Tonight, Tricia and I are flying to Ireland for a week of vacation. It’s been a while since we were there and I am excited because I feel like both my birding and my photography have improved to an extent that will make the trip that much more enjoyable for me. Because it’s a family vacation, I don’t have any concrete plans yet for birding; I think I’m going to mostly play it by ear, but regardless I know I’ll get out a good bit and it should hopefully be interesting. Stay tuned – with any luck, I will publish my first post about it a week from Sunday (07/15/18).
This morning I joined John Haas and Karen Miller on a trip to Nickerson Beach on Long Island; we were hoping to see some of the great terns that have been reported there in recent days. It was my first time to Nickerson Beach, and I didn’t really know what to expect. There are nesting colonies of Common Terns, Least Terns, and Black Skimmers – all in a relatively small area, so the shear number of birds is absolutely incredible. Our timing was good for tern chicks and we saw plenty of both Least and Common Tern chicks. We spent much of our time between the Common Tern colony and the ocean, and it was remarkable to see how well the terns were doing feeding; there was a steady stream of COTEs heading out to the ocean and coming back with fish in their bills to feed young.
We were hoping that some larger groups of terns would loaf on the beach, this would increase our chances of seeing some different terns, but this never materialized to any great extent. Whenever a larger group of terns would start to develop, sure enough a walker or jogger would come through and flush the birds. It was a perfect “beach day” after all! Apparently we had missed a Royal Tern do a fly-by while we were checking out the Least Tern colony, but we did get lucky with four GULL-BILLED TERNS which spent a good amount of time flying above and through the Common Tern colony. I was excited because of all the likely terns, this is the one I wanted to get shot of – they are a beautiful clean, sharp looking tern and they are distinctly whiter than the Commons that they were flying among. Unfortunately, we left without getting a couple of our targets – Arctic Tern and Roseate Tern. It was a great morning of birding, and getting out super early, we beat the heat for the most part.
After work yesterday I went to Knapp’s Landing in Chester, NY. I wanted to double check that my lens had not been damaged during Sunday’s spill. I’d broken out my old Canon Rebel T2i camera body – I shot the first two years of this blog with this camera body, and now I’m wondering how I did it. I’ve become spoiled with the speed and convenience of my 70D and I was floored at how slow the Rebel was in many respects: focusing, shooting, viewing pics, and changing settings. It was magnified by the fact that I was shooting in RAW; I never shot in RAW back then so it was definitely a lot quicker. That being said, the camera still takes really nice pics. I went to Knapp’s Landing hoping to shoot Bobolinks, but they were more scarce than my previous visit (likely busy breeding), so that didn’t work out. I ended up getting lucky when a pair of Northern Mockingbirds landed in a tree not far off the trail, in good light. I was pleased with the results and it looks like, thankfully, my lens made it through unscathed. Now I just have to wait for my new camera body (Canon 7d Mark II) to arrive later this week…
This morning I hiked out at Black Rock Forrest again. I have enjoyed going out there – to me there is a sense of adventure involved because you never know what you might see. I had a birdy walk with mostly the usuals, but the day did end up being eventful. I have to mention that the bugs were absolutely terrible on this hike. I walked around in a cloud of gnats and mosquitoes that never seemed to end. I’m usually fine with the insects on a trail; they don’t really bother me. But today it was overwhelming, to the point where it was affecting my birding because I didn’t want to stop as often as I normally would.
About an hour into the hike, I walked out into a clearing to find a relatively large black bear right in front of me. I took a quick series of photos, but I was nervous because I’d come out into the clearing quite close to the bear. I made a bunch of noise, but the bear held its ground, so I decided that I did not need to continue on that trail any further and slowly retreated. Not long after that, I inadvertently flushed a RUFFED GROUSE as I walked along the trail. The bird was just off the trail and instead of taking flight, it fled into the forrest on foot – giving me (sadly) my best look at a RUGR to date. I lingered in the general vicinity for a good while, keeping still and hoping for a reemergence of the bird, but it was not to be. I think you only get one shot with these birds. My final event was not a good one. I was making my way back to my car, moving at decent pace. I stopped to listen as a distant (presumed) bear had heard me coming and was making its way through the woods at a rapid pace off to my right. I never saw the bear, but it made quite the ruckus. My next step happened to be on a wet rock and I wiped out pretty good. I was fine, but unfortunately my camera did not come out of it unscathed. Fortunately the lens seems to be fine, but the body took a good blow and is not able to connect with the lens, so it looks like it will have to go in for repairs. I finished my hike having logged just over 6 miles, with 35 species of birds and who-knows-how-many mosquito bites.
It’s the time of year when just about all of the birds in our area are expected breeders, so I didn’t have any real surprises this week. I got out a good amount and, I have to say, the birding has been really enjoyable. It’s a time of year to just enjoy seeing the birds, and to watch their behavior, and, of course, to photograph them. Here’s a sampling of the birds (and bears) I had in the past week.
RUFFED GROUSE is a bird that I have been trying to get in Orange County for several years now; it’s a bird that, for some reason, really captured my imagination and one that I’ve put in a concerted effort to try and find in the county. So, imagine how pleased I was when I saw Ajit Antony’s eBird report of a RUGR at Black Rock Forest in my “Year Needs Alert” email from eBird on Friday. I had a work obligation yesterday, but I got up early to try for the bird this morning.
It was frustrating start to the morning for me. I don’t know Black Rock Forest at all, so I originally went to completely the wrong place. Then I went to the Black Rock Forest main parking area, where I had a Hooded Warbler calling as soon as I got out of the car. I looked at the map trying to locate “Jupiter’s Boulder”. An obliging local hiker helped me out and told me it would be best to drive to another trailhead, on Old Mineral Springs Road. So, I got back in the car and drove there; I walked nearly half a mile and realized I’d forgotten rain gear for my camera – it sure felt like rain, so I walked back to the car to get it (thus guaranteeing no rain). Then, I was finally ready to take a hike. I’d never birded that area before and it was a nice hike with a beautiful waterfall (no pic, my cell phone died!), and good amount of birds – mostly the usuals but with a couple favorites of mine – Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and a couple of Acadian Flycatchers. You can see my eBird report here.
Ajit’s report stated he heard the drumming of a RUGR “to the SW, a little way from Jupiter’s Boulder”. As I was nearing Jupiter’s Boulder (I didn’t know it at the time, having never been), I came around a bend in the trail and about twenty-five feet or so off the trail, to the left of me, 2 RUFFED GROUSE popped straight up – and like bats out of hell, one flew to the left and the other to the right. They made such a ruckus, it really startled me. I followed the one that headed to the right, hoping to see it put down, but it just kept going until it disappeared into the brush. I continued on the trail, hoping to get lucky and relocate that bird, but it was always going to be tough. Jupiter’s Boulder was only another 100 yards or so up the trail, so I sat there for a while and had some breakfast, hoping to hear or see something. Of course, I never saw either bird again, but wow was that exciting. Huge thanks to Ajit for reporting – Ruffed Grouse is my 250th Orange County life bird. Now, let’s see how many years before I get a GOOD look at one…
I usually like to post on Sunday nights, or at least once over the weekend, but last night I was having some computer issues, so this post had to wait until today.
I got a nice early start on Sunday morning. I headed to Sterling Forest State Park, where I was going to walk the Sterling Valley Loop, an eight mile hike that I have done several times and is typically quite birdy. I use the end of Ironwood Drive as the trailhead, which is nice as that spot is usually very active with birds, particularly with Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers. I was surprised by the number of cars in the parking area and by the number of birders and photographers lingering around the power cut. This made me switch gears a little bit, and instead of birding the area before heading on the trail, I hit the trail immediately (not to worry, I picked up BWWA and GWWA out on the trail).
You don’t go on a hike like this, at this time of year, especially in the overcast conditions we were having on Sunday, expecting to see and photograph all that many birds. Large stretches of the trail were flat out dark (ISO set to 4000+), and much of my birding was done by ear with the occasional nice surprise of tracking down a bird. I feel like I really appreciate seeing birds so much more when they are harder to come by. I began to rack up the number of species and individuals. The most numerous species were likely American Redstarts and Red-eyed Vireos. Highlights included: hearing a remarkable 6 ACADIAN FLYCATCHERS hearing both species of cuckoo and seeing my first BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO of the year, hearing 4 CERULEAN WARBLERS and finally being able to track one down for at least a documentary photograph, and watching a young Cedar Waxwing get fed by and adult. The best moment of the day came when a young LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH landed on a branch just off the trail to my left. This bird was so stinkin’ cute!
I ended the hike with what I thought was a respectable 56 species. You can see my complete list of species here.
On Saturday morning, I met up with Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris and we headed to Goosepond Mountain State Park to try our luck. We parked at the Laroe Road entrance to the trail, which has been renovated since the last time I was there – the parking area is better with fresh gravel and the entrance to the trail has been cleared of all overflowing vegetation. I was on a bit of a tight schedule, but we still managed to walk a pretty good portion of the trail, walking nearly a mile and a half in before turning around.
It was a birdy walk, but with all the trees leafing out, we certainly had more birds heard than seen. We had many BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS; they were mostly heard but we did track down several of them and they all were, indeed, Blue-winged Warblers (no hybrids, no Golden-winged Warblers). American Redstarts were numerous, as were Eastern Towhees, one of which provided a nice photo op. We didn’t know it at the time, but our best bird of the day was a flycatcher, perched high on a dead tree snag. The sun was on the other side of the bird, causing it to be severely backlit. We spent some time trying to turn it into an Olive-sided Flycatcher, but in the end we left the bird unidentified. That is, until Maria got home and looked at her photos. In the pics she could see that the bird had white tufts on its back – indicative of an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER! I never even knew this was a field mark for OSFL! When I got a chance to look at my photos and lifted the shadows, sure enough the tufts were quite evident (see photo below). I thought it was really nice work by Maria to pick up on it and I was happy to have taken a few photos of the bird – you never know! I’d had some possible OSFLs in the past – all out at the Bashakill, but I was never certain enough to count them – so this bird is a lifer for me : )
AND A FEW PHOTOS TO CATCH UP FROM EARLIER THIS WEEK:
Yesterday after work I birded later than usual. I wanted to stay out to see if I could hear Whip-poor-wills to add them to my year list. As I waited, the insects got worse and worse, so I finally took respite in my car for a few minutes. I sat with the window open so I could still hear, and remarkably, the bugs were leaving me alone. I must have caught a bit of movement out of the corner of my eye, because I never heard a sound. I turned to my left to witness a BOBCAT slinking through the grass. It was nearly dark, but fortunately I had adjusted my camera for the best possible results (I cranked the ISO up to 12,800!), just in case I needed it. I grabbed my camera off the passenger seat and took some initial shots – as soon as the cat heard the shutter he looked my way and the above shot is the result. The bobcat continued through the grass and eventually made its way down the trail. I could hardly breathe, I was so excited! I couldn’t get over the size; I’d seen a bobcat one other time only, and that cat was much smaller than this one. What an incredible experience; I got so lucky and I probably have the bugs to thank for it! And to top the night off, I heard several Whip-poor-wills calling right after the bobcat had moved on.