Epic Birding Weekend Part 1: Chasing a Pacific Loon and a Western Tanager
Before Saturday I had never seen a Pacific Loon in New York State. In fact, I had only ever seen a Pacific Loon four times, all on visits to California and Washington. So the loon being seen in East Moriches, out in Suffolk County on Long Island, was very tempting despite the fact that most folks who found it were getting distant looks. I figured a Pacific Loon is a Pacific Loon no matter how far away it is and made the hour-drive from JFK Airport after dropping my family off Saturday morning.
I got to the end of Maple Avenue in East Moriches and started scanning. And scanning. And scanning. Eventually I was joined by another birder whose name I can’t recall now, and we kept scanning. Even more eventually I picked up what I was pretty sure was the bird but we were at the western terminus of Hart Cove and the bird was way out at the point of land that divides Hart Cove from Seatuck Cove. The distance made certainty impossible so we two birders made our way north and then east and then south and got to the end of Evergreen Avenue which got us closer to though still distant from the bird, if it was indeed the bird.
It took us awhile, as the loon dove quite a bit and stayed down much more than it stayed up, but we managed to get the field marks for which we were hoping. Smaller bill than a Common Loon, more of a clear demarcation between black and white on the neck, no white discernible around the eye, not block-headed but round-headed. Still, I wasn’t getting the views I wanted of what would be a state bird. And when it completely abandoned Hart Cove and went around the point into Seatuck Cove and out of sight, I was even more unsure.
My fellow birder had to take off but I made my way around to Westhampton and tried valiantly to find an access point to look into Seatuck Cove. It took me about forty minutes but finally I found South Bay Avenue but when I scanned from there I could not find the bird. Was my look good enough? I decided to drive all the way back around to the southeast edge of Hart Cove, where I could see out into Moriches Bay proper to see if the bird had relocated there. There I found a horde of birders, many of them familiar to readers of this blog, who had been on the loon shortly before and it didn’t take too long to find it again. The views were again distant but with more birders to track it and work through the field marks I felt much better about checking Pacific Loon off my New York State checklist. Year bird number 299 in New York State and number 457 overall.
I said my goodbyes and made my way back to Queens where I ate a quick lunch, fed the cats, and headed north to Athens, a small town in Greene County only about forty minutes from my parents’ house. It was time to get another year bird that was coming to a feeder in a residential development called Sleepy Hollow. The homeowners, budding birders, had opened their home to birders seeking their rarity and they were friendly and nice and there’s the bird!
It was an easy twitch and an accidental 300th bird in New York for the year which is a pretty nice number for someone not doing a big year!
After the tanager I visited some of my old haunts from when I lived and did most of my birding upstate. The Coxsackie Flats, the Coxsackie Boat Launch, Four Mile Point, and Vosburgh Marsh didn’t produce anything outstanding but some Northern Harriers, an American Pipit, two Greater Scaup, and big old flock of Snow Geese made me feel like I wasn’t entirely wasting my time.
I made my way to my parents’ house in Saugerties to eat dinner and spend the night before heading to the Adirondacks on Sunday. But that tale will have to wait until my next blog post…come back soon!