On Saturday I was mostly out of commission as I had a wedding to attend in Westchester County. I say mostly because between the church and the reception we had some time to kill, so Tricia and I made a stop at Five Islands Park in New Rochelle. I was hoping for Monk Parakeets, but alas we didn’t have any luck with them. It was the third time I’ve been to that park and still I haven’t seen the Monk Parakeets.
On Sunday I got up early and checked my emails. An Iceland Gull had been reported in Westchester County, not far from Croton Point Park. I figured I could make the morning of it by heading over to try for the gull and then bird the park afterwards. I didn’t have any luck with the gull, but I got lucky in another way. I ran into another birder, the original locator of the Iceland Gull. He is a long time birder/naturalist from New York City. We checked for the gull near the Boathouse Restaurant and the neighboring park and then he showed where he had originally located the bird at the Croton Point Park train station. I had never birded that spot, even though I knew of it, so it was good to get the lay of the land. He shared stories of his birding over the years; he had seen some really amazing local birds and he also had gone on some amazing birding trips. He showed me a photograph that he took of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper in full breeding plumage back in 1995 on a film camera; it was unbelievable and made me want to cry. What a bird. Anyways, my takeaway from it was that there is an awful lot of birding out there, be it locally or even more so if you are willing to travel. It made me look forward to when I can look back on 30++ years of my own birding adventures…
I had a great day at Mount Peter Hawkwatch today, with the highlight being not one, but TWO GOLDEN EAGLES! The first one was a subadult bird that I located over the valley to the west of the viewing platform in the morning. I watched this bird for the nearly 5 minutes it took for it to slowly rise up over the valley and eventually head southwest. The second was an adult bird, which I also located over the valley, in the afternoon.
That was the exciting part. The less than exciting part is that both birds where quite distant, so I didn’t get any photos. And, what was really unfortunate is that fellow counters Judy Cinquina and Tom Millard (who both help me tremendously today) didn’t get to see either bird. When Judy arrived, she had missed the first bird by mere moments. The second bird was a heartbreaker; it was a distant bird and I had it in the scope. Judy and Tom tried to get on it with bins without luck. I had Tom try to see it through the scope; I think I may have bumped the scope because when he looked he didn’t see the bird. I tried to jump back on the scope but there were no landmarks in an all blue sky and I never got back on that bird.
All told, we had respectable 75 migrating raptors for the day. Other highlights included a nice showing by Red-shouldered Hawks with 9 migrants. And I always love to find unusual non-raptors in the sky; today we had 2 Common Loons. As always, I’ve included my HMANA report at the bottom of this post.
It was a vulturific day from the get-go. Yeah, I just made that word up, and yeah I know it’s cheesy. Anyways, when I woke up, the vulture roost in our backyard was in beautiful light. I was thinking that I don’t photograph these birds nearly enough, so I tried for some shots while the light was still good. Then I had a cup of coffee and got ready to head up to Mount Peter to count migrating raptors all day.
It was chilly up on the mountain – 37 degrees Fahrenheit with a breeze from the northwest. I had a slow start with nearly cloudless sky and no migrants in the first hour, but then things picked up. Jeff and Liz Zahn joined me in the second hour; we had a nice mix of birds including my only migrating Bald Eagle of the day, an adult over the valley which was located by Liz. .
It was during the fourth hour of the watch when fellow counter Jeanne Cimorelli located a kettle of vultures due north of the platform. The birds rose up very high and then began to stream out, heading SSW in a determined fashion. Counting a few stragglers that followed the kettle, there was a total of 41 Turkey Vultures and 2 Black Vultures that passed through.
In my final hour, I was getting ready to wrap things up a little early because I hadn’t had a migrating raptor in over an hour. Then Amanda Stanley and Jon Fazio (visiting from Wildcat Ridge Hawkwatch) showed up and we had one last flurry of activity to end the day with: a Cooper’s Hawk, a young Northern Harrier, and a Peregrine Falcon. I finished the day with 97 migrating raptors; this brought our year total to over 8600 birds. As usual I’ve included my HMANA (Hawk Migration Assoc. of North America) at the bottom of this post.
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:
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.