It’s been eight days since my trip on Friday, 3 July, to upstate New York to see the Mississippi Kite and I still haven’t told the full tale of the trip. That will now be rectified with apologies for the two of you who have been sitting on the edge of your seat constantly hitting the refresh button and muttering horrible things about me under your breath. Your long vigil is over! I hope it was worth it…
So, for me to get way up to Mapletown and Donato Roads in Montgomery County, which is west of Schenectady and smack dab in between I-88 and I-90 I was going to need to find a birder with a car that was obsessed enough to want to chase the bird but not so obsessed that they had already chased the bird and, not only that, but they had to be willing to take me with them. Fortunately for me, Chrissy Guarino, who 10,000 Birds readers will remember for, most recently, writing about our magical T-shirts (some will remember her for being the crazy woman who drove to Niagara Falls to (not) see a Ross’s Gull) fit the bill admirably, and, saint that she is, when I called her she quickly agreed to chase the Mississsippi Kite with me in her car (and I didn’t even have to cry or beg or anything)! But she lives in New Paltz so to even get to her and her fine automobile I would need to take a bus there: an hour-and-a-half journey in and of itself.
This is why I found myself walking out of my apartment in Queens at six in the morning last Friday, getting on the subway, riding it to Port Authority Bus Terminal, getting on the bus, riding it to New Paltz, getting off the bus, and seeing Purple Martins. Well, actually I first saw Jody Brodsky, another apparently obsessed birder, who was going after the kite as well, but then the two of us quickly glassed the Purple Martin colony that is on the side of the road just after the New Paltz Thruway exit.
It wasn’t long before Chrissy joined us and the three of us started the nearly two-hour drive to the Mississippi Kite which would be a state bird for Chrissy, a life bird for me, and most amazingly, a 400th ABA life bird for Jody. I must pause here for a moment and say that Jody picked one heck of a bird to see for number 400! En route we got updates from birders like Will Raup who was out for maybe the third time seeing the kite and was there to enjoy the bird again and the circus-like atmosphere that occurs when birders from all over come to see a spectacular creature. When we arrived at Mapletown Road there were many familiar faces and some new ones, with birders from Long Island, Syracuse, Rochester, the Albany-area, and, I’m sure, other spots as well. It was good to catch up with folks like Rich Guthrie and Andy Guthrie, the wonderful Long Island birders, and Will.
Unfortunately, the kite did not, at first cooperate. Though it had been seen and seen well before we arrived it was not to be seen when we were actually present. No matter, though, there were other birds to see! Everything from American Kestrels to Chipping Sparrows, Cedar Waxwings to a fly-by Green Heron, Northern Harrier to this female Eastern Bluebird:
We chatted and admired optics and had a good old time. It was nice. Then Chrissy and Jody and I headed down to Donato Road where we felt we might get better looks if and when the kite appeared and where there was a nice landscape in front of instead of houses.
We hung out some more, enjoying the sunshine, listening to singing birds like a Field Sparrow and a distant Indigo Bunting, and looking at butterflies. I was proud of my ability to identify European Skippers (Thymelicus lineola) but then a brown butterfly stumped me (not surprisingly seeing as I can only identify about ten butterflies total) but Tom Burke and Gail Benson came to the rescue and put the name Appalachian Brown (Satyrodes appalachia) to it.
Then Tom and Gail drove up the road to another vantage point and Chrissy and Jody and I just hung out and talked and had a grand old time until, suddenly, a kite was up in the air in front of us. We watched every second of its couple-minute appearance and were greatly entertained by Tom speeding down the road towards us with his headlights flashing, trying to make sure that we had seen the bird (he had seen it earlier and cellphone service was sporadic so this was the only way he could get our attention). Once the bird dropped back into the trees we hooted and hollered and slapped five, and generally celebrated like we had won a war or something! Of course, we stuck around and waited for an encore performance by the kites, but, eventually, we decided to look for food instead of birds.
And what food we found! Tom had directed us to a side-of-the-road food and ice cream stand and I got the biggest “small” hot fudge sundae ever for $3.19. It was so good that I talked about it for days. Seriously. In fact, I am drooling right now just thinking about the mountain of chocolate and vanilla smothered in really hot fudge…
So, after the amazing ice cream experience we went looking for field birds and found them. Eastern Meadowlarks, Bobolinks, and Upland Sandpipers were all spotted and appreciated. Tom Burke even managed to spot and get us all on a Wilson’s Snipe, no small feat considering the bird was hiding in the grass.
Eventually, it was time for us to make the long drive back to New Paltz, and Chrissy and Jody and I reluctantly did so, seeing Common Ravens in Schoharie County on the way, and we arrived back in New Paltz about three minutes after the 6 PM bus had left. The next wasn’t until 8 PM, so once Jody was dropped back at her car Chrissy drove me to field in Orange County and we spent ten minutes in the company of a Sedge Wren.
I got home shortly after 10 PM, and tumbled into bed exhausted. What a day birding upstate! And many thanks to Chrissy for driving me and Jody to see such great birds…