A Little Gull Goes A Long Way (Boreal Birds or Bust Redux, Part II)

When we left, Corey form 10,000 Birds and I were busy watching and trying to photograph  a large group Bohemian Waxwings at Ausable Point State Park.  We left the park and headed south.  Corey who many of you know is trying to do a big year in New York State (300 species in one Calendar year) had already added one new year bird, Bohemian Waxwing to put him at 289, but he needed some other birds that had been reported there.  He needed birds such as Northern Shrike, Surf and Black Scoter, Cackling Goose, Ross’s Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose as well as Pine Grosbeak and Common Redpoll.  We knew it was going to be a long shot to find them all in one day, but we had to try.

Our next stop (After eating a rather disgusting chicken cordon bleu sandwich from Stewart’s) was Noblewood, a small relatively unknown park on the shores of Lake Champlain.  We didn’t have a lot of hope of getting the birds we needed here, but we would be surprised by what we did find.

Shortly after entering the woods, we found a new species for the day Tufted Titmouse and soon all the regular birds were found, including Black-capped Chickadee, Brown Creeper, Hairy Woodpecker and Blue Jay.  Some high pitched calls and some frantic movement keyed us onto a few Golden-Crowned Kinglets and some more searching through the mixed flock would turn up a rather late Pine Warbler.

We made our way down to the lake shore and sandbar.  Hooded Merganser and Buffleheads were in the creek running into the lake and (surprisingly) our first Canada Geese of the day.  Corey scoped the sandbar and quickly found Ring-billed, Herring and Great Black Backed Gull.

We moved closer to the lake and we re-scoped the sandbar which yielded previously unseen Bonaparte’s Gulls and then Corey shouted aloud “Little Gull!”  Sure enough I looked into the scope and looked down the line of pink legged Bonaparte’s Gull and found one bird with blazing reddish orange legs.  Amazingly this bird was a lifer for both of us (which is even rarer than getting year birds together) year bird number 290 for Corey.  A shorebird flew in and kept us guessing for awhile, but turned out to be nothing more than a winter plumage Dunlin, which Corey tried to photograph commando style.  While walking around the shore I spotted this log with an interesting looking fungus, if anyone knows what it is I would love to know!

Fungus at Noblewood

Out on the lake, there were hundreds of Common Goldeneye and a few Bufflehead.  The next day we would learn that a Tufted Duck had been found in that group… Oh well you can’t get them all right?

After spending more time than we had originally planned at Noblewood and calling my wife Danika to get the Little Gull reported to Northern New York Birds list-serv, we started heading out.  As we did a flock of Snow Buntings landed on the sandbar and a Red-breasted Nuthatch(there are not many left around here) was also found.  Below is a photograph of the view from Noblewood looking out over the spit towards the snow capped Green Mountains of Vermont.

The View from Noblewood looking towards Vermont

Feeling that our luck had changed, we next headed through the ‘Golden Triangle’ which is a group of roads, which as you guessed form a sort of triangle.  The land is agricultural and is good for winter grassland birds, such as Pipits, Longspurs, Buntings, Shrikes and hawks.  Our biggest goal was the elusive Northern Shrike, a bird I had only seen once and wanted to see again.

We spent a good hour riding the roads, but found little.  Mourning Dove was added, as was American Robin, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk and Fox Sparrow.  Light was fading fast with the mountains to our west, so we headed down to Westport next in search of waterfowl.

We stopped at the boat launch and found a whole bunch of Mallards, but we could see a larger group of Canada Geese further down.  Scoping the lake found common gulls and a lone Common Loon.  Corey who was determined to examine those Geesetried every left hand turn in Westport until he found the one which took us directly to the Geese.  We got out and scoped the Geese but found nothing of note.  As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed a bird fly into a nearby tree and putting my binoculars on it, I casually told Corey “You might want to put the scope on that bird”.  Of course I knew what it was and as soon as Corey found it in his binoculars, he knew what it was, but we both wanted a better look.

Sadly Corey couldn’t get the scope on the bird in time before it flew down into the shrubs.  Looking around we didn’t see any no trespassing signs so we headed over and after a few moments of searching, Corey spotted the bird again and so did I.  There in the tree above our heads, under the watchful eye of a group of European Starlings and a Blue Jay and with half a mouse in it’s beak was a young Northern Shrike.  Bird number 291 for Corey and a new year bird (3rd of the day) for both of us.

We went to Essex next and found more Common Loons, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Horned Grebes, Canada Geese, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser and Bufflehead.  At Port Henry we had the common gulls, along with 7 Common Loons (including 6 in a group!) we also had one interesting Loon, but fading light, wind and the fact that the bird was spending a long time under water meant it was one that got away.  Interestingly, both Pacific and a possible Arctic Loon were spotted on the lake the same day, so we will never know.  Below is a distant, but recognizable shot of one of the Many Horned Grebes we encountered.

Horned Grebe, Lake Champlain

On the way home after leaving Port Henry, we spotted a young Red Fox in a field.  A fitting end to a great day.

Red Fox

Don’t forget to go and check out Corey’s account at 10,000 Birds!

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2 responses to “A Little Gull Goes A Long Way (Boreal Birds or Bust Redux, Part II)

  1. Pingback: A Vote for the Birds: Ferd’s Bog to Ausable Point:

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