Commuter Birding

Birding is a constant, lifelong treasure hunt. When you become fully immersed in the pastime, the off-switch ceases to exist. As you learn various songs and field marks, you start to pick them out more readily. Common species become familiar friends, and the thrill of crossing paths with something unusual can lend unexpected excitement to an otherwise unremarkable day. You begin to take notice of the avian activity in the hustle and bustle of the world around you. Unlike secretive mammals, tiny insects, or habitat-restricted reptiles, birds can be found almost anywhere. It’s downright difficult to avoid seeing birds, and when you’re inclined to watch them you never really stop. People often ask how often I “go” birding, but that’s my secret. I’m always birding.

I often make detours on my way home from work to pursue reported birds or search for goodies of my own. Sometimes, the birds come to me. When I was walking to the Lynbrook train station on Friday morning, I heard songs ringing from the treetops at the edge of Greis Park. This small park is used primarily for recreation and has little in the way of natural space, but I still harbor a soft spot for the place. I spearheaded efforts to install fitness stations along the entrance path for my Eagle Scout project, and I pass the entrance to my fitness trail twice a day during my commute. It doesn’t support much resident wildlife of note, but I’ve discovered that it’s a bit of a migrant trap during the spring. I’ve more than doubled my species count for the little stand of trees since mid-April, and there was plenty of action this morning. Stalling my powerwalk toward the LIRR platforms to look and listen for a few minutes, I found Blackpoll and Canada Warblers peering at me from the low branches. In the canopy, I spotted my first Eastern Wood-Pewee of 2016 flycatching for breakfast. The highest limbs also featured a pair each of Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak, my old study subjects from a short-lived research project in Ithaca. As I snapped blurry documentation pictures through my binoculars, a second male grosbeak showed up and began posturing with the first. I took my leave and dashed off towards my train, the pleasant surprise of these encounters having put a spring in my step. Never a dull moment when you’re a birder!

Friday is one of my easiest days of the week in terms of workload, but the final stretch before the weekend is always a slog. During my lunchbreak I got an email from the listserv saying there was a Kentucky Warbler at Valley Stream State Park. This southern species is rarely seen on Long Island, and can only be reliably found at a handful of sites in New York. Striking in appearance and skulky in habits, the Kentucky is a cousin of the Common Yellowthroat. It is similarly fond of low, dense vegetation and spends a lot of time near the ground. When one of these birds shows up on Long Island, it is usually a short-lived visit witnessed by only a few lucky observers. The chances of it staying put were especially low due to the southerly winds forecast for the coming night. I had work, and I had plans for the evening, but perhaps in between…

The timing of my afternoon commute worked out perfectly. I caught the first 7 train from my work stop and seamlessly connected with the Long Beach line at Woodside. I coordinated my arrival time with Andrew, who picked me up at Lynbrook station. Dropping him at home, I quickly made my way to Valley Stream with dress shoes on my feet and binoculars around my neck. I double-checked the details of the email report and set off down the trail. Skirting the tangled thickets lining the stream, I listened for my quarry among the noise of the people in the park.

Fortunately, this outing quickly proved to be a success. A loud, rolling “CHURREE CHURREE CHURREE CHURREE” rang out from the shrubberies where the bird had last been seen. I texted the good news to Brendan and re-positioned myself on the proper side of the creek. I scanned the greenery and caught a glimpse of the bird hopping along a log and singing as it foraged. This was my first time seeing this handsome species in my home county, so I took a few moments to admire it and snap terrible pictures before rushing home. Brendan arrived at the park around the time I was jumping into the shower to prep for my night. He managed to score better pictures of the elusive warbler when he added it to his record-attempting Nassau year list. Pleased with the day’s successful commuter birding, I took off for an equally lovely night with friends. The work week closed on a very high note!

Year List Update, May 20 – 315 Species (+ Eastern Wood-Pewee, Kentucky Warbler)

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About timhealz

A recent graduate (Cornell '14) and lifelong explorer cataloging my thoughts and travels.
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3 Responses to Commuter Birding

  1. Pingback: Migration Madness | Studying Life

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