I was a little too busy to officially participate in this year’s Mearns Bird Club‘s Break 100, but I was able to join up with my previous team for a few hours this morning. I met up with John Haas, Karen Miller, and Lisa O’Gorman at Laurel Grove Cemetery in Port Jervis just after 8 am. I know it’s stating the obvious, right now is really good time of year to look for birds. I think with how busy I”ve been with work and in my personal life lately, lost track of that to some extent. It came back to me when I arrived at the cemetery and the team was having a great morning, with several CAPE MAY WARBLERS, Blackpoll Warblers, and at least a couple BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS. One male Cape May was very obliging for photos:
Our next stop was at Elks Brox Memorial Park, where the team added several birds to their tally. I don’t want to say exactly where they stood, but suffice to say they had a good Friday Evening and early Saturday morning and were well on their way to breaking 100. Highlights at Elks Brox included Prairie Warblers, Great Crested Flycatchers, good looks at another couple of Bay-breasted Warblers, and a nice photo op with a male Scarlet Tanager.
From there we headed to Hawk’s Nest; the team added Peregrine Falcon, White-throated Sparrow, and Bald Eagle to their list. The traffic and the loud cars and motorcycles at that place make me absolutely crazy, so I was happy to head up to Reservoir 3 where the only new bird for the team was Brown Creeper. That’s where the team and I parted ways. They were headed to Sterling Forest, I went back to Laurel Grove where I located a CANADA WARBLER before heading home for the day. It was a great morning, and I’ll be curious to see how many species the team finishes with. I’ll update this post when I find out.
*Update: Our team ended the break with a total of 116 species – pretty darn good in my opinion!
It was an interesting and productive weekend of birding for me. It started on Friday evening after work at Ironwood Drive at Sterling Forest State Park. I had over 40 species in total; highlights included an up-close look at a Hooded Warbler, 2 American Woodcocks peenting and in flight, and several Eastern Whip-poor-wills calling. I had an exciting moment when 2 Whip-poor-wills took flight after sunset, calling as they flew right into the parking area at the end of Ironwood Drive. I could barely see them but I picked them up as they flew through and then disappeared into the night.
On Saturday morning, I woke up unsure of where to bird, or even what type of birding I should do. I had thoughts of shorebirds at the Route 207 Marsh, but instead I headed to Port Jervis to try for passerines. I went to Laurel Grove Cemetery first and it was birdy, but without many warblers present. New birds for the year (for me) included: Brown Thrasher, Least Flycatcher, and Chimney Swifts. From there, I headed up to Elks Brox Memorial Park, where it was also birdy, but with many more warblers. I had 10 species of warbler: Ovenbird, Worm-Eating Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, BAY-BREASTED WARBLER, BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler. Best of all, I got some decent looks and photo ops of several species. Other good birds at Elks Brox included: RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES (FOY), Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, and my FOY Eastern Wood-Peewee.
In the afternoon I joined Karen Miller and we headed to the Bashakill to volunteer for Nature Watch. A pair of BLACK TERNS had been located and reported earlier in the day by the Mearns Bird Club outing, so we stopped at Haven Road first to try for the birds. When we arrived, several other birders were also looking for the birds, which hadn’t been seen in nearly 45 minutes. Birding bud Bruce Nott was there and I told him I had a feeling we would see the birds… five minutes later Bruce located them, north of the bridge and quite distant. Karen and I looked at them briefly but then had to head to the Main Boat Launch for Nature Watch. The terns eventually made their way all the way to us, and we enjoyed viewing them for most of our shift.
Today (Sunday) was yet another cold and rainy day. It rained ALL day long. I got out early and was optimistic that it wouldn’t rain too hard. I went to the 207 Marsh to try for shorebirds. I didn’t stay as long as I would have liked because the rain was relentless and my optics were just saturated. Every time I went use the scope or my binoculars they would instantly fog over. I did add a new shorebird for the year: SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS. I went home to dry off and then headed back out in the afternoon, again in search of shorebirds. I went to Lynch Ave (Least Sandpipers, Solitary Sanpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Killdeer) and then to the Camel Farm (same species plus Greater Yellowlegs). The Camel Farm is loaded with shorebirds right now, but sadly there really isn’t a good spot for viewing. My final stop made all the wet weather birding worth it – I located a GLOSSY IBIS at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve included a documentary shot at the bottom of this post. I have to say it feels good to be home, warm and dry!
The last couple of days were very busy birding-wise, with many birds moving into and through our area. On Friday after work I went to Sterling Forest State Park. I birded the Ironwood Drive area and I did pretty well, getting 15 new county birds for the year:
Black-throated Blue Warbler
This morning I met up with Linda Scrima and we birded Pochuck Mountain State Forest. It was a slow start, but then it got pretty busy; at times it was hard to know which bird to look at there were so many. We had a total of 37 species; highlights included my FOY Great-crested Flycatchers and Veery, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and 10 Species of Warbler:
Worm-eating Warbler (FOY)
Northern Parula (FOY)
Magnolia Warbler (FOY)
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Afterwards, we went over to the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. Highlights included my first Orange County Eastern Kingbirds of the year, a flyover of 2 SANDHILL CRANES, hearing a couple of SORA calling, and a handful of shorebirds (Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, and Killdeer).
I spent the afternoon trying to find more shorebirds. At the Camel Farm I had more yellowlegs and although they were distant, I believe I had 3 Pectoral Sandpipers. On Lynch Avenue in the black dirt I had the same shorebirds that we had at Wallkill River NWR, plus I added my FOY Spotted Sandpiper. My final stop was at Stewart Forest; I stopped quickly at Ridge Road (one Solitary and one Spotted), and then spent some time at the 207 Marsh, where there were many shorebirds present, but I did not add any new species.
For the day today, I added 9 more county year birds – that’s a total of 24 new birds in 2 days, which sure makes for some fun birding.
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’?