QUICK TEASER: Kyle Dudgeon and I took a trip up north this weekend for some awesome Adirondack birding. We took loads of photos (especially of Common Loons), so it may take me a little time to get through them. Stay tuned for a post in the next few days.
Since my shift at the Bashakill Area Association’s Nature Watch didn’t start until 10, I decided to kayak the Bash beforehand. Nature Watch is a great program that I have participated in for years now – basically, trained volunteers such as myself set up viewing scopes at the main boat launch to help educate visitors about the nesting Bald Eagles and Osprey at the Bashakill. Click here to read more about it.
It was a gray, slightly foggy morning at the Bash. I paddled from 6:30 t0 9:30 and it was quite birdy, mostly with the usuals. My main target was LEAST BITTERN, which I heard very well, but never did get to see. The bird was calling in the vegetation just feet from my kayak, but was too well hidden, which was simultaneously exciting and frustrating. Also exciting was a BARRED OWL, which called several times in the distance, and an ACADIAN FLYCATCHER with its excellent call of “peet-sah!”. Photo ops were few and far between for some reason, and the poor lighting meant I had the ISO cranked up so I wasn’t really happy with most of what I took. An adult Bald Eagle did fly in and perch nearby, allowing for a halfway decent shot (see above).
I joined Karen Miller and Lara Sheikh as volunteers for Nature Watch, which was slower than usual as far as visitors go, but pretty exciting as far as the birding. A GREAT EGRET, was first seen by a visitor and then we got our scopes on it. A pair of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers came and went from the main boat launch the entire time; apparently feeding on the willow tree they were visiting. The two young eaglets were on and around the nest, flapping like mad to get ready to fledge. Karen located a Yellow-throated Vireo that provided great looks. Towards the end of our shift we had a Broad-winged Hawk calling from the woods up near the road. Eventually the hawk flew out of the woods with some sort of large prey in its grasp. After the shift was over, on my way out, I relocated the BWHA and managed to get a photo. Overall it was a good morning of birding for me with plenty of good birds to keep it interesting. I had 50 species of bird in the 6 1/2 hours I spent at the Bash.
ALSO: While I was at the Bash, I was notified by Rob Stone that he had a DICKCISSEL in the black dirt, so I ran for that bird in the afternoon. I managed only a brief, distant look, but what a great bird for OC! Huge thanks to Rob, as usual. Documentary photo below.
QUICK POST: These days it looks like I’m doing better with mammals than with birds. I did some local birding after work today with Acadian Flycatcher as my target bird. I was able to get the flycatcher (heard first and then seen, but no photos), which made me happy, but it was a Black Bear that stole the show. It was very dark on the trail, so I was happy with how my photos came out since they were taken with an ISO of 10,000. On my way out I also came across some Wild Turkeys with some super cute chicks. I birded for just over an hour and I had 27 species.
My birding time was a little bit limited this weekend, but I did manage to do some early morning birding today at the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area. I had plans to meet up at the Bash with Linda Louise to do water-testing a little later in the morning, so I got up early to fit some birding in before that. I stopped at Haven Road, I walked the Birch Trail briefly, and I spent most of my time at the Nature Trail. The Bash was birdy with plenty of the usuals but nothing unexpected. Highlights for me included getting excellent binocular looks at a Common Gallinule from the Birch Trail and also of a rather bedraggled looking Broad-winged Hawk that flew over while Linda and I were water-testing at the fishing dock at the southern end of the Bash. In the end, between birding and water-testing, I had a total of 44 species.
Every once in a while, my best bird isn’t a bird at all. I spent the afternoon after work today birding at Goosepond South, a spot that I’ve never been to before. Towards the end of an uneventful and not overly birdy hike, I came upon this mink and it made my day. I’ve never really caught more than a glimpse of a mink, but in this case I was sitting still for quite some time and the mink did not appear to know I was there and appeared on the far shore of the stream. It then actually swam closer to me before disappearing into the grasses on the near side of the stream’s edge.
Wow, what a night at the Camel Farm! I went out to check for shorebirds after work; I was not feeling optimistic but wanted to just check just to see if anything was going on. Surprisingly, there was a good number of shorebirds present. Shortly after I began scanning the big pond, I located a single RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, followed shortly after by a second one! I was completely freaking out and I put the word out. Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, Karen Miller, John Haas, and Scotty Baldinger all joined me and we had what we considered quite a good list of shorebirds…
RED-NECK PHALAROPE (2)
Least Sandpiper (3)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (2)
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (6!)
Spotted Sandpiper (1)
Lesser Yellowlegs (1)
…until Rob Stone called me later this evening, just before it started getting dark, and amazingly added a WILSON’S PHALAROPE, a Dunlin, and three Short-billed Dowitchers! What an incredible night for OC shorebirds! I’m floored by it, and I’m trying to figure out a way to get out and check on the these birds first thing in the morning, especially the WIPH, I’d love to get a look at that bird!
After work today, I was finally going to make it out to Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge after work today to go for the DICKCISSEL that has been seen there in recent days. Little did I know that today would be an extra lucky day for me.
As I headed out towards the south blind, where the Dickcissel has been seen, I looked out that way and there was a relatively large crowd of birders there. This surprised me because I thought most had come for the Dickcissel already, but I continued to make my way out towards the crowd. About halfway out, I got a text message from Karen Miller – they were on a HENSLOW’S SPARROW! That explained the big crowd! I picked up my pace and joined the group, many of which I ended up knowing. Shortly after my arrival, the sparrow started calling and then jumped up and perched nicely. It was so exciting! Meanwhile, I was still concerned about whether or not the Dickcissel was still around and I was assured that it was. It wasn’t more than five minutes later that the Dickcissel made an appearance, perching nicely in the distance on a thistle. That made for 2 life birds in a matter of minutes! I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that this morning! As John Haas told me once – you never know when the next big thing will hit! Super exciting birding!
After participating in the Break 100 on Friday and Saturday, I had no plans to bird on Sunday. That all changed when I received a text message from Linda Scrima, containing the call of a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT! I dropped everything and headed out to Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Winding Waters Trail. When I arrived, Linda was on not one, but two chats! At first the birds did not call, but then they started to. One bird popped up and and perched in perfect light. I’m not sure what happened (lack of sleep? brain cramp? who knows?), but my settings were all off and my pics were pretty bad. But, I got great looks at the bird before it dropped down into the brush. Shortly after, the second bird perched high in a tree – providing great looks in my binoculars, but the bird was totally backlit so photos were not much of an option. I was super excited to see this bird; I have been hoping to get one in Orange County for ages, having gotten them in both counties north and south of OC (Sussex, NJ and Ulster). Many other birders arrived and got the birds as well – there was genuine joy on folk’s faces when they saw and heard the birds. Huge thanks to Linda for relocating the bird, which was originally located yesterday during the Break 100 by the team of Alan and Della Wells and Dave and Sharon Baker.
The past couple of days I participated in the Edgar A. Mearns Bird Club’sBREAK 100 – a 24 hour challenge to find one hundred species of bird in Orange County. The “Break” starts on Friday at 4:00 pm and ends on Saturday at the same time. This was my second break, and we had a great team: Jeff Goulding, Karen Miller, John Haas, Lisa O’Gorman, and myself. We all wanted to do as well as possible, while having a lot of laughs along the way (usually at another team member’s expense – it’s easy when you spend nearly every minute together for a full 24 hours). Lisa ultimately ended up not being able to participate, but we kept her updated all the while with texts.
This year was a little different from last year. Birds seemed to be more difficult to come by, particularly migrating warblers, most of which had apparently moved out of the area on Thursday’s south winds. We ended up with only 2 migrant species in our count – a pair of BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS, found at Pochuck Mountain and Blackpoll Warblers at several locations. I thought things might be a little easier when we went to the Camel Farm for shorebirds. I’ve been cleaning up there lately, getting loads of birds. But today was a different story – we left having only added 2 species of shorebird to our list. AND, we finished with a meager 5 species of shorebirds (Least Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, and American Woodcock).
I was actually starting to wonder if we would make it to 100. We kept at it, made a lot of good decisions on the fly, and crept closer and closer to 100 species. We had a productive stop at Sterling Forest State Park, where we added 5 species, including one of the best birds of the day, a KENTUCKY WARBLER. The bird was calling, calling, calling, from the side of the road, but never revealed itself. This is a bird that I’ve never had any experience with; on any other day I would have liked to stick around and try to get a look and, of course, some photos.
I think it was just before 2:30 when we arrived in Newburgh with 98 species (only an hour and a half left!). We were pleasantly surprised break 100 and to jump to 101 birds by scoring 3 species of gull, including the undisputed bird of the day, an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL! We had located a bunch of gulls on the docks and John immediately identified the LBBG. We were flipping out – what a great bird for the county and to get it in late May was just incredible. John considered it the best bird he’s ever gotten during an Orange County Break 100.
Hamptonburgh Preserve was our final stop. This is a new location for me, and we ended the break on a really high note, adding two really good final birds to our list: RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH and a WHITE-EYED VIREO. This pushed our number to106 species, exactly matching our total from last year. Huge thanks to my teammates, who worked hard but mostly just made me laugh a lot; what a fun, full, day of birding.
You can check out John’s take on the break, which I’m sure will be interesting, on his blog, BASHAKILL BIRDER.
I’ll tell you what, I had an absolutely incredible afternoon out at Sterling Forest State Park. And, you know what? I totally had a feeling about it. As I arrived and was parking my car, a sense of optimism came over me. I was dressed appropriately in muted colors, it was just a beautiful afternoon, and I just felt like anything was possible. The one question I had was regarding the wind – I thought it might be a little bit too breezy for songbirds, but that proved not to be the case.
I got out of my car and headed down the trail. Behind me, right by my car, I heard a song and I wasn’t sure what it was. I turned around, and perched in a tree right across the road from my car was a beautiful HOODED WARBLER. This bird has been sort of a photo nemesis for me; I’ve never gotten a good close look at one before. The bird stayed put and sang away as I crossed the road and I was able to get some decent shots.
A little bit later, I was walking a trail and I heard the call of a GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER. I moved slowly and I could see that the bird was likely calling from the other side of a tree that was about 30 yards off the trail. I tried to wait it out, but then got impatient and tried to get further down the trail for another vantage point and though I did not see it fly, the bird must have flushed. It wasn’t until I was on my way back, in the same area I heard the bird again. This time I had the patience to wait it out. Eventually the bird came around the tree and exposed itself to me – I was thrilled just to get a look at the bird. I was taking some distant pics, just hoping for the best, when the bird picked up and flew into a lower tree right in front of me. I couldn’t believe it! I was able to take a bunch of shots before the bird moved on; I’ve never gotten such a great look at a GWWA!
I had one final excellent moment – I was walking the trail with a swampy area to my left. It was relatively quiet and I was disappointed because I’ve done well at that swamp in the past. I was scanning for birds when out of the corner of my eye I saw a pair of beavers swimming in the water. I stayed completely still and one came my way and got within twenty feet of me! It was really cool to see it so close up; shortly thereafter, the beaver moved on and so did I. On my way out, I noticed on the far side of the swamp, a single Great Blue Heron sitting high up on a nest. What an afternoon!