As I was heading out this morning, I drove along 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, and I saw in the distance a pair of Red-tailed Hawks perched in a tree. They were about 15 feet apart, and in the perfect early morning light the difference between the larger female and the smaller male was quite obvious. It was a beautiful image, and for some reason I took this as an omen that it was going to be a good day.
Every once in a while you have a day where things fall into place. It started with a GREAT-HORNED OWL on a nice perch, sunning itself. Add to that several flocks of Snow Geese moving around the black dirt. The icing on the cake was a relatively low flyover by the GOLDEN EAGLE that has been in the area. Getting a better look and photos of this bird was my main goal today, so that was awesome. As the morning ended and crept into the afternoon, things slowed down, but still, I was happy to find a cooperative Red-tailed Hawk on a wire, a bunch of vultures on a deer carcass (not for everyone, but I love those birds and find them very photogenic), and a couple thousand Common Mergansers at Greenwood Lake. Heckuva day for sure.
My plan for the morning was to get outside and take a hike without worrying too much about getting any birds. I walked the trails near Reservoir 3 in Port Jervis. It was predictably quiet, but it was a pleasant walk in the woods on a cool, partly cloudy day. It wasn’t until I was on my way back that I started to think about getting some birds. Earlier, while I was hiking, Joyce Depew reported thousands of Snow Geese in the black dirt. On my way home, Ken McDermott followed up with another report of SNGOs in the fields off Onion Avenue. I figured I would stop by and check them out, especially because it was on my way home. Then, it got interesting: Bruce Nott reported a GOLDEN EAGLE flying over the Snow Geese, heading east.
I arrived at Onion Avenue convinced that I had missed any opportunity to see the Golden Eagle. But, as I got out of the car everyone was urging me to hurry up – I jumped on Bruce’s scope and sure enough there was the Golden Eagle circling in the distance! It wasn’t great timing (see Linda’s photos in this post), but it was pretty darn good! Another minute or so, and I would have completely missed the bird. Exciting birding!
I spent some time this morning in the black dirt, and then this evening at the Hudson River. Raptors were the most noteworthy birds I had; I saw a total of 8 species: Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, American Kestrel, Great-horned Owl, Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, and Barred Owl. So, it seems appropriate that on a day where I did pretty well for raptors, I would post this year’s end of season report for migrating raptors at Mount Peter Hawkwatch. The report was written, as usual, by MPH leader Judy Cinquina. Huge thanks to Judy for sharing.
MOUNT PETER 2019 By Judith Cinquina
Despite record Bald Eagles and a good buteo turnout, Mount Peter’s 62nd annual fall hawk watch recorded disappointing numbers for many species of concern in 2019. The 74-day count, from September 1 through November 15, produced a healthy 9,800 raptors, averaging 20.4 hawks per hour. But Broad-winged Hawks comprised 75% of that final tally, while the Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk and American Kestrel flight dropped below average. Fortunately, near record Golden Eagles brought a bit of warmth to the cold and windy end of the season.
A slightly above average 7,360 Broad-wings were detected over the lookout, most mere specks out on the edge of visibility, between September 16 and 19. Volunteer Tom Millard managed to score a Broadwing trifecta, single-handedly counting 1,395 after other volunteers had left on the 16th, between 3 and 5 pm. He then popped up to the lookout the next morning to help count the 539 leaving a nearby roost between 9 and 10 am. And finally he joined Ajit and Liza Antony and Jeanne Cimorelli on the 18th, to help score our best Broadwing day of 2,096. Most or 1,300 were noted between 3 and 4 pm.
Red-shouldered Hawks had their second best year ever with 203 recorded, just under our 213 record set in 2018: 100 adult, 22 immature, 81 unknown. 160 Red-tails also took advantage of the winds on the 8th. Their final tally was an average 443. Note: the chart includes counts from 1980-2016 but not the last two record fall counts. Denise Farrell grabbed our best flight of 25 on November 8th on very strong NW winds. Chart from RPI (Raptor Population Index).
Sharp-shinned Hawk numbers were down across the Northeast. Our 693 count (not shown on chart) was our second lowest since the watch was extended into November in 1978 and was 55% lower than our 10-year average. 82 Cooper’s Hawks was also below average, and the Goshawk was a no-show. Chart from RPI.
After a healthy bounce last season, American Kestrels managed a below average 85 this season: 12 male, 19 female and 54 unknown. Our best day was a mere 14, September 24 on moderate NW winds. Not a falcon year for us, the Merlin with 8 and the Peregrine with 14 were also below average.
What’s up with Osprey? They’re reportedly breeding successfully in the Northeast, yet numbers are down over the lookouts. Our 123 count was below average. Although 11 moved through with the large Broad-wing push, September 18, Matt Zeitler nabbed the best count of 12 on lazy south winds, the 28th.
After a terrible showing last season, the N. Harrier continued its decline, with 27 sighted, 66% lower than its 10-year average: 7 male, 6 female, 4 immature, and 10 unknown.
Eagles sustained our volunteers through the entire watch, with record Bald and near record Golden counts. Our first ever two-digit count of Bald Eagles was 12 in 1988. Then in 2012 we tallied our first triple-digit count of 130. That record was crushed this season, with a tally of 163: 114 adult, 47 immature and 2 unknown. Will Test pulled in the best day with a record 30 noted on November 3 on moderate W winds. The flight began low and moved southwest early. Later in the morning and early afternoon, the eagles were higher and in small groups or pairs that headed west towards the Kittatinny Mountains. To confuse the issue, 12 local Balds were noted but not counted that day. Will and six other leaders were rewarded with Golden Eagle sightings. Matt Zeitler and Ajit and Liza Antony scored the best days with two, November 2, 9 and 13. The 9 counted, 5 adult and 4 immature, was our second best tally since the record 10 was made in 1994.
Vulture numbers were above average, Black -136 and Turkey-426. Ken Witkowski garnered a record day with 123 Turkeys, October 26. We had two or three local Common Ravens, but Denise Farrell noted eight migrating past the lookout November 8. It’s interesting that 10 went through last year on the 10th.
A healthy 1,607 Monarchs migrated past the lookout, quadrupling the number counted last season. The good news is our count is now part of a country-wide annual Monarch survey. A mere 16 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were noted in September. Once again, Denise netted our biggest Canada Goose day with 860, November 1. 5,245 were counted for the season. Denise also noted the only Brant, with 500, October 18 and 345 more, November 1. The sole Snow Goose reports came from Ajit and Liza Antony, with 85 “glinting in the sun” November 6 and 615 more, the 13th .
Other birds of interest: Perhaps, the most exciting and the rarest was the Parasitic Jaeger I observed just over the treetops, heading from NE to SSE, October 15, around 10:15 DST on light NW winds. It disappeared behind the trees, and I suspect it headed towards Greenwood Lake. It had a strong, gull-like wingbeat, husky chest, long-squared-off tail, and a rounded head. Peregrine-sized, it was a mottled dark gray and was probably an immature.
September 16 3 C. Nighthawks, 2 more 9/23 (Tom Millard & Elizabeth McGrath)
October 11 450 Double-crested Cormorants (Denise Farrell)
November 2 – (2) Purple Finch (Matt Zeitler)
3 – (8) Sandhill Cranes over valley to the west (Will Test)
8 – flock of 30 Snow Buntings (spotted by Tim Vogel)
11 – a Woodcock flushed from trail near platform (Tom Millard)
Our 11 volunteer leaders could not have produced these results without the help of friends and visitors who helped spot in-coming and kept us sane during the lulls, especially Bill Connolly, John and Liz Sherry and Rob Stone. A welcome back to Beverly Robertson, and a big thanks to sharp-eyed Jeanne Cimorelli who popped up whenever she could. Kudos to our clean-up crew: Ajit and Liza Antony, Mike Buckley, Denise Farrell, Ken Witkowski, Chris Vogel, and especially to Tom Millard who repaired the platform and Will Test who went the extra mile and with Tom spent an afternoon cleaning up a mess. As always we are indebted to our sponsors, the Fyke Nature Association of Bergen County, NJ who supplied our insurance and to Fyke and all of you who supported our site on hawkcount.org. Our wish for our 63rd watch is a new road up to our lot and an unobstructed view to our SE from our platform. As always we remain the oldest, continually run, all-volunteer fall watch in the country.
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.