I’ve been down in the dumps for a couple of weeks. Literally. Well, not the whole time, just the past 2 Saturday mornings, chasing gulls at Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority. Last week Maria Loukeris and I had no luck, but today, Linda Scrima joined us and we had an excellent morning. We had two main targets: the GLAUCOUS and LESSER BLACK-BACKED Gulls that were reported earlier in the week.
Our morning had a slow start due to the heavy fog. When we first arrived at SCMUA, it was totally fogged in and from what we could tell, there were very few gulls present. So, we went and grabbed some breakfast (french toast!), and when we got back some of the fog had lifted and there were plenty of gulls around.
We got lucky and located the GLAUCOUS GULL within minutes of our arrival. It took over an hour, but eventually Maria located the LESSER-BLACK-BACKED GULL. Both gulls were close enough for some pretty good documentary shots and at different times we were able to photograph each species in flight. We were hoping that we might locate an ICELAND GULL, that would have been the icing on the cake (sorry couldn’t resist), but alas it was not to be.
Other good birds included several Bald Eagles, and just as we were getting ready to leave, several skeins of SNOW GEESE totally approximately 2,000 birds. It was a great morning of birding at the dump, and for me, since I’ve been so into gulls this winter, it was especially satisfying.
Since it’s the beginning of another year, I’ve spent some time this week thinking about what I want my birding to be like this year. To be honest, I don’t really know yet. Fortunately, I did not have to worry about it today (which happens to be my first day of birding of 2019). That’s because this week three excellent rarities were located in our area:
GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW in Downsville, NY, which is in Delaware County. The bird was originally located by Lance Verderame. (Mega-rarity)
BLACK PHOEBE at Hainesville WMA in Sussex County, NJ, originally located by Scott Angus. (Mega-rarity)
SAYS PHOEBE at Wallkill River NWR, Winding Waters Trail, Orange County, NY. The original locator was Tom Sudol.
So, with rarities on our mind, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I headed up to Delaware County early this morning. The Golden-crowned Sparrow had been seen most often early in the day, so we figured that would be a good place to start. Our timing was good and we got on the bird not long after our arrival. We had a brief, unsatisfactory look at first, but then after a little while the bird returned and we were able to get good looks and some photos too. The GCSP was a lifer for Linda and Maria and a NYS bird for me.
On our way back, we stopped at the feeding stations at Smith Road and Woodard Road in Liberty. We did well at both locations for EVENING GROSBEAKS. We had approximately 45 at Smith Road and just under 20 at Woodard. Linda also had a Red-breasted Nuthatch at Woodard, but I never got on that bird.
From there, we headed towards Sussex County to try for the BLACK PHOEBE. It had been reported consistently all morning, so we liked our chances. Again, our timing was quite good. The rain had been falling pretty heavily, but it slowed to a soft drizzle not long after we arrived. And, more importantly, the bird was still present. And what a bird it was – I really enjoyed seeing this bird – what a cool little bird. But, this might have been the most challenging bird I’ve ever tried to photograph. The bird was very vocal, which helped track it, but it was also very active. It barely stayed in one place for a second. And the habitat didn’t help; we were shooting through the brush the entire time. It was a really great bird to see, but getting pictures was tough. The BLPH was a lifer for all three of us, so that was exciting!
We made one final stop, at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Winding Waters Trail to try for the SAYS PHOEBE. The bird had not been reported all day, so we left it for our last stop. We walked the trail and saw other birders searching for it. We tried for just under an hour, but unfortunately, our luck had run out. One of the birders, a guy from Long Island, was pretty sure he heard the bird vocalize, this gives me hope that the bird might still be around and was laying low. Just a sliver of hope. Anyways, as Meatloaf says, two out of three ain’t bad. This is especially true when it come to rare birds.
Kyle Dudgeon and I spent some time very early this morning with the LEAST BITTERNS at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop. It was great to see good numbers of LEBIs, and we got lucky with one particularly accommodating individual, which landed not very far off the path – I’ve included four photos of this bird.
In birding news, Karen Miller watched the ROSEATE SPOONBILL fly north over Oil City Road and into Orange County. Kyle and I searched for the bird down Liberty Lane, and John Haas joined us to help search the area, but unfortunately, as of this writing, the bird had not been relocated.
I wonder how many people can say they saw breeding Common Loons with a chick in the morning and a Roseate Spoonbill in the afternoon? Without taking a flight? I’m guessing not too many, if any at all, but that’s exactly what Kyle Dudgeon and I did today. Just as we were wrapping up our yearly trip to the Adirondacks after a morning of kayaking in the rain (and swimming in Kyle’s case) with Common Loons, I got a phone call from Linda Scrima. She had located a ROSEATE SPOONBILL at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop. Apparently a photo of a ROSP had been posted to the refuge’s Facebook page and Linda followed up on it early this morning and found the bird on the west side of the loop, just over the border into Sussex County, New Jersey. As Kyle and I got on the road, we did some quick figuring and we knew that we would certainly try for the spoonbill. Five or so hours later, we headed down the trail and joined a number of birders and photographers gathered to see the bird. It was very strange to me to see this bird up in our area, after having previously only seen them in their normal range of Florida and Texas. It was a life bird for Kyle, so that was exciting. The bird spent the duration of our time there partially hidden by vegetation, so Linda sent me one of her pics from earlier in the day to use for this post – thanks Linda!
I have a good number of Common Loon photos to get through, but I will post in the next day or so; it’s one of my favorite posts of the year, so I’m looking forward to it. Here is a teaser from earlier this morning, during a break in the rain:
I went out and walked the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop trail to follow up on an eBird report of a Short-billed Dowitcher in the Sussex County portion of the trail. I relocated the SBDO, but I also was fortunate enough to find a STILT SANDPIPER. The bird was feeding most of the time I saw it, head going up and down like a sewing machine. I was feeling lazy and walked the trail without hauling my scope with me, and I really regretted it as the birds were far enough out to make IDing them with binoculars tough. The pond was loaded with shorebirds, in addition to the STSA and the SBDO I also had Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpipers, and Pectoral Sandpipers. Other highlights included a quick look at a young Black-crowned Night-Heron and a beautiful male Northern Harrier hunting over the marsh.
I have to thank Linda Scrima for motivating me this afternoon. I had not come up with a birding plan for the afternoon, and I was feeling a bit uninspired. Earlier in the day, Linda had gone for the Yellow-breasted Chats that had been reported at the Appalachian Trail off the Canal Road bike path in Vernon Township, New Jersey. At that time, she texted a recording of one of the chats calling, but I was unable to listen to it while I was working. Once I was out for the afternoon, I listened to it and I immediately knew I had to run for the birds; it really got me excited to see a chat! When I first arrived, I could hear at least one bird calling, but distant. I stood in the shade and waited it out; the calls came closer and eventually I located the bird as it took a nice high perch and called repeatedly. The bird was a little bit distant, but in perfect light, so I was able to get decent shots (with a very heavy crop). I stayed for a little over an hour and I was only sure of having one chat. Interestingly, it is seven days shy of a year since I had a pair of chats at this same location last summer.
I was a little bit at a loss as to where to bird this weekend. I ran around to multiple locations on Saturday and did not have many birds at all. I ended the day with a stop at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, where I ran into Karen Miller. It was a nice evening but not a good one for photos. We had 4 Short-eared Owls, 6 Northern Harriers, 2 Red-tailed Hawks, and my personal highlight – a Wilson’s Snipe.
This morning I walked the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop with Maria Loukeris. It was beautiful, warm morning and it was a birdy walk but all the birds we saw were expected species. I had a three target birds – Brown Creeper, Fox Sparrow (I need both for my 2015 Orange County list), and Rough-legged Hawk (because typically I would seen many of them by now). I failed to locate any of my target birds, but we had a nice walk where we had 27 species. I’ve included the morning’s list of birds below.
Here’s my list for the morning:
American Black Duck
American Tree Sparrow
~We enjoyed watching the Northern Harriers hunting over the marsh, Liberty Loop 12/13/15.~
I’ve had a busy weekend, but I did get manage to get out and do some birding early Saturday morning. I met Maria Loukeris over at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, and we walked the Liberty Loop trail. It was a gorgeous morning, crisp with nice light and just a little bit of a breeze. We found plenty of birds to make the walk interesting, but I did not manage to see any of my target birds – Brown Creeper, Fox Sparrow, and Rusty Blackbird, all three of which I need for Orange County for this year. The highlight of the morning for me was seeing hundreds of waterfowl (Canada Geese, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintails, and Green-winged Teals) pick up, circle around the refuge and then put back down again. We did alright with raptors with a Turkey Vulture, several Northern Harriers, an adult Bald Eagle, and 3 Red-tailed Hawks. My list for the day includes 26 species; nothing amazing, but it still made for a nice morning of birding that I was grateful to have.
American Black Duck
American Tree Sparrow
It was a rainy, wet and cold day for starters. I woke up early with the plan to get out early before heading up to Mt. Peter for my Saturday hawkwatch. I wanted to go to Owens Station Crossing to try for the tern I saw last night and also to try for the Red-necked Phalarope that Ken Witkowski had reported seeing in the back pool of the Liberty Loop. As I drove through a pretty steady rain, I was surprised to get a call from Maria Loukeris; she and Linda Scrima were already at Owens Station Crossing and wanted to try for the phalarope. And Marianne O. was on her way. Four birders out on the worst rainy morning in recent memory? Sounds good to me!
Shortly after arriving at Owens Station Crossing, I relocated the tern in the distance, perched on a stump in the lake. The tern flew for us one time (before I even had my camera out!!), but it gave us some good looks, coming closer in decent light. We were in agreement that the bird was likely a COMMON TERN. Perched, the bird did not stand tall and appeared to have a short neck, a hint of a dark carpal bar could be seen, dark primary/wing edges were very apparent, and the tail did not extending past wingtips. In flight, the wings were strongly angled back, and showed a dark trailing edge on the primaries.
We headed down the trail that leads to the back pond of the Liberty Loop. Shortly after arriving, Marianne located a Short-billed Dowitcher. Linda was the only one with a camera out due to the steady, continuing rain and she provided me with a photo of the bird. We continued to scan for quite a while, getting very wet and cold. Eventually, I located the RED-NECKED PHALAROPE in my scope! Marianne got on it quickly with her scope and Linda got a quick look in my scope, but unfortunately the bird disappeared into some grasses before Maria got her turn on a scope. It took a while to relocate the bird; when Marianne finally did, Maria got a look and we all got some better looks, but they were by no means good looks, through wet lenses and the bird coming and going through the vegetation. This was a life bird for both Maria and Linda, congrats to them both!
When we got back to the Owens Station Crossing parking lot, we could not relocate the Common Tern; had it moved on already? The weather was trying to break at this point, but the rain continued, just a little lighter than before.
I went home and changed into some dry clothes. It appeared that the rain might stop, so I was going to head to Mt. Peter. Once on the road, it became clear that it was still raining pretty good. Kyle Dudgeon was home from college for the weekend, we exchanged texts and decided to try to get the phalarope for him. We tried for a while at the back pond of the Liberty Loop, but we were unable to relocate the bird, even with the help of a Sussex County birder named Kevin who was out for the bird as well. Kyle and I decided to hit the black dirt to try for shorebirds (me) and raptors (Kyle). We were successful in both searches. American Kestrels were extremely numerous, we didn’t keep count but figured by the evening that we had seen over 30 kestrels! We also saw several Northern Harriers including one Gray Ghost, and we had one immature Bald Eagle fly over. For shorebirds we struggled for the most part with not many being seen, but eventually Kyle’s young eyes located three birds I am thinking might have been BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS; I’ve included a photo of one them below. And then a little later, way out in a field he spotted 23 AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS! (Several of these birds lifted their wings to show wing pits that were not dark). What a day of birding! Crazy weather and awesome birds; it’s usually a good combination.
This evening after work, I was birding the black dirt when I got a call from Marianne O., who told me that a Red-necked Phalarope had been reported at the back pond of the Liberty Loop at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. The quickest way to the back pond is to park at Owen’s Station Crossing and head into the loop from there. I hustled over and parked. I figured I should check the lake there before heading towards the loop. When I did, I saw a tern flying in the furthest part of the lake. I grabbed my gear and headed towards that end of the lake for a closer look and to take some photos. It was raining pretty steadily and getting dark very quickly. Marianne eventually joined me, and unfortunately, we were both stumped in attempting to identify this tern. I’ve put out a few emails looking for some help, but the photos are so poor that I’m not sure they will help. When Marianne and I left at sunset, the bird was still perched out in the lake. I plan on returning first thing in the morning to try and get a better look. If anyone has any thoughts on this bird, please contact me or comment – thanks!