This weekend turned out to be one of the best of the fall, and I wound up in one of the best spots for it. On Friday I saw that we had good northwest winds, and emailed Peter Dorosh to see if he wanted to do a half-day at Fort Tilden, a great place for fall sparrows. We were there with Shane Blodgett last year when he spotted a LeContes Sparrow, and I was hoping there would be something equally exciting this year.
As it turned out, Peter was running a Brooklyn Bird Club trip to Tilden, so Saturday morning we met at 6:45am and a group of us headed out. The conditions were very good, with good winds and weather, and a sharp edge of clouds overhead indicated that a front was passing by, and that birds might be dropping in behind it.
We spent the first hour or so looking for sparrows, and didn't see much more than Savannah and Song sparrows. Then Peter got a text from Seth Ausabel, who was working another section of Tilden, and the avalanche began. Seth had Yellow-Throated Warbler, very rare for fall in NY...we hurried over and got a few glimpses of the bird. As we were standing around, Peter called out on a flycatcher in a tree, and it was a Western Kingbird. We got good looks at that bird, and then went over to the community gardens and had both Bobolink and Dickcissel. A short while later we spotted a couple of sparrows in the grass, and one of them was a Lark Sparrow. So all in all we had three rare birds and two uncommons in a matter of an hour or two. This was hard to top, so we moved on to Floyd Bennet Field on our way back, and had great looks a Clay Colored Sparrow, and finally a Ring Necked Pheasant. Overall, a spectacular day, and not just because of the birds we saw. Being out with the bird club and really birding (as opposed to driving seven hours, birding one, and then driving home) was a nice change of pace from my chase-y schedule. As the year winds down, I'm hoping to do a lot more actual walking around and looking, with fewer "target" birds and less of an agenda.
Of course, that doesn't mean I'm adverse to the odd chase here and there. The next day I was going with Jessica to her grandparents house when Shane Blodgett called with some interesting sparrows at Plum Beach, so we decided to stop there first for a quick look. That turned into about an hour and a half, with several of us getting great views of both Saltmarsh and Nelsons Sharptailed Sparrows, including a nelsoni/alterus race of the Nelsons, which is typically seen in the middle of the continent, and not coastally. Birding with these other birders was, as always, a great education, and it is amazing to me how much they know about birds. At some point the only way to learn some birds is to be with a more experienced person in the field, and I've certainly had that happen over and over this year. Incidentally, the Nelsons was my 340th bird, which means I'm getting into the upper realms of New York big years, with hopefully many more rarities to come in the next three months. Even though we're getting to the end of the year, I feel just as excited as when I started nine months ago, with more avian surprises to come!