Maria Loukeris and I got an early start and headed south to Richard W. DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst, New Jersey; we were trying for the Ruff that had been reported there. We were not the only ones with that idea, as the park was absolutely loaded with birders. We met up with Marianne O., as planned, met some other birders for the first time, and also ran into Denise Farrel, who is also a hawk counter at Mount Peter Hawkwatch. Ultimately, we left and the Ruff had not been relocated. Meanwhile, we had some great birds at the park, including several LEAST BITTERNS. I was hoping when I finally got my lifer LEBI, it would not be a speck in a scope, or a fleeting glimpse of a bird, and I was not disappointed. The first one we had was only 50 feet away or so. It was in the shadows and partially hidden by phragmites reeds, but it looked absolutely incredible in the scope, and we worked hard to get some decent photos (I was not at all optimistic about these shots, so I was pleasantly surprised when I got home and saw them on the computer). This bird brings my life list total to 368 birds.
DeKorte is absolutely loaded with shorebirds. There were too many Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers to count, the same goes for Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitchers. We also had a handful of Semipalmated Plovers and also several Greater Yellowlegs. A Peregrine Falcon came through a couple of times and lifted up all the shorebirds (I somehow missed it both times!?). Also of note was a Sora that was seen well by Marianne and others but would not re-emerge when Maria and I made our way back to where it was being seen.
I had always been intimidated to go to DeKorte; mostly because of the driving and traffic, but also because I didn’t know the lay of the land. I admit that we did get a little bit lost on the way in, but really the driving wasn’t a problem at all especially since it was early on a Sunday with little traffic. And the park is very inviting, you don’t really have to know anything going into it; just arrive an enjoy some good birding.
This morning I hiked a section of the Long Path Trail off of Mountain Road, just north of Greenville, NY. According to the New York New Jersey Trail Conference website, the Long Path extends 358 miles from the 175th Street Subway Station in New York City to John Boyd Thacher State Park near Albany in New York, connecting many of New York’s parks, preserves, and state forest lands. I looked at the overview map of the trail and saw that the Heritage Trail at 6 1/2 Station Road is part of the Long Path as well. I’ve really been enjoying combining birding with hiking this spring and summer, and it’s pretty cool to know that you can walk trails from NYC all the way to the Adirondacks.
As far as the birding went, my hike was relatively unremarkable. I had 28 species for the walk and all were expected birds. Eastern Towhees were probably the most numerous, followed by Red-eyed Vireos and then Eastern Wood-Pewees. I did have some interesting experiences, including a black bear that I saw about 5o yards off the trail; the bear high-tailed it once it became aware of my presence.
I also had a Wood Duck at one of the ponds, and I witnessed a behavior I’ve never seen from a Wood Duck before. The bird was perched on a rock in the middle of the pond. I walked down the trail and took some photos from the shore and then made my way back up the trail, satisfied that I had not disturbed the bird. About twenty paces up the trail I looked over my shoulder and the duck was getting into the water – instead of floating/swimming like normal, the bird nearly completely submerged itself, leaving just its head and a little bit of its butt showing and swam that way into the grasses along the shore where it stayed hidden.
My final bird of the day, after walking for over three hours, was a Prairie Warbler right near where my car was parked (it’s amazing how often that happens!).
Notes: Linda Scrima had a Little Blue Heron in front of the viewing platform at the Liberty Marsh on Friday afternoon (7/15/16). Unfortunately, the bird flew before I arrived later that afternoon. I have been on the lookout for shorebirds, mostly checking Liberty Marsh and the Citgo Pond. Both locations have Least Sandpipers and Killdeer, and earlier in the week I also had a single Lesser Yellowlegs at the Citgo Pond.
Sometimes things just seem to work out. I had a work appointment in Wilmington Delaware this morning, and Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County, New Jersey, where a BROWN BOOBY has been recently reported, is not very far off the route that I took home. With some directions from Linda Scrima and a little luck, I found the location easily enough, and the bird was still present and was immediately pointed out to me by the other birders present. It spent most of its time perched and partially hidden on the I/O Tower, but in time I was there it did take flight a couple of times, which allowed for some halfway decent photos. I really enjoyed this bird and with its beautiful long thin wings it was exciting to see it in flight. Plus, it’s a booby in the middle of New Jersey, that’s pretty amazing! And finally, it was life bird for me, my 367th.
At the conclusion of a fun but relatively unremarkable morning of birding, I was lucky enough to spot this little beauty in a field on the side of the road. The fox was looking for a good place to take a nap. As I watched from a distance, the fox settled in, and when I left all that could be seen was the tips of its ears through the long grasses.
I met Linda Scrima out at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s viewing platform; we were going to try for the Short-billed Dowitcher that Ken McDermott had located yesterday and Karen Miller had relocated earlier today. Shortly after arriving, Linda located a single bird straight out from the platform but just emerging from the grasses. Sure enough it was a Short-billed Dowitcher! The bird was distant, but we had decent looks in the scope. I went back to my car for a bottle of water when Linda located a second bird – we got on it with the scope and it was a second SBDO. We put the word out, but by the time Maria Loukeris joined us, the birds had disappeared behind the grasses. John Haas and Mark Spina came shortly after and still there was no sign of the birds. We changed our vantage point by walking 5o or so yards down the Liberty Loop Trail heading east, and that did the trick – the birds were back in view and were joined by a third SBDO. Everyone got good scope views and did their best to get photos. Since the birds were so distant, I ended up mostly shooting video with my phone through the scope, but took some photos too. Good birds and good birding!
This morning, I joined forces with John Haas and we birded the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area by kayak. We had a very enjoyable paddle with a decent number of birds (32 species), but we had no luck finding our target bird, the Least Bittern. I’m not sure at what point a bird becomes a nemesis bird, but I am certainly starting to think Least Bittern is officially a nemesis bird for me.
In spite of dipping on the LEBI, it was a fun morning of birding. It is awesome to bird with John, he is really great company and an absolute wealth of birding knowledge; every time I bird with him, I learn so much. Plus we did alright with some of the more expected birds: Eastern Kingbirds were numerous and seemed to be at every bend in the channel, we heard at least 10 Common Gallinules, saw 2 Belted Kingfishers, and we got really great looks at one adult and two young Bald Eagles.
In the afternoon, I received a call from Ken McDermott; he had a SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER at the viewing platform at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I jumped into the car and made my way out there, but unfortunately the bird had flown north shortly before my arrival. Ken also had a Lesser Yellowlegs a little earlier, which had also moved on. So, I joined Ken and Maria Loukeris (who had also run for and missed the SBDO) for a while and we had an interesting afternoon/evening of birding. Shorebird highlights included Spotted Sandpiper (2), Solitary Sandpiper (2), Least Sandpiper (4), and many Killdeer, including 4 chicks. Other than shorebirds, we had many Great Blue Herons, several Green Herons, Cedar Waxwings, and one of the last birds of the day was an adult Bald Eagle that flew directly over the platform. The 2 Great Egrets that I had there earlier in the week were nowhere to be seen. All in all, a good day of birding, with the promise that shorebird migration is already underway! Huge thanks to Ken for the call.
I woke up reasonably early and planned a fairly long hike to take at Sterling Forest State Park. I started at the trailhead for the Sterling Ridge Trail on Route 17A. The trail was birdy with many expected birds; the only ‘surprise’ came when I got to a power cut and I could first hear and then see a couple of Prairie Warblers.
After about two miles, I left the Sterling Ridge Trail (I would hook up with it again later), and I took the Bare Rock Trail for a short time before heading south on the West Valley Trail. I chose the West Valley Trail because it ran through a swampy area that runs along Jennings Creek. I was hoping this change of habitat would add some species to my list and it certainly did – I got my best bird of the day there, a calling ACADIAN FLYCATCHER just a couple hundred yards from the swamp. At the swamp I added more birds: Eastern Phoebes, Common Grackles, Tree Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a beautiful family of Wood Ducks.
Just beyond the swamp, I jumped onto the Furnace Loop, which would eventually put me back onto the Sterling Ridge Trail. On the Furnace Loop I did well, getting good looks at several Hooded Warblers and a Worm-eating Warbler. Hooded Warblers remain my current photo-nemesis bird, and the Worm-eating made such a brief appearance that I didn’t have a chance. In the same area, I did manage to get a usable photo of a Black-and-white Warbler, so that was a decent consolation.
Shortly after I joined back up with the Sterling Ridge Trail, there was a fairly steep ascent which I scrambled up. Thats when I realized that the temperatures were rising and I was running out of water. AND that I was whooped. As I walked the portion of the Sterling Ridge Trail that I hadn’t previously been on, I was still actively birding even though in the heat the birds were more quiet than they had been all morning. Once I got back to where I had left the trail several hours earlier, I was in full zombie-hiker mode; one foot in front of the other, just determined to get back to my car. I drank the last of my water when I had maybe a mile left, fortunately I had more in the car which I guzzled upon arrival.
It was nice long hike (even if I was a little under prepared – bring more water, take rests!). I estimate that I hike around 8 miles or so, and it was fairly productive as I had 38 species for the morning.
Today after work I had a really great afternoon and evening of birding. I walked the Mongaup River Trail for the first time, and from beginning to end, the trail was very birdy, with many birds not only being heard, but seen as well. My best bird of the day was a Louisiana Thrush with a mouth full of bugs. I watched as the bird took the bugs to its nest and fed some hungry young ones. I ended up seeing 5 (!) Louisiana Waterthrush during my walk, which was really amazing. Three of them were actively feeding over the river. Another highlight was getting great looks at three Magnolia Warblers, a bird that I was really not expecting to see! I heard but did not get looks at a Blackburnian Warbler, a couple Black-and-White Warblers, and a couple distant Black-throated Green Warblers (another nice surprise). I was hoping I would see some mergansers and I did; four Common Mergansers on a rock in the river. Oh, and I had a couple of adult Bald Eagles too! It was a great afternoon of birding and I will going back again really soon. Huge thanks once again to Rob Stone, who gave me the heads up on this spot.
I have to thank Linda Scrima for motivating me this afternoon. I had not come up with a birding plan for the afternoon, and I was feeling a bit uninspired. Earlier in the day, Linda had gone for the Yellow-breasted Chats that had been reported at the Appalachian Trail off the Canal Road bike path in Vernon Township, New Jersey. At that time, she texted a recording of one of the chats calling, but I was unable to listen to it while I was working. Once I was out for the afternoon, I listened to it and I immediately knew I had to run for the birds; it really got me excited to see a chat! When I first arrived, I could hear at least one bird calling, but distant. I stood in the shade and waited it out; the calls came closer and eventually I located the bird as it took a nice high perch and called repeatedly. The bird was a little bit distant, but in perfect light, so I was able to get decent shots (with a very heavy crop). I stayed for a little over an hour and I was only sure of having one chat. Interestingly, it is seven days shy of a year since I had a pair of chats at this same location last summer.