BTW, this post is being written in western New York State on a dreary, rainy morning. The snow is all but completely gone but hopefully that means that woodcocks and other early spring migrants aren't too far behind.
It's true though, we directed our headlights eastward and drove back out to New York a couple of weeks ago... but not without trying for the then-reliable Kelp Gull in Ohio once more. And, well, you already know how it ends: we missed it for the 8th time! Like many visits before, there were some very eager birders willing to call this GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL the Kelp. However, we got photos showing too much white on the primary tips and so the crowd remained reigned in somewhat:
But the good news is, if you stayed at the lake all day and tried again that evening, the real Kelp Gull DID return (but we had already moved on). You know, it takes real skill to miss this bird 8x! If you want in on the secret, join us if we ever plan to try again.
Speaking of moving on... the roads that day were far from ideal! That's the Great Lakes for you. Here's an interstate with crap driving and 5 mph traffic speeds:
Once back in Allegany County, it didn't take long for us to explore the rural hills to see what winter birds were around. Birding backroads around here is fun because they get so little birding coverage. When we creep along, eBirding all of our sightings from every road we drive, it's almost like we're exploring a new land overseas where we don't know what's coming. Our pins, even if it's for chickadees, fill in data gaps and it's both fun and fulfilling to watch your effort fill in range maps for these species. Even though they might be common species, ALL YOUR SIGHTINGS MATTER when there is zero coverage.
Exploring these hills is fun.... but it's even more fun to explore them AND find sexy raptors! On a hilltop just a few miles east of where I live, we discovered this light-morph ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK hovering in place:
As it so happens, in the act of flying over, this northern buteo flushed a flock of HORNED LARKS and several SNOW BUNTINGS. I had only seen SNBU in the county twice before so it was a welcome sight.
While we're on the topic of raptors, Ashley and I were just a few miles south of where I live when we picked up on some very distant black specks way up in the sky. Can you make out what it is?
This, of course, is a GOLDEN EAGLE! You can see the long tail with a pale base, very small head, etc. At this time of year, they're most-likely migrants heading north (eagles migrate EARLY). This is only the 2nd and 3rd record of this species for Allegany County in eBird; Ashley and I found the 1st back in December! Again, it feels great to fill in some holes in the eBird dataset, this time for eagle migration.
Probably the biggest surprise came on one of our serpentine-shaped birding routes through the hills. We spotted a pale gray bird atop a thorny bush:
Instantly, we both thought "SHRIKE!" but... well, we were wrong. Zooming in shows a different identity:
It was a freaking NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD. And no, I wasn't let down at all; I think mockingbird might even be a rarer bird in these parts at this time of year. This was a new county bird for Ashley and only my second.
Being in the wooded northeast, we've stumbled across a few RUFFED GROUSE on roadsides nearby. For me, driving over a rise and seeing a GROUSE sitting there waiting for you... it just doesn't get old.
We'll often stop the car and get out if the wooded roadsides switch from barren deciduous forests to an area loaded with conifers. In doing so, we've come across several GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES. The latter, usually outnumbered by their white-breasted cousins around here, are always a nice splash of color:
But after it coated everything, snow fell and stuck to the ice like mad:
I'll leave you with THAT image instead of the brown, bleak woods of the present.
Here's to the next 500!