This morning Maria Loukeris and I headed to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Morris County, NJ. Maria had some business to attend to in the area and we birded the refuge beforehand. We mostly drove around from spot to spot, but we did walk the trails briefly as well. We had a total of 25 species during our visit; four were first of year (FOY) birds for me: Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee, Tree Swallow, and my favorite bird of the morning, RUSTY BLACKBIRD.
In the afternoon I birded three local lakes: Greenwood Lake, Wickham Lake, and Glenmere Lake. Wickham was far and away the best stop; I had 8 species of waterfowl, including over 200 Common Mergansers, a single Red-breasted Merganser drake, and an up close look at a beautiful little HORNED GREBE. At Glenmere, the RED-NECKED GREBE continues but was so far out I didn’t even take documentary photos. For the day I had a total of 37 species. I’ve included a list of all the birds with locations at the bottom of this post.
Here’s my list of species for the day, with locations (Great Swamp = GS. Wickham Lake = WL, Greenwood Lake = GRL, and Glenmere Lake = GLL).
With the beginning of Daylight Savings Time over the weekend, I’ve finally been able to get some after work evening birding in this week. Tonight I stopped at Greenwood Lake and had a really great night of birding. I did really well with waterfowl, with 9 species:
The real highlight came when I located a gull with darker gray coloring. The bird was out on the ice and quite distant, but I was thinking it looked good for a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. At the distance and the low light (it was getting late), I could not pick up the coloring on the legs. But, the size looked good to me and the head was smudgy. Rob Stone ran to join me, but as fate would have it, the bird flew literally just as he put his eye to my spotting scope. When I got home, I reviewed my pics and became more convinced that is was a Lesser Black-backed Gull; it looked to me like it might be a 2nd year with a dark bill tip as seen in The Crossley Guide. I emailed the photos to John Haas, he reviewed them and agreed with my ID! That’s a good bird for the county! And it’s great to be out during the week again!
There were some good birds reported locally this week, so that gave me some targets for today. At first light I headed over to Glenmere Lake to try for the Red-necked Grebe that Kathy Ashman located yesterday, and fortunately bird was still present. Kathy also showed up, and the bird put on a pretty good show as it tried to swallow a fish that was just way too large. Eventually a Ring-billed Gull swooped in and stole the fish, putting a halt to the grebes attempts. Glenmere is one of the few lakes with open water in the county, and including the grebe, I had 10 species of waterfowl: Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallards, American Wigeons, Ring-necked Ducks, and 2 COMMON GOLDENEYES.
I then cruised the black dirt for a while – I had several large groups of Canada Geese, maybe around 5,000 total, I sifted through them all and unfortunately did not located any other species. I did alright for raptors; I had my first Sharp-shinned Hawk in the count for the year, several Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, an American Kestrel on a wire, and I got some decent shots of a Rough-legged Hawk.
My next move was to head north to Ulster County to try for the Ross’s Goose that had been reported all week. I tried Bates Lane at Blue Chip Farms first, and I got lucky as another birder, Neil from the Schenectady was already on the bird when I arrived. He gave me a look in his scope, as the bird was at quite a distance, and I tried to get some documentary shots of the bird. It’s always good to see a Ross’s, and this bird is just the perfect beautiful example of the species. I made a quick stop at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, since I was so close, in spite of the parking lot being full of cars (at just after noon!) there were not many birds flying and I had only a single Turkey Vulture in the distance.
I had planned to head over to Cornwall to try for the Lesser Black-backed Gull that Bruce Nott found yesterday, but I ran out of time. I may try for that bird tomorrow. What a satisfying day of birding, I feel like we are on the verge of some really good birding in our area.
I got a good look at several Ring-necked Ducks at Glenmere Lake just after sunrise this morning. Glenmere is not typically a good place for photographing waterfowl from the shore, especially first thing in the morning as the view generally looks southeast, creating a severely backlit situation if there is a clear sunrise. This morning, however, these Ring-necked Ducks were located in a little cove of sorts along the shore. I positioned myself behind a tree and shot them with the sun just off my left shoulder; it was nice surprise to get some decent shots with nice light.
I arrived at Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge just after sunrise this morning. I was happy – a steady snow was falling, it was cold but not uncomfortably so, and I was the only one there. I walked the trails for a little while; I heard coyotes off in the distance. As the sun started to rise, I noticed a few of the Northern Harriers had started to fly, so I headed into the “Bobolink” blind and waited. But, the snow seemed to keep the harriers from flying like they have been recently, and it was songbirds that stole the show for me. I had several American Tree Sparrows just off to my right; every once in a while one would perch up on a bush. A Savannah Sparrow flew in front of the blind, perched briefly and then disappeared into the grasses. A trio of Northern Flickers spent some time in the tree directly in front of the blind, before flying south and finding another tree out in the middle of the grasslands. Then I heard a call I was hoping to hear all morning – Eastern Meadowlarks! A group of nine had landed in the ‘flicker tree’ and were gently calling.
I then walked the trails for a while, covering a good portion of the north end of the refuge. The snow eventually stopped and the refuge had a different feel, much brighter and warmer. The harriers remained relatively sparse on my walk although I did see a distant “Gray Ghost” flying over near Galeville Park. An Eastern Bluebird perched in a tree right alongside the trail. Four Black Vultures circled directly overhead. When I arrived back near the parking area, I ran into one of my favorite people: Ralph Tabor. We caught up for a while and enjoyed the birds at the feeder station. A Brown Creeper made its way up a tree just to the right of the feeders; I’m pretty sure it’s the first one I’ve ever had in Ulster County. Ralph then spotted a Short-eared Owl in the distance, being harassed by some American Crows. As I walked back towards my car, the crows flushed a second Shorty and I was able to get some photos before both owls settled down again. It was great morning of birding; it far exceeded my expectations when I headed out this morning.
My main goal today was to follow up on the swan the John Haas located yesterday at Rondout Reservoir. For just over 24 hours, there was some uncertainty regarding which species of swan it was, but just this afternoon the bird was confirmed as a TRUMPETER SWAN by Kevin McGowan at Cornell University, after reviewing photos by John and Bruce Nott. This is only the second record of the species in Sullivan County. John has written 3 posts on his blog about the bird – check it out here.
I ran for the bird this morning and fortunately it was still present. Karen Miller arrived right after me, and we both set up our scopes and enjoyed viewing the bird. My initial thoughts on the bird was that it looked good for trumpeter for two main reasons – 1. The bill shape and size looked good to me – it was large and fairly straight and 2. The connection of the bill to the eye seemed substantial enough. But, one field mark that wasn’t present was the “V” shape where the bill meets the forehead (in this bird it was more like a “U”). According to John’s blog, Kevin McGowan explained that variability in individual birds does not make this a reliable fieldmark for final identification. If you are interested in learning more about swan identification, have had a couple of hard lessons on swan identification that I have blogged about: one at Montezuma NWR and one at Wallkill River NWR.
I also did a little local birding today. Prior to running for the TRSW, I had a nice stop at Glenmere Lake, where I had 8 species of waterfowl: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Wood Duck, and American Black Duck. Kathy Ashman was there after me, and she also had a COMMON GOLDENEYE. I’m not sure how I missed that bird! In the early afternoon I ran around the black dirt for a while. I went through probably 1,500 Canada Geese in 2 locations but did not come up with anything. I got lucky with a beautiful ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK that flew right over me at Liberty Marsh. Oh, and I started the day, right around sunrise, with a coyote in a field not too far from my house. Great day!
My plan for the day was to head up to Sullivan County to see if I could do any good with waterfowl at Rondout Reservoir. Before heading up north, I made an early stop at Glenmere Lake and met up with Kathy Ashman again. She had located 2 GREATER SCAUP and relocated the single LESSER SCAUP. I found the GRSCs easily enough, but never did locate the LESC.
From there, I headed to Rondout Reservoir. John Haas and Karen Miller have recently reported some good waterfowl there; I thought it would be fun to head up that way and see how I could do. It was a worthwhile stop as I had 8 species of waterfowl. The highlight for me was my first COMMON GOLDENEYES of the year. There were 9 present and they were actively feeding and displaying in the furthest corner of open water along with several Hooded Mergansers and 3 female Buffleheads. I would have loved to get some photos, but the birds were just too distant.
I then headed towards Liberty, to visit the feeder stations in hopes of finding Evening Grosbeaks and any other interesting birds. I got lucky and had 12 EVGRs at the Woodard Road feeders and an additional 30 or so at the Smith Road feeders. At Smith Road, it was tough to get an accurate count, as the birds were here and there and coming and going; 30 is a conservative estimation. I tooled around the Liberty area a bit, but ended up heading home without any additional notable birds.
Regular readers of this blog may remember that it took me 51 weeks in 2018 to get a CACKLING GOOSE in Orange County. Well, today I potentially had three. Which just shows you how crazy birding can be. First thing this morning I headed to Glenmere Lake, hoping for the ROSS’S GOOSE that Kathy Ashman had seen there earlier in the week. The Ross’s wasn’t present, but I did run into Kathy and we had some good birds, including one bird that looked to us like a sure Cackler and a second bird that looked pretty good, but was slightly larger with a slightly longer bill. See photo below, I’d love to hear any opinions on these birds. The birds stuck together the entire time we were there, a cute tiny couple. Other waterfowl present: Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Gadwalls, and a single LESSER SCAUP.
I tooled around the black dirt and then took a walk at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh; it was actually pretty quiet and I had mostly the usuals including White-crowned Sparrows at two locations. On Onion Avenue there was a large flock of mixed blackbirds – perhaps 1,000 birds or so, nearly all Red-winged Blackbirds with a sprinkling of Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles, and European Starlings thrown in.
My final stop in southern OC was at Lockenhurst Pond. This is the small pond on Route 284 in Westtown, NY; I just looked it up to see what it was actually called. While I was there I sifted through the flock of approximately 400 Canada Geese and eventually located another CACKLING GOOSE. This bird looks good to me, see top photo as well as below.
After a late lunch, I headed up to the Newburgh Waterfront to try for more waterfowl and gulls. I had only the 3 expected species of gull, and for waterfowl the only noteworthy species was 9 Northern Pintails. I can only remember one other time having NOPIs on the Hudson River. Just as it was starting to get dark and I was thinking about heading home, I saw something I’ve not seen before. A group nearly 60 Canada Geese flew in and landed on the river. I don’t know if they were out in the fields all day, or if they just finished a long flight, but as soon at they landed all the birds were drinking from the river. I found it sweet to see 60 Canadas sipping away as the sun set.
I guess I’m feeling a little blasé about today’s birding, I’m not sure why; maybe I’m just tired. First thing this morning, I went to the Edith Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. This is a favorite spot of mine at this time of the year, particularly for waterfowl. I looked back at visits from years past at this time, and today was just a little on the low side of my average – I had 11 species of waterfowl. Highlights included Common Goldeneye, 30+ Long-tailed Ducks, and at least 15 Horned Grebes (I can’t remember ever having that many there before). Unfortunately, most birds were quite distant so I didn’t do much as far a photos go. And, the pier at Rye Playland was closed for some reason; I typically can get more photo ops from the pier than at the sanctuary. I was also hoping I might get lucky with the Greater White-fronted Goose that has been at the sanctuary recently, but no such luck.
Back closer to home, I made a few quick stops, including Glenmere Lake since it’s one of the few spots in southern Orange County with open water right now . It was nice to run into birding bud Kathy Ashman and we had some decent waterfowl among the medium sized flock of Canada Geese on the lake: 2 Northern Pintails (funny to see them walking around on the ice!), a dozen or so Ring-necked Ducks, and a single Lesser Scaup.
I decided to stay local this morning. I cruised the black dirt, made a quick stop at Glenmere Lake, and took a walk at Wallkill River NWR’s Liberty Marsh. It was actually a pretty quiet morning bird-wise, but after a hectic work week it was just nice to be out and looking at whatever birds I could track down. It was on the cold side (19 degrees F when I headed out), with a whipping wind that made it very difficult to be outside for any extended period of time. I had a total of 27 species for the day and nearly all were the usuals. Noteworthy birds included 5 Ring-necked Ducks and a single Bufflehead at Glenmere Lake, as well as a pair of Common Mergansers at Skinner Lane. My best birds were found in the black dirt: 2 Rough-legged Hawks and 2 LAPLAND LONGSPURS. I initially had the longspurs at a distance in my spotting scope. I tried to digiscope them to document, but between the cold and the wind I didn’t have any success. Just as I was driving off, I heard LALO call to the left of my car and not too far out. I got on it and was able to get a shot of the bird, which made me happy.