Pop that champagne, a new year is upon us! With it comes a whole new set of seasonal adventures and opportunities for discovery. The listing slate has been wiped clean, and I’ve got my share of tentative birding resolutions for 2018. With only 59 species to go and an international trip coming up, this may be the year when my world life list reaches 700. I’d love to achieve an annual total of 400 species for the third year in a row, and I’m also aiming to stay highly ranked on eBird in my home state (Top 25) and county (Top 10). The deadlines for these aspirations, however, are 12 whole months away. Right now I’m just excited to get started on my 2018 list. On January 1st, every bird is a new bird!
In contrast with 2016 and 2017, I didn’t have an excuse for intense new year birding in the form of the Southern Nassau Christmas Bird Count. The lack of a formal obligation was never going to stop me, though, and it left me free to make my own plans. After a subdued, relaxing 31st, I stopped to get gas on the way home from Miriam’s. A raucous chorus of honks reached my ears when I opened the car door, and thus Canada Goose earned the number 1 spot on my new year list. Shortly after dawn, I headed down to Jones Beach to try my luck. The biggest surprise of the morning was an American Bittern flying west over the dunes: seeing this furtive creature before encountering even starlings or pigeons was a real treat! I was also pleased to add Snowy Owl to the ranks of the first 10 species for 2018. A number of other expected beach birds rounded out the tally before I headed inland. The day proved to be a bit of a mixed bag moving forward, as I struggled to relocate several rarities that I chased. There was no sign of either King Eider at the jetty, and I repeatedly failed to connect with a Ross’s Goose that kept coming and going from Baisley Pond Park in Queens.
On the other hand, I did have enjoy a nice spot of luck with a lingering Western Tanager at Crocheron Park. The individual at Alley Pond in November had only offered fleeting glimpses and some quiet vocalizations, providing me with a new but somewhat unremarkable checkmark on my New York list. When I drove up to the pond where this bird had been sighted, I found it foraging conspicuously along the street. The tanager picked morsels from the leaf litter and fluttered in place to glean suet that someone had smeared on a nearby wall, lending a welcome splash of color to the winter landscape.
I racked up several familiar forest’s edge birds at Crocheron, and there were some nice waterfowl and a Rusty Blackbird present at Baisley Pond. After hearing that the Townsend’s Solitaire in Oyster Bay had been seen in the morning hours, I decided to survey the scene. The western vagrant was sadly a no-show during my afternoon stakeout, but a young Bald Eagle soaring overhead was a pleasant consolation prize. The Ross’s Goose failed to reappear before sunset on a final visit to its roost site, reminding me that I had missed the species all year in 2017 despite my best efforts. Miriam joined me on an expedition to track it down after positive reports the following weekend informed us that the goose was still loose. Once again, it was gone from the mostly frozen water feature when we arrived, but checking the nearby ball fields on a hunch finally revealed our prize.
Sunday morning was absolutely frigid, but by the time I realized just how cold it was I was already halfway down to the inlet at Jones Beach. I settled the score with the eider flock, picking up the first year King as it bobbed among its commoner relatives. My phone froze and shut down as I attempted to digiscope the duck, which I took as a cue to return to the safety of the car. There were plenty of good birds working the coast, but you have to know when to call it quits!
When I reached Robert Moses, I was surprised to see a pair of Common Ravens floating eastward along the road. The shadowy scavengers touched down in the parking lot at Field 5, strutting over to a pile of food scraps left for the gulls. Ravens are big, but Great Black-backs are bigger. Messing with the world’s largest gull is not an activity to be taken lightly. Fortunately, ravens are resourceful and well-seasoned tricksters, not above using dirty tactics to get what they want. I don’t know that I’d ever seen interaction between these two species before, but I was certainly entertained by the antics of the clever corvids as they jockeyed for position at the buffet.
I sifted through the local Horned Larks to find a reported Lapland Longspur, and I finally caught up with a flock of Snow Buntings swirling over the beach. From the barrier islands I drove to Massapequa Preserve, hoping to add some woodland species to the year list. I was not disappointed by the resident Screech-Owl, and the trailside stream was shockingly still flowing. Even the Great South Bay was almost completely iced over during the extended cold spell, making open water a hot commodity on Long Island. A variety of birds were taking advantage of this precious resource, showing well at close range.
A flicker of movement along the creekbank caught my attention, drawing my eye to the well-camouflaged form of a Wilson’s Snipe. This individual was especially confiding, diligently probing for food in the shallow water. Since so many of my snipe encounters are rear looks at flushing birds that rapidly fly away, I relished these close range, extended views.
When I left Massapequa, I followed up on listserv emails about a Greater White-fronted Goose near Alley Pond even though I suspected that I was tempting fate so late in the morning. To my regret, if not my surprise, the pond was all but devoid of geese upon my arrival. I did manage to locate an Iceland Gull at the fringe of a large flock of larids, and I added a few other year birds to my total. Checking my map, I noticed that there was a large golf course at Douglaston Park, due east of the pond where the waterfowl had spent the night. It seemed like a good bet for a daytime feeding site where I might find the absentee geese. My prediction proved to be accurate. There were many hundreds of Canadas grazing on the rolling hills, dodging sledding children and milling about noisily. I searched through the multitudes very thoroughly, but the White-front was not visible. Plenty of geese were observed coming and going throughout my visit, so it may well have been elsewhere nearby with a different subflock. I amused myself with a photoshoot focused on some nearby Fox Sparrows. The rusty passerines were already not a year bird, but they were delightful all the same.
My first full week of 2018 was a solid start to the year. Despite bitter cold temperatures and the chaotic back-to-school adjustment period, I still had a damn good time. An unexpected snow day here, some fun moments with my loved ones there, and plenty of quality birding mixed in between all added up to a very agreeable couple of days. I’m eager to see what the rest of the year will bring!
Year List Update, January 7 – 87 Species (+ Canada Goose, Herring Gull, Blue Jay, Mourning Dove, Great Black-backed Gull, American Bittern, Savannah Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, Snowy Owl, Dunlin, Sanderling, Brant, Common Eider, Greater Scaup, Harlequin Duck, Ring-billed Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, Northern Gannet, Common Loon, Purple Sandpiper, Bonaparte’s Gull, Red-throated Loon, Long-tailed Duck, Northern Harrier, Swamp Sparrow, American Crow, Rock Pigeon, House Sparrow, American Black Duck, European Starling, Red-tailed Hawk, American Coot, Redhead, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Pied-billed Grebe, American Wigeon, Rusty Blackbird, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Mute Swan, Western Tanager, Northern Cardinal, White-throated Sparrow, Carolina Wren, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Finch, Fox Sparrow, Bufflehead, Gadwall, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Mockingbird, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwing, American Goldfinch, Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Fish Crow, American Robin, Peregrine Falcon, Ross’s Goose, Cooper’s Hawk, Great Cormorant, Black Scoter, King Eider, Horned Grebe, Black-bellied Plover, Merlin, Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, Common Raven, Snow Bunting, Black-capped Chickadee, Eastern Screech-Owl, Wilson’s Snipe, Hermit Thrush, Hairy Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, Winter Wren, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Lesser Scaup, Iceland Gull, Common Grackle, Monk Parakeet)