Yesterday after work I birded later than usual. I wanted to stay out to see if I could hear Whip-poor-wills to add them to my year list. As I waited, the insects got worse and worse, so I finally took respite in my car for a few minutes. I sat with the window open so I could still hear, and remarkably, the bugs were leaving me alone. I must have caught a bit of movement out of the corner of my eye, because I never heard a sound. I turned to my left to witness a BOBCAT slinking through the grass. It was nearly dark, but fortunately I had adjusted my camera for the best possible results (I cranked the ISO up to 12,800!), just in case I needed it. I grabbed my camera off the passenger seat and took some initial shots – as soon as the cat heard the shutter he looked my way and the above shot is the result. The bobcat continued through the grass and eventually made its way down the trail. I could hardly breathe, I was so excited! I couldn’t get over the size; I’d seen a bobcat one other time only, and that cat was much smaller than this one. What an incredible experience; I got so lucky and I probably have the bugs to thank for it! And to top the night off, I heard several Whip-poor-wills calling right after the bobcat had moved on.
I recently invited several of the more prolific birders in our area to contribute to the blog whenever they have something that they feel is worth sharing. I think there is a lot of good birding going on that folks would like to hear about, and the end result should be a little more complete coverage of the birds and birding in our area. Kent Warner is the first to take me up on the offer. The timing is perfect too, since I was out of town all weekend and didn’t get any birding done. I found this post very interesting because, generally speaking, not much attention is paid to raptor migration here in Orange County.
SPRING RAPTOR MIGRATION IN ORANGE COUNTY
BY KENT WARNER
Today was a stunner at Bellvale Community for raptors especially. As the sun warmed, and the updrafts started, the first couple of broad-winged hawks, passed low overhead. As the day continued, despite a stiff north breeze, the raptors kept coming – predominantly Broad-winged Hawks and Turkey Vultures, but a little of everything showed. Here is a list of what I saw…
Broad-winged Hawk – 450 (very conservative estimate of just the ones I saw, there were definitely more)
QUICK POST: I’m exhausted this evening, so I’m going to try and make this a quick one. My brother-in-law Bill and I made our yearly Easter visit to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. We hit the usual spots; it seemed a little quieter than normal to me. We totaled 30 species for the morning, which seems low for the time of the year, and all were expected species. We had a few highlights – a Sandhill Crane flew over on my drive to the refuge, and then, after Bill and I made our way through Wildlife Drive, at Tschache Pool we had a group of over 50 Great Blue Herons as well a half dozen Bald Eagles tormenting ducks (and each other), flying over the pool.
Back here in Orange County, the action continued through the weekend and. today was another good day with some good birds reported: Wilson’s Snipe was the big winner, being reported at three locations in the county: Lynch Road in New Hampton, the Liberty Loop, and Citgo Pond. Additionally, Rob Stone located a Common Loon, 40+ Scaup, and a Bonaparte’s Gull at Wickham Lake, which is where I headed after work. The scaup were still present, as was the Common Loon, but the Bonaparte’s Gull had moved on. The loon was in beautiful breeding plumage, but was WAY out and photos were not an option. It was nice to get a good look at the 45 or so Greater Scaup.
This morning I took Kyle Dudgeon up on his offer to help him count migrating raptors up in Broome County, NY. He had been seeing decent numbers of Golden Eagles recently, so I was hoping today would be more of the same. Almost immediately upon exiting the highway, I came upon a pair of Bald Eagles perched together over Oquaga Creek. I took this as a good sign, and I wasn’t wrong. Through the morning and into the early afternoon, we saw many Bald Eagles; it was tough to keep a count because the birds kept coming and going. Most were locals, but we did have a group of four adult birds migrate through. Three of the birds were flying quite close together; flying almost in formation, which is something I’ve never seen before:
It may sound odd, but all the Bald Eagles ended up being among the least exciting parts of the day. Early on we had an adult GOLDEN EAGLE migrate through; very high. Shortly after that, we had a single young Golden Eagle, a local, make a brief, distant appearance before disappearing behind a distant ridge. Then, Kyle was looking through his scope and said “you gotta get on this bird”. Following his directions, I got on the bird quickly. I knew as soon as I saw the bird what it was – a NORTHERN GOSHAWK! My immediate impression was a massive accipiter with powerful wingbeats. We followed in our scopes as the bird followed the ridge off to our right. At one point it seemed to buzz a perched eagle. I was excited when the light caught the bird nicely on its topside, showing the blue hue of an adult bird – I was was flipping out! The bird eventually disappeared into the trees and we did not see it again. We had one final bit of excitement – not one, but two young GOLDEN EAGLES perched in a snag on a distant ridge. One bird took flight and started buzzing the perched bird; this went on for ages! Eventually, the buzzing bird left the perched bird and worked its way up the ridge to our left, finally got close enough for some documentary photos. What a great day of hawk watching! I can’t thank Kyle enough for the invite.
I was pretty psyched when recently the Turkey Vultures began roosting in our backyard again. It’s so exciting to get home from work in the evenings and have a tree full of vultures on the property. Even better, today came home early to find them all hunkered down to get through the snow storm. I’m not sure how excited others would get at having them in their yard, but I love it. They made my day today.
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.