Today was another relatively slow day for me at Mt. Peter. I recently wrote that I have been snake bit this season, but in retrospect, I’m not sure that’s true. Instead, I think that the crazy warm temperatures have really affected the counts this year, particularly in October (which has felt more like August). We have had fewer “good” days this October. Last year, we had 10 days with over 50 migrating raptors; this year we have had only 6. We have also had more “bad” days this year, with less than 25 birds on 13 days! Last year, by comparison, had only 8 days in October with less than 25 birds.
I was hoping for the best, but I was not overly optimistic coming into today. The continuing warm temperatures and a south wind were not a promising combination. I totaled 24 migrating raptors (see report below), which was just enough to keep me from going bonkers. An added bonus was that the majority of the migrating birds today flew over very low. This allowed for some really great looks and some photo ops too. I had additional photo ops when one of the local Red-tailed Hawks finally decided to spend some time near the viewing platform. And, I’m always hoping for something a little different to fly over the mountain, and today I was not disappointed – I had 3 skeins of BRANT fly over! I really should have gotten a good Brant photo, but I was a little slow on the draw. The Brant made my day, as they were my 216th species in Orange County this year.
If you had a chance to be out this evening, you know it was a gorgeous night, cool and breezy with an amazing sunset. The only thing that could make it better is a beautiful bird, and the Rusty Blackbird is the kind of bird that can just make your day with their distinctive call and fabulous coloring. I ran into several of these beauties this evening at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary and I’m still smiling about it.
Mount Peter was fogged in this morning, so I took the opportunity to bird a couple of nearby spots before the fog cleared out. My first stop was Cascade Lake, which was very birdy. The most numerous bird was definitely Ruby-crowned Kinglet; I had over a dozen easily. Among the kinglets I had a couple of warblers. One was a Black-throated Green, but the other I haven’t been able to ID. I’ve posted a couple of shots of the bird – if any one has any ideas, please comment. I was surprised to also do well with raptors while there; I had an Osprey, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, and a Cooper’s Hawk.
Next, I went to Wickham Lake, where Yellow-rumped Warblers were the bird of the day; they were seemingly everywhere. Other birds of note included a Pied-billed Grebe and my FOS Ruddy Ducks and Gadwall.
I headed back up to Mt. Pete just before noon. By 12:15 the fog was thinking about clearing out and I began the day’s hawkwatch. I had 7 migrating raptors in the first 45 minutes, which had me thinking it might be a good flight. Alas, it was not to be and I had only 2 additional migrating hawks in the next 4 hours! This has not been my year for hawkwatching so far, but I’m hoping that changes starting next Saturday.
After a spring where I didn’t see any in the county, I’ve been fortunate this fall when it comes to Common Nighthawks. I’ve had nearly a dozen sitings in Orange County, including two occasions when they flew right over our house in Goshen, NY. I was on my way home on September 4th in the evening, when I noticed this bird as it, and several others, hawked insects over the small ice cream stand on the corner of Matthews Street and West Main in Goshen. I pulled over and grabbed my camera. I was pretty excited since the birds were up early and I had good light. I enjoyed trying to track the birds as they flew erratically and hunted; it was certainly a nice end to the day.
09/03/17: After an early morning searching unsuccessfully for shorebirds in the Black Dirt, I came across this Broad-winged Hawk on a wire near 6 1/2 Road Sanctuary. My impression is that this was a very small hawk, in fact, likely the smallest buteo I’ve ever seen; to my eye it appeared to be just a little larger than a Merlin. I’m thinking that this is a small, young, male BWHA. I’m not a fan of wires as a perch for photos, but I do like this one just because it gives a really good look at the hawk.
Friday night’s shorebirds were definitely the highlight of this weekend’s birding, but I did get out both Saturday and Sunday mornings, trying mostly for shorebirds. I had mostly the usuals and my best birds for the weekend were 3 BAIRD’S SANDPIPERS first thing Saturday Morning in the Black Dirt. Also noteworthy was a single Pectoral Sandpiper at Citgo Pond on Sunday morning.
I feel like I have some interesting birding experiences recently. The one that stands out most for me was Saturday morning, when I found a bird at Pine Island Turf Nursery (remember – by permission only), that I was unable to identify. I am at the point with my birding that, when I’m in the black dirt, it’s unusual for me not to be able to identify a bird. Luckily, I was able to get some photos of the bird and I sent them immediately to John Haas and Rob Stone. Both came back with the same answer: a hatch year HORNED LARK. Rob added that it likely had recently fledged. When I first saw the bird, I was thinking HOLA or maybe American Pipit, but looking at it, I could not pin it down. It was really cool to see this bird and also excellent to document that HOLAs are breeding in Orange County. There was a tremendous amount of heat distortion in the air Saturday morning, and I photographed the bird from my car, so I think the heat from my car distorted the pics. What an interesting looking bird:
Also on Saturday morning: At Turtle Bay, I had a pair of young Cooper’s Hawk’s in a distant field. They were among a murder of crows, perhaps 25 or so. The crows were making a racket generally harassing the hawks, as they do. The young hawks seemed to think this was a game and repeatedly chased the crows, sometimes flying after them and other times “hopping” towards them.
All week, Bobolinks have been present in large flocks in the black dirt. They have been quite a sight and I was hoping that I would eventually get a decent photo op; I finally did on Saturday morning and I’ve include my best shot at the top of this post.
On Thursday evening I was at Citgo Pond trying for shorebirds. As I was scanning the pond, a large number of Cedar Waxwings were flying over my head, presumably hawking insects. They were very acrobatic in their flying, turning on a dime and at times bordering on hovering. I attempted to take some flight shots and it proved more difficult than I would have thought; I did manage to get a couple of interesting shots:
And, finally, on Sunday morning I went to Citgo Pond once again for shorebirds (9 Least Sandpipers, 1 Semipalmated Sandpiper, 1 Pectoral Sandpiper, 5 Lesser Yellowlegs, 4 Killdeer). On my way in, I had a pair of young wrens on the trail. I wasn’t sure if they were Marsh or House; I was sort of assuming House but looking at the photos when I got home, I’m thinking they must have been Marsh Wrens. They were along the trail and spending some time in the trees, but also some time in the marsh grasses. Please comment if you can confirm/deny this ID, thanks.
QUICK POST: I got out several times this weekend; most of my birding was relatively uneventful with the exception of getting my first shorebirds of the fall migration – 5 LEAST SANDPIPERS at the Citgo Pond on Friday afternoon. I went back this afternoon and the only shorebirds present was a half dozen Killdeer. Here’s several shots from the weekend.
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!
Kyle Dudgeon and I loaded the kayaks onto my VW Golf this past weekend and headed north to do some Adirondack birding. We were heading to Saranac Lake, where there are some excellent local birding hotspots and the St. Regis Canoe Area is less than a half hour away. This trip has become an annual one for me; I’ve gone the past four years in a row now, but for Kyle, this was his first birding trip in the Adirondacks. Our main goal was to photograph the Common Loons, and if that went well and the timing worked out, we would do some additional birding in the area.
We arrived at the boat launch late Saturday afternoon. The weather seemed good while we were on the road, with mostly sunny skies above us as we made the 4 1/2 hour drive. But, when we got out of the car it was really windy and we immediately saw that the water was extremely rough. As we debated on whether or not to venture into the water, an adult Bald Eagle swooped in by the boat launch and then perched on the other side of the small cove. That convinced us and we headed out in the kayaks. Once in the water, the eagle did not stick around for any photos and the water was rough enough for me to be concerned. I wasn’t worried for our safety, we had life vests and we are both strong swimmers, but between the two of us, we had a lot of camera gear to keep dry.
We eventually made it to some areas that were protected from the wind, making the waves at least tolerable. Unfortunately, we were not having much luck with loons, getting only a brief look at a single bird. I’ve been successful on every other trip, but here I was with Kyle and I was beginning to get worried. We paddled around the large pond, hoping our luck would change and eventually it did. We first heard a loon calling, and then four loons flew in and put down just across the pond from us. We made our way over to them and, as I’ve experienced in the past, the birds were comfortable with our presence and went about their business. The loons had put down in an area where the water was pretty rough, which made it really tough to take photos, but in the end I felt like the water movement really added to the photos. Later, as we paddled back to the launch, Kyle and I decided to definitely give it another try first thing in the morning, hoping that the wind would die down a bit and make for some easier paddling.
We arrived at the boat launch right at sunrise on Sunday morning. And the water was like glass. What a difference a day makes! The light was gorgeous and the paddling was super easy. We spent 2 1/2 hours on the water; we did well with more Common Loons, including finding one that was on a nest. We were also hearing many songbirds along the shores of the pond and the islands in the pond. We had an excellent close encounter with a Blackburnian Warbler, but I somehow blew my photos of that bird. Kyle did better than I did, you can check it out, as well as all his photos from the trip here. The highlight of the morning, however, was an adult female Common Merganser with 8 of the cutest chicks you’ve ever seen!
It was still early when we finished up kayaking, so we hit a couple of hotspots to try and get Kyle some target birds. We were hoping for Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, and Black-backed Woodpecker. We made brief stops at both Bloomindale Bog and Bigelow Road. Both areas were birdy, but the birds were mostly heard and not seen. We had our best luck at Bigelow Road, where right near the trailhead we had a great look at a Nashville Warbler. Further on, we eventually heard a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers, which were frustratingly close to the trail, considering we never got even a glimpse. Then, on our way back to the car, we first heard and then saw a single young Gray Jay. The bird did not cooperate, so no photos. We wrapped up the weekend with a nice big, late, breakfast before getting on the road. It was another great trip to the Adirondacks, a place that I’ve grown to really love in recent years. Huge thanks to Kyle for joining me; he was great company.
QUICK TEASER: Kyle Dudgeon and I took a trip up north this weekend for some awesome Adirondack birding. We took loads of photos (especially of Common Loons), so it may take me a little time to get through them. Stay tuned for a post in the next few days.