Finally! Orange County RUFFED GROUSE!

~I have this as an Acadian Flycatcher. It was only doing half of its call (the “peetz” in  the “pizza!” call), but it sounded good to me. Black Rock Forest, 06/10/18.~

RUFFED GROUSE is a bird that I have been trying to get in Orange County for several years now; it’s a bird that, for some reason, really captured my imagination and one that I’ve put in a concerted effort to try and find in the county. So, imagine how pleased I was when I saw Ajit Antony’s eBird report of a RUGR at Black Rock Forest in my “Year Needs Alert” email from eBird on Friday. I had a work obligation yesterday, but I got up early to try for the bird this morning.

It was frustrating start to the morning for me. I don’t know Black Rock Forest at all, so I originally went to completely the wrong place. Then I went to the Black Rock Forest main parking area, where I had a Hooded Warbler calling as soon as I got out of the car.  I looked at the map trying to locate “Jupiter’s Boulder”.  An obliging local hiker helped me out and told me it would be best to drive to another trailhead, on Old Mineral Springs Road. So, I got back in the car and drove there; I walked nearly half a mile and realized I’d forgotten rain gear for my camera – it sure felt like rain, so I walked back to the car to get it (thus guaranteeing no rain). Then, I was finally ready to take a hike. I’d never birded that area before and it was a nice hike with a beautiful waterfall (no pic, my cell phone died!), and good amount of birds – mostly the usuals but with a couple favorites of mine – Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and a couple of Acadian Flycatchers. You can see my eBird report here.

Ajit’s report stated he heard the drumming of a RUGR “to the SW, a little way from Jupiter’s Boulder”.  As I was nearing Jupiter’s Boulder (I didn’t know it at the time, having never been), I came around a bend in the trail and about twenty-five feet or so off the trail, to the left of me,  2 RUFFED GROUSE popped straight up – and like bats out of hell, one flew to the left and the other to the right. They made such a ruckus, it really startled me. I followed the one that headed to the right, hoping to see it put down, but it just kept going until it disappeared into the brush. I continued on the trail, hoping to get lucky and relocate that bird, but it was always going to be tough. Jupiter’s Boulder was only another 100 yards or so up the trail, so I sat there for a while and had some breakfast, hoping to hear or see something. Of course, I never saw either bird again, but wow was that exciting. Huge thanks to Ajit for reporting – Ruffed Grouse is my 250th Orange County life bird. Now, let’s see how many years before I get a GOOD look at one…

~My ONLY other photo op of the morning – a Brown-headed Cowbird. This has the look of a young bird to me. Black Rock Forest, 06/10/18.~
~I took this shot a couple weeks ago at the Bashakill and I’ve wanted to post it – two Bank Swallows displaying courtship behavior; they just looks so sweet to me and Bank Swallow is not a bird I get to photograph very often.~  

Whoa… Orange County BOBCAT!





~What a beautiful creature – Bobcat in Orange County, NY 05/21/18.~

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.

~Bobcat in OC, 05/21/18.~


OC Sandhill Crane, 05/13/18

~SANDHILL CRANE at Wallkill River NWR, Liberty Lane 05/13/18.~ 

I was fortunate enough to run into Kent Warner at the Liberty Loop first thing this morning. He was on his way out, but he gave me the heads up that he’d heard a SANDHILL CRANE calling north of Oil City Road. I birded from the platform and then hit the west side of the loop, seeing and hearing mostly the usuals, although I did pick up my FOY Willow Flycatcher and Orchard Oriole. Of note was the absence of the Tundra Swan which had been present for just over a week. Then, I headed down Liberty Lane to try for the crane, and sure enough the bird was present feeding in the corn fields. I was happy to finally catch up with this bird – it had been reported in the last month by Linda Scrima, Rob Stone, as well as several others. It’s always excellent to see a SACR; it’s that much better when it’s in Orange County.  Later in the morning, Rick Hansen reported that the bird had flown over the Liberty Loop viewing platform.

~Ovenbird calling at Pochuck Mountain SP, 05/10/18.~ 

I birded a couple of other spots this morning. The Camel Farm had a good number of Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, and 2 SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS. At Pochuck Mountain the trail was quite birdy, but all the birds were WAY up at the treetops (with the exception of Ovenbirds). Best birds were a couple of Blackburnian Warblers, several Black-throated Green Warblers, and a handful of Northern Parulas.

~Wood Thrush in some nice evening light from earlier this week, 05/08/18.~ 
~Tundra Swan. This shot was taken at the Liberty Loop on Friday, 05/11/18. The bird was not present this morning.~ 

Another Lesson in Swan Identification, 05/06/18

~The bird in question – Swan Sp. at Liberty Loop 05/06/18.~

Back in November of 2012, I wrote a blog post entitled ‘A Lesson in Swan Identification’. Today was round two in swan identification for me. After a morning of birding in Port Jervis for migrating songbirds (see more on this below), I went to the Liberty Loop platform to see what was going on. In the first pond, there was a swan that was not a Mute Swan. I grabbed my scope and checked the bird out – the first thing I looked for was where the bill meets the head when you look head-0n at the bird. Typically, a V-shape indicates Trumpeter and a U-shape indicates Tundra Swan. Well, this bird had a V-shape, clearly, no doubt about it (see photo below). I was thinking, wow – could I have a Trumpeter here? But something wasn’t sitting right with me. Actually a couple of things. I’d talked with Rob Stone and he mentioned the size. A Trumpeter would be very large; to my eye the bird did not appear that large, but there were no nearby birds for context. The second thing was the connection of the bill to the eye. For a Trumpeter, the connection is very substantial, whereas a Tundra is less so. With today’s bird, the connection did not seem heavy enough to me.

~I’ve included this photo to illustrate the “V” where the bill meets the bird’s “forehead”. Tundra Swan at the Liberty Loop, 05/06/18.~

I put the word out that I had a possible Trumpeter and Karen Miller, John Haas, and Bruce Nott all ran for the bird. We had amazing scope looks (even though the bird spent much of the time tucked in). We poured through field guides. The conclusion was that we just didn’t know – we would enter it in eBird as Swan Sp. and seek help with the ID. John provided Kevin McGowan’s contact information, so I emailed him some photos, thinking maybe we would hear back sometime this week. Well, he responded right away: Looks like a SY Tundra Swan: rounded head, very prominent eye nearly disjunct from the black face. The V-notch of the bill is typical of young Tundras and not a mark for Trumpeter. How’s that for a curve ball? That is a detail that I did not pick up when I was researching for my post back in 2012. The V actually switches species depending on the age of the bird (ie., the V= Adult Trumpeter OR young Tundra). No one ever said birding was easy, ha ha. Well, chalk it up to another learning experience, which is really what it’s all about. And when it comes down to it, if you told me this morning I’d have a Tundra Swan in OC, I’d have been thrilled. And so I am.

In other news…..

~Carolina Wren singing its heart out, Reservoir 1 05/06/18.~

I birded Laurel Grove Cemetery and Reservoir 1 in Port Jervis this morning. From 7-8 am, Laurel Grove was hopping! It was mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, but I also managed to find a Magnolia Warbler, 3 Cape May Warblers, and my first Chimney Swifts of the year. Reservoir 1 was quieter, but I did see my first Chestnut-sided Warbler of the year. Good morning and a good weekend – I add a remarkable 32 species to my OC year list over the weekend!

~Cape May Warbler at Laurel Grove Cemetery 05/06/18.~
~Veery at Reservoir 1, 05/06/18.~


Orange County CATTLE EGRET! 05/01/18

~CATTLE EGRET flies over the platform at the Liberty Marsh this evening, 05/01/18.~ 

This evening I met up with Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh. We were following  up on a second  hand report by Ken McDermott, from earlier in the day, of a CATTLE EGRET at the marsh. We had a pretty fabulous night of birding, with 4 species of shorebirds being seen right along Oil City Road (Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe, and Solitary Sandpiper). An American Bittern called as soon as I got out of the car, and Linda got a sweet shot of one in flight (see below). Sora could be heard calling from just east of the viewing platform. And then, the CATTLE EGRET flew out of the marsh and right over the platform! It headed north and settled down just off of Liberty Lane. It didn’t stay there for long, however, it picked up and, lucky for us, put down about 100 yards out from the viewing platform. Excellent, lucky night of birding!

~Wow! American Bittern in flight at the Liberty Loop, 05/01/18. Photo by Linda Scrima.~ 
~Lesser Yellowlegs at the Liberty Loop, 05/01/18.~ 

Wow! Five AMERICAN BITTERNS at the Liberty Loop!

~Super grainy, but I was thrilled to get this photo of my first ever American Bittern in Orange County. Liberty Loop, 04/20/18.~

What started out as an uneventful evening ended up being an incredible birding experience. I met Maria Loukeris out at the Liberty Loop; we walked out Liberty Lane – highlights included some distant unidentified shorebirds, several White-crowned Sparrows and my FOY Swamp Sparrows. As we were walking back to the cars, I turned to Maria and said “Let’s go look for some American Bitterns”.  I was only half joking, and I had no idea what was in store for us. As we reached the parking area, Maria picked up two birds flying across the marsh and exclaimed “bittern!”.  I got on them immediately and was thrilled to see two AMERICAN BITTERNS fly from the front pond and head southwest towards the back of the marsh. We went to the viewing platform; we were pretty sure that we wouldn’t see them again, but had to try. But, then we heard another AMBI calling from just to our left. We scanned and remarkably, Maria located the bird right away. As I ran to get my scope from the car, a different AMBI took flight and flew north over Oil City Road. Shortly after that, yet another bittern joined the one that was calling – that gave us a total of five American Bitterns! I put the word out, and Linda Scrima made record time to arrive to see a pair of them in the scope before we lost the light. What a night! I’m still freaking out!

Bashakill EURASIAN WIGEON, 03/10/18

~Wow! EURASIAN WIGEON seen from Haven Road at the Bashakill WMA, 03/10/18.~

Well, as we all know, timing is crucial when it comes to birding. This week my timing went from poor to excellent. It initially looked to me like I might miss out on seeing the EURASIAN WIGEON that John Haas located on Thursday. Instead, the bird stuck around and when I arrived first thing this morning, it was relatively close to the road and the light was beautiful! I was very excited about this. Wilma Amthor joined me shortly after my arrival, and shortly after that we had a small crowd of birders on the bird, including Diane Bliss, Karen Miller, Scotty Baldinger, Kevin Kreischer, and of course, John. It’s been several years since I’ve seen a Eurasian Wigeon (2014), and I’d forgotten what an absolutely gorgeous bird it is. Additionally, this is my first time seeing the bird in New York State.

~John and I had 4 Eastern Bluebirds hawking insects below the Birch Trail Lookout at the Bashakill WMA, 03/10/18.~

I spent the remainder of the morning and the early afternoon at the Bashakill and every bird was a year bird for the county since it was my first birding foray into Sullivan County for 2018.  I was happy that John offered for me to join him to check out the Pine Boat Launch; my car never would have made it down that treacherous pothole-filled road. John also gave a tip to go to the Horseshoe Pulloff for a Winter Wren. The bird was exactly where he said it would be; it was singing but never made an appearance. I managed to get 2 Orange County nemeses birds today: Winter Wren and Fox Sparrow, and I totaled 40 species for the day, which I felt was pretty good. Huge thanks to John for finding and reporting the wigeon, and also for his help and company today.

~Female Hooded Merganser at the Bashakill WMA, 03/10/18.~
~Eurasian Wigeon, looking coy, Bashakill 03/10/18.~

Back to Birding the OC

~A Rough-legged Hawk flexes its wings in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~ 

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.

~Golden Eagle on its usual perch at Storm King State Park, 02/10/18.~

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.

~There were loads of Bald Eagles on the Hudson River this weekend. These two adults were cruising the ice floes at the Newburgh Waterfront, 02/10/18.~

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.

~These dudes made my weekend – 2 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~

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.

~A wet, very lightly colored Red-tailed Hawk in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18. I thought this bird was interesting and I think it looked light than these photos came out…
~…I didn’t get photos of the bird in flight, but the topside was also very light as you can see in this perched shot.~
~I heard them before I saw them – Snow Buntings in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~ 
~Upside down White-breasted Nuthatch at Storm King State Park, 02/11/18.~ 
~Common Grackle in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~ 

Westchester County Barnacle Goose, 02/04/18

~BARNACLE GOOSE!!! With a Cackling Goose just to the left. Rye, New York 02/04/18.~ 

I remember a blog post from a few years back on 10,000 Birds where Corey Finger referred to the BARNACLE GOOSE as “inherently cool”. That struck a chord with me at the time because I felt the same way. To me, of all all the geese we get in our area, the Barnacle Goose is definitely the coolest and by far my favorite. I finally got my lifer back in December of 2014 in Ramsey, New Jersey, after dipping several times on the one that was in Orange County in 2012 (I think) and also missing out on the one at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx (I ran for the bird after work one day, which happened to be the first day it hadn’t been seen in ages).

So, I knew that if the bird was still being reported, I would run this weekend for the Barnacle Goose that had been reported all week at Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. When I arrived in the morning, the bird was not on the pond at the sanctuary, where it has mostly been seen. Luckily, I ran into Tom Burke and Gail Benson while I was there; an hour or so after seeing them they called to say they had located the bird on private property. I raced over to join them and got excellent scope views of the bird. I was pretty excited to see the bird, first just because it’s a Barnacle (see paragraph above), and secondly because I was convinced at that point that I was not going to get it. The BAGO’s  Cackling Goose buddy was right by its side, it was my first Cackler of 2018. The birds were a little distant for good photos, but I was happy to document my first Barnacle in New York State. Huge thanks to Tom and Gail; I never would have gotten the bird without them, not a chance.

~A Barnacle Goose and a nice photo op with a Peregrine Falcon make for a darn good day of birding. This PEFA was perched in a tree on the boardwalk at Rye Playland and did not seem to mind the many folks and dogs that were passing below.~ 

Awesome Birding in New Jersey, 01/27/18

~A Merlin posed nicely for us in good light at Round Valley Reservoir, 01/27/18.~

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.

~A pair of American Coots at Round Valley Reservoir, 01/27/18.~
~The EARED GREBE is the bird farthest to the left; with 8 Horned Grebes, Round Valley Reservoir, 01/27/18.~

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.

~Maria got the best shot of the GYRFALCON,  Warren County NJ, 01/27/18. Photo by Maria Loukeris.~

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.

~Wow! Big, beautiful bird! GLAUCOUS GULL, Warren County NJ , 01/27/18. Digiscoped pic, using Maria’s iPhone.~

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. 

~Four GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE  in Warren County, NJ  01/27/18. Digiscoped image using Linda’s iPhone.~
~Snow Geese putting on a show, Warren County, NJ 01/27/18.~
~A female Bufflehead takes a dive at Round Valley Reservoir, 01/27/18.~
~Tundra Swan following a Mute Swan, Round Valley Reservoir, 01/27/18.~