It was an excellent morning for waterfowl in southern Orange County – I had good birds at nearly every stop I made and a total of 18 species (see my list by location, below). But, it was one extremely accommodating Horned Grebe at Greenwood Lake which made my day. Greenwood Lake is not typically a spot that is good for photos – the birds are typically quite distant – in fact, I often leave my camera in the car. Well I was glad I had it with me today as this HOGR came in close and fed well, completely unconcerned with my presence. I love it when, every once in a while, things work out really well. Here’s what I had today, by location:
6 1/2 STATION ROAD SANCTUARY: 6 Green-winged Teal, 35 Canada Geese, 5 Mallards, 9 American Black Ducks, 2 Mute Swan, and 1 Northern Shoveler.
GLENMERE LAKE: 12 Common Loons, 10 Horned Grebes, 2 Mute Swans, 5 Canada Geese, 6 American Black Ducks, 3 Bufflehead,and 4 Wood Ducks. Thanks to Kathy Ashman for reporting – she had 16 Common Loons prior to my arrival.
It had been a while (over five years!) since I’ve birded Sandy Hook, NJ (part of the Gateway National Recreation Area), so I jumped at the opportunity to take a day trip with birding buds Maria Loukeris and Linda Scrima. Our first stop was to check on the large group of seals that have been seen on the sand bar near lot C. I’ve never seen anything like it; over 100 seals of all shapes and sizes, piled up on a single sand bar. We spent some time with the seals, enjoying incredible scope views and taking loads of pics. This was not something I expected to see on this day. We also picked up our first shorebirds of the day, three American Oystercatchers, as well as several species of waterfowl: Brant, Horned Grebe, American Black Duck, Bufflehead, and Red-breasted Mergansers. Northern Gannets streamed overhead and out in the distance, a theme for the day, as we easily saw over 100 gannets for the day.
From there, we headed out to the point. Our target bird was Piping Plovers, which unfortunately were not to be found. We picked up some other shorebirds, however. Many Sanderlings were working the shoreline and flying over the water, four Black-bellied Plovers were hanging out closer to the dunes, and we had a handful of additional oystercatchers. For waterfowl we added several species to our list: We had a small group of Black Scoters, several Long-tailed Ducks, a Red-necked Grebe, a Double-crested Cormorant, and a trio of Common Loons. We also had our FOY Eastern Phoebe and Osprey.
When we got back to the car, Maria received a text alert – TUFTED DUCK at the “North Pond”! But where is the North Pond? Fortunately we ran into a large group of birders who had just come from viewing the Tufted Duck and they gave us perfect directions. We went for the bird and although it was not in sight at first, we waited it out and eventually it swam back into view amongst a group of Ring-necked Ducks – a beautiful rarity! I saw a TUDU one other time several years back, but the look was distant so I really appreciated the great looks we got of this one.
On the way home we stopped at Raritan Bay Waterfront Park. We were hoping for some of the excellent gulls that had been recently reported, but the tide was too high and there were not many gulls present. We scanned for waterfowl and I was impressed with the large number of Horned Grebes present – easily over a dozen. We added a single species to our list for the day – Red-throated Loon – putting our total to over 40 species for the day. What a super day – excellent birds (and sea mammals) and great company.
The Lapland Longspur is another bird that, to me, has an inherent coolness factor. Even the name is cool. I can remember when I first began birding, looking in a guide at the Lapland Longspur and thinking: Now THIS is a bird I would like to see. Of course, I was looking in the book at the bird in breeding plumage- rather than the more muted winter plumage we see them in here in Orange County. I hadn’t had much luck photographing LALOs this winter until today in the black dirt, where I located approximately a half dozen amongst flock of horned larks. The snow cover was forcing the birds to feed at the roadside, so I finally got my photo op. And, at this late date in the winter, some of the birds were just starting to get their summer colors – it’s the first time I’ve ever had LALOs showing any significant amount of breeding plumage – I think they look awesome!
I was pretty psyched when recently the Turkey Vultures began roosting in our backyard again. It’s so exciting to get home from work in the evenings and have a tree full of vultures on the property. Even better, today came home early to find them all hunkered down to get through the snow storm. I’m not sure how excited others would get at having them in their yard, but I love it. They made my day today.
Sometimes it only takes one bird. To make your day. Your weekend. Your week. Today it was this gorgeous and super cooperative ICELAND GULL at the Beacon Waterfront. Huge thanks to Maria Loukeris for locating and reporting.
Until I started writing this post, I was feeling like my weekend of birding was a little bit on the hum-drum side. But looking back, I actually had some pretty good birds over the weekend, even if it wasn’t overly exciting. On Saturday morning, I made a quick stop at Glenmere Lake, following up on a report from Kathy Ashman of a Cackling Goose on the lake. When I arrived, nearly all the geese, including the Cackler, had already flown. The stop was still worthwhile, however, since I was able to see my first Green-winged Teals, Wood Duck, and Northern Pintails of the year. Then, I ventured back to the Hudson River, spending most of the day working my way from the Bear Mountain Bridge up to Newburgh and getting mostly the usuals. I went to Storm King State Park again, hoping the Golden Eagle would be present, but unfortunately it was not. I walked the trail for a good while, hoping that the bird might make an appearance; if it did I, missed it. There were many raptors in flight over the mountain, however; I had several Bald Eagles, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, nearly 2 dozen Black Vultures and a couple of Turkey Vultures. I ended the day in the Newburgh Waterfront area, hoping for any interesting gulls. I struck out with the gulls, but thanks to birding bud Bruce Nott, I did get my first Orange County RED-BREASTED MERGANSER of 2018.
I got out a little later than I should have on Sunday morning and missed the majority of the geese at Glenmere Lake once again. It was a good stop though, I picked up my first OC Ring-necked Ducks of the year and also had a female Red-breasted Merganser. I cruised the black dirt afterwards, hoping that the overnight snow would push some larks and buntings out to the roads. This proved not to be the case and I actually had very few Horned Larks in my travel (just 2 flocks totaling approximately 70 birds). The highlight of my morning was watching the large flocks of mixed blackbirds (Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Common Grackles). There is something about large flocks of birds, watching them and hearing them is just fascinating. I tried for some pics, but mostly I was disappointed with the results. I ended the day with a nice, low-flying Bald Eagle which provided a decent photo op.
I was up and out early this morning, looking to add some of the good birds currently being seen to my 2018 list. At Glenmere Lake, I relocated the Red-headed Woodpecker that I’d originally located the day after Christmas. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker stole the show, however, giving me super looks as I birded from the area right around the parking lot.
I cruised through the black dirt briefly, finding just the usuals. After meeting Tricia for lunch at the Goshen Diner, I headed to Johnson Road in Chester, hoping for the GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE that John Haas had located earlier in the week. When I arrived, there were not many geese present; I sorted through them quickly without finding the GWFG and then made my way towards the Newburgh Waterfront.
I had two target birds at the waterfront: the continuing Iceland Gull (at least I hoped it was continuing), and a pair of Canvasbacks that Ken McDermott had reported there, just yesterday. I met Linda Scrima there and at first it did not look good for getting either bird. Gulls were relatively scarce and there was no sign of the Canvasbacks. We put in some time, which was tough because of how cold it was today, and eventually we located the Iceland Gull. The bird was incredibly cooperative and swam quite close, allowing for some nice photos in the waning light. Bill and Jayne Fiero showed up with impeccable timing and got the gull as well. The Canvasbacks did not make an appearance; other notable birds included a decent number of Common Mergansers (75+) and 4 adult Bald Eagles. All in all, a VERY cold but fun and productive day of birding.
I really didn’t have much in the way of expectations for my first day of birding in 2018. I knew I wanted to get up early to try for the two ROSS’S GEESE at Glenmere Lake, but beyond that I didn’t have a plan. It was zero degrees Fahrenheit when I woke up, but I managed to rustle myself out of bed and get to the lake before the geese left. When I arrived, there were several other birders that had the same idea as me: Karen Miller, Diane Bliss, Mike Mallon, Rick Hansen, and Kathy Ashman were all present, getting their Orange County Ross’s Goose for the new year. I waited with Karen, Diane, and Mike for the geese to pick up, since the 2 Ross’s spent most of the time with their heads tucked in. On my way out, I was talking to Kathy in the parking lot and we decided to walk the trail. Kathy had already walked it earlier with Rick, but was game for some more birding.
I haven’t spent much time birding the trail at Glenmere, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We ended up having an incredible morning with nice variety of songbirds and some close encounters. How’s this for some good birds on January 1st: Golden-crowned Kinglet (many!), Yellow-rumped Warbler (7), Brown Creeper, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Bluebird (12), and six different species of woodpecker! (Hairy, Downy, Red-bellied, N. Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Pileated). Of the likely woodpeckers, we only missed the Red-headed Woodpecker (which is still present, Judy Cinquina, Tom Millard, and Maria Loukeris all saw it today).
At one point, I had a Golden-crowned Kinglet feeding just inches from my right shoulder! I stayed completely still and just enjoyed it; I couldn’t believe how close the bird was, nor could I believe how very tiny they are when you see them that close – they are just little peanuts! We walked the trail until it opens up to a field. The field was very active and we weren’t sure where to look for the next bird. Then a Pileated Woodpecker flew out of the trees right towards us, banking right over our heads before landing on a nearby tree. It really was a super morning of birding and in the end we tallied 28 species for the morning. I’ve not birded one on one with Kathy much before this, and I have to say it was a joy and she is really good – always a step ahead of me picking up birds all around us. Good birding for sure and a great way to start the year.
Well, another year of birding is officially in the books! The end of year post has always been one of my favorites to write; it’s fun for me to look back on the year of birding and remember all the highlights.
2017 MONTH-BY-MONTH HIGHLIGHTS
JANUARY:I went on my first Winter Pelagic and it did not disappoint. I got two life birds on the trip:DovekieandBlack-legged Kittiwake. Snow Geeserepresented well in the black dirt and provided plenty of photo ops. And, aROSS’S GOOSE was an easy get at Monroe-Woodbury Middle School.
FEBRUARY:Snow Geesecontinued to linger in the Black Dirt and a trip to the Jersey Shore yielded two really good birds:RAZORBILL and aLesser Black-backed Gull.
MARCH:I got my lifer Long-earedandNorthernSaw-Whetowls on a trip to Connecticut. There was a trio of Long-tailed Ducks at Glenmere Lake, and 4Sandhill Cranes in Ulster County. I joined Kathy Ashman, Bruce Nott, and Linda Scrima out at Wickham Lake for one of the best waterfowl fallouts I’d seen in the OC; we had 17 species of waterfowl including 3HornedGrebesand 17Redheads(an OC life bird for me!).
APRIL:Early in the month, I went on a family vacation to Sargent, Texas, where I accumulated 12 life birds. A little later in the month I ran for aTrumpeter Swanat the Bashakill.
MAY:A lot went on in May. Good waterfowl sitings included a White-winged Scoterat Glenmere and4 Red-necked Grebes at Wickham Lake. Linda Scrima located and documented very well aSUMMER TANAGERat Laurel Grove Cemetery. I had a 5 swallow night at the Liberty Loop (Tree, Barn, N. Rough-winged, Bank, and Cliff). I participated in the Mearns Bird Club’s Break 100 on a team with John Haas, Karen Miller, and Jeff Goulding. We located one of the best birds of the day,aLESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. The following day, I got my Orange County liferYellow-breasted Chat, originally located during the Break by the team of Alan & Della Wells and Dave and Sharon Baker. At the Grasslands, I picked up 2 life birds in 2 minutes:DICKCISSELandHENSLOW’S SPARROW. At the end of the month I had a super showing of shorebirds at the Camel Farm, including 2RED-NECKED PHALAROPESand 6White-rumped Sandpipers. Later in the evening, Rob Stone would add aWILSON’S PHALAROPEto the list.
JUNE:Things slowed down a bit in June; there was aBlack Ternat the Liberty Loop that I missed out on. The highlight of the month for me was my yearly trip to Adirondacks; this year Kyle Dudgeon joined me and we overdosed onCommon Loons(never a bad thing).
JULY: Linda Scrima located aForster’s Ternat the Liberty Loop; I ran and was able to get some great shots of that bird. Rob Stone relocated 5 WHITE IBISat Wickham Lake and thanks to Curt McDermott and his kayak, I was able to get some good shots of those birds too. Following up on an eBird report, Linda Scrima and I relocated aSNOWY EGRETat Citgo Pond, which was an OC lifer for both of us. I had an amazing encounter with aLEAST BITTERNwith Linda and Maria at Richard W. DeKorte Park – see more about this below.
AUGUST:There was aGlossy Ibisat Citgo Pond, originally located by Bill Fiero. I located a pair ofUPLAND SANDPIPERSin the black dirt.
SEPTEMBER:Hawkwatch at Mt. Peter began; we counted over 6800Broad-winged Hawksfor the month, which is slightly below average. I had my best showing ofCommon Nighthawkssince moving to OC, with nearly a dozen sitings. I located 5SANDERLINGS, another OC lifer for me, in the Black Dirt.
OCTOBER:Linda Scrima struck again and located aNELSON’S SPARROW at the Liberty Loop. I was lucky enough to get that bird one evening after work. Maria Loukeris made her mark, locating aSAY’S PHOEBE, also at Liberty Marsh. Unfortunately that bird did not stick around for anyone else to see it, but it was documented with a beautiful shot by Maria. I had an amazing 36Pectoral Sandpiperslater in the month, again at Liberty Marsh, as well as a very earlyRough-legged Hawkin the Black Dirt.
NOVEMBER:At Mt. Peter, early in the month, I had my firstGOLDEN EAGLEof the season. I also had my first Snow BuntingsandLAPLAND LONGSPURSof the season. Later in the month, thanks to a lead from John Haas, I got my first (of many)Cackling Gooseof the season.
DECEMBER:I located aRed-headed Woodpeckerat Glenmere Lake and then Kathy Ashman located 2 ROSS’S GEESE, also at Glenmere. I also had a pair of ICELAND GULLS at the Newburgh Waterfront, a week later Curt McDermott had 4ICGU and a singleLesser Black-backed Gullat the same location.
BY THE NUMBERS
I almost left this section out this year because most of my numbers aren’t very pretty, but I enjoy looking at the numbers and I think they can be I had decided last year not to concentrate so much on birding in Orange County, but then I turned around and birded OC nearly exclusively, at the expense of the neighboring counties?!? I’m not sure what it is, but I guess I just enjoy getting birds in my home county more than anywhere else. Here’s my species numbers for the year:
MORE NUMBERS: I added 17 birds to my life list in 2017, putting my total at 388. I also added 12 species to my New York State life list bumping that up to 290, and I add 10 birds to my OC life list, giving me a total of 246. This is my 92nd post of the year, down 7 from last year, which I don’t think is too bad based on my birding time being limited these days.
MOST EXCITING BIRDING EXPERIENCE OF THE YEAR: LEAST BITTERN AT RICHARD W. DEKORTE PARK.
On July 30th Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I took a trip down to Richard W. DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst, New Jersey to break up the summer doldrums a bit. We left at the end of the day having had an experience that not many will have. We had an amazing encounter with a Least Bittern that was feeding right next to one of the blinds. The bird was super focused on its prey and never really reacted to us at all. To me, Least Bitterns are among the most secretive birds in our area, so I never dreamed that we could get such a close-up extended look and unbelievable photos ops. I can’t imagine that it will ever happen again for me.
TOP TEN PHOTOS OF 2017
So it’s always difficult for me to pick my top photos of the year – there are so many different criteria I could use I suppose, but basically it just comes down to the shots that I like the best and have held up in my mind over the year.
I’d like to thank everyone who reads the blog and especially those who comment – the comments really keep me going. And, as usual, I’d like to thank all my birding friends out there for yet another excellent year of birding, with special thanks to Rob Stone, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, Kyle Dudgeon, John Haas, Karen Miller, Ken McDermott, and Judy Cinquina. Happy New Year to everyone out there, here’s to an extremely birdy 2018!
First thing this morning I followed up on Kathy Ashman’s report of two ROSS’S GEESE at Glenmere Lake from yesterday morning. It was a dark, cold, and snowy morning; I arrived at the lake before sunrise and immediately located the 2 Ross’s among approximately 300 Canada Geese. I put the word out and John Haas was able to join me. With the snow fall and the heavy cloud cover, it never got light enough for good photos, but we both did our best. Ross’s are always exciting, and in spite of the poor light, the birds were relatively close and we got pretty good looks. Around 9 am, the birds picked up and John and I headed our separate ways. Huge thanks to Kathy for finding and reporting the birds.
My goal for the day was to make a last ditch effort to find some new birds for my Orange County 2017 year list. I scoured the Hudson River, starting at the Bear Bridge and eventually ending up at the Newburgh Waterfront. I was hoping for Canvasback (I’d had 75 near my work in Rockland County the day before!) or for Great Cormorant. It was a fun day exploring new spots and hoping for the best, but ultimately I did not add any birds to my list. The highlight at the Hudson came at my final stop, where I ran into John Haas once again. He had just located an Iceland Gull. The bird was super cooperative and I got some decent shots. John had put the word out, but unfortunately, before anyone else had arrived the bird picked up and flew all the way to Beacon. Curt McDermott and Rick Hansen missed the bird by moments and Curt chased it over to Beacon (he said that it would guarantee that the bird would come back to Newburgh). Kathy Ashman showed up shortly after his departure and Curt was right, the bird did come back and Kathy and Rick both got their lifer Iceland Gulls! That was a pretty exciting way to end the day. I didn’t add any birds to my OC year list, but any day with 2 Ross’s Geese and an Iceland Gull is a good day of birding.