Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Eared Grebe, New Haven, CT - Jan 29, 2017

On a whim Sunday morning I headed out for just a couple hours of local coastal birding. I wanted to check the east side of New Haven Harbor. Close to home and guaranteed to see SOME birds, even if just the common wintering waterfowl. I pulled first into Nathan Hale Park, and one of the first birds I saw was an EARED GREBE diving close to shore. The bird was hanging close enough to be photographed, so I took advantage of this locally rare opportunity.

Eared Grebe is a rare bird in Connecticut, currently an ARCC review species. So it is likely that this is the same individual that had been hanging out in Stratford a week or so prior. In fact, another CT birder emailed me later on Sunday to tell me that she had apparently seen this grebe at Nathan Hale a few days prior but was not sure of the identification, so it had been around for a bit before I stumbled across it.

 - NB

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Adirondack Gray Jays

On my way home from the Ross's Gull yesterday I stopped at Sabattis Bog, thanks to info from Joan Collins. Despite a heavy snow squall and driving winds, the local GRAY JAYS were friendly and confiding.

 - NB

ROSS'S GULL, NY - Jan 26 & 27

Ross's Gull had been my #1 North American bird to see for a while now...one of the few birds I would drive many hours to experience if I had to. Imagine my surprise when I woke up on Thursday morning to an emailed photo of a first cycle ROSS'S GULL. Awesome. Just one tiny problem...I had no idea where and when it was taken. The information began to trickle in piece by piece. I was ready to bail from work at any time if the report was local and recent. "Local" has a mildly expanded meaning when it comes to a Ross's Gull. As we would come to find out the bird was photographed just the day before near the Adirondack, NY town of Tupper Lake.

I had a decision to make once the details came through - drop everything and run, or calm the $#&% down and wait until the next morning. I decided to pack what I could, get in the car, and make my way in that direction. I could always turn around if I changed my mind or received news that the bird was not chase-able. Traffic was thin, and I was approaching the MA/NY border on I-90 when I got some info from a friend that the bird might only be visible from private property. Turn around? Not yet...keep driving and wait for more. Turns out the homeowner and family are longtime birders in the area, and they would welcome small numbers of birders at a time to view the bird. Sweet. Kept going, knowing that I would only have about an hour of daylight with which to work once I arrived, and that was assuming roads would be clear and traffic-free. Lucky enough this was the case, and I arrived at the residence at 4pm. The bird had just flown, so the handful of folks who had been there were on their way out. I would stay the night and try again in the morning if it did not come back. A few others, including Andrew Spencer and Matt Medler who had driven from Ithaca, were also just arriving. We were told that the bird had been commuting to and from the iced-over lake in front of the yard, where it had been feeding on fish eggs and other offal that were laid out on the snow. I don't think we had to wait more than 20-30 minutes for it to reappear for a pre-dusk meal.

Having never seen any video of this species in flight, I was immediately struck by the long-winged impression it gave as it flew in. This really made it appear larger in the air than it does on the ground, where it seems small and dainty. The flight style was about as graceful as you could imagine.

Completely thrilled, we all enjoyed the bird until it left at dusk. The homeowner, Jack Delehanty (son of local birding legends Charlcie and Jack Delehanty), could not have been any more hospitable...and I am not exaggerating when I say that. We all hung out for a while, chatting over celebratory local beer. The few of us who had driven 4+ hours to Tupper Lake decided to stay in the area for the night rather than risking a snowy/icy drive home in the dark. The temp was dropping and the snow was falling.

The next morning we were back at it quite early, hoping for better lighting conditions and some photo ops. The bird reappeared at just about 8am. It proceeded to spend the entire morning coming and going from its feeding area in front of Jack's yard. At one point it was spooked by a Bald Eagle and uttered a short series of grating calls, deftly recorded by Andrew Spencer and coming soon to a xeno-canto page near you.

The overcast slowly brightened as the morning went on, at least temporarily between the frequent snow showers. A subtle salmon-pink wash on its belly became evident during those moments of brighter overcast. We were able to get some images of the bird, though my ISO was higher than I would have liked. Below are some jpeg edits. I actually shot RAW too, which I never do, so maybe sometime I will pull out those files and see how they look in comparison. It's a switch I have yet to make even though I've heard from so many that once I do I will not want to go back. I am a birder first, photographer a distant second...so I haven't been bothered to try.

I finally pulled myself away from the bird around 12:30pm. On my way home I stopped at nearby Sabattis Bog to enjoy the local GRAY JAYS, then for SHORT-EARED OWLS at the Fort Edward Grassland at dusk. Just an amazing 24 hours of impromptu birding.

Almost as memorable as the bird itself were the folks I met during the chase. Just the kindest, most genuine people. I was able to connect more than a few faces with names I had long-known from internet reporting over the past several years.

And here are some images and a brief video of the Ross's Gull - literally the only gull I saw for well over 24 hours!

 - Nick

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Alert: Ross's Gull in NY state

A first cycle Ross's Gull was photographed and video'd somewhere in Tupper Lake, NY. This was a cell phone photo that was forwarded a few times and eventually got around to friend John Marshall. Unsure of exact date, but perhaps that can be pulled from photo data. Figured it was best to get this out with incomplete info anyway. I will post more if I hear it. Hopefully locals can check it out.

Here is the photo:

 - NB

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

iPhone GPS road navigation for international travel

When I travel internationally, one of the perks I miss most is the ability to sit back and drive while my phone's GPS navigation tells me where to go. While I do sometimes wistfully long for the charm of map reading, I've honestly been completely spoiled by the ease of phone navigation. There's no going back now. Cell phone coverage in the United States is so good these days that I am rarely out of range for very long, especially here in the northeast, so I can pull up a map and navigate anywhere at pretty much any time. However since I do not have an international cell phone data plan, I lose this ability while abroad. Recently a few iOS mapping apps have offered users a chance to work around this, and here's how you can do it. We will use two apps: Google Maps and MAPS.ME.

First, make a custom map using Google Maps on your home computer/laptop (there does not yet seem to be a way to make a custom Google map in the iPhone app). As an example I'll use the map I made of birding destinations in Aruba.

Once this is done, open the Google Maps app on your iPhone (these instructions may or may not apply to Android devices) and try the following:

1) Zoom to the area in which you will be navigating, here Aruba.

2) Open the menu by clicking the three parallel horizontal lines at the left of the search bar.

3) Click "Offline areas."

4) Under the gray heading that reads "Download an offline area," click on "Custom area"

5) You will see the island of Aruba, and you will be able to crop the map to download the entire island. Click "DOWNLOAD" once you have the island selected.

6) Name the offline area whatever you want, and click "SAVE." Here we'll call it "Aruba." Note that you need to be connected to WiFi to download the map. Once the download completes, you now have a map of Aruba downloaded onto your phone, so you no longer need cellular data to view it. You will now see "Aruba" in your list of Offline areas.

At this point, here is what you have accomplished. You have an electronic map of Aruba on your iPhone that you can access while you are on the island without a cellular data connection. Since your phone's built-in GPS can access satellites without a cellular signal or data connection, your current position will appear on the map too. You can even press-and-hold the screen to drop a pin to navigate towards, and Google Maps will provide directions. Pretty cool.

Here is what you have NOT yet accomplished. For some reason, as of this writing, there does not appear to be a way to transport your custom map with birding locations (the ones you created on your home computer) onto this offline map. If there is a way to do this, I have not figured it out. It seems there should be a way, but Google has been a bit slow fully integrating the custom Google maps (nicknamed "Your Places" by Google Maps) into the mobile app. It will happen eventually I am sure.

If we want to use the pins on our custom map, we have to turn to a second navigation app, this one called MAPS.ME. It is currently available in the App Store for free. Download this app to your phone.

1) Go back to your home computer, go to Google Maps, open the menu and choose "Your Places," and click on "Aruba" (or whatever your map is called). Then, click "Open in My Maps."

2) In your custom map, open the menu by clicking the three vertical dots in the upper left and choose "Export to KML" from the drop down menu.

3) Check the box for "Export to a .KML file..." and then click "Download." Save this KML file to your computer.

4) Open up your personal email on your computer, and email the saved KML file to yourself.

5) Now go to your iPhone. Open your personal email on your phone. Open the email that you just sent yourself with the KML file attached. Press and hold the icon for the KML file until a menu opens with options. Scroll sideways until you see the green icon that reads "Import with maps.me" - click that icon. MAPS.ME will open.

6) Find the island of Aruba (or your place of interest) in MAPS.ME. You should see a punch of pins dropped - this indicates that your custom placemarks have been imported successfully. When you try to zoom into the island, the app will ask you if you want to download that particular region to your phone (again, you may need a WiFi connection for this). Do this.

Once complete, you now have exactly what you had accomplished above with the Google Maps mobile app PLUS the convenient addition of your custom placemarks. Now, when you visit Aruba with no phone connection, you can open MAPS.ME, click on one of your points of interest, and click on "Route to" at the bottom of the screen - and you are on your way. No cellular connection, no charge. Just make sure that you did not forget to turn off all cellular connections in your phone's settings - the last thing you want is a massive surprise bill when you get home. The easy way to do this with an iPhone is to put it in Airplane Mode - as long as you are running iOS 8.3 or later, the GPS function will still work in Airplane Mode, but cellular reception and data will not.

This may seem like a lot, but each step is pretty quick so it shouldn't take very long to set up, especially if you are already comfortable using these devices.

I do like having both Google Maps and MAPS.ME at my disposal while traveling abroad, so I would go to the trouble to set up both for offline use. You could always choose one or the other if you'd prefer. It's always nice to have a backup though. In addition I usually purchase a paper map as well, at least a basic one, to have with me in case of electronic failure.

If you have any issues with this, please comment or email me directly.

 - Nick

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Impending nor'easter

UPDATE: John Oshlick worked hard to find a BLACK GUILLEMOT at Stonington Point, near the RI line. Unfortunately it was not chase-able.

ORIGINAL POST: I posted the following note to the CTBirds listserv earlier today.

"The strength and duration of the impending nor'easter may force some locally rare alcids into Long Island Sound. Winds will be sustained NE-ENE at 25mph+ for several hours Monday and Monday evening. It would be worth checking the coast [safely] during and after the storm for species such as Thick-billed Murre and Dovekie, which are especially prone to displacement during storms. Birds could turn up anywhere along the coast (or even, rarely, on an inland body of water), though your best bets are probably points of land that jut into LIS for birds that are actively moving/flying or sheltered coves/harbors for those that were exhausted by the storm.

Even after the storm passes, on Tuesday and even Wednesday, birders should be on the lookout. These pelagic birds, when exhausted, may even take shelter very close to shore or piers/jetties/breakwaters as they attempt to rebuild their strength before heading back to sea.

As usual, these pelagic birds' appearance in CT waters are very rare and never "expected," but this is a particularly good setup for such an event to occur, particularly since there were inshore sightings of these offshore species from eastern Massachusetts and Long Island last week.

On the other hand, if you actually want a decent shot at seeing any eastern alcid not named Razorbill, a trip to Cape Ann or Cape Cod during early-middle week would likely pay off.

Good luck!"

I have to work all week, but I may have a chance to get out and look myself for a couple hours before dark tomorrow and Tuesday. If I could, I'd be on the Cape. The sight of a Great Skua from land isn't out of the question!

 - NB

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Aruba - Dec 2016

Last month my girlfriend and I spent a week on the island of Aruba, which lies less than 20 miles from Venezuela. It was our first visit to the island, a place known much more for its beaches than its birds. However we managed to squeeze in some quality birding. I don't think I spent enough time to merit writing any sort of site guides or detailed trip report, but if you are interested in birding on Aruba, please email me privately and I'll share what I learned.

In short, there are no Aruban endemics. Some South American species spill over from the mainland, but not many. Still, there are birds to be seen in some nice pockets of habitat, and being an island, there is always rarity potential. Our best find was probably the juvenile LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL we stumbled across while jet-skiing. We ended up with 67 species while casually birding in bits and pieces - not bad I'd say. I picked up the following life birds: "Cayenne" form of Sandwich Tern, Bare-eyed Pigeon, Blue-tailed Emerald, Brown-throated Parakeet, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Venezuelan Troupial, and Yellow Oriole.

"Golden" Yellow Warbler

Burrowing Owl

Northern Waterthrush

Eared Dove

Bare-eyed Pigeon

Brown-throated Parakeet

Venezuelan Troupial

"Cayenne" Sandwich Tern (with Royal Tern at right)

"Cayenne" Sandwich Tern

 - NB

Monday, January 9, 2017

Graylag Goose in Rhode Island

On January 3rd Frank Gallo and I stopped by East Providence, RI on our way back from Nantucket to look for the previously reported Graylag Goose. This bird was initially reported...well...I have no idea when it was initially reported because the Rhode Island bird reporting system is a $%&*ing joke and these pieces of information are difficult to track down unless you are a part of one of the mysterious RI birding factions that treat bird information like classified information that you need a goddamned Russian hacker to extract (how can such a tiny state be this divided anyway?!?).

But I digress. Anyway, let's just say that the bird has been around for...several days.

So Frank and I arrived to driving wind and rain. It was pretty miserable weather, but we were able to find the goose rather quickly on the golf course adjacent to Watchemoket Cove. We watched it feed with Canadas for a few minutes before getting soaked and leaving (us, not the bird). We had both seen (and voted on) the Wallingford, Connecticut wild-type Graylag in 2009 that went on to be accepted. That bird was certainly leaner than this one. Here are a few record shots of the bird.

I'm not going to pass judgement on this bird because I would have to go back and do more research and contact European birders who see these things regularly. This bird may be a bit thick-billed, a bit thick-necked, and a bit "lumpy." One thing's for sure - we're glad we don't have to vote on this one! It will be interesting to hear what the Rhode Island committee does with this one. I'm sure we'll find out never.

 - NB