I was spending the morning this past Sunday checking out some random, out-of-the-way spots in Queens to see if any cool birds were hanging around in what I call my armpit of Queens route. I tend to hit lots of crummy and scummy bits of vacant land, polluted ponds, and other bits of marginal habitat that hides in the city’s interstices. At the north end of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park I was pleased to see what looked like a Green-winged Teal at first. It is in the above photograph.
Closer examination revealed that not only was it not a Green-winged Teal but that it wasn’t even a bird. Instead it was an old rusted pipe with a plastic bag filled with mud attached to it. Here’s a better shot of the not-a-bird.
That is really remarkably similar to a Green-winged Teal, no? Interestingly, a couple of minutes later I spotted an actual Green-winged Teal a short distance away. I wonder if it had been fooled as well?
Now, as birders know, we can get fooled by inanimate objects pretty early. We see stick-birds, rock-birds, stump-birds. Pretty much anything you can imagine can be turned into a bird by a birder. I remember one winter morning where about fifteen of us were staring at a white plastic bag on an island by Shinnecock Inlet for at least twenty minutes trying to convince ourselves that we were seeing a Snowy Owl. It’s a hazard of our hobby.
What about you? What’s your best not-a-bird story?
Are you sure that’s not a Eurasian Teal?
A remediated landfill across the marsh from Cheesequake State Park has ventilation pipes (presumably to let the gases from decomposing material escape). From a distance, the tops of them look an awful lot like a perched raptor.
Thank you for this post! I’ve been fooled sooooo many times by rocks and driftwood that looked exactly like birds. I’m glad not to be the only one!
I suppose mine was half-not-a-bird. I decided to explore a new running route on a trail between the back of some apartments and the Chicago River. Atop the apartments’ roof, I spotted a raptor perched in absolute stillness. I stopped running and stood there for … gosh, minutes … trying to figure out exactly what it was. And then I saw the pigeons and starlings paying it no mind and settling within feet of it. I had spotted … a fake, decoy raptor, meant to obviously keep pest birds off the roof, but completely failing in that regard. Doh!
For me, it was last winter when I was searching for a Northern Hawk Owl that had been reported in my area near an abandoned rail way. After I spent about a half hour searching, I noticed something plump and stripey with a tail further down the tracks. So I hiked all the way down, and it has an owl-shaped cluster of leaves with a stick in it. That experience cemented NHOW has a nemesis bird for me.
I once yelled a packed safari van to a stop after seeing something exciting at the bottom of a slope. As the van reversed and everyone prepared their cameras, I was mortified to see that I had got them all worked up over a picnic table.