I’ve birded at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge several times in the past couple of weeks. One of the biggest highlights was hearing and seeing American Woodcocks on 2 different evenings (March 1st and 9th). On the ninth, not only did I hear them and see them in flight, but Walter Eberz (who I ran into that night) also located one on the ground, only 25 feet away from us. It was dark but there was enough light to see the bird as it moved around an “peented” repeatedly; it was so cool and very exciting. It was the first time I’ve gotten any sort of good look at that bird.
The main draw for me at the refuge right now, however, is the good collection of waterfowl. Numbers are high and the following birds have been observed:
American Black Duck
American Coot *I did not get to see this bird – Linda Scrima let me know about it.*
Raptors have represented well too:
As for songbirds, it’s been mostly low numbers of the usuals with large numbers of Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows around. Notable was a pair of Eastern Phoebes.
I decided to do my own Orange County waterfowl survey of sorts this afternoon. I visited nine different locations not too far from my home here in Goshen. First thing I will say is that it was COLD out there today. The temperatures weren’t so bad, in the mid-twenties, but wind made it very cold, bringing tears to my eyes all day. I think if it was a little bit more comfortable out I would have been a little bit more thorough; I felt like I certainly could have spent some more time at some of the locations. That being said, it was a fun way to spend the afternoon and I ended up with 14 species of waterfowl and over 950 individuals. I had a Northern Shoveler and a Pied-billed Grebe at Brown’s Pond and both birds were my first of the year in Orange County. Scroll down to see my results by location.
It’s not very often that I get good photo ops with ducks because, as we all know, ducks tend to keep their distance. I think it would take some work, planning, and likely a photo blind to actually get really good shots of most ducks (at least from the shore – I’ve had much better luck from the kayak). Yesterday afternoon I found a group of Ring-necked Ducks at Upper Greenwood Lake that just didn’t seem to care. I saw the birds from my car, I pulled over and parked, but unfortunately the only way to approach was on foot. I did so slowly, fully expecting the birds to swim in the opposite direction, leaving me wanting. I must be on a roll because they did no such thing and instead just carried on as before. I photographed them for about 20 minutes; when I left they were still in the same area going about their business. I then continued towards the black dirt, where I was going to spend the evening participating in the DEC’s Raptor Survey. It was an excellent pit stop which yielded a nice series of pics of these RNDUs, in really nice light.
So, I bumped my head on Tuesday evening. I didn’t even hit it very hard (I’ve certainly hit it way harder), but I must have gotten it just right and I ended up giving myself a concussion. Which put me to some degree out of commission for a few days. When Saturday afternoon rolled around, I was feeling a little bit better so I did some birding, mostly just driving around southern Orange County. As I drove around, I was getting the usuals but I was enjoying it very much just because I hadn’t been out much during the week. Then I happened to see two falcons flying together in the distance. Luckily there was a nice area to pull over, so I parked and watched as the two birds spent some time coming and going from the overhead wires and then, excitingly, the birds mated on a wire. How lucky can you get? American Kestrels mating right in front of me in perfect light. It was very cool to observe and I believe it is only my second time seeing AMKEs mating, the first time being a few years back at the Shawangunk Grasslands from one of the photo blinds.
I’ve birded locally most days in the past week and while it’s been enjoyable, things have been on the slow side. Today things picked up a bit for me when I located a large flock of mixed blackbirds in the black dirt, and then shortly after that had a cooperative Merlin, followed by a large flock of Snow Geese, which I still have not grown tired of. Earlier in the week at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, I had my first Great Blue Heron of the year (and it was in good light!). I’m feeling like I might be ready for winter birding to be over – maybe the flocks of blackbirds are an indication that birds are starting to move?
I spent this beautiful Saturday morning out at the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. Although I saw only the expected birds, I had an excellent morning with 43 species observed. I guess if you are going to get the usuals, it’s good to be in a place where there are a lot of “usuals”. As expected, I did best with waterfowl, seeing 18 different species. It had been over a year since I’d been to the sanctuary and although I was feeling like I was having a good day, I was wondering how it compared to the previous years. Since 2013, I’ve visited the sanctuary 5 times, always in January or February. My average number of species for those visits is 34, and I’ve never had more than 36. And what makes it even more interesting is that this was the first time I’ve been there and the feeder station was not filled up. In past visits that feeder station would really be hopping and I’d get several species right there. Today, all the feeders were empty and I didn’t get a single bird. One bird that I was really hoping for was Purple Sandpiper since it’s a good spot for them, but today I came up empty. I did add seven birds to my New York State year list, which was nice. I’ve included my list of species at the bottom of this post. Good birding!
American Black Duck
Great Blue Heron
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
American Tree Sparrow
Maria Loukeris and I spent a fantastic day of birding down at the Jersey Shore today. Our first stop was at Morgan Avenue Mudflats in Middlesex County. We dipped on our target bird – the Black-headed Gull which had been reported as recently as Friday, but we did get lucky with a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. We got great looks at the bird and some documentary photos.
Our second stop was at Manasquan Inlet in Ocean County. I knew it would be a good stop when I stepped out of the car and photographed a Common Loon at close distance. We worked our way out onto the jetty and I saw a very white bird on the water, not far from the jetty. “Is that a gannet?” It was a NORTHERN GANNET; we had several while we were there, and one in particular spent a large amount of time not far from the jetty. We reached the end of the jetty and Maria found the bird of the day, a RAZORBILL! The bird was very close to the jetty; I could barely believe it. We got super looks at the bird, and even some decent shots. It was definitely the highlight of the day.
Our final stop was at Shark River in Monmouth County. As it was last year when we were there, the place was absolutely loaded with birds. We never located the Eurasian Wigeon that had been reported, but we did pretty well with waterfowl (and a couple of shorebirds too):
First thing this morning I headed to Piermont Pier to see if could get any good ducks. It was a nice stop and I had 7 species of waterfowl:
Canada Goose (3)
Common Goldeneye (2)
Common Merganser (1)
Ruddy Duck (43)
The Common Goldeneyes stole the show for me; I got great looks at one bird that spent some time close to the pier. The Canvasbacks were nice to get, but were very distant and a scope was needed to see them well.
I left Piermont Pier and headed to State Line Lookout to join the hordes of birders/photographers/sheep that were present to try for the Gyrfalcon that has been reported recently there. It was quite a scene and I estimate that in the time I tried for the bird (4 hours), over 125 birders/photogs were there for the bird as well. Millions of photographs were taken of the local Peregrine Falcons (that might not be an exaggeration). The falcons did not fly much, but did spend much time on the closest perches. Other good birds included several Bald Eagles, Common Ravens, and a Cooper’s Hawk which was chased from the far side of the river to the Lookout by the local male Peregrine Falcon. As for the Gyrfalcon, it was of course a no-show. Hopefully it sticks and I’ll try for it another day.
The flock of Snow Geese not only remained in the black dirt today, it grew in size, pushing 5,000 birds. I got out of work on time today and thanks to Bruce Nott I was able to drive directly to the birds, where I met up with Wilma Amthor and Linda Scrima to enjoy the show. The birds picked up often and the light was intermittently very good, so we enjoyed watching and photographing the birds. Beautiful birds, beautiful evening.
QUICK POST: I don’t care how many times I see them, I think I will always be amazed by large flocks of Snow Geese. Huge thanks to Linda Scrima, Rob Stone, Ken McDermott, and Bruce Nott for letting me know about the approximately 3,000 SNGOs they had in the black dirt today, and for their help getting me on them once I finally got out of work (late!). Although I missed the best parts of the show, I was still thrilled to watch the bulk of the flock as it took to the sky and headed north as I drove up, and to later join Ken in viewing another group of approximately 500 birds feeding in a field. The group included at least one adult Blue Morph, one young Blue Morph, and one adult SNGO that was tagged with a yellow tag around its neck. Not a bad Wednesday evening of birding!