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86th Annual Bronx-Westchester Christmas Bird Count Includes 91 Bird Species from Rye Region

Rye birders took flight on Sunday, December 27th to take part in the 86th Annual Bronx-Westchester Christmas Bird Count. The count, in which birders fan out across the region and catalog their findings, has been taking place since 1924.

This year's count found 117 species including 91 in the Rye region. Rye is a well know birding spot, especially the Rye Marshlands Conservancy and the Edith Read Sanctuary. The Rye "hunt" was overseen by Highland Road resident Tom Burke, an active birder who sits on the The New York State Avian Records Committee. The Rye area highlights included Northern Gannet, Surf & White-winged Scoters.

In November 1990, Burke sent birders everywhere aflutter when he spotted a wood sandpiper in Rye's Marshlands Conservancy. The sighting landing him in The New York Times and Sports Illustrated. The Times reported:

"Tom Burke of Rye first saw the bird on Wednesday, but was not sure what it was. On Thursday, he photographed the bird, recorded its loud, sharp call, and positively identified it as Tringa glareola, one of some 40 species of sandpipers.

Because Mr. Burke runs the Audubon Society's Rare Bird Alert hotline in New York City — a tape-recorded phone message of noteworthy birds seen in the area — the sighting was immediately added. Within hours, other states' rare-bird hotlines had picked up the news. Kudos for the Spotter

"It's the type of thing that every bird watcher hopes for, and his name will go down in the records," Mr. Budney said of Mr. Burke. "It's an indication of how good a birder you are to pick things out like this.""

Sports Illustrated reported:

"The 48-year-old Burke, a resident of Rye himself, was among the very first to identify the bird. Early that Wednesday morning, Oct. 31, he had dropped by Marshlands before commuting to his job as manager of a Manhattan accounting firm. He had caught a glimpse of "an odd-looking thing running into the reeds." The next morning he visited Marshlands again. There he met Lysle Brinker, 28, a friend and fellow birder…

"The bird's upper parts were brown and heavily spotted. It had a white supercilium (a line over the eye) and long green legs. Needing to note other markings, the men flushed the bird. "It showed us a white rump, a banded tail and palish underwings," says Burke. They hurried back to Brinker's car, consulted a reference book and excitedly identified the bird as a wood sandpiper. Burke ran home to call other birders and to record the finding for his Rare Bird Alert patrons.

The stampede was on. Birders from New England to Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia flocked to Marshlands with their spotting scopes. It's difficult to convey the impact of such a sighting on these passionate people. Take the case of Denny Abbott. He and his son, Steven, drove from Stratham, N.H., to Rye. They saw the bird on Friday, Nov. 2, and Abbott drove his son back home to New Hampshire. On Saturday he headed for Boston's Logan Airport to pick up a friend from California, whom he took to Marshlands to see the bird.

By the time the wood sandpiper disappeared, on Nov. 5, about a thousand birders had peered at it. A number of them were listers who note how many species they have seen and where. Burke's own life list has more than 2,200 entries, and his local list for Rye now has 291."

Other Rye residents participating in the count included Andrew Farnsworth, a Cornell Ph.D. student who studies flight calls of migrating birds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and conducts birding tours.

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