This morning at Wisner Road in Warwick, I located a NORTHERN SHRIKE. I was freaking out because this bird is among my all time favorites. That was the good news. The bad news is that the bird was not very cooperative. Within five minutes of finding it, the bird took off from its distant perch and flew north. I tracked it in my scope as it disappeared behind trees in the distance.
Rob Stone joined me to help relocate, and then Bruce Nott after him. We checked the areas north as well as the area where I first saw the bird for a good long while (I tried for the next three hours), but unfortunately we were unable to relocate it. Hopefully that bird is still around; I was thrilled to get it, but for me a lot of the joy gets zapped if no one else gets the bird. Time will tell, I guess.
I got a nice early start this morning, meeting Linda Scrima at Wickham Lake just after sunrise. It was relatively uneventful, but we did have a single CACKLING GOOSE, which we first saw in my scope and then heard calling periodically while we were there. With the wind whipping pretty good, it was brutally cold on the lake, so after determining there were no other interesting waterfowl on the lake, we were happy to move on.
After a quick and unproductive stop at Glenmere Lake, we decided to follow up on some of the great birds that were reported this week. We headed to Lake Osiris to try for the GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE that Bruce Nott found on Tuesday. There were many Canada Geese on the lake, but after scanning pretty thoroughly we were ready to leave without any luck. Just as we were getting ready to leave, several skeins of geese flew in and landed on the lake. We scanned again, and voilà, there it was! We did our best to get some decent shots of the bird. The light was nice, but, as it goes with these geese, the bird was quite distant. Interestingly, just like the Cackler earlier, the bird started calling from time to time. It was a first for both of us and it was really cool. The bonus for the stop was watching an interesting exchange between three young Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. They seemed to be playing, chasing each other through the trees right next to us, oblivious to our existence. It was awesome.
From there, we headed to Orange Lake to chase yet another Bruce find – a WHITE-WINGED SCOTOER from earlier in the morning. It was a good stop; we located the bird, an adult male hanging out with 4 adult male LONG-TAILED DUCKS. Unfortunately the birds were just too distant for even documentary shots. The heat shimmer just rendered my images useless.
Next stop was Brown’s Pond to try for the GREAT CORMORANT that Ken McDermott reported last Sunday. Fortunately, the bird was still present and after a little searching, Linda located the bird on the far side of the pond.
For our final stop, we met up with Maria Loukeris and walked the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop trail. It was a nice, brisk walk which was mostly uneventful, but we did have two birds that I was pretty excited about: Fox Sparrow and American Pipit. Mostly, however it was nice to get out with friends for a walk and be outside for a while.
On Saturday I was mostly out of commission as I had a wedding to attend in Westchester County. I say mostly because between the church and the reception we had some time to kill, so Tricia and I made a stop at Five Islands Park in New Rochelle. I was hoping for Monk Parakeets, but alas we didn’t have any luck with them. It was the third time I’ve been to that park and still I haven’t seen the Monk Parakeets.
On Sunday I got up early and checked my emails. An Iceland Gull had been reported in Westchester County, not far from Croton Point Park. I figured I could make the morning of it by heading over to try for the gull and then bird the park afterwards. I didn’t have any luck with the gull, but I got lucky in another way. I ran into another birder, the original locator of the Iceland Gull. He is a long time birder/naturalist from New York City. We checked for the gull near the Boathouse Restaurant and the neighboring park and then he showed where he had originally located the bird at the Croton Point Park train station. I had never birded that spot, even though I knew of it, so it was good to get the lay of the land. He shared stories of his birding over the years; he had seen some really amazing local birds and he also had gone on some amazing birding trips. He showed me a photograph that he took of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper in full breeding plumage back in 1995 on a film camera; it was unbelievable and made me want to cry. What a bird. Anyways, my takeaway from it was that there is an awful lot of birding out there, be it locally or even more so if you are willing to travel. It made me look forward to when I can look back on 30++ years of my own birding adventures…
I had a great day at Mount Peter Hawkwatch today, with the highlight being not one, but TWO GOLDEN EAGLES! The first one was a subadult bird that I located over the valley to the west of the viewing platform in the morning. I watched this bird for the nearly 5 minutes it took for it to slowly rise up over the valley and eventually head southwest. The second was an adult bird, which I also located over the valley, in the afternoon.
That was the exciting part. The less than exciting part is that both birds where quite distant, so I didn’t get any photos. And, what was really unfortunate is that fellow counters Judy Cinquina and Tom Millard (who both help me tremendously today) didn’t get to see either bird. When Judy arrived, she had missed the first bird by mere moments. The second bird was a heartbreaker; it was a distant bird and I had it in the scope. Judy and Tom tried to get on it with bins without luck. I had Tom try to see it through the scope; I think I may have bumped the scope because when he looked he didn’t see the bird. I tried to jump back on the scope but there were no landmarks in an all blue sky and I never got back on that bird.
All told, we had respectable 75 migrating raptors for the day. Other highlights included a nice showing by Red-shouldered Hawks with 9 migrants. And I always love to find unusual non-raptors in the sky; today we had 2 Common Loons. As always, I’ve included my HMANA report at the bottom of this post.
It’s funny how things work out sometimes. I woke up with the startings of a sore throat, so on my way out for the morning I stopped at QuickChek to get some cough drops. This took my out of my usual way to Glenmere Lake, and past Goshen Reservoir. I’ve done this before; I should probably do it all the time but I never seem to remember. Anyways, when I got to the corner of Reservoir Road and Conklingtown Road I could see there was a number of Canada Geese present. I pulled over and quickly scanned with my binoculars. I quickly got on a goose that I thought was a good candidate for a CACKLING GOOSE, so I ran for my scope to get a better look.
I liked it for a Cackler, significantly smaller that the surrounding Canadas, with a short stubby bill. I ran for my camera (all this in the steady rain!), and documented. It was a dark and rainy morning, so much so that the above shot was taken at 10,000 ISO! So, I’ve applied a fair amount of noise reduction to the photo and the result looks more like a painting than a photograph.
I spent the rest of the morning birding in the rain, an endeavor which has proven extremely fruitful in the past, but unfortunately that wasn’t entirely the case today. I kayaked Glenmere Lake hoping for shorebirds – I found none. I went to Wickham Lake to follow up on a report of an American Coot there earlier, but the bird was either gone or hidden from sight while I was there.
My best stop also had the worst weather. I visited the south end of the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop. Karen Miller and the Mearns Bird Club had a couple of dowitchers there yesterday, as well as some other shorebirds. Well, it poured down buckets almost the entire time I was there – making for some very difficult birding. Just keeping my gear usable with all the water was a task. BUT, I got some good shorebirds: Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, at least a dozen Pectoral Sandpipers, and the pair of Dowitcher Species. Timing and my overall impression have me leaning towards Long-billed, but I just don’t know. I birded my way home through the black dirt, mostly sorting through sparrows (so many!). The rain lessened and then stopped as I pulled up to the house.
I didn’t sleep well last night, but I somehow dragged my butt out of bed this morning and strapped my kayak to the roof of my car. I’m glad I did, because it was a beautiful and crisp morning; the wind was down, the clouds hadn’t completely rolled in yet, making for a pleasant paddle on Glenmere Lake. My main goal (as usual), was shorebirds, but today in addition to a smattering of shorebirds, I found a couple of favorites as well.
The bird of the day for me was undoubtedly the American Pipit. There were many on the lake, working all the little “islands” of muck that the shorebirds enjoy so much as well. I would estimate I had at least 75 AMPIs, but it was hard to get any sort of accurate count. I can tell you this: pipits are not like shorebirds (for the most part oblivious to me in the kayak). They are much more jumpy and moved frequently from island to island. I finally made a slow, smooth approach and was able to get a decent pipit shot.
I worked my way along the shore and came across a mixed flock. I’d noticed some activity and slowly made my way over. Birds seemed to be everywhere around me- Yellow-rumped Warbers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, American Robins, and Cedar Waxwings. Then I noticed a small flock of mixed blackbirds feeding on the ground in the vegetation along the shore. I could first hear and then see several RUSTY BLACKBIRDS among them. I was just settling in to try and get some photos when a Sharp-shinned Hawk flushed just about all the birds. The blackbird flock took off over my head (unfortunately I never did catch up with them again).
As for shorebirds, I found a pair of Least Sandpipers, (6) Wilson’s Snipe which were flushed by a Cooper’s Hawk, (4) Killdeer, and (6) mystery shorebirds, also flushed by a raptor – not sure which because I kept my binoculars on the shorebirds as they flushed; they flew up over the trees heading west and I watched in my bins until they disappeared in the distance. My best guess for those birds is Dunlin, but we’ll never know. I totaled 39 species, which isn’t too bad for a couple hours or so on the water.
It was a vulturific day from the get-go. Yeah, I just made that word up, and yeah I know it’s cheesy. Anyways, when I woke up, the vulture roost in our backyard was in beautiful light. I was thinking that I don’t photograph these birds nearly enough, so I tried for some shots while the light was still good. Then I had a cup of coffee and got ready to head up to Mount Peter to count migrating raptors all day.
It was chilly up on the mountain – 37 degrees Fahrenheit with a breeze from the northwest. I had a slow start with nearly cloudless sky and no migrants in the first hour, but then things picked up. Jeff and Liz Zahn joined me in the second hour; we had a nice mix of birds including my only migrating Bald Eagle of the day, an adult over the valley which was located by Liz. .
It was during the fourth hour of the watch when fellow counter Jeanne Cimorelli located a kettle of vultures due north of the platform. The birds rose up very high and then began to stream out, heading SSW in a determined fashion. Counting a few stragglers that followed the kettle, there was a total of 41 Turkey Vultures and 2 Black Vultures that passed through.
In my final hour, I was getting ready to wrap things up a little early because I hadn’t had a migrating raptor in over an hour. Then Amanda Stanley and Jon Fazio (visiting from Wildcat Ridge Hawkwatch) showed up and we had one last flurry of activity to end the day with: a Cooper’s Hawk, a young Northern Harrier, and a Peregrine Falcon. I finished the day with 97 migrating raptors; this brought our year total to over 8600 birds. As usual I’ve included my HMANA (Hawk Migration Assoc. of North America) at the bottom of this post.
Well, it was an interesting weekend of birding for me. I counted at Mount Peter Hawkwatch on Saturday, and it was a bit of mixed bag. In 7 hours of counting, I had only 22 migrating raptors. But! I had a remarkable 14 sitings of Bald Eagles, 6 of which were countable, migrating birds. I also had my first migrating Northern Harriers of the season. And, I somehow managed to add 4 birds to my 2019 Orange County list: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Swainson’s Thrush, Hermit Thrush, and very exciting – a skein of 27 BRANT! I haven’t really been going for numbers this year, but as the fall has rolled in I started looking at it with the hopes of at least reaching 200 birds in the county this year. These four birds brought my total to 199.
I also had some really great visitors on Saturday, which helped the time pass when things were slow. Some folks even brought me snacks. You can see the list of visitors in my HMANA report at the bottom of this post. On my way home I stopped at Glenmere Lake and joined Karen Miller, Kathy Ashman, and Diane Bliss for the last little while of the Mearns Bird Club’s Big Sit. We had a nice flurry of songbirds come through (mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers) just as we were getting ready to leave.
On Sunday I didn’t have the opportunity to get out until the early afternoon. My first stop was Citgo Pond, hoping for shorebirds. There were only 2 shorebirds present (a Greater Yellowlegs and a late Solitary Sandpiper), but the trail had plenty of birds. They were mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, but also some more interesting birds: Blue-headed Vireo, Palm Warbler, and my 200th bird of the year in the county, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
I also made a brief stop at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I walked Liberty Lane briefly and in sheer numbers, I had as many sparrows as I can remember ever having out there. That being said, I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary, but I did have a total of 6 sparrow species: Song, Swamp, Field, Savannah (easily the most numerous), White-crowned, and Chipping. I wanted to do some kayaking at Glenmere Lake in the evening, but to be honest I just ran out of juice and stayed in.
I got a slightly later start than I wanted this morning. I struggled sleeping last night; I eventually got back to sleep around 5 am, but that made it tough to wake up early. My plan was to get to Citgo Pond before the sun was over the trees (once it’s over the trees, the birds are severely backlit and tough to ID). Anyways, I had to forego that plan and I headed directly to my next planned stop: Glenmere Lake. It ended up being a good decision as I had some really good birds in perfect light.
I kayaked the lake, just as I did last weekend. As I paddled out, I could see some good shorebird activity in the distance at the south end of the lake. I heard a shorebird call; I couldn’t put my finger on it and I also couldn’t locate the bird – it seemed to be moving over great distance. I eventually caught up with that bird, it was an AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER, undoubtedly the bird of the day. Prior to locating the plover, I’d come across nearly a dozen Pectoral Sandpipers (always a favorite), and 5 Lesser Yellowlegs. Of course there were many Killdeer around as well. Photo ops were mostly good as the light was good and the birds were cooperative. One other bird of note was a single American Pipit flyover, calling as it went. Again, I can’t express how great it is to be able to see these fabulous birds up close and personal – kayaking for shorebirds rules. I’ll be out again in the morning, fingers crossed for some good birds.
I had an excellent weekend of birding, which frankly is not something I’ve been able to say too much recently. I’ll start with today, Sunday, because it was most exciting. While I was at Citgo Pond searching for shorebirds first thing this morning, Kathy Ashman put out an alert on the Mearns Bird Club app – she was at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary and had located a LARK SPARROW! I did my best to make sure I wasn’t missing anything good at Citgo and headed directly over to 6 1/2, where the bird was not only still present, it was also very accommodating, allowing for some decent photos in spite of the low light conditions.
The LARK SPARROW was a life bird for me – #420. It was, of course also a county (#258) and state (#305) bird for me. Huge thanks and congratulations to Kathy on an awesome find.
From there, I finally did some kayaking at Glenmere lake. I’m shorebird obsessed as most of you know, and I’ve had some shorebirds there recently, but it’s so tough to see from the shore with all the foliage in the way, so I wanted to get out on the water and see what I could find. While I didn’t come up with any new birds, I did have a good collection of shorebirds (Killedeer, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Wilson’s Snipe). I got a much better look at the habitat at the south end of the lake – it’s good for shorebirds and it’s also vast! And then there is the magic of being in a kayak with shorebirds. If you move slowly and smoothly, they just don’t seem to know you exist and pay absolutely zero attention to you (except for the Killdeer!). It’s really amazing and allows for some incredible looks excellent photo ops. I was particularly happy to get the snipe up so close – I don’t think I’ve ever had them like that before.
SATURDAY 09/28/19 – HAWKWATCH AT MOUNT PETER
I had low expectations for hawkwatch on Saturday. The winds were not good (SE and SW), and plenty of birds had moved through during the week. I didn’t imagine there would be all that many moving for me on Saturday. But, I ended up having a pretty darn good day. With the help of fellow counters Ken Witkowski and Jeanne Cimorelli, I tallied 139 birds for the day. Highlights included 12 Ospreys, a massive and gorgeous Peregrine Falcon, and 3 Bald Eagles. My HMANA report is included below.