I’ve shared the details of my first birding excursion of January 2009 as well as my last. During the days and weeks between, I was fortunate to find quite a few species, despite the exceedingly inclement weather.
Got a nut?
Here’s a newsflash: Rochester is cold in January. Ice cold. Eskimo cold. Eider cold even! And yet I haven’t encountered any eiders. That isn’t for lack of trying though. One way to separate birders from normal folks is to analyze their beach-going habits; while most people cluster visits to the shore to warmer months, birders aggressively seek out ice-locked lakes and wild winter oceans. That’s where the seaducks are, right?
Speaking of seaducks, Seth and I hunted down a Harlequin Duck that had fallen in with some of the local Long-tailed Ducks and Common Goldeneyes in Braddock Bay. Fortune favored us as it so often does in the form of a scope already set up and trained on the resplendent drake. My first Hooded Mergansers of the year also made the scene.
Spot the Harlequin
Earlier in the month, Laura, Seth, and I – the new power birding trio in these parts – scoured the fields and farm roads around Geneseo for certain winter specialties. We lucked out with great looks at both Horned Lark and Snow Bunting. The latter congregated in massive flocks, whirling high overhead, fanning out across frosted fields, and even clustering on telephone wires like swallows or martins. In the midst of hundreds of buntings, we were lucky enough to tease out a lone Lapland Longspur. Savannah Sparrows were also surprising numerous. Winter killers like shrikes and roughlegs, however, continue to elude us.
Snow Buntings on the side of the road
My kids recently learned that Durand-Eastman Park serves up some sweet sledding. But where are the birds? I’m used to striking out on rarities there, as I’ve been doing so since well before I moved into Canada’s cold shadow. But lately, even Cedar Waxwings and American Robins are keeping a low profile in the park. One excellent sighting, though, really accentuated the amazing potential of the new iBird application. One call that kept emanating from the woods was hard to place; Laura called it a Red-bellied Woodpecker while Seth suspected Mourning Dove. So, Laura whipped out her handy iPhone and dialed up red-belly. One sweet feature of iBird is that, when serving vocalization queries, it suggests similar sounding birds. In this case, once it was clear that our bird wasn’t a Melanerpes carolinus, Laura took a listen to the much larger Pileated Woodpecker. Wouldn’t you know it, no sooner did we all agree on the ID, the big, beautiful bird itself flew right overhead!
Our only other sighting of note at Durand Eastman this month was Chris Wood, Project Leader for eBird. Chris is a crack birder, as I learned while birding the upper Rio Grande Valley with him back in November. Yet he established his credentials even more definitively by picking an Iceland Gull out of a very distant flock huddled around the only open water in Irondequoit Bay. That combination of patience and perception really pleased Seth and Laura, neither of whom had ever eyed Iceland Gull before!
On the topic of kind souls facilitating life birds, our local hero Brad Carlson deserves a hand. Brad lays out a veritable feast at his feeders and is rewarded by hordes of hungry winter birds. Lately, rarities have been popping up in his backyard, the best of which was a Yellow-headed Blackbird. Brad extended a warm welcome to any area birder who wanted to observe such a sensational species from the comfort of his home. What an offer! I jumped at the chance to spy my first Yellow-headed Blackbird but got mostly Brown-headed Cowbirds for my trouble. Yet, the blackbird did show up. I definitely saw it but never very well. But what a color that yellow is, as pure and bright a saffron as I’ve ever beheld in nature. Intense!
Hungry for new birds
Brad also pointed me towards the Virginia Rail we found in Mendon Ponds, which rounds out this Rochester random bird round-up. I think it also establishes that I owe two of my three life birds from this uncommonly productive January to Brad. Birders really do make better neighbors!