Until I started writing this post, I was feeling like my weekend of birding was a little bit on the hum-drum side. But looking back, I actually had some pretty good birds over the weekend, even if it wasn’t overly exciting. On Saturday morning, I made a quick stop at Glenmere Lake, following up on a report from Kathy Ashman of a Cackling Goose on the lake. When I arrived, nearly all the geese, including the Cackler, had already flown. The stop was still worthwhile, however, since I was able to see my first Green-winged Teals, Wood Duck, and Northern Pintails of the year. Then, I ventured back to the Hudson River, spending most of the day working my way from the Bear Mountain Bridge up to Newburgh and getting mostly the usuals. I went to Storm King State Park again, hoping the Golden Eagle would be present, but unfortunately it was not. I walked the trail for a good while, hoping that the bird might make an appearance; if it did I, missed it. There were many raptors in flight over the mountain, however; I had several Bald Eagles, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, nearly 2 dozen Black Vultures and a couple of Turkey Vultures. I ended the day in the Newburgh Waterfront area, hoping for any interesting gulls. I struck out with the gulls, but thanks to birding bud Bruce Nott, I did get my first Orange County RED-BREASTED MERGANSER of 2018.
I got out a little later than I should have on Sunday morning and missed the majority of the geese at Glenmere Lake once again. It was a good stop though, I picked up my first OC Ring-necked Ducks of the year and also had a female Red-breasted Merganser. I cruised the black dirt afterwards, hoping that the overnight snow would push some larks and buntings out to the roads. This proved not to be the case and I actually had very few Horned Larks in my travel (just 2 flocks totaling approximately 70 birds). The highlight of my morning was watching the large flocks of mixed blackbirds (Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Common Grackles). There is something about large flocks of birds, watching them and hearing them is just fascinating. I tried for some pics, but mostly I was disappointed with the results. I ended the day with a nice, low-flying Bald Eagle which provided a decent photo op.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This morning Maria Loukeris, Linda Scrima, and I headed to Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon County, NJ. Our target bird was an EARED GREBE that has been reported there recently. Initially it did not look good – the bird was reportedly keeping company with several Horned Grebes; we located the group of birds, but they were miles out and terribly backlit. One certainly looked different and was presumable the Eared Grebe, but the birds were just too distant to be sure. We decided to bird the reservoir in hopes that we would get better looks, and eventually we did. The Eared Grebe was with 8 Horned Grebes; we enjoyed good scope looks and took distant, backlit, documentary photos. It was a life bird for all 3 of us, so that was exciting. Other highlights included 3 Red-necked Grebes, nearly a dozen Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and a good photo op with a Merlin as we were leaving.
As we were leaving, Maria checked her phone and saw that a GYRFALCON (!!!) had been reported at (location removed, see post update below)! We rushed over, stopping at 2 wrong spots before finally finding the right location. The place was loaded with birders and photographers, and thankfully, the Gyrfalcon was still present, sitting in the sun on a distant dead snag perch in the reservoir. The bird was a dark morph Gyrfalcon, and scope views of this big, beautiful bird were excellent but photos were again on the documentary side. Not long after our arrival, the bird took off and we did not see it again.
Meanwhile, in the water there was a vast array of waterfowl, including an estimated 5,000 Snow Geese. We started looking through the birds and I was able to locate 4 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE! I was stoked to find them and we got the other birders present on them. Shortly after that, another birder located a GLAUCOUS GULL! That would be a lifer for me, so I rushed over to his scope to view. I then got the bird in my scope and was able to take some digiscoped shots with Linda and Maria’s phones (my phone had a meltdown for some reason and was completely dead). I couldn’t believe and big, white, and beautiful that gull was, it really was some bird. It’s not very often these days that I can get a single life bird, not to mention two in one day. The GLGU was life bird #390 for me.
A ROSS’S GOOSE was located by other birders a couple different times in the mass of Snow Geese; unfortunately none of us were able to get on that bird and it seemed that the bird was being lost almost as soon as it was found. There were plenty of other waterfowl present, including: Canada Geese, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Northern Pintails, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, and a single Common Goldeneye. The flock of Snow Geese put on a nice show, picking up and putting back down several time while were there. Huge thanks to Maria for suggesting we take the trip down, it was truly an incredible day of birding with good friends, beautiful weather, and amazing birds.
POST UPDATE: When I entered my lists to eBird, the Gyrfalcon came up as a sensitive species, so reports won’t be made public. With that in mind, I have removed the location from this post, I figure it’s best to err on the side of caution with these things. Also, after looking at our photos, it looks like we had a TUNDRA SWAN at Round Valley Reservoir; thanks to Maria for digging in and figuring it out. I’ve included a photo at the bottom of this post.
I got out both days this weekend, but the birding was relatively uneventful with a lot of the usuals being seen. Highlights for me included seeing a nice-sized mixed flock (maybe 200 birds) of Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and at least a single LAPLAND LONGSPUR in the black dirt. Saturday evening the nice light had me headed to the Shawangunk Grasslands; on my way there a Red-shouldered Hawk flew across the road and perched on the roadside. At the grasslands, I had a single young Bald Eagle, 7 Northern Harriers (including 4 Gray Ghosts!), and although they got up too late for photos, 5 Short-eared Owls made a nice end to the day.
Sunday morning I headed to Port Jervis and walked the trails at Reservoir #1. It was a nice, cold, walk and it was birdy, but with just the usuals. I headed to Laurel Grove Cemetery afterwards, where I had my first Hooded Mergansers of 2018 and my best bird of the day, a young COMMON GOLDENEYE. I photographed Eastern Bluebirds on the tombstones, by coincidence my second day in a row getting EABLs on tombstones (I had them at a small cemetery in Florida, NY on Saturday). It was a pretty good, if not exciting, weekend of local birding. Next weekend might be a little more exciting as I am going on a pelagic trip out of Brooklyn on Saturday; something to look forward to!
After yesterday’s snow, I knew I wanted to check out the black dirt today. One of my main goals was to try for Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs among the large flocks of Horned Larks. I was hoping the snow cover would push the birds closer to the roadsides, this only happened to a small extent, but I was able to get a single LAPLAND LONGSPUR out at Skinner’s Lane. The bird was only about 40 yards off the road, but I was a little slow on the draw and missed getting a shot. I did a little bit better shooting raptors; I got my first decent shot of a Norther Harrier for the season. I also watched a Merlin enjoy a snack on a telephone pole, and miraculously, when it had finished, it took off in my direction, allowing for a decent shot.
After the black dirt, I checked out Wickham Lake, where I happy to find 12 species of waterfowl! They were pretty much the usuals, but it was excellent birding. The following species were present: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Am. Black Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, and Am. Coot.
From there I went to Glenmere Lake and found the birds of the day: a single BLACK SCOTER and 2 LONG-TAILED DUCKS. I haven’t had any sea ducks this fall, so I was pretty happy to see these birds. All in all, it made for a really great day of birding, one that I needed. It’s rare that I post twice in a single day – click here or on the link below to see my post from this morning with the Mount Peter 2017 end of season report by Judy Cinquina.
Sadly, another season of hawk watching has come and gone. Judy Cinquina, leader of Mount Peter Hawkwatch, was kind enough to let me share the season ending report here on the blog. Judy does a really great job and it’s an interesting read for sure, with some numbers that will certainly concern many birders. Huge thanks to Judy for sharing.
Mount Peter 2017 – By Judy Cinquina
2017 was the 60th anniversary of the Mount Peter Hawk Watch. Since 1958, every fall season has added more data to our knowledge of raptor numbers, migration and behavior. Leaders celebrated by breaking Red-shouldered Hawk and Peregrine Falcon daily records and toppling the old 1990 Peregrine fall count. The euphoria didn’t last long, even with four Golden Eagles and a Goshawk spicing up the final score of 8,996. Our 74-day count, from September 1 through November 15, failed to show any improvement in Harrier or Kestrel numbers, and the Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks seemed happy to either delay or reject migration altogether.
A slightly below average 6,874 Broad-winged Hawks were counted this season, most moving south between September 10 and 22. Leaders Rick Hansen and Ajit Antony garnered the only 1,000+ days. Rick recorded 1,140 on light SW winds, September 17, in spite of fog socking in the lookout for most of that morning. Ajit’s 1,764 Broad-wings on the 21st kettled up in light, northwest winds, but their migration stopped when clouds moved in for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Both leaders wondered if Broad-wings migrated unseen in the fog or clouds on their respective days. Usually a late October migrant, the majority of Red-shoulders turned up instead between November 4 and 11, producing our second best tally of 122: 69 adult, 11 immature, and 42 unknown. Matt Zeitler grabbed the best day, November 4, counting a record 27 on light north winds and destroying Ken Witkowski’s old record of 24 from October 27, 2013. Hopefully it’s a good sign that most of our three-digit counts of this species have occurred in the last six years. Once again Red-tails failed to move in large numbers before our watch ended on November 15. The 232 recorded was 93% below our 10-year average. Rough-legged Hawks were a no-show for the seventh consecutive fall.
Since 1978 when the watch was extended daily through October and into November, we were rewarded with four-digit tallies of Sharp-shinned Hawks, but not this fall. The 841 counted was 48% below our 10-year average. Our biggest day was 69 on October 20. Compare that to back to back records of 317 and 337 made in late September 1986. Meanwhile, numbers for their larger cousin, the Cooper’s Hawk, have been on the rise since 1990. They reached an above average 121, this fall. After a two-year absence, one Goshawk finally turned up, October 18. Ajit wrote that this large-headed accipiter sailed due south, never beating its wings.
The American Kestrel had a mini-rebound from last year’s abysmal 52, with 83 counted: 11 male, 23 female, 49 unknown. However, their numbers have been woefully low this entire decade. The 18 Merlin was rather average, but the larger Peregrine Falcon brightened our 60th with two records. On October 11, Ajit recorded 6, nudging out John Tramontano’s daily record of 5, counted October 17, 1992. Although we don’t get their falcon numbers, we mirrored Montclair’s and Hook Mountain’s record Peregrine numbers this season, counting 26 and surpassed the 21 counted in 1990.That is excellent news since DDT almost eliminated this species from our landscape by the 1960’s.
Osprey numbers bounced back a bit but still came in 38% below their 10-year average at 111. In the 2016 edition of the Northeast Hawk Watch Report, Drew Panko points out that while Osprey breeding has increased, “numbers counted in migration has been decreasing for the last 30 years…” The cause remains a mystery. Why the N. Harrier numbers are reaching rock bottom is not so mysterious, with their habitat of wetlands and fields disappearing at an alarming rate. The 26 logged this fall is pathetic and well below the record 101 logged in 1980. Bald Eagles are on an amazing rebound, especially in the last 10 years. The 85 noted this season (44 adults, 38 immature, and 3 unknown) was above average. Always uncommon in the northeast, the Golden Eagle came in at an average 4: 3 adult, 1 immature.
We did not begin counting Turkey Vultures until the 1980’s, and differentiating locals from migrants has always been a challenge. The 320 counted this fall was above average, and so were the 96 Black Vultures. 1985 produced the first Black Vulture ever seen over our lookout, and now they’re quite common. Local C. Ravens were with us almost daily with up to 5 counted. 681 Monarch Butterflies surpassed last year’s 131, the majority moving between October 3 and 11.Ruby-throated Hummingbirds barely made an appearance with a mere 15 recorded. Denise Farrell noted 3,515 Canada Geese, September 28, as part of our final 10,365 counted between September 28 and November 11. The high Brant count was 95 on November 4, with 146 tallied by season’s end, and only 10 Snow Geese showed up, with a single Snow hanging on to the end of a skein of Canadas, November 7. Between October 31 and November 10, 19 C. Loons were observed heading east towards Greenwood Lake. Other birds of interest included:
1 Pine Warbler
2 1st C. Nighthawk (5 more, 9/3 – 9/13), 1st Black-throated Green & Red-eyed Vireo
6 1st Prairie (another 3 on 9/10) & Magnolia Warblers, 1st Scarlet Tanager
7 Cape May Warbler
11 Tennessee Warbler & 2 Am. Redstarts
12 1st DC Cormorant (1 on 9/21 & 14 on 9/28)
18 1st C. Loon
22 59 DC Cormorants (235 on 11/4)
23 1st Yellow-bellied Sapsucker seen through 11/14 (male & immature 11/14)
24 Brown Creeper
27 E. Towhee (another 9/21)
39 Blackpoll, E. Phoebe
2 25 E. Bluebirds
4 3 White-crowned Sparrows
5 Red-headed Woodpecker
15 Great Horned Owl heard
What better way to celebrate our 60th consecutive watch then with an official hat, designed and donated by Denise Farrell. Our hats on to Denise! A big thank you to all our friends and visitors who helped with the count, especially Bill Connolly, Rob Stone and Carol Linguanti. Sadly, Carol passed away at the end of October. Carol was the creator of our Facebook page and a dedicated leader. Her enthusiasm and spirit will be missed. A big thank you to our clean-up crew: Denise, Rick Hansen, Rochana Muenthongchin, Beverly Robertson, Gene Tappan, Will Test, and especially Tom Millard who installed our box on the platform. Our deep appreciation to Evan Masten and George Profus, NYDEC Region 3 Foresters who cut some of the larger trees blocking our views before the watch began, and to Mike Limatola and Kurt Muenz and the Fyke Nature Association for providing the insurance required for our Clean-Up day. We are also indebted to Fyke for their continued support, especially for sponsoring our Mount Peter site on Hawkcount.org. We continue as the oldest, continually run, all-volunteer fall watch in the country.
I decided to forego my Christmas shopping on Black Friday, and headed to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge instead (that was a joke, by the way, I know, keep my day job). Birding the refuge can be a little bit overwhelming during duck migration. Black Lake, the first large body of water on the left on Wildlife Drive, was absolutely loaded with waterfowl! There had to be thousands of birds present. Some birds are close enough for good binocular looks and even some photos, but most of the birds are pretty far out – it’s a distant sea of waterfowl. For the day, I had a total of 15 species of swimming waterbirds at the refuge: Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, and American Coot. I also did alright with raptors, with: Red-tailed Hawk (3), Bald Eagle (4), Northern Harrier (3), American Kestrel (1), and ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (1).
One of the more exciting moments was seeing an incredible 87 (!) SANDHILL CRANES. I viewed them from East Road – the birds were relatively obscured by vegetation which made getting a good count difficult. At first I counted approximately 60 birds, but then I discovered there was a second group, just 100 yards away. My best count was 87, but I’m sure there were some birds that were hidden and not counted.
I wanted to drive through Wildlife Drive one more time. I stopped by the visitor’s center and another birder told me that he had seen a SNOWY OWL nearby to the refuge just a little bit earlier. I ran for the owl, but alas, it must have moved and I was unable to relocate it. I did get lucky with the CATTLE EGRET that has been recently reported; a bird that I would normally be pretty excited about but I was bummed to have missed a Snowy by such a small margin. From there, I decided to leave the refuge and bird Cayuga Lake…
…I drove the west side of the lake and ended up at Cayuga Lake State Park, which had a nice dock for viewing the lake. I added 4 species of waterfowl (American Black Duck, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, and Horned Grebe), bringing my total for the day to 19. I was most excited, however, with the gulls present: Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed, and BONAPARTE’S.
On Saturday morning I tried again for the Snowy Owl, but was unsuccessful. I also wanted to try Cayuga Lake again, this time I went down the east side of the lake. I was hoping to do better with Bonaparte’s for photos – I got much better looks, but the photos were terrible. I did add Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, and Common Goldeneye to my waterfowl list, giving me a total of 22 species in two days – not too bad. Good birding in Seneca County!
I tried to get up early on Saturday morning to do some birding before heading up to the mountain. It took ages to get out of the house for some reason, so my time ended up being pretty limited, but I had enough time to take a quick cruise through the black dirt. And, I got really lucky, finding a relatively large flock of Horned Larks (about 200 birds) right away. In the flock I could see several Snow Buntings while they were in flight. I had a single American Pipit on the road when several birds landed in front of my car. And, most excitingly, I had a single LAPLAND LONGSPUR that I located as I scanned through the flock with my scope.
So, my last day counting up at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch was a pretty good one. And, to my mind, it was exactly how hawkwatch in early November should be: Very cold, crisp, and sunny with a steady northwest wind blowing and a good flight of Red-tailed Hawks (20) and Red-shouldered Hawks (15). The only missing ingredients were the Golden Eagle or Northern Goshawk that I was hoping very much for, but unfortunately both species were a no-show. I had a lot of good help and company while I was there: fellow Mt. Pete counters Tom Millard and Denise Ferrel spent several hours each helping, and Bruce Christensen, Jose Garcia, Rob Stone, Karen Heifetz, Nancy Sierra and Joe Baldacci all visited and provided plenty of help and good company too. I totaled 49 migrating raptors, which is enough to stay busy for most of the day. Unfortunately, nearly every bird was super high so photo ops were very few; I actually never even got my weekly Turkey Vulture shot. My final bird of the season, which passed over right at the end of the day, was a sky-high Great Blue Heron that was so high that I needed the scope to get a good ID on the bird. I thought that was a pretty cool way to end the season.
It was a sad day for everyone at Mt. Pete. We learned yesterday evening that fellow counter and friend Carol Linguanti had passed away after a long battle with cancer. In spite of the fact that she had been sick for a while, it was still somehow shocking to me, and I was deeply saddened. Carol was one of the good ones, a truly great friend that had more enthusiasm and love for life, family, friends, and nature than anyone I’ve ever met. She will be missed by so many people it’s hard to grasp. Thoughts, prayers, love, and positive energy go out to her family as they go through this hardest of times.
Well, Carol must have been smiling down on me today. I had an absolutely incredible day at Mt. Pete. The sky was absolutely filled with birds – raptors and more. I had two major raptor highlights – a GOLDEN EAGLE which was located by Ken Witkowski to the east of the viewing platform. I managed to get the bird in the scope as it circled slowly; the distinctly shorter neck, as compared to a Bald Eagle, was apparent and the bird was basically all dark on the underside, so likely an adult. The second highlight was the Red-shouldered Hawk count – I had 27 RSHA which broke the previous daily record of 24! It was an active day for migrating raptors, and in the end I had 113 for the day.
There was also plenty of other bird movement with some of my favorite birds. Six Common Loons were counted; a couple actually passed close enough for photos (typically they are WAY out there). Geese were on the move too, I counted 472 Canada Geese and 95 BRANT. Double-crested Cormorants came through in 5 skeins with a total of 235 birds! At one point a large skein of cormorants flew in line with a small plane and the birds scattered to avoid it. Chaos reigned for a short time but then they got back into formation. We also had a single Great Blue Heron, flying so high you wouldn’t believe it; it passed right over the platform, totally invisible to the naked eye. Incredible stuff, these are the days that I love so much when it comes to hawk watching. Excellent birding – thanks Carol!
Today was another relatively slow day for me at Mt. Peter. I recently wrote that I have been snake bit this season, but in retrospect, I’m not sure that’s true. Instead, I think that the crazy warm temperatures have really affected the counts this year, particularly in October (which has felt more like August). We have had fewer “good” days this October. Last year, we had 10 days with over 50 migrating raptors; this year we have had only 6. We have also had more “bad” days this year, with less than 25 birds on 13 days! Last year, by comparison, had only 8 days in October with less than 25 birds.
I was hoping for the best, but I was not overly optimistic coming into today. The continuing warm temperatures and a south wind were not a promising combination. I totaled 24 migrating raptors (see report below), which was just enough to keep me from going bonkers. An added bonus was that the majority of the migrating birds today flew over very low. This allowed for some really great looks and some photo ops too. I had additional photo ops when one of the local Red-tailed Hawks finally decided to spend some time near the viewing platform. And, I’m always hoping for something a little different to fly over the mountain, and today I was not disappointed – I had 3 skeins of BRANT fly over! I really should have gotten a good Brant photo, but I was a little slow on the draw. The Brant made my day, as they were my 216th species in Orange County this year.