Archive for Recent Sightings
As if there were still any doubt, it’s become apparent that this is a “good fall” in New York and New Jersey for the infinitely appealing Snowy Owl. This past weekend saw single-party single-day tallies of half a dozen or more at the usual coastal sites, from Long Island to Stone Harbor, and I’m eager to hear what the cumulative total of individuals is up to — and to see how many more drift down our way.
Whenever I hear reports of this species from our part of the world, I recall the slightly spoilsport words of John Bull in his edition of the Birds of the New York Area.
Present-day observers who see from one to six in a day’s trip on Long Island and call it a “big” flight should bear in mind that their counts are insignificant when compared with the … flights
of 1890-9 1 and 1926-27.
During the former flight at least 20 were shot at Montauk alone in a two-week period prior to December 6, and over 70 were shot on eastern Long Island between November 24 and December 12.
The 1926 flight was even more impressive:
40 were killed on Fisher’s Island alone in November and December, and a single taxidermist received 36 additional birds from eastern Long Island. At Long Beach, eight were shot on the morning of December 5, and at least 75 more were shot elsewhere in the New York City region.
Shot, of course, because they were big and white and weird and tame — no better reason than that.
New York’s total for that flight was 495 birds seen or collected; interestingly, New Jersey had only 15, a number we’re certain to exceed this time around. Maine had nearly 600 individuals, 82 of which are seen in this spectacularly macabre photograph of the Bangor shop of Fred C.N. Parke:
In general, I think this winter’s snowies will find a friendlier reception. Hope so, at least.
This tall, dark, and handsome Snowy Owl, loafing in the dunes of Sandy Hook this morning, is one of about four reported in the state over the past couple of days, a total that is already better than average for a New Jersey winter. Maybe we’ll get the snowy winter we’re due after several years when the species’ incursions have stopped just north or just west of us.
Snowy Owls are famous for their tolerance of humans — and infamous for their brashness on the breeding grounds. In 1863, a hundred fifty years ago this year, this is what Thomas Wright Blakiston had to say about the species in its Canadian nesting range:
its audacity is such, that it was related to me by a chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s service, that he knew of an instance of one carrying off a wounded bird from the haversack of a hunter; its wing, having been sticking out and fluttering, attracted the Owl’s attention.
The Snowy Owl is the heaviest, most powerful, and — if you’re a hunter with a wing flapping out of your haversack — scariest owl in North America. It’s not the largest in the world though: that distinction belongs to another member of the genus Bubo.
Named, coincidentally, for Blakiston. What goes around, comes around.
This sweet little Oregon Junco was on Sandy Hook’s “road to nowhere” this afternoon. A rare bird in New Jersey, and the second scarce sparrow of the day, after MaryMargaret and I enjoyed the continuing Lark Sparrow just down the road.
I arrived a few minutes early this morning for my Sandy Hook Day with Ed and Hamish. The ocean was alive with gulls, and soon I saw a small form flying low over the water amid the swarm, a sparrow or a big warbler or a thrush or something.
The gulls saw it too. After three unsuccessful tries, a Herring Gull managed to knock the passerine into the water, and a Great Black-backed Gull plucked it from the surface and swallowed it, hardly pausing in its flight.
Tough life out there this time of year.
Things happen when you’re birding. Things you can’t really explain other than as gifts.
A couple of mornings ago I was birding in eastern Massachusetts with Soheil and Will, enjoying the opportunity to just sit back and enjoy the sparrows that were pouring through in such abundance.
We were sorting through the Savannah Sparrows in a community garden when a long-tailed, fat-bellied, darkish bird took its perch on a flimsy fence. It was a sparsely marked Song Sparrow, and we took a few minutes to play one of the birder’s favorite games: How to convince an imaginary beginner that this is not a Lincoln’s Sparrow, a bird that observers in the east sometimes have a hard time getting to know well.
Just when we had run through all the marks, our bird dropped to the ground to resume its search for foxtail seeds.
To be immediately replaced by a Lincoln’s Sparrow.
Now, finding a Lincoln’s Sparrow in a large October flock of emberizids isn’t exactly a surprise, even in eastern Massachusetts — we came across half a dozen that day — but to have this one individual pop up at exactly the right moment, as if expressly for our benefit, was one of those gifts of the world: : unearned, unmerited, unexpected.
And a lot of fun.