Monday, April 2, 2012

Rare Birds are Rare

 [Second cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull (left), Sunday at Sandy Hook, with Herring Gulls. Lessbacks carry a lot of their gear in the bed - what I mean is, a lot of the bird sticks out behind the legs, compared to other gulls. A second Lessback, an adult, was nearby.]

When things seem not quite right, simply driving a pick-up truck a few hundred miles in any particular direction helps. At least me. Preferably with a truck bed full of camping gear, fishing rods, and food - but even a couple bicycles in the bed plus a scope in the back seat lend the feel of an expedition, and an escape.

Thus, driving north to Sandy Hook for the New Jersey Bird Records Committee meeting on Sunday felt a lot better than it sounds, especially when I got onto the Hook and had gannets to the left of me, gannets to the right, and, even, gannets flying directly overhead, and over land, as they crossed from the bay to the ocean over Sandy Hook. Not a behavior seen every day.

Later, after the meeting, when I met up with my daughter Rebecca for some bicycling at the Hook, I tried to explain what bird records committees do: examine rare bird reports for accuracy, review photos and sightings reports. . . She said, "Well, that sounds theboringest. . ."

Thinking she used some new modern-speak word, I said, "Well, it's not really that bad. . . " and then she laughed and clarified,

"No, Dad, I said,  'laborious,' not 'the boringest.'"

And it was laborious, in part because there were a LOT of rare birds in NJ last year, making it even clearer why Tom Reed was able to set a new big year record in NJ in 2011.  Hurricane Irene (tropical terns and frigatebirds) + rare hummers + flycatchers + sparrows  + Wilson's Plover + many others - Tom picked a good year. And executed extremely well.

Becky and I had a great time cycling the hook end to end and back again, seeing Cedar Waxwing flocks and all those gannets plunge-diving, several Ospreys back on their nest platforms, White-winged Scoters and a couple Red-necked Grebes on the ocean,  hearing short-distance migrants like Golden-crowned Kinglets and Brown Creepers, and communing with chortling Atlantic Brant.

Becky was even tolerant of my gull-scanning. There were a LOT of gulls at North Beach, drawn there by a dredging operation depositing food (bivalves) on the beach. And I asked myself, "Why can't I find an Iceland Gull?" I know what they look like, have seen 100's or more, and yet, all these gulls and not one.

I'll tell you why. Because birding theorem #1 has been proven over and over again:  Rare birds are rare.

[Second cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull in flight, Sandy Hook Sunday. Mantle too dark for Herring Gull, bright white rump, all dark upperwing (unlike Herring).]

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