A Caribbean Brown Booby

Far from home 

The phone call caught me by surprise. I was out walking with Wren on a recent Saturday, when my friend called to tell me that a Brown Booby had been discovered at the Crown Point Bridge. The Caribbean species was a long, long way from home and I packed up some birding gear and headed down to Crown Point.

There was a small gaggle of birders flocked at Crown Point State Historic Site looking through their scopes when I arrived. The booby – an adult female – was perched on a distant green buoy with the number 55 on the side. “It was right on the rocks on shore,” exclaimed a few of them who had arrived before me. On shore was an odd place for a Booby and they excitedly displayed their photos from its incredible cameo. Now on the buoy, the bird was too distant for me and my camera. But it was great to see such an out-of-place bird, and I stood there chatting with birders from New York and Vermont as well as traveling birders who had caught wind of the find, and changed their plans to come see it. By late afternoon when I arrived, the Booby seemed content to rest on the top of the buoy, eventually being displaced by a Great Black-backed Gull and it ended up perched on the lower tier of the buoy. Little by little we disbanded and I looked for shorebirds at Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Vermont.

Lesser Yellowlegs - larry
Lesser Yellowlegs - larry

As word spread

The Booby was found the following day by several people as out-of-the-area birders came to see it. It was spotted fishing near Westport on the second day, but by the start of the work week no one was finding it. Speculation existed that it was hanging out further north in the lake. After all, a few days after it was found the captain of the Essex-Charlotte Ferry said he saw the bird offshore close to the Essex, NY side of the lake. It was the last report for a week. 

Given the amount of strong southern winds we’ve had of late, it seemed likely that the bird returned south and that it had reconnected up with the ocean via the Hudson River. But that was difficult to say for certain. And a bird like this, which can cover vast distances on the open ocean, could easily have headed north through the valley and exited through the St. Lawrence River.

Despite the lack of sightings, hope still existed that the bird remained in the valley. It is, after all, a big lake. And so, birders have been checking on both sides of the lake for the bird over the past week. And while birders weren’t turning up the booby again, they have discovered some other nice birds in the process. A few days after the Booby was initially found, I was guiding a client in the Champlain Valley and we ran up a nice list of migrant species heading south which included Olive-sided Flycatcher, several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Mourning, Nashville, Magnolia, and Black-and-White Warblers, Baltimore Oriole, and Veery, among others. While searching for the booby at Crown Point we found a few common species of shorebirds such as Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper and we found a drake Redhead – a nice species of duck any time of year in the valley, but particularly in late summer. Later in the week I found a Common Goldeneye while scoping for the Booby at AuSable Point, but still no sign of the Caribbean vagrant.

Semipalmated Plover - larry
Semipalmated Plover - larry

My recent trips to the valley have not only yielded migratory songbirds like Northern Waterthrush, Philadelphia Vireo, and Scarlet Tanager of late, but the shorebirds have also been quite good. Both Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Vermont and the Chazy area in New York have had a variety of shorebirds many of which only stop over for a day or so before continuing on. I was at Noblewood Park in Willsboro the past two days for some field work, and after I was done I checked out the beach for shorebirds. On Monday there was a nice collection of Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Solitary Sandpipers, as well as Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, a Spotted Sandpiper, and a small group of Sanderlings. My friend also found a Little Gull mixed in with the Bonaparte’s Gulls on the sand spit the previous day, but neither one of us saw any sign of the Booby.

Seeing the Brown Boody fly again

And then, yesterday morning, my friend was again at Noblewood and watched the Brown Booby fly south past the point. Lucky timing I suppose. I was back at Noblewood Park in the evening after work and had a similar collection of shorebirds as we had on Monday. I even spooked up an American Woodcock while walking the trails, but no Booby. I stood scoping the choppy lake surface for a while waiting to see if anything of note flew by and I noticed 5 Black Terns fishing near the mouth of the Boquet River. While Black Terns do nest in places in the North Country, they are a threatened species in the state and a very good find as they headed south. And so, I left the beach happy with my discovery, even if it wasn’t the Booby. But the bird remains out on the lake... perhaps more good birds will be found as we continue to search for it.

Find great birding and other outdoor activities along Lake Champlain, along with a variety of places to stay and restaurants to dine.


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