Common Loon (Gavias immer)

Common Loon - New Baltimore, Greene Co., NY - Photo by Will Raup

Typically Common Loons are long gone from the Hudson-Mohawk area by the time Christmas Counts roll around.  This year however, with the mild conditions, water remained open on many of the lakes and reservoirs, keeping the Loons happy much later than normal.  In early January we had several cold days, with temperatures at  night in the City of Albany at or below 0 F, many of the outlying areas between -5 and -20 F, meant a rapid freeze up of water.  I stopped by Cornell Park in New Baltimore (Greene Co. NY) and was surprised to see a Common Loon on the Hudson River.  Loons typically don’t like moving water (like rivers), but given the rapid freeze up of the Lakes, this bird was no doubt forced to the River.  Making the situation even more interesting was the fact that huge ice sheets were moving down river.  There was a real danager of this Loon getting trapped by Ice, but it also pushed the bird very close to shore where I was standing, allowing me some of the most personal views and photographs of this species I normally only see at a distance through a scope.

I returned later in the day, to find that entire area choked with Ice, no open water at all.  But I didn’t see the Loon either, so hopefully he made it further south towards the coast.

Common Loon with Fish. New Baltimore, Greene Co., NY - Photo by Will Raup

UFC Comes to New York

Lost among all the usless things our impotent Governor and Legislators did this past year, they made it legal for mixed martial arts fights in New York State.  Little did we know, we would get a first hand look at this brutal sport at Jamaica Bay of all places.  Below are the higlights from the Yellowlegs Division.

The fighters enter the Octagon of death! (Octagon not included)

You talking to me?

Chant it with me, Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!

Hi-ya!

Going for the Kill...

...Evaded!

In a judges ruling... we have a winner!

Historical Bird Records: How Much Should We Believe? Black Rail, Greene County, NY 1963

For those of us who are interested in the avian history of New York State, the efforts by the New York State Ornithological Society to archive and make searchable 57 years of their Kingbird Journal  are nothing short of amazing.  Especially for someone like me, who has only been alive a little more than half as long as the Kingbird, it has given me great insight into the birds and birders who covered Region 8 (Eastern New York) before me.  But with these great stories and birds, comes some trepidations on my part, I just don’t believe some of these reports.

The first “No way!” moment I read, came from the 1963 V 13 #3 Kingbird.  In the report from that Spring, a Black Rail was reported from Vly Marsh in Catskill on May 18.  Black Rail, has a very limited range in New York, pretty much relegated to a few isolated pockets of salt marsh along the south shore of Long Island.  Because of its small size and secretive habits and difficult to get into habitat, it likely is under reported, but has never been common.  Many field guides still list Black Rail as rare and local inland, especially along major river valleys.  Its status away from the coast is more or less a vagrant, although it may very rarely breed, somewhere! 

 Now the observer who reported the Black Rail was well known, was listed as an observer long before and long after this particular sighting and was familiar with the area.  The Region 8 editor, describes the sighting as “convincingly described”, but no details as to what made the description convincing!  My argument is look at the date, May 18.  By this date at least some Virginia Rails, which would have been fairly common along the Hudson River marshes would have had downy chicks.  A well known ID pitfall of Black Rail is its similarity in size and color to the chicks of both Virginia Rail and Sora, both of which would have been found in the marsh.  A sighting of a small black rail in mid May, if indeed that’s all there was, is certainly not enough to make this report convincing. 

Now, to make this even more interesting… On September 19, 1963, the same observer, along with another, reported Black Rail at the same location.  Again, the Region 8 editor simply says the sighting was “convincingly described”.  Now this sighting holds more potential.  Given the mid September date, the chances of a late brood of either Virgina Rail or Sora are pretty low, but not impossible. In my opinion there is a good chance that a small black rail, is in fact a Black Rail.  Since it was seen by the same observers, who were reliable, this September sighting makes their sighting from the previous May, more credible.  But without specific details separating it from young rails in May, or even in September, I have a tough time accepting either record.  As such, Black Rail remains on my hypothetical species list for Region 8.