Driving to the eastern extremity of New York State with the hope of seeing a bird, rare for North America, is an odd and entertaining way to spend the predawn hours. When not enough coffee has reached your cerebral cortex so you are in a bit of a fog and there is also a literal fog because of warm weather and cold land in the wake of a nor’easter it becomes a bit more entertaining, at least at the time. And that is the position Isaac Grant, a Staten Islander; Gene Herskovics, a Rockland County resident; and I, a Queens partisan, found ourselves in almost two weeks ago – driving on highways hidden by fog and with brains still foggy from not enough sleep or caffeine.

We were heading for Deep Hollow Ranch way out in Montauk, a place of which I have very fond memories, because two – count ’em two – Northern Lapwings had unexpectedly shown up and stuck and we wanted to see them. Despite a couple of missed exits as we transferred from highway to highway on our way east we still made it to our destination shortly after dawn and started scanning the south pasture where we saw a whole big bunch of Canada Geese and not much else.

No big deal. We just needed to get to a vantage point to look into the north pasture of Deep Hollow Ranch which necessitated driving a short way to Teddy Roosevelt County Park, walking out across the field there, making a sharp right turn, following the white-marked fence posts, and setting up our scopes to scan. Still no lapwings.

Perhaps now would be a good time to pause and explain why we wanted to see Northern Lapwings. They are a European species of plover that rarely, when the winds are right, make their way to North America, usually putting down in the first place that they see land. Places like Nantucket, Newfoundland, and, yes, the eastern end of Long Island are all likely places for lapwings to set down after their unintentional flight across the Atlantic Ocean but despite the likely geography of Long Island lapwings are still exceedingly rare. We were lucky that we had two for which to search though our search when last we checked was not turning up anything.

We scanned and we scanned and we scanned. I had just commented on how bad our lapwing search was going when Gene pointed out the two birds that had just taken off from behind a tree and YES! NORTHERN LAPWINGS! Here’s one of them from that initial sighting.

They flew off in the direction of the south pasture so we retraced our steps, got back in Isaac’s car, and drove back over and refound the birds easily. This was twitching!

We watched them for quite some time, also enjoying an Eastern Meadowlark, American Pipits, and other assorted goodies. Then we bid them adieu to go off and look for other good birds, some of which we found and some of which we didn’t. (I’m looking at you, Brewer’s Blackbird.)

Eventually we decided to make one more visit to the lapwings and we watched them for awhile again before they took off and headed to the north pasture. We took that as our cue and headed out ourselves.

While the Northern Lapwing wasn’t a year bird for me (I was lucky enough to see a couple in Hungary) it was a new bird for my ABA list, number 495. I can almost taste 500!

And if you haven’t got enough lapwing-love today you can check out Redgannet’s post about Southern Lapwings that he put up this morning.

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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, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. 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.