New York State
Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State

NYSOA Comes to Long Island
The 66th Annual NYSOA Meeting
New York Birders Conference

by Donna Schulman

Published in New York Birders, January 2014

Alley Pond Park field trip. Photo by Donna Schulman
Alley Pond Park field trip. Photo by Donna Schulman

Two hundred birders gathered at the Long Island Marriott in western Nassau County the first weekend in November to conduct NYSOA business, discuss conservation and research, examine optics and books, cheer on NYSOA award winners, bird the heck out of Queens and Long Island, and generally celebrate birds and birding in New York State. Yes, it was the 66th Annual NYSOA Meeting/New York Birders Conference, hosted by the Queens County Bird Club. This was the first in downstate New York in decades; and according to all participants, a productive, memorable event.

As outgoing president Gail Kirch pointed out in her remarks at the Saturday evening banquet, this meeting differed from previous ones in several ways. The number of presentations was increased, with double tracks of speakers and scholarly paper presentations on Friday and Saturday. Vendors from major optics companies sent
representatives as part of our sponsor program. Sign-up for field trips was formalized, and online registration was available and encouraged.

Field Trip to Wildwood Nature Preserve, photo by Carena Pooth
Nancy Tognan selling raffle tickets
to speaker Susan Elbin (far right).
Photo by Seth Ausubel

Participants embraced the conservation theme of the conference, highlighted in the last issue of New York Birders. Sean Maher of NY Audubon set the tone with his informative "Environmental Advocacy 101" presentation on Friday afternoon, and Kimberley Bostwick PhD of Cornell University inspired us all with her Friday evening talk, "You, Me, Our Birds, and Climate Change." On Saturday, specific examples of conservation success stories were presented, with Betsy Gulotta talking about "Hempstead Plains: Past, Present and Future" and John Turner highlighting the natural history of the Long Island Pine Barren. Susan Elbin, Director of Conservation and Science for NYC Audubon, extended the conservation theme to scientific research in her talk on "Watrbirds of the New York Harbor, 1982-2013: Breeding Ecology and Population Trends." This long-term research project gathers data that helps determine what species and habitats in the harbor are most in need of protection. PowerPoint presentations that accompanied several of these presenters can be found on the Conference website: http://

Birding and birds were, of course, a popular presentation topic as well. Doug Gochfeld, who wrote about "Predictions of Species to Be Added to the New York State Checklist" in The Kingbird in 2010 (v.60 n.4), discussed how these predictions have worked out so far in a talk that was both informative and engaging. Bob Dieterich provided a model of what could be done with local Christmas Bird Count data with his analysis "QCBCCBC: 80 Years of the Queens Christmas Bird Count on Western Long Island." Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle offered tips on warbler identification from their recently published book, The Warbler Guide. Mark Huber, newly appointed editorin- chief of The Auk and Hunter College professor, presented a surprisingly humorous talk on "How Do Avian Hosts Recognize Brood Parasites?"

James Currie, Corey Finger, Seth Ausubel - photo by Pat Aitken
Banquet speaker James Currie, blogger Corey Finger, and
NYSOA Board member and conference lead Seth Ausubel
Photo by Pat Aitken

The student research sessions Saturday afternoon, organized by Shai Mitra, were a huge success. Not only was the Adelphi room packed for the three hours in which six students, ranging in affiliation from high school to graduate school, presented their research, conference participants could be overheard talking about their findings at the banquet and on Sunday field trips! The presenters and their topics were: Hope Batcheller, Cornell University, on "Interspecific Information Use in Armyant- following Birds"; Alexander M. Gottdiener, The Browning School, on "The Chemistry of Navigation in Birds"; Juliette Goulet, College of Staten Island, on "Migration Plasticity as an Adaptation to Climate Change: Winter range expansions in Halfhardy Neotropial Migrant Landbirds in the Northeastern United States"; Michael Ivkov, Trinity School on "Loon Conservation and the BP Oil Spill"; Debra Kriensky, Columbia University, on "Shorebirds and Horseshoe Crabs: First Years of Monitoring in Jamaica Bay" (co-authored by Susan Elbin and John Rowden); and Lucinda Zawadski, College of Staten Island, on "Duration of stop-over in relation to date of arrival in vagrant Western Kingbirds: Is Vagrancy Mis-oriented Migration, Long-distance Dispersal, or Sometimes One and Sometimes the Other?"

Field Trip to Wildwood Nature Preserve, photo by Carena Pooth
Joseph Chernek receiving the John J. Elliott Award
from Shai Mitra.
Photo by Donna Schulman

Students, birders, and researchers also presented research projects as part of the Posters displayed in the Malloy room. The seven poster topics reflected the breadth of birders' interests, ranging from "The Appalachian Eagle Project in NYS," by Tom Salo and Andrew Mason of Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society, to "The Effect of Climate on the Spatio-Temporal Distribution of Four Irruptive Species" by Max Pine, Pelham Memorial High School (co-authored by Andrew Farnsworth, Cornell Lab of Ornithology), to "Project Safe Flight: Making New York Safe for Migratory Birds," by Kaitlyn Parkins of NYC Audubon and Fordham University (co-authored by Susan Elbin, Adriana Palmer, David Perry and Darren Klein). Woodpeckers were a popular bird here, with two posters: "Red-headed Woodpecker Nest-site Selection and Reproductive Success at the Northern Limit of Its Range," by Jeffrey S. Bolsinger, Fort Drum Military Installation (co-authored by Jacob L. Beri and John W. Edwards), to "Three Longterm Data Sets Reveal Range Expansion and the Breakdown of Bergmann's Rule in Red-bellied Woodpeckers" by Kathryn J. Schneider, Hudson Valley Community College and Jeremy J. Kirchman, NYS Museum. The conservation theme continued with "Lepidopteran Phenology and the Potential for Climate-change Induced Phenological Mismatches in Migratory Birds" by Ashley Ozelski, College of Staten Island/ CUNY Graduate Center, and "Mercury Accumulation in a Wetland Songbird, the Red-winged Blackbird, in the New York Metropolitan Area and Its Effect on Nestling Development," by Chad Seewagen, Pace University and AKRF Inc. (co-authored by Allisyn Gillett, Columbia University).

Participants had their choice of fourteen field trips, offered Saturday and Sunday, to seven different areas in Queens and Long Island. This had turned out to be a planning challenge, as some of the more popular birding locations in the area were closed or damaged as a result of super storm Sandy. Fortunately, there are still many good birding places on Long Island, so participants were able to bird local Queens hotspots Alley Pond and Kissena Parks; coastal areas Jones Beach, Robert Moses SP, Sunken Meadow SP, and eastern Long Island; and the usually inaccessible grassland preserve, Francis Purcell Preserve. The location of Francis Purcell across from the hotel was particularly fortunate, as NYSOA delegates could bird the preserve Saturday and still make the Business Meeting in time. The field trip roster also included a digiscoping workshop offered by Swarovski expert Clay Taylor and a nature photography workshop taught by photographer Lloyd Spitalnik.

Field Trip to Wildwood Nature Preserve, photo by Carena Pooth
Francis Purcell Preserve. Photo by Carena Pooth

Field trip highlights included American Golden Plover, found by a beginning birder at Jones Beach; Audubon's Warbler at Francis Purcell; Ring-necked Pheasant, Red-headed Woodpecker, Indigo Bunting, and Linnet (presumed escapee) at Kissena; a flock of thousands of blackbirds and grackles that darkened the sky at one point at Alley; Harlequin Duck, Shearwater species, and Parasitic Jaeger on the day-long eastern Long Island Sunday trip. The fall colors were at their peak; and even when the birding was slow, participants rejoiced in autumn beauty.

The Conference Banquet featured the presentations of the John J. Elliott Award for best Kingbird article of the year, the Stoner Award to outstanding student birders, and certificates of appreciation for service rendered to member organizations that benefited New York State birds and ornithology. Banquet speaker James Currie of Birding Adventures TV celebrated global birding with his very lively presentation, "Not Your Grandmother's Audubon," which had us all ready to board the next plane to Africa. (To be fair, there were many stunning U.S. bird images in James' show as well.) Most importantly, birders from throughout the state had an opportunity to share birding adventures and get to know each other. This was the first conference banquet for many participants, including myself; and I think we were all a little surprised to find out how much FUN it was!

Banquet speaker James Currie with 7 of the 11 NYS Young Birders Club members who attended the conference.
Photo by Carena Pooth

One challenge to holding a meeting downstate has always been the higher cost of the hospitality industry in the area. NYSOA and QCBC would like to thank NYC Audubon, Swarovski, Meopta, and Zeiss, our sponsors. NYC Audubon was particularly helpful in committing their support at the very beginning of the planning process. We also thank the Brooklyn Bird Club, Linnaean Society of New York, Eastern Long Island Audubon Society, Seatuck Environmental Association, and Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, our contributors. Words of appreciation go to publishers Princeton University Press and Houghton Mifflin, software companies BirdsEye Birding and BirdJam, and outdoor gear company EMS for their contributions to our very successful raffle. In addition, many NYSOA organizations helped promote the event through their websites and newsletters; birding listserv owners from three states allowed us to spread the word on their "boards"; naturalists throughout the state distributed flyers and sent emails, and the 10,000 Birds blog hyped the event to the global birding world. We think that even though every birder in New York State could not attend the conference, the publicity helped make NYSOA more visible as a birding and nature organization.

Planning for the Conference started in February 2013. So, it took nine months and the energy, enthusiasm, and volunteer hours of a number of talented birders to create this special event. Seth Ausubel was our conference lead; or, as I like to say, the man with the vision. He never let us take a rest, and he always believed we could do it! Arie Gilbert not only took the position of treasurer, he showed an exceptional talent for fundraising. Pat Aitkin masterminded registration. Rich Kelly and Bob Dieterich, along with Pat, juggled logistics and onsite operations. Steve Schellenger was Field Trip King. Shai Mitra was Speakers, Workshops, and Papers Czar. Nancy Tognan tirelessly staffed the QCBC booth and raffle. Richard Santangelo planned and handled audiovisual, figuring out how to save us a lot of money. Mary Normandia was our creative spirit, working with Arie on the program brochure and creating banquet centerpieces that reflected NYS habitats. I was web mistress and publicity lead. NYSOA board members Tim Baird, Gail Kirch, Carena Pooth, and Kathy Schneider passed on the wisdom gained from planning past NYSOA meetings. Plus, there were many other QCBC and NYSOA members who contributed ideas and time, particularly our field trip leaders.

It was a great conference. For me, as a first-time NYSOA meeting participant, it was educational and fun and an excellent opportunity to meet birders I previously only knew on the NYS birding listserv. I eagerly look forward to next year's NYSOA meeting in the Cayuga Basin, hosted by the Cayuga Bird Club. Good luck, CBC!

posted 2/10/14

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