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.
Early this morning, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I headed to Manasquan Inlet to try for the PACIFIC LOON that has been seen there. This was definitely one of the easier rarities we’ve run for – we parked the car and the bird was in the channel right in front of us! And what a beautiful bird, a nice dark loon with a lovely chin strap. It was also very cooperative, swimming quite close and the light was pretty nice too. This bird alone was definitely worth the trip, but we also had some really nice photo ops with some Long-tailed Ducks (which are apparently a garbage bird around there!) and a gorgeous RED-THROATED LOON. We checked for gulls from Red’s Lobster Pot and got lucky with a 1st winter ICELAND GULL. Unfortunately that bird was just too far for pics. Then we walked out onto the jetty, where we enjoyed seeing many of the usuals – highlights included a Common Goldeneye flyby, a flock of Dunlin, and 2 Horned Grebes.
We then headed to the Trenton Sewage Ponds in Mercer County to try for the TOWNSEND’S WARBLER that has been there. We were informed as soon as we arrived by other birders that the bird was still present, and we got on it not too long after that. It was a good looking warbler, but unfortunately the lighting was absolutely horrible and the bird was severely backlit from our vantage point. We tried for a while to get shots of the bird as it foraged around the pools, and eventually the bird perched in a nearby tree. It was still backlit, but closer to us and with a natural setting made the difference for me. Also present was a Eastern Phoebe, several Yellow-rumped Warblers, a handful of Ruby-crowned Warblers, and a Palm Warbler.
Both birds were lifers for all three of us – it’s not too often we get lifers these days, so it was AWESOME!
This morning I headed up to Sullivan County. All week John Haas and others had been reporting some really good birds in the Liberty area of SC. I was especially ready for some good birding after a pretty disappointing Saturday birding locally in Orange County. The day was saved by a single bird – a PINE SISKIN at Linda Scrima’s feeding station – thanks so much Linda!
I connected early with John and he met me at Rayano’s feeder station, where I was able to briefly get on a single EVENING GROSBEAK. It was my lifer EVGR, so I was pretty pumped (#415). I snapped a few distant, documentary shots before the bird flushed. And then, while we waited hoping the bird would return, Karen Miller called John to report that she had COMMON REDPOLLS on Clements Road. We raced over (and when I say raced, I mean it – I didn’t know the way and I was trying to keep up with John, who was on a mission! Let’s just say I’m glad I recently got new tires.). Fortunately the birds were still present. We had great looks and I tried for pics but they were just a bit out of range for good ones.
Afterwards, I headed back to Rayano’s, hoping for a better look and maybe some photos of the grosbeaks. Karen joined me, as did a trio of birders from Rockland County as well as Ken McDermott and Lisa O’Gorman. We all waited for a good while and I was the first to leave. I figured I’d check the feeders at Woodard Road before heading back, and I’m glad I did. When I arrived there were nearly a dozen EVENING GROSBEAKS at the feeder station. I put out the word and then took photos. The whole crew from Rayano’s joined me, but unfortunately the birds flushed just as they pulled up. I couldn’t believe it! I waited a little while, but the birds did not seem like they were coming back any time soon so I left. Ken notified me later that 16 EVGRs showed up not too long after I left and everyone got them. Excellent day of birding!
I had to break tradition this year on Black Friday. Due to the recent substantial snowfall, Wildlife Drive at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge was closed, so I decided to try a new spot. I headed to Onondaga Lake Park’s West Shore Trail to follow up on recent eBird reports of COMMON REDPOLLS there. I’d never been to the park; I found the parking area easily enough and as soon as I got out of my car, a local photographer named Tim was kind enough to give me the lay of the land. There is a network of trails that run along the shore of the lake and around the amphitheater. Tim went off on his own, but we met up not too much later and we ended up spending the rest of the day birding together. The trail was birdy with many of “the usuals”, with American Robins being the most prominent. Raptors were around in decent numbers; we had several Red-tailed Hawks, a couple of young Bald Eagles, and a Cooper’s Hawk (which I misidentified in the field as a Sharp-shinned Hawk) that did a very nice, close flyby. The lake didn’t have as much waterfowl as I’d hoped, but we did have six species, including a distant large flock of what looked to me like Scaup, but I’m not sure which one. We saw fresh Coyote tracks in the snow, as well as some scat; it would have been excellent to catch up with one of them!. The highlight of the day, however, was coming across a small flock of COMMON REDPOLLS just off the trail. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen them, back in 2013 at the Shawangunk Grasslands. I’ve seen one report this year already in Orange County, let’s hope they continue. It was a good day of birding, it was a cool, crisp day and we hiked maybe 5 miles and totaled 28 species.
Saturday was a busy day for me, so I’m finally getting around to writing this post early Sunday morning. First, the bad news: hawkwatch at Mt. Peter was a total bust as the mountain was completely fogged in all day. The good news, was that I did some more traditional birding and it was very productive.
My first stop was Skinner Lane. It was supposed to just be a pit stop, but since the fog was showing no sign of lifting and the birding was good, I stayed for a good while (actually, I ran up to Mt. Pete at 10:30 thinking it might be clear; it wasn’t so I headed back to Skinner). When I first arrived, I was impressed by the number of Tree Swallows present. I was pleasantly surprised to find a pretty good sized flock of Horned Larks had moved in, among them several AMERICAN PIPITS. The big surprise came when I was scanning the larks and came across a LAPLAND LONGSPUR! This is a bird that is certainly one of my favorite, has a certain inherent coolness to it, and I just seem to have a knack for tracking them down. I was pumped, and although the bird was not really close, I was able to get some documentary photos; I’ve posted one at the bottom of this post. Kyle Dudgeon joined me shortly after I’d located the LALO, but unfortunately we were unable to relocate it.
Shorebirds were, of course, my initial target for my stop at Skinner. I’d had 6 American Golden-Plovers earlier, and Kyle relocated them as soon as he arrived. Then, we had a single shorebird flying and calling. We tracked the bird in our binoculars, waiting for it to put down. But, it never found a spot that it liked and it rose up and flew out of range. We thought that was the last we would see of the bird, but minutes later it returned and did the same routine but this time it put down in the distance. We relocated to try to get a better vantage point, but alas we were unable to relocate the bird. Based on the overall coloring, size, and its call, we believe that it was a SANDERLING. Karen Miller had arrived, and she was able to get the American Pipits and the American Golden-Plovers, but we were unable to relocate the Lapland Longspur nor the Sanderling.
Kyle and I had an unproductive stop at the Pine Island Turf Nursery, a single Solitary Sandpiper and several American Kestrels were our best birds. Kyle had to head home, but I continued, heading over to Liberty Lane; Rob Stone had let me know it was pretty active earlier in the morning. It was still hopping when I was there. I had a nice walk with loads of birds with almost every step. Swamp Sparrows and Song Sparrows dominated, but there were also some highlights: 4 White-crowned Sparrows, a Palm Warbler, a Blackpoll Warbler, and a CAPE MAY WARBLER. The Cape May Warbler was super accommodating and I was able to take many photos of it. On my way out I had a single Lesser Yellowlegs flying and calling overhead, which was a nice way to end a good day of birding.
QUICK POST: Busy day here, so just putting together some recent photos, most from this weekend, all from within the last week. I just realized as I was writing this that all were taken at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, either at the Liberty Loop or at Winding Waters Trail.
We’re all familiar with our neighborhood wrens, House, Carolina, Winter, Marsh, and Sedge. Of the 5, Winter and Carolina Wrens are resident, while the House, Marsh, and Sedge Wrens are summer breeders in our area. There are actually 88 species of wren occurring throughout North and South America, occupying a number of habitats, and are excellent songsters more often heard than seen. There is, however, one species that occurs in the old world, the Eurasian Wren, largely resident throughout Europe and Asia. Eurasian Wrens had previously been considered the same species as our Winter Wren, but it has recently been split into 3 separate species (‘Winter Wren’ in the eastern US, ‘Pacific Wren’, in the west, and ‘Eurasian Wren’ in the old world). As classification methods improve, we can expect more changes in our understanding of the relationships between familiar birds. Perhaps an increase in ‘armchair lifers’?
From July 7th to the 14th, Tricia and I, along with seven other members of her family rented a house right on the beach in Rossadillisk, Ireland. Rossadillisk is a Townland in County Galway, Ireland. It is very small, taking up just .29 square miles of area. But, it is certainly not the smallest, as, of the approximately 4,556 townlands in County Galway, it is the 2,483rd largest. For such a small area, Rossadillisk packs a pretty mean birding punch. There is great birding along the road – with many fields and plenty of thick vegetation. And then, there is always the beach. I got into a nice routine of getting up nice and early. I would bird the beach right in front of our house and then set off to bird along the road, which is where I found most of my birds. I would finish the morning by birding what I called the “far beach”, which was much larger and more productive than the beach right in front of the house.
For the week, I tallied 46 species of birds in that .29 square miles. I mostly enjoyed the challenge of trying to find birds and identify them; in the beginning, identifying birds was not coming very easily at all. It felt a lot like starting over birding – I came to realize how much I know the birds in our area just because I’ve had plenty of experience with them before and because they are supposed to be there; they are expected. And, I also realized that I’m not actually spending all that much time truly looking at birds and recognizing and knowing their field marks. Additionally, I hadn’t done much homework before the trip, and the guides I was using* just didn’t seem to be quite as comprehensive as the ones we use for birds in the eastern United States, and finally, it was the time of year when there were many young birds around, so some of the plumages I was seeing were not in the guides. This made for some very interesting and rewarding birding, in spite of it being frustrating at times.
I hope you enjoy this little taste of Ireland’s birds – I’ve included my favorite shots from my mornings in Rossadillisk. If I’ve misidentified any birds, please let me know in the comments.
AT THE BEACH
*I used the Complete Field Guide to Ireland’s Birds by Eric Dempsey & Michael O’Clery, as well as two apps on my phone: iBird UK Pro and Birds of Britain and Ireland by Natureguides.
I usually like to post on Sunday nights, or at least once over the weekend, but last night I was having some computer issues, so this post had to wait until today.
I got a nice early start on Sunday morning. I headed to Sterling Forest State Park, where I was going to walk the Sterling Valley Loop, an eight mile hike that I have done several times and is typically quite birdy. I use the end of Ironwood Drive as the trailhead, which is nice as that spot is usually very active with birds, particularly with Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers. I was surprised by the number of cars in the parking area and by the number of birders and photographers lingering around the power cut. This made me switch gears a little bit, and instead of birding the area before heading on the trail, I hit the trail immediately (not to worry, I picked up BWWA and GWWA out on the trail).
You don’t go on a hike like this, at this time of year, especially in the overcast conditions we were having on Sunday, expecting to see and photograph all that many birds. Large stretches of the trail were flat out dark (ISO set to 4000+), and much of my birding was done by ear with the occasional nice surprise of tracking down a bird. I feel like I really appreciate seeing birds so much more when they are harder to come by. I began to rack up the number of species and individuals. The most numerous species were likely American Redstarts and Red-eyed Vireos. Highlights included: hearing a remarkable 6 ACADIAN FLYCATCHERS hearing both species of cuckoo and seeing my first BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO of the year, hearing 4 CERULEAN WARBLERS and finally being able to track one down for at least a documentary photograph, and watching a young Cedar Waxwing get fed by and adult. The best moment of the day came when a young LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH landed on a branch just off the trail to my left. This bird was so stinkin’ cute!
I ended the hike with what I thought was a respectable 56 species. You can see my complete list of species here.
On Saturday morning, I met up with Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris and we headed to Goosepond Mountain State Park to try our luck. We parked at the Laroe Road entrance to the trail, which has been renovated since the last time I was there – the parking area is better with fresh gravel and the entrance to the trail has been cleared of all overflowing vegetation. I was on a bit of a tight schedule, but we still managed to walk a pretty good portion of the trail, walking nearly a mile and a half in before turning around.
It was a birdy walk, but with all the trees leafing out, we certainly had more birds heard than seen. We had many BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS; they were mostly heard but we did track down several of them and they all were, indeed, Blue-winged Warblers (no hybrids, no Golden-winged Warblers). American Redstarts were numerous, as were Eastern Towhees, one of which provided a nice photo op. We didn’t know it at the time, but our best bird of the day was a flycatcher, perched high on a dead tree snag. The sun was on the other side of the bird, causing it to be severely backlit. We spent some time trying to turn it into an Olive-sided Flycatcher, but in the end we left the bird unidentified. That is, until Maria got home and looked at her photos. In the pics she could see that the bird had white tufts on its back – indicative of an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER! I never even knew this was a field mark for OSFL! When I got a chance to look at my photos and lifted the shadows, sure enough the tufts were quite evident (see photo below). I thought it was really nice work by Maria to pick up on it and I was happy to have taken a few photos of the bird – you never know! I’d had some possible OSFLs in the past – all out at the Bashakill, but I was never certain enough to count them – so this bird is a lifer for me : )
AND A FEW PHOTOS TO CATCH UP FROM EARLIER THIS WEEK: