Live and learn, no matter how old. Reading Angus Wilson’s latest local bird-sighting blog, I just learned that there is a new species of Canada goose in town and it’s actually been here for a pretty long time, but it’s new to the East End in a couple of ways. Firstly, it was separated from Branta canadensis in 2004 by the American Ornithological Union and given its own scientific name, Branta hutchinsii, or Richardson’s cackling goose. The new one, which apparently has been around for millennia, but not here, is smaller, has a shorter bill and is divided into several subspecies based on size, color, and where it breeds. According to Angus, the one seen on Sunday among typical Canada geese in a Montauk field was one of the subspecies, hutchinsii.
Another thing I learned was that the typical Canada geese, which we have so many of during the winter and quite a few during the breeding season, as well, isn’t native as a breeder on Long Island, nor in the rest of the state. It was introduced to breed during the Great Depression years in a few Long Island spots. Canada geese can mate for life and so it stands to reason that once a pair bred here successfully, the original mom and pop would come back again and again. Don’t blame what some perceive as a Long Island goose problem on Mother Nature, but on the old Conservation Department and some other abetting entities.
There are a couple of specimens of Richardson’s cackling goose housed in the American Museum of Natural History, taken in Montauk and elsewhere on Long Island, one from Sayre’s Pond in Southampton on Nov. 20, 1968, as reported in the late John Bull’s “Birds of New York State.”
But the cackling goose sighting was topped by a bird more rare, one not from the Americas but from Eurasia — the northern lapwing. A pair was spotted in the Deep Hollow Ranch field in Montauk on Saturday morning by Jorn Ake and immediately reported to Angus Wilson, who got the word out immediately. Birders from points far and wide flocked to the scene, but by the time most got there, the pair had flown the coop. Not to give up so easily, searchers spread out. One of them, Peter Polshek, checked the Montauk Airport field and there they were. The next day they were back at Deep Hollow Ranch and beheld by a slew of enthusiasts who had missed out on the first go around.
The lapwing that showed up in a Bridgehampton field north of Mecox Bay in 1995, hung around for weeks and weeks. A friend of mine who went several times to see it, not only observed it but recorded mentally several of the license plates of the many witnesses. There were some from California and other points more than 1,000 miles away. That lapwing generated a great amount of interest, as these two have already.
Marge Winski, the Lighthouse keeper who survived the Big One in the lighthouse as it shook and rumbled, went outside once or twice to see how high the water was. On one such foray, a brown pelican flew by. A week later a live brown pelican was found tangled in a fishing net off Dune Road in Westhampton and taken to the Wildlife Refuge Center of the Hamptons. It is apparently recovering and its leg band is being checked to find out its origin.
I was awoken on Sunday morning by some splashing outside my bedroom window where I keep my mosquitofish during the summer. The drops of water spattering on the windowpane were coming from a yellow-breasted chat, the largest of the wood warblers and an unusual bird to be seen at this time of year. It was vigorously washing itself.
Another rare bird reported over the weekend in the Angus blog was the Brewer’s blackbird, found by Michael McBrien at Rita’s horse farm in Montauk. This is a western species with a pugnacious nature during the breeding season that I am all too familiar with. Several used to dive at me from perches in sidewalk trees as I made my way back and forth to the San Francisco State University campus on 19th Avenue in the early 1960s.
These are just a few of Mr. Wilson’s reportings. Vicki Bustamante and her son Chris keep coming across ribbon snakes doing this and that in Montauk, notwithstanding the severity of the storm and the afterstorm. It’s awfully late for snakes to be about, but, then, isn’t the earth’s temperature rising? Barbara, who works at Pat Bistrian Jr.’s place on Springs-Fireplace Road in East Hampton and lives not to far away from the office, has been keeping track of chipmunks in her yard for several years and knows each one, even though to the average eye all chipmunks look the same. She reported that her chipmunks had disappeared before the storm, but as of last week at least one was up and active.
It emerged from hibernation earlier than usual, on Feb. 11, the day that Whitney Houston died, and it is apparently going to hibernate later than usual, I guess. It appears as if the local chipmunks’ hibernations, which used to be long siestas, are becoming short naps. Could it be global warming? It’s very possible.