I was pleasantly surprised with a decent flight today at Mount Peter Hawkwatch. This week nearly 5,400 Broad-winged Hawks were counted at the watch, and I just sort of had the feeling that there wouldn’t be many birds passing through today on a very light (1 mph) northwest wind. While it wasn’t a huge number, I was happy to count 215 BWHAs in what was a tough sky – nearly all blue with almost no cloud cover. Huge thanks to fellow counters that helped – Judy Cinquina, Tom Millard, and BA McGrath. I’ve included my report for HMANA (Hawk Migration Association of North America) at the bottom of this post.
On Saturday, I had my first day as official counter at Mt. Peter for the season. I’m cutting back a little this year and not doing every Saturday, so when the schedule came out in August and I saw I had the 14th of September, I was excited – primetime for Broad-winged Hawks! Little did I know then that conditions and weather would conspire against me to deliver my least productive day of counting at Mt. Pete ever. I had a paltry 2 (!) migrating raptors all day. It rained periodically. Even the local Red-tailed Hawks and vultures took the day off for the most part. On the positive side, I did have a Broad-winged Hawk perched in the parking lot when I arrived, as well as a nice mixed flock of warblers that worked the area all day (Yellow-rumped, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, and American Redstart).
On Sunday I went to the Winding Waters trail at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge to try for warblers. I did alright, in spite of a late start, with 9 species of warbler:
- Northern Waterthrush
- Black-and-white Warbler
- Nashville Warbler
- Common Yellowthroat
- American Redstart
- Northern Parula
- Magnolia Warbler
- Yellow-rumped Warbler
- Black-throated Green Warbler
I also spend some time at Mt. Peter, where the birds were actually flying on Sunday. It wasn’t an amazing flight, but there were enough birds to keep it interesting. And I was able to get a Broad-winged Hawk in flight. All in all, not a bad weekend for birding in the OC.
It was really great to have the day off, and I thought that the conditions and the timing would be pretty darn good for some interesting shorebirds in the black dirt today (Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, American Golden-plovers were among my targets). Alas, in spite of searching while the storms were passing through our area, and afterwards as well, I came up empty. I even struck out with the STILT SANDPIPER at Beaver Pond (I’m thinking that bird has likely moved on as I know of a couple folks that went for it without success).
Fortunately there were enough raptors around to provide a couple decent photo ops. And I was entertained by a young Green Heron trying to swallow an absolutely massive frog. It swallowed the entire frog, except for its two back feet, only to regurgitate the entire thing and then have success on the 2nd try. It’s back to work for me tomorrow morning – that ought to bring some shorebirds in.
Since I have Ruffed Grouse on the brain this weekend, I headed out early this morning to the only other location where I’ve seen the bird: Hickok Brook Multiple Use Area in Sullivan County. I didn’t have any luck with RUGR, (I knew I’d have to get lucky to come across one), but I was happy to get back to a spot that I’d only been to one other time, two years ago. It was a sunny, cool morning with a little bit of a breeze blowing. I took a nice, long, comfortable walk; the trails are mostly wide open and flat which makes for some good birding conditions. It was a birdy morning and I had 35 species on my list, with most birds being heard and not seen. I remembered having a similar experience last time I was there, but really, to me it’s pretty normal for summertime birding. Highlights for me were mostly raptors, including my second Barred Owl of the weekend, this one was heard but not seen. I also had a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks calling and also a pair of Broad-winged Hawks – I heard them first and then watched one shoot through the woods in the distance. I know that I missed some birds out there today – it’s hard to bird by ear for me when I’m a little bit outside of Orange County as I’m not entirely sure which birds to expect. I decided to not worry about it too much and just enjoyed a nice walk in the woods.
I arrived at Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge just after sunrise this morning. I was happy – a steady snow was falling, it was cold but not uncomfortably so, and I was the only one there. I walked the trails for a little while; I heard coyotes off in the distance. As the sun started to rise, I noticed a few of the Northern Harriers had started to fly, so I headed into the “Bobolink” blind and waited. But, the snow seemed to keep the harriers from flying like they have been recently, and it was songbirds that stole the show for me. I had several American Tree Sparrows just off to my right; every once in a while one would perch up on a bush. A Savannah Sparrow flew in front of the blind, perched briefly and then disappeared into the grasses. A trio of Northern Flickers spent some time in the tree directly in front of the blind, before flying south and finding another tree out in the middle of the grasslands. Then I heard a call I was hoping to hear all morning – Eastern Meadowlarks! A group of nine had landed in the ‘flicker tree’ and were gently calling.
I then walked the trails for a while, covering a good portion of the north end of the refuge. The snow eventually stopped and the refuge had a different feel, much brighter and warmer. The harriers remained relatively sparse on my walk although I did see a distant “Gray Ghost” flying over near Galeville Park. An Eastern Bluebird perched in a tree right alongside the trail. Four Black Vultures circled directly overhead. When I arrived back near the parking area, I ran into one of my favorite people: Ralph Tabor. We caught up for a while and enjoyed the birds at the feeder station. A Brown Creeper made its way up a tree just to the right of the feeders; I’m pretty sure it’s the first one I’ve ever had in Ulster County. Ralph then spotted a Short-eared Owl in the distance, being harassed by some American Crows. As I walked back towards my car, the crows flushed a second Shorty and I was able to get some photos before both owls settled down again. It was great morning of birding; it far exceeded my expectations when I headed out this morning.
You know how certain birds just do it for you? That’s how it was today with this Rough-legged Hawk; it is the best looking bird I’ve seen in a long while. What I wouldn’t have done for a decent photograph of this bird. I had several fantastic scope views of this bird perched, and it just blew me a way; there’s just something about the bird’s pale, vanilla colored head that is just gorgeous to me. Who knows, maybe our paths will cross again and things will work out differently…
As I drifted off to sleep on Friday night, I came up with a birding plan for Saturday. I would hit the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR at sunrise for some “sure thing” birding (with an outside shot at the Northern Shrike), then head up to Dutchess County to try for the Golden Eagles that have been reported there this winter, and finally, on my way home stop at the Newburgh Waterfront to try for gull (Glaucous and Iceland had both been reported earlier in the week.
I had a great stop at the grasslands, I spent some time in a blind which gave me a couple of nice photo ops (in addition to the accommodating Northern Harrier perched right near the parking area). NOHAs are still numerous, and I also had 2 Rough-legged Hawks (distant), and from the blind I watched approximately 10 Eastern Meadowlarks work their way around the refuge. I tried for the N. Shrike from the Galeville Park side, but had no luck.
From there, I headed up to Dutchess County to try for the Golden Eagles. I was able to get views of two birds I believe were Goldens – a young bird (100%, see photo below), and a possible adult (totally silhouetted, but the head/neck size looked really good to me). Additionally, I had a handful of Red-tailed Hawks, a Cooper’s Hawk, and several Bald Eagles, including a young bird which was enjoying a meal in a tree right off the road:
My final stop at the Newburgh Waterfront was pretty much a bust, other than running into two of my favorite birding buds, Bruce Nott and Kathy Ashman. It was a beautiful night and while it was fun to sift through the gulls, we came up with nothing other than the expected three species: Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed. It was a good day of birding for me – some good birds, some decent photo ops, and a little bit of good camaraderie.
QUICK POST: I got out this morning into the early afternoon. I started at sunrise in a blind at the Shawangunk Grasslands, ran for the GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE in Wallkill, and then ended up in the black dirt. It was cold but for the most part the light was great for photos and the birds were pretty cooperative, which made for a nice day.
I’m still not sure what my birding goals or focus will be this year. I know that I would like to reduce the importance of listing in Orange County and branch out a little bit more. I was feeling similarly last year at this time, and as fate would have it, I got on a roll with OC birds and ended up running with it. It’s still a work in progress, but here are some of the things I’d like to focus in 2019:
- Do more birding out of Orange County, and even NYS for that matter. I love listing, especially in OC, but I’m going to try and take a year off. I’ll still report and keep my lists, it just won’t be the main focal point.
- Focus more on bird behavior. Often when I run around for birds, I fail to take the time to observe and enjoy their behavior to any large extent.
- Work on my photography. As I went through all my posts for 2019 (looking for top 10 photos), I felt like maybe I’d taken a step backwards. I didn’t have as many shots that I REALLY liked; maybe I’m getting more and more picky, but that can be a good thing.
So, those are my starting points. But, I’m curious to hear from you: what are your goals for your birding this year? What will you focus on? What is it about birding that makes you the most happy? Do you even think about it in these terms, or do you just go out birding? Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts on this… thanks!
This morning I finally caught up with my latest nemesis bird, that confounded Winter Wren. Kathy Ashman contacted me yesterday to let me know that she’d seen yet another WIWR on the trail at Glenmere Lake (she has been reporting them there and at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary all fall and winter). I’ve tried for this bird many times, but come up empty each time. This morning, as I walked in the freshly fallen snow, I played a hunch. There is a little off-shoot from the main trail, not far from the pavilion. I’d only walked it one other time but I remembered there was much brushy habitat, the sort that Winter Wrens like. As I walked the trail, I could here some bird activity. I pished and several Black-capped Chickadees and a bunch of Dark-eyed Juncos made their presence known. I continued to pish from time to time and eventually I saw a smaller, darker bird disappear into the brush. I tried to keep track of the bird, but I lost it. Eventually it revealed itself, and sure enough it was a wren. But my looks were brief and I wasn’t sure which wren it was. I waited it out; I was begging that bird (in my mind) to come out into the open, and sure enough it finally did! Winter Wren with pics! It’s my 228th species in Orange County this year, so I was thrilled.
I spent the rest of the day trying for any possible last minute OC birds for the year. I was unsuccessful, but the birding was pretty darn good. At Wickham Lake, I located two LONG-TAILED DUCKS. It was busy on the lake, as 12 (yes at least 12, maybe more!) Bald Eagles were keeping all the birds on their feet. I’ve never seen that many eagles at Wickham Lake before, and I don’t have any explanation for them being there today.
From there, I headed to the Hudson River. Again, I did not pick up any new birds, but I stopped at the Storm King pull off on Route 9W, and the GOLDEN EAGLE was there, on its usual perch. In Newburgh, I sorted through a decent number of gulls, but only came up with the expected species (Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed). The best bird there was a single male Red-breasted Merganser, swimming with a number of Common Mergansers. What a great way to end my birding for 2018! Huge thanks to Kathy for helping me with the Winter Wren.