What started out as an uneventful evening ended up being an incredible birding experience. I met Maria Loukeris out at the Liberty Loop; we walked out Liberty Lane – highlights included some distant unidentified shorebirds, several White-crowned Sparrows and my FOY Swamp Sparrows. As we were walking back to the cars, I turned to Maria and said “Let’s go look for some American Bitterns”. I was only half joking, and I had no idea what was in store for us. As we reached the parking area, Maria picked up two birds flying across the marsh and exclaimed “bittern!”. I got on them immediately and was thrilled to see two AMERICAN BITTERNS fly from the front pond and head southwest towards the back of the marsh. We went to the viewing platform; we were pretty sure that we wouldn’t see them again, but had to try. But, then we heard another AMBI calling from just to our left. We scanned and remarkably, Maria located the bird right away. As I ran to get my scope from the car, a different AMBI took flight and flew north over Oil City Road. Shortly after that, yet another bittern joined the one that was calling – that gave us a total of five American Bitterns! I put the word out, and Linda Scrima made record time to arrive to see a pair of them in the scope before we lost the light. What a night! I’m still freaking out!
After spending the weekend out of town, and then feeling a little under the weather earlier in the week, it was good to get out and do some productive local birding. At work today I saw multiple reports from Scotty Baldinger and Karen Miller of good waterfowl in Sullivan County, including Common Loons, Horned Grebes, G. Scaup at Kiamesha Lake and more Common Loons, Red-breasted Merganser, and best of all – SURF SCOTERS at Swan Lake. This had me raring to go at the end of the work day to see if I could find any good waterfowl in Orange County. I had time to stop at my two usual spots – Wickham Lake and Glenmere Lake. Wickham was the more productive stop – I had 3 Common Loons, 4 Horned Grebes, and my Osprey of the year in OC. Glenmere was less exciting, but I did have a pair of Lesser Scaup and I also had my first Barn Swallow of the year at the small pond up the road from the lake. It was a nice night to be out and I took a moment to appreciated it.
I recently invited several of the more prolific birders in our area to contribute to the blog whenever they have something that they feel is worth sharing. I think there is a lot of good birding going on that folks would like to hear about, and the end result should be a little more complete coverage of the birds and birding in our area. Kent Warner is the first to take me up on the offer. The timing is perfect too, since I was out of town all weekend and didn’t get any birding done. I found this post very interesting because, generally speaking, not much attention is paid to raptor migration here in Orange County.
SPRING RAPTOR MIGRATION IN ORANGE COUNTY
BY KENT WARNER
Today was a stunner at Bellvale Community for raptors especially. As the sun warmed, and the updrafts started, the first couple of broad-winged hawks, passed low overhead. As the day continued, despite a stiff north breeze, the raptors kept coming – predominantly Broad-winged Hawks and Turkey Vultures, but a little of everything showed. Here is a list of what I saw…
Broad-winged Hawk – 450 (very conservative estimate of just the ones I saw, there were definitely more)
Turkey Vulture – 45
Black Vulture – 6
Osprey – 16
Northern Harrier – 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 3
Cooper’s Hawk – 5
Bald Eagle – 5
Red-Shouldered Hawk – 1
Red-tailed Hawk – 6
American Kestrel – 6
Merlin – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 1
I was having a conversation with Rob Stone earlier this week about Lapland Longspurs. I had commented that they had probably migrated north by now; Rob wasn’t so sure and said that he thought his latest date for LALOs was April 7th. We agreed that, if they were around, you might find one in darn nice plumage. I set out to the black dirt this morning with all this in mind. I located large, loose, flock of Horned Larks; they were extremely scattered and jumpy as can be. I eventually located a single LALO in beautiful breeding plumage. The bird was distant so I tried my best to document it by digiscoping video with my phone, but the jumpy birds, the wind, and the heat shimmer made it difficult for sure (see the result at the bottom of this post). I found several LALOs in the flock and it was cool because I could differentiate the birds by their plumage. I put in a good amount of time, and eventually it (sort of) paid off when part of the flock landed close to me and in that group was a LALO nearly in breeding plumage. It was a really exciting time, I really love Lapland Longspurs, and I never thought I’d ever see one in breeding plumage. Beautiful birds!
It was an excellent morning for waterfowl in southern Orange County – I had good birds at nearly every stop I made and a total of 18 species (see my list by location, below). But, it was one extremely accommodating Horned Grebe at Greenwood Lake which made my day. Greenwood Lake is not typically a spot that is good for photos – the birds are typically quite distant – in fact, I often leave my camera in the car. Well I was glad I had it with me today as this HOGR came in close and fed well, completely unconcerned with my presence. I love it when, every once in a while, things work out really well. Here’s what I had today, by location:
6 1/2 STATION ROAD SANCTUARY: 6 Green-winged Teal, 35 Canada Geese, 5 Mallards, 9 American Black Ducks, 2 Mute Swan, and 1 Northern Shoveler.
GLENMERE LAKE: 12 Common Loons, 10 Horned Grebes, 2 Mute Swans, 5 Canada Geese, 6 American Black Ducks, 3 Bufflehead,and 4 Wood Ducks. Thanks to Kathy Ashman for reporting – she had 16 Common Loons prior to my arrival.
WICKHAM LAKE: 2 Common Mergansers, 10 Double-crested Cormorants, 12 Buffleheads, 5 RED-THROATED LOONS, 1 Common Loon, 9 Horned Grebes, 1 Pied-billed Grebe, 4 Lesser Scaup, 2 Mute Swans, and 6 Canada Geese.
GREENWOOD LAKE: 2 Common Loons, 3 Horned Grebes, 15 Double-crested Cormorants, 7 Red-breasted Mergansers, 5 Common Mergansers, 5 Buffleheads, 2 Mallards, 4 Canada Geese, and 2 Mute Swans.
WALTON LAKE: 1 Common Loon and 1 Double-crested Cormorant.
ROUND LAKE: 2 Mallards, 1 Horned Grebe, 2 Greater Scaup, 5 Buffleheads, 14 Double-crested Cormorants, 2 Ruddy Ducks, and 6 Canada Geese.
At first I thought it must be a joke. I really did. But, that’s not Rob’s style. The text read 25 RED-THROATED LOONS at Wickham Lake. Really? You’ve got to be kidding me. I was pessimistic about them sticking around until I got out of work, but somehow they did. I arrived just after 6 pm and I have to say that they did not disappoint. I enjoyed an amazing evening watching these beautiful birds make their way around the lake. They must have been quite comfortable since, with the high winds, the water was extremely rough. I was really curious to see what they would do as the sun started to set, and at 7:10, all but six of the RTLOs took flight. After several laps around the lake, gradually getting higher and higher, they departed, heading west-northwest. Shortly after, I headed out, leaving the lake to the remaining 6 Red-throated Loons. I wonder if they will spend the night?
QUICK POST: I’m exhausted this evening, so I’m going to try and make this a quick one. My brother-in-law Bill and I made our yearly Easter visit to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. We hit the usual spots; it seemed a little quieter than normal to me. We totaled 30 species for the morning, which seems low for the time of the year, and all were expected species. We had a few highlights – a Sandhill Crane flew over on my drive to the refuge, and then, after Bill and I made our way through Wildlife Drive, at Tschache Pool we had a group of over 50 Great Blue Herons as well a half dozen Bald Eagles tormenting ducks (and each other), flying over the pool.
Back here in Orange County, the action continued through the weekend and. today was another good day with some good birds reported: Wilson’s Snipe was the big winner, being reported at three locations in the county: Lynch Road in New Hampton, the Liberty Loop, and Citgo Pond. Additionally, Rob Stone located a Common Loon, 40+ Scaup, and a Bonaparte’s Gull at Wickham Lake, which is where I headed after work. The scaup were still present, as was the Common Loon, but the Bonaparte’s Gull had moved on. The loon was in beautiful breeding plumage, but was WAY out and photos were not an option. It was nice to get a good look at the 45 or so Greater Scaup.
There was an awful lot of birding action in Orange County today. I was at work, but my phone was blowing up with reports: Kathy Ashman had 8 HORNED GREBES, a Red-breasted Merganser, and a Pine Warbler at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary. Bill Fiero had a Wilson’s Snipe and 3 Eastern Phoebes at Stewart Forest, and then Kathy had 7 more Horned Grebes, 3 Greater Scaup, and an 80 Snow Geese fly-over at Glenmere Lake. Ken McDermott had Ruddy Ducks, 7 LONG-TAILED DUCKS, and 2 Horned Grebes at Orange Lake. In the black dirt, Maria Loukeris reported 4 Eastern Meadowlarks and 200+ Snow Geese. Rob Stone had 6 Long-tailed Ducks at Wickham Lake. Phew! That’s a lot of good birds!
Luckily, I got out of work a little bit early, so I was able to run for some birds. And, maybe even luckier still, ALL the birds I ran for stuck for me! I went to Wickham Lake first and got the 6 Long-tailed Ducks as well as a Red-breasted Merganser and a Ruddy Duck. At Glenmere Lake I relocated the Horned Grebes, the Greater Scaup, and also had a single Ruddy Duck there. At the pond near Glenmere, I made a quick stop and had my first Northern Shoveler of the year in Orange County. From there I went to the black dirt and did well with Snow Geese (200++) and also managed to relocate 2 of the Eastern Meadowlarks. And finally, my last stop was at 6 1/2 Station Road where the Horned Grebes were kind enough to stick around and were close enough for some documentary photos. Not a bad haul for a work day! Excellent birding, thanks so much to everyone that reported!
It had been a while (over five years!) since I’ve birded Sandy Hook, NJ (part of the Gateway National Recreation Area), so I jumped at the opportunity to take a day trip with birding buds Maria Loukeris and Linda Scrima. Our first stop was to check on the large group of seals that have been seen on the sand bar near lot C. I’ve never seen anything like it; over 100 seals of all shapes and sizes, piled up on a single sand bar. We spent some time with the seals, enjoying incredible scope views and taking loads of pics. This was not something I expected to see on this day. We also picked up our first shorebirds of the day, three American Oystercatchers, as well as several species of waterfowl: Brant, Horned Grebe, American Black Duck, Bufflehead, and Red-breasted Mergansers. Northern Gannets streamed overhead and out in the distance, a theme for the day, as we easily saw over 100 gannets for the day.
From there, we headed out to the point. Our target bird was Piping Plovers, which unfortunately were not to be found. We picked up some other shorebirds, however. Many Sanderlings were working the shoreline and flying over the water, four Black-bellied Plovers were hanging out closer to the dunes, and we had a handful of additional oystercatchers. For waterfowl we added several species to our list: We had a small group of Black Scoters, several Long-tailed Ducks, a Red-necked Grebe, a Double-crested Cormorant, and a trio of Common Loons. We also had our FOY Eastern Phoebe and Osprey.
When we got back to the car, Maria received a text alert – TUFTED DUCK at the “North Pond”! But where is the North Pond? Fortunately we ran into a large group of birders who had just come from viewing the Tufted Duck and they gave us perfect directions. We went for the bird and although it was not in sight at first, we waited it out and eventually it swam back into view amongst a group of Ring-necked Ducks – a beautiful rarity! I saw a TUDU one other time several years back, but the look was distant so I really appreciated the great looks we got of this one.
On the way home we stopped at Raritan Bay Waterfront Park. We were hoping for some of the excellent gulls that had been recently reported, but the tide was too high and there were not many gulls present. We scanned for waterfowl and I was impressed with the large number of Horned Grebes present – easily over a dozen. We added a single species to our list for the day – Red-throated Loon – putting our total to over 40 species for the day. What a super day – excellent birds (and sea mammals) and great company.
Right now, the Bashakill is officially the hottest hotspot in the area. When John Haas reported a TUNDRA SWAN at Haven Road early this morning, I knew that if the bird stuck around, I would run for it after work. I got word as I left work that the bird was still present, so I headed towards the Bash. When I arrived, Ken McDermott was on the bird, which was out quite a ways foraging in the vegetation on the northeast side of Haven Road. Lance Verderame and Matt Price joined us shortly after and we enjoyed good scope views as the bird was in perfect light. Ken and I decided to drive out to the Stop Sign Trail to try to get a better look; we were successful and we got a much closer look at the bird, which looked amazing in Ken’s scope (but was unfortunately backlit for photos). It’s a great time of year – things are happening in the birding world and I’m totally loving the time change and the longer days which are allowing me to finally do some quality birding after work again.