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.
Well, as we all know, timing is crucial when it comes to birding. This week my timing went from poor to excellent. It initially looked to me like I might miss out on seeing the EURASIAN WIGEON that John Haas located on Thursday. Instead, the bird stuck around and when I arrived first thing this morning, it was relatively close to the road and the light was beautiful! I was very excited about this. Wilma Amthor joined me shortly after my arrival, and shortly after that we had a small crowd of birders on the bird, including Diane Bliss, Karen Miller, Scotty Baldinger, Kevin Kreischer, and of course, John. It’s been several years since I’ve seen a Eurasian Wigeon (2014), and I’d forgotten what an absolutely gorgeous bird it is. Additionally, this is my first time seeing the bird in New York State.
I spent the remainder of the morning and the early afternoon at the Bashakill and every bird was a year bird for the county since it was my first birding foray into Sullivan County for 2018. I was happy that John offered for me to join him to check out the Pine Boat Launch; my car never would have made it down that treacherous pothole-filled road. John also gave a tip to go to the Horseshoe Pulloff for a Winter Wren. The bird was exactly where he said it would be; it was singing but never made an appearance. I managed to get 2 Orange County nemeses birds today: Winter Wren and Fox Sparrow, and I totaled 40 species for the day, which I felt was pretty good. Huge thanks to John for finding and reporting the wigeon, and also for his help and company today.
Since my shift at the Bashakill Area Association’s Nature Watch didn’t start until 10, I decided to kayak the Bash beforehand. Nature Watch is a great program that I have participated in for years now – basically, trained volunteers such as myself set up viewing scopes at the main boat launch to help educate visitors about the nesting Bald Eagles and Osprey at the Bashakill. Click here to read more about it.
It was a gray, slightly foggy morning at the Bash. I paddled from 6:30 t0 9:30 and it was quite birdy, mostly with the usuals. My main target was LEAST BITTERN, which I heard very well, but never did get to see. The bird was calling in the vegetation just feet from my kayak, but was too well hidden, which was simultaneously exciting and frustrating. Also exciting was a BARRED OWL, which called several times in the distance, and an ACADIAN FLYCATCHER with its excellent call of “peet-sah!”. Photo ops were few and far between for some reason, and the poor lighting meant I had the ISO cranked up so I wasn’t really happy with most of what I took. An adult Bald Eagle did fly in and perch nearby, allowing for a halfway decent shot (see above).
I joined Karen Miller and Lara Sheikh as volunteers for Nature Watch, which was slower than usual as far as visitors go, but pretty exciting as far as the birding. A GREAT EGRET, was first seen by a visitor and then we got our scopes on it. A pair of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers came and went from the main boat launch the entire time; apparently feeding on the willow tree they were visiting. The two young eaglets were on and around the nest, flapping like mad to get ready to fledge. Karen located a Yellow-throated Vireo that provided great looks. Towards the end of our shift we had a Broad-winged Hawk calling from the woods up near the road. Eventually the hawk flew out of the woods with some sort of large prey in its grasp. After the shift was over, on my way out, I relocated the BWHA and managed to get a photo. Overall it was a good morning of birding for me with plenty of good birds to keep it interesting. I had 50 species of bird in the 6 1/2 hours I spent at the Bash.
ALSO: While I was at the Bash, I was notified by Rob Stone that he had a DICKCISSEL in the black dirt, so I ran for that bird in the afternoon. I managed only a brief, distant look, but what a great bird for OC! Huge thanks to Rob, as usual. Documentary photo below.
My birding time was a little bit limited this weekend, but I did manage to do some early morning birding today at the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area. I had plans to meet up at the Bash with Linda Louise to do water-testing a little later in the morning, so I got up early to fit some birding in before that. I stopped at Haven Road, I walked the Birch Trail briefly, and I spent most of my time at the Nature Trail. The Bash was birdy with plenty of the usuals but nothing unexpected. Highlights for me included getting excellent binocular looks at a Common Gallinule from the Birch Trail and also of a rather bedraggled looking Broad-winged Hawk that flew over while Linda and I were water-testing at the fishing dock at the southern end of the Bash. In the end, between birding and water-testing, I had a total of 44 species.
QUICK POST: Yesterday John Haas texted me that there was a Tundra Swan at the Main Boat Launch at the Bashakill. I was going to run for it after work, but instead I went to the Celery Farm in Bergen County to try for the Yellow-throated Warbler that has been seen there (the YTWA would have been a lifer, but I dipped on it in a frustrating afternoon). Meanwhile, yesterday evening they got better looks at the swan; Linda Scrima and Bruce Nott both got photos that seemed to indicate TRUMPETER instead. The bird cooperated this morning and John Haas and Karen Miller got good looks and good photos and it ends up the bird is a Trumpeter – the first ever record in Sullivan County! I ran for the bird this afternoon and I joined John at the boat launch; the bird was a little distant but we still got really good scope looks of the bird. The large straight bill, the heavy connection of the bill to the eye, and the forehead that closely matches the slope of the bill were all very evident. It was harder to see that where the bill meets the head it is pointed (as opposed to rounded in Tundra), but I could see hints of it in John’s photos. Back in 2012 I did a post comparing the two swans – check it out here.
For the complete story on this bird, check out John’s blog.
In an effort to beat the heat and catch the good light, Kyle picked me up at my house at 5:30 this morning. We loaded up the kayaks and headed for Morningside Park, which is undoubtedly the best local spot to photograph shorebirds. We arrived just after 6:30 and the air was relatively cool and the light was perfect. We paddled out to the islands where throughout the morning we had 5 species of shorebird:
Semipalmated Sandpiper (2)
Least Sandpiper (6)
Wilson’s Snipe (1)
Solitary Sandpiper (1)
Spotted Sandpiper (1)
As usual, the peeps were super cooperative for photos. The other birds not so much, although I was able to get one shot of the snipe. We spent some time shooting the peeps and also just paddling around the lake to see what other birds might be around – we totaled 27 species on the lake for the morning.
On our way back we stopped at the Bashakill; I had to meet up with Linda Lou Bartle and we figured we’d do some quick birding while we were there. Surprisingly, it was a great morning for raptors there, we had:
Turkey Vulture (1)
Red-tailed Hawk (1)
Red-shouldered Hawk (3)
Broad-winged Hawk (2)
Cooper’s Hawk (1)
Bald Eagle (3)
You know with all those raptors that Kyle and I were both very happy! Hawkwatch starts in less than 3 weeks!
This morning, I joined forces with John Haas and we birded the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area by kayak. We had a very enjoyable paddle with a decent number of birds (32 species), but we had no luck finding our target bird, the Least Bittern. I’m not sure at what point a bird becomes a nemesis bird, but I am certainly starting to think Least Bittern is officially a nemesis bird for me.
In spite of dipping on the LEBI, it was a fun morning of birding. It is awesome to bird with John, he is really great company and an absolute wealth of birding knowledge; every time I bird with him, I learn so much. Plus we did alright with some of the more expected birds: Eastern Kingbirds were numerous and seemed to be at every bend in the channel, we heard at least 10 Common Gallinules, saw 2 Belted Kingfishers, and we got really great looks at one adult and two young Bald Eagles.
In the afternoon, I received a call from Ken McDermott; he had a SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER at the viewing platform at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I jumped into the car and made my way out there, but unfortunately the bird had flown north shortly before my arrival. Ken also had a Lesser Yellowlegs a little earlier, which had also moved on. So, I joined Ken and Maria Loukeris (who had also run for and missed the SBDO) for a while and we had an interesting afternoon/evening of birding. Shorebird highlights included Spotted Sandpiper (2), Solitary Sandpiper (2), Least Sandpiper (4), and many Killdeer, including 4 chicks. Other than shorebirds, we had many Great Blue Herons, several Green Herons, Cedar Waxwings, and one of the last birds of the day was an adult Bald Eagle that flew directly over the platform. The 2 Great Egrets that I had there earlier in the week were nowhere to be seen. All in all, a good day of birding, with the promise that shorebird migration is already underway! Huge thanks to Ken for the call.
I broke out the kayak for the first time of the year this morning. I put in at the Bashakill’s Deli Fields boat launch just before 7:00 am and headed northeast, thus starting what ended up being a six hour paddle. I was hoping for some decent photographs, and I had three target birds for the morning: Pied-billed Grebe, Common Gallinule, and Least Bittern. Actually, the Least Bittern was my main goal, and I would have been happy just to catch a glimpse since I have never even seen this bird yet. Pied-billed Grebes, unfortunately were a no-show. Common Gallinules were vocal and I eventually caught a glimpse of one bird, but I was unable to get any photos. I had an interesting brush with a Least Bittern; early on in my paddle, I heard one calling. I followed the sound and eventually pinpointed where it was coming from. Unfortunately, the bird was in very thick vegetation with almost no visibility. I tried to see if I could approach it from the other side, but again the vegetation was too dense. It was both exciting and frustrating; the bird was so close but as I tried to wait it out, I started to realize how unlikely it would be for the bird to come out into the channel. After a while the bird went quiet and I decided to continue with my paddle (I eventually heard a second Least Bittern, but this one was distant and deep into the vegetation).
I ended up paddling all the way to Haven Road; I had many birds along the way but most of them were heard and not seen. I passed underneath the Bald Eagles’ nest and heard the young calling. Further on, I saw an adult Osprey perched just off the nest. At one point, I watched a Cooper’s Hawk fly clear across the Bash with Red-winged Blackbirds on its tail. The hawk never flew more than a foot above the vegetation as it bobbed and weaved trying to ditch the blackbirds. At Haven Road I paddled to the east side of the Bash, hoping to hear the Hooded Warbler that has been in that area, which I did, and then, to my surprise I also heard a Barred Owl calling in the distance. And then right after that, I had a pair of Red-shouldered hawks flying above the trees.
I turned around and meandered my way back to the Deli Fields boat launch. I figure that I probably paddled nearly 10 miles in 6 hours and I was sore, mostly in my back. I ended up with 54 species for the day, which didn’t seem too bad to me.
This afternoon I joined Karen Miller as we took our first shift of the season volunteering for the Bashakill Area Association sponsored Nature Watch Program. I believe it is my fourth year volunteering for the program, which monitors the Bald Eagle and Osprey nests at the Bashakill. On Saturdays and Sundays from late April until the end of June, spotting scopes are set up to view both of the nests and volunteers are on hand to answer questions. You can click here to read more about the program which I featured in a blog post a few years back.
When we arrived, there was an adult Bald Eagle near the nest with the two very large eaglets. And, we learned from the morning shift that the adult Osprey appeared to have been feeding young in the nest before we arrived. While we were there, the young eagles were hopping around and really giving their wings a workout, flapping like mad!
It was a pair of Common Gallinules, however, that stole the show for me. We got absolutely fantastic looks at the birds out in front of the boat launch. Typically (in my experience) much more secretive, we enjoyed good looks of the birds throughout our 3 hour shift. I had my scope out and kept it on one of the birds for folks to get a look, and I also shot some video through it using my iPhone, which I’ll include at the bottom of this post. What a super bird and so great to get such amazing looks.
Kyle Dudgeon and I got an early start and spent the morning and early afternoon birding at the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area. I was sort of stumped on where to bird for the day, and when Kyle suggested the Bash, I jumped at the opportunity – it had been ages since I’d been there. We had a really fun and productive outing as we checked out several of the Bashakill’s hotspots. Our best stop of the morning was definitely the Nature Trail, where from the viewing platform saw the two adult Bald Eagles share a brief flight and then watched a single Red-shouldered Hawk flyover. It got really good on our walk back to the car when we had a nice flurry of activity that included several Purple Finches and at least five Fox Sparrows! Photos were backlit and tough, but it was really exciting to see both species.
Another good stop was at the Deli Fields. The birding was a little slow (although we did see an additional 3 Fox Sparrows), but we ran into Scotty Baldinger, who I hadn’t seen in a while. I introduce him to Kyle and it was really good to shoot the breeze and catch up with Scotty.
It was a great day, it was awesome to get back out to the Bash, and we ended the day with a total of 37 species. I’ve included our species list below.
American Black Duck