I was pleasantly surprised with a decent flight today at Mount Peter Hawkwatch. This week nearly 5,400 Broad-winged Hawks were counted at the watch, and I just sort of had the feeling that there wouldn’t be many birds passing through today on a very light (1 mph) northwest wind. While it wasn’t a huge number, I was happy to count 215 BWHAs in what was a tough sky – nearly all blue with almost no cloud cover. Huge thanks to fellow counters that helped – Judy Cinquina, Tom Millard, and BA McGrath. I’ve included my report for HMANA (Hawk Migration Association of North America) at the bottom of this post.
On Saturday, I had my first day as official counter at Mt. Peter for the season. I’m cutting back a little this year and not doing every Saturday, so when the schedule came out in August and I saw I had the 14th of September, I was excited – primetime for Broad-winged Hawks! Little did I know then that conditions and weather would conspire against me to deliver my least productive day of counting at Mt. Pete ever. I had a paltry 2 (!) migrating raptors all day. It rained periodically. Even the local Red-tailed Hawks and vultures took the day off for the most part. On the positive side, I did have a Broad-winged Hawk perched in the parking lot when I arrived, as well as a nice mixed flock of warblers that worked the area all day (Yellow-rumped, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, and American Redstart).
On Sunday I went to the Winding Waters trail at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge to try for warblers. I did alright, in spite of a late start, with 9 species of warbler:
- Northern Waterthrush
- Black-and-white Warbler
- Nashville Warbler
- Common Yellowthroat
- American Redstart
- Northern Parula
- Magnolia Warbler
- Yellow-rumped Warbler
- Black-throated Green Warbler
I also spend some time at Mt. Peter, where the birds were actually flying on Sunday. It wasn’t an amazing flight, but there were enough birds to keep it interesting. And I was able to get a Broad-winged Hawk in flight. All in all, not a bad weekend for birding in the OC.
I spent the morning running for birds that most local birders got to see yesterday. Actually, my first stop was at the Volkswagen dealership to get my car serviced. Do you know they gave me a 6:20 am appointment and I was out birding by 7:15? I thought that was pretty incredible. Anyways, my first stop was at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge to run for the BAIRD’S SANDPIPER that was reported there yesterday. I got lucky, the bird was present, first distant but then it came in closer and I was able to get some shots before it was flushed by one of the two Merlins patrolling the refuge this morning.
I made my way over to Winding Waters Trail, where Kathy Ashman had reported an Olive-sided Flycatcher. Unfortunately the bird was no longer present. Then I cruised the black dirt for a good while hoping for more good shorebirds. I was hoping for the pair of BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS which had been reported yesterday, but I didn’t have any luck. From there I went over to Beaver Pond and Glenmere Lake. At Beaver Pond, shorebird numbers were down and I only had a Lesser Yellowlegs, and a handful each of Killdeer and Least Sandpipers. At Glenmere Lake, conditions at the south end of the lake are improving for shorebirds. I walked the trail to better survey that area, but only found a single Killdeer (as far as shorebirds go).
I was thinking about packing it in for the day when Jim Schlickenrieder put out an alert that he had relocated the BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS. I ran and joined Jim and Bruce Nott in viewing one of my favorite birds. They were a little bit distant, so photos are documentary, but the views in my scope were incredible. Excellent bird, thanks Jim for reporting.
It was really great to have the day off, and I thought that the conditions and the timing would be pretty darn good for some interesting shorebirds in the black dirt today (Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, American Golden-plovers were among my targets). Alas, in spite of searching while the storms were passing through our area, and afterwards as well, I came up empty. I even struck out with the STILT SANDPIPER at Beaver Pond (I’m thinking that bird has likely moved on as I know of a couple folks that went for it without success).
Fortunately there were enough raptors around to provide a couple decent photo ops. And I was entertained by a young Green Heron trying to swallow an absolutely massive frog. It swallowed the entire frog, except for its two back feet, only to regurgitate the entire thing and then have success on the 2nd try. It’s back to work for me tomorrow morning – that ought to bring some shorebirds in.
Wow, September already. The only real birding excitement today was a revisit to the STILT SANDPIPER from yesterday. Bruce Nott relocated the bird first thing this morning and reported it on the Mearns app. He was still there when I arrived; we were joined shortly by Linda Scrima and then John Haas. The bird cooperated and came in pretty close, but unfortunately I didn’t really improve on my photos from yesterday because the bird was backlit. Anyways, not too much else going today, so here’s some shots from the past few days.
I’d just gotten home after birding this afternoon when I saw that I missed a call from Karen Miller. I called her back and she told me that the Mearns Bird Club outing had a bird this morning that was later identified (through photos) as a STILT SANDPIPER. The location was at what I refer to as the Glenmere Pond (because it’s just right up the road from Glenmere Lake), but I think most birders call it Beaver Pond. It’s on Pine Hill Road in Chester just south of Glenmere Road. Anyways, I ran for the bird and joined Kathy Ashman, who had seen the bird but it was currently not visible. We shifted position and relocated the bird quickly – it was feeding in its sewing machine style, next to a Lesser Yellowlegs.
Tom Burke and Gail Benson joined us shortly after, as did Karen Miller and Diane Bliss. We mostly enjoyed scope-distance views of the bird, but then all the shorebirds picked up and the Stilt relocated in a much closer position; allowing for much better looks and some halfway decent documentary photos. I was thrilled to finally get a good shorebird in our area – it was the bird that saved August 2019.
So, there really doesn’t seem to be much going on in our area right now. I spent most of the week and weekend trying for shorebirds in Orange County, but have only come up with the birds that we have already seen this season: Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, and Solitary Sandpipers. As a comparison, by this time last year, I’d already seen in the county: a WHIMBREL, several Baird’s Sandpipers, a White-rumped Sandpiper, a Short-billed Dowitcher, several Black-bellied Plover, an American Golden-plover, and several Upland Sandpipers. Last year was a great August, but still, by now I would have hoped to have seen some additional shorebirds.
When it comes to raptors, however, I’ve done much better. Just this weekend, if I include our trip to Croton Point Park, I’ve seen every expected raptor for this time of year in our area, with the exception of Red-shouldered Hawk:
- Black Vulture
- Turkey Vultures
- Bald Eagle
- Northern Harrier
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Peregrine Falcon
- American Kestrel
This morning, eight days after the bird was initially located, I finally ran for the WESTERN KINGBIRD at Croton Point Park. I was joined by birding buds Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris, and I can tell you this is the way to run for a bird. We showed up, parked, and immediately found two birders that were on the bird. It was perched high in a distant tree line, we viewed it through one of the birder’s scope and took some documentary photographs. Twenty minutes later the bird flew in close and perched relatively nearby in several different spots, in very nice light. The bird was my 304th species in New York State; it was a life bird for both Linda and Maria.
Finally! An exciting bird in Orange County! It feels like it’s been ages since we’ve had a good bird. Huge thanks to Bruce Nott, who found this beautiful LITTLE BLUE HERON on the Wallkill River just off of Route 208. I ran for the bird and met up with Bruce and John Haas; the bird was moving slowly south along the river and we caught up with it where the river runs along Bradley Park. John left to kayak at Morningside Park and then Karen Miller joined Bruce and I; we enjoyed excellent scope views of the bird and were able to get some halfway decent shots of the bird.
I spent the early morning at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge – I did not have anything too exciting, but I was able to get a decent photo op with a Green Heron just after sunrise. Again, huge thanks to Bruce for making my birding day.
Tricia and I spent a long weekend down at the Jersey Shore; it was sort of a mini-vacation where we focused (for once!) on relaxing rather than running around all over the place. We went to the beach every day. I napped. We did some touristy shopping, and we had some delicious dinners out at several restaurants. That said, I did get out for a bit in the mornings. I managed to get some nice photos; the birds are accessible and the backgrounds are often very clean on the beach. But, I also found myself questioning my birding skills. I kept thinking about birding locally versus birding at a new locale and how it puts one’s birding skills to the test.
The first thing I will say, is that I did not arrive prepared. Sure, I did some quick research on eBird just to find some good locations, but I didn’t do any research to see what the expected species for this time of year are in the region. I am often guilty of under-preparing for a new location; in a perfect world I would spend some quality time prepping beforehand, but it never seems to happen. I think that if you can squeeze in some quality prep time beforehand, it would make your birding at a new location much more enjoyable. One of these days I’m going to do just that.
The second thing is that birding at the Jersey Shore can be intimidating – there are SO MANY BIRDS! It’s very different from birding in Orange County, especially when it comes to shorebirds which are few and far between. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and “in the weeds” while trying to sort through such a large number of birds; I was lacking context and it made identifying the birds that much more difficult. I was also experiencing some eBird intimidation. I figure the checklists in that area are looked at pretty thoroughly – I didn’t want to get anything wrong. Ultimately, for me, patience was the key in this respect. I took it slow while I was birding and I was willing to let some birds go unidentified. I could take some time to think about it some more and maybe do some research and look at my photos later. If, in the end, they remain unidentified, I’m okay with that.
Another thing I was thinking about was birding “county coverage”. Here in our area, I feel like we have a pretty good idea of the birds present. Sure, there are plenty of birds that are missed, but I think we have decent coverage and I kept trying to compare it to the Jersey Shore where just about everywhere you look seems to be a birding hotspot. How many good birders would it take to actually keep up with this many birds? It kind of blows my mind. Maybe they have a handle on things, but to me it seems overwhelming.
And, finally, this trip often made me question my birding skills. Am I thorough enough? Do I know the field marks well enough? I think that maybe I’ve fallen into some bad habits – I’m familiar enough these days with the expected species in Orange County so maybe I’m not looking closely enough at the birds. Does that make sense? Maybe it’s time for a reset and to time to refocus on some of details that go by the wayside while birding the same locations day in and day out. So anyways, while I had all these thoughts running through my mind, I was still able to relax and just enjoy the birding in the south Jersey Shore; sometimes you have to just take a step back and enjoy being out with the birds.