I got a fairly early start this morning; I was headed out to hike the Sterling Valley Loop Trail at Sterling Forest State Park. It was raining when I arrived, and it pretty much rained for the entire 7.7 mile hike. While it never came down very hard, it was just enough to make birding a little bit difficult. I wore good rain gear, so I stayed dry and so did my camera (by the way my gear included wearing a day glow vest since turkey hunting season started this morning). And I had a cover for the eyepiece of my binoculars, so I was doing my best to keep the rain off of the ocular lenses. But, I didn’t take into account a couple of things: First, I spent much of my birding time looking straight up into the tops of trees, so the objective lenses of my bins were getting soaked. Second, whenever I brought my binoculars to my eyes, the ocular lenses would fog over. Next time around, I will be sure to bring a soft absorbent towel for drying the objective lenses and clearing the condensation off the ocular lenses. I was also holding my bins away from my eyes so they wouldn’t fog over, at that worked to a certain extent.
As far as the birding went, the trail was only moderately birdy. I spent 5 hours hiking and had a modest (for this time of year) 39 species. I added 2 species to my Orange County year list: American Redstart(of which I had several), and Eastern Kingbird. I thought I was going to have to do a post with no photos (which I am always reluctant to do), but luckily when the rain let up a little bit, I had a decent opportunity with a Black-and-white Warbler. I also had a chance to photograph an Eastern Kingbird, but I was shooting through the brush and never got a clean focus on the bird.
When I had gotten home and stripped off all my wet gear, I received a call from Rob Stone. He was on a WHITE-WINGED SCOTER at Wickham Lake. Back on with the gear! I ran for the bird and it was still present when I arrived. I walked the trail on the southeast of the lake to get a little closer to the bird. I got better scope views from there and a post-able photo. WWSC is definitely what I consider a good bird for the county. Thanks once again to Rob, who never ceases to amaze.
It’s that time of year when new birds are not very hard to come by. Migration is getting into full swing, and many new birds are moving into and through the area. I spent the morning and into the early afternoon birding at the above locations, and added 14 new species to my Orange County year list.
First thing this morning, I met Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris at Pochuck Mountain State Forest, which was quite birdy. We had a nice long walk with 33 species and I added 8 personal first of year (FOY) birds:
Ovenbird was the bird of the day for sure; we heard them calling all along the trail as we walked. It was a nice outing, although at the end we had to cut it short and hustle back to our cars as both Linda and Maria had other obligations.
Afterwards, I headed over to 6 1/2 Station Road with the main goal of trying for some shorebirds. I started at the Citgo Pond, and although it was not a great success, I did see a several Killdeer, 2 Lesser Yellowlegs (FOY in Orange County), and 2 Spotted Sandpipers (FOY). The habitat looks good there right now for shorebirds, so I will be checking in for sure. I also walked a portion of the Heritage Trail, and ultimately I had 32 species. Other new year birds for me included: Green Heron, several Chimney Swifts, 2 Warbling Vireos, and a House Wren. I was bummed out about the Warbling Vireos because they were down low and in good light, but for some reason I was never able to get a good focus while I was trying to photograph them.
While I wouldn’t categorize it as amazing, it was certainly a good and enjoyable day of birding.
QUICK POST: I got an early start this morning and hiked Indian Hill Loop at Sterling Forest State Park. It was a nice hike with some scenic overlooks and it was just birdy enough to keep it interesting. I had Blue-gray Gnatcatchers throughout the walk, heard two Louisiana Waterthrushes, and I was happy to find Black-and-White Warblers at two different high points in the walk. However, the definite highlight of the day was when a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker came in and landed in a tree less than 20 feet from me. I froze as the bird went about its business; I watched as the bird carefully created a hole and then fed on the sap. The bird did this two times while I stood only yards away, and I just relaxed and enjoyed every minute of it, not knowing when I would ever get another opportunity like this.
I met Linda Scrima out at Pochuck Mountain State Forest early on this cloudy morning. In the beginning of the trail, it was not very birdy, but we continued further up the mountain until we got to a small pond and that’s where things got interesting. Our first good bird was my FOY BLUE-HEADED VIREO. Shortly afterwards, we located another personal FOY, a BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER. As we worked our way around the pond, I heard a call that sort of sounded familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Linda, however knew it immediately – it was a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. We followed the call, located the bird, and got fabulous looks and pretty decent photos, especially considering the poor lighting. We ended up having a good morning at Pochuck; we hiked probably about 4 miles and had 28 species.
Afterwards, we walked the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop. Highlights included our second Louisiana Waterthrush of the day, which was located by Linda on the west side of the loop, just off the trail. We also did pretty well with shorebirds with several Killdeer, 2 Greater Yellowlegs (FOY), 1 Lesser Yellowlegs (FOY), and a pair of Wilson’s Snipe. All in all, a good day with some good year birds for both of us.
I birded in Orange County all weekend, starting at the Winding Waters Trail at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge on Friday afternoon. I met Linda Scrima out there, we were following up on a tip from Rob Stone; he’d had Vesper Sparrows there earlier in the day. VESP is a nemesis bird for Linda. Or should I say WAS a nemesis bird for her. We relocated at least two, with a possible third Vesper Sparrow present and got great looks at the birds. Congratulations to Linda on the lifer, and what a super looking bird.
Saturday morning I walked out at Goosepond Mountain State Park. I had never walked the entire trail before, so that’s what I did. I started at Laroe Road and walked to route 17M and then back. It was a nice walk which was very birdy. I had 35 species on the day, which included 6 personal first of the year birds: Field Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, HERMIT THRUSH, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Broad-winged Hawk, and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Sunday morning I decided to try something a little bit different and go on a hike that would not necessarily be loaded with birds. I walked the loop at Storm King State Park. It was probably not a difficult or strenuous hike by most people’s standards, but I quickly learned how out of shape I am these days! I started at the trailhead on route 9W north, and I huffed and puffed my way up to the summit of Storm King. The views were pretty great and there were some raptors flying as well (Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vultures, Sharp-shinned Hawk). I had more birds than I would have expected, tallying 17 species, the most interesting to me being a Hermit Thrush I saw about 100 yards into the trail. Thankfully, the back end of the loop was a little bit easier going. Afterwards, I made a quick stop by Kenridge Farm where I saw many of the usuals and also picked up my FOY Barn Swallow.
I figured it might be some good birding news when I saw that John Haas was calling me this afternoon on the way home. I was right, Ken McDermott had located a CASPIAN TERN at Washington Lake! A quick change of plans and I was on my way. When I arrived the bird was along the shore with 28 Ring-billed Gulls (which were pestering the tern from time to time). I got good looks at the bird in Ken and Bruce Nott’s scopes, and then took some photos. At one point, all the birds took flight for a short spin as a Bald Eagle flew over, but then they settled down again. It wasn’t until a fisherman walked right by the birds that they flushed and did not return to the shore. We kept our eye on the bird for a good while as it flew around the lake; the gulls kept it on the run, and then right before 6 0’clock, the bird headed northeast and did not return that we saw. I think the bird was at the lake for just under 3 hours, but many birders ran for it and were able to get a good look. Other notable birds present included: Bonaparte’s Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, and a Broad-winged Hawk that Scott Baldinger had but that I never picked up because I was trying to stay on the tern.
QUICK POST: I was pretty excited today at work, when I received word from Rob Stone that he had located two RED-NECKED GREBES at Wickham Lake. A little later on, Karen Miller reported that there was a Horned Grebe and a Common Loon also present. I went for the birds after work, meeting up with Maria Loukeris and Linda Scrima. They had already located the 3 grebes but the loon was nowhere to be seen. We got excellent scope views of the Red-necked Grebes and took distant photos. The Horned Grebe was a bit further out and I didn’t even try for photos. The RNGRs were just beautiful to see and they made my day for sure.
Since I’ve been out of the loop for a little while, I figured it would be a good idea to do a post of notable Orange County sightings that I know of from the past week:
SUNDAY 4/3/16 – It was a waterfowl fallout of sorts in OC. Rob Stone reported 20+ Long-tailed Ducks at Wickham Lake, along with 1 Greater Scaup, 1 Common Loon, and 1 Horned Grebe. Meanwhile, Kathy Ashman reported to Mearns Bird Club that she had 7 Horned Grebes at Glenmere Lake, with some in breeding plumage.
MONDAY 4/4/16 – Rob Stone had a Vesper Sparrow at Lower Wisner Road.
THURSDAY 4/7/16 – I had 1 Greater Scaup, 1 Common Loon (my FOY), and 2 Horned Grebes at Greenwood Lake. Kathy Ashman reported a Green Heron at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary.
FRIDAY 4/8/16 – I had 1 Common Loon at Sterling Lake and at Greenwood Lake I had 1 Horned Grebe, 1 Red-breasted Merganser, and 2 Common Loons.
SATURDAY 4/9/16 – I had my FOY Louisiana Waterthrush and Swamp Sparrow on the Sterling Lake Loop Trail. At White Oak Swamp, I finally got my FOY Rusty Blackbird and I also had my FOY Palm Warbler.
SUNDAY 4/10/16 – Maria Loukeris had a Common Loon at Glenmere Lake. I went for the bird later in the day and 4 Greater Scaup and 1 Lesser Scaup (FOY) had moved in as well. Earlier in the day, I had my FOY Osprey at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary (but missed out on the Green Heron).
All birders know that one of the best things about traveling to a new area for the first time is the possibility of seeing some new birds. It is very exciting knowing that at any turn you may see a bird for your first time ever. This is true even when birding is not your primary objective, as was the case for me last weekend when Tricia and I flew to Portland, Oregon to attend her cousin Rob’s wedding. It was a great weekend and it was awesome to get to know Rob’s wife Monica a little bit better and to meet her family. The wedding itself was beautiful and the food was just incredible. But most importantly, I picked up 14 life birds and 2 new sub-species over the long weekend.
I got out two times specifically to do some birding – I went to Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge one morning with Tricia and her brother Kevin and then I got up early one morning and went to Summerlake Park, which is an eBird hotspot and only a few minutes from the hotel. Tualitin River NWR was a super birding spot that has a nice trail to walk. I added 4 life birds and one new sub-species during our walk: Anna’s Hummingbird, Western Scrub-jay, Orange-crowned Warbler, Golden-crowned Sparrow and the sub-species Pacific Cackling Goose. Unfortunately we were there midday which made for harsh lighting and not many of my photos turned out well. The next morning, I got out early to Summerlake Park and added BUSHTIT and Bewick’s Wren to my life list, and conditions for photos were much better.
The day after the wedding, Tricia, Kevin, and I drove out to the coast to go to the beach and take a hike. It was my first time ever at the Pacific Ocean, and the Cannon Beach with the gorgeous Haystack Rock was a dramatic introduction to it. The day ended up being very bird-centric (can you imagine?!?), and for not planning it, it was incredible how many great birds we had that day. It started off at Cannon Beach, where we quickly noticed that there were puffins flying around Haystack Rock – they were TUFTED PUFFINS! I spent some time on the beach while Tricia and Kevin toured the town and I added Pelagic Cormorant, Black Oystercatcher, Western Gull, and Glaucous-winged Gull. Afterwards, we headed to Oswald West State Park and took a long, amazing hike out to Cape Falcon. We had many Pacific Wrens on our walk, but for me the bird of the hike was certainly the pair of WRENTITS I found skulking around in the underbrush just off the trail.
I really did not want to leave Oregon. It was so gorgeous out there; I was struck at how lush it was and at how many huge evergreen trees there are. It was a really great extended weekend for many reasons and good birding was certainly one.
New Life Birds:
I was cruising through the Black Dirt Region this afternoon, really just sort of doing some half-hearted birding but mostly hoping for Lapland Longspurs, when I heard an Eastern Meadowlark call. I stopped the car and located one and then another meadowlark… only the second bird was not a meadowlark but an UPLAND SANDPIPER! I put the word out and I was eventually joined by Karen Miller, Maria Loukeris, Linda Scrima, and Bruce Nott, who all got good scope views of the bird. Meanwhile, the more I watched the bird, the less sure I was becoming of my initial ID, mostly because the bird was bobbing its tail often, a behavior that I didn’t know Upland Sandpipers exhibited. I spoke with Rob Stone and he found a video online showing bobbing behavior. When Karen got home, she referenced her National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, which read: “It often bobs the rear portion of its body…”. I’ve included a video of the bird at the bottom of this post. According to eBird bar charts, we are not likely to see UPSAs in Orange County until May, so this is really an early bird.