Gray Kingbirds are rarely seen in New York State and when they are they usually are only seen by the person or people who find them or those in the immediate vicinity. They don’t tend to stick to a spot and allow themselves to be seen by the hordes of birders who like chasing state-level rarities. That made the Gray Kingbird that was found way up in Livingston County on Monday, 2 May, such an intriguing bird. It stayed all week in the gray, drizzly, and dreary weather, delighting the birders who trekked out to see it despite its unwillingness to come close enough for those without a scope to get the kind of looks you want at an eighth state record.

By Wednesday I was thinking about the odds of the bird both sticking through the end of the day on Friday and Daisy agreeing to me taking the entire day before Mothers Day to twitch a bird that I saw last week in Florida. So when Anthony Collerton, New York big year record-holder, mentioned on Facebook that he was thinking of chasing the bird I told him to let me know if he was going to go on Saturday. Amazingly, the bird stuck around through the end of the day on Friday, Anthony reached out to me Friday night to let me know he was considering the run, and Daisy agreed to pulling a disappearing act on Saturday. The chase was on!

I was at the Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike subway stop at 3:45 AM Saturday, in mid-town Manhattan by 4:30, and outside Anthony’s building by 4:45. He came out, we grabbed coffees and his car, and awaited the arrival of the third member of our impromptu twitching team, young birding wunderkind Adrian Burke (who I first met when twitching this bird), fresh off his discovery of multiple Seaside Sparrows by the bike path on the west side of Manhattan a couple of days earlier.

We headed north to the George Washington Bridge, west across New Jersey, west and then north through Pennsylvania, and back into New York at Binghamton where we turned west once again. En route we talked about all the things that birders tend to do, from twitches past to who’s a stringer. We also were amazed by the sheer volume of road kill we saw, something that Anthony detailed in his blog post, which I highly recommend you read, about the day. After five hours, a stop for McDonald’s and gas, lots of crappy incidental checklists in eBird, a call from Brooklyn birders saying they didn’t have the bird, and a traffic stop that somehow didn’t result in a speeding ticket, we made it to Conesus Inlet State Wildlife Management Area where we were greeted by a Yellow Warbler.

Yellow Warbler upstate

The Yellow Warbler was sweet but it wasn’t a Gray Kingbird.

Conesus Inlet State Wildlife Management Area is a beautiful place with the sun shining down from between fluffy white clouds in a gorgeous blue sky. Well, it was beautiful to humans in those conditions but apparently not for a kingbird, which took advantage of the break in the cool and rainy conditions to skedaddle. All was not lost though. We saw Common Gallinules, a nice male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Bald Eagles, and a Great Horned Owl among the fifty-three species for our checklist. We were also joined for awhile by Mike (you know, the guy that started this blog) who hadn’t stirred to see the kingbird but instead came down to see us. Talk about a birder with weird priorities!

Canada Goose goslings

It’s been a long time since I shared a picture of goslings. Such fluffy cuteness!

Perhaps the highlight of our birding trip was, oddly, the variety of frogs and snakes that we spotted. And the highlight of our herpetological highlights was a Northern Watersnake that Mike stepped right over without noticing it sitting in a freshet. (In his defense I would have done the same had Adrian not pointed it out.)

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake wishing I was a frog.

The long drive back to New York was filled by more lousy, incidental eBird checklists, more fast food, and more road kill. By the time I got back to the house at a little after 8 PM I was ready to curl up in a ball and sleep…but instead I got to play Legos with Desi which I normally enjoy but on Saturday consisted mostly of peeling them off my face when I nodded off onto them. It shows how tired I was that they didn’t even hurt. At least, not more than missing the kingbird did! (Also, Carlos is laughing at me right now…)

Leopard Frog

Leopard Frogs are nice but they are not Gray Kingbirds.

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.