Today was just another Friday: wake up late and go to my 11:15 class, relax the rest of the afternoon, read some emails, etc. But at around 3:20 PM, Tim Lenz sent me and some friends a message that there was a Northern Gannet found near Watkins Glen, over on Seneca Lake (Schuyler County). He was already en route with Jay McGowan, but I was able to coordinate last minute with them and get a ride with them. They picked me up around 3:30 PM, and we were off. Ithaca traffic is always interesting, as people love to take their time driving and go quite slow. After battling to get through the town, we finally were free and booking it to the Gannet.
There had been a post on Cayuga Birds about the Gannet sent out around 2:00 PM by John and Sue Gregoire, but nothing since. We didn’t really know what the Gannet had been doing last, but we assumed it would be worthwhile to head over and check it out.
After a 40 minute drive, we arrived at the base of a hill near Watkins Glen via Route 414, where there is a pullout that you can scope the birds on the lake from. Seconds after setting up his scope, Tim yelled that he had the bird, and we all took turns looking in his scope before setting ours up as well. The bird was huge, and was swimming around Tundra Swans as well as some Gadwall. It was a very odd sized bird on the lake, and stood out even naked eye as something unusual.
The bird had its head tucked under its wings for a while, and we all wondered if it was sick (or worse, dead). Eventually it briefly lifted its head up and looked around, confirming that it was just sleeping, but soon tucked it back away. We all took distant photos of it, and began to look around at the swans for Trumpeter Swans that had been reported earlier as well. After a bit of searching through the roughly 75 Tundra Swans, we found four Trumpeter Swans, a first county record for Schuyler in eBird. Other waterfowl on the lake were three Northern Shovelers, some Gadwall, nine Bonaparte’s Gulls, four White-winged Scoters Tim saw, and a flock of eight Long-tailed Ducks Jay saw.
After watching the Gannet in the scope for a little while, it appeared to be drifting towards the shore of Warren W. Clute Memorial Park. We drove the short distance over and walked to the shore, only to get amazing views of the Gannet point blank, and at times, only 20 feet away from shore. It was accommodating to say the least (we were even able to take a selfie with it!).
Overall, a very satisfying, spur of the moment chase. Northern Gannets have only strayed to the Finger Lakes a handful of times (only Cayuga and Owasco Lake), and this was the first record for Seneca Lake. Thanks again to Tim and Jay, and what a great bird for the Finger Lakes!