Back to Birding the OC

~A Rough-legged Hawk flexes its wings in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~ 

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.

~Golden Eagle on its usual perch at Storm King State Park, 02/10/18.~

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.

~There were loads of Bald Eagles on the Hudson River this weekend. These two adults were cruising the ice floes at the Newburgh Waterfront, 02/10/18.~

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.

~These dudes made my weekend – 2 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~

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.

~A wet, very lightly colored Red-tailed Hawk in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18. I thought this bird was interesting and I think it looked light than these photos came out…
~…I didn’t get photos of the bird in flight, but the topside was also very light as you can see in this perched shot.~
~I heard them before I saw them – Snow Buntings in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~ 
~Upside down White-breasted Nuthatch at Storm King State Park, 02/11/18.~ 
~Common Grackle in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~ 

Excellent Weekend of Birding

 

 

 

 

~A flock of Pectoral Sandpipers in flight at Wallkill River NWR, 10/22/17.~

My weekend of birding started early on Saturday morning. Following up on a tip from Rob Stone, I headed out to Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh. When I arrived, birding bud Linda Scrima was already there, viewing the main part of the marsh from the viewing platform. We walked out to view the pond north of Oil City Road, where a beautiful sight awaited us – 36 PECTORAL SANDPIPERS were huddled together in beautiful morning light. We took photos and scanned for more shorebirds. A single bird flew in and joined the Pecs – it was a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER! Further scanning revealed two distant Wilson’s Snipe and another distant bird that I identified in the field as a Semipalmated Sandpiper, but in retrospect, with the bird being so far out, it is maybe best left unidentified. I had to get up to Mount Peter for hawkwatch, so we headed back to the parking lot. We took one last look at the pond in front of the platform and found yet more shorebirds – 7 Greater Yellowlegs and nearly a dozen Lesser Yellowlegs! What a great morning for shorebirds in OC!

~What a sight to walk up to on an early Saturday morning – over 30 Pectoral Sandpipers at Wallkill River NWR, 10/21/17.~

Hawkwatch was once again a bust for me – so far, I am snake bitten this season for sure. I even had the big guns up to help me (Judy Cinquina and Denis Ferrell, fellow Mt. Pete counters), but it didn’t matter, the birds were not flying on this day. Jeff and Elizabeth Zahn visited and turned their (and mine) hawkwatch luck around. We had 12 of my 19 birds in the hour or so while they were there, including a pair of beautiful adult Red-shouldered Hawks that flew directly over the platform. The biggest news during hawkwatch had nothing to do with hawks at all – Maria Loukeris had located and photographed a SAY’S PHOEBE out at Liberty Marsh! She could barely believe it and she sent out photos to confirm the ID. Once confirmed, several folks went out for the bird but it was not relocated. I had plans directly after hawkwatch, so my search for the Says would have to wait until Sunday morning…

~Wow, wow, wow! A beautiful SAY’S PHOEBE at Wallkill River NWR, photograph by Maria Loukeris. What a bird and what a photo! Congrats Maria!~

So, Sunday morning I went to Liberty Marsh to try for the the Say’s Phoebe. This time when I arrived, Scotty Baldinger was at the viewing platform. It was great to see Scotty (it always is!) and, in spite of not relocating the SAPH, we had a fabulous morning of birding. Sparrows were abundant and we had 5 species: Savannah, Song, White-throated, Swamp, and my FOS WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS. Other highlights included a flock of over 40 American Pipits flying over our heads and landing in a field. Initially it did not look like we would do any good for shorebirds, but on our way back I spotted a flock in flight. There was an adult Peregrine Falcon in the area, we had just seen it earlier, and I’m guessing it was keeping them on their toes. The birds eventually put down in the pond north of Oil City Road – it was the same flock of Pectoral Sandpipers with the White-rumped Sandpiper. The flock was jumpy and took laps around the pond, allowing for some decent photo ops. They eventually left that pond and put down in the marsh south of Oil City Road; we were unable to relocate them. One last look from the viewing platform got us one Greater Yellowlegs and 3 Lessers. Scotty and I parted ways; I hit a couple other spots before heading home, but they were not as productive. What an excellent weekend of birding! I feel like I need it.

~Swamp Sparrow at Wallkill River NWR, 10/21/17.~
~A young Turkey Vulture takes a pass by the viewing platform at Mt. Peter. No matter how slow the day is, you can always rely on the TUVUs for a photo.~
~One of the two Red-shouldered Hawks that flew directly over the platform at Mt. Pete on Saturday, 10/21/17.~

Why Do Birders Bird?

~I’m taking this post as an opportunity to show some of the owl photos I took over this past winter. Orange County Barred Owl, Winter 2016-2017. I love the snow on this bird’s head.~

WHY DO WE BIRD?

This is a question that I ask myself from time to time to time. I’ve thought about this in terms of the big picture – as in birders in general, and also in terms of myself – what drives me to be out birding nearly every single day and how does that compare to other birders? To try and get some answers, I emailed a questionnaire to a number of birders that I know and I received responses from 11 avid birders.

~I’ve always liked this photo of Lance Vederame and John Haas – these guys are really enjoying themselves in Rye, NY in spite of the COLD weather.~

Based on the responses received, it appears that “getting back to nature” is the main reason most birders bird. Over half of the respondents included something along these lines in their answers to the opening general question of why they bird. Terms such as “escape”, “peaceful time”, and “relaxation” were used to describe the experience. At the end of the questionnaire, I asked directly about this aspect of birding, and it was nearly unanimous that this was an important part of birding, and 8 of the eleven considering it either the most important or very important. Karen Miller wrote that getting back to nature “…helps you remember what’s important in life.”  Additionally, I think it goes hand in hand with stress reduction, which was inferred by most and mentioned specifically by 4 respondents. According to Scotty Baldinger “When I was still working it was the great stress reliever being out in the field and at one with nature.  Now that I’m retired it still is as good.”, while Judy Cinquina wrote “Birding, being outdoors, even just in my own yard, clears my mind of all the detritus that seems to get caught up in there and keeps me sane.”

~Perched Short-eared Owl, Orange County NY, winter 2016-2017.~

I would consider a “sense of adventure” or “excitement” as the next most popular reason for birding. Four of the 11 respondents refer to this concept in their in their answers to the opening general question of why they bird and 7 refer to this idea elsewhere in their answers. You can add me to the list, as I know that this has always been a big part of birding for me. Walter Eberz put it very well: “When I was introduced to birding, I quickly felt the excitement of finding a species for the first time.  I think that sense of adventure is what drew me into birding.” Birding can be and is often very exciting, as Kyle Dudgeon wrote: “there’s always something new around each and every corner”, and I also like Bill Martocci’s take on it: “It may be my natural hunting instincts being fulfilled without killing an animal.”  For many, this excitement is linked directly to seeing rare or unusual birds. I asked the respondents how important it was to see and find rare or unusual birds which was nearly unanimously considered important. Most indicated that it was exciting and enjoyable; John Haas wrote “I have been birding for 25 years and seeing rarities and observing different birds and their behaviors help keep the hobby fresh and exciting for me.” Sharing the excitement appears to factor in as well and was mentioned a few birders. Ken McDermott writes: “Part of the fun and rewards of birdingis that we get to see species that we have never seen before whether on ourLife/State/County/Home/Year list they are all enjoyed. The “who finds it” is not so important as seeing it. If one DOES find a special bird a huge portion of the enjoyment is sharing it with other interested birders.”

~Here is an exception to the “large group” negativity – birders gather for the Gyrfalcon in Ulster County, NY back in 2015.~

Other significant aspects of birding that were part of the questionnaire or raised in the answers include: participating in citizen science, the social aspect, the study of birds and bird behavior, and bird photography.

Citizen Science: All of the respondents keep birding lists of some sort, and all but one are using eBird. For most, the importance of Citizen Science for the birds is recognized, but it does not play a large role in their reasons for birding. Curt McDermott speaks to this: “I am a supporter of Citizen Science Projects, such as E-Bird, Great Backyard Bird Count and Hawk Watches. Information gathered by participation in these projects, may help to ensure that birding and birds will stand the test of time.” However, only Lance Verderame and John expressed that CS was VERY important to their birding. Lance sums it up well: “As birders our input into eBird is an extremely valuble history of records that could point out key staging and resting habitat that needs protection.” And, on a different note, Kyle brought up a point that I found interesting – that people are using eBird in a way that directly affects the birds negatively: “People abuse it now. Some things (i.e. nest locations, owl locations. Endangered species locations, etc.) were not meant to be reported and ultimately are ruined due to people.”

Study of Birds/Behavior: I think we all engage in this to a certain extent while birding without really realizing it. I neglected to raise this issue in the questionnaire, but both Lance and Judy brought it up in their responses. Judy wrote about a recent change in her birding: “Rare or “Life Birds” used to be a very important aspect of my birding until recently. Now I’m happy to just see bird behavior that I’ve never seen before.”

Social Aspect: Responses indicate that the social aspect of birding is enjoyable but not highly important. AND, birding in large groups was mentioned by 4 as a negative experience. Small groups or birding alone seem to be the preference. Denise Ferrell seems to speak for a lot of birders when she wrote “I enjoy small groups where EVERYONE is working to find birds AND I also enjoy birding by myself. I detest birding in large groups. They tend to turn into chat sessions with only a few people doing all the work finding the birds.”

Bird Photography: This aspect may have had the most diverse response. Two respondents take photos for records or identification purposes only and 3 do not take bird photographs at all. But, for the remaining 6 respondents, photography is an important, integral part of birding. I, of course, put myself into this category as well. All of the birders in this category share their photos by publishing, be it for a blog, website, or social media. For everyone in this group, the words of Bill may resonate: “It is clearly the #1 reason I bird.  I rarely if at all go out without my camera.  I will post great shots of birds or rare finds on group sites on Facebook. But I do keep a gallery of birding photos that few if anyone sees regularly.”

~Perched on the ground Orange County Short-eared Owl, winter 2016-2017.~

So, I’ve touched on some of the thoughts on my own birding above, but will elaborate here. I can remember growing up in suburban Long Island. My siblings and I (my brother Chris especially), used to absolutely love all the nature shows. I particularly remember one about the wild dogs of Africa. It was exciting and fascinating to see all the amazing animals all over the world. But, in my mind, that was elsewhere, not here, especially not in the neighborhood of Holtsville where we grew up. Meanwhile, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Think about all the amazing birds on Long Island! They were all out there, in Holtsville and at the beaches and lakes not very far away. Birding has given me the opportunity to live out the adventures I dreamt about while watching those nature shows as a kid. Who knew you could find over 200 species of birds in Orange County in a single year? It still blows my mind! And because it blows my mind, I am compelled and I enjoy very much sharing it here on this blog.

Getting back to nature another huge aspect for me. Being out in the field gives me great enjoyment as well as life-saving stress relief. I cannot imagine my life without it and I think that would remain so even if I wasn’t birding. This ties into the social aspect of birding. I particularly enjoy getting out by myself and really getting “lost” out there, but that being said, I do enjoy birding with smaller groups and I have made many really great friends through birding. The exception to this (and Judy mentioned it in her response as well), is hawk watching. I’m not sure why this is different, perhaps because we have such a great group up at Mount Peter, but I really enjoy my time up there; the more birders the merrier.

Regarding bird behavior, I think I am just starting to scratch the surface here. I think that as I become more experienced and learn more, the exploration of bird behavior will become more important to me. And when it comes to Citizen Science, like many birders I am happy to contribute and I see the importance but it is not a deciding factor in my daily birding.

As for rare or unusual birds, for me this is a driving force. It links directly to the sense of adventure or excitement I am looking for in my birding. I find it very exciting every time I see any bird that is out of the ordinary; it can just be a personal first of year bird and I will get jazzed. And, I’ve always wanted to be the one to find the birds. Ever since I became a member of the Mearns Bird Club and I started getting notifications, I thought to myself that I wanted to be the one finding the birds. It is exciting, satisfying, and great fun to share a good bird.

**PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS POST; I AM REALLY CURIOUS TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT WHY EVERYONE IS OUT THERE BIRDING! Thanks.

And, finally, a huge thanks to all the birders that help with this post, I, of course, could not have written it without them:

Scotty Baldinger

Judy Cinquina
Kyle Dudgeon
Walter Eberz
Denise Ferrell
John Haas
Bill Martocci
Curt McDermott
Ken McDermott
Karen Miller
Lance Verderame
~A pretty night for a Shortie in flight. Orange County, NY winter of 2016-2017.~

Mount Peter Hawkwatch, 10/29/16

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~GOLDEN EAGLE at Mount Peter Hawkwatch, 10/29/16.~ 

I was pretty sure that hawkwatch would be a dud this past Saturday. Southwest winds were in the forecast and the previous day’s count was on the low side (with a northwest wind!). Early on, it seemed like I was right; the watch got off to a very slow start, and I have to say, I was super cranky about it. I did not have a raptor of any sort for the first two hours and fifteen minutes, when I finally had a local Red-tailed Hawk hunting over the valley. Migrating birds started to trickle through shortly after that, but really, it was a slow day.

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~GOEA at Mt. Pete, 10/29/16.~ 

Things started looking up when I got a visit from Gerhard and Tracy Patsch. We had some interesting conversations, and they seemed to have brought one of the local Red-tails along with them. It was the first time that I’ve had a local “tail” perch and hunt in the viewing platform area. And then bird put on a final show for us, hanging in the air directly above the platform and not very high up. The three of us really enjoyed great looks and I took many photos.

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~Golden Eagle, apparently looking right at me?  Mount Peter Hawkwatch, 10/29/16.~

The highlight of the day came at 3:45 pm, when I counted just my 20th migrating raptor of the day, which was the GOLDEN EAGLE. I picked it up due north of the platform; it was distant but I knew immediately that it was an eagle and very shortly after that, that it was a Golden. As luck would have it, the bird flew slowly closer and passed at a nice easy pace right over the platform, circling several times before continuing due south. What a thrill it was, I am still freaking out about it a day later. The Golden Eagle is the 209th bird that I’ve had in Orange County this year. Here’s my report for the day:

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-5-38-29-pm

Official Counter: Matt Zeitler

Visitors: Gerhard and Tracy Patsch, Tricia Zeitler, Carrie and Cruz Craigmyle, Bill, Carolyn, Cameron, and Mackenzie Martocci.

Weather: Partly cloudy with a southwest wind. Temperatures ranged from 4 to 18 degrees Celsius.

Raptor Observations: It was a slow start; the first raptor observed was a local Red-tailed Hawk over 2 hours and 15 minutes into the watch. One female Northern Harrier and at 3:45 one immature Golden Eagle passed through, circling right over the view platform, giving amazing views.

Non Raptor Species: American Crow (28), Blue Jay (24), White-breasted Nuthatch (2), Black-capped Chickadee (9), American Robin (32), Common Raven (2), Cedar Waxwing (25), Tufted Titmouse (1), Downy Woodpecker (1), Pileated Woodpecker (1), Ring-billed Gull (1), Red-bellied Woodpecker (1), Eastern Bluebird (5), Canada Goose (6), European Starling (20).

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~GOEA at Mt. Pete Hawkwatch, 10/29/16.~
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~I know, a lot of Golden Eagle shots, but when will I get this opportunity again? GOEA at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, 10/29/16.~ 
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~This young Red-tailed Hawk put on quite a show. Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, 10/29/16.~ 
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~Going in for the kill, RTHA at Mount Peter Hawkwatch, 10/29/16. Unfortunately the bird came up empty on this attempt. 
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~Local Red-tailed Hawk cruising by, Mt. Pete Hawkwatch, 10/29/16.~ 
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~And, the local Tail checking out the situation from directly above the platform, Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, 10/29/16.~ 
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~RTHA at Mt. Pete 10/29/16.~ 
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And, finally, the obligatory Turkey Vulture photo. Even the vultures were sparse on this day at Mt. Pete, 10/29/16.~

Playing Catch Up, 5/30/16

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~Love this bird. Black-billed Cuckoo at Wickham Lake, 5/23/16.~

It’s Monday, but with the holiday weekend it feels like a Sunday to me, so I’m finally getting around to posting. I went out several times during the week, but without many noteworthy sitings or photos. The above Black-billed Cuckoo was an exception; it was taken last Monday at Wickham Lake.

On Friday Tricia and I went up north to Watertown, New York, where I made a site visit at a church to examine their stained glass. We took the opportunity to visit Tricia’s parents near Syracuse, which meant that on Saturday morning I got to go to one of my favorite birding spots: Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. I got a little bit of a late start and arrived at the refuge just after 9:30. I have never birded the refuge at this time of year, and I have to say with the hot temperatures and the amount of car birding one has to do at the refuge, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I usually do. I had 54 species for the day, but most of my looks seemed to be on the distant side. The best spot for birds was Knox-Marcellus Marsh, which I viewed from East Road, but the distance and the heat shimmer made identifying birds a real challenge. I saw reports later in the day from  Towpath Road, which runs along the south end of the marsh. I haven’t birded there in years, and it seems like folks may have gotten better looks from there. Best birds of the day: Sandhill Cranes, Trumpeter Swans (with cygnets!), Common Gallinules (many!), several pairs of Blue-winged Teal, and a Caspian Tern.

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~On my way back to Tricia’s mom’s place from Montezuma, I stopped at Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area and took a short walk. Red-eyed Vireo, 7/28/16. 
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~I got a nice look at a pair of Northern Shovelers from Wildlife Drive at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, 5/28/16.~ 
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~I learned something when I did my eBird report – This is likely a Bronzed Common Grackle. From eBird: Common Grackles… “breed largely east of the Rockies, and winter throughout the eastern half of the Lower 48. It is the only truly migratory grackle, abandoning the northern portions of its range from Nov-Feb, and augmenting resident breeders across the Southeast. It occurs only as a vagrant in the Pacific states, where it is often confused with the Brewer’s Blackbird. There are two types of Common Grackles that can generally be told apart by plumage. The ‘Bronzed Grackle’ (available in eBird as ‘Common Grackle (Bronzed)’) breeds throughout the northern and western portions of the species’ range, mainly west of the Appalachians. It is migratory, overlapping with the other forms during winter. Best told by its bronzy body plumage, it is generally distinctive, and was once considered a separate species.”~
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~Great-crested Flycatcher at Montezuma NWR, 5/28/16.~
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~Beautiful bird. Blue-winged Teal at Montezuma NWR, 5/28/16.~ 
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~Always a favorite of mine, one of several Pied-billed Grebes seen at Montezuma NWR, 7/28/16.~ 

This morning I got up early and, of course, it was raining steadily. I went to Sterling Forest State Park and walked the Sterling Valley Loop. The rain subsided after about an hour or so, which made for a better walk. It was a birdy hike, but most birds were heard and not seen, except in one area where the Sterling Valley Loop overlaps with the Sterling Lake Loop. I had my best looks at birds for the day there; it opens up a little bit with Sterling Lake on the right and a swampy area and a power-cut to the left. There was a breeze off of the lake and I finally got a break from the endless pestering of mosquitos. Then, I enjoyed great looks at a pair of Cerulean Warblers (but no pics!), several Cedar Waxwings, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (pics but distant), a very hungry Great Blue Heron (see below), Yellow Warblers, Baltimore Orioles, Wood Ducks, Chipping Sparrows, and even a fleeting look at an American Woodcock that I inadvertently flushed.

I had three target birds for the day, all birds that I needed for Orange County. They had all been reported in the area recently, and I got lucky with two of them: Acadian Flycatcher and Alder Flycatcher. Right where the Sterling Valley Loop and the Sterling Lake Loop go their separate ways, I first heard (“peeet-sah!”), and then saw the bird. About a half hour further down the trail I heard a call that I wasn’t sure of. I thought it was a flycatcher, but wasn’t sure. I was able to locate the bird and get photos and I later identified it as an Alder Flycatcher doing its “peep” or “pip” call, which I recored on my phone. The third was a Common Gallinule, which I had no luck with. Other than the relentless mosquitoes, it was a good hike and some decent birding.

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~Cedar Waxwing, with nesting materials, at Sterling Forest SP, 5/30/16.~
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~Great Blue Heron with a catfish. I did not stick around to see how this worked out…. Sterling Valley Loop, 5/30/16.~ 
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~Alder Flycatcher at Sterling Forest SP, 7/30/16.

Orange County Red-necked Grebes, 4/12/16

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~Two RED-NECKED GREBES  and a Tree Swallow doing a flyby at Wickham Lake, 4/12/16.~ 

QUICK POST: I was pretty excited today at work, when I received word from Rob Stone that he had located two RED-NECKED GREBES at Wickham Lake. A little later on, Karen Miller reported that there was a Horned Grebe and a Common Loon also present. I went for the birds after work, meeting up with Maria Loukeris and Linda Scrima. They had already located the 3 grebes but the loon was nowhere to be seen. We got excellent scope views of the Red-necked Grebes and took distant photos. The Horned Grebe was a bit further out and I didn’t even try for photos. The RNGRs were just beautiful to see and they made my day for sure.

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~On our way out, we ran into this Gray Ghost and I managed one halfway decent shot. Northern Harrier at Wickham Woodlands Town Park, 4/12/16.~ 

Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, 3/26/16

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~Beautiful duck! We had loads of Northern Pintails at Savannah Mucklands at Montezuma NWR, 3/26/16.~

I headed out Saturday morning with my brother-in-law Bill, and for the first time ever, I was disappointed by Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. But only a little bit. The problem is that Easter was so early this year that it was the first time I’ve been to the refuge in March. And Wildlife Drive doesn’t open until April 1st. Here it was, probably the nicest day of the year in Seneca County, and arguably the best part of the refuge was closed. Which didn’t make a bit of sense to me, and you can ask Bill, I was not in good humor about it. So, we birded from the visitor’s center viewing platform and then the rest of the refuge and we ended up having a pretty darn good day. The number one highlight of the day was undoubtedly getting Bill’s lifer SANDHILL CRANES. Not only did we finally get lucky with them, we found them only about 30 yards off the road! We got incredible looks at these big, beautiful birds. We also had three rarities on the day, all early birds for Seneca County: LESSER YELLOWLEGS (2), GREATER YELLOWLEGS (6), and GLOSSY IBIS (2). Huge thanks to Mark Fitzsimmons (who I had met while going for the Barrow’s Goldeneye in Ulster County earlier in the month). Bill and I ran into him at the visitor’s center; he was birding the refuge with his daughter and they gave us the heads-up on both the GRYE and the GLIB. We ended up with 44 species on the day and I wonder how many more we might have added if we had gotten to bird Wildlife Drive.

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~I love these birds, and I was really happy for Bill to finally see them. Sandhill Cranes at Montezuma NWR, 2/126/16.~

On Easter Sunday I had no plans to do any birding. Tricia and I took a walk with Bill’s oldest daughter Mackenzie through the neighborhood with their two dogs. It was early afternoon, around 2:00, when as we followed the path through a wooded area I heard a BARRED OWL calling. I didn’t believe it at first. We backtracked a little bit and luckily, I was able to locate the bird pretty quickly. We called Bill and Tricia’s sister Caroline and they met us out there. They brought my camera for me so I was able to get some shots, and Bill, Carol, and Mackenzie got their lifer Barred Owl! It was actually a pretty good walk, because prior to that, I had already seen 2 adult Cooper’s Hawks, a young Bald Eagle, and a slew of songbirds.

I wanted to mention that I finally updated the Species Photos 2016 page last week; I’ve increased the number of species photos from 34 to 62. And after posting this, I will increase it by two more when I add the Sandhill Cranes and the Northern Pintail photos. And lastly, I reached a modest milestone this weekend, getting my 100th subscriber to the blog; that made me happy for sure.

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~Barred Owl in Baldwinsville, NY 3/27/16.~ 

Wow, What a Day!

~This made Kyle Dudgeon happy - Northern Harrier in flight in the Black Dirt, 10/3/15.~
~This made Kyle Dudgeon happy – Northern Harrier in flight in the Black Dirt, 10/3/15.~

It was a rainy, wet and cold day for starters. I woke up early with the plan to get out early before heading up to Mt. Peter for my Saturday hawkwatch. I wanted to go to Owens Station Crossing to try for the tern I saw last night and also to try for the Red-necked Phalarope that Ken Witkowski had reported seeing in the back pool of the Liberty Loop. As I drove through a pretty steady rain, I was surprised to get a call from Maria Loukeris; she and Linda Scrima were already at Owens Station Crossing and wanted to try for the phalarope. And Marianne O. was on her way. Four birders out on the worst rainy morning in recent memory? Sounds good to me!

Shortly after arriving at Owens Station Crossing, I relocated the tern in the distance, perched on a stump in the lake. The tern flew for us one time (before I even had my camera out!!), but it gave us some good looks, coming closer in decent light. We were in agreement that the bird was likely a COMMON TERN. Perched, the bird did not stand tall and appeared to have a short neck, a hint of a dark carpal bar could be seen, dark primary/wing edges were very apparent, and the tail did not extending past wingtips. In flight, the wings were strongly angled back, and showed a dark trailing edge on the primaries.

We headed down the trail that leads to the back pond of the Liberty Loop. Shortly after arriving, Marianne located a Short-billed Dowitcher. Linda was the only one with a camera out due to the steady, continuing rain and she provided me with a photo of the bird. We continued to scan for quite a while, getting very wet and cold. Eventually, I located the RED-NECKED PHALAROPE in my scope! Marianne got on it quickly with her scope and Linda got a quick look in my scope, but unfortunately the bird disappeared into some grasses before Maria got her turn on a scope. It took a while to relocate the bird; when Marianne finally did, Maria got a look and we all got some better looks, but they were by no means good looks, through wet lenses and the bird coming and going through the vegetation. This was a life bird for both Maria and Linda, congrats to them both!

When we got back to the Owens Station Crossing parking lot, we could not relocate the Common Tern; had it moved on already? The weather was trying to break at this point, but the rain continued, just a little lighter than before.

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~Short-billed Dowitcher at the Liberty Loop Trail, Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, 10/3/15. Photo by Linda Scrima.~

I went home and changed into some dry clothes. It appeared that the rain might stop, so I was going to head to Mt. Peter. Once on the road, it became clear that it was still raining pretty good. Kyle Dudgeon was home from college for the weekend, we exchanged texts and decided to try to get the phalarope for him. We tried for a while at the back pond of the Liberty Loop, but we were unable to relocate the bird, even with the help of a Sussex County birder named Kevin who was out for the bird as well. Kyle and I decided to hit the black dirt to try for shorebirds (me) and raptors (Kyle). We were successful in both searches. American Kestrels were extremely numerous, we didn’t keep count but figured by the evening that we had seen over 30 kestrels! We also saw several Northern Harriers including one Gray Ghost, and we had one immature Bald Eagle fly over. For shorebirds we struggled for the most part with not many being seen, but eventually Kyle’s young eyes located three birds I am thinking might have been BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS; I’ve included a photo of one them below.  And then a little later, way out in a field he spotted 23 AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS! (Several of these birds lifted their wings to show wing pits that were not dark). What a day of birding! Crazy weather and awesome birds; it’s usually a good combination.

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~I have this as a Black-bellied Plover – the bill and head look large enough to me?  I’m not sure why I struggle so much to differentiate the plovers?! Any thoughts on this bird would certainly be appreciated.  Black Dirt Region, 10/3/15.~

A Serious Case of PFBS

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~Blue-winged Warbler at Sterling Forest State Park, Ironwood Road, 5/16/15.~

Since my return from Florida I have gotten out and done a lot of local birding whereI have seen and heard many birds, yet it has not felt overly fulfilling. I was thinking about it today and that’s when I realized that I am not well; I am suffering from a case of Post Florida Birding Syndrome. A while back, Linda Scrima warned me that this would happen. Who would have guessed that it would difficult to transition from taking super close-up photos of multiple life birds every day to trying to locate the smallest of birds among the leaves in the highest treetops?

The good news is that I think I’ve found a remedy:  I’m thinking back on all the amazing first-of-the-year birds that I’ve had in the eight days since I’ve been back. The list is 50 species long just for Orange County! What better indication is there of all the great birding that is going on right now? And the Mearns Bird Club had their BREAK 100 event this weekend; every team but one had over 100 species in 24 hours! How awesome is that? Additionallhy, while they were not Florida-close, I did manage to get some decent photos during the week. It makes me think about what a great pastime birding is, how there are amazing birds at every turn and that you never know what the next big thing will be.

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~Scarlet Tanager at Pochuck Mountain State Forest, 5/17/15.~
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~An American Redstart sings his heart out at Pochuck Mountain State Forest, 5/16/15.~
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~I got my lifer GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER on Thursday with no photos. When I went back on Saturday I managed to get at least a usable shot. Sterling Forest State Park, Ironwood Drive 5/16/15.~

For those that are interested, these are the new birds added to my Orange County List in the last eight days:

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 5.11.13 PM

Florida 2015 – Bunche Beach

*Click on photos to enlarge.*

~This was definitely THE bird for me at Bunche Beach. MARBLED GODWIT at Bunche Beach, 5/8/15.~
~This was definitely THE bird for me at Bunche Beach. MARBLED GODWIT at Bunche Beach, 5/8/15.~

I love shorebirds. I really love shorebirds, but boy can they be difficult to identify. Especially when you are at a beach in another state a thousand miles away and you really haven’t done your homework.

I got several recommendations to go to Bunche Beach while I was in Florida, and I ended up going there early in the morning on two different days. On the first day, the number of shorebird species I had was on the low side; two photographers were there ahead of me and were literally chasing the birds around. I did better on the second day when I basically had the beach to myself. What a great joy to have all these beautiful shorebirds in perfect, gorgeous light. But then, of course, you have to identify them. I struggled as I sorted through the birds, but I think I eventually figured them all out. Here is my list of shorebirds I had for the two days; if you see any of the photos here misidentified, please comment to help me get it right – thanks! Life birds are in all caps.

American Oystercatcher
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Willet
MARBLED GODWIT
Ruddy Turnstone
RED KNOT
Sanderling
Dunlin
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher

~Always cute, a Semipalmated Plover cruises the shoreline at Bunche Beach, 5/8/15.~
~Always cute, a Semipalmated Plover cruises the shoreline at Bunche Beach, 5/8/15.~
~I saw many Willets in the week that we were down in Florida, so they were becoming a bit blasé for me, but I liked this flight photo. Bunch Beach, 5/8/15.~
~I saw many Willets in the week that we were down in Florida; I caught this one in flight at Bunch Beach, 5/8/15.~
~I love this American Oystercatcher, it has such striking colors! I have not altered the saturation of this photo at all - it has been cropped, the highlights reduced a bit, and then sharpened at the eye and bill. Bunch Beach, 5/8/15.~
~I love this American Oystercatcher, it has such striking colors! I have not altered the saturation of this photo at all – it has been cropped, the highlights reduced a bit, and then sharpened at the eye and bill. Bunch Beach, 5/8/15.~
~This was one of my tougher ID's - I have it as a Short-billed Dowitcher. The size seemed right for this and I looked at other reports from Bunche Beach earlier in the week and SBDOs were on several lists. At Bunche Beach on 5/7/15.~
~This was one of my tougher ID’s – I have it as a Short-billed Dowitcher. The size seemed right for this and I looked at other reports from Bunche Beach earlier in the week and SBDOs were on several lists. At Bunche Beach on 5/7/15.~
~A MARBLED GODWIT takes a short flight. Bunche Beach, 5/8/25.~
~A MARBLED GODWIT takes a short flight. Bunche Beach, 5/8/25.~
~There were plenty of Dunlin present on both days, Bunche Beach 5/7/15.~
~There were plenty of Dunlin present on both days, Bunche Beach 5/7/15.~
~I think I am getting a handle on this bird (but maybe I'm wrong!). Sanderling at Bunche Beach, 5/7/15.~
~I think I am getting a handle on this bird (but maybe I’m wrong!). Sanderling at Bunche Beach, 5/7/15.~
~Black-bellied Plover and reflection. Bunche Beach, 5/7/15.~
~Black-bellied Plover and reflection. Bunche Beach, 5/7/15.~
~I have this bird as a RED KNOT, but may it's not (ha ha). To me there's nothing special about this photo but I wanted to include it to see if anyone would confirm it as a Red Knot. Bunche Beach, 5/8/15.~
~I have this bird as a RED KNOT, but may it’s not (ha ha). To me there’s nothing special about this photo but I wanted to include it to see if anyone would confirm it as a Red Knot. Bunche Beach, 5/8/15.~

Bunche Beach is a great location and I had more good birds than just the shorebirds. I enjoyed watching a large group of Black Skimmers flying in unison over the water in the distance; I estimated at least 65 birds were there. When they came to rest on a distant sandbar, I noticed that there were approximately a dozen ROYAL TERNS there as well. I also did well with wading birds, including: Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, REDDISH EGRET, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, and five ROSEATE SPOONBILLS did a flyby on that second morning. Beautiful birds!

~This one's for Tricia - Little Blue Heron just after sunrise. Bunche Beach 5/7/15.~
~This one’s for Tricia – Little Blue Heron just after sunrise. Bunche Beach 5/7/15.~
~A Tricolored Heron hunts along the shoreline. Bunche Beach, 5/8/15.~
~A Tricolored Heron hunts along the shoreline. Bunche Beach, 5/8/15.~
~(Hopefully) Short-billed Dowitchers at Bunche Beach, 5/8/15. I think the bird behind the central SBDO and to the left is the bird I have identified as a RED KNOT in an above photo.~
~(Hopefully) Short-billed Dowitchers at Bunche Beach, 5/8/15. I think the bird behind the central SBDO and to the left is the bird I have identified as a RED KNOT in an above photo.~