I’ve birded locally most days in the past week and while it’s been enjoyable, things have been on the slow side. Today things picked up a bit for me when I located a large flock of mixed blackbirds in the black dirt, and then shortly after that had a cooperative Merlin, followed by a large flock of Snow Geese, which I still have not grown tired of. Earlier in the week at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, I had my first Great Blue Heron of the year (and it was in good light!). I’m feeling like I might be ready for winter birding to be over – maybe the flocks of blackbirds are an indication that birds are starting to move?
I spent this beautiful Saturday morning out at the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. Although I saw only the expected birds, I had an excellent morning with 43 species observed. I guess if you are going to get the usuals, it’s good to be in a place where there are a lot of “usuals”. As expected, I did best with waterfowl, seeing 18 different species. It had been over a year since I’d been to the sanctuary and although I was feeling like I was having a good day, I was wondering how it compared to the previous years. Since 2013, I’ve visited the sanctuary 5 times, always in January or February. My average number of species for those visits is 34, and I’ve never had more than 36. And what makes it even more interesting is that this was the first time I’ve been there and the feeder station was not filled up. In past visits that feeder station would really be hopping and I’d get several species right there. Today, all the feeders were empty and I didn’t get a single bird. One bird that I was really hoping for was Purple Sandpiper since it’s a good spot for them, but today I came up empty. I did add seven birds to my New York State year list, which was nice. I’ve included my list of species at the bottom of this post. Good birding!
American Black Duck
Great Blue Heron
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
American Tree Sparrow
Maria Loukeris and I spent a fantastic day of birding down at the Jersey Shore today. Our first stop was at Morgan Avenue Mudflats in Middlesex County. We dipped on our target bird – the Black-headed Gull which had been reported as recently as Friday, but we did get lucky with a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. We got great looks at the bird and some documentary photos.
Our second stop was at Manasquan Inlet in Ocean County. I knew it would be a good stop when I stepped out of the car and photographed a Common Loon at close distance. We worked our way out onto the jetty and I saw a very white bird on the water, not far from the jetty. “Is that a gannet?” It was a NORTHERN GANNET; we had several while we were there, and one in particular spent a large amount of time not far from the jetty. We reached the end of the jetty and Maria found the bird of the day, a RAZORBILL! The bird was very close to the jetty; I could barely believe it. We got super looks at the bird, and even some decent shots. It was definitely the highlight of the day.
Our final stop was at Shark River in Monmouth County. As it was last year when we were there, the place was absolutely loaded with birds. We never located the Eurasian Wigeon that had been reported, but we did pretty well with waterfowl (and a couple of shorebirds too):
Canada Goose 55
Mute Swan 85
American Wigeon 45
American Black Duck 2
Hooded Merganser 65
Red-breasted Merganser 25
Ruddy Duck 1
Black-bellied Plover 3
We ended the day with a total of 30 species from the three locations. Good birding!
First thing this morning I headed to Piermont Pier to see if could get any good ducks. It was a nice stop and I had 7 species of waterfowl:
Canada Goose (3)
Common Goldeneye (2)
Common Merganser (1)
Ruddy Duck (43)
The Common Goldeneyes stole the show for me; I got great looks at one bird that spent some time close to the pier. The Canvasbacks were nice to get, but were very distant and a scope was needed to see them well.
I left Piermont Pier and headed to State Line Lookout to join the hordes of birders/photographers/sheep that were present to try for the Gyrfalcon that has been reported recently there. It was quite a scene and I estimate that in the time I tried for the bird (4 hours), over 125 birders/photogs were there for the bird as well. Millions of photographs were taken of the local Peregrine Falcons (that might not be an exaggeration). The falcons did not fly much, but did spend much time on the closest perches. Other good birds included several Bald Eagles, Common Ravens, and a Cooper’s Hawk which was chased from the far side of the river to the Lookout by the local male Peregrine Falcon. As for the Gyrfalcon, it was of course a no-show. Hopefully it sticks and I’ll try for it another day.
The flock of Snow Geese not only remained in the black dirt today, it grew in size, pushing 5,000 birds. I got out of work on time today and thanks to Bruce Nott I was able to drive directly to the birds, where I met up with Wilma Amthor and Linda Scrima to enjoy the show. The birds picked up often and the light was intermittently very good, so we enjoyed watching and photographing the birds. Beautiful birds, beautiful evening.
QUICK POST: I don’t care how many times I see them, I think I will always be amazed by large flocks of Snow Geese. Huge thanks to Linda Scrima, Rob Stone, Ken McDermott, and Bruce Nott for letting me know about the approximately 3,000 SNGOs they had in the black dirt today, and for their help getting me on them once I finally got out of work (late!). Although I missed the best parts of the show, I was still thrilled to watch the bulk of the flock as it took to the sky and headed north as I drove up, and to later join Ken in viewing another group of approximately 500 birds feeding in a field. The group included at least one adult Blue Morph, one young Blue Morph, and one adult SNGO that was tagged with a yellow tag around its neck. Not a bad Wednesday evening of birding!
After an uneventful morning of birding under gray skies, the clouds lifted in the early afternoon and I decided to head to Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. I felt that I was arriving a little bit late to be able to get a photo blind, but as luck would have it, the closest north blind was still vacant and I grabbed it. Northern Harriers were plentiful and offered many photo ops, some of which I took advantage of, and some, well, not so much. American Tree Sparrows were heard more than seen, but I did finally get a bird that sat up for me for a few pics. The highlight of the day, however was when I saw a NORTHERN SHRIKE perched on a distant bush. I snapped off a few photos just before the bird flew and I was unable to relocate it. I had this bird back in November but was unable to get any photos, and it has been reported intermittently since then. I found out when I left the blind that other birders had seen the bird briefly as well. Also exciting, the Short-eared Owls got up early enough for some halfway decent photos and really great looks. On my way out, I ran into many birders that I know and it was good to shoot the breeze and catch up with several of them in the parking area. Good birding at the Grasslands!
This post may be a day late and a dollar short, but in a conversation today with birding bud Linda Scrima, she reminded me of just how good of a bird ROSS’S GOOSE really is for Orange County and that it was certainly post-worthy.
I should have known when I left early Saturday morning for my pelagic adventure that, like clockwork, a good bird would be located in Orange County. It was upon my return to cell service, while still out at sea, that I started receive texts and voicemails from earlier in the day, regarding the Ross’s Goose that had been located at Monroe-Woodbury Middle School. Looking through my eBird rare bird reports as I write this, it appears that the bird was originally located by Bob Miller and it was Mark DeDea that informed the Mearns Bird Club of the bird so that they would be able to include it in their annual Winter Waterfowl Count. Huge thanks to both of them.
I woke up a little on the late side Sunday morning; I was exhausted from the day before. The Ross’s Goose was in the back of my mind but I had no plans to go for it. I was first of all tired, secondly excited to go through my photos and write a post for the pelagic, and thirdly, after a year of chasing every bird I got wind of in Orange County, I just wasn’t dying to run for the bird. But, in the early afternoon, I received a call from Ken McDermott, letting me know the bird was still present. I was in a better place by that time, so I ran for the bird. I saw Karen Miller and Kathy Ashman who were also going for the bird while I was there. A Ross’s Goose can’t come any easier than this; the bird was in ball field with forty or so Canada Geese. It was only my second time ever seeing a Ross’s (my first one was also in Orange County, at the Camel Farm in 2013). I was able to get some decent documentary shots of the bird, shooting through a fence. I promptly went home and took it easy for the rest of the day.
One final note: The bird was reported at the same location yesterday (Monday 01/16), but I have not seen any reports for today yet.
Yesterday I went on a 14 hour pelagic birding trip with See Life Paulagics – it was quite a birding adventure. The Brooklyn VI set sail out of Brooklyn at 5:00 am. We headed 50 miles out to sea and covered one heck of a lot of territory. The target birds for the trip included: Northern Fulmar, Dovekie, Razorbill, Common Murre, Atlantic Puffin, Glaucous, Iceland, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwake, Red Phalarope. We located all the targets with the exception of the Glaucous and Iceland Gulls and Red Phalarope. I spoke with several more experienced birders on board (I didn’t think I would be a good judge since I was thrilled to just be there), and all agreed that the trip was a good one and a success, getting all the target birds that folks really wanted to see and more importantly, getting birds ALL DAY LONG. There were very few lulls in the action, when we weren’t getting any alcids it seemed like the gulls would step it up and keep everyone happy. Full kudos to See Life Paulagics.
I only knew one other person on the boat, Maha Katnani. It was great to see a familiar face and I enjoyed much of the day birding with her and her two friends Barbara Mansell and Susan Ells Joseph. Meanwhile, it was also good to meet some new folks as I moved around the boat. Photography was tough because of a variety of reasons (see below), but with so many birds, there were plenty of photo ops throughout the day. Most of the Alcids tended to be a little on the distant side, but with some closer looks from time to time. Gulls and Gannets, on the other hand, were very available and I particularly enjoyed shooting the BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES. I found that they are a clean, good looking bird with a lot of character and, in my opinion, they are very photogenic. They were one of two life birds I got on the trip (scroll down to see the 2nd…), and I spent a good amount of time photographing them.
THREE THOUGHTS ABOUT PELAGIC BIRDING
1. Pelagic Birding is tough. First of all, it is a long day (and this is one of the shorter trips). I woke up at 2:00 am and left the house a half hour later. The boat set sail at 5:00 am and we travelled in the dark for over two hours before Sunrise. Then, it’s a full day of birding, sunrise to sunset, followed by another two-plus hours in the dark to get back to the dock. And finally, I had the drive back from Brooklyn; I arrived home right at 9:00 pm. That’s a 19 hour day! Secondly, it is exhausting. The long hours speak for themselves, but what’s not so evident is that the entire time you are birding, you are fighting to maintain your balance. Grabbing handrails, leaning on handrails while using your binoculars or camera, constantly counterbalancing to react to the rocking of the boat. I imagine with time this just becomes second nature, and I got better at is as the day went on, but for a land lubber like myself, it was exhausting. And, because the birding was so good and I didn’t want to miss anything, I barely took a break all day long.
2. Birders are nice people. I am not the most social of birders, especially when I first meet folks, but I have to say how great everyone on board was. I’ve said it before on this blog, but here it is again – birders are generous people. Everyone was making sure that the people around them were getting on the birds as much as possible, especially the folks from See Life Paulagics. They have an incredibly talented group that really know the birds and do very well to make sure that everyone gets a decent look at as many species as possible. AND, they are just fun to talk to and good people to be around.
3. Pelagic birding is challenging and therefore, very fun and awesome. Identifying often distant birds on a rocking boat with binoculars is not an easy task. One thing I would consider, moving forward, would be purchasing a set of 8X power binoculars, as opposed to the 10X power in my current bins. I think for pelagic birding there are just too many moving parts and that taking a little shake out of the binoculars by moving to 8X will be worthwhile. So, while it can be difficult, it is SO rewarding, allowing you to get some super birds that you won’t see any other way and also allowing for some great photo opportunities of some gorgeous birds. While I wouldn’t say I’m addicted yet, but I am certainly thinking about my next pelagic birding trip.
I’ve gotten out a good amount in the past week, but really haven’t had anything all that amazing. I’ve spent much of my birding time chasing a couple of mixed flocks of Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and Lapland Longspurs hoping for photographs. A farm truck spilled some corn on the road and it was a mixed blessing. It was great because for a few days the birds were actively feeding on the the spilled corn. It was not so great because, in my opinion, the corn does not really make for good pics.
My only other noteworthy observations involved some good local waterfowl. On Wednesday evening after work, I went to the Newburgh Waterfront looking for gulls. Instead, I found Ken McDermott, who told me he had 2 Horned Grebes at Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point. I ran for the birds and relocated them, pretty far out into the Hudson River, but I had good scope views. Then, on Friday after work, I went to Wickham Lake to try for a couple of Common Goldeneyes that Rob Stone had seen there earlier in the day. The birds were still present and I was able to take some documentary photos. I also stopped by Warwick Town Hall where I had a really good mix of waterfowl: Canada Goose (2), Gadwall (18), American Wigeon (1), Mallard (25), Northern Pintail (1), Ring-necked Duck (2), and Greater Scaup (1). By the time I got there it was too dark for photographs, but good birds for sure!
Otherwise, I’ve just been doing lot of running around, seeing mostly the usuals, and taking loads of photos. Here are several I felt were worth sharing: