Year 5, Issue 7
"Just a little drink from your loving cup,
Just a little drink and I fall down drunk."
-The Rolling Stones
Welcome to the unofficial newsletter of the David Cup birding competition. We've finally overcome some technical hurdles and now bring you a jam-packed issue. Thank you for your patience and interest in the David Cup. I hope you enjoy.
Competition News: Although there may be disparate predictions about election results in sunny Florida, little doubt enters the minds of David Cup observers who uniformly predict Geo Kloppel as the winner with a more than respectable margin. Those who might suppose Tom Nix or myself a threat to his potential victory may have their suppositions put to rest after reading our interview below. However, the real focus of interest this year is the McIlroy competition. Chris Butler's brief reappearance put some early sparks on the tinderbox. His departure to Europe, however, left us begging for more. Dear Allison She still insists she has a chance. Scoffing at others' attempts to dethrone her, she has yet to make a decisive push. Kevin McGowan remained the likely favorite and continues to hold a top position. But lordy, lordy look who came home to take the lead. That's right. None other than the guru himself, Old Silvertop Bill Evans climbed quickly to the lead. November and December should be exciting months for McIlroy watchers. Bill holds a two bird lead over Kevin and a SIXTEEN (!) bird lead over Allison, herself in sixth place. It's gonna be a close one.
The Cup Talks To Geo
Editor's Note: This interview took place before my computer crash of late October. Some of our speculations may be a bit out of date (perhaps we should be talking about owls and Purple Sandpipers); however, Geo ain't going nowhere. Looks like we'll be having another conversation very soon.
THE CUP: Hey Geo, guess what. The beast rises once again from slumber. Did you think this Maine coon drifted into an early hibernation?
KLOPPEL: Given the budget for this publication, I thought you might have starved. No wonder we're conducting this interview here in the Deli corner at
the cramped 200 Club digs. Geez, this place could use a makeover!
THE CUP: Yeah, we never got around to painting after removing Allison's Barry Manilow posters. Well, it was months ago that Nix remarked you had passed him on your way to David Cup Glory. We have two and a half months to go. Readers might wonder whether I can catch you. I think it would be a fine idea to hash out exactly where we stand and what's possible for the near future. Before we get going, let me make it clear to everyone that I think you're a lock for the title.
KLOPPEL: You expect anyone to fall for that?
THE CUP: Backtracking for a moment, astute readers of the listserve and The Cup should already know that you ticked Sandhill Crane in the wee hours of September 16th. What else did you get in that month of heavy migration? Any particularly enjoyable highlights?
KLOPPEL: I added just three birds during the month of September, one in each of three general categories into which the birds tend to fall when your list is already pretty full - the necessary clean-up jobs (Lincoln's Sparrow), the unanticipated gifts (Sandhill Cranes), and the rare migrants that just might be worth targetting (Dickcissel). I'd had a good feeling about Dickcissel, ever since a certain party that I attended in August. We cuppers sat around for hours, eating and drinking and talking birds. I remember that Bill Evans was broiling big portabellas over charcoal...
THE CUP: Oh, THAT party!
KLOPPEL: Yeah, the spread was _generous_ on _that_ occasion. Anyway, my checklist was being passed from hand to hand. Folks were speculating about which birds I could still add to boost the total. Some favored this bird, others that one, but the general allowance was about the same. Bill's richly-annotated predictions were the stuff strategy is made of, and one caught my special attention. "You can get Dickcissel", he said. He recounted past experiences, and opined that someone with mornings free in late September and early October could rack up a few dozen Dickcissels along the east side of Cayuga Lake. A thorough test of that prediction was not in the cards this year, but I did take the message to heart that at least one Dickcissel might be mine for the price of a few trips up the east shore on mornings with north winds coming on the heels of the prevailing westerlies. I prepared. All my delight at hearing one go over on the very first morning Bill prompted us with one of his hunches, I've translated to respect for his predictive powers. How about the way he pulled Sabine's Gull out of the upper midwest? What suction! Gave us two weeks notice to be on the lookout for that one. He's always sublimely above the fray, too. He should be the guru. No doubt he'll have Dickcissel on his own McIlroy list by the time this comes out.
THE CUP: No doubt; he's da man! I'll have to show you our Evans shrine. We've put in a massage table and hired on a full time Reflexologist. Tom, by the way, went after and missed the Sabine's Gull. He lists 237 and expresses doubt as to whether he will tick any new species. Poor guy.
KLOPPEL: Tom has put in a valiant effort, but how can any respectable citizen with a family and a day job (of course I'm excluding night workers) compete with the nearly suicidal neglect of responsibility behind the current leader's success?
THE CUP: So true. Don't you feel sorry for those poor sods locked into the 9 to 5 grind? Let's get back to our standing. Allow me to summarize the positions. You list 245 for September, but are currently at 248 having ticked Orange-crowned Warbler, Sabine's Gull and Black Scoter, correct?
KLOPPEL: You want an answer for today's date or a prediction for the uncertain date of publication?
THE CUP: How about for the more certain date when we dock you five birds for irreverent Cup bashing? I finished with 240 in September, but picked up those birds, plus Brant, which you already had. My current total is 243. We are separated by four birds. I saw Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Western Kingbird, two birds you are not likely to tick this year. You have seen the following birds which I am not likely to see: Golden-winged Warbler, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Bohemian Waxwing, Dickcissel and Olive-sided Flycatcher.
KLOPPEL: This exercise would have been largely superfluous in the old days, when the Composite Deposit and Leader's List were found inside the pages of The Cup. Dare I suppose you're archiving successive generations of the web-based lists for the benefit of those who want to coordinate them with the related back-issues?
THE CUP: I'll ignore that for the moment. You also list Golden Eagle. I plan a strong effort for that bird, which, if I get it, will narrow the gap to three.
KLOPPEL: ...I'll have to see about picking up something else before then.
THE CUP: So, what's left?
KLOPPEL: I recognize a rhetorical question when I see one.
THE CUP: Crossbill species.
KLOPPEL: I've suggested that we put up a feeding station in the spruces atop Summer Hill. Not much response. Of course if I lived up there, it would be the first thing to do! I'll volunteer to go up and stock it once a week. We just need six more volunteers!
THE CUP: Hudsonian Godwit (if the winds change).
KLOPPEL: The window has closed on that one.
THE CUP: Indeedy. Ross's Goose
KLOPPEL: Likeliest to pass unnoticed!
THE CUP: Greater White-fronted Goose
KLOPPEL: A slightly more visible possibility.
THE CUP: Northern Goshawk
KLOPPEL: A decent chance for this one, given freedom to spend a few good mornings on Mount Pleasant.
THE CUP: There are a number of others which might turn up: Snowy Owl, Gyrfalcon, Yellow-headed Blackbird. There's always the possibility for a good winter storm system to blow an alcid or sea duck our way. No Eurasian Wigeon this year yet.
KLOPPEL: I can think of a few more, but I guess you've listed enough possibilities to make it clear the year's not quite over.
THE CUP: I'd say you should get at least three more birds. I expect you'll be topping 250. You said the Sabine's Gull was a wake-up call?
KLOPPEL: It made me realize that 250 was not quite as improbable as I had supposed. As you say, if a couple of the unpredictables materialize, and I'm on hand to see them, it could happen. But long-time readers know that I've always tended to fade in the fall.
THE CUP: On a very personal level, as well as expressing good hopes and expectations, I'd like to share with everyone my concern for you. I've noticed how tired you look lately (nearly drooping over your scope as we try again and again to get you on the Sabine's). Perhaps you need a vacation.
KLOPPEL: You have to work to earn a vacation.
THE CUP: And you've worked so hard on your David Cup list. I know some great places down south where you might get a room for free. Why don't you take the next month off to rest? In the mean time, I'll take care of that ailing Volvo of yours. Sounds pretty rough.
KLOPPEL: I detect a shift in the character of this interview. It almost sounds like that old tail-kicking mockery has returned from retirement. Say, when did you start wearing a hearing aid? What's behind that big mirror over there? Where's that knish I ordered? You're picking up the tab for this, aren't you?
THE CUP: Can I borrow a couple bucks? How do you feel about the number 254?
KLOPPEL: Two to the eighth power, minus two. In this digital age there's something disappointing about such a number - a feeling of desperately close incompleteness.
THE CUP: Medler wanted me to ask you about Bluegrass. A little too mainstream for you?
KLOPPEL: Where exactly is the main stream in this wildly eclectic post-modern polycult we inhabit? If you can get past the ubiquitous and dismally
crass dominant elements, the Pokemons, EuroDisneys, burgers and fries spoken round the world, and if the unprecedented cultural extinction rate doesn't then leave you overwhelmed with grief, it turns out we're living in an astonishingly creative time. Someone puts Indonesian moldy soybean-cake on toasted Tibetan barley bread with Swiss cheese, brine-fermented cabbage and Russian dressing, and voila! the tempeh reuben. Are string ties and revival meetings mainstream? Think of those Japanese Bluegrass bands. If you've got a yen to play Bluegrass, it doesn't matter whether you're from Tokyo or Helsinki, or even Queens. Bluegrass is a cult, dressed up as americana and sporting plenty of semiconscious hokum (Yokum?). It's a transnational phenomenon like scientology or line dancing, and presumably it too is doomed to remain forever beyond the pale, but it has an undeniabe life of its own. Somebody or other will always be singing in pigeon English about old Reuben and his train. The verse should say "you can hear the whistle blow a hundred years!" Elements of the style that sprang fully-armed from the head of Bill Monroe in the early days of the electronic communications revolution have dispersed to enliven lots of other musical genres. In the sphere of cultural evolution, extinction and adaptive radiation are both greatly accelerated. But if you're asking me if I like Bluegrass music, I'd rather listen to Ruben Gonzalez than Reuben's Train, thanks. Pass the sauerkraut, would you?
THE CUP: You spilled some Russian dressing on your shirt. So what's the latest with your band? And do you have any gigs scheduled?
KLOPPEL: We were in Fitchburg MA on Oct 1, for the 95th anniversary of the Finnish-American newspaper Raivaja. I missed another lavish bird-brain party, I hear. Nevertheless, it was a fun gig, and the Finns never omit the traditional groaning coffee table. But we've been playing to a rapidly graying crowd, and I wonder if we'll see many more of those. We'll be doing a contradance in Cooperstown at the gates of winter. After that, who knows?
THE CUP: Care to make a prediction about McIlroy? Bill might be able to do it, but Allison laughs at the mere suggestion.
KLOPPEL: [lights a joss stick before a grainy snapshot of Evans at the jetty] I'm sorry, who was that you said was laughing?
The Sibley Guide in Review
By Matt Medler
Now that The Sibley Guide to Birds has been in bookstores for over a month, it is finally time to present The Cup's much-anticipated "advance review" of this major new guide. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this book, it is the work of David Sibley, one of America's top birders and bird illustrators. Impressive both in size and content, the Sibley Guide is a monumental volume containing over 6,600 illustrations of 810 species found in North America. In case you're not keeping score at home, that is an average of more than eight illustrations per species. This incredible number of illustrations is one of the obvious strong points of this new guide. Sibley uses these illustrations to demonstrate the many sources of variation that can be found within a given species of bird--geographic variation, age differences, sexual dimorphism, polymorphism, the effects of feather wear and fading, changes in posture and head shape, light conditions, etc. For variable, widespread species, Sibley far exceeds the average of eight illustrations per species. Six different forms of Canada Goose are depicted, with an overall total of seventeen illustrations for the species. Herring Gull checks in with 27 illustrations, and, as might be expected, Red-tailed Hawk takes the prize as the most illustrated bird, with 46(!) depictions of our most common raptor.
One of the first things that a reader of the Sibley Guide will notice is that the layout of this book is quite different than the "traditional" field guide layout found in the National Geographic guide, Peterson guides, and Golden guide. Whereas those guides have a distinct split between text and illustrations, with the text for a given species found on the page opposite the illustrations of that bird, the Sibley Guide is laid out so that illustrations are the central focus of each page, and supporting text is situated above, below, and amongst the illustrations. There are generally two species depicted side by side on a page, although some species command an entire page (or two). This layout takes some getting used to, especially after years of using guides with the "traditional" format, and it has a very pronounced advantage and disadvantage. From a visual standpoint, the Sibley Guide layout is excellent--there is never any doubt about what species you are looking at (unlike certain guides like Hayman, Marchant, and Prater's Shorebirds, where the mixing of different species on a plate can be very confusing) and it is very easy to make comparisons between neighboring species. The downside of such a layout is that there is no single source of textual information for a species. Bits and pieces of information are spread out in four or five different places, making it difficult to get a complete description of a bird from a quick read.
The patient reader of the Sibley Guide, though, will realize that the book is truly a treasure trove of information about North American birds. I have learned more new things about birds from studying this book for two months than I have learned at any other time after my initial immersion into birdwatching seven years ago. Here are just of the few new things I have learned from the Sibley Guide: Golden-fronted and Red-bellied woodpeckers hybridize where their ranges overlap; all alcids often fly and swim in lines; swifts have an expandable throat poach, often visible when full, that they use to carry food for their young; all Tyrannus flycatchers (not just Eastern Kingbird) have an orange or red crown-stripe that is exposed during displays; and there are numerous examples of Blue-headed and Yellow-throated vireos singing each others songs. As I spent more and more time studying the plates and text of the Sibley Guide, it suddenly occurred to me what makes this book so special--it is in essence a finished version of David Sibley's field notebook, distilling almost 30 years of careful observation, sketching, and notetaking into one volume. While most birders would be happy, even thrilled, to take a quick peak at the field notes of a top-notch birder like Sibley, with this book we have been given the luxury of having a permanent copy, accompanied by thousands of Sibley's excellent illustrations. In addition, the book contains a number of half-page sidebars that directly address a number of identification challenges: swans, Ross's vs. Snow geese, scaup, eiders, scoters, goldeneye, accipiters, buteos, falcons, peeps, gnatcatchers, and fall warblers. While some of these sidebars contain previously unpublished field marks that will now allow birdwatchers to put a name to a bird that in the past would have gone unidentified, the Sibley Guide is definitely not intended to provide birders with a positive identification for every bird they see. In fact, one of the major themes in the guide is that not every bird is identifiable to species, and that birders should be cautious in their identifications of challenging species. In treating the three species (Cassin's, Plumbeous, and Blue-headed) in the Solitary Vireo complex, Sibley writes, "Intermediate birds (and perhaps hybrids) should be expected, and not every individual will be identifiable." Of course, this is not what avid twitchers want to read, and it is in sharp contrast to another recently published field guide, The Collins Guide to Birds. This excellent new European guide, by Killian Mullarney, Dan Zetterstr m, Peter Grant, and Lars Svensson, contains a detailed identification section for every species of bird, suggesting that some set of characters can be used to identify every species of bird covered in the book. This mindset is definitely not present in the Sibley Guide, and although a reader's life list might suffer in the short term as a result, I believe that in the long term, the cautious approach to bird identification presented by Sibley in his guide will make a birder a better field observer.
The one major aspect of the Sibley Guide that does not appeal to me is the "bare bones," utilitarian composition of the plates. While the illustrations of the birds themselves are often excellent, the overall look of a plate is "birds on a white background," with very little or sometimes no habitat depiction included with the bird. I prefer the richer illustrations of Lars Jonsson's Birds of Europe, in which birds are often seen within a lavish illustration of their typical habitat. I enjoy Jonsson's plates both from an aesthetic standpoint and from a practical one--showing a bird in its appropriate gives me an idea of how I might find it in the field. Admittedly, this preference is a personal one, and others might prefer Sibley's approach, finding Jonsson's plates to be too busy. I encourage you to compare the two artists' illustrations of Harlequin Duck, a species that occurs in North America and Europe, to see the differences in style.
The only glaring problem that I find with the Sibley Guide is something that almost undoubtedly occurred during the printing process--rufous and orange colors in the plates came out much brighter and reddish than they should have. This is a recurring problem throughout the book, which is why the consensus feeling is that this is a printing problem. It is evident in a number of species, with Brown Thrasher and Wood Thrush being two obvious examples. Another possibly "weighty" problem for some is the large size of the book, which tips the scales at more than 2.5 pounds. At such a weight, it is probably not practical to carry this book in the field for extended periods of time, unless you devise some type of "book brassiere," like the binocular brassiere that Kevin McGowan uses to carry his big Swarovskis.
Of course, the reason why the Sibley Guide is so big is because it is simply packed with information. In addition to typical species plates, Sibley introduces each family with a plate of thumbnail sketches illustrating all the members of the family, a feature that I find very informative. These family plates help demonstrate the differences between genera within a family, and help to illustrate the incredible diversity of forms that can be found in a large group like the shorebirds. Another feature in the guide that I find useful is the employment of "rarity dots" on the range maps to show specific locations where a species has strayed from its normal range. While the range maps do not necessarily show every out-of-range record for a species, these rarity dots clearly show the patterns of vagrancy for birds.
Overall, I find The Sibley Guide to Birds to be an amazing accomplishment by David Sibley. It has already taken its place as my preferred North American field guide, and I highly recommend it to any serious birdwatcher. For more information about the guide, check out David Sibley's web site at http://www.sibleyart.com/.
California Gull: A Closer Look
By Willie D'Anna
In recent issues of The Cup, Matt Medler has compiled the "The Next New Basin Birds", a prognostication by some of the top area birders on what new species are most likely to be found in the Cayuga Lake Basin. The species that caught my eye was, surprisingly enough (yeah, right), California Gull. Okay, so I have a keen interest in gulls (some might insist it's a morbid fascination). I will wager, however, that with the lure of possibly adding a new species to the basin list and with a little encouragement, some of you will also be paying attention to this complex group of birds or, to use the words of a friend of mine at work, those flying rats. (I know that term is normally reserved for Rock Doves but he pays no attention to me.)
Eight years in a row there has been at least one California Gull on the Niagara River and it is only 150 miles from there to Cayuga Lake as the gull flies. And now, there have been multiple reports on Lake Ontario near Rochester, only 60 miles away. Gulls are tremendous fliers and can cover these distances with ease. Cayuga Lake stays partially open through the winter and at that time occasionally hosts sizeable concentrations of Herring Gulls. It is very conceivable that a California Gull on the Great Lakes/ Niagara River corridor might join with a flock of Herring Gulls and stop in or even over-winter at Cayuga Lake. The question is, will you be ready for it?
Before discussing how to pick out this species from the abundant Herring Gulls, I will say that it is probably more difficult than you think. Now wait a minute, don't get discouraged! Remember that there were no records on the Niagara River until 1992, then it was found every year since, including multiple individuals. This implies that there were probably California Gulls on the Niagara before 1992 but the birders there had not learned how to find them yet. The same could be true for the basin. So, why is it more difficult, you ask? Because the field guides do not show or discuss geographical variation (the new Sibley guide notwithstanding) and the form of California Gull that we see on the Niagara River probably is not the form that they describe. Jehl (1987) proposed that there are two subspecies of California Gull, the nominate race of the Great Basin and the northern Great Plains race, which he called "albertaensis". Although the A.O.U. has not yet recognized this subspecies, the Niagara birders believe that it is this form that is normally encountered on the river. On average it is larger and paler than the nominate form and thus, even more closely resembles a Herring Gull (note that the Sibley guide incorrectly indicates that this form has a darker mantle but correctly illustrates it with a paler mantle).
By now you realize that a California Gull in the basin will most likely be found with a Herring Gull. As an adult its greenish-yellow legs should enable it to easily stand out. Sigh If only gulls were that easy. Often they are packed so tightly together you cannot even see the legs on half the gulls and when you can, you cannot tell which body they belong to. Also, gulls are often at inaccessible places, far from your vantage point. Distance can make accurate determination of leg color extremely difficult. The next best thing to notice on a standing or lying bird is the relative darkness of the mantle &endash; an adult California Gull should be very slightly darker than a Herring Gull. Again, you have to be very careful. Have you ever noticed when looking at a flock of gulls (either Herring or Ring-billed or both) that a bird which is at a slightly different angle to the others will look slightly darker? The difference between California and Herring Gull mantles can be that subtle. At times, a California Gull might even appear intermediate in darkness between the angled bird and the other Herring Gulls. Therefore, you have to make certain that the difference is real and, of course, find some additional clues.
An important clue that you might be looking at a California Gull, for adults and third-year birds, is the color of the eyes. This species has dark eyes while Herring, Ring-billed, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls all have light eyes, at least most of the time. Beware of the rare Herring Gull with dark eyes. Usually, however, even these dark-eyed birds will appear pale-eyed with a close look.
A California Gull is intermediate in size between a Herring and a Ring-billed Gull. It is noticeably slimmer in body than a Herring Gull and the bill shows no expansion near the tip, unlike most Herring Gulls. If, after careful comparison, your prospect appears to be about the same size as a Herring Gull with a similar size bill, then it is not a California, period. I make this point because I have seen gulls with slightly darker mantles and yellow legs that are about the size of Herring Gulls. Nobody I know who has also seen these birds can figure out what they are. However, we all agree that they are not Yellow-legged Gulls and definitely not California Gulls. (One guess is that these are hybrids or backcrosses between Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.) Although California Gulls are definitely smaller than Herrings, they are closer to that species than to the Ring-billed Gull, especially in flight when its long wings make it appear larger.
Another key character in late fall and winter is the bill pattern. Adult Californias have what appears to be a narrow black ring just in from the bill tip. This ring is much narrower than that of an adult Ring-billed Gull. Adjacent to the black ring and just behind it, there is a reddish spot on the lower mandible which can be difficult to see. Subadult, and possibly even adult Herring Gulls can also have this bill pattern (look at the N.G.S. Field Guide, Third Edition, for an illustration). At other times of the year, the black mark on the bill is much smaller and may be entirely absent.
A very useful character on a flying adult California Gull is the wing pattern (sometimes partly visible on a preening bird also). This species shows more extensive black on the wingtip than a Herring Gull. In addition the shape of the black can be helpful as it usually cuts fairly straight across the wing. Another key is that adult California Gulls usually show two sizeable mirrors which are almost always larger than those on a Herring Gull.
We all know that Herring Gulls are heavily streaked on the head and neck in winter. California Gulls are even more heavily streaked, usually. This streaking is especially evident on the lower hind neck and often forms a dark collar. However, Herring Gulls are so extremely variable that inevitably there is one or more that stand out in a flock as being exceptionally heavily streaked, suggesting a California Gull. In addition the occasional California is less heavily streaked, then making this character useless. It should be obvious that without a lot of additional evidence, head streaking is of limited value.
So far, our discussion has involved adult California Gulls. However, there have been at least two records of immature birds on the Niagara River &endash; one in second-basic plumage and one in third basic &endash; so it is appropriate to discuss these plumages. Third-basic birds are essentially like adults but have some additional black along the leading edge of the wings, may have some black on the tail, and may lack the red spot on the bill. Second-basic birds can appear very dark mantled, suggesting a Lesser Black-backed Gull, though not quite as dark. However, the inner primaries show as a pale patch on the wing, unlike Lesser Black-backed Gull which shows fairly uniformly dark wings in all plumages. The bill is pale with a sharply-demarcated black tip or a ring, unlike Lesser Black-back Gulls but like many Herring Gulls of similar age. In summary, to identify a second-basic California Gull, you need to assess the darkness of the gray on the back, carefully determine the overall size and bill size and shape, check the bill pattern, observe greenish or grayish legs, and make sure the eyes are dark. Even though the similar species could also have dark eyes at this age, if your prospect has pale eyes, it is not a California Gull.
A brief warning about first-basic California Gulls: first-basic Herring Gulls are extremely variable and can approach and sometimes match nearly all of the distinguishing characters between these two species. If you are going to identify this age of California Gull in the east, be prepared to document it thoroughly, preferably with photographs or video along with a thorough description. And, of course, get other experienced birders to look at the gull.
Obviously, finding a California Gull in the basin will not be easy. However, odds are the species has already occurred there or will probably occur there in the near future. A birder needs to examine a flock of Herring Gulls slowly and carefully to pick out this species. An identification should be made only after observing most of the field characters discussed above. While I have emphasized the need for great caution in analyzing field marks, identification of this species can become relatively straightforward after you have gained some experience with it. One of the best ways to do that is to come to the Niagara River in late November through early January. See you there!
On The Move
By Matt Young
Well, hopefully this will be one of many articles to come in a winter series called "On the Move". As many of you well know that I'm an irruptive species enthusiast/specialist, I figured this would be my way to keep people a breast with what's moving on a continent-wide scale during the winter. Although it is still a bit early for large movements of irruptives, especially since most migrate during November, I figured I'd start sooner rather than later.
What's on the move? It very well could be shaping up as a big Owl year, especially in the Midwest, but we could see affects of this in the Northeast in the winter months to come. Banding stations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan are experiencing early significant flights of both Boreal and Hawk Owls with a few Great Grays thrown in as well. Here's some quotes from this past weeks RBA's from that region: "a very early NORTHERN HAWK OWL in Lake Co along Minn Hwy 1; and another very early BOREAL OWL found injured along the Howard Gnesen Rd in Duluth.-Minn "; "Boreal Owls have been a big story there during the past week with at least 41 being banded, including 17 on October 19th compared with only 2 Saw-whet Owls banded on the same date."-Mich. Even our own Ken Rosenberg informed me that his brother, while leading a trip in Alaska last month, had a large flight of Hawk Owls coming across the sea from Siberia. Historical records have cited such flights in Alaska, but not in many years apparently. Even though flights in the Midwest are not that rare, it still could bode well for owls in our area as winter progresses. Could this be the year that the basin yields its first Boreal Owl? Evans and I have already planned to camp out at Summerhill in late February so this long overdue bird is reported. Now we can only hope that Great Grays and Snowys show up as well, but they are typically late November-December irruptives.
As for finches, well I'd be quite surprised if we had a major irruption this winter, but, you never know! Anyway, it appears as if the big White-winged Crossbill event from past months has quieted down. I must say before leaving this topic that during the great 1985 irruption of both crossbills, which led to breeding in our area, crossbills were seen in the Adirondacks in late summer early fall, and eventually by January they had arrived in the Basin vicinity. I do believe White-wings will show up and potentially breed, but they certainly won't be in numbers. You will need to be out in conifer plantations at least monthly to find these wonderfully beautiful nomadic specialties. On the other hand, this year's Pine Siskin movement appears to be primarily through central NY. Last year the large flights were noted along the coast, but this year the Braddock Bay Banding station has seen 100's of flyovers with other sightings scattered throughout the interior part of the state in recent days. Pine siskins are also moving on a small scale out west. Speaking of the West, this year could be a bigger finch year there than here. Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches and particularly Cassin's Finches are moving in good numbers, but again, it's a bit too early to tell. Some year's it can look as if we're in for a big irruption and then it just peters out. A few Evening Grosbeaks have been noted south of the North Country, so there is hope. Once again, large movements of our beloved (or at least my beloved) finches often peak in early November to Early December. Typically, Evening Grosbeaks and siskins irrupt 3-4 weeks in advance of Pine Grosbeaks and Redpolls. Redpolls were the story of last winter, so, I'd be very surprised if we see any of these delightful cardualine finches in our parts this winter. But as I'm writing this I must quote an RBA from Minnesota that was just posted; "A few COMMON REDPOLLS were seen October 14th in St. Anthony Park, Ramsey County. This is a bit early for this species to be so far south". We can only hope!
Last, but not least, the first Northern Shrikes and Rough-Legged Hawks have turned up in our region this past week. On a continental scale, Shrikes were probably the big story last winter. In fact, I was just recently interviewed by an Illinois ornithological newsletter called The Meadowlark with regard to last year's shrike invasion. Probably one of the largest irruptions in the past 25-50 years on a continental scale. Last year's great irruption typically doesn't bode well for a major irruption the following year. But, with both Rough-legs and shrikes, we are at their southern limits of their winter range, so we certainly shouldn't have to struggle too much to see these two species.
In past year's it's been feast or famine with winter finches. This winter, I do believe small numbers of Siskins, White-winged Crossbill, and perhaps Evening Grosbeaks will be scattered. I think were overdue for an Owl year. So, let's hope it's an owl year. Remember, to see finches and often owls, more remote areas need to be visited during the winter months. Besides, I disagree with most, I think winter is just as nice as spring for bird watching. Get out and enjoy the birds of winter.
Well, it looks like last months predictions are holding true so far. Owls, Owls and more owls can sum up the hopes for this winter. Already, Boreal Owls have been banded in Maine (2) and seen in downtown Boston. Hawk Owls are just across Lake Ontario, and Snowy's are everywhere!! Snowy's have been reported across NY, throughout New England, and in more southern states such as, Penn, NJ, and Virginia. Unfortunately, most Snowy's die in irruption years. I've heard that nearly 70% die in such years. Enough of that! So far, Great Grays have materialized in the western Great Lake states, but not here in the east. It's still early, so Great Grays could follow. Since were talking about Owls, now is the time to check for basin Long Eareds and irruptive Short-eareds(yes, they're irruptive, check basin checklist).
So far, there's not much happening on the finch front, but, don't fret, there's time! Purple finches could be the story here in central NY this winter. I believe we haven't had a big basin purple finch winter since the early 80's. Numbers have been reported in wilder areas in the basin such as, Summer Hill, Beam Hill and Hammond Hill. It will be interesting to see if they stick around this year to feed on the plentiful cone/seed crop of many conifers and deciduous trees. I wonder if they're missed on CBC's in years of good cone/seed crops. In recent years, the few winter reports of purple finches are often from feeders. Like purple finches, pine siskins are also experiencing a small movement in central and western NY. They've been widely reported from the Summer Hill and Hammond Hill areas as well. As for the other delightful winter finches, we'll just have to wait and see. Last week(Nov8), there was a modest flight of Common Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks down some of the western Great Lakes in Minnesota, which is where they often materialize before reaching here; although, there was a report of a half dozen Common redpolls in Vermont last week. Additionally, the west has recently witnessed movement of both Stellar's and Scrub Jays, Mountain Chickadees and Clark's Nutcrackers.
What about those crossbills? Well, I've struggled to get any reports from my sources up north recently, but White-winged Crossbills were noted in recent weeks from western NY and throughout the Saranac Lake area.
What had to be one of the more interesting sightings of the past month came out of the Maryland area. Apparently, a small plane at 1000 ft. spotted a small flock of approximately 10 Evening Grosbeaks. So far, Evening Grosbeak reports have been few and far between...a few is better than none.
Out west is where the real finch winter could be materializing. Cassin's finches are being reported everywhere in the lowlands, and pine siskins, red crossbills, and evening grosbeaks seem to be widely reported as well.
Only time will tell if the other winter finches grace our area. If it they don't, at least we have hopes for an owl year. Good birding!!
Backroads of a Night Flight Call Researcher: Part II
By W.R. Evans
Well, it figures a Cassin's Sparrow would show up in New York recently. My narcissistic mind drifts into reverie and believes this is no coincidence. In the home stretch of working on the flight call guide to passerines east of the Rockies, Cassin's flight/location call still remains unknown to me and Michael O'Brien (the audio guide's co-author). We've heard rumors they give a "tseep" like a Grasshopper Sparrow, but we haven't had occasion to work on this species. But as I write this morning, I am determined not to dwell on what is an obvious slap in the face from some higher power. Nor am I going to get stuck thinking too much more about what really happened a few weekends ago with Meena's (and Chris's) Sabine's Gull sighting--an event that has farther-reaching ramifications than have surfaced in our collective consciousness. Instead, here is the update on the towerkill situation that I had promised our esteemed editor.
Towerkill.com, a website I started with Bernie Guirey (Verbosa brutalii) back in April of 1998, is still percolating through the web at a good clip, serving 3000 pages a week. It peaked for a few weeks this summer at over 1000 pages per day when Popular Science ran an article on the towerkill issue and included the URL. The continued steady traffic is totally amazing to me since the bulk of the site has remained unchanged since we put it up. The issue has survived and matured through an ascending concatenation of events. The tinderbox of unbridled tower construction, declining songbird populations, and a bloated 800+ billion dollar a year broadcast and communications industry was ripe for a spark in late 1997. The serendipitous 5000-10,000 Longspur massacre in Kansas in January of 1998 catalyzed the blaze. Grassroots activism by former National Audubon policy office employees and the American Bird Conservancy brought the issue to the Ornithological Council (policy arm of NA ornithological societies) in the form of a resolution in April of 1998 at the North American Ornithological Congress in St. Louis. Representatives from the four major ornithological societies in North America unanimously passed the resolution. A key point in its legalese was the request for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to address the problem with the FCC and FAA. This gave the FWS the support it needed to put resources toward the issue. Skilled FWS negotiators brokered a union of the key "stakeholders" and after a year of meetings in DC there is now a fairly well-rounded mechanism to foster towerkill mitigation research. Meanwhile, the industry has been churning away building towers.
The irony in the whole matter is that it appears the big 1000+ towerkills are not happening much anymore. The biggest single-night kill we have documented in the past three years of the informal New York State Towerkill Survey is ~65 birds (though only 40% of the tower's perimeter were surveyable). The five long-term towerkill studies around the continent all concur that towers that once killed thousands of birds per year are now only killing hundreds. This has apparently convinced some ornithologists that the problem is not a problem anymore. A few years back I received an email to the towerkill.com website from a guy on a Navy vessel in the Gulf. He had written me about a night when a huge swarm of migrants circled their lighted Navy vessel all evening. He found many dead birds on the deck in the morning and speculated about the hundreds that must have gone into the Gulf. He was concerned about the effect lighted oilrigs might be having on trans-gulf migrants. With 4000+ oilrigs in the Gulf, one would think that it would not be a good thing to have lights on the rigs because huge swarms of migrants might circle the rigs all night instead of making progress across the Gulf. And, of course, they have no place to refuel out over the open water -- there very likely has been massive mortality associated with the rigs in the past. Anyway, I forwarded the email to the now head Louisiana State University (LSU) researcher of the Migration Across the Gulf Project &endash; the project that places topnotch birders on oilrigs to document the species composition and numbers of migrants. We inquired about whether they had considered the effect the lights on the oilrigs might have on night migrating songbirds. Their website on the project did not indicate they were looking into this. Well, we hit a nerve and a minor brouhaha evolved. This LSU researcher was afraid of getting his funding pulled if we broadcast our concern [in his mind unproven] about the oilrig mortality. He said he believed the rigs might actually help migrants by giving them a place to rest during their crossing. During the ensuing fray of email, this LSU researcher said that towerkill is not a problem anymore and suggested that birds were adapting to the situation. Surprisingly, this notion has come up from other sectors of the ornithological community. Among the folks who have been active in the towerkill issue the past two years (FWS's National Communications Tower Working Group), we call this attitude BIRD 22 (in analogy to the novel Catch 22). Catch 22 is a term coined by Joseph Heller, and its title of his Vietnam War era novel that depicts the twisted truth that you can't get out of the army by acting crazy because you are sane to want to get out of the army so therefore you can't be crazy. Here, the metaphor translates somewhat to the fact that once bird populations have been sufficiently wiped out, there won't be a problem with birds hitting towers or expending their fat reserves flying around oilrigs all night, so there won't be a reason to do anything about it. Kids will just grow up with fewer cool birds and that will be the way their world is.
At this point, I ask the reader to consider whether deer might ever adapt to heed a warning from auto headlights. Keep in mind there have been six motorcycle/deer accidents alone in Tompkins County already this year. It is therefore, for me, almost beyond the realm of possibility to think that birds may have adapted to towers in 40 years. More likely the lower towerkill mortality is due to two factors that now result in fewer birds congregating around towers on cloudy migration nights: 1) lower continental populations of night migrating songbirds, and 2) the fact that there are now many more light sources for birds to congregate around, thus fewer birds congregating around any one light source. So as hundreds of new oilrigs go up out in the deep Gulf over the next five years and 5000+ new towers a year spring up across the US (and at the same pace in Central and South America in due time), the point I'd like to end this essay with is that the crux of the matter is not just about concern for bird populations. It is also about RESPECT for other branches of life on earth. If the average North American is driving down the road and sees a turtle crossing their path ahead, my hunch is that 99% of the men and 99.9% of the women will make an effort to swerve to miss it. Such conscience must, therefore, inherently exist for corporate America to do the same in its various and marvelous machicolations, though I don't expect it will be the ornithologists on Exxon's payroll that will champion the coalescence of this conscience toward effective mitigation.
<<<<<<<<<< THE NEXT NEW BASIN BIRDS, PARTS 3 AND 4 >>>>>>>>>>
By Matt Medler
Since it's been a while since the last issue of The Cup, I thought I'd provide a brief refresher course on this continuing series. "The Next New Basin Birds" is an idea taken directly from a series of articles in Birding called "The Next New ABA Birds," in which regional experts have been predicting what species they feel will be the next new birds added to the ABA list. Way back in July, I assembled my own panel of experts to prognosticate on what new species we might add to the Cayuga Lake Basin Checklist in the coming years. Once I received all 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. To date, the following four species of birds have been profiled in recent issues of The Cup:
10. Boreal Owl
9. Pacific Loon
8. Pomarine Jaeger
7. California Gull
This issue, we continue with picks #6 through #3, and next month, it's the moment you've all been waiting for- the two species voted most likely to be "The Next New Basin Birds."
Eurasian Collared-Dove (3 votes, 23 points)
As the name suggests, the Eurasian Collared-Dove is native to Eurasia, and is one of the most recent additions to the North American avifauna. Originally found on the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka, this dove spread (either naturally or with human assistance) to Turkey and southeastern Europe in the 1500s. After apparently remaining confined to the Balkans for several hundred years, the Eurasian Collared-Dove population began an explosive range expansion westward across Europe in the 1900s, colonizing Hungary in 1930, Germany in 1945, Norway in 1954, the United Kingdom in 1955, and Spain in 1974.
Despite this impressive ability to rapidly colonize new areas, the Eurasian Collared-Dove did not reach North America under its own power. It is believed that the species was introduced to the New World by a dove breeder in the Bahamas in the early 1970s. From this introduced population in the Bahamas, it is thought that some birds dispersed and reached southern Florida by the early 1980s. Interestingly, the Eurasian Collared-Dove may have gone undetected for several years after its arrival in South Florida because of its similarity to its close relative, the Ringed Turtle-Dove. Until 1986, any introduced dove in the area was assumed to be a turtle-dove.
Following its North American "discovery" in Florida in 1986, the Collared-Dove was next seen in Georgia in 1988, where the first state record was a bird shot by a hunter. Since that time, individuals have been seen in such far-flung locations as Oregon, Minnesota, and closest to the Basin, western Pennsylvania and Long Island. Although this species, along with many other doves, is kept in captivity, it is assumed that the above reports are of birds that have dispersed naturally from Florida. During its expansion in Europe, the species followed a pattern of "jump" dispersal, in which a few individuals would advance well beyond the established range of the species, and then the breeding population would gradually increase in the same direction as the "jumpers." For a brief history of the dove in Eurasia and a complete review of the species in North America, see "Eurasian Collared-Doves in North America and the Caribbean," by Christina M. Romagosa and Terry McEneaney (North American Birds, Vol. 53: No. 4, 1999). This brief summary draws heavily from that article.
The general feeling about Eurasian Collared-Dove in North America is that it will likely spread across the continent in a relatively short period of time, as House Sparrow and European Starling have done. As Tom Nix wrote, "It's just a matter of time." Upon arriving back from a trip to Sarasota, Florida in August, Nix noted that Eurasian Collared-Dove is already the most common dove in that area of the state. Bill Evans was even more bold in his prediction of the dove's arrival in the Cayuga Lake Basin. The so-called "Guru" said that Eurasian Collared-Dove will "definitely" be seen in the Basin within the next five years. If, according to our experts, this species' addition to our avifauna is a question merely of "when" rather than "if," the next relevant question when the first bird is reported in the Basin will be "escapee?" or "wild bird?." Subscribers to Cayugabirds-L already received a taste of things to come when a Eurasian Collared-Dove was reported this summer from nearby (but out of the Basin) Speedsville. This particular bird, tracked down by intrepid Lab of O staffer Wes Hochachka, was determined to be an escapee.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (4 votes, 23 points)
One of North America's flashiest birds, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is confined to the central part of the continent as a breeding bird, with the heart of its range being Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Small numbers of these species winter in South Florida, with most of the population found in Central America (south to central Costa Rica) during the temperate winter (AOU 1998). Like a number of other species of flycatchers, Scissor-taileds have a propensity for showing up in places far from their normal breeding or wintering grounds. This species is described as "casual throughout most of North America" in the latest AOU check-list, with records from across Canada and the northern states, south to Arizona, Baja California, and the Gulf states (AOU 1998).
In the Northeast, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a rare but increasingly regular vagrant, most likely to be seen in the spring or early summer. There are over 25 spring records (April to June) from Massachusetts, with at least nine more from that state during the fall (Veit and Petersen 1993). In New Jersey, there were twelve records prior to 1984, with eight from the spring, and since that time, the species has been almost annual in the state (Levine 1998). New York has 39 records of Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, with 30 of those records coming from Long Island (Levine 1998). But, of the nine upstate records, at least three have come from nearby counties: Monroe, Chenango, and Oswego (Levine 1998). Following the trend from Massachusetts and New Jersey, most (23 of 39) of New York's Scissor-tailed Flycatcher reports have come in the spring or early summer (May to July); 13 records come from the fall months of September to November (Levine 1998).
With the high number of records from New York and the conspicuousness of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, it is a bit of a wonder that this species has not already been seen in the Basin. As Mr. Nix points out, we already have the much rarer Fork-tailed Flycatcher on the Basin list, so why not Scissor-tailed? This bird is a no-brainer as far as identification goes, so finding the first Basin record should just be a matter of stumbling across a bird in some out-of-the-way location. I envision something like Chris Butler's discovery of the Loggerhead Shrike this past May- a bird perched along the side of a road in open country in the North Basin in the springtime.
Mississippi Kite (Four votes, 26 points )
This elegant aerial insectivore breeds across the southern part of the United States, from Arizona and New Mexico eastward across Texas and the Gulf coast states to the Atlantic coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas (AOU 1998). Relatively little is known about its wintering grounds, but it is believed to winter primarily in central South America (AOU 1988). Mississippi Kite is a fairly recent addition to the New York State checklist, with the first state record coming from Staten Island in May-June 1979 (Levine 1998). Since that time, there have been an additional 22 records for the state (Levine 1998). Unlike many New York State rarities, this kite is more likely to be found upstate than downstate; 17 of the 23 state records are from the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie (Levine 1998). The vast majority of Mississippi Kite records in New York are in either spring or summer, a situation also found in the neighboring states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts (Levine 1998, McWilliams and Brauning 2000, Walsh et al. 1999, Veit and Petersen 1993). At least in New York, this bird is likely to be found near water, where large insect activity (especially dragonflies) is high; of the seven summer records from New York, six have come from Braddock Bay, where researchers have placed extra focus on hawkwatching on days with heavy dragonfly activity (Levine 1998). With a proven ability to wander north of the Cayuga Lake Basin, and with a preference for catching Odonatans over water, the Mississippi Kite seems like a perfect candidate to be seen in the northern Basin. In voting for this species, Tom Nix envisioned just this scenario, writing, "This bug-eater ought to occur over the Montezuma marshes, or maybe over the Cayuga marshes at the north end of the lake."
Cave Swallow (Six votes, 26 points)
There are two distinct groups of Cave Swallows that breed in North America- one found in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico south to Mexico, and another that has expanded into southern Florida from the Caribbean (AOU 1998). An increasing number of southwestern Cave Swallows, which are rapidly expanding their breeding range to the north, have been found wintering in southern Texas and northern Mexico, but the full winter range of that group is not known (AOU 1998). Birds breeding in Florida leave that state during the winter (Robertson and Woolfenden 1992), and it is speculated that they winter in the West Indies, but the exact wintering grounds of this group are not known (West 1995).
Like Mississippi Kite, Cave Swallow is a recent addition to the New York State avifauna. In fact, the first state record is from May 1990, when a single individual (which appeared to be a Caribbean bird) was seen at Jamaica Bay NWR on Long Island (Levine 1998). This sighting conincided with the first New Jersey record of the species (Levine 1998). Since that time, Cave Swallow has become an annual fall visitor to New Jersey, with birds seen at Cape May every November since 1992 (North American Birds, Vol. 54: No. 1, 2000). Last November, Cave Swallows made an impressive appearance across the entire Northeast, with 35+ birds seen at Cape May, almost 50 individuals reported from Ontario, and additional birds spotted from Qu bec south to South Carolina (North American Birds, Vol. 54: No. 1, 2000). Very close to home, two Cave Swallows were reported from the south shore of Lake Ontario, at Braddock Bay (North American Birds, Vol. 54: No. 1, 2000). In addition, there was another report from New York, this one coming from Long Island (North American Birds, Vol. 54: No. 1, 2000).
In commenting on the "huge" numbers of Cave Swallows in the Northeast last year, and the Lake Ontario birds in particular, Matt Young says, "A few very well could have moved through [the Basin] during this time undetected." As strange as it might seem to be looking for swallows in November, the time for finding the first Basin Cave Swallow is now. Last year's Braddock Bay reports were on November 23 (North American Birds, Vol. 54: No. 1, 2000), and the first Cape May sightings this fall just came in last week, reported by Paul Lehman on the New Jersey listserve on November 6. So, if you're out birding in the next week or two, keep an eye to the sky, and think Cave Swallow!
Robertson, W.B., and G. E. Woolfenden. 1992. Florida bird species: an annotated list. Spec. publ. no. 6, Fla. Ornithol. Socl, Gainesville.
West, S. 1995. Cave Swallow (Hirundo fulva). In The Birds of North America, No. 141 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and the American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D. C.
Banding About at Ben's
By Allison Wells
Band, bands, bands. Know anyone in Ithaca who isn't in one? So which one do you hire for that extra special occasion? Your own, of course. That way, you don't have to pay them. Plus you get to impress your friends. This is what astute Cup editor Ben Fambrough did at his October 1 birders-beer-and-bonfire bash. Turns out, Renee's chef extraordinaire is as comfortable with a guitar and a mic as he is wielding a frying pan over a medium flame. Although I have no idea what Ben's band is called (I was drinking Diet Coke), his recipe was original yet comfortably familiar&emdash;some Phish, a little Jerry, a dash of Metheny. Ben kept things grooving smoothly despite the antics of his raucous guests&emdash;Bruce Robertson taunting the Rosenberg children, Kevin McGowan pounding out the difference between "real" and warped reality, Bill Evans chiding and being chided about his (dare I say it?) "novel" attempt at the McIlroy (you had to be there). At the same time, the beat proved a stimulating backdrop for conversations ranging from poetry programs to strategies for finding nests of Aratinga pertinax to the horrors of wisdom teeth extraction. On top of all that, the band even succeeded in drawing in a few woodpeckers and chickadees&emdash;something Mectapus has yet to accomplish.
Ben reports that the band is scheduling some upcoming gigs. Because I don't know the name of the band, I can't tell you what to look for in the papers. Not to worry. If the Cup continues with tradition, the editor will shamelessly plug forthcoming gigs (and may go so far as to dock you birds if you fail to attend them) and band-related news (which reminds me, the Ageless Jazz Band, featuring Cuppers Jeff Wells, Jim Lowe, and yours truly, has just come out with a self-titled CD! Get yours from one of us for only $10! Shameless!)
Ben, thanks for a good time! By the way, the pizza from Rogan's was great, but where was the pan-seared, dried cherry demi-glaced salmon?
Editor's note: In accordance with new Cup policy and our refreshingly professional aspect, I shall refrain from such self-serving indulgences as advertising my band in the newsletter. There are better places for that . The much abused Cayugabirds-l comes to mind. J
Highlights of September and October
By Matt Williams
Well, the highlights for the early part of this month tend to be weighted heavily toward the north end of the David Cup Basin. Montezuma was riddled with shorebirds for much of the month, and the Muckrace (covered in last month's David Cup) turned up a few neat birds. Around mid-month, most of the birding was done in the Ithaca/Dryden area. This fall, Migration was somewhat similar to the spring's movement, with the birds in slightly different attire, traveling from north to south this time.
May's Point Mayhem:
A Forster's Tern, 2 Ruddy Turnstones, an American Golden Plover and a Baird's Sandpiper were reported from May's Point on the first. On the sixth, there were 2 Baird's and 3 Goldens. A "fair few" (30+) White-rumped Sandpipers as well as a Baird's and a Ruddy Turnstone were seen on the seventh. The first fall Dunlin and 2 Merlins made an appearance on the eighth, along with 3 Goldens and a Black-bellied Plover. The plovers kept coming through and Golden and Black-bellied were seen on the 22nd.
South of Montezuma:
A migrant flock containing a Philadelphia Vireo and a Black and White Warbler (they did pass through, Meena) were seen behind the trailer park at the Lab of O on the seventh. At Summerhill (Guess who?) on the 8th, a Pine Siskin was seen feeding in a small flock of Goldfinches. Blackpoll, Tennessee and Mourning were reported at Mundy and a McIlroy Merlin and a Common Tern reported from the jetty. A Wilson's and a Northern Parula were present and Mundy on the twelfth.
Disproving all superstition, Wednesday the 13th turned out to be one of the most interesting birding days of the month. Bill started the day like any other at the jetty and had a Forster's Tern and a White-winged Scoter. On this same day, at the McGowan's Dryden feeder, there was a lone female Evening Grosbeak. Although the day was good, that's not to say that nothing bizarre happened. All morning, lab staffers neglected to even put binoculars on a kingbird in the lab's dead snag, assuming it was an Eastern. Finally, that afternoon, Chris Tessaglia-Hymes finally checked and noticed that it was indeed a Western Kingbird. He must have had a rabbit's foot and a 4-leaf clover with him. Matts Young and Williams did a little evening jetty birding and had Common, Forester's and Caspian Terns. In addition, they had two distant Phalaropes. These birds had been seen and identified earlier as Red-necked by Kevin McGowan who would never have believed the 2 Matts had he not seen them himself. Chris may have been lucky to find the Kingbird, but all the planets were lined up for Matt Young today. Not only was he in town by chance when the WEKI (see above) showed up, he also found a Whip-poor-will after hearing Barred Owl, Swainson's and Grey Cheeked Thrushes up on Mt. Pleasant.The Muckrace was later that week (16th), and while it was covered in the last David Cup, here are a few of the top sightings: Least Bittern in the Main Pool, Connecticut Warbler on Esker Brook Trail and 2 Sandhill Cranes along Carncross Rd.
While there was a Dickcissel seen in Caroline, heading toward the basin on the 15th, it was not until the 22nd that our current Cup leader took Billy E.'s advice and heard a single Dickcissel flying over Center Rd. The jetty had a Palm Warbler and singing Winter Wrens on the 23rd and a Peregrine Falcon on the 24th. Meena was at Mundy on the 24th and found a Cape May Warbler.
Things quieted down considerably for the last part of the month. Warblers trickled through and a few White-throated sparrows were starting to show up. October is the time for some neat sparrows and other interesting vagrants so keep birding, keep posting and most of all, keep the David Cup intense.
October proved to be quite an exciting month for basin birding. No birds were added to the hypothetical and hotly debated "New Basin Birds" list, but there were a few noteworthy sightings to liven up birding in the basin.
The month started off with the Sparrow Area count on the first. Cape May, Palm and Orange Crowned Warblers were seen in addition to what were probably some of the last Indigo Buntings and Scarlet Tanagers in the Basin. There was a lingering resident Hooded Warbler in Dryden on the 3rd, reported (ironically) by Ken Rosenberg. Night Migrant/Towerkill Aficionado, Bill Evans had Swainson's Thrushes and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks exiting the basing over Ithaca College on the night of the 3rd. Bill was out at the Jetty on the and had a Brant, a Peregrine and 2 Dunlin to boost his McIlroy total. (I wonder if he ever got Osprey?).
The bird of the month came in on the 7th, when some unfortunate folks were out of town. Meena Haribal had a Sabine's Gull off of Stewart Park. This bird had been discussed as a possibility and every Jetty Watcher had his/her eyes peeled. Finally it arrived, for the morning at least. Anyone who chased this bird as soon as they heard probably saw it, however Ken Rosenberg, while getting some video footage may have been the last person to see the basin Sabine's Gull. No, he didn't scare it off himself, but instead had a little help from a certain Jaeger sp. that appeared in his field of view while watching the gull. How do I know this? From talking to Ken, of course. You can't expect him to post a sighting like a Jaeger. It's a dirt bird, if you live in the Arctic Circle!!! Oh, by the way, Ken also had an imm. Goshawk interrupt a duel between a Peregrine Falcon and Cooper's Hawk on Purvis Rd. in Dryden on the same day. A White-winged Scoter, both Scaups (thanks to Kevin), and a dozen Ruddy Ducks were also seen from Stewart Park on the 7th. Back at the Sparrow area on the 8th, there was an Orange-crowned Warbler, White-throated and crowned Sparrows as well as a Brown Thrasher. Ben Fambrough had his own Evans and David Cup Orange-crowned in addition to a Lincoln's Sparrow at Dryden Lake on the 9th. The next day, Ben found an impressive 16 American Golden Plovers along Center Rd. Matt Young had an Orange-crowned as well as a late Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Montezuma, also on the 9th.Three Stewart Park Brant showed up on the 10th and Brant were present at this location for the remainder of the month with subsequent trips producing between 7 and 16 feeding on the grass. Many birds lacked the classic white throat mark and "thanks to my Sibley Guide" it was determined that the birds were immatures. On the 14th, an America Bittern was reported from the Visitor's Center at Montezuma. 2 Sandhill Cranes were seen over May's Point Pool on the 15th. There was at least 1 Red-shouldered Hawk in the Hunt Hill Rd. area between the 12th and the 16th. Undoubtedly on his way out for an AM Jetty Watch, Bill E. had a Dickcissel fly over the City Golf Course on the 16th. Bomax Rd. was also productive on the 16th with a late House Wren, 3 Tennesse Warblers and a Gambel's White-crowned.
One of the winter's first Rough-Legged Hawks was reported along Freese Rd. on the 17th. At the Loon Watch, Geo had a handful of female/juv. Black Scoters, 1 Common Loon and 44 Brant. Also on the 17th, a Long-tailed Duck was seen off of Stewart Park by Bob Fogg. Several people checked Stewart Park and the Jetty on the 18 h and the Long-tailed Duck was still around. In addition, a Red-Necked Grebe and a flock of Black Scoters was witnessed by several observers. Estimates ranged from 50 to 200 to 1000! There were most likely several flocks that came together at the south end to produce the high total. The Neimi Rd. "traditional spot" Northern Shrike was also loctated on the 18th as well.While the Scoters and the Long-tailed Duck (the duck formerly known as Oldsquaw) had departed (probably because people were calling it funny names), there was a Lapland Longspur seen on the 19th and the 20th on the Lighthouse Jetty. Once again, Sibley to the rescue.this bird was an adult male in basic (non-breeding) plumage.A Raven was seen in Danby on the 22nd. The same observer had 5 Brant, 2 Bufflehead and a Black-bellied Plover at Myers on the 25th. Nancy Dickinson reported an Evening Grosbeak from her yard on the 25th and Pine Siskin flyovers were reported from Summer Hill the next day. On the 27th, there were approximately 200 Rusty Blackbirds reported from the ponds behind the Airport. The Loon watch on the 28th turned up a very desirable species by sighting 2 migrating Golden Eagles riding the north winds down the lake. At Dryden Lake, there was a single Vesper Sparrow on the 29th.The year's first NYS Snowy Owls appeared on the 31st, however we still have yet to find one in the basin. Keep an eye out. With movement this early, coupled with owl activity in the midwest and a Boreal in Boston, the year looks very promising.
October 2000 David Cup Totals
Compiled by Matt Medler
"...churning and burning they yearn for The Cup..." (Cake)
(September totals appear parenthetically. In cases where no change was reported, no second total is indicated.)
248 Geo Kloppel (245)
243 Ben Fambrough (240)
238 Tom Nix (237)
238 Chris Tessaglia-Hymes (215)
234 Matt Williams (232)
232 Ken Rosenberg (227)
231 Kevin McGowan (229)
230 Jay McGowan (228)
230 Matt Young (222)
229 Matt Medler (228)
219 Bruce Robertson (179)
215 Meena Haribal
210 Chris Butler
208 Allison Wells (207)
206 Bard Prentiss
202 Jeff Wells (195)
192 Melanie Uhlir (189)
167 Nancy Dickinson
167 Anne Kendall
165 John Fitzpatrick
151 Marty Schlabach (149)
129 Jim Lowe (125)
130 Tringa the Dog (128)
122 Jon Kloppel
108* Niall Hatch
99 Catherine Sandell
86 Swift the Cat (84)
82 Perri McGowan (79)
* = One-day total
New 200 Club Members: Bruce Robertson (Way to go Bruce! What a climb from last month. A very hearty welcome to the David Cup Clan); Allison and Jeff Wells; Bard Prentiss
October 2000 McIlroy Award Totals
156 Bill Evans (129)
154 Kevin McGowan (150)
153 Chris Butler
144 Jay McGowan (141)
143 Matt Williams (140)
140 Allison Wells (130)
138 Ken Rosenberg (133)
117 Jim Lowe (113)
110 Jeff Wells
October 2000 Evans Trophy Totals
200 Pathetic in Dryden (197)
179 Bard Prentiss
173 Kevin McGowan (173)
170 Jay McGowan (169)
146 Ken Rosenberg (140)
130 John Fitzpatrick
126 McGowan/Kline Family (125)
108 Geo Kloppel and Pat Lia (108)
99 Nancy Dickinson
68 Tom Fredericks and family
68 Jeff and Allison Wells
66 Melanie Uhlir
40 Melanie Uhlir (39)
26 Allison Wells
157 Matt Williams (155)
144 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:
As an ice cream lover, I appreciated Sarver Matt's ice cream review. But it seems to me he left off a vital part of the review process. I was under the impression that the curl on the top of the cone was the most important clue to quality. After all, it's the part you eat first. Can you research this and get back to me?
A Conehead in Ithaca
You've obviously been brainwashed by the Wal-Mart of ice cream conglomerates, Dairy Queen. Dairy Queen established itself during prohibition by developing "soft ice cream" because "hard ice cream" had the stigma of being associated with hard cider and other alcoholic beverages. Dairy Queen undertook an aggressive marketing campaign to convince ice cream lovers that soft ice cream was the only morally acceptable choice. The trademark of soft ice cream? The curl. Dairy Queen's wealth grew as people everywhere mindlessly relied upon the curl as a thumbs-up to indulge and shunned ma and pa shops whose valiant attempts to get their hard ice cream to curl up went down the drain&emdash;literally. Today, thanks to people like the brave Sarver family who not only served both kinds of ice cream but were so bold as to offer barbequed ribs, the negative image of hard ice cream that was propagated by Dairy Queen for so long has finally been licked.
I was tallying up my basin birds the other day and came out with 201. Then I tried tallying up the birds that I feel like I could still see or should have seen to see what Geo must have done. That got me up to 225 or so. But Geo has almost 250. What the hell!! So I took another shot at it and circled a few more unusual birds like Gyrfalcon and Snowy Owl and Pine Grosbeak. But that still only got me up to about 237. "How the hell did he do that?!" I kept asking myself. Pouring over and over the list to figure out how this birding wizard could have pulled off such a number was just about beyond me when I realized that I had lost the last page of my list somewhere, the one with all the birds after sparrows. O.k., now I understood. Duh. Anyway, just wanted to say that I actually have a count of 219 right now.
The avian banality of my backyard feeding stations was broken by the appearance, this morning, of a Carolina wren--my first.
Today's highlight was a fun-loving COMMON RAVEN, who flew all about the valley croaking, and eventually disappeared westward over the top of the 1920' hill behind my place, only to return 20 minutes later and put on another show, this time performing lots of barrel rolls accompanied by soft-spoken vocalizations. It was impossible to watch this behavior without smiling.
There's a White-throated Sparrow outside my window that's got completely white rectrices. He's very conspicuous as he hops around in the bush. Wonder how he's managing to dodge predators (e.g. the cats that hangs out here).
Knowing it was a loon day, I was not surprised to see the flotilla winging south over my house at 8 am. Between 8 and 8:45, though, I counted 810 LOONS - by far my highest count away from Cayuga Lake. They were on a trajectory that differed from past flights I have seen there -- coming more out of the due-north-to northeast, rather than the northwest flight that loons (and also many gulls) take in an obvious path from Cayuga Lake. The flight was quite compressed, with several groups of 100+ birds passing together and merely a trickle of singles and small groups after 8:30.
As the listowner of Cayugabirds-L, I would like to make the following declaration: [the world would be a better place if everyone did exactly what I say!]
-Matt Medler, with a little help from Matt Williams and Ben Fambrough
<><><><><><> EDITORS' CORNER <><><><><><>
Editor in Chief and Food and Beverage Director: Ben Fambrough
Senior and Contributing Editor: Matt Medler
Highlights Editor and Technical Advisor: Matt Williams
Editor Emeritus: Allison Wells
Special Thanks to guest writer Willie D'Anna.