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.
Judy Cinquina runs the Mount Peter Hawkwatch. She is a fabulous leader and she does an excellent write up at the end of each season. It’s an interesting read for sure and I’ve included a few recent raptor photos which I haven’t had a opportunity to post yet. Thanks so much to Judy for everything she does at the watch and for sharing her report.
MOUNT PETER 2018 by Judith Cinquina
Twenty four days of bad weather shortened the 2018 Mount Peter Hawk Watch to 418 hours between September 1 and November 15, but produced a healthy 8,529 raptors, averaging 20.4 per hour. Highlights of the 74-day count included record Red-shouldered and Cooper’s Hawks, daily records for the Turkey Vulture and Red-shoulder and an encouraging increase in the once common American Kestrel. Results for the N. Harrier, however, remained depressing. Although the Rough-legged Hawk failed to show up for the eighth consecutive season, Golden Eagles and Goshawks sprinkled a bit of glitter on our 61st season.
September seemed a never-ending series of fog, drizzle, rain, heat and weak winds from the wrong direction, yet our 11 volunteer leaders persisted and ticked off 5,071 Broad-winged Hawks, most of them pepper specks at the edge of invisibility. Matt Zeitler drew the best day and counted 1,257 on the 22nd with a light NW wind. October, however, was kinder and graced us with a few record scores and rarities. The 213 Red-shouldered Hawks beat out our old record of 165 from 2012 (90 adult, 21 immature and 102 unknown). Most moved through between October 19 and November 4 on strong NW winds. Just to be contrary, light S winds generated a new daily record of 28 Shoulders on October 26 for Denise Farrell. That wiped out the record 27 scored November 4, 2017 by Matt. This species has gone through low and high seasons for decades, but since 2012 has been on an upward swing. The 508 Red-tailed Hawks was an improvement over last season but a far cry from the record 905 scored in 2003. Nick Bolgiano wrote in the 2012 season’s Hawk Migration Studies –Vol. 38, No. 2 that Red-tails in the Kittatinny Ridge corridor are “short-stopping” or not migrating as far south as their ancestors or not migrating at all. In that same area Christmas Bird Counts have seen an increase in Red-tails. According to Bolgiano, the same thing holds for the no-show Rough-legged Hawks.
The 1,469 Sharp-shinned Hawks was better than the 841 that graced the 2017 season, but remains part of a downward trend in the Northeast. Our only three-digit count was on October 12 with 173 on strong northwest winds. Their cousin the Cooper’s Hawks has been increasing, evidenced by our new record of 176 that squelched the 165 tallied in 2012. This species hit triple digit tallies beginning in 1990 and has been increasing ever since all over the Northeast. The much rarer Goshawk made two appearances this season.Both Ajit Anthony and Will Test bagged immature Goshawks, Ajit on October 17 and Will on November 14, on brisk west and northwest winds. Both Gos provided close views, and Will, who endured below freezing temperatures and howling 20 m/h winds, stated that the sighting warmed him up a bit.
After three seasons of two-digit counts, the American Kestrel bounced back to a three-digit 159 ( 35 male, 27 female, 97 unknown). That’s good news for this little falcon, although it can’t approach the 592 totaled in 1981. Most moved through between October 12 and 24, a very late peak for this species. Denise garnered the best day with 41 on strong NW winds on the 12th, a day that produced many Kestrels all over the Northeast including 5,406 at Cape May. Mount Peter is not a falcon lookout, so the 15 Merlin, although a bit below average, were a treat, especially the three Tom Millard tallied October 30. Peregrines brought in our second best score ever, with 23 noted. The record 26 was made just last season, so this species is on the up-swing after practically disappearing in the 1960’s. Ajit Antony and Bill O’Keefe each scored three Peregrines on September 19 and 30 respectively.
After five mediocre seasons, the Osprey produced a bit of a bounce with 134 noted but the tally remains under our 10-year average. Bill O’Keefe nabbed the best count of 19, September 20 on weak NE winds. The elegant N. Harrier barely made it over our lookout with a mere 35 spotted this fall (3 male, 9 female, 8 immature and 15 unknown). Bald Eagles came in at an above-average 112 (58 adult, 51 immature and 3 unknown). We also had 58 Bald Eagle visitors who weren’t counted and headed north. Sometimes a pair would entertain us, interacting and flirting and distracting us from counting real migrants. Others accompanied true migrants past the platform then headed back north. Matt Zeitler observed 10 on September 29 that weren’t counted, five of them adults flying north together. Six Golden Eagles were shared by leaders this season: 2 adult, 4 immature.Rick Hansen reported a young Golden appeared over the lookout at 8:45 a.m. November 10, sat on the updraft along the west side and stooped into the valley and disappeared. The next day, a young Golden almost slipped by to the east, where trees block our view but was spotted at the last second by Jeanne Cimorelli and Tomorrow Millard.
Turkey Vultures produced their 2nd best tally ever, with 504 counted. Denise Farrell netted the record day with 88 on strong NW winds, October 12. Black Vultures muddled along with 79 tallied. Up to five local Ravens were with us almost daily, and Rick Hansen counted seven migrating past the lookout November 10. A moderate 307 Monarch Butterflies were recorded, along with a mere 13 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Once again, Denise had the big Canada Goose day of 1,884 on October 5. Only 5,081 were counted for the season. Matt had the only Brant with 250 on October 13, and he also scored the most Blue Jays on September 22 with 600 noted. The season produced 1,628. Between September 1 and October 24, we tallied 458 Double-crested Cormorants, including Ken Witkowski’s 417 on September 24. Nine C. Loons were spotted this season heading towards Greenwood Lake. Other birds of interest included:
We can’t thank our friends and visitors enough for their support, especially on high, blue days when even eagles were invisible to the naked eye or overcast days when the wind howled and every migrant shot like an arrow past the watch. A special shout out goes to Bill Connolly, John and Liz Sherry and Rob Stone for their many hours of spotting and company, and a big welcome to new leader JeanneCimorelli. Our 61st count was enriched by all of you.We our indebted to our clean-up crew Denise Farrell, Rick Hansen, Tom Millard and Gabriele Schmitt and to the Fyke Nature Association of Bergen County, NJ who supplied our insurance. Here’s hoping that the NYDEC Region 3 Foresters can do something about the trees that block our view of low migrants to the SE of the platform before next season and that the pot-holed dirt track to our lot can be improved.We our indebted to Fyke for sponsoring our count and to all who supported our site on Hawkcount.org. We continue as the oldest, continually run, all-volunteer fall watch in the country.
I had to break tradition this year on Black Friday. Due to the recent substantial snowfall, Wildlife Drive at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge was closed, so I decided to try a new spot. I headed to Onondaga Lake Park’s West Shore Trail to follow up on recent eBird reports of COMMON REDPOLLS there. I’d never been to the park; I found the parking area easily enough and as soon as I got out of my car, a local photographer named Tim was kind enough to give me the lay of the land. There is a network of trails that run along the shore of the lake and around the amphitheater. Tim went off on his own, but we met up not too much later and we ended up spending the rest of the day birding together. The trail was birdy with many of “the usuals”, with American Robins being the most prominent. Raptors were around in decent numbers; we had several Red-tailed Hawks, a couple of young Bald Eagles, and a Cooper’s Hawk (which I misidentified in the field as a Sharp-shinned Hawk) that did a very nice, close flyby. The lake didn’t have as much waterfowl as I’d hoped, but we did have six species, including a distant large flock of what looked to me like Scaup, but I’m not sure which one. We saw fresh Coyote tracks in the snow, as well as some scat; it would have been excellent to catch up with one of them!. The highlight of the day, however, was coming across a small flock of COMMON REDPOLLS just off the trail. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen them, back in 2013 at the Shawangunk Grasslands. I’ve seen one report this year already in Orange County, let’s hope they continue. It was a good day of birding, it was a cool, crisp day and we hiked maybe 5 miles and totaled 28 species.
It’s hard to believe that today was my last day as counter for the 2018 hawkwatch season at Mount Peter Hawkwatch. I was scheduled to count next Saturday, but I will be out of town so Rick Hansen is covering for me. The morning rain caused a 2 hour delay to the start, and when I got up on the mountain it quickly became clear that it was going to be a cold and windy day. I had most of my 38 migrating raptors in the first 2 hours, and then things slowed down after that. Raptor highlights included 2 migrating Bald Eagles, one adult and one immature, as well as a nice adult Red-shouldered Hawk. The real highlight of the day, however, came when Bobby Linguanti and some of his family stopped up for a visit. Today is a year since Carol (Bobby’s wife, hawk counter extraordinaire, and all around awesome person) passed away, and they were making the rounds to some of Carol’s favorite spots. It was a sweet and sad visit. As usual, I’ve included my Hawkcount.org report at the bottom of this post.
PELAGIC TEASER: Tomorrow I’m heading out on an 18 hour pelagic trip with See Life Paulagics, out of Brooklyn, NY. Hopefully it will be a good one, our target species include: Red Phalarope, Manx, Cory’s and Great Shearwaters, Northern Fulmar, Pomarine Jaeger, and the holy grail for this time of year Great Skua.
Yesterday was an excellent day at Mount Pete. The flight was steady and and on the low side, with most birds being able to be seen naked-eye. The highlight of the day, however, came pretty early, during the first hour of the watch. I spotted an eagle just over the treetops to the north of the platform. I got the bird in the scope, in perfect light, and sure enough it was a GOLDEN EAGLE! I was flipping out, and of course that early I was up there all alone. I made an adjustment to my scope, and when I tried to relocate the bird, it was gone! It presumably had dropped below the tree line; I looked for was seemed like ages right and left to see if I could catch the bird passing through, but I had no luck. I was disappointed – I was really thinking I’d get better looks at this bird! Nearly ten minutes passed, and I picked up another eagle rising up north of the watch – sure enough it was the Golden, and it eventually passed relatively high up and west of the platform, allowing for documentary pics and the extended look that I was hoping for:
The rest of the day was less exciting, but still good. The flight was relatively low and consisted mostly Sharp-shinned Hawks but also had good variety – of the expected species we missed only Broad-winged Hawk and Northern Goshawk. As usual, I’m including my Hawkcount.org report at the bottom of this post. Today (Sunday) could be a good day for hawk watching, so if you are so inclined, head out to your local hawkwatch.