Until I started writing this post, I was feeling like my weekend of birding was a little bit on the hum-drum side. But looking back, I actually had some pretty good birds over the weekend, even if it wasn’t overly exciting. On Saturday morning, I made a quick stop at Glenmere Lake, following up on a report from Kathy Ashman of a Cackling Goose on the lake. When I arrived, nearly all the geese, including the Cackler, had already flown. The stop was still worthwhile, however, since I was able to see my first Green-winged Teals, Wood Duck, and Northern Pintails of the year. Then, I ventured back to the Hudson River, spending most of the day working my way from the Bear Mountain Bridge up to Newburgh and getting mostly the usuals. I went to Storm King State Park again, hoping the Golden Eagle would be present, but unfortunately it was not. I walked the trail for a good while, hoping that the bird might make an appearance; if it did I, missed it. There were many raptors in flight over the mountain, however; I had several Bald Eagles, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, nearly 2 dozen Black Vultures and a couple of Turkey Vultures. I ended the day in the Newburgh Waterfront area, hoping for any interesting gulls. I struck out with the gulls, but thanks to birding bud Bruce Nott, I did get my first Orange County RED-BREASTED MERGANSER of 2018.
I got out a little later than I should have on Sunday morning and missed the majority of the geese at Glenmere Lake once again. It was a good stop though, I picked up my first OC Ring-necked Ducks of the year and also had a female Red-breasted Merganser. I cruised the black dirt afterwards, hoping that the overnight snow would push some larks and buntings out to the roads. This proved not to be the case and I actually had very few Horned Larks in my travel (just 2 flocks totaling approximately 70 birds). The highlight of my morning was watching the large flocks of mixed blackbirds (Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Common Grackles). There is something about large flocks of birds, watching them and hearing them is just fascinating. I tried for some pics, but mostly I was disappointed with the results. I ended the day with a nice, low-flying Bald Eagle which provided a decent photo op.
I was looking at the blog the other day and I noticed that for the past 3 weeks, all my posts were at locations outside of Orange County, so I decided to keep it local this weekend. I’m glad that I did, as it was a good weekend of birding. I almost called this post “Crappy Weather = Good Birding”. Yesterday was foggy and misty for a large part of the day, and then in the afternoon it gave way to rain; today was a steady rain, all day.
I spent the day yesterday birding the Hudson River, which was iced over in spots and full of ice floes. I started at Fort Montgomery and Mine Dock Park where I had my first Orange County Fish Crow of the year and I would see my first 9 Bald Eagles of the day. My next stop was my main objective of the day – I went to the parking area on 9W North, which is a trailhead for and looks out over Storm King State Park. I immediately took my scope out and scanned the left side of the valley, looking for my target bird – the GOLDEN EAGLE that has wintered at this spot for the past several years (there are many eBird reports going back to 2013 and a single report in 2010). The bird was present and on it’s usual perch. I took some distant photos and tried to digiscope it, but the fog was a bit too heavy for good results. I walked the trail for a while and got just the usuals, including a nice photo op with a White-breasted Nuthatch, a bird that I don’t photograph very often these days.
I ended the day at Cornwall Bay and the Newburgh Waterfront. I was hoping for some interesting ducks and maybe an unexpected gull. At Donahue Memorial Park, I had my best ducks of the day – 4 Common Goldeneyes (the only other waterfowl I had all day were Common Mergansers and Mallards). There were many gulls at the waterfront, but unfortunately I only found the three expected species: Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed. I also had nearly a dozen Bald Eagles there; my total for the day was just under 30 Bald Eagles.
The weather for Sunday was bumming me out; rain all day was not what I was imagining while sitting at my desk at work all week. But, I broke out the rain gear and headed out to the Black Dirt this morning. My main goal was to find some geese. I’ve had rotten luck with them locally all winter long, but today was a different story. Geese were abundant in the Black Dirt, and early on I was able to locate a pair of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE. I got lucky with these birds – I was scanning a flock of Canada Geese and two birds flew in. I put my bins on them and immediately saw their speckled bellies. Although the birds were not very far out, I immediately lost them in the flock when they landed. I set up my scope, that did the trick and I was able to relocate. The problem was not only the number of geese, but they were located among old corn stalks. I put the word out and Linda Scrima joined me and was able to get the birds as well.
The rest of the morning was mostly the usuals – I was happy to see a flock of 29 SNOW BUNTINGS as well as a decent sized flock of mixed blackbirds, consisting of mostly Common Grackles, with Brown-headed Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and European Starlings as well. All but the starlings were my first of 2018 in Orange County. I did fairly well with raptors and was happy to get a couple of decent photo ops: a wet Rough-legged Hawk that was flexing it’s wings, and also a wet, very light-colored, Red-tailed Hawk as well. It was an excellent weekend of birding here in Orange County and just what I needed after a long work week.
I remember a blog post from a few years back on 10,000 Birds where Corey Finger referred to the BARNACLE GOOSE as “inherently cool”. That struck a chord with me at the time because I felt the same way. To me, of all all the geese we get in our area, the Barnacle Goose is definitely the coolest and by far my favorite. I finally got my lifer back in December of 2014 in Ramsey, New Jersey, after dipping several times on the one that was in Orange County in 2012 (I think) and also missing out on the one at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx (I ran for the bird after work one day, which happened to be the first day it hadn’t been seen in ages).
So, I knew that if the bird was still being reported, I would run this weekend for the Barnacle Goose that had been reported all week at Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. When I arrived in the morning, the bird was not on the pond at the sanctuary, where it has mostly been seen. Luckily, I ran into Tom Burke and Gail Benson while I was there; an hour or so after seeing them they called to say they had located the bird on private property. I raced over to join them and got excellent scope views of the bird. I was pretty excited to see the bird, first just because it’s a Barnacle (see paragraph above), and secondly because I was convinced at that point that I was not going to get it. The BAGO’s Cackling Goose buddy was right by its side, it was my first Cackler of 2018. The birds were a little distant for good photos, but I was happy to document my first Barnacle in New York State. Huge thanks to Tom and Gail; I never would have gotten the bird without them, not a chance.
This morning Maria Loukeris, Linda Scrima, and I headed to Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon County, NJ. Our target bird was an EARED GREBE that has been reported there recently. Initially it did not look good – the bird was reportedly keeping company with several Horned Grebes; we located the group of birds, but they were miles out and terribly backlit. One certainly looked different and was presumable the Eared Grebe, but the birds were just too distant to be sure. We decided to bird the reservoir in hopes that we would get better looks, and eventually we did. The Eared Grebe was with 8 Horned Grebes; we enjoyed good scope looks and took distant, backlit, documentary photos. It was a life bird for all 3 of us, so that was exciting. Other highlights included 3 Red-necked Grebes, nearly a dozen Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and a good photo op with a Merlin as we were leaving.
As we were leaving, Maria checked her phone and saw that a GYRFALCON (!!!) had been reported at (location removed, see post update below)! We rushed over, stopping at 2 wrong spots before finally finding the right location. The place was loaded with birders and photographers, and thankfully, the Gyrfalcon was still present, sitting in the sun on a distant dead snag perch in the reservoir. The bird was a dark morph Gyrfalcon, and scope views of this big, beautiful bird were excellent but photos were again on the documentary side. Not long after our arrival, the bird took off and we did not see it again.
Meanwhile, in the water there was a vast array of waterfowl, including an estimated 5,000 Snow Geese. We started looking through the birds and I was able to locate 4 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE! I was stoked to find them and we got the other birders present on them. Shortly after that, another birder located a GLAUCOUS GULL! That would be a lifer for me, so I rushed over to his scope to view. I then got the bird in my scope and was able to take some digiscoped shots with Linda and Maria’s phones (my phone had a meltdown for some reason and was completely dead). I couldn’t believe and big, white, and beautiful that gull was, it really was some bird. It’s not very often these days that I can get a single life bird, not to mention two in one day. The GLGU was life bird #390 for me.
A ROSS’S GOOSE was located by other birders a couple different times in the mass of Snow Geese; unfortunately none of us were able to get on that bird and it seemed that the bird was being lost almost as soon as it was found. There were plenty of other waterfowl present, including: Canada Geese, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Northern Pintails, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, and a single Common Goldeneye. The flock of Snow Geese put on a nice show, picking up and putting back down several time while were there. Huge thanks to Maria for suggesting we take the trip down, it was truly an incredible day of birding with good friends, beautiful weather, and amazing birds.
POST UPDATE: When I entered my lists to eBird, the Gyrfalcon came up as a sensitive species, so reports won’t be made public. With that in mind, I have removed the location from this post, I figure it’s best to err on the side of caution with these things. Also, after looking at our photos, it looks like we had a TUNDRA SWAN at Round Valley Reservoir; thanks to Maria for digging in and figuring it out. I’ve included a photo at the bottom of this post.
Unfortunately, today’s Brooklyn Pelagic was cancelled due to what they described as a “horrendous forecast”. They are trying to reschedule it for February 4th; hopefully it will fill up and I will be able to make it.
I resorted to ‘Plan B’, which I came up with on my commute home last night: I’d take a trip to the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. It’s been a while since I’ve been there and I thought it would be fun to see how well I could do with waterfowl. Afterwards, I ended up also going to the Marshlands Conservancy, which is also in Rye, and then stopping at Piermont Pier on my way home. For the day I had 19 species of waterfowl; here’s my list by location:
The biggest surprise for me was the number of Common Goldeneyes at the sanctuary. My count of 22 is very conservative and I don’t remember ever having nearly that many there in the past. I was also hoping to see my first shorebirds of 2018, but it was not to be (in the past, I have had Purple Sandpipers at E.G. Read Sanctuary and back in December of 2013, I had 13 Dunlin at the Marshlands Conservancy). As for songbirds, I feel like I’ve done better at the sanctuary and the conservancy in the past. My best songbird of the day was a fleeting look at a FOX SPARROW at the Marshlands Conservancy. Here’s some more shots from the day:
I got out both days this weekend, but the birding was relatively uneventful with a lot of the usuals being seen. Highlights for me included seeing a nice-sized mixed flock (maybe 200 birds) of Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and at least a single LAPLAND LONGSPUR in the black dirt. Saturday evening the nice light had me headed to the Shawangunk Grasslands; on my way there a Red-shouldered Hawk flew across the road and perched on the roadside. At the grasslands, I had a single young Bald Eagle, 7 Northern Harriers (including 4 Gray Ghosts!), and although they got up too late for photos, 5 Short-eared Owls made a nice end to the day.
Sunday morning I headed to Port Jervis and walked the trails at Reservoir #1. It was a nice, cold, walk and it was birdy, but with just the usuals. I headed to Laurel Grove Cemetery afterwards, where I had my first Hooded Mergansers of 2018 and my best bird of the day, a young COMMON GOLDENEYE. I photographed Eastern Bluebirds on the tombstones, by coincidence my second day in a row getting EABLs on tombstones (I had them at a small cemetery in Florida, NY on Saturday). It was a pretty good, if not exciting, weekend of local birding. Next weekend might be a little more exciting as I am going on a pelagic trip out of Brooklyn on Saturday; something to look forward to!
I was up and out early this morning, looking to add some of the good birds currently being seen to my 2018 list. At Glenmere Lake, I relocated the Red-headed Woodpecker that I’d originally located the day after Christmas. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker stole the show, however, giving me super looks as I birded from the area right around the parking lot.
I cruised through the black dirt briefly, finding just the usuals. After meeting Tricia for lunch at the Goshen Diner, I headed to Johnson Road in Chester, hoping for the GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE that John Haas had located earlier in the week. When I arrived, there were not many geese present; I sorted through them quickly without finding the GWFG and then made my way towards the Newburgh Waterfront.
I had two target birds at the waterfront: the continuing Iceland Gull (at least I hoped it was continuing), and a pair of Canvasbacks that Ken McDermott had reported there, just yesterday. I met Linda Scrima there and at first it did not look good for getting either bird. Gulls were relatively scarce and there was no sign of the Canvasbacks. We put in some time, which was tough because of how cold it was today, and eventually we located the Iceland Gull. The bird was incredibly cooperative and swam quite close, allowing for some nice photos in the waning light. Bill and Jayne Fiero showed up with impeccable timing and got the gull as well. The Canvasbacks did not make an appearance; other notable birds included a decent number of Common Mergansers (75+) and 4 adult Bald Eagles. All in all, a VERY cold but fun and productive day of birding.
I really didn’t have much in the way of expectations for my first day of birding in 2018. I knew I wanted to get up early to try for the two ROSS’S GEESE at Glenmere Lake, but beyond that I didn’t have a plan. It was zero degrees Fahrenheit when I woke up, but I managed to rustle myself out of bed and get to the lake before the geese left. When I arrived, there were several other birders that had the same idea as me: Karen Miller, Diane Bliss, Mike Mallon, Rick Hansen, and Kathy Ashman were all present, getting their Orange County Ross’s Goose for the new year. I waited with Karen, Diane, and Mike for the geese to pick up, since the 2 Ross’s spent most of the time with their heads tucked in. On my way out, I was talking to Kathy in the parking lot and we decided to walk the trail. Kathy had already walked it earlier with Rick, but was game for some more birding.
I haven’t spent much time birding the trail at Glenmere, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We ended up having an incredible morning with nice variety of songbirds and some close encounters. How’s this for some good birds on January 1st: Golden-crowned Kinglet (many!), Yellow-rumped Warbler (7), Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Bluebird (12), and six different species of woodpecker! (Hairy, Downy, Red-bellied, N. Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Pileated). Of the likely woodpeckers, we only missed the Red-headed Woodpecker (which is still present, Judy Cinquina, Tom Millard, and Maria Loukeris all saw it today).
At one point, I had a Golden-crowned Kinglet feeding just inches from my right shoulder! I stayed completely still and just enjoyed it; I couldn’t believe how close the bird was, nor could I believe how very tiny they are when you see them that close – they are just little peanuts! We walked the trail until it opens up to a field. The field was very active and we weren’t sure where to look for the next bird. Then a Pileated Woodpecker flew out of the trees right towards us, banking right over our heads before landing on a nearby tree. It really was a super morning of birding and in the end we tallied 28 species for the morning. I’ve not birded one on one with Kathy much before this, and I have to say it was a joy and she is really good – always a step ahead of me picking up birds all around us. Good birding for sure and a great way to start the year.
Well, another year of birding is officially in the books! The end of year post has always been one of my favorites to write; it’s fun for me to look back on the year of birding and remember all the highlights.
2017 MONTH-BY-MONTH HIGHLIGHTS
JANUARY:I went on my first Winter Pelagic and it did not disappoint. I got two life birds on the trip:DovekieandBlack-legged Kittiwake. Snow Geeserepresented well in the black dirt and provided plenty of photo ops. And, aROSS’S GOOSE was an easy get at Monroe-Woodbury Middle School.
FEBRUARY:Snow Geesecontinued to linger in the Black Dirt and a trip to the Jersey Shore yielded two really good birds:RAZORBILL and aLesser Black-backed Gull.
MARCH:I got my lifer Long-earedandNorthernSaw-Whetowls on a trip to Connecticut. There was a trio of Long-tailed Ducks at Glenmere Lake, and 4Sandhill Cranes in Ulster County. I joined Kathy Ashman, Bruce Nott, and Linda Scrima out at Wickham Lake for one of the best waterfowl fallouts I’d seen in the OC; we had 17 species of waterfowl including 3HornedGrebesand 17Redheads(an OC life bird for me!).
APRIL:Early in the month, I went on a family vacation to Sargent, Texas, where I accumulated 12 life birds. A little later in the month I ran for aTrumpeter Swanat the Bashakill.
MAY:A lot went on in May. Good waterfowl sitings included a White-winged Scoterat Glenmere and4 Red-necked Grebes at Wickham Lake. Linda Scrima located and documented very well aSUMMER TANAGERat Laurel Grove Cemetery. I had a 5 swallow night at the Liberty Loop (Tree, Barn, N. Rough-winged, Bank, and Cliff). I participated in the Mearns Bird Club’s Break 100 on a team with John Haas, Karen Miller, and Jeff Goulding. We located one of the best birds of the day,aLESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. The following day, I got my Orange County liferYellow-breasted Chat, originally located during the Break by the team of Alan & Della Wells and Dave and Sharon Baker. At the Grasslands, I picked up 2 life birds in 2 minutes:DICKCISSELandHENSLOW’S SPARROW. At the end of the month I had a super showing of shorebirds at the Camel Farm, including 2RED-NECKED PHALAROPESand 6White-rumped Sandpipers. Later in the evening, Rob Stone would add aWILSON’S PHALAROPEto the list.
JUNE:Things slowed down a bit in June; there was aBlack Ternat the Liberty Loop that I missed out on. The highlight of the month for me was my yearly trip to Adirondacks; this year Kyle Dudgeon joined me and we overdosed onCommon Loons(never a bad thing).
JULY: Linda Scrima located aForster’s Ternat the Liberty Loop; I ran and was able to get some great shots of that bird. Rob Stone relocated 5 WHITE IBISat Wickham Lake and thanks to Curt McDermott and his kayak, I was able to get some good shots of those birds too. Following up on an eBird report, Linda Scrima and I relocated aSNOWY EGRETat Citgo Pond, which was an OC lifer for both of us. I had an amazing encounter with aLEAST BITTERNwith Linda and Maria at Richard W. DeKorte Park – see more about this below.
AUGUST:There was aGlossy Ibisat Citgo Pond, originally located by Bill Fiero. I located a pair ofUPLAND SANDPIPERSin the black dirt.
SEPTEMBER:Hawkwatch at Mt. Peter began; we counted over 6800Broad-winged Hawksfor the month, which is slightly below average. I had my best showing ofCommon Nighthawkssince moving to OC, with nearly a dozen sitings. I located 5SANDERLINGS, another OC lifer for me, in the Black Dirt.
OCTOBER:Linda Scrima struck again and located aNELSON’S SPARROW at the Liberty Loop. I was lucky enough to get that bird one evening after work. Maria Loukeris made her mark, locating aSAY’S PHOEBE, also at Liberty Marsh. Unfortunately that bird did not stick around for anyone else to see it, but it was documented with a beautiful shot by Maria. I had an amazing 36Pectoral Sandpiperslater in the month, again at Liberty Marsh, as well as a very earlyRough-legged Hawkin the Black Dirt.
NOVEMBER:At Mt. Peter, early in the month, I had my firstGOLDEN EAGLEof the season. I also had my first Snow BuntingsandLAPLAND LONGSPURSof the season. Later in the month, thanks to a lead from John Haas, I got my first (of many)Cackling Gooseof the season.
DECEMBER:I located aRed-headed Woodpeckerat Glenmere Lake and then Kathy Ashman located 2 ROSS’S GEESE, also at Glenmere. I also had a pair of ICELAND GULLS at the Newburgh Waterfront, a week later Curt McDermott had 4ICGU and a singleLesser Black-backed Gullat the same location.
BY THE NUMBERS
I almost left this section out this year because most of my numbers aren’t very pretty, but I enjoy looking at the numbers and I think they can be I had decided last year not to concentrate so much on birding in Orange County, but then I turned around and birded OC nearly exclusively, at the expense of the neighboring counties?!? I’m not sure what it is, but I guess I just enjoy getting birds in my home county more than anywhere else. Here’s my species numbers for the year:
MORE NUMBERS: I added 17 birds to my life list in 2017, putting my total at 388. I also added 12 species to my New York State life list bumping that up to 290, and I add 10 birds to my OC life list, giving me a total of 246. This is my 92nd post of the year, down 7 from last year, which I don’t think is too bad based on my birding time being limited these days.
MOST EXCITING BIRDING EXPERIENCE OF THE YEAR: LEAST BITTERN AT RICHARD W. DEKORTE PARK.
On July 30th Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I took a trip down to Richard W. DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst, New Jersey to break up the summer doldrums a bit. We left at the end of the day having had an experience that not many will have. We had an amazing encounter with a Least Bittern that was feeding right next to one of the blinds. The bird was super focused on its prey and never really reacted to us at all. To me, Least Bitterns are among the most secretive birds in our area, so I never dreamed that we could get such a close-up extended look and unbelievable photos ops. I can’t imagine that it will ever happen again for me.
TOP TEN PHOTOS OF 2017
So it’s always difficult for me to pick my top photos of the year – there are so many different criteria I could use I suppose, but basically it just comes down to the shots that I like the best and have held up in my mind over the year.
I’d like to thank everyone who reads the blog and especially those who comment – the comments really keep me going. And, as usual, I’d like to thank all my birding friends out there for yet another excellent year of birding, with special thanks to Rob Stone, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, Kyle Dudgeon, John Haas, Karen Miller, Ken McDermott, and Judy Cinquina. Happy New Year to everyone out there, here’s to an extremely birdy 2018!
First thing this morning I followed up on Kathy Ashman’s report of two ROSS’S GEESE at Glenmere Lake from yesterday morning. It was a dark, cold, and snowy morning; I arrived at the lake before sunrise and immediately located the 2 Ross’s among approximately 300 Canada Geese. I put the word out and John Haas was able to join me. With the snow fall and the heavy cloud cover, it never got light enough for good photos, but we both did our best. Ross’s are always exciting, and in spite of the poor light, the birds were relatively close and we got pretty good looks. Around 9 am, the birds picked up and John and I headed our separate ways. Huge thanks to Kathy for finding and reporting the birds.
My goal for the day was to make a last ditch effort to find some new birds for my Orange County 2017 year list. I scoured the Hudson River, starting at the Bear Bridge and eventually ending up at the Newburgh Waterfront. I was hoping for Canvasback (I’d had 75 near my work in Rockland County the day before!) or for Great Cormorant. It was a fun day exploring new spots and hoping for the best, but ultimately I did not add any birds to my list. The highlight at the Hudson came at my final stop, where I ran into John Haas once again. He had just located an Iceland Gull. The bird was super cooperative and I got some decent shots. John had put the word out, but unfortunately, before anyone else had arrived the bird picked up and flew all the way to Beacon. Curt McDermott and Rick Hansen missed the bird by moments and Curt chased it over to Beacon (he said that it would guarantee that the bird would come back to Newburgh). Kathy Ashman showed up shortly after his departure and Curt was right, the bird did come back and Kathy and Rick both got their lifer Iceland Gulls! That was a pretty exciting way to end the day. I didn’t add any birds to my OC year list, but any day with 2 Ross’s Geese and an Iceland Gull is a good day of birding.