Sunday, March 5, 2017

Keeping Myself Amused with County Listing

A Few County Ticks Near New York City 

Not much to report this last weekend.  It was cold, I was busy, but I did get to sneak out for a while on Saturday.

Last week, I added a couple of new birds to my New York County (basically Manhattan) list.  This county, having been my home (or one of them) for 25 years, should be huge .... but it isn't because basically all of my birding happens in Central Park which has no coastal habitats.  Still, this week I had the opportunity to add Killdeer (#213) and Great Cormorant (#214) to the list.  Probably not the first time I've seen either species, just the first time I put them in eBird.  Slow progress ....

Saturday, March 4 - Suffolk and Nassau Counties

Cold.  Very cold.  So a quick morning of birding that never really hit it's stride.  I added a EURASIAN WIGEON to the year list at Seatuck Creek, then failed to find Rusty Blackbird at Quogue Wildlife Refuge or American Bittern at Dune Road.

At Oak Beach I failed to find a Barrow's Goldeneye -  a classic dip day was clearly unfolding here - but then bumped into Brent Bomkamp and Taylor Sturm who gifted me some good intel.  A few minutes later I added EARED GREBE to my Suffolk County List (#324) and later picked up some early migrants for the year list with Piping Plover, Eastern Phoebe and Tree Swallow all joining the list.  Cold and not really feeling the birds though, I gave in and went home, some days it's best not to fight your karma.

When I got home, I settled in, put a cooking show on Netflix and opened a bottle of wine.  I also logged on to catch up on social media and noticed a photo of a Long-eared Owl posted by Anders Peltomaa on Facebook.  Now Anders pretty much sticks to Central Park where he birds while walking his dog, so I messaged him to see if the sighting was recent, and it turns out he'd found the bird that morning in the Shakespeare Garden ... and very generously shared exact directions.  So what to do ... back in the Winter cloths and over to Central Park where ... the owl was exactly where it was supposed to be.


A year bird, and even though I've seen this species several times in Central Park before, they never get old.  Such a cool creature.

So done for birding for the Winter.  I saw what I saw, and now I'm off to Asia for a bit.  And when I get home, hopefully Spring will have arrived.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Birding Goals and Following Through On Them ...

Another New York State Bird and Some More Modest Progress Towards Goals

I spent most of the week like a cat pressed against the glass window itching to be outside but trapped indoors.  The weather this week was beautiful, 60+ degrees and sunny, if a little unseasonable for February in New York.  The bird news was also good, or frustrating depending on your point of view.

Me this week ....
Mid week, two bits of news broke:
1. A CLARK'S GREBE, a first New York State record, was found up at Oswego, and
2. Someone claimed to have re-found the recently departed ROSS'S GULL at Tupper Lake.
I REALLY wanted both birds, and I couldn't leave the City until Saturday at the earliest, so Thursday and Friday, well let's just say they dragged a bit ....

So as an aside, I set some birding goals every year, and sometimes I achieve them.  This year's goals were modest, nothing heroic, but I've tried to keep focussed on them:

1.  See more than 1,000 species worldwide (which should help my sadly neglected life list move along a little bit.  I'm at 415 so far this year.).
2.  See more than 300 species in New York State and stay in the top 10 of the eBird 'Hot 100" for the state (a recurring goal that keeps me focussed on local birding - I saw 311 species and was 5th last year).
3. Get my New York State Life List over 400 species (started the year at 390 and had added 4 species before this weekend - Northern Fulmar, Atlantic Puffin, Great Gray Owl and Black Guillemot).
4. Have an eBird county list in every New York County (so far this year I'd added Clinton, Rensselaer, Columbia and Putnam counties to the ones I'd already started, 52 down, 10 to go!)
5. Add 5 new states (or countries) to eBird (so far this year I've added only Bahia, Brazil)

So both these birds would have helped with goal number 3 (and numbers 1 and 2 to some extent).

Saturday, February 25 - Oswego County, etc.

In the car at 5am and slogging across New Jersey and Pennsylvania to hook up into Western New York, and pick up Adrian Boyle in Binghamton at 7:30am.  There must be better ways to spend a Saturday morning, but at least I'm up and running and on my way North toward a hopeful meeting with a Clark's Grebe.  The trip went smoothly, and at 9:48am we pulled into the parking lot on the pier at Oswego Harbor.  There were birders there ... Tom Burke, Gail Benson, Greg Lawrence and others .... I gave one a questioning thumbs up ... a birder gave me a smiley thumbs up.  The bird was there ...

Clark's Grebe - NYS#395

Well that was easy!  Another state bird, my 5th so far in 2017.  Things are looking good for the State List Goal.

After that, let's just say the rest of the day didn't live up to expectations.  It rained, pretty much heavily and solidly for the rest of the day.  Then we pretty much dipped everything we tried to see. Payback for the easy grebe I guess.

A Thayer's Gull had been hanging out for month at Phoenix Lock but wasn't there when we were there (it as seen again today, after we were safely out of the area).  Detailed directions to a roosting Northern Saw-Whet Owl also produced nothing more than a thorough chilling and soaking in torrential rain.  But at least I did get to zig into Chenango County and start a new New York State County List, with 12 species now on my Chenango List.  Hey, its the little things that make you happy!

Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull and Iceland Gull ...
... but no Thayer's Gull
The drive back to the city was miserable .... heavy rain the whole way .... glad I got the grebe but it would be nice if the next potential state bird showed up closer to home ... just saying ...
Oh, and the Ross's Gull rumor ... just that, a rumor ... at least so far.




Monday, February 20, 2017

Another New York Nemesis Bird Surrenders!

Finally seeing perhaps the most common bird I still need in the State.

Saturday, February 18 - Montauk

Everyone has nemesis birds.  Birds that aren't necessarily all that rare and that other people seem to see regularly ... but you don't.  There are a few birds that show up in New York state more or less annually that I have never seen.  Some are what I call "Act of God" birds - a Magnificent Frigatebird or a Swallow-tailed Kite will fly over me one day, when the time is right and if I continue to be very kind to widows, orphans and small furry animals .... right?  Other species should be see-able with enough effort .... in New York, if you sea-watch as often as I do, you should have seen a BLACK GUILLEMOT or two over say the past 26 years, right?  It's a species that is seen almost annually somewhere in the state, usually at Montauk where I do all my sea-watching.  It's also a species I know well and have seen in several other states and countries (so we know I'm not overlooking it).  But in 25+ years of birding in New York State ... not one Black Guillemot had I seen before this weekend ....

Last weekend when I was 9 hours North of Montauk looking at Great Gray Owls, a Black Guillemot was found in the harbor there and seen by many birders.  My reaction was basically ... "D'oh!"  ... totally fits the pattern of many other Black Gullemot sightings I haven't had in New York.  But this bird stuck!  It was seen on Monday, and Tuesday ... and even though I had no chance of getting out to see it before the weekend, I kept checking the status daily, hoping that his would maybe be the one that broke the curse.  The bird was still being seen on Friday and on Saturday I headed out to East Hampton, but with guests, dinner plans, etc. I had no real hope of getting to the bird before Sunday.  Would it stick another day?  I couldn't stand the tension and wait, so I persuaded some of my guests that Saturday lunch in Montauk would be a good idea, bundled 3 non-birders into the Land Rover and chugged out to Montauk at noon on Saturday.

Surf Scoter
What happened next, never happens.  A perfect 'surgical strike' on Montauk with birds lining up to be seen in an improbably short time-window.

As we pulled into Montauk with 30 minutes to spare before lunch I checked the list serves and saw that Tom Burke and Gail Benson had just found a LITTLE GULL with a Bonaparte's Gull flock at Ditch Plains.  Would my guests like to visit the famous surfing beach?  Yes?


Pulled up to Ditch Plains ... bins up ... Bonaparte's Gull flock ... dark wings ... Little Gull ... Suffolk County bird #322 ... nice!

Next stop, down the street to Star Island, where I parked the car and jump out promising to be no more than five minutes.  Bumped into Frank Quevedo (and a birding group from the South Fork Natural History Museum) and Mike Scheibel (the Nature Conservancy guy from the Mashomak Preserve) and they have the BLACK GUILLEMOT all tee'd up in the scope.  Suffolk County bird #323 and and New York State bird #394.  Nearby an Iceland Gull also joined the year list right next to the restaurant we were heading to ... which was closed for the season.  Oops!

Black Guillemot and Iceland Gull

Sunday, February 19 - Montauk and East Hampton

After a fabulous home cooked Italian Dinner - picture home made Carponata, Italian cheeses, Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage sauce and Braised Short-Ribs with Polenta, all served with a great selection of Italian wines and homemade desserts - 8am Sunday morning came way too soon.  Michael Duffy was one of my dinner guests the night before and while everyone else planned to sleep until noon, we got up at 7am and headed off to Montauk to do some birding.

The day started well with a female KING EIDER at Montauk Point and some year birds for me including Great Cormorant and Purple Sandpiper.  We spent more time with the Black Guillemot but spent most of our time looking for the Little Gull (which Michael - who's a huge world lister and probably seen lots of everything we saw that day) was most interested in ... but unfortunately it seemed to have moved on.

Canvasbacks and Pied-billed Grebe in Montauk 

Coming to terms with failing to get the gull, and having to buy ingredients for dinner and be back at the house for lunch, we gave in and ran to East Hampton to shop.  With a few minutes to spare though we stopped at Wainscott to look for a Sandhill Crane that had been spending the Winter there.  I'd looked for this bird before and not seen it, but today after careful scanning I spotted it mostly hidden in the willows and phragmites along the North side of Wainscott Pond.  I have a soft spot for Cranes and this was only the fourth one I'd ever seen on Long Island so a nice bird for the day.

So not a bad haul of birds (Michael tried and dipped again on the Little Gull the next day but did get a Black-headed Gull) but I had to get back to cook a multi-course Portuguese dinner for guests ... lots of pork, clams, and even an olive-oil cake.  The weather was fabulous, the food and wine were delicious, the guests were charming, and the birding was good ... pretty much the perfect weekend.

Perfect Spring weather in East Hampton in February!


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Great Gray Owls in New York ... Finally!

One of My Most Wanted State Birds Finally Shows Up ....

Saturday, February 11 - Massena, New York

There are two Robert Moses State Parks in New York.  One is an hour os from my house on Long Island, the other is 7 hours from Manhattan (and 9 hours from East Hampton).  So for me to go to the latter one, means there is a seriously good bird there.

For the past week or so there have been rumors of Great Gray Owls in the very North of New York State.  That in and of itself if not unusual; most years there are rumors of Great Gray Owls but they almost never seem to turn into real birds.  There were birds in the 70s and 90s and a bird in 2013 (that for some reason I didn't chase, probably burned out after my big year) but I haven't really had an opportunity to see this species in New York. This year though, the omens were good with a massive invasion of owls into neighboring Quebec, a handful of New York sightings reported to local newspapers, and then, the moment I'd been waiting 20 years for .... a specific Great Gray Owl record from New York, with detailed location, and photos, when  I was available and interested in chasing it!  Game on!

So at 5am on Saturday I was on my way North, heading for that other Robert Moses State Park, this one near Massena on the St. Lawrence River, North of the Adirondack Mountains at the very Northern tip of New York State.  It took me almost 7 hours to get there, and I pointedly avoided checking the list serve emails on the way up (it's not like I was going to turn back).   As I pulled into the park though I allowed myself a peak at the email and the news was good ... 2 GREAT GRAY OWLS were being seen along one of the roads in the park.  Not ten minutes later I pulled up to a bunch of parked cars and a group of (albeit freezing cold) birders watching the owls.  Oh, why can't they all be this easy - after my horrible year of long-distance dips in 2016 - this was an amazing sight.


There were two owls in view and they pretty much did everything you want owls to do.  They did some perch hunting, flew around a bit, changed perches a lot and came close to the road, and one even did some awesome hovering thing over the (hopefully) vole-infested grass.  Quite a show and a very, very cool to add to my state list (NYS #393).


There weren't really all that many other birds present, a few chickadees, crows, ravens, etc.  and a single Rough-legged Hawk.  I did a quick detour to look for a previously reported Barred Owl (no luck) but bumped into a birder who gave me directions to a NORTHERN SHRIKE which was definitely another great add for the state year list.

Northern Shrike - another backlit photo, sorry ...
So onward.  Super happy with my owls, I headed further North with a  plan to add a few more.  I crossed the US-Canadian border near Cornwall Ontario and headed NorthEast toward Montreal, stopping at a small suburban preserve and adding Great Gray Owl to my Quebec list too (joining previous sightings in Ontario and Minnesota).  Nice day ... but cold ... and I had dinner plans in Montreal.  Plans at perhaps my favorite restaurant in North America ... Joe Beef.

Two very old school dishes at Joe Beef - Flanc de Cerf, Dauphin et Foie Gras
and Gateau Marjelain 

Sunday, February 12 - Adirondacks, New York

Up shocking early after Saturday night's excesses and off to the Adirondacks.  I knew I didn't have much time given a forecast snow storm but figured I'd at least have the morning to bird.  The day started really well when, not long after dawn I crossed the U.S. border and had a Barred Owl hunting by the side of the road somewhere in Clinton County.  So on to the Adirondacks to see if I could clean up the available boreal specialties in a single morning.  Well I can dream can't I?

A quick stop at Oregon Plains Road added a BOREAL CHICKADEE  among the more common locals.  Then on to Tupper Lake where I added EVENING GROSBEAK and to Sabatis Bog which gave me Ruffed Grouse and GRAY JAY.  While I was in Brazil a few weeks ago a ROSS'S GULL showed up at Tupper Lake - it arrived just after I left ... and left just before I got back, allowing every serious birder in NY to see it except me (and Corey Finger who was apparently in Austria).  That's a bird I really want to see in New York, in fact I've never seen one in North America.  So driving through Tupper Lake had a certain bitter-sweet element to it, and I did scan the lake, just in case .... but no dream gull.
Birding cars aren't meant to be neat and clean ....
The snow also started to come down hard at that point though and I reluctantly decided to start heading South.  That unfortunately took me into the storm and the next 7 hours were a pretty stressful drive through heavy snow (almost a white-out blizzard at some points), bad roads, traffic jams, car accidents, and other wintery travel fun.  There was a brief highlight when I saw two BOHEMIAN WAXINGS in Indian Pond, but otherwise the ride South to the City was long and stressful.

Not a bad haul of birds though.  A New York State bird, 9 NYS year birds, and a smattering of new county birds on both sides of the border.  By no means did I do a boreal clean-up though - couldn't find a Black-backed Woodpecker, and came up short on Winter Finches other than the grosbeak.  Also, when I got back to New York, I found out that Joan Collins had had two male (!) Pine Grosbeaks sitting out on the road at Sabatis Bog just after I left.   So while I got a lot of stuff on my quick swing through the Adirondacks, I clearly would have seen a lot more had I birded it properly.  Still, always happy to have a reason to go back to the Adirondacks (or Montreal for that matter) so I'm sure I'll find a time to head back up there again.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

White-winged Potoos and 2 Days at Porto Seguro

Bahia, Brazil (Part 2)

After leaving Boa Nova we settled in for another long day of driving, this one without benefit of target birds so pretty much just a long slog down to the coast.  Out destination with the picturesque seaside town of Porto Segura (which is essentially where Brazil was founded around 1500) a sleepy place with long beaches, lots of palm trees and and lots of mellow old world character.  After a long day of driving, the charms of the Best Western Shalimar Beach Hotel, which included a pool, abundant caipirinhas and some good Brazilian seafood, outweighed any chortles about the very 1970s name.  A few good bottles of Brazilian Cabernet later, we were all wiped out, ready for sleep, and excited to explore new habitat in the morning.


Tuesday, January 31 - Estação Veracel, Porto Seguro

Our birding destination for the next two days was the famous Estação Veracel reserve and some adjoining areas.  Targets included some hummingbirds, cotingas, and a star nightbird.  So at first light we were off and walking the roads, scanning tree-tops and checking out flowering bushes with high hopes.  WHITE-WINGED COTINGA turned out to be fairly easy to see and we picked up five of them over the two days, although most were distant as cotingas tend to be and we were never able to come up with the rarer Banded Cotinga despite some serious searching.

White-winged Cotinga - Male (above) and Female (below)
Difficult birds to photograph at long range int he tops of trees. 

The area was very birdy though and yielded such goodies as HOOK-BILLED HERMIT, Red-browed Parrot, Bare-throated Bellbird, and the distinct local forms of Turquoise Tanager and Ringed Woodpecker.  We also had an up close and personal experience with a couple of Barred Forest-Falcons, and a really nice mix of forest species overall.

King Vulture and Turquoise Tanager (the White-bellied Atlantic Forest form)


The target bird for this part of the trip was indisputably the local, rare, and hard to see WHITE-WINGED POTOO.  While the species ranges widely across the Amazon, it's not common or reliable anywhere, and there just simply aren't that many places where you can have a good shot at seeing one.

Estação Veracel is one of those places though as Brett Whitney had found a bird here several years ago and that same bird (or it's descendants) has been regularly seen by birders year after year.  So just before dark we drove up to "the snag" where the bird is usually seen and, after it got dark Brett whistled the potoo song and we waited to see if the bird would give us an audience too.  There was some tension as the group had missed the bird the previous year, but I was optimistic, it just felt good.

The forest at night is usually quite loud, although most of the noise comes from cicadas, crickets and frogs, not birds or large mammals.  There were a couple of Common Pauraques calling away though and a single Short-tailed Nighthawk called a few times nearby but remained unseen.  After a good 15 minutes of listening, I heard what I though was a response and raised a hand as a silent signal to Brett.  Moments later, he stopped whistling and whispered to the group that the bird was nearby and just behind us.  From there on in, we all had to stay still, silent, and stay focussed on the snag, the tension eventually breaking when two Potoos sailed over us, silhouetted agains the starry sky, and came into the trees infront os us calling and singing, occasionally sitting up in the spot lights and giving us excellent views of this most wanted species.

My best shot of the White-winged Potoo - you can sort of see what it is ....

Wednesday, February 1 - Estação Veracel, Porto Seguro

After the excitement of the Potoos, a few too many Caipirinhas and some good Brazilian wine, we dragged ourselves up again for another crack at some of the birds we still needed at Veracel.  We never did get the Banded Cotinga or the Racquet-tailed Coquette, but we did get great perched views of a HOOK-BILLED HERMIT, and more decent views of several other local specialties.  One of the local park employees told us he'd seen Harpy Eagle within the last year - perched, and eating a sloth! - so the this piece of habitat is still clearly in decent shape and very important.

Swallow-winged Puffbird and White-crowned Manakin

Away from the birds, we did actually manage to see a few mammals on this last day.  For a Neotropical Trip, we didn't see much in the way of 'non-birds' during the week - a few Guianan Squirrels, a handful of Geoffrey's Tamarinds, two Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths and a (lifer for me on the last day) BAHIAN PORCUPINE were the only mammals we saw.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth and
Bahian Porpupine (which stubbornly hid it's head from photographs)

All too soon though it was time to head to the airport, fly to Salvador, and later for me, fly to São Paulo where the Fazano Hotel, D.O.M. restaurant, and business meetings all waited.  A big change of pace from life in the forest, but I'm very glad I got the chance to sneak a week of birding into the schedule.  Big thanks for Field Guides and Brett Whitney for making it happen.  I've birded SouthEast Brazil several times before - this brought my Brazil list to 602 species - but I'm sure it won't be the last time I bird here.  Great country, awesome food, great people, beautiful scenery, and amazing birds .... oh, and don't forget the caipirinhas ....


Postscript:  I did finally get some Vatapá back in São Paulo where celebrity chef and Brazilian food icon Alex Atala added it to a Palmito dish as part of the 16-course "maximus' tasting menu at D.O.M. (along with his signature formiga/ant dish).

Wild Amazonian Ants that taste just like Lemongrass and
Palmetto with Varapá

Alex Atala - Brazilian Food Master and owner/chef at D.O.M., currently ranked
the number 12 restaurant in the world.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Pink-legged Graveteiros and 3 Days in Boa Nova

Bahia Brazil (Part 1)

This trip was a bit of a whim.  I'm a retired (recovering?) world lister which means I don't do stuff like this any more, but every now and then, a trip hits me as something fun to do.  I'd always wanted to go to Bahia, eat Vatapá (the real local stuff), and I have a real soft spot for the Brazilian SouthEastern Rain forest.  So when I got an email from Field Guides offering a one-week short trip, really just an extension to their NorthEast Brazil trip, with the legendary Brett Whitney as leader,  I went ahead and booked it, planning to combine it with some business, food, and personal things for a 10-day Brazil vacation.

So on January 25th I flew via São Paulo to Salvadore do Bahia, joined Brett and 5 other world birders, and got ready for a fun few days in some of the relic forests of central Bahia.

Salvadore do Bahia - a super intersting place.  Portuguese and African cultures,
baroque churches, Brazilian food, colonial architecture.  A rare photo of me in
the blue tee-shirt below ...

Friday, January 27 - from Salvadore to Boa Nova

This day was basically a travel day, and a long one.  We left the hotel in Salvadore at 4am to catch a ferry across Baía de Todos os Santos and then basically headed SouthWest all day along roads of mixed quality to end up in Boa Nova in the evening.  To keep us sane, Brett added a handful of birding stops.  Some Scarlet Ibis and shorebirds along the Rio Jaguaripe were a treat, as was a longer forest walk near Valença which gave us some nice birds, most notably the Eastern (and presumably soon to be split) form of STRIPED MANAKIN.

Bird of the day though was always going to be the unusual and recently described PINK-LEGGED GRAVETEIRO if we could find one.  A species described only in 1996 it clings on in remnant canopy trees left after the forest was cleared for cocoa plantation.  The farmers leave a few trees to shade the cocoa, and this seems to be just enough for the Graveteiros to hang on in what looks like farm country, despite the fact that it was once a forest bird.

By mid afternoon we were in the right habitat, a mixture of cattle fields and what looked like open forest, that is until you noticed that the entire understory of the forest was single species feeding the worlds insatiable need for chocolate.  Our first stop came up empty, but at the second stop Brett had a nest staked out and, after playing take for a few minutes, a pair of birds appeared up around their nest high in a forest-edge tree.

Pink-legged Graveteiro singing from just above it's nest.  Not the most
exciting bird to look at, but recently-described, local, and rare.
Happy with the Graveteiro, perhaps ironically my most wanted bid on this trip, I settled back into the long ride and shifted focus to Boa Nova which we eventually reached, checking into a very basic hotel and eating take-out pizza for dinner (the only non-Brazilian food we ate on the whole trip).

Saturday, January 28 - Boa Nova National Park

Brett once voted Boa Nova the most important, threatened place for birds in South America.  A new National Park, although with no park infrastructure that I could discern, the town sits at the border between wet forest, dry forest and caatinga and is incredibly rich in bird life, including chances to see several very range-restricted species.

We started the day a little outside the park in a patch of forest on top of a dry ridge.  The very last of the moisture from the trade winds that feed the Atlantic Rainforest just reaches these dry ridges and provides just enough liquid (in the form mostly of mist) for small strips of forest to survive in an otherwise dry scrubby area.  We came to this patch to follow up on recent rumors of a breeding pair of Rieser's Tyrannulets (a near mythical species seen only a handful of times) and saw the recently vacated nest, but unfortunately did not see the birds.   We did however manage to get great views of two very range restricted antbirds that were major targets for the trip, the SLENDER ANTBIRD and the NARROW-BILLED ANTWREN both of which put on great shows for the group.

Narrow-billed Antwren (above) and Caatinga Antwren (below)

In the afternoon we wandered a trail in the super birdy Wet Forest in the National Park, adding lots of species including Bahia Spinetail (I wanted to see birds with Bahia in the name seeing as I was in Bahia), Rio de Janeiro Antbird, Striated Softtail and Black-throated Grosbeak.
Rufous Gnateater (above) and Slender Antbird (below)

Then, as it got toward sunset, we drove a little further to a stake-out site for another one of the major trip targets, the never easy, but always impressive GIANT SNIPE (a bird at least twice the size of a Common or Wilson's Snipe).  As it got dark we started to walk down the hill towards some wet fields where Brett had seen the snipe in prior years.  We passed a Common Pauraque and a Scissor-tailed Nightjar on the way, but tonight was a Snipe-Hunt, no time for nightjars.  As we got to the spot we started to work our way under a barbed wire fence, expecting to play tape and try to lure in a snipe, but the first people under found a snipe waiting for us, right out in the open not 30 feet from the road.  Now if only these things were always this easy!  We all had amazing views, the Giant Snipe itself, while initially nervous and crouched ready to flush, eventually got over us and started to wander around feeding, pushing it's truly enormous bill into the wet grass looking for worms.  We all had amazing views, and got back to the hotel early enough for an extra Caiparinha before dinner ... what's not to like?

Giant Snipe, at this stage still ready to flush ....

Sunday, January 29 - Boa Nova National Park

The major target for today was another "Bahia" bird, the very restricted and hard to find BAHIA TYRANNULET.  This bird was much more typical of rare birds though in that it required us to walk steeply up hill on a bad trail all morning ... in the rain ... and when we got to the site, the bird was no-where to be seen.  Now that's more like the type of birding I remember!  Knowing that the bird was probably around somewhere - he'd seen it here in past years - Brett tried to toot up some action using Least Pygmy-Owl calls.  We were soon joined by a real Least Pygmy-Owl, a swarm of freaked-out hummingbirds and small passerines, but unfortunately, not by a Bahia Tyrannulet.  Until, then there it was, not joining in the mobbing, but skulking quietly through canopy foliage overhead.  It took a while for us all to get good views, and I never got even the crappiest record shot, but the bird was seen well.  Mission accomplished, allowing us a more leisurely descent on the trail and the addition of yet more antbird species to the list.

Least Pygmy-Owl, getting them agitated is a good way to attract rare tyrannulets.
After a pleasant afternoon exploring some of the drier habitats near town, dinner proved to be another highlight of the trip. Boa Nova is a pretty basic place, certainly not known for it's fine restaurants, but in years past Brett had made the acquaintance of a local lady who sometimes cooked for visitors in her home. Tonight she had agreed to cook for us, and she put out a table groaning under the weight of amazing home-cooked local specialties.   A fabulous meal, and a great experience ... did I mention how much I love Brazilian food?

A home cooked meal in Boa Nova, Bahia.

Monday, January 30 - Boa Nova Area

Last morning in Boa Nova and, hoping to pad our Bahia lists, and get Masked Duck for a group member who really wanted one, we headed to a local fazenda which had a nice wetland area "stuffed with birds".  Unfortunately the historic local dry-spell had dried up the marsh but we spend a very pleasant few hours with dry-country birds before slogging 500 kilometers to the East to Porto Seguro, our base for the next part of the trip.

Suiriri Flycatcher, Spot-backed Puffbird and Silvery-cheeked Antshrike


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mopping-Up the Geese

A January Ritual - Getting all 8 Species of New York Geese on the Year List

Saturday, January 21 - Nassau and Suffolk Counties

Haven't really had a lot of free time and anyone could tell that just by looking at my year-list which is trailing way behind the top birders on this year's eBird "Hot 100" for New York.  I had a few hours in the middle of the day on Saturday though so decided to get out and try and grab some of the Winter species that might not stick around until I had more time to bird.

First stop was a 'gimme'; the PINK-FOOTED GOOSE in Valley Stream has been simple and reliable all Winter (although it's the first one ever seen in Nassau County) and was a quick and easy add to the year list along with a Cackling Goose that has also been at the site for weeks.

Pink-footed Goose
With that being so easy I decided to venture further East, and headed an hour of so to the Farmingdale area which had recent reports of Barnacle, Cackling and Ross's Geese ..... and after two hours of searching ... I saw none of them.  Oh well ...

Feeling a little frustrated, I decided to go another hour or so further East again to search for a Sandhill Crane in Wainscott.  Not sure why I did that to be honest as Sandhill Crane wouldn't have been a County Bird for Suffolk County, and it's not a bird I'm ever likely to miss in New York in any given year.  As a species, they really aren't all that uncommon in New York but they are quite rare on Long Island and they certainly don't show up here every year ... and I like cranes.  The debate was academic though as I managed to dip that bird too, and also struck out on a search for Short-eared Owl and American Bittern along Dune Road.  Some days you don't have good karma I guess, but at least I managed to connect with some Ross's Geese for the year.  Seven of New York's eight goose species accounted for, one to go ....

Sunday, January 22 - (mostly) Richmond County

Awoke to a city shrouded in fog but decided to head out anyway and try to add a few more of the interesting lingering birds around New York.  First stop was on Staten Island (a borough I visit rarely even though it's quite close) and a stake-out for a PAINTED BUNTING that had been hanging out for a couple of weeks in some beach-side scrub.  Despite all the hoopla about the celebrity Painted Bunting in Brooklyn last Winter, the species shows up most years in New York State, although they are often found at feeders with limited access, and more usually 'little green jobs' rather than showy adult males.  This bird was billed an an immature male, but basically a (mostly) 'little green job'.

Painted Bunting and Lesser Black-backed Gull
Terrible photos on a dark foggy morning

The bunting turned out to be quite easy to find so I moved on to try for a Red Crossbill that had been hanging out nearby.  I'm always fascinated by Crossbills and love to see them but, after two hours of carefully scanning pine trees and pine cones, I had to admit defeat with this particular bird.  This bird was reputed to be difficult to see, feeding quietly in the pines and not moving much or calling.  I had expert directions from Michael Shanley and Isaac Grant, but still couldn't managed to winkle her out.  I did however add a total of 9 species to my (albeit tiny - 106) Richmond County list though, and made a mental note to get over there again in the Spring to work on that county list total.

With a few hours to spare before a commitment in the City I worked out that I could run back out to Suffolk County and have a quick second shot at the BARNACLE GOOSE.  This time the 'twitch' turned out to be incredibly easy and quick.  Pulled up to the site ... saw the goose and shot a few distant record shots through a metal fence and an orange wooden fence that separated the geese from the road ... watched as another birder/photographer walked up towards the geese ... and flushed them all.  Oh well, didn't have much time to spare anyway.

Barnacle and Canada Geese shot through two fences ....
So mission (sort of, mostly) accomplished.  My NYS year list is still just 120 species, 20+ species behind the early leaders, and 30 species behind my Big Year pace.  Still 2017 is going to be a year of birding travel, not a local big year, so I can't get too obsessed about any of that (I promise I won't get obsessed .. honestly ...).  Plus I did get all 8 New York goose species, something that has now become a January ritual, and added a few county birds to one of the counties I want to build up list-wise.  Not a bad weekend considering how little time I had.