When I posted a short blurb a couple of days ago about my plans to scour the south shore of Long Island in the wake of Tropical Storm Hanna I had anticipated maybe finding a good tern or perhaps a shearwater near the shore. But after an hour or so of searching Jones Beach frustration started setting in and it seemed that I had wasted a predawn wakeup for not a single rarity (I felt even worse for the upstaters who had gotten up even earlier to get to the coast before sunrise). When the best birds to be found proved to be a single Royal Tern and a flock of 21 migrating Bobolinks, well, we were not happy.
When Tom Burke called to let us know that he had secondhand reports of Sooty Terns offshore of Robert Moses State Park we piled in and headed east to see if we could track them down. We never made it. Instead we raced further east, hoping against hope that the Magnificent Frigatebird that had been spotted by Angus Wilson a full hour’s drive east at Mecox would still be riding the wind overhead by the time we arrived (thank goodness for cellphones). As we (and I suppose I should detail the we: me, Chrissy Guarino, Jory Langner, Rich Guthrie, and Peter Schoenberger) raced east we got periodic updates letting us know the bird was still in place. Then we got there and got the familiar but dreaded news that makes every birder cringe: “The bird disappeared five minutes ago.”
A brief note on Magnificent Frigatebirds. First, they have the word “magnificent” in their name, which might give some idea of how cool they are. Second, they are not normally seen north of southern Florida. Third, I have never seen one. Fourth, come on, where the heck could the bird have gone!?!?! Fifth, holy cow, Chrissy found it!
You know this already, but we were happy! We also wanted a better look! So at this point the keystone cop routine kicked in as birders scrambled for cars and followed the bird west, pausing now and then to jump out, scan the skies, find the bird, and continue chasing. At times the bird disappeared, and at times we thought we would not find it again, but always someone would spot it and the chase would be on. Finally, we managed to start leapfrogging the bird, getting ahead of it and waiting for it to soar past. Only once did it even half-flap its wings: frigatebirds can soar amazingly well. Finally, we got the looks we wanted:
A lifer for Peter and me, an ABA bird for Chrissy, and a state bird for both Jory and Rich: what a bird, what a find, and what a miracle that we managed to get to the spot, find the bird, and chase it down for great looks! Not only that but Tom Burke and crew managed to get west of the bird and, via the wonder of cellphones, get directed where to look and they managed to see the bird through spotting scopes from a range of just over a mile!
Now I’m going to sleep. The end.
By the way, Peter got a pretty good shot of the frigatebird too. Rich has a blog post about the trip up as well.
This post has been contributed to Bird Photography Weekly #2 at Birdfreak. Go check it out!
And to think I wasted the morning looking at Warblers.
AWESOME! Whenever I get the NY rare bird emails, I always think, “I wonder if Corey will get to see it.” I’m so glad you guys got to see it. Amazing bird. Will the records committee accept it as Magnificent Frigatebird or Frigatebird Sp.? I know there are sometimes issues with distinguishing Magnificent from Greater.
You lucky stiff…
I get it now, all the good storm birds went to New York.
Nice I was hoping to get out today and pick up something interesting pushed towards us by ike or hanna but it is bucketting down down here.
@Will: A morning looking at warblers is never wasted!
@Patrick: That is a worrying point…and one made by the finder of the bird on the state listserv. I hope someone got better pictures than I did!
@Nate: Thanks! And how could the birds resist coming to New York? We have so many birders who want to see them…
@tai haku: What, would you melt? 🙂 I hope the weather clears!
Wow! That’s a good bird. I think the best we had in Cape May were Sooty Terns and jaegers.
How cool is that! Peter’s shot is great, too!
I got my first one in late April at Longboat Key, Fl.
hey – when it rains down here it really rains. Not like your soft drizzle up there in NY!
I did get out, and bagged a lifer too. Cliff swallow is a little less impressive than Mag Frig though!
@John: I wouldn’t have minded some Sooty Terns to go with the frigatebird.
@Klaus: And did you see Peter’s shot of the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher?
@tai haku: Nothin’ wring with Cliff Swallows!
Sometimes not having a car kind of sucks. Alas, The Inimitable Todd went and broke his leg yesterday so even if I did have a car I would have had to think long and hard about chasing off to Long Island….
(I probably would have done it though.)
@Carrie: Fortunately the kind upstate New Yorkers picked me up on their way or I never would have gotten to see the frigatebird.
And ouch! Best wishes for the IT’s quick recovery!
Awesome! There’s a frigatebird in east-central Illinois but I didn’t have time to try and see it. Congrats!!
And thanks for the submission to Bird Photography Weekly 🙂
I made it to Jones Beach but not as early as I planned. I only had time to bird by walking along the ocean beach. I was very surprised by all the shorebirds on a crowded beach, and it turned out be a very good trip. I did see a rare bird for NY, a wilson’s plover.
@Birdfreak: Thanks and no problem.
@Joseph: I hope you got photographic documentation and/or took notes. Wilson’s Plover is a species for which any report should be submitted to the NYS Avian Records Committee for a review. Congrats on a really good find (I don’t remember any being reported this year at all)!
Fantastic reading – pics Corey!
I too think I saw one yesterday – in a different part of the world in Brazil (same side I guess!) When it has been confirmed (thanks in advance Charlie!!) I will let you know… Jeanie
Wow. Terrific Tale. And So cool to find this outrageously wonderful bird in NEW YORK of all places!!
Not only a lifer but a superb search story.Thanks.
@Jeanie: I wouldn’t mind seeing some Brazilian birds myself…and thanks!
@DonnaB: I’m glad you enjoyed it! And it really is a magnificent bird for New York.