osprey hovering over Lake Champlain

I found a few other birds along the shore and this chipmunk that did his best chirping impression of a bird.

A chipmunk who's chirping almost fooled me

A chipmunk who’s chirping almost fooled me

David rode 66.7 miles with 4130’ of climbing on the local Ticonderoga ride.  The trip was going so fast that I can’t remember what we did that afternoon.  Could we both have been a bit tired by then?

On Monday David rode to Wilmington and I drove to Bloomingdale Bog before turning towards Wilmington.  I was becoming obsessed with the bog and I hoped to find Black-backed Woodpeckers on my own.  I found only Canada Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, and other species that we had seen there previously, but I enjoyed my morning.

David’s ride to Wilmington was 61.4 miles, but we had both recovered a bit so in the afternoon we drove up Veterans’ Memorial Highway to the top of Whiteface Mountain, New York’s fifth-highest peak at 4,867 feet.  The mountain’s east slope hosted the alpine skiing competitions of the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid.  Whiteface Mountain is also the easiest place to see the rare Bicknell’s Thrush anywhere in it’s small range in the northeast, but by August the birds are nearly impossible to find.  I hope to return in June one year for a better chance to see this lovely thrush.

By Richard Crossley - Richard Crossley, CC BY-SA 3.0

By Richard Crossley – Richard Crossley, CC BY-SA 3.0

The drive up the mountain was beautiful and provided fantastic views of the surrounding area in the afternoon light.  At the top, we had sandwiches and beer and David hiked to the top of the mountain.  It was cold and windy; I was a wimp and waited in the gift shop.

David enjoys the view from a a stop on Whiteface Mountain

David enjoys the view from a a stop on Whiteface Mountain

Another scenic view from the road up Whiteface Mountain

Another scenic view from the road up Whiteface Mountain

On Tuesday morning I returned to Bloomingdale Bog for one last time and David rode the long loop out of Wilmington.  That afternoon we visited High Falls Gorge.  After viewing the gorge and waterfalls, I somewhat foolishly suggested that we walk the “nature trail” which turned out to be a one-mile “moderate” hike over large rocks and tree roots that was somewhat steep.  We were tired that night!

The beautiful waterfall at High Falls Gorge

The beautiful waterfall at High Falls Gorge

The walkways at High Falls Gorge were beautifully done to be safe and provide wonderful views

The walkways at High Falls Gorge were beautifully done to be safe and provide wonderful views

Day four of the Ultimate Cycling Vacation, August 21, brought the ride from Wilmington to Westport, on the shore of Lake Champlain.  We loved Wilmington and hated to leave, but we also looked forward to the next phase of our adventure.  My birding focus shifted to looking for Little Gull at Noblewood Park again, half an hour north of Westport.  Derek and I had tried a week earlier without success, but there were three eBird reports from August 20 and I was hopeful that I would find the gull.

Cycle ADK's base camp for Westport was the Essex County fairgrounds, where some of the "art" for the fair was still on display

Cycle ADK’s base camp for Westport was the Essex County fairgrounds, where some of the “art” for the fair was still on display

I arrived at the park just after 9:00 AM and don’t recall seeing another birder although there is an eBird report from 7:30 AM that morning (without the target gull).  It was cold and windy and miserable and I did not find a Little Gull.  Reports use the phrases “searched the flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls for two hours” and “obvious” in the same report, which I found quite funny.  So, theoretically I could have seen a Little Gull and just not recognized it, but I don’t think that happened.  After talking with local experts and pouring over photos during the next few days, the gull started to feel familiar, but still elusive.

Looking for a Little Gull in flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls with a few Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Caspian Terns, and Common Terns

Looking for a Little Gull in flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls with a few Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Caspian Terns, and Common Terns

David’s day brought “interesting” events, too.  He blew his rear tire fifteen miles into the ride.  Fortunately, he was going slow at the time and was not injured.  Cycle Adirondacks gave him a ride to the next rest stop nine miles away and a new tire.  He lost an hour and a half, but was then back on the road for the ride to Westport in pouring rain for the next forty miles.

David's rides took him past numerous waterfalls

David’s rides took him past numerous waterfalls

The next morning I arrived at Noblewood Park at 8:00 AM and found three birders already there.  Stacy had arrived at 7:00 AM and had seen a Little Gull before I got there.  She was not only an expert birder, but very friendly and she tried really hard to help me find the gull.  Unfortunately, the gull did not cooperate.  Stacy had also seen two Baird’s Sandpipers the previous day and she gave me explicit directions for where to find them.  Although not a life bird, this species was another of my targets for the trip because I had only seen them a few times and never well.

I drove about an hour south to Port Henry and immediately found the sandpipers exactly where Stacy said they would be.  The next half hour was a welcome relief – gorgeous weather, no pressure, and cooperative birds.  Here is the little video that I shot from about 12-15 feet from one of the Baird’s Sanpipers.

David’s loop ride took him to Essex, just three miles south of Noblewood Park where I had gone birding, and a ferry ride across Lake Champlain.  After riding 35 miles through Vermont countryside, he rode back into New York over the lovely Lake Champlain bridge where I had birded a few days earlier.  It was the longest ride of the event at 75 miles, 6:58 hours (including the half hour ferry ride) and 4,708 feet of climbing.

David's ride through Vermont took him past miles of beautiful countryside

David’s ride through Vermont took him past miles of beautiful countryside

Friday was David’s last day of the Ultimate Cycling Vacation as the group rode from Westport back to the starting point in Ticonderoga.  I had one last chance to try for Little Gull at Noblewood Park and I was the first to arrive at 8:00 AM.  Other birders started arriving half an hour later and Matt from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology got there at 9:24 AM.  None of us were able to find a Little Gull despite five sets of eyes rigorously searching.  I left at 10:26 AM, assuming that if we had not found the bird by then, it would not be seen that day, especially since earlier reports were mostly from early morning.  And, I wanted to be back in Ticonderoga when David finished his ride.

Cedar Waxwings were common at Noblewood Park and nearly everywhere else during the trip

Cedar Waxwings were common at Noblewood Park and nearly everywhere else during the trip

I met David and sat down to eat a hamburger.  Five minutes later, a message popped up on my phone.  It was Stacy, “Matt says you left the park and he has an adult Little Gull now.”  I involuntary uttered “Oh, s***!” causing people nearby to turn and stare at me.  But, David immediately knew that meant the bird had been found.  He just said “Let’s go.”  Fortunately, we were able to think clearly and make plans.  There would be no time to check into the hotel.  So, we managed to get the bike and the bike bag into my overstuffed car in record time and I started driving north.  We made just one quick stop at Gunnison’s Bakery.  While David was changing out of his sweaty, wet cycling clothes, I bought a small strawberry-rhubarb pie, optimistically intending it to be the “lifer pie” we would use to celebrate the Little Gull that I was sure to see.  Back in the car, I learned that I could drive the speed limit after all.  Earlier I had said there was no way to safely drive 55 MPH on the twisting, hilly county road.

Matt had not been able to stay, but he had texted a very detailed description of the bird and where he had seen it.  We started scoping, but could not find it.  After four hours of searching with just one short break, we never did find Matt’s Little Gull.  As we ate “loser pie” that evening, I realized that I still have a great story; only the ending is different from the one I would have liked.  And, now I feel like a real birder; I finally have a nemesis bird.

Pickerel or Leopard Frog? David saw where it hopped as we walked through the weeds on the way back to the car at Noblewood Park.

Pickerel or Leopard Frog? David saw where it hopped as we walked through the weeds on the way back to the car at Noblewood Park.

To read more about David’s cycling adventure, see his blog post Cycle Adirondacks “Ultimate Cycling Vacation” 2019.

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