Year 5, Issue 3
"Just a little drink from your loving cup,
Just a little drink and I fall down drunk."
-The Rolling Stones
The oaks in Kelly green anticipating the heat of summer don a darker hue while cuckoos cluck their guttural incantations from secret branches buried in the lofty green. That's right: June is here. Most migrants have made their rapid charge north to the breeding grounds. May seemed an erratic month, a stop and start frenzy. The changeable weather and winds pushing birds through in a stuttered rush leaving birders with the agonizing and life altering questions: Where do I bird today? What will turn up where? Why can't I be everywhere at once? Where is my sandwich? Ah, life. As any good Cupper knows, it's a hit or miss game. However, putting in the time (paying dues) is a good guarantee that you'll get most of the species you need to launch yourself into David Cup glory or at least (as is everyone's secret desire) into the newly reopened 200 Club. And from the mighty portal we can gaze back and see that this year is really heating up to be a David Cup classic (as well as mock those poor bastards still struggling to find the 200 Club door. Oh we would never do that! Why, it was only last year that I...oh never mind). So here we go again.
By Matt Medler
This June marks the four-year anniversary of one of the most remarkable bird sightings in the Cayuga Lake Basin in recent times. And yet, despite the fact that this sighting represents a new species for the Basin (and a second record for New York State), very few people are even aware of it, and even fewer know the full story. Here, at last, is "the rest of the story."
This is a tale of a Swedish researcher, a southern bird, and years of misplaced blame. Dennis Hasselquist was a post-doctoral fellow in Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University during the 1995-1996 academic year. I met Dennis during the spring of 1996, and assisted him with his fieldwork on Red-winged Blackbirds at the Cornell Research Ponds. Following the end of the school year, I went to Sweden for the summer to work on Dennis' long-running study of Great Reed Warblers, while Dennis stayed here in Ithaca to continue his work on blackbirds. Some time in late June or early July, I received a phone call in Sweden from Dennis. Among other things, he mentioned that he had seen a good bird while working at the Ponds. He asked me to guess what he had seen, so I offered up Least Bittern, since he had already seen one of those the day after I stopped helping him with his fieldwork. What he said in response left me speechless: Anhinga.
That's right- Anhinga, a bird whose northern breeding limit is North Carolina! The funny thing is that after realizing what the bird was, Dennis became so focused on his blackbird work for the rest of the day that he actually forgot about the Anhinga until he arrived home later in the night, flipped through his field guide, and came across the Anhinga page. At that time, he realized that the bird was significantly north of its breeding range. Unfortunately, Dennis was so absorbed in his fieldwork that he didn't think to tell anybody (besides me) about the Anhinga until the end of July, when he told Kevin McGowan. This probably didn't matter, though, since after Dennis' initial sighting of the bird, it flew off, never to be seen again. Despite this fact, and the fact that Kevin got out the word about the Anhinga as soon as he knew about it (which was all he could do), Dr. McGowan has been saddled with "his" belated Anhinga report for years now. While I'm all for giving Kevin a hard time about some things (he needs to be kept on his toes), we should actually all thank Kevin for encouraging (and helping) Dennis to submit details of his observation. What follows is the write-up that Dennis sent to Kevin, who in turn submitted it to the New York State Avian Records Committee (NYSARC). This report was accepted as the second record of Anhinga for New York State.
Observation of an Anhinga at Cornell University Ponds, Unit 2, Niemaha[sic] Road, June 10, 1996.
In the early morning June 10, 1996, I was driving up the dirt road between the little lake and the pond area inside Cornell University Pond Unit 2 area. My aim was to check out and catch red-winged blackbirds. As I was driving slowly up the road along the lake watching for redwings, I suddenly saw a cormorant-like bird sitting on a large, dead tree trunk just at the shoreline of the lake. I thought that was quite odd since I had visited
this area almost daily since early April and never seen any cormorants around. So I drove a little closer to get a good view of the bird. When I came up beside the bird, watching it from just 30 meters distance, I saw that it looked quite odd on the back (I did not notice its neck at this point because it had its head down close to its body). I quickly took up my binocular (10x40 Zeiss) and got a marvelous view of the bird for about 30 seconds or so. It then took off and flew across the lake to the other side where I lost it out of sight. Nobody of the redwing researchers saw the bird again, even though my colleagues and I spent several hours working with the redwings on the site that day. We also visited the area almost daily for another two weeks without seeing the Anhinga.
Immediately when I saw the bird in my binoculars, I became aware of that this was not any of the cormorant species I had seen before (including several of the species occurring in the US, and 2 European species). The reason for this was that the bird had a "whitish wash" of feathers down its back, and clear, very white areas on the lesser, and median (and maybe greater?), coverts of the wings. As the bird unfolded its wings just before take off, the large shining white areas on the lesser, median (and greater?) coverts were very obvious. Just at that moment the bird extended its neck and straight away I realized what bird it was (because I have seen African Darters in Kenya before). The long, thin somewhat S-shaped neck and the long, sharp-pointed bill made it obvious that this was a "Darter." Since I hadn't seen an Anhinga before, at that point I did not know that Anhingas had those typical white patches on their wing coverts and white wash on the back. Anyway, I am quite familiar with African Darters and from the shape of the nect and the bill I was quite sure that this was a species of the Darter genus.
At the time I had no idea if Anhingas were often seen around Ithaca (though I had my doubts). Checking in the Handbook, I realized that the bird was far away from its breeding areas, however, it also said that Anhingas rarely were seen far north of their breeding range. It was not until after my heavy field season had ended (in late July) that I realized from talking to Kevin McGowan that this was a rare observation in Tompkins County.
I hope this information is useful.
So, the next time you take out your Cayuga Lake Basin checklist, be sure to add this new species (and new family) to the list, right below the cormorants. And, keep your eyes open for the second Basin record of Anhinga!
**********THE DAVID CUP MUSIC SCENE**********
Imagine if you will a feeling of exhaustion and euphoria. Your day began at dawn; birding around the lake found you miles from home. The species are adding up. You make a stop for Orchard Oriole at Myers, then an impromptu visit to some famous grassy fields where Henslow's and Grasshopper Sparrows sing. You're tired, hungry and thirsty. What better way to come down from such a day than NOT come down at all! Hit the bar and catch some tunes! So it was the case on May fifth when Cuppers Medler, Williams and myself saw famous former Cupper Andy Farnsworth and his band, Mectapus, play at Maxie's Supper Club. I'd only heard rumors of this jam band's inventive talent. Maxie's (a unique Ithaca hangout owned by two friends of mine) has music every Sunday night. When Mectapus plays this southern-style venue, they break out acoustic instruments and do a fabulous version of their normally electronic music. Andy, all smiles and expressions of pleasure, fronts the band on guitar and sings (for what few songs have lyrics). Some extraordinary talent backs him: a second guitar player, who with eyes closed, looks buried in the inspiration of his own playing; a bass player, who bright eyed and alert, calls the shots (songs, chord changes, etc); a fiddle player who doubled on mandolin; and two percussionists who gave the rhythm section its rock steady backbone and dance inspiring groove. Most of the tunes we heard were instrumentals of varying feel, all melodic compositions with fairly long phrases and multiple sections, some with satisfying syncopations and off beats. For the most part the songs are up-tempo and evenly balance in major and minor keys. The band members took proper turns soloing (as in any good jam band) their wonderful jazz inflected rock. Andy is a pretty hot guitarist, but his lead player weaves some complicated chord based melodies with chromatic and modal forays. Similarly the fiddle player adds his own unique blend of jazzy bluegrass. One highlight was a very humorous song about the adventure of a truck driver picking up a hitchhiking lady. I think this one is on CD. Without having heard the recordings, however, I can say that this is a band one needs to experience live. So look to your paper for future dates. They are few and far between with bandleader Farnsworth down at Clemson. Introduce yourself to Andy as a Cupper and you may just get a backstage pass. Happy listening and remember to tip your bartender.
Ever have difficulty remembering which Matt is which? Is that Williams? Which one is Sarver? Perhaps you, like the rest of us, resort to saying: "oh, you're one of the Matts." Well take note; they are distinguishable in the field, and often distinguished in more ways than one. Mr. Medler has kindly provided us with a field guide. Print it up; cut it out and carrying it with you. You're bound to encounter a Matt somewhere.
A FIELD GUIDE TO THE MATTS
By Matt minimus
"The Matt Complex" (Genus Matt) can provide an identification challenge for even the most experienced birdwatcher watchers. But, with some practice and attention to key details, such as height, facial hair, and voice, the Matts are all readily identifiable in the field.
The smallest Matt. Best distinguished from the other Matts by size, and, during breeding season, by the addition of a sound recorder, parabola, and microphone to his standard plumage. Consistently shows sideburns (of varying lengths), and is rarely seen with something resembling a bearded look.
Voice: Most frequently heard vocalization, often given at dusk, is "It's getting kind of chilly."
Range: Usually confined to three areas of New York State (Cayuga Lake Basin, Capital District, and Lake Champlain Region), but the Matt most likely to turn up as a vagrant elsewhere. Has been known to wander as far as Sweden, Spain, and Costa Rica.
Habitat: A habitat generalist, equally at home in forests, grasslands, wetlands, and along the lakeshore.
Together with Matt Williams, one of the two tall, baseball-capped Matts. Separated from Williams by spectacled look, sideburns, and goatee. Infrequently seen giving an uncapped look.
Voice: A variety of low-frequency sounds, barely audible at times. "Back in western Pennsylvania..." is a diagnostic call given throughout the year, at any time of day.
Range: Currently found in southwestern Pennsylvania, but due to migrate north to Ithaca this fall to resume classes at Cornell.
Habitat: Seems to show a preference for grasslands.
The clean-cut Matt, with no sideburns or other facial hair. Like Sarver, tall (over 6' in height) and usually seen wearing a baseball hat. The Matt most likely to be encountered in the field in the Cayuga Lake Basin this year.
Voice: Commonly heard expressions from this Matt include "environmental engineer" and "I'm from western Massachusetts."
Range: Central New York eastward to the Connecticut River in w. Massachusetts.
Habitat: Seen in a wide variety of habitats- Stewart Park, Myers Point, Sapsucker Woods, Mt. Pleasant, Montezuma, and anywhere else birds are being seen.
The most vocal Matt. M. vociferus exhibits the most variation in plumage throughout the year. He is currently sporting a moustache and goatee, but when the weather gets colder and his beloved winter finches arrive, he often develops a full beard. The thick, dark brown hair is distinctive in any season.
Voice: Vocally reminiscent of the Mimids, possessing an extensive repertoire with certain elements often repeated two or three times. Classic phrases include: "Up on Summer Hill," "Perfect Habitat," "That's an irruptive species," and "It's thick with them up there."
Range: A permanent resident of the Cayuga Lake Basin in 1998 and half of 1999, Young's range has shifted north to the greater Lafayette/Otisco (Syracuse) area.
Habitat: Shows a strong preference for coniferous forest.
N.B. Many birders have become confused recently by the appearance of yet another Matt, Matt Victoria (Matt noveboracensis). This last Matt is only distantly related to the other Matts, and is sometimes placed in a separate genus, Fickity. Matt Victoria is not commonly seen in the Cayuga Lake Basin, but he does put in regular appearances at Montezuma NWR, conducting the Once-A-Month Bird Count. Matty V. can be found ranging throughout New York State in search of rarities. His long, brown hair, and his cell phone immediately distinguish him from the other Matts.
By Matt inornatus
Well, what else could we expect from such a glorious month on any cupper's calendar? May was everything we expected and more, but also lacked a few notables such as Acadian Flycatcher and the Armitage Rd. Prothonotary Warbler. While these species may have been missing from many-a-cupper's May totals, there were certainly a good number of surprises to even things out.
Since this is an atlas year, I will put off the flashy migrants that only briefly pass through the basin until after I have mentioned some of the more interesting breeders that will be around for the long, hot, hazy summer ahead. In other words, come August, you'll be ready for them to depart.
May first yielded the year's first Rose-breasted Grosbeak along with a continued flow of migrants. Ken R. had the first Blackburnian of the year and appropriately posted about a day after the fact. The first Prairie Warbler was reported on the 2nd at the Lab of O and soon after, they could be found at the Biodiversity Preserve, Ellis Hollow Rd. and the "traditional" spot on Irish Settlement Rd. Scarlet Tanagers were first reported in Danby on the 4th. The first Cerulean appeared on the Cornell campus on the 4th and then a few were seen at their usual Salmon Creek & Howland Island haunts over the next few days. Mighty Matt Young, in his attempt to find every last breeding bird at Summerhill, found a Mourning Warbler on the 7th. The Cuckoos made their first annual appearances with Black-billed at the Lab on the 12th and Yellow-billed at Armitage on the 17th. And, finally, let me mention a few of the more hard-to-find breeders. Orchard Oriole was first seen at the plantations on the 6th, and a nest was found on Howland Island on the 21st. Worm-eating Warblers were found in West Danby on the 15th and Henslow's Sparrows were first heard on Burdick Hill Rd. in Lansing on the 7th.
Now, on to the migrants and vagrants! In the warbler department, migrant flocks funneled through a few key locations. The Lab of O was certainly one of them. The first Cape May Warbler was seen there on Friday the 5th and, appropriately, Wilson's Warblers were present at the lab on the trail with the same name from the 8th through the 24th. Palm Warblers were seen regularly here in early May. Also, on May 5th, Mundy had its fair share of migrants. Northern Parula and Bay-breasted were the highlights that day. In Dryden, the "linear park" was a good place for Palm Warbler (1st-3rd) but Green Hills was less productive than last year. In addition to birds, a new birding location was revealed to us by Christopher Tessaglia-Hymes. His "secret location" at the Hawthorne orchard off of Mitchell St. provided wonderful looks at Blackpoll, Cape May, Magnolia, Wilson's, Tennessee and Bay-breasted along with many others on the 16th. Thanks Chris!
Besides warblers, the Lab of O hosted a few Lincoln's Sparrows, the first seen on the 6th and then probably another on the 13th. On the 17th, the impossible occurred. Nobody let a certain Bicknell's Thrush know that he was not supposed to migrate through Ithaca, let alone behind the trailers of a skeptical Lab of Ornithology. A throng of observers went out, tape was played with no luck. Finally, partway through Ken's message, Steve Kelling returned to say that he had heard the bird sing a "perfect Bicknell's song". The Lab of O also hosted a number of other interesting migrants including Olive-sided Flycatcher (10th & 26th), Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (26th), and Philadelphia Vireo (7th & 15th).
A probable Whip-poor-will was seen in Cayuga Heights on the 7th and one was heard at the McGowan residence in Dryden the next morning. As for the other goatsucker, 2 Common Nighthawks were seen over the Lighthouse woods in Ithaca from the 15th through the 18th.
On the 16th, a former basin breeder made an appearance on Armitage Road. Chris Butler found an adult Loggerhead Shrike that hung around until Angus Wilson (NYSARC) and Andy Guthrie visited from downstate and scared it off on the 21st. Another formerly fairly abundant basin breeder, Red-headed Woodpecker, appears to be making a comeback this year. There have been at least 4 birds reported this year. Two were on Howland Island on the 6th, one at the fish ladder in Ithaca on the 10th and one that is still on Middaugh Rd. in Brooktondale, first reported on the 23rd.
While the "Dryden Lake Effect" was a bit weak this year, it kicked in briefly on May 2nd and dropped Common and Caspian Terns as well as Ruddy Ducks, Common Loons and a White-winged Scoter onto the lake. This certainly gave the Dryden listers some help...if they made it there before everything departed.
An American White Pelican (probably the one known as One-eyed Jack) left Massachusetts in late May. Presumably the same bird was spotted soaring over Freeville on the 28th and was last reported at Braddock Bay a few days later. Another flyby highlight were some Brant that were seen heading north over West Danby on the 30th.
Since I am finally way off the topic of songbirds, I guess this month's highlights will conclude with shorebirds. Morgan Rd. and Myers were the prime locations if one wanted to see shorebirds. Along with the usual peeps and Dunlin, a nice variety was seen at the end of Morgan Rd. A Short-billed Dowitcher was found on the 14th and Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers were seen quite regularly. A White-rumped was also seen here on the 21st. Myers is the quintessential place to see shorebirds near Ithaca. Even without a scope, persistent checking of this spot that is about 15 mins from downtown can pay off with some great looks. This month, Ruddy Turnstone (9th, 22nd, etc.), all the common Peeps, Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover and, most surprisingly, a Whimbrel turned up at the place we know as "the spit". Throw in the ducks and the migrant passerines north of Salmon Creek and you've almost got an IBA. And finally, the last shorebird (and last overall) highlight of the month comes to us from a flooded field in Savannah where Tom Nix found a male Wilson's Phalarope.
You've reached the end of what is undoubtedly the longest David Cup highlight reel of the year. Thanks for all the reports and thanks in advance for forgiving me for all the great things that I may have overlooked.
Knock, Knock...Last month the 100 CLUB had eighteen members, only nine of whom rallied, busted out and ran down the hall to the next room. At the same time only five Cuppers moved in to take their place. In spite of these hurried, albeit small movements, the clubs together boast a decent twenty-three members (including one non-human Cupper). Those waiting at the 100 Club door witness from the first two submissions below just how easy it is to get in (these Cuppers didn't even provide a real species for their 100th bird!).
Allison Wells' 100th bird: "something with feathers"
Jeff Wells' 100th bird: "may or may not have had feathers"
Anne Kendall's 100th bird: Solitary Sandpiper
At last the doors are open! With a dignity that would become kings nine of us elbowed, jostled and birded our way inside, cramming through in anticipatory delight. For admission into this prestigious club, one needs to see real birds.
Geo's 200th: Willow Flycather
Ben Fambrough's 200th: Canada Warbler
Tom Nix's 200th: Yellow-bellied Flycather
Matt Williams' 200th: Tennessee Warbler
Chris Butler's 200th: Loggerhead Shrike
Kevin McGowan's 200th: Wilson's Warbler
Jay's 200th: Marsh Wren
Chris Hymes' 200th: Black-crowned Night-heron
Compiled by Matt minimus
"...churning and burning they yearn for the cup..." (Cake)
May 2000 David Cup Totals
226 Geo Kloppel
218 Ben Fambrough
218 Tom Nix
218 Matt Williams
208 Matt Medler
207 Chris Butler
205 Kevin McGowan
204 Jay McGowan
201 Chris Tessaglia-Hymes
197 Ken Rosenberg
196 Meena Haribal
187 Jeff Wells
184 Allison Wells
178 Bard Prentiss
175 Matt Young
167 Melanie Uhlir
165 John Fitzpatrick
155 Anne Kendall
147 Nancy Dickinson
145 Marty Schlabach
122 Jon Kloppel
114 Jim Lowe
114 Tringa McGowan
99 Catherine Sandell
74 Swift the Cat
69 Perri McGowan
May 2000 McIlroy Award Totals
151 Chris Butler
139 Kevin McGowan
132 Jay McGowan
122 Ken Rosenberg
122 Allison Wells
117 Matt Williams
110 Jeff Wells
98 Jim Lowe
May 2000 Evans Trophy Totals
194 Ken Rosenberg
161 Kevin McGowan
159 Jay McGowan
155 Bard Prentiss
130 John Fitzpatrick
124 Ken Rosenberg
113 McGowan/Kline Family
97 Geo Kloppel and Pat Lia
91 Nancy Dickinson
65 Tom Fredericks and family
58 Melanie Uhlir
38 Jeff and Allison Wells
36 Melanie Uhlir
22 Allison Wells
145 Matt Williams
123 Kevin McGowan
Editor's note: those Cuppers interested in a Digital Camera Totals list should consider the official and effective process of bribery.
If our eloquent friend cannot be cajoled into regular contribution, at least we have his words for Kickin' Tail (cause he sure is kickin' tail). If we're lucky enough (if he's lucky enough!), may his path to David Cup glory be unobstructed. Of course, it ain't over until it's over and there's plenty a birder gonna try and catch him before it is, just none so well spoken.
THE CUP: You must be mighty proud, Geo. You're kickin' tail again. How's it feel?
GEO: On numerous occasions in my life I have fallen flat on my face immediately after some such swollen moment. My early training in withholding the deference customarily due to authority has left me with a sullen, conflicted superego, who disappears at critical moments, and then trips me up later, when I begin to get smug and drop my guard. So I've learned that I must temper pride with realism. I accept the lead, but not without sorrow and disappointment that better birders than me are tethered day after day at the ends of ethernet cables, riding the birdsource juggernaut into a brave new century.
THE CUP: Numbers are up this year and we have a long way to go. Last high was 252 by Karl David in 1996. I think the previous record may be 254. Think you can break 250?
GEO: That's a matter that depends on chance and motivation, but it's entirely possible, even for a guy like me.
THE CUP: I'll say! You've left Nix (as well as the rest of us) in the dust. You've been known to claim, quite humbly, if not erroneously, that you don't find birds; you chase what others have already found. That really doesn't seem to be the case this year.
GEO: Occasional serendipitous discoveries result when the play is intense, but I go out to find the birds I can expect with reasonable confidence. If you're so keen to see migrant Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings at Myers Point that you schedule stops there every day, an Avocet or Whimbrel may well turn up for you. But chasing other people's finds is a critical part of a winning strategy - in fact, if the DC competition is really about anything besides one-up-manship, it's about rapid-response networking to share the neat birds quickly and widely. It's a true cooperative scheme harnessed to a greedy competitive motivator. What could be more American? But it would be for naught if we couldn't be bothered to chase each other's birds.
THE CUP: Maybe all good finds are serendipitous. Still, you've got to be out there looking. Between you and Williams I don't know who spends more time in the field.
GEO: Yeah, I've run into him pretty often :-)
THE CUP: Have you a strategy for June or will you be consumed with Atlas work?
GEO: Since spring migration is about over, it's time to focus on a few breeders that have so far escaped my list. I'll keep an eye out for summer wanderers too, but I probably won't devote a lot of time to searching for them, because I've got the atlas game to play too.
THE CUP: Eight blocks is a huge responsibility. What makes you willing to take on such a task?
THE CUP: Since Tom's doing eight, how could I decline a similar handicap? Actually I didn't ask for eight, only two. But the two blocks I really wanted were in two adjacent squares, and Bard blithely assigned me the entire squares. It doesn't seem like such a lot to me, considering that I've got 5 consecutive breeding seasons in which to get to know them better. Remember that I grew up right around here, and have spent nearly half a century in region 3. The permanent resident can afford to take a longer, slower, and possibly deeper look than the transient.
THE CUP: By the way, I've been meaning to tell you about the goslings at the Jennings Pond. I think Canada Geese might breed there (snicker, snicker). Seriously, have you had any surprises or particularly good finds in your blocks?
GEO: No eye-poppers. My blocks, the haunts of Worm-eating Warblers and Acadian Flycatchers, have not entirely disappointed. I've got Pine Siskin as a possible breeder. American Bittern put in one brief appearance this spring. Oak-ridge Ceruleans are something I have reason to hope for. Incidentally, the secret's out: one of my blocks turned in the highest total in New York State (141) last atlas period. Now you know why I wanted it! The extensive marshes it contains have changed since then, due to the loss of big beaver dams, and farmland has also been lost. I probably won't approach that dubious total from the 80s, but who knows? I see the beaver are building again, and I'm just getting started myself. Ask me again in 2004.
THE CUP: Rumors are circulating that you've got Young in a tizzy since W Danby has more breeding warbler species that his precious Summer Hill. What's so special about your location anyway?
GEO: Complex topography and hydrology, extremes of altitude and aspect, glacial kettles, marshes, lakes, farm grasslands, a great deal of state and private forestland, deep through-valleys occupied by the slowly-migrating divides between Saint Lawrence and Susquehanna drainage, the many-fingered interpenetration of distinct ecozones - heck, West Danby is the southernmost gateway to the Cayuga Basin, the puerto rico de entrado for southern species expanding their breeding ranges northward up the river valleys, or the last stand if they should retreat southward again. The jumble of northern and southern affinities here is botanically evident in many places. We've got sassafrass and moccasin flower, painted trillium, Canada lily and corn-lily, cucumber and tulip magnolias, azaleas and pitch pines and hobblebush viburnum, pine and tamarack swamps, scarce ferns and clubmosses... Greater West Danby has a generous share of Tompkins County's Unique Natural Areas, which don't really terminate at the arbitrary political boundary, but run on southward, leaping over innumerable discontinuities, grading almost imperceptibly toward the distant forests of the central Appalachian states.
THE CUP: How much overlap is there of your Atlas blocks and the basin?
GEO: About seventy-five to eighty percent is out-of-basin. I live right in the middle, so that gives you some idea of the true extravagance of basin birding from my home perspective. I'm about as far away from the geographical center as a basin-dweller can get.
THE CUP: You'd be kind of wet, if you lived in the middle of the basin, Geo. Speaking of wet, do you still keep a sauna list?
GEO: Sure. My sauna is within hearing range of many neat breeders like Mourning Warblers, Hooded Warblers, Prairie Warblers and Black-billed Cuckoos, and it has witnessed Saw-whet Owl, Whip-poor-will and more.
THE CUP: What was your most productive birding location(s) in May?
GEO: Right around home. My property adjoins the Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve, whose environs feature more breeding warblers than Summer Hill.
THE CUP: Really? More than Summer Hill? Goodness sakes. How about your best bird?
GEO: That would have to be the Whimbrel.
THE CUP: Figured that.
GEO: My last basin Whimbrel was two years ago, and I was sorry that no one else got to see it, so it was doubly gratifying to be able to alert other birders in time.
THE CUP: Do you have any advice for birding in June?
GEO: Forget about the David Cup race, and spend as much time as you can atlassing.
THE CUP: Blasphemy! We're gonna pretend you didn't say that. Let's change the topic. How long does it take you to make one violin bow?
GEO: Given current methods I figure it's about two weeks' work if I'm not distracted, but when birding is a priority it becomes a matter of months. I've got one approaching completion now, and with migration over, I may even stand a chance of finishing it.
THE CUP: Do you have to treat the horsehair?
GEO: The best bow hair generally comes from places like Mongolia ("finest Ulan Bator" is a typical specification), where there are not only lots of horses, but also people willing to work for very meager wages sorting and selecting individual hairs for the trade. By the time the bundled hair gets to me, the price is $300 a pound or more. It's clean, and only the best hairs have been chosen, but there is no other treatment necessary, nor is any desirable.
THE CUP: How on earth did you find such an obscure profession?
GEO: In my mid-twenties I discovered to my amazement that there was one musical instrument I could actually learn to play, sort of. Well enough at any rate that it would be enjoyable for me and there would be some small demand for my "music", though not so well that there would be any prospect of earning a living that way! My instrument was a hock-shop special, in dire need of repairs. The $25 I'd laid down for it was the limit of my capacity to fund the project, so I was forced to undertake the repairs myself, but I was lucky enough to know someone who knew someone who knew something about fiddle repairs, since he was moonlighting in the business. He gave me a free tip or two, and I proceded boldly in the direction of my daydreams. The result was that my fiddle stayed together, and my advisor offered me a job. However, he wasn't interested in help with fiddles, he wanted someone to take over the bothersome bow-repairs his customers kept bringing him.
It's an old story in the violin business - bow work is a distinct specialty, and few who excel in the left-handed business of violin making and repair care much for its right-handed complement, or show much talent for it. To the myopic violin maker the bow is a mere accessory, but to the perceptive bow maker the violin itself is only a specially modified auxiliary bow with an attached resonator, quite useless until it is stroked with a second bow, the genuine magic wand. This is an exquisite example of divergence and subsequent coevolution, another of the innumerable forms into which the marvelous musical bow has evolved from its most ancient origins in the bowhunter's twanging accompaniment to campfire tales of danger and prowess in the magical world of birds and animals. Those origins have been utterly forgotten by most of the world, but the aura of magic still adheres. Violins and bows are still constructed, outfitted and decorated with numerous materials of animal origin, including until very recently products of a number of endangered species. That cinematic story about the red violin was just plain silly when contrasted with the grizzly reality. Hair and sinew and ivory and bone, mollusk shell and tortoise shell and beetle carapace, tooth and horn and whale-baleen, the skins of lizards and snakes and various birds and mammals, not to mention the animal glue - collagen is the indispensible connective tissue of the violin - it's all got a distinctly barbarian flavor, as gruesome as a butcher-shop or rendering-works, really, though we're seldom invited to consider it in that light.
THE CUP: Well, on that lovely note we'll leave you to your sassafrass tea. Thanks Geo, maybe we'll see you next month.
Did you consume with eager, learning eyes last month's most excellent Corner? If you did, then you knew to concentrate on those difficult migrants. With the most excellent strategies Medler put forth you should be well positioned for June, a notoriously slow month, during which you should concentrate on finding breeders you may have missed. Get ready. Here is the latest, greatest advice from two-time Cup champion Mighty Matt Young. CAUTION: not for the faint of heart. Young makes a virtue out of intensity and his Coach's Corner is no exception. Did you expect anything less? Welcome back and take it away, Mr. Young.
By Matt vociferus
As you read on, you will notice that this is long and a bit unlike other Coach's corners. I just could not stop writing the historical information that was jammed in my head. So it evolved into a Coach's Corner for not only the short term, but also the long-term 5-year atlas project. I hope this will inspire some of you newcomers to get out there and learn new birds, and you veterans to get going on the your atlas blocks.
Now with the allure of spring migrants dissipating to nothing more than a spring drip (not this year with the rain we've had) it is time to gather what senses are left after another crazed migration that left us with many special birds such as Loggerhead Shrike, American White Pelican, Whimbrel, many Cape May Warblers and a plethora of others. With the senses gathered, it is time to shift our focus to summer birding in the Cayuga Lake Basin and enter phase two. What is phase two you might ask? Phase two is the time to concentrate on finding uncommon and rare breeders, and even new breeding species perhaps never before recorded. If you are to crack the distinguished top 10 birders in the basin for the year 2000-2001, then it is not entirely how great a birder you are, but whether or not you know how to play the GAME. Playing the game is knowing when, where and how to shift focus to find these rare breeders. But before I do this, I do not want to completely discredit possible late migrants (or early migrants, depending on what you're looking for).
Of course the migrant list will be quite short (as compared to the anthology that Medler wrote for May). Possible migrant songbirds that can still be seen in the CLB in June are Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Blackpoll Warbler and perhaps Gray-cheeked Thrush. Oh, and lets not forget Connecticut Warbler (but these are few and far between in any season these days). Believe it or not, late June can mark the beginning of fall migration for a few of our migrant shorebirds. For the most part, however, it really doesn't start until early to mid July. One bird to look for is American Avocet. Two years ago I spotted one at the spit at Myers Pt. on June 29 still in good breeding plumage. Also, as a rule, Myers should be checked throughout spring, summer and fall for migrant shorebirds regardless of what past records show, but it seems that Thoreau has that covered for now.
Now on to the meat and potatoes for this report. If you are to COMPETE, then take close notice to what is written, especially some of you more inexperienced ones, or should I say "wet behind the ears". Note: if you're not against tape playing, then your chances are enhanced for finding the following birds.
The absolute "must" uncommon breeding birds are: American Bittern, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk (migration is easier), Virginia Rail, Common Moorhen (shouldn't be a problem, but...), Cliff Swallow (although fall migration isn't bad either), Hermit Thrush (if you miss this one, drop out now and never return), Brown Thrasher, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Vesper Sparrow, and Grasshopper Sparrow.
AMERICAN BITTERN- Get to MNWR will ya!
RED-SHOULDERED HAWK- think uplands, Beam Hill, Mt. Pleasant, Bald Hill, Hammond Hill, Summer Hill. Get the point!
BROAD-WINGED HAWK- Ditto. Much easier than RS Hawk.
VIRGINIA RAIL, SORA and COMMON MOORHEN- I said get thee to MNWR.
CLIFF SWALLOW- Last week there were at least 6-8 birds flying around and under the eaves of "the 2nd house west of Wood and Etna Roads on the north side of Etna Road (near S&S Tree Service)".
HERMIT THRUSH- forget about it, you're on your own; see hawks.
BROWN THRASHER- sunrise parking lots of TC3.
PINE WARBLER- Comstock Knoll, Cayuga Heights any good red or white pine grove.
PRARIE WARBLER- ask others, they're out there!
MOURNING WARBLER- Summer Hill, estimated 30+ singing birds, they're everywhere. Closer to home...Beam Hill.
HOODED WARBLER- Beam Hill, top of Star Stanton.
VESPER SPARROW- tough, tough bird these days, easier in migration, but they do breed around Mt. Pleasant, Lake Ridge Road and side roads and other areas of the basin.
GRASSHOPPER SPARROW- Airport, Rafferty Rd, Caswell Rd, FLNF etc. etc...
BLACK and YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO- Howland's Island for both.
COMMON RAVEN- often easier in winter, but they do breed in the surrounding hills around Ithaca. See RS Hawk.
This group of birds presents a much higher challenge and to get, one often needs good skills, and experience playing the game from previous years. If you get 75% of these, your chances for cracking the illustrious top 10 are greatly enhanced.
LEAST BITTERN - For the last time... MNWR!
NORTHERN GOSHAWK- Tough bird that is often a bit easier in winter, but a few areas have harbored probable breeders in recent years: Summer Hill, Hammond Hill, Bald Hill. Play a tape and see what you get.
COMMON TERN- once a fairly common breeder at north end of lake. If missed in migration then check MNWR and Cayuga/Canoga Marsh area. In 1995 breeding was suspected there (see Bull's birds of NY).
BLACK TERN- have again bred at MNWR in recent years after an absence, shouldn't be that tough.
RED-HEADED WOODPECKER- missed entirely last year for probably the first time ever. Already a few possible breeders have turned up! Howland's Island and Brooktondale (Middaugh and Coddington Roads).
ACADIAN FLYCATHER- tough bird. Recent years the ravines between French Hill and Brooks Hill up Salmon Creek have been reliable. So far this year they have not. Other areas are Bald Hill and any good hemlock ravine with a stream.
SEDGE WREN - really tough bird, I don't think its been reported since 1997. We might have possibles at MNWR. Other areas: Finger Lakes National Forest near Case Rd and other side roads.
PROTHONOTARY WARBLER- Armitage Rd-missing bird this year, all I can say is canoe the river and play a tape. They're up there!
WORM-EATHING WARBLER- Lindsay-Parsons Preserve, Danby. Talk to Thoreau.
HENSLOW'S SPARROW - Rafferty Rd, Burdick Hill Rd, FLNF etc.
ORCHARD ORIOLE - again tough bird. Howland's Island has a nesting pair (ask Medler), Salmon Creek, Town of Aurora, (Sheldrake at the circle is where I've had them two years in a row).
LONG-EARED and SAW-WHET OWL - getting a little late but check any swamp or lake with adjacent thick woods.
Loooooooong Shots and dreamers (Historical breeders or never before reported breeders): The following information is all factual to the best of my knowledge. Some of the information comes from fairly obscure conversations I've had with people such as Evans, Rosenberg and Nix. Additional information also came from the Last Breeding bird Altlas for NY. I will admit some of the birds are a stretch, but still remotely possible.
If you can find any of these it will spark much interest and might even make your name immortal by basin folklore standards.
MERLIN-Is now breeding in the Adirondack with at least 10 pairs noted perhaps. Seems to be not affected much by presence of people, but does like wilderness coniferous areas with open spaces. A possible breeder has been reported from the Pompey area in recent years, just a mere 30-40 miles north and east of the basin line. Check Summer Hill, Bald Hill, Michigan Hollow and Hammond Hill etc.
KING RAIL- Probable breeder was reported from one of Geo Kloppel's blocks last atlas period believe it or not. (Did John Gregoire do that block?? Hmmm). Also MNWR and Howland's Island have potential habitat.
COMMON NIGHTHAWK and WHIP-POOR-WILL - your guess is as good as mine. Check downtown, or for whips, oak-hickory or cedar/scrub type habitat in Danby or South Aurora.
OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER - A pair were reported from Conn. Hill well into June during the last 10 years. Check wilderness swamps and ponds. They do breed as far south as perhaps North Carolina in the Appalachians.
YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER - I found a bird a top Hammond Hill last year in the middle of June in appropriate habitat. Probably a late migrant, but it was singing its Che-bunk song. Does breed into Penn. Check thick upland conifers or mixed hemlock forests.
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET - Obviously hasn't expanded its range like the Golden-crowned Kinglet, but it has breed twice outside of the Tug Hill and Adirondack region in Norway spruce groves. Once out in the western part of the state and once perhaps near Pratts Falls near Syracuse (see Bulls Birds of NY).
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE - Hard to figure. We were graced with one in recent weeks on Armitage Rd, but it did not sing at all. I haven't really read anything conclusive as to why this bird no longer breeds in the northeast. It sure seems like there's enough shrubby habitat.
SWAINSON'S THRUSH - One breeding record exist from like 1893 near one of the downtown hemlock ravines like Buttermilk or Lick, or six-mile above 1600 ft. (see Eaton's birds of the Cayuga Lake Basin). It has expanded in recent years in Norway spruce plantation above 1800 ft in Chenango county and even Highland Forest just outside Tully a mere 30 miles north and east of the basin. Check high elevation conifer stands or hemlock ravines atop Hammond Hill, Summer Hill, Lick Brook or other historically similar areas.
WHITE-EYED VIERO - although reported from the basin some 20+ times and never confirmed as a breeder (it probably has). It's worth checking the airport roads or any brushy habitat for this one.
NORTHERN PARULA - this one is a bit baffling to me. Probably not a confirmed breeder in the basin for over 25, 35, 55, 65 years, although it really should be breeding here. Maybe the one along Salmon Creek is still around (Nix????). Anyway, when researching this bird I was quite surprised to find that it breeds in virtually every county in West Virginia even though Spanish moss or Usnea lichen does not exist in the entire state. Apparently increasing in Pennsylvania in suburban Norway spruce stands and hemlock ravines. In NY its apparently been extirpated throughout the central and southern part of the state do to the lack of Usnea or Spanish moss which is stated as a must for building its nest. Go figure, there must be one out there somewhere, if not, then maybe in the years ahead. Check lowland Salmon creek floodplain type stuff or virtually any hemlock ravine or Norway spruce stand-in simple terms, 1/5 of the basin.
YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER - Has been reported in the basin before. A pair was even found at the Arnot Forest just outside the basin in 1994 without confirmation of breeding (see Bull's birds of NY). A bird apparently expanding its range. Look in lowland floodplain sycamore type forest similar to Parula Warbler or upland Pine forest like Hammond Hill, Monkey Run, or Summer Hill.
GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER - Formerly bred in the basin as recent as 1993 or later. Is there a bird hanging on near Danby or the northern extremities of the basin? Very similar habitat to B-W Warbler.
BLACKPOLL WARBLER - yeah, I know, probably a laugher for many of you, but this bird is now breeding in Penn. and contrary to what once was believed does not need an elevational requirement of 2000 ft. In fact, it can be found in 20-30 ft spruce in NY as low as 900 feet. Highly unlikely, but you never know. Perhaps we're too west for this remote possibility.
KENTUCKY WARBLER - Has bred in the basin and could in years to come. Apparently in the process of re-establishing itself in northern part of its historical range. Last year there were as many as 2-3 singing males found at Whiskey Hollow NW of Syracuse throughout the summer (we also had one at Mundy). Also being documented as probably breeding along the NY/Penn border along Susquehanna and Delaware drainages from year to year. Historical regular breeding records exist from Cortland county in 1903 and 1906. Look in wet floodplains or ravines.
YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT - When was the last time you checked the shrubby hillsides of east Genoa (east boundary of basin), because that's where it used to breed 10-20-30-40 years ago.
CLAY-COLORED SPARROW - A record does exist of it breeding in the basin, but it bred with a Chipping Sparrow. Breeds to the north and west of us and is expanding. Check shrubby habitats with 15ft cedars and pines on sandy soils similar to Prairie Warbler habitat. Jeff Wells feels this bird could be our next addition to the basin as a breeder.
WESTERN MEADOWLARK-is already perhaps happening
RED AND WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS- conifer plantations after irruption years. I guess this year is not the year, but in 1985 they bred throughout the state in such habitat.
PINE SISKIN-perhaps is already happening with a few possibles scattered throughout basin-Danby, Lab, Etna, Summer Hill-check conifers.
EVENING GROSBEAK-Apparently has bred in the basin once. Last time it was a widespread breeder throughout the state was in the mid 70's when irruptions were of higher magnitude for this species. Check upland habitat; feeds its young more insects than seeds, contrary to what you would think. Actually follows spruce budworm outbreaks, maybe that's why it's more confined to Adirondacks than other winter finches. Need a bigger irruption year??
DICKCISSEL- was a documented breeder in the basin before 1900. Has also been reported as probable breeding since, including 1992 when 4 singing males and a female showed up in a grassland area in South Lansing and were observed for weeks during the summer (see Bulls Birds of NY). Nesting was not confirmed. This species is well known for its erratic breeding attempts east of the Mississippi often following a drought in the Midwest where the species commonly nest. Look in lowland grassy fields and meadows throughout basin. Rafferty Rd. comes to mind since it attracts other specialties.
BARN OWL- formerly bred in the basin and still might. One of the last areas of known breeding in the basin from the last 20-30 years was from Dryden. It also could have been reported as possibly breeding in the last 20 years near the Seneca Falls landfill if my memory stands me correct. We're at the northern edge of its range and it is at best a very scattered breeder up state. Has been somewhat successful in areas up state where nest boxes have been incorporated for them. This past year there was a possible sighting from the Lansing area. Check barns in historical areas from Feb-Nov.
Hope you all could enjoy and endure,
Matt "from just outside the basin" Young
I overheard a conversation in which a Cupper, let's call him Steve, mentioned to another Cupper, let's call her Allison, that he was headed to South Texas on "business." "Allison" started singing that Steely Dan song that goes, "Any man left on the Rio Grande is the King of the World, as far as I know." Did the Steely Dan guys really write those lyrics based on the excellent Rio Grande birding?
--Singing in the Reign
Dear Singing in the Reign:
No, Donald Fagan and Walter Becker wrote that song to poke fun of James "Titanic" Cameron's 1998 (???) Best Oscar acceptance speech, in which he humbly proclaimed, arms and Oscar flailing, "I'M THE KING OF THE WORLD!!!" Now, if you know that song, you know it was written several decades earlier. How could Fagan and Becker have had the foresight? While their rock icon compatriots were smoking dope, Fagan and Becker were getting high on ...Green Jays and Altamira Orioles, along the Rio Grande. While ticking these and other Mexican specialties off on their life lists, they had visions of Cameron and a great big boat sinking. What's most amazing, though, is how they knew the sinking boat was in fact a sinking boat and not Bill Evans' McIlroy totals...
I've just become editor of a local newsletter. Let's say it's about--oh, I don't know--a friendly year-long birding competition. So far, I've been able to cover up the fact that I don't know diddley squat about "birds" by having others write the meaty stuff. What's the best way to keep everyone fooled?
--Editing in Ignorance
You mean you thought you were covering it up?
Is there any truth to the rumor that Allison was fired from her position at the Cup!?
--Desperate For Answers
I'd planned on keeping this hush, but since you're Desperate, let me ask you this: Have you ever actually met Ben Fambrough? If you've met Allison, you have. You see, Allison and "Ben" are one in the same. As you know, The Cup is all about danger and intrigue. What better way to fuel that than to have The Cup's own creator "fire" herself? This of course explains why Allison' totals have nose-dived this year - she's taken on a second job as chef at Renee's. She has also shaved her head.
I dream about birds regularly. All this spring I dreamed I was hearing Whip-poor-will calls. There's a very good chance one or more of these calls was real and filtering into my dream from the real world. If others are doing this, why can't I? What's holding me back?
--Will I, Nil I? In Danby
Dear Will I;
It's been said before: If my cat had kittens in the oven, I wouldn't call 'em biscuits.
"There is an excess of self-doubt built into my personality, beyond the requirements of careful birding, yet I'm also very capable of mistaken confidence. The game would be less interesting if it didn't invite continuously taking the measure of subjectivity in experience."
"Saturday (6th), after a pleasant family walk at Dryden Lake, I arrived home at noon and was flabbergasted to look up and see a crisply patterned IMM GOLDEN EAGLE circling over my house!"
"MOURNING WARBLER was singing in the yard this morning, and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW was a new arrival at the feeders. Jay counted more than 25 bird species before he even got out of bed! Pretty noisy out there.
"Very dramatic experience today at Derby. The clouds literally tipped down to the earth as they moved along a front. It was like the familiar camera shot of a surfer beneath a wave, except somewhat slower, gloomy and eh...threatening in an immense sort of way."
"My new editor-in-chief was already breathing down my neck yesterday (before
the month was even over!) about working on the next Cup, so be sure to send
in your David Cup, McIlroy Award, Evans Trophy, etc. totals to me as soon
"On the way we failed to find Orchard Oriole or Acadian Flycatcher on Salmon Creek Rd, but did find a tiny abandoned kitten (and its dead sibling) at the first Acadian spot. The little guy became a birthday present for my wife, and already has Cerulean Warbler, Least Flycatcher, and who knows, maybe even Acadian Flycatcher on his Kitty Cup list."
"My dog has perfected a great birding technique in our hedgerow. She jumps
in the creek, then gallops through the undergrowth at full speed (spraying
muddy water) and frightens the warblers into popping out of the Hawthorne
"First of all, this place has been my secret natural area since I was very
little (before I was even a birder). Once a birder, this spot was my
spot for several neat species and excellent views of those individuals.
I never wanted too many birders to know about it for fear it would be
over-run with people...thus, no longer being my *secret* spot."
"...back in the days before Bicknell's became one more Behind-The-Trailer bird, which likely passes unnoticed elsewhere in our area (to say nothing further of previous reports)."
FAREWELL FRIEND: The Cup congratulates both Matt Williams and Chris Butler on their graduation from Cornell University. Both are out of the basin, at least for the time being, which gives the rest of us opportunity to get ahead of these two. Act quickly, however, for Williams returns next fall to continue at Cornell (postpone the real world).
<><><><><><> EDITORS' CORNER <><><><><><>
Editor-in-chief and Food and Beverage Director:
Senior and Contributing Editor:
Visiting Professor of Verbosity: