Muckrace

 

(This 1071st Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on October 2, 2011.)

 

Among the aspects of birding that many of my friends and I enjoy is competition: breaking the 700 species life list barrier; seeing over 250 species in a year, over 100 in a day, or more than you did last year. Notice that these competitions can be against others but are equally often with yourself.

 

A fund-raising one-day competition is the annual fall Montezuma Muckrace, which supports activities of the Friends of Montezuma Wetlands Complex. Montezuma is a federal reserve near Seneca Falls. You drive through it on the Thruway.

 

This year Chris Newton joined Mike Morgante, Joe Carlo and Carly Lapin from Ecology & Environment to enter the "Low Carbon" competition, which meant birding without a motorized vehicle. Here are excerpts from Morgante's report:


We signed in and were delighted to see many Purple Martins and then hear and see a Sandhill Crane. We prepared our bikes and did some last minute scouting, quickly realizing that we would be battling an army of mosquitoes. We began our list at the 7 p.m. start time.

 

Our first species was snow goose: only their heads were sticking up from the grass. Other highlights: two sandhill cranes that had flown in around 6:45 and picking out rough-winged and bank swallow among the many tree and barn swallows. We had a cliff swallow prior to 7 p.m. but didn't get one during the race.

 

At Mays Point pool we found several other teams but very few shorebirds. Two sandhill cranes were there as well. Chris spotted a black duck that was our only one for the race. Wood Ducks eating wild grapes was a strange sight.

 

Tschache Pool added nothing but more mosquito bites and we rode back to camp. A quick walk to South Spring pool around 9 p.m. netted a hooting great horned owl and we went to bed with a 34 species list. We were awake in our tent listening to nocturnal flyovers around 5 a.m., identifying veerys and Swainson's and gray-cheeked thrushes. A nice treat was a screech-owl whinnying.

The highlight of the day came as we were getting our bikes ready. At least 1,000 bobolinks flew over to the west-northwest in a steady stream.

Biking toward the Visitor Center, we added Carolina wren, chipping sparrow, house sparrow, house finch and pileated woodpecker, all often missed, then a few shorebirds, some dabblers, and trumpeter swan at the Center.

 

At the Main Pool we heard marsh wren. No biking on the auto-loop (disappointing as it would have been more convenient), so we hiked along Seneca Trail where we found yellow-throated vireo. Biking back to Route 5/20 we had two Cape May warblers in the conifers near the entrance. We added pied-billed grebe and common merganser on Cayuga Lake. Two Cape May warblers on River Road were either the same we just encountered or a bizarre coincidence. The long ride back on Route 5/20 was our first hill. At Montezuma Winery Joe learned he had a flat tire, which caused a 20-minute delay. (Crisis 2 averted by bringing plenty of repair gear.) There I spotted our only chimney swifts.

On the Esker Brook Trail we added bay-breasted and magnolia warblers, our last warbler species for the day. Philadelphia vireo, a peregrine falcon flyover and a flock of indigo buntings were nice pickups. Just as we were packing up to leave I looked up and was amazed to see three loons flying very high to the north-northwest.

Now for the longest ride of the day: north on Route 89 and over to Railroad Road. At mid-day, mostly uphill, and into north wind, this was a physical challenge. We made it eventually but couldn't find the ibis or bittern or sora that Chris had yesterday. Chris's keen eyes picked up merlin and we added two shorebird species and ring-necked duck. Short-billed dowitchers were added at Muckrace Flats among the most shorebirds seen at any location on the day.

 

We rode just over 33 miles, hiked another three miles and finished with 99 species, including two single observer sightings -- red-eyed vireo by Chris and hummingbird by me. That put us in first place in the Low Carbon division. Bob Spahn's Windbirders won overall with 118.-- Gerry Rising