Year 5, Issue 6
"Just a little drink from your loving cup,
Just a little drink and I fall down drunk."
-The Rolling Stones
NEWS FLASH: AOU FOLLOWS THE CUP'S LEAD, ADOPTS LONG-TAILED DUCK NAME:
OK, so maybe the members of the American Ornithologists' Union's (AOU) Committee on Classfication and Nomenclature weren't influenced by The Cup's usage of Long-tailed Duck instead of Oldsquaw, but in its most recent Supplement to the AOU Check-list of North American Birds, the Committee did change the official North American name of Clangula hyemalis from Oldsquaw to Long-tailed Duck. The rationale for this change is found in the July 2000 issue (Vol. 117, No. 3, p. 848) of The Auk, the journal of the AOU:
The Committee was petitioned by a group of biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska to change the English name of Clangula hyemalis from Oldsquaw to Long-tailed Duck, the name used for the species outside of North America. The basis for the petition was that the species is declining in numbers in Alaska, and conservation management plans require the help and cooperation of Native Americans. The biologists were concerned that the name Oldsquaw would offend the Native Americans. Requests to change the name had been made to the Committee in past years by some who consider the word "squaw" to be offensive. The Committee declines to consider political correctness alone in changing long-standing English names of birds but is willing in this instance to adopt an alternative name that is in use in much of the world.
While not exactly a resounding repudiation of the word "squaw," it still means the name Oldsquaw is history. The next time you get out an old field guide or checklist, be sure to cross out Oldsquaw and write in Long-tailed Duck in its place. And, Dr. McGowan, how would you like to read the Cayuga Lake Basin Checklist this fall when the first Long-tailed Ducks pass through I would enjoy hearing you read off the new official AOU name. (Matt Medler)
ICE CREAM DINING GUIDE FOR BIRDERS
By Matt Sarver
Introduction by Matt Medler
A fall birding trip to Montezuma can include some tough decisions. Black-bellied Plover or American Golden-Plover Short-billed or Long-billed Dowitcher Red-necked Phalarope or Red Phalarope Pete's Treats or Cream at the Top After a long day of scoping shorebirds at Mays Point, you deserve some ice cream on the ride home to Ithaca. The question is, do you stop for a cone or shake at Pete's Treats in Union Springs, or do you hold out and keep heading south to Cream at the Top in the Town of Venice (just north of the Village of King Ferry on Rt. 34B) In order to settle this raging debate, a group of rugged young birders from the Birdwatching Club at Cornell recently set out on a field trip to both spots and conducted some extensive research. Under the expert leadership of Matt Sarver, who has years of experience in the ice cream business, we tested shakes, cones, chili dogs, blizzards, and anything else we could eat, all in the name of science. I present to you Matt "What fat content is that ice cream" Sarver, to share our findings.
Ice cream is serious business; so let's get right to it. Recommending one of these two fine establishments over the other proved to be more difficult than I had expected. There are several major factors to consider. Think about it. What's important to you when you stop at an ice cream joint Oddly, the first thing that jumps right out at me is the ice cream: it had better be good, real good in fact. You may laugh, but there are lots of people out there who don't have a clue what good ice cream is. They're missing out. The second big factor is selection. Everyone's got vanilla and chocolate soft serve, but how many flavors of hard ice cream, shakes, sundaes, and other "specialty" items are available As Matt Young said of Pete's, "They've got Fruity Pebbles [blizzards] but they don't have Heath bar What kind of [insert expletive of your choice] place has Fruity Pebbles, and not Heath bar" Ah, Mr. Young. You've invoked the corollary to the variety issue. If the selection is small, it needs to be quality. If it's big, it needs to be anchored by quality. I don't care if a store has fourteen flavors of bubble-gum-cheesecake-rainbow-delight, as long as they're using quality raspberry shake base. Get the picture Lots of flamboyant kiddy flavors don't necessarily cut it. Along with selection comes what I like to call the grill factor. Back in the day, we used to run an establishment that was literally smokin'. Philly steaks, chicken sandwiches, burgers, fries, cheese sticks you get the picture. We even had a separate building with THE best BBQ chicken and ribs on the planet. I do not exaggerate. Folks used to drive the hour or so from Pittsburgh just to buy dozens of tubs of our cole slaw. I'm not just blowing my own horn, either. A good grill is essential. Sometimes, you stop for some ice cream, but you're good and hungry too. No 14" high, 20 oz. monster cone is going to cut it. On the other hand, if the location of an ice cream joint (ICJ) is not the greatest (e.g. Cream at the Top) it may not pay to have an extensive grill. It's unfortunate, but it's the nature of the business. A soft-serve machine alone will run you into the double-digit G's. Finally, the service factor is big. In fact, some might say huge. Good, quick service, knowledgeable staff, and reasonably attractive servers are a must. (Call me sexist, but I guarantee you that the DOT highway workers down the road will consider only two things when choosing an ICJ at which to blow their lunch money wads. I am referring, of course, to the quality of the meat in their burger, and the quality of the well, you know. It also helps to have employees who know what they're doing. When I get a chocolate malt with no malt powder added (as I did at Cream at the Top just before this article went to press) I'm not a happy camper. Good. That's settled then. So how did Pete's and Cream stack up Let's look at the ice cream. Both places were quality here, but as the name would suggest, Cream had a definite edge.
Ice Cream Ratings:
Vanilla: Pete's 7.0 Cream 9.0
Chocolate: Pete's 7.5 Cream 7.8
Mix %: Pete's 10% Cream 13%
Mr. Medler and others may have thought it silly that I specifically asked for the fat percent of the ice cream mix used by each ICJ. You see, however, that the % mix and the dairy from which the mix comes are two of the key factors in determining the way the ice cream will taste. Higher fat mix makes creamier, richer ice cream. But the story doesn't end there. How much ice cream an ICJ sells and how often they clean their machine are just as important. In order to taste top notch, the soft-serve has to be fresh out of a clean machine. Generally, this accounts for why chocolate is usually not quite as good as vanilla at many establishments. Chocolate is used only for cones, while vanilla is used in all sorts of items: it gets used up faster, and is fresher. If you have observant taste buds (not just elastic waistband pants) you can often notice a slight sour flavor in the chocolate ice cream. Good chocolate is hard to come by unless you arrive just after the machine has been cleaned. The ratings above are my own personal, perhaps somewhat subjective figures, but believe me, they're pretty accurate (p<.05, n=2). Yeah right. I said selection was important. Matt Young knew selection was important. Here are the numbers in the major categories for you to judge. Both places measured up pretty evenly in this department.
The Numbers Game
Hard Ice Cream: Pete's 25 Cream 33
Blizzards: Pete's 8 Cream 7
Sundaes: Pete's 9 Cream 8
Shakes: Pete's Not posted Cream 6
Cream boasted an additional 7 hard ice cream flavors, including Purity, Perry's and Cornell. Pete's serves only Purity and Perry's. So if you're a die-hard fan of the only local dairy with a stupid trans-lunar cow on their logo, you might like Cream for that reason. As far as soft drinks (otherwise known to those of us from places other than this silly state as "Pop"), both ICJs were supplied by Pepsi. Pete's had more specialty items, but Cream still advertised a few, including "Creamsicle Cooler," and "Boston Shake," floats, "Turtle," and brownie sundaes. Okay. Enough messing around. Here's the big difference between Pete's and Cream. You guessed it: the grill factor. If the grill factor was actually a number, not just a figment of my demented imagination, Cream would receive about a 0.7. They sell chili dogs. Pete's on the other hand, might muster, oh, say a 48. They also sell chili dogs. Bear with me here. Pete's also sells about 47.3 other items hot off the grill or out of the friers. If you're hungry, the choice is obvious. If you mostly like ice cream, the grill factor is a diminished consideration. Since chili dogs were the only common denominator, it only made sense to test them. Matt Medler was our leading dawg-discriminator, but I don't listen to him anyway, so here's what I thought. While the chili was about equivalent at both places (fairly lousy and fresh out of the can) the wieners (it's not often you get to use that word) were slightly better at Pete's. So Pete's gets the nod all-around for hot food. Now comes the tricky part. Service at both places was good. There's often a long line at Pete's in the evening, but they're open an hour later (10, rather than 9). It's unlikely that your time spent standing in line would exceed that extra hour. Again, the quality of the servers (male and female) at Pete's is a little better (from a construction worker's point of view). I know what you're thinking - how many construction workers inspect the assets of male servers But there would be a flaw in your logic. Not all construction workers are men, and not all birders are construction workers. (See, now you know why you failed the SATs). Then there are the intangibles. These are things that you can sense, but can't quite put your finger on. Kind of like the assets of the servers. Atmosphere is big here. Atmosphere means about as much to the ice cream business as the environment does to George W. Bush. Seating is adequate at both Pete's and Cream, and neither discriminates on the basis of political affiliations. Banana splits are more costly at Cream, but blizzards cost less per ounce at Pete's. Due to its remote location, you can see more birds at Cream, but if you run out of gas or fruit, you're stuck.
So what does a birder do when faced with this momentous decision If you're looking for a meal, Pete's is the place. But for pure, creamy, richer ice cream, go straight to the Top. Happy eating.
RIGHT OF PASSAGE
Coastal residents of the southeast may be thrilled by the light hurricane season this year. Not one good storm system blew strange avian souls into the shelter of the Basin. As high-pressure systems and south winds kept cooler low-pressure air from moving our direction, birds began to bottleneck. Already the photoperiod deprives us of longer evenings and casts any north-facing facade into deep shadow. Words whispered in dark corners under starry skies, like an incantation, bring them on, it's time, it's time (can you hear the drums beating): zugunruhe, zugunruhe, zugunruhe.
Mid August--the night air is very warm. A south wind breezes across NY at a steady, good clip. 11:00 pm. My phone rings. "Hello." "Hey Ben, Bill Evans here. I just checked the NEXrad images and there's something really strange going on. They show a good movement tonight, but the winds are all wrong. We're meeting Sarver and Williams on Mt Pleasant in twenty minutes." Cool! Nothing like a few words of expectation from a veteran such as Bill to get the blood going. Forget that I just got home from work. Here we go! Mt Pleasant is twenty minutes driving from my house at this time of night. I rush around to get my things. Reach for my bins, then get the better of myself. A quick chuckle at the force of habit and I'm out the door. Bill and Matts have arrived on the scene already. We can feel the south wind. It feels good. The air is charged with excitement and an exploratory sense of wonder&emdash;what is moving and why Why now tonight against the south wind Ears are cocked skyward Bill pauses between moments to illuminate the wonders of night migration. Of course, a few beers are opened, but I can't finish mine. I'm both tired and excited. As the first few tseeps and chirps trickle earthward, Bill identifies Chestnut-sided, Yellowthroats and Savannah Sparrows. He speaks of call note complexes and recording Barn Owls over New York. We hear two light waves with moderate species diversity (warblers only) and Bill thinks we should move to the IC parking lot where birds come in, confused by the light. Another twenty minutes later and we are under the bright halogen over the asphalt. No sooner do we exit our vehicles than we hear more warblers. They are circling! You can hear individuals and track their movement as they trace invisible figure eights over the lights. We hear Canada Warblers distinct call and the short bursts from Black-throated Blues. "Did that one go up or down in tone Was it long or short Was it buzzy How buzzy" The master gets us to listen closely to the qualities of each call. "Boink." Even I recognize that one. We hear a few Bobolinks. Then a Veery, the only thrush we hear. Every once in a while amidst our chatting and listening a particularly loud call note will ring right over our heads and Bill will say with satisfaction "That was a nice one!" "What was it Bill" "I don't know, sounded like Ovenbird or Redstart, can't be sure." He is smiling. And so the night goes. At 1:00 the lateness of the hour begins to creep up on me. The college boys seem fine, but I'm getting sleepy and Bill is ready to go also. We've discussed tower kill, night migration, girls (err, women, excuse me) and Bill's audio release due next March. And I can't wait to get out in the morning to see if I can find any of the birds we heard.
ANOTHER MUCKRACE ACCOUNT
Friday, September 15th. Mudhen Captain Tom Nix spent the morning scouting; Geo prepared for a late afternoon and evening of scouting, while Meena and I were both facing normal days. By evening I was flash-searing tuna steaks rolled in sesame seeds, serving them with potatoes and braised baby bokchoy with a reduced yellow tomato coulis to which I had added a spicy red pepper puree; a quick drizzle of glace de veau and Voila. Empty pans on the flames filled quickly, smoke and steam rising from the stove and grill--the Friday night barrage of orders. "Pick up table 12" barks a server. A fillet of halibut hits the hot pan. I barely sear its top then send it under the broiler to finish cooking. My right hand man has placed some spring green asparagus and haricots vert center plate. As in a well orchestrated dance, I am right behind him and ready. Turning around I tip some sautéed beet and potato gnocchi over the vegetables. A second later I've finished the orange infused beurre blanc with the butter and let the brightly colored sauce pool around the boysenberry colored gnocchi and vegetables. At this moment the fish is done and it goes center plate. I send it out to table 12. And so it goes. A fairly typical, evening at Renee's. By 9:30 the action has quieted down enough so I can have my crew finish by themselves. I am tired, but very excited.
By 10:30 I'm a presentable human again. "Captain Nix, I'm all set to go." Tom replies assertively, "Let's do this thing." Half an hour later we collect Meena and head north for our midnight rendezvous with Cup untouchable, Geo Kloppel. I am thinking to myself only half seriously, "do other teams stand half a chance against us" Although it is never mentioned between us, I think it's cool to have the current top three David Cup contenders teaming up together with a fourth David Cup mainstay. Nix is at the drivers wheel, I'm riding shotgun and Meena's stretched out in the spacious interior of Toms van. I get some muckrace coaching: stay close and get everyone on the bird, even the common species, worry about identification of difficult species only after putting us on the bird. I get it: shoot first, ask questions later. Of course there are the nine other obvious lessons and three deep secrets to muckraking….
It's just a bit after midnight when we pull into the Visitors Center Parking lot and up to the towering form of Mr. Kloppel. Engine off. Brief greetings only and Geo has us listening to a screeching Great Horned Owl. Sounds like there are two of them. Some Canada Geese are startled on the main pool. A Mallard/Black Duck squawks and Geo has heard the twittering of a Wigeon. As we make a start-off pit stop and transfer Geo and his gear to the van, Tom calls "Veery:" intimations of what will turn out to be an excellent night of thrush migration.
After a brief and railless stop at Tschache we seek the quiet of Armitage road. Pulling up to the flat, wood bridge we find the Matts holding ground out on its planks. Either pensylvanicus or inornatus attempts a Long-eared Owl call. We turn our attention to the sky. The thrushes are migrating indeed; mostly Swainson's, but we hear a few Gray-cheeked, Veerys and Wood Thrushes. Our thoughts more than once turn to Bill Evans. He's two hours south, positioned under the Binghamton tower&emdash;not with us, alas. For his absence we unofficially dedicate our night of birding to the guru.
Shortly we are off to Carncross road. We pull up to the Nature Conservancy marsh area and startle a Virginia Rail. Then we hear it. The clattering trumpet. Unbelievable. Meena wrote, "We were all stunned. Nobody said anything for a short time. But I could not resist. I blurted out Sandhill Crane." Nix moved to the van to position it's headlights over the marsh. Geo and I hear a second bird answer the first from deep in the corn on the south side of the road. The birds fell silent after their initial and emphatic alarm. We spend some time here, ticking Screech Owl and hear yet another Great Horned (we encounter six or seven of these over the course of the night). No Barred yet. That's our next target. We drive to several places and hoot again and again, but get no response. In vain, we dedicate the rest of the night to a search for this bird.
Pre-dawn we find ourselves at Helmer's Marsh. Two more GHOs call. Still no rails. The sky begins to lighten and the birds begin to wake. Nix is on almost every call note and chip. A Marsh Wren twitters. Song Sparrow, Yellowthroat. A Wood Thrush has landed and gives its diurnal call. The sky lightens and we can see well now. I realize I've made my first mistake of the day: my bins are back in the van! Fortunately it doesn't cost us any birds. In the next fifteen minutes as we work our way back we easily tick another several species: a Robin calls, a Swamp Sparrow sings. Tom alarms a Red-eyed Vireo with his screech owl imitation. Cat Birds and Cardinals are very vocal.
Our next stop is Tschache for swallows and blackbirds. We get all three blackbirds in short order, but cannot pull from the magnificent cloud of Tree Swallows any other Hirundinidae. They flash white looking like "millions of stars in the milky way" says Meena. The sky nearly takes our breath way. Gold, blue and glorious. What light! Tom spots a tentative rainbow over Tschache. It's lovely. After a few moments of soaking in the awesome beauty of early morning and savoring the first real warmth of sun, with all traces of night shed save dew in the shadows, we race to get back on track. It's off to the Main Pool for divers. We tick a few more birds before breaking out the scopes and climbing the tower. Pintails are in close. Shovelers, Gadwall, Black Ducks, Coot, and both Teal are easy finds. Tom picks out a pair of Ring-neckeds partly obscured in the distant vegetation. Meena puts us on a pair of Lesser Scaup flying in. Over the marsh are two Harriers, our second raptor of the day. "Okay, we got 'em. Lets move." Our ever-diligent Captain makes sure we're ready to move, "Did everyone see all the ducks?"
We opt for a brief visit to Mays Point Pool. The feeling is that it's still a bit early for Esker Brook. The magic of Mays holds us for longer than we might have guessed: Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, Least, Semipalmated and White-rumped Sandpipers. A juvenile Dunlin gets me excited for a while. Tom calmly rules out my hopes. It's still a good bird. The dowitchers are in heavy silhouette. No worries, we'll get them this evening. Ha! Our team's first collective mistake.
Time for warblers. Along the Esker Brook ridge trail we hit our first flock. Both Kinglets, Black-throated Green, Gnatcatcher, Tufted Titmouse and Magnolia are all ticked with easy. A more difficult bird pops in and out of the cedars. Finally we get it: Blackpoll. A little ways down the trail we find Empidonax Sp. Tom calls "Chimney Swift." It's high and moving directly away from us. The view of the sky is tree-lined and narrow. The bird disappears quickly, too quickly for me. I have missed it. On our way back down the brook trail we encounter the same flock, but are able to pick out Parula and Peewee.
Friday morning Tom found Chipping Sparrows and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at the feeders at the south end of East road. Alas, neither is there when we arrive. This frustrates Tom, but we are rewarded with Warbling Vireo. We ride down the towpath and then across the mucks to recently plowed fields where Geo scopes a flock of adult and juvenile Horned Larks. We are also looking for Buff-breasted and Pipits, but find neither. From this point on the afternoon is a long, hard and desperate attempt to find warblers. En route to Howland Island Meena has us turn around to look at some swallows on a wire. The group does not offer any new species. As we are pulling away, Tom calls "Cuckoo!" It passed right in front of the van. He was able to identify it as Yellow-billed. The rest of us, however, fail to get the right field marks so it goes down as Cuckoo Sp. Howland Island turns out to be an hour-long waste of time. From there we drive north and west across the wetlands complex, ears to the wind. We are able to get Bluebird and House Sparrow. In one random place, we hear a chip note in the sub canopy scrub. Scrambling through the brush we are able to find our last warbler of the day, a female Hooded.
As evening approached, we were all fighting fatigue and frustration. We are late to check in. Marva has signed us in already, but we take two minutes (all that Meena will allow) to grab coffee and doughnuts. We head down to the north end of the lake to pick up Mute Swan that Tom has staked out. We spend a few minutes there scooping for terns and whatever else might offer itself. Black-back and Herring Gulls are easy finds. I use this opportunity to shoot a few photos of the team in action. The light is good and we look good considering.
The requisite final hours at Mays prove slow. Our dowitchers are gone, of course. Geo and I nearly simultaneously fix on our single Stilt Sandpiper of the day. We searched actively for the first half an hour, but light wanes and the birds are few. We relax and chat with the other teams and wait for Black-crowned Nightherons. They do not disappoint. Tom says we've got thirty minutes to kill, so we head to Tschache one last time with hopes for Sora or Virginia Rail for Meena. We stand in a line, silent in the dark. At times, my ears are straining, trying to hear rails. At times, my mind realizes its fatigue and courses over the day's events. This was no easy muckrace. We drive to the Visitors Center and using the van as our headquarters compile our list, discussing which of our six (!) "five percent birds" to drop. The vote goes to Coopers Hawk. And we are left with 102. That's low. We all know it. I think it's particularly hard on our two veterans, Tom and Meena. Although we all did our best, I know I can improve. This has been my first muckrace Geo's too. It's also been my first "big day." It's a different kind of birding indeed. I'm almost too tired to enjoy the compilation process and awarding of prizes to winning teams. Somehow, I do enjoy it. I even feel a bit animated on our ride home, discussing the Bird Club and The Cup and the Mudhens with Meena and Tom. After forty hours without sleep, I crash and do not stir from my bed for ten hours.
In the summer of 1997 Jeff Wells called Cayuga Bird Club president Bard Prentiss to let him know about the first muckrace and suggest he assemble a club-sponsored team. Bard called around to recruit potential team members. The event had been recently organized and Bard had only a few mid-summer days to get directors' permission to spend club money and register a team. He recruited Karl David, Meena Haribal, Tom Nix and a non-committal Bill Evans who was eager, but uncertain of availability. As it turned out, Bill did participate and brought along ringer and former basin birder Andy Farnsworth. Tom Nix became captain by default when all the mailed information came to his address. And so he remains. Collectively the team was named Bard's Sandpipers, a name suggested by Karl. Out of six teams competing that first year, the CBC team came in first place with a respectable 119 species seen. 146 species were seen total.
In 1998 guru Evans was not able to participate. The team recruited a different fourth member in basin newbie Matt Young, who, as you know, went on to win the David Cup two years running. There was a three-way tie for first place with 116 species seen by each. 166 species were recorded total. Bard's Sandpipers placed fifth, falling short of last years total by more than three birds. Meena laughs as she recalls Mr. Young remarking vociferously, "So Evans is good for only three more birds!"
When the Bird Club reconvened later '98 it elected Gladys Birdsall president. This rendered the name Bard's Sandpipers unusable for the '99 team. There is some debate as to how the name the Mudhens came to be. I asked Tom and Meena about it on our ride home from this year's muckrace. Meena recalls someone suggesting the name Meena's Mudhens, which she immediately vetoed. She thought the suggestion came from Bill Evans who was back for the team that year. Bill was not simply back on the team; he brought along ringer and Basin great Adam Byrne. Adam you may or may not know shares the record for most species recorded in the Basin in a calendar year at 254. He hails from Michigan where he sits on the state avian records committee. When I called Bill about the name Mudhens, he spoke briefly about this "trend" of bringing in a ringer. He likes to bring back a former basin birder who's both very familiar with the turf and savvy of big day strategy. As for the team name, Bill points the finger to Geo Kloppel. Geo was slated to be on the '99 team. It must have frustrated him to be torn between two so attractive prospects. However, the fiddle called&emdash;he was off to a gig. Geo denies coming up with the name Meena's Mudhens. He admits to emailing team members various alliterative humorous names. Meena's Mudhens, he thought, came from the captain himself, Tom Nix. Except, he corrects me, it was not Meena's Mudhens, but Meena's Moorhens. Somewhere in the exchanges of a year past Moorhens became Mudhens (more of Tom's doing) and the name stuck. Meena suggests that the name is not permanent. She thinks team member should decide. Until there is some turnover in team composition (not foreseeable), it seems that Mudhens is here to stay.
The team of Meena, Tom, Bill and Adam, freshly dubbed the Mudhens, performed extraordinarily well. They took first place out of 19 teams with a whopping 128, which happens to be the New York State Big Day record for September (should they ever choose to submit it). Bill recalls that they were doing about average through mid-day, but had a phenomenal finish. Luck and talent prevailed.
This year I've described in my own Muckrace Account. I might mention that 20 teams participated. Two teams tied for first place. We finished sixth with 102. There was no Sapsuckers team! Despite low team totals overall a new high of 180 species was collectively recorded.
By Matt Sarver
This month's edition was supposed to be the final installment of my literary rantings about the Whip-poor-will. But certain recent events involving 21 hours of birding insanity have made completion of this goal impossible by my deadline. So instead, I'd like to share with you a poem I wrote for my verse writing class, which was very well received in that forum, and which I hope Cup readers might appreciate as well. I'll leave the subject matter to your interpretation.
Nexrad picked them up in Buffalo
rising on the north shore, coalescing
over the great lake.
In houses, the elderly slept.
Blue flares lit windows
cast vague insinuations out into
shadow and street-light.
Damp parents soaped wet children in yellow bathrooms:
Streets quiet, dim, or
Bright, whispering with early night-life and
They were coming. A thousand
feet above the pool hall and its cracking
sidewalk, the first quick
note. A second: higher.
Sounding the concrete shoulders of the river,
heard by no one listening
over whirring dynamos
in dark yards and foundries,
in the hills, hayfields, farms
on front porches, roofs, and car hoods
over country roads.
Zugenruhe - migratory
restlessness, translated to 15 knots an
Below, green Nova or
rusted pickup with a broken cap,
stale coffee, quarter
tank of gas,
c 2000 Matthew J. Sarver
A BASIN STORY
By Kevin McGowan
We have a long and illustrious history of birding and ornithology here in the Cayuga Lake Basin, what with Cornell, the Lab of Ornithology, Arthur Allen, and all. However, many may not realize just how illustrious that history really is. Many of the most influential people involved with birds in the United States over the last century have some ties to this area; some large, some small. Arthur Allen and the Lab of O get the most press, and lots of Cornell faculty and associates do incredible things (like returning Peregrine Falcons to eastern North America). But perhaps the most important contribution of Basin bird people is the training of students who go on and do good things outside the basin.
A case in point is Ludlow Griscom. I really don't know how many Cuppers know who Ludlow Griscom was. The first graduate student of Arthur Allen, Griscom went on to a distinguished career as a professional ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and then at Harvard University and the Museum of Comparative Zoology. He published the normal large number of scientific papers on various arcane ornithological topics, but probably his largest influence on the world of birds was his new (for the early 20th century) attitude about bird identification. Essentially his philosophy was that you didn't actually have to have a bird in the hand to be able to identify it. Sounds kind of obvious now (seeing as how I've identified over 200 species in the Basin this year without shooting one of them), but at the time it was a radical idea. Nearly no professional ornithologist believed the identification of a bird unless it was shot and sitting in the hand for examination. Griscom realized that identification in the field was indeed possible, and his Master's Thesis at Cornell was entitled " The identification of the commoner Anatidae of eastern United States in the field." For this position, and the ability to prove it to the professional ornithological community (the only people doing birds those days), Ludlow Griscom often is given the title "Father of Modern Birding" or the "Dean of Birders." (Don't be fooled by PC historical revisionists, though. Griscom had nothing against collecting birds and he very definitely believed in using caution identifying birds, knowing the limits of one's abilities, and knowing the possibility or impossibility of identifying certain species.) An indirect impact of his work, conceivably the largest impact on birding, was his influence on a younger birdophile, Roger T. Peterson. While at the American Museum Griscom continued to work on identifying birds in the field, and became a living legend among birders in the NYC area. His work and ideas convinced the young Peterson that a guide to the identification of the most common birds was possible. The rest, of course, is history.
Birding lore is replete with Griscom stories convincing the stuffy skeptics; some of which have reached apocryphal levels. An interesting local story exists, however, that points out the abilities of Griscom, while suggesting his limitations as well.
I regret that I cannot remember the source from which I originally heard this story (wait until you're over 40 too, and all those snide comments will disappear into sympathetic understanding). But, some very tangible facts remain that corroborate what follows.
As I said, Griscom was the first graduate student of Arthur Allen at Cornell, graduating with a Masters degree in 1917. I'm not sure of the exact standing of Allen's "Laboratory of Ornithology" at that point, but the bird collections were already a going thing, and Luis Agassiz Fuertes was the other prominent ornithological figure the area. The Basin undoubtedly was then, as now, a very interesting place for birds. In late May 1916 (the 20th, to be exact), Griscom was up at the north end of the lake at Cayuga, and observed a large flock of gulls and terns. The flock consisted predominantly of Common and Black terns and Bonaparte's Gulls. If I saw such a flock now, I would certainly spend some time looking it over, and apparently Griscom did the same thing. Unlike me, however, he was equipped with a shotgun, and could preserve for posterity the things he observed (nearly as good as a digital camera). What he observed in the flock was an ARCTIC TERN, which he duly collected, along with a gull and a Black Tern (probably taken in the same shot; that's how shotguns are). He prepared the tern as a specimen for the Cornell bird collection (#2574), and wrote a brief article on it for the Auk (1916, Auk 33: 319, The Arctic Tern in Central New York). It was noteworthy, not just because of its unusual location (2nd specimen for NY), but because it furnished a definite date for the spring migration of the species, about which little or nothing was known.
Score one for the Father of Modern Birding: identifying a very rare bird in a flock of birds (and a tricky one at that!) and verifying it with a specimen. Pretty good! The cautionary note comes from one of the other specimens collected. The Black Tern was, in fact, a Black Tern (CU#2542), but the gull was something a bit different. In the published Auk article Griscom mentioned only Bonaparte's Gulls, and apparently that's what he thought it was. It just so happened, however, that Louis Fuertes was around and took a look at the specimen. He realized that it was something different. He saw that it wasn't a Bonaparte's Gull at all, but was, in fact as juvenile LITTLE GULL! No mention of that in the Auk article! In fact, Fuertes was the one who skinned it (CU#2524), and no publication resulted, as far as I can tell.
So, the upshot of the story is this: Ludlow Griscom, the first "birder"; astute enough to pick out an Arctic Tern from a flock of Common's, but dull enough to totally boot the ID of a Little Gull that he even had in his hand. I don't know about you, but I'd be WAY more confident of being able to find a Little Gull in a flock of Bonaparte's than an Arctic Tern in a flock of Commons. Goes to show: never get too cocky; every one makes mistakes, even when they're performing at the top of their form.
<<<<<<<<<< THE NEXT NEW BASIN BIRDS, PART 2 >>>>>>>>>>
By Matt Medler
In order to compile a list of the Top 10 new Basin birds, I assembled an all-star panel of some of the best birders in the Basin- visionaries with a detailed knowledge of bird distribution in the Cayuga Lake Basin, New York State, and beyond. This esteemed group includes Bill Evans, Steve Kelling, Kevin McGowan, Tom Nix, Ken Rosenberg, Chris Tessaglia-Hymes, Jeff Wells, and Matt Young. Each panel member submitted a ranked list of the ten birds that they feel are most likely to be the next new species to be found in the Basin. The checklist that served as the current Basin list is a modified version of McIlroy and Smith's "Birds of the Cayuga Lake Basin" checklist, with the following additions: Anhinga, Thayer's Gull, Ross's Gull, and Brewer's Blackbird. This list can be seen at: http://www.people.cornell.edu/pages/mdm2/basinlist.html
Once I received all eight lists, I assigned point values to each pick, with a top pick (most likely) receiving 10 points, and a 10th place pick receiving one point. Thus, the maximum score that a bird can receive is 80 points. This installment considers birds eight and seven.
Pomarine Jaeger (2 votes, 19 points)
In North America, this species breeds in coastal tundra from western Alaska across the Canadian Arctic to northwestern Quebec (AOU 1998). It then migrates primarily down both coasts of the continent, wintering in a widespread area in the Pacific and in the Gulf of Mexico-Caribbean Sea-Atlantic Ocean area north to the Gulf coast and Florida (AOU 1998). There is, however, a small regular inland migration of jaegers in eastern North America, and it is this fact that offers hope that Pomarine Jaeger will be discovered in the Cayuga Lake Basin.
The inland migration of jaegers has been fairly well studied along Lake Ontario, where there is a regular fall migration of both Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers. Parasitic Jaegers constitute the vast majority (80%) of the jaegers identified on Lake Ontario, with Pomarines making up the balance (Sherony 1999). The peak time for observing Parasitic Jaegers on Lake Ontario is between September 22 and October 27, with the peak for the less-common Pomarines coming one to two weeks later (Sherony 1999). About 70% of the high count days for jaegers on Lake Ontario come on the day of or the day after the passage of cold fronts.
It had long been hypothesized that there was also an inland migration of jaegers down Lake Champlain, but due to accessibility problems, this hypothesis went untested for many years. Last fall, however, a group of Vermont birders staged a lakewatch at a strategic location along Champlain, and witnessed a sizable migration of jaegers in both Vermont and New York waters. There seems to be a question about the identity of some of the birds reported, but it does appear that some Pomarines were seen (North American Birds, Vol. 54: No. 1, 2000).
Ken Rosenberg said yesterday (18 September) that there was a jaeger in the Basin during the day, but that nobody was at Myers Point to see it. It seems likely that a few Parasitics and at least the occasional Pomarine pass down Cayuga Lake every fall, but if so, who is going to find the first Pomarine Mr. Jetty himself, Bill Evans. Bill has already spotted at least two jaegers from the jetty during recent years, and he seems to have an immunity to cold that makes him able to venture out onto the jetty during cold, windy October days. Plus, there is nobody better in the Basin (and maybe in the entire country) at understanding the relationship between weather patterns and bird migrations. If Bill says that he thinks it's going to be a jaeger day out on the jetty, grab your flannel overalls and wool cap and get out there with him. There's a good chance that you might just freeze your fanny off and not see anything, but there's also that chance that you could become part of Basin history.
California Gull (4 votes, 22 points)
Despite its name, the California Gull is actually a rather widespread species across much of western North America, breeding from eastern British Columbia to as far east as the Dakotas, and from the Northwest Territories as far south as Colorado (AOU 1998). In the winter, it is found primarily along the Pacific coast, ranging from southern British Columbia to the Pacific coast of Mexico (AOU 1998).
This species is a fairly recent addition to the New York State list, with the first state record coming from Rockland County on October 4, 1978 (Levine 1998). The second "official" state record (i.e., accepted by NYSARC) didn't come until 14 years later, when an adult California Gull was discovered on the Niagara River on November 29, 1992. In the interim, there were a number of other reports of this bird in New York State, but these reports were either not submitted to NYSARC, or were rejected by the committee. One notable unsubmitted report was of a bird photographed by Paul Buckley on Long Island on July 31, 1985. Since the initial discovery of California Gull on the Niagara, this species has become an annual visitor to the river (Willie D'Anna, pers. comm.). There were at least three birds on the river last year, probably two in 1998, and one back in 1997 (D'Anna, pers. comm.). With the exception of an adult in 1997 that was spotted on the river in September, all first sightings of California Gull on the Niagara have come during the month of November, and last sightings for a season generally come in late December or early January (D'Anna, pers. comm.).
As a group, gulls are known for their propensity to wander and show up just about anywhere. From the Niagara River, it is less than 150 miles (as the gull flies) to the north end of Cayuga Lake, where gulls accumulate during the winter months. If a bird has already made it half way across the continent (or more), 150 miles is an inconsequential distance. Our experts feel that it is just a matter of time before a hot-shot birder with a fondness for gulls picks out a California Gull from the Ring-billed and Herring Gulls found at the Seneca Falls dump or the north end of Cayuga Lake. As Matt Young writes, "This is an ID problem for most, but with the fairly steady influx of above average birders to the Basin every few years and the increasing interest in gull ID, it shouldn't be longer than 10-25 years before one is seen at one of the winter gull hot spots at the north end of the lake."
Newly cited references for this issue:
Ellison, Walter G. and Nancy L. Martin. New England Regional Report. North American Birds 54: 26-30.
Paxton, Robert O., Joseph C. Burgiel, and David A. Cutler. Hudson-Delaware Regional Report. North American Birds 54: 31:35.
Sherony, Dominic F. The Fall Migration of Jaegers on Lake Ontario. Journal of Field Ornithology 70: 33:41.
By Matt Williams
August continued to grow quieter and the days finally got hotter. The Red-eyed vireos and cuckoos that continued to sing throughout the summer were scarcely heard by the end of this month.
Despite the summertime blues that many were feeling, Matt Young recovered a bit of the winter irruption's coolness by finding a Pine Siskin feeding with goldfinches at Summer Hill on the 3rd.
On the 5th, Ryan Bakelaar and Matt Medler heard a single Grasshopper Sparrow near the Seybolt bait ponds. On the same trip, 2 Black-crowned Night Herons were seen flying near Tschache and 2 Common Snipe were at Benning.
Ken Rosenberg was obviously out doing a little Evans and McIlroy birding on the 6th and saw the Vesper Sparrow on Mt. Pleasant, near where Marie Read found it, and also had a Black Tern from the lighthouse jetty. Not to be outdone, Matt Medler, while shooting hoops and trying to increase his Lansing List, saw a Sanderling, 50 Caspian Terns and many Purple Martins at Myers Point on the evening of the 10th. That same night, Bill Evans was up on Connecticut Hill and mistook a flying American Woodcock to be the common, night-migrating Woodchuck. The next morning (11th), he heard a Raven in the same area.
In West Danby, Geo Kloppel heard the cries of Cooper's, Sharp-shinned and Broad-winged Hawks on the 13th. Much to many-a-cupper's (or just my) dismay, his constantly vocal Black-billed Cuckoo stopped calling by the 11th, most likely to avoid becoming lunch. Other good birds that disappeared were the 2 Sedge Wrens, last heard on the 16th. The fields were mowed and since breeding was never suspected or confirmed, it can be assumed that they moved on.
Of course, how could an August highlights fail to mention the birds seen at May's Point Pool It simply couldn't. May's was once again a shorebird paradise, as far as upstate shorebirding goes. Willie D'Anna and Gerard Phillips saw a Wilson's Phalarope here on the 20th. Red-necked Phalaropes were seen on the 21st and 26-27th. Also on the 26th, Matts Victoria, Young, Sarver, Medler and Williams (yup, all 5) along with the Cornell Birdwatching Club and a few other non-Matts got looks at the year's first Golden Plover and Buff-Breasted Sandpiper. On the 29th, Young and Victoria got good looks at the first Long-billed Dowitcher of the fall. Both Baird's and White-rumped Sandpipers were present almost consistently in the last third of the month. With flyovers from Peregrines, Merlins and Nighthawks, and the Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons, May's was (and still is) the place to be birding.
And finally, some miscellaneous sightings:
At the south end of Dryden Lake on the 19th, Judy Lutes saw an American Bittern. One of the first reports of returning diving ducks was from Caissa Wilmer on the 21st with a Canvasback on the Main Pool. Chris Tessaglia-Hymes & family saw a Merlin near East Hill Plaza on the 22nd. A Merlin also made an appearance at the lab on the 29th. Lastly, there was a third-hand report of a flyover Red Crossbill that John Fitzpatrick had over his yard sometime in the last week of August, probably just in time for the call for David Cup totals.
"...churning and burning they yearn for The Cup..." (Cake)
August 2000 David Cup Totals
242 Geo Kloppel
235 Ben Fambrough
234 Tom Nix
229 Matt Williams
223 Matt Medler
222 Kevin McGowan
221 Ken Rosenberg
220 Jay McGowan
215 Chris Tessaglia-Hymes
215 Meena Haribal
211 Matt Young
210 Chris Butler
196 Bard Prentiss
195 Jeff Wells
190 Allison Wells
187 Melanie Uhlir
179 Bruce Robertson
167 Anne Kendall
165 John Fitzpatrick
151 Nancy Dickinson
149 Marty Schlabach
122 Jon Kloppel
122 Jim Lowe
122 Tringa McGowan
99 Catherine Sandell
78 Swift the Cat
75 Perri McGowan
August 2000 McIlroy Award Totals
153 Chris Butler
145 Kevin McGowan
134 Jay McGowan
132 Ken Rosenberg
132 Matt Williams
122 Allison Wells
110 Jim Lowe
110 Jeff Wells
99 Bill Evans
Well, well, well. Look who's finally joined the fray! Can Evans make a magical fall push, or is it too little, too late
August 2000 Evans Trophy Totals
190 Ken Rosenberg
171 Kevin McGowan
167 Jay McGowan
155 Bard Prentiss
130 John Fitzpatrick
130 Ken Rosenberg
122 McGowan/Kline Family
103 Geo Kloppel and Pat Lia
96 Nancy Dickinson
68 Tom Fredericks and family
60 Melanie Uhlir
44 Jeff and Allison Wells
37 Melanie Uhlir
22 Allison Wells
154 Matt Williams
137 Kevin McGowan
COMPOSITE DEPOSIT AND LEADER'S LIST
To view what's been seen and heard in the Basin this year, as well as what (if anything) Geo hasn't seen, click here.
Has Tick disappeared It seems as though Allison has had some trouble contacting Tick. If anyone hears rumor of Ticks whereabouts, please contact Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps if we all send the editor emeritus a note of condolence on the disappearance of her friend, it might make her feel better.
"Oh boy! I really did it good this time. My demanding editor, in an apparent attempt to get The Cup out in a timely manner, has set a "firm" deadline of September 10 for this month's Cup material."
"Matt, My total is 149! I wonder if it would help if I changed my name to Matty."
"Oooo, the premier birder of the area. Aren't you The Man! Young kids are so impressionable...Couldn't let that one slip by!"
-Eric Banford, responding to a post by Matt Victoria
"No finds yet, but I doubt Kevin's Fish Crow disappearance is due to WNV. They probably just figured out that if they nested somewhere else someone wouldn't put various plastic and metal attachments on their kids, duh! :)."
"Hello all, I'm just writing a quick heads-up to let you know that there appears to be a Eurasian Collared-Dove in the area. Now before you get too excited (or is anyone getting excited), there are a couple facts that you should note:(1) the bird is near Speedsville, and thus by all but Steve Kelling's definition outside the basin. (2) there is a single metal band on one of the bird's legs, which probably means that it is an escapee or released bird."
"I headed up to Myers Point this evening to check the spit, shoot some hoops, and go for a swim. My jump shot needs a little work (where are you, Coach Young)"
"Greetings! I have a fine mess facing me for this year's MuckRace. First, the weather...high winds and rain. Next, my teammates...one sick, one at a wedding, and one buried under tons of work. Is anyone still scrambling at this point for a teammate or two Also, is there any chance that the whole thing will be canceled, and a rain date will be set I have my rain suit and goulashes at the ready..."
"Matty V -What are you smoking I do indeed appreciate the misery of your situation, but cancel the muckrace Only if we are buried under an advancing tide of molten rock!!! Two years ago, I took part in the big day with a VERY bad cold, including biking Howland Island for most of the morning. You see, sickness, inclement weather, missile strikes - none of these can stop the madness that is the Montezuma Muckrace... The only thing, it seems, that can dismantle a team is a wedding..."
"Over on the east in the aforementioned channel was an adult BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON who didn't bother to seek concealment. What a gorgeous bird! Everybody has a few favorite birds, I suppose, and this is still one of mine. Nycticorax, the "night raven" it is named, but to my eyes it is almost cat-like. And those big red eyes!"
"Up at Conn Hill last night there was a Woodchuck flying around the Boyland Rd. parking lot at dusk."
"As a last look back I turned again towards channel and scanned with my binoculars, at the edge of grass patch I saw a large dark bird with yellow-bill and long legs.
I stared at it with my mouth open and blurted SORA. I watched it for about 30 seconds, when it decided it has skulk away. Though I did not get Red-necked Phalarope (I have seen thousands of them on Monolake, next week I hope), I could take this bonus SORA with all pleasures. This is the second time I have ever actually seen a Sora. I could have almost done some kind of dance, but for the motorbikers who came along with 100 miles an hour and sped past me."
"I stepped outside at 2 am. It was a very, very calm, still night. The quiet was so deep that I could hear, miles away in the southeast, the remote hoot of a Great Horned Owl, probably in the vicinity of the old Landstrom Landfill at the watershed divide near North Spencer, where I've found them lately. It was very distant, yet an answer came from an equal remove to the northwest of me, maybe from the valley swamps or hillsides around Smith Road and rte 34/96. Then I detected a third Great Horned Owl, incredibly remote, beyond the hills in the east. I guessed that if I were to go up to the top of our hill (1920') I might hear still more owls hooting far off in the western hills. It seemed very much to me that all these owls, miles and miles apart, were responding to each other, taking advantage of the unusual stillness like whales who can dive deep to communicate vocally across vast ocean basins."
"We all hopped into the car and drove back over to the spruces to watch the Merlin clean up after its meal. We then got to see it launch into flight, with that typical Merlin attitude: "I'm going in that direction, exactly 1/4 mile away, in 20 seconds, and nothing is getting in my way!" Cool bird."
<><><><><><> EDITORS' CORNER <><><><><><>
Editor-in-chief and Mudhen enthusiast: Ben Fambrough
Senior and Contributing Editor and expert bagel thrower: Matt Medler
Highlights Editor: Matt Williams
Literary and Ice Cream Critic: Matt Sarver
Visiting Storyteller: Kevin McGowan
Editor Emeritus: Allison Wells