As birders, we are really lucky. We are part of what I sometimes think of as a secret club, one that sees the world a little bit differently than everyone else. We have the ability to turn a 3-1/2 hour car ride from Syracuse from drudgery into our own personal nature film, like I did on Sunday evening. While everyone else is driving along searching in vain to be entertained by the radio, we can just sit back and enjoy the nature show. A Pileated Woodpecker flying across the road to perch on an old wood telephone pole. An American Kestrel hover-hunting over the median. A Red-tailed Hawk being mobbed by a gang of American Crows. An adult Bald Eagle soaring at the treetops, and then a young eagle not long after that. Of course much of the drive was just the usuals- but even so, I was getting a kick out of how many Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and Brown-headed Cowbirds you can actually see while traveling on the highway.
I wrote the above paragraph for the most part on Sunday night when we got home. Coincidentally, on my way to work this morning there was an accident on the Palisades Parkway and traffic was brought to a dead stop. I was late for work, but I didn’t care. I birded from my now stopped car and saw or heard nearly a dozen species of birds while I waited for the traffic to get moving again. I think it’s a nice way to live.
…well, a day late due to the holiday weekend. I got out several times over the long weekend, basically staying local and getting the usuals. I had my first Semipalmated Sandpipers of the year at the Camel Farm and at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday. Yesterday I ran to the Deli Fields at the Bashakill for a Mourning Warbler that John Haas had reported, but alas I didn’t have any luck with that bird. Today I had my first Black-billed Cuckoo of the year, a bird I would usually have seen or heard before now most years. Migration is winding down, so I mostly was just glad to be outside and enjoying the birds.
Okay, so I don’t have an actual list, but there are certain birds that I put on my mental list of “birds I’ll never get a decent photograph of”. Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk, and Ruffed Grouse are examples that spring to mind right off the bat. SORA was on that list until earlier today, when I finally got a decent opportunity to photograph this normally super-secretive bird.
I was a little too busy to officially participate in this year’s Mearns Bird Club‘s Break 100, but I was able to join up with my previous team for a few hours this morning. I met up with John Haas, Karen Miller, and Lisa O’Gorman at Laurel Grove Cemetery in Port Jervis just after 8 am. I know it’s stating the obvious, right now is really good time of year to look for birds. I think with how busy I”ve been with work and in my personal life lately, lost track of that to some extent. It came back to me when I arrived at the cemetery and the team was having a great morning, with several CAPE MAY WARBLERS, Blackpoll Warblers, and at least a couple BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS. One male Cape May was very obliging for photos:
Our next stop was at Elks Brox Memorial Park, where the team added several birds to their tally. I don’t want to say exactly where they stood, but suffice to say they had a good Friday Evening and early Saturday morning and were well on their way to breaking 100. Highlights at Elks Brox included Prairie Warblers, Great Crested Flycatchers, good looks at another couple of Bay-breasted Warblers, and a nice photo op with a male Scarlet Tanager.
From there we headed to Hawk’s Nest; the team added Peregrine Falcon, White-throated Sparrow, and Bald Eagle to their list. The traffic and the loud cars and motorcycles at that place make me absolutely crazy, so I was happy to head up to Reservoir 3 where the only new bird for the team was Brown Creeper. That’s where the team and I parted ways. They were headed to Sterling Forest, I went back to Laurel Grove where I located a CANADA WARBLER before heading home for the day. It was a great morning, and I’ll be curious to see how many species the team finishes with. I’ll update this post when I find out.
*Update: Our team ended the break with a total of 116 species – pretty darn good in my opinion!
Some evenings are better than others. Tonight was one of the better ones; and it was made even more so because I went out with little or no real expectations. I met up with Kyle Dudgeon at Wallkill River National Wildlife refuge; we were trying to get together one last time before he headed 0ut west for the summer. As we pulled into the lot, the evening started off pretty well as the rain subsided and a huge double rainbow appeared.
The evening that followed was just flat out fun. We had a close encounter with a VIRGINIA RAIL (my FOY). Kyle got an incredible shot of the bird; it’s hard to express how good this guy is, the bird was visible for probably less than 5 seconds, Kyle was hand-holding a 500mm lens with and extender, and he gets the killer shot at the top of this post. Honestly it blew me away. An American Bittern was calling on an off all evening, as were several Sora. I sifted through a collection of shorebirds, finding Killdeer, Solitary Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Greater Yellowlegs. A Black-crowned Night-Heron flew across the marsh in the distance (another FOY). We could see that there were many COMMON NIGHTHAWKS feeding at the pool in front of the platform, so we headed back there and enjoyed what I can only guess was 30+ Common Nighthawks and countless swallows feeding on insects over the marsh. At times we had nighthawks flying just feet away from our heads – it was incredible. We heard a SANDHILL CRANE calling and then watched as 3 cranes flew over the marsh, putting down in the south side of the loop. A young Bald Eagle cruised down the west side of the loop, also heading south. What a night!
It was an interesting and productive weekend of birding for me. It started on Friday evening after work at Ironwood Drive at Sterling Forest State Park. I had over 40 species in total; highlights included an up-close look at a Hooded Warbler, 2 American Woodcocks peenting and in flight, and several Eastern Whip-poor-wills calling. I had an exciting moment when 2 Whip-poor-wills took flight after sunset, calling as they flew right into the parking area at the end of Ironwood Drive. I could barely see them but I picked them up as they flew through and then disappeared into the night.
On Saturday morning, I woke up unsure of where to bird, or even what type of birding I should do. I had thoughts of shorebirds at the Route 207 Marsh, but instead I headed to Port Jervis to try for passerines. I went to Laurel Grove Cemetery first and it was birdy, but without many warblers present. New birds for the year (for me) included: Brown Thrasher, Least Flycatcher, and Chimney Swifts. From there, I headed up to Elks Brox Memorial Park, where it was also birdy, but with many more warblers. I had 10 species of warbler: Ovenbird, Worm-Eating Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, BAY-BREASTED WARBLER, BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler. Best of all, I got some decent looks and photo ops of several species. Other good birds at Elks Brox included: RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES (FOY), Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, and my FOY Eastern Wood-Peewee.
In the afternoon I joined Karen Miller and we headed to the Bashakill to volunteer for Nature Watch. A pair of BLACK TERNS had been located and reported earlier in the day by the Mearns Bird Club outing, so we stopped at Haven Road first to try for the birds. When we arrived, several other birders were also looking for the birds, which hadn’t been seen in nearly 45 minutes. Birding bud Bruce Nott was there and I told him I had a feeling we would see the birds… five minutes later Bruce located them, north of the bridge and quite distant. Karen and I looked at them briefly but then had to head to the Main Boat Launch for Nature Watch. The terns eventually made their way all the way to us, and we enjoyed viewing them for most of our shift.
Today (Sunday) was yet another cold and rainy day. It rained ALL day long. I got out early and was optimistic that it wouldn’t rain too hard. I went to the 207 Marsh to try for shorebirds. I didn’t stay as long as I would have liked because the rain was relentless and my optics were just saturated. Every time I went use the scope or my binoculars they would instantly fog over. I did add a new shorebird for the year: SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS. I went home to dry off and then headed back out in the afternoon, again in search of shorebirds. I went to Lynch Ave (Least Sandpipers, Solitary Sanpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Killdeer) and then to the Camel Farm (same species plus Greater Yellowlegs). The Camel Farm is loaded with shorebirds right now, but sadly there really isn’t a good spot for viewing. My final stop made all the wet weather birding worth it – I located a GLOSSY IBIS at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve included a documentary shot at the bottom of this post. I have to say it feels good to be home, warm and dry!
Today was the best day of birding I’ve had in a while. We all know that BAD WEATHER = GOOD BIRDS, so with that in mind I headed out into the rain today. My first stop was at Glenmere Lake, and thankfully it was not an indication of how the day would turn out as it was quiet on the lake. My second stop was at Wickham Lake – from the parking area I immediately saw a Common Loon on the lake. I went to the shore to scan for more waterfowl and I was pleasantly surprised to find 2 Bonaparte’s Gulls perched on the boat dock. I took some photos and moved on to my next stop – Greenwood Lake, where I had 6 very distant Common Loons.
I wasn’t sure what my next move would be, part of me wanted to look for more songbirds at Sterling Forest SP, but a bigger part of me said to check the Hudson River. I, of course, decided to head to the river. My route took me past a couple more lakes – I came up empty at Round Lake, but got lucky at Walton Lake with a raft of 11 LONG-TAILED DUCKS! It was hard to pull myself away because those ducks are so cute and watching them in the scope was super entertaining. As I continued towards the Newburgh area, I spoke with birding bud Bruce Nott on the phone – he’d had 33 Bonaparte’s at Cornwall Bay and I wanted to find out where he was viewing them from – it was Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point.
When I arrived at Kowawese, I could only locate 7 Bonaparte’s Gulls. They were heading north towards the Newburgh Waterfront, so I relocated and was eventually able to find all 33 of his gulls! They were on the water, just drifting northward until they started picking up and headed south back towards Kowawese. THEN, just when I was making one last pass with my scope, I saw a tern flying and actively fishing on the far side of the river! I was trying to ID the bird, but between the rain and the distance, it was just too far. My best guess was either Common or Forster’s Tern. Then I saw a second and a third bird. Bruce joined me and after viewing for a little while, we decided to take the drive over to Beacon’s Long Dock Park to try and identify the birds. I figured they would be long gone by the time we arrived, but Bruce was way more optimistic. And, sure enough, he was right and the birds stuck around for us – including Carena Pooth who had met us over there. Between the three of us and sending pics to Rob Stone and Linda Scrima, we determined that the birds were COMMON TERNS (it’s tough – we don’t get enough practice identifying terns in our area!). Not only that, we also found a fourth bird while we were there as well. This is my favorite kind of birding – it was so exciting and the terns was just beautiful to watch as they fished. The icing on the cake came when we were just about ready to leave – the terns crossed over the river and into the Orange County side! They headed south along the west bank; I was thinking they may end up at Kowawese/Cornwall Bay.*Bruce followed up on this but did not find the terns. BUT, he did find 7 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS. What a day!
The last couple of days were very busy birding-wise, with many birds moving into and through our area. On Friday after work I went to Sterling Forest State Park. I birded the Ironwood Drive area and I did pretty well, getting 15 new county birds for the year:
Black-throated Blue Warbler
This morning I met up with Linda Scrima and we birded Pochuck Mountain State Forest. It was a slow start, but then it got pretty busy; at times it was hard to know which bird to look at there were so many. We had a total of 37 species; highlights included my FOY Great-crested Flycatchers and Veery, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and 10 Species of Warbler:
Worm-eating Warbler (FOY)
Northern Parula (FOY)
Magnolia Warbler (FOY)
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Afterwards, we went over to the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. Highlights included my first Orange County Eastern Kingbirds of the year, a flyover of 2 SANDHILL CRANES, hearing a couple of SORA calling, and a handful of shorebirds (Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, and Killdeer).
I spent the afternoon trying to find more shorebirds. At the Camel Farm I had more yellowlegs and although they were distant, I believe I had 3 Pectoral Sandpipers. On Lynch Avenue in the black dirt I had the same shorebirds that we had at Wallkill River NWR, plus I added my FOY Spotted Sandpiper. My final stop was at Stewart Forest; I stopped quickly at Ridge Road (one Solitary and one Spotted), and then spent some time at the 207 Marsh, where there were many shorebirds present, but I did not add any new species.
For the day today, I added 9 more county year birds – that’s a total of 24 new birds in 2 days, which sure makes for some fun birding.
I was scheduled to volunteer for the Bashakill Area Association’s Nature Watch program, which I’ve participated in for several years on and off and written about here on the blog a couple of times; click here and here to find out more. I got up early to do hit some local spots before heading to the Bashakill; on my way to Glenmere Lake I spotted a Coyote in a field so I pulled over and was lucky enough to get some decent (if noisy) shots. Glenmere was mostly uneventful, although I did have my first Black-throated Green warblers of the season. I also stopped at Wickham Lake, just to check the water quickly and found 6 distantRuddy Ducks all tucked in on the rainy lake.
I met up with Karen Miller at Haven Road at the Bashakill. We found out shortly after our arrival that the watch was to be cancelled due to the rain. So, we decided to bird the Bash. We hit four locations and we did pretty well. Highlights included several First of Season birds for me: Common Gallinule, Broad-winged Hawk, Eastern Kingbird, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Bank Swallow, Gray Catbird, and Black-throated Blue Warbler. Other good birds included Black-and-white Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Field Sparrow, and of course, several Bald Eagles. It was a good and productive morning and my list totaled 38 species.
Earlier this week I took an opportunity to try for better shots of the Middletown YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS; I got lucky and both birds were present and active.
I headed back to Stewart State Forrest’s Route 207 Marsh as my first stop this morning. I was hoping for some interesting shorebirds, but unfortunately I only found Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Solitary Sandpipers. It was a cold morning at the marsh, and the wind gusts were making viewing through my scope less than ideal. It also seemed quieter than it was a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t there as long, and I didn’t have birding bud Bruce Nott’s eagle eyes, but I ended up with only about half the number of species.
My next stop was more productive and downright exciting. I headed over to the Hudson River, hoping for shorebirds, terns, or gulls. I first checked Shore Road in Cornwall on Hudson. From there, looking north, I saw a collection of birds on a small sandbar. They were quite distant, but I was pretty sure one of the birds was a CASPIAN TERN. I jumped back into my car and drove over to Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point to try and get a better look. I walked along the river heading north for a good ways to try and get closer to the birds. When I finally stopped and set up my scope, I was happy to see that I was correct about the tern, but in addition there was a good number of BONAPARTE’S GULLS present. My best count while I was there was 22 individuals, but when I got home I counted in my pics and I had a remarkable 32 BOGUs in a single shot! I watched the birds for a good while just to make sure I wasn’t missing a Little Gull (now that would have been something!). Still, I was pretty excited to get these birds – it was just the sort of birding I was hoping for today.