QUICK POST: Huge thanks to Linda Scrima, who contacted me tonight to let me know she had a FORSTER’S TERN at Wallkill River NWR’s Liberty Loop. I jumped into the car and ran for the bird, and WOW, what a beautiful bird! It was perched on the measuring pole just to the left of the viewing platform, which made for a great photo op. I’ve never had FOTE in Orange County before, so this is OC bird #243 for me! Very exciting!
It’s not very often these days that I can get two life birds in one day, but that’s exactly what happened today. The first was a bird that I have been really hoping to get for some time now, the LONG-EARED OWL. The bird did not disappoint, such a beautiful little owl, absolutely gorgeous. The second was a bird that I’ve had some experience with in the past, the NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL. Back in the fall of 2013, Tricia and I joined a John Haas, Karen Miller, Scott Baldinger, and Arlene Borko in Sullivan County to call in migrating NSWOs. We heard several that night and caught a glimpse of one in flight in the dark, but I guess at the time I didn’t think that was enough to count it as a lifer. Today was quite different and there is no doubt about getting my lifer NSWO. These two owls are life birds #373 and #374 for me. Forgive the vague post, but with the best interests of these birds in mind, I will not be sharing their locations.
So, I bumped my head on Tuesday evening. I didn’t even hit it very hard (I’ve certainly hit it way harder), but I must have gotten it just right and I ended up giving myself a concussion. Which put me to some degree out of commission for a few days. When Saturday afternoon rolled around, I was feeling a little bit better so I did some birding, mostly just driving around southern Orange County. As I drove around, I was getting the usuals but I was enjoying it very much just because I hadn’t been out much during the week. Then I happened to see two falcons flying together in the distance. Luckily there was a nice area to pull over, so I parked and watched as the two birds spent some time coming and going from the overhead wires and then, excitingly, the birds mated on a wire. How lucky can you get? American Kestrels mating right in front of me in perfect light. It was very cool to observe and I believe it is only my second time seeing AMKEs mating, the first time being a few years back at the Shawangunk Grasslands from one of the photo blinds.
First thing this morning I headed to Piermont Pier to see if could get any good ducks. It was a nice stop and I had 7 species of waterfowl:
Canada Goose (3)
Common Goldeneye (2)
Common Merganser (1)
Ruddy Duck (43)
The Common Goldeneyes stole the show for me; I got great looks at one bird that spent some time close to the pier. The Canvasbacks were nice to get, but were very distant and a scope was needed to see them well.
I left Piermont Pier and headed to State Line Lookout to join the hordes of birders/photographers/sheep that were present to try for the Gyrfalcon that has been reported recently there. It was quite a scene and I estimate that in the time I tried for the bird (4 hours), over 125 birders/photogs were there for the bird as well. Millions of photographs were taken of the local Peregrine Falcons (that might not be an exaggeration). The falcons did not fly much, but did spend much time on the closest perches. Other good birds included several Bald Eagles, Common Ravens, and a Cooper’s Hawk which was chased from the far side of the river to the Lookout by the local male Peregrine Falcon. As for the Gyrfalcon, it was of course a no-show. Hopefully it sticks and I’ll try for it another day.
After an uneventful morning of birding under gray skies, the clouds lifted in the early afternoon and I decided to head to Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. I felt that I was arriving a little bit late to be able to get a photo blind, but as luck would have it, the closest north blind was still vacant and I grabbed it. Northern Harriers were plentiful and offered many photo ops, some of which I took advantage of, and some, well, not so much. American Tree Sparrows were heard more than seen, but I did finally get a bird that sat up for me for a few pics. The highlight of the day, however was when I saw a NORTHERN SHRIKE perched on a distant bush. I snapped off a few photos just before the bird flew and I was unable to relocate it. I had this bird back in November but was unable to get any photos, and it has been reported intermittently since then. I found out when I left the blind that other birders had seen the bird briefly as well. Also exciting, the Short-eared Owls got up early enough for some halfway decent photos and really great looks. On my way out, I ran into many birders that I know and it was good to shoot the breeze and catch up with several of them in the parking area. Good birding at the Grasslands!
My Thanksgiving tradition of visiting Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge continued this year, in spite of the gray skies and intermittent rain. My brother-in-law, Bill and I were happy to learn that Wildlife Drive was open in spite of the recent snow fall. We had a productive day where the ducks were numerous but VERY distant. It was hard to even contemplate any sort of accurate count and I’m sure my eBird report numbers are a bit too much on the conservative side. We had 17 species of waterfowl:
American Black Duck
The highlight of the day was, undoubtedly, locating first one and eventually three ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS at the refuge. It was my first time getting them there, and Bill was very excited, as it was a life bird for him. All in all we had a really good day but struggled like crazy for decent photos. In case I haven’t said it enough on this blog: Go to Montezuma NWR! It’s a really great spot.
On Sunday, I hooked up with Kyle Dudgeon early in the morning and we birded southern Orange County pretty much by car, trying for photos for the most part. It was good to see Kyle and catch up (he has been away at college), and we had some decent birds for the day. Notably, we had 8 raptor species for the morning: Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon. The highlight for me was seeing a good sized flock of Snow Buntings, perhaps over 100 birds. Good Birding!
I got a relatively early start and arrived at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge at 7 am. I had a couple of goals for the morning. The first was to try for some photographs; it felt like ages since I’ve gotten a decent shot. The shortened days have really limited my ability to photograph in any sort of good light, plus I just feel a little snakebite lately when it comes to photos. My second goal was to relocated the Northern Shrike that has been hanging around out there, on and off. On this past Thursday evening, I made a brief stop and viewed the refuge from the Galeville Park and was lucky enough to find the shrike and get a couple of distant, brief looks at the bird in my scope before I lost track of it.
As for my first goal, I did get some post-able photos this morning, however they are nothing to write home about. But, still it was great fun to be out on such a gorgeous morning and have some good birds in beautiful early morning light. As for the shrike, it was a no show. I spent most of my time in the area where I had seen the bird on Thursday, but I was unable to relocate it.
It was an enjoyable morning of birding, if not amazing. One bird I was hoping to see but did not was Rough-legged Hawk. It leaves something to look forward to for next time, I guess. I’ve include my species list at the bottom of this post.
Canada Goose 300
Turkey Vulture 4
Northern Harrier 6
Red-tailed Hawk 4
Rock Pigeon 15
Mourning Dove 8
Red-bellied Woodpecker 4
Downy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 5
American Kestrel 1
Blue Jay 75
American Crow 45
Common Raven 2
Black-capped Chickadee 12
Tufted Titmouse 8
White-breasted Nuthatch 4
American Robin 18
Northern Mockingbird 1
American Tree Sparrow 16
Dark-eyed Junco 12
Northern Cardinal 5
Common Grackle 25
blackbird sp. 200 Distant flock in flight
House Finch 14
American Goldfinch 24
Well, sadly today was my final day as official counter at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch for the 2016 season. It was a gorgeous day to be on the mountain; sunny and cold with a moderate northwest wind. Judy Cinquina joined me for most of the day, and although the conversation was more plentiful than migrating raptors, we still had a pretty good flight, with 31 birds which included a pretty good variety. Highlights for me included good looks at two adult Bald Eagles, two adult Red-shouldered Hawks, and a brief look at a bird that always seems to be on a mission – a Merlin. Photos were tough to come by, even the vultures and passerines seemed to keep their distance today.
It was another excellent season for me at Mt. Pete; I had decent flights every Saturday except the two where I was rained out. And, I feel like I continued to learn and improve my hawk watching skills. It’s sad to think it’s another 10 1/2 months until I’ll be at it again. I should mention that you still have a few days to go to the watch – official counters will continue to be there until Tuesday November 15th.
Here’s my report for the day:
Official Counter: Matt Zeitler
Observers: B.A. McGrath, Judith C. Cinquina
Visitors: Paul Skonberg
Sunny with very few clouds and a moderate northwest wind. Temperatures ranged from 0 to 8 degrees Celsius.
Two adult Bald Eagles and 2 adult Red-shouldered hawks.
Non-raptor Species: European Starling (22), American Robin (24), Canada Goose (15), American Crow (18), Black-capped Chickadee (7), Tufted Titmouse (4), Ring-billed Gull (8), Herring Gull (1), Common Raven (2), Blue Jay (21), Cedar Waxwing (3), Dark-eyed Junco (2), White-breasted Nuthatch (2).
My Saturday shift counting at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch was steady but not exactly exciting. WNW winds provided me with 47 migrating raptors, consisting of mostly Red-tailed Hawks (22). Raptor highlights for me were decent looks at 3 adult Red-shouldered Hawks, and a distant look at a migrating ‘Gray Ghost’, an adult male Northern Harrier. My non-raptor highlight was 6 Common Loons – one group of four, and two singles. Photos were scarce for the day, but thankfully visitors were not. I enjoyed the company of Linda Scrima, Judy Cinquina, Maria Loukerisk, and Rob Pirie. Huge thanks to all four for their help spotting birds too. Here’s my report for the day:
Total observation time: 7.5 hours
Official Counter Matt Zeitler
Observers: Judith C. Cinquina
Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and Rob Pirie.
Cloudy and cool with a WNW wind. Temperatures ranged from 5 to 13 degrees Celsius
One adult Bald Eagle, one male Northern Harrier, and three adult Red-shouldered Hawks.
Non-Raptor Species: Dark-eyed Junco (15), Black-capped Chickadee (9), American Robin (168), American Goldfinch (4), Common Raven (2), Eastern Bluebird (2), White-breasted Nuthatch (3), Tufted Titmouse (2), Cedar Waxwing (18), Red-bellied Woodpecker (1), Purple Finch (1), Canada Goose (14), Common Loon (6)
I was pretty sure that hawkwatch would be a dud this past Saturday. Southwest winds were in the forecast and the previous day’s count was on the low side (with a northwest wind!). Early on, it seemed like I was right; the watch got off to a very slow start, and I have to say, I was super cranky about it. I did not have a raptor of any sort for the first two hours and fifteen minutes, when I finally had a local Red-tailed Hawk hunting over the valley. Migrating birds started to trickle through shortly after that, but really, it was a slow day.
Things started looking up when I got a visit from Gerhard and Tracy Patsch. We had some interesting conversations, and they seemed to have brought one of the local Red-tails along with them. It was the first time that I’ve had a local “tail” perch and hunt in the viewing platform area. And then bird put on a final show for us, hanging in the air directly above the platform and not very high up. The three of us really enjoyed great looks and I took many photos.
The highlight of the day came at 3:45 pm, when I counted just my 20th migrating raptor of the day, which was the GOLDEN EAGLE. I picked it up due north of the platform; it was distant but I knew immediately that it was an eagle and very shortly after that, that it was a Golden. As luck would have it, the bird flew slowly closer and passed at a nice easy pace right over the platform, circling several times before continuing due south. What a thrill it was, I am still freaking out about it a day later. The Golden Eagle is the 209th bird that I’ve had in Orange County this year. Here’s my report for the day:
Official Counter: Matt Zeitler
Visitors: Gerhard and Tracy Patsch, Tricia Zeitler, Carrie and Cruz Craigmyle, Bill, Carolyn, Cameron, and Mackenzie Martocci.
Weather: Partly cloudy with a southwest wind. Temperatures ranged from 4 to 18 degrees Celsius.
Raptor Observations: It was a slow start; the first raptor observed was a local Red-tailed Hawk over 2 hours and 15 minutes into the watch. One female Northern Harrier and at 3:45 one immature Golden Eagle passed through, circling right over the view platform, giving amazing views.
Non Raptor Species: American Crow (28), Blue Jay (24), White-breasted Nuthatch (2), Black-capped Chickadee (9), American Robin (32), Common Raven (2), Cedar Waxwing (25), Tufted Titmouse (1), Downy Woodpecker (1), Pileated Woodpecker (1), Ring-billed Gull (1), Red-bellied Woodpecker (1), Eastern Bluebird (5), Canada Goose (6), European Starling (20).