The Town Crier

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Point Peninsula rare bird visit. The spotting on Pt. Peninsula of a Willow Ptarmigan may be the first in New York State since 1876.

After  I had returned home from a weekend trip I retrieved what turned out to be a very special message from a Central New York JLL reader.  She informed me of a rare bird spotted on Pt. Peninsula. Her directions led me to a Willow Ptarmigan, a bird in the grouse family whose normal home is the arctic tundra. Perhaps that says something about the kind of winter we are slowly leaving behind.

I took the following pictures of the rare visitor at 3:30 PM, Sunday, April 27 on the South Shore of Pt. Peninsula.

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April 27:  This Willow Ptarmigan has been hanging around the Pt. Peninsula- Lake Ontario south shore and has stayed in the same general location since the first report on April 25.

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During winter the plumage of both sexes becomes completely white except for some black feathers in the tail. Immature birds resemble the adults. It favors willow lined waterways which is characteristic of the Pt. Peninsula region that it is visiting.


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The siting has created quite a stir among New York birders and there is already a claim  that this is the first documented report of a Willow Ptarmigon in New York State since the taking of a specimen in 1876. 

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The Willow Ptarmigan is about the size of a small chicken and is the State Bird of Alaska.

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The Willow Ptarmigan has feathered feet making it easier to survive in the snow but perhaps harder to scratch an itch. Their diet consists of leaves, flowers, buds, twigs (particularly willow, alder and birch) as well as seeds, insects and berries.



Feathered feet are stylish, too!


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We watched the bird for a long time until the combination of the bird taking a nap and the cold Lake Ontario winds caused us to move on to Beach Road where there
was a report of a Snow Owl by a birder traveling from Canton after hearing reports
of the Willow Ptarmigan.
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The historical record of the Willow Ptarmigan was made at the area pictured above on the western extension of the South Shore Road, Pt. Peninsula, NY on a zebra mussel shell beach near a stand of willows across the road from a cottage community.


Visit this link to hear its call and see the "summer version".

According to birders and recent internet research, after the initial report of the Pt. Peninsula bird on April 25, it is being reported that this is the first record of the Willow Ptarmigan in New York State since a specimen was reported in Lewis County in 1876


April 28 6:00 PM update:  This morning at dawn birders searched the area of previous sightings and did not locate the bird. I checked the area this afternoon and did not hear any reports of sightings. However, birders reported, "There is a large stretch of shoreline stretching to the SW and around the point that is not publicly accessible, so this does not mean that the bird is gone from the area."

April 29 10:00 AM update: I visited Pt. Peninsula early this morning. A disappointed birder who had driven up from New York City confirmed that there were no Willow Ptarmigan sitings yesterday (April 28) or this morning. He remarked, "Boy you sure gotta lotta stuff up here." He was excited at seeing Caspian Turns and I pointed him in the direction of Wilson Bay and Tibbetts point, a must see for anyone traveling so far.

I received a phone call from a birder who had talked to local birding expert and author, Jerry Smith. Jerry had told him that by the way the Willow Ptarmigan was feeding, it was likely that it was filling up for a long trip.

I also spoke to a Pt. Peninsula resident who had been watching the bird for several days. When she first saw it perched on a broken limb as well as walking around on her car, she took it for a white pigeon. But when she noticed the feathers in its feet, she sensed it was something more unusual. 

April 30 9:00 PM update: Still no reports since Sunday PM, April 27. Thank you to over ten thousand readers who have visited this post and to the media organizations who have asked permission to use this post in their reporting of this major birding event. The eastern end of Lake Ontario, including the towns of Lyme and Cape Vincent, NY, are a major destination that birders should put on their birding bucket list.


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Diversity is the name of the birding game when a birder visits the Towns of Cape Vincent and Lyme, NY at the eastern end of Lake Ontario and the source of the St. Lawrence River.