After work today, I was finally going to make it out to Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge after work today to go for the DICKCISSEL that has been seen there in recent days. Little did I know that today would be an extra lucky day for me.
As I headed out towards the south blind, where the Dickcissel has been seen, I looked out that way and there was a relatively large crowd of birders there. This surprised me because I thought most had come for the Dickcissel already, but I continued to make my way out towards the crowd. About halfway out, I got a text message from Karen Miller – they were on a HENSLOW’S SPARROW! That explained the big crowd! I picked up my pace and joined the group, many of which I ended up knowing. Shortly after my arrival, the sparrow started calling and then jumped up and perched nicely. It was so exciting! Meanwhile, I was still concerned about whether or not the Dickcissel was still around and I was assured that it was. It wasn’t more than five minutes later that the Dickcissel made an appearance, perching nicely in the distance on a thistle. That made for 2 life birds in a matter of minutes! I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that this morning! As John Haas told me once – you never know when the next big thing will hit! Super exciting birding!
I was not planning doing any birding this morning. But, when I woke up, there was already a text from Curt McDermott – he had four SANDHILL CRANES in the town of Shawangunk. I quickly made some coffee and ran for the birds, which ended up sticking around and being very cooperative. When I arrived, Bruce Nott, John Haas, and Bill Fiero were on the birds already; they had all been there for a bit and headed out shortly after I arrived. Karen Miller joined me and we enjoyed super looks at the birds along with Scotty Baldinger. The birds flew at one point and relocated in an area where they could still be view well. Several Ulster County birders arrived for the birds and when I left they were still enjoying excellent scope views of the birds. What a great way to start the day! Huge thanks to Curt for the heads up on these great birds.
I got a relatively early start and arrived at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge at 7 am. I had a couple of goals for the morning. The first was to try for some photographs; it felt like ages since I’ve gotten a decent shot. The shortened days have really limited my ability to photograph in any sort of good light, plus I just feel a little snakebite lately when it comes to photos. My second goal was to relocated the Northern Shrike that has been hanging around out there, on and off. On this past Thursday evening, I made a brief stop and viewed the refuge from the Galeville Park and was lucky enough to find the shrike and get a couple of distant, brief looks at the bird in my scope before I lost track of it.
As for my first goal, I did get some post-able photos this morning, however they are nothing to write home about. But, still it was great fun to be out on such a gorgeous morning and have some good birds in beautiful early morning light. As for the shrike, it was a no show. I spent most of my time in the area where I had seen the bird on Thursday, but I was unable to relocate it.
It was an enjoyable morning of birding, if not amazing. One bird I was hoping to see but did not was Rough-legged Hawk. It leaves something to look forward to for next time, I guess. I’ve include my species list at the bottom of this post.
Canada Goose 300
Turkey Vulture 4
Northern Harrier 6
Red-tailed Hawk 4
Rock Pigeon 15
Mourning Dove 8
Red-bellied Woodpecker 4
Downy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 5
American Kestrel 1
Blue Jay 75
American Crow 45
Common Raven 2
Black-capped Chickadee 12
Tufted Titmouse 8
White-breasted Nuthatch 4
American Robin 18
Northern Mockingbird 1
American Tree Sparrow 16
Dark-eyed Junco 12
Northern Cardinal 5
Common Grackle 25
blackbird sp. 200 Distant flock in flight
House Finch 14
American Goldfinch 24
After some uneventful early morning local birding, I drove up to Glasco, New York in Ulster Count to meet up with Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris. We were going for the BARROW’S GOLDENEYE which had been reported at Glasco Mini Park in recent days. We located the bird fairly quickly far out in the Hudson River; it was keeping company with several Common Goldeneyes and a single scaup, which I’m pretty sure was a Greater Scaup. The birds were really quite distant, and additionally it was tough to get good looks because the water was quite choppy and the birds were diving regularly. But, we were patient and eventually we all got good looks in the scope and even managed to take some documentary photos, which was no small feat. One of us would look in the scope and call out when and where the Barrow’s surfaced while the others clicked away, hoping for the best. In spite of the distance and maybe because of the challenge of trying to get good looks, I really enjoyed going for this bird. The Barrow’s Goldeneye was life bird number 345 for me and my 259th New York State bird.
Linda and Maria continued north to do some Adirondack birding and I headed over to the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge to meet up with Kyle Dudgeon to try our luck with Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls. Unfortunately, it was a slow afternoon and the then the owls got up on the late side so we did not do very well with photos at all. Still, it was nice just to be out, especially for Kyle who has been away at school since January.
One of my first stops this morning was certainly the best of the day. I stopped to check out a group of approximately 500 Canada Geese located on Pierce Circle. I was not optimistic that I would find anything good among the Canadas, first of all because there were not very many birds, and second because the birds were close enough to sort through with binoculars (no scope needed!). I perked up when I located one, then two, then four GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE! Then another – make it five! I put the word out, continued looking and found a sixth GWFG. Maria Loukeris must have been in the area because she joined me pretty quickly. Shortly after her arrival, I located the SEVENTH GWFG! Scanning left to right, a group of four, then a pair, and then a single Greater White-fronted Goose sitting in the field on its own. Also present was a single Cackling Goose, close enough for some decent, if backlit photos.It was very exciting, and I particularly enjoyed when the group of four flew into the next field calling the whole time. After a few minutes, they rejoined the flock. It was hard to tear myself away from such great birds, but eventually I did.
I spent the rest of my morning and early afternoon in southern Orange County, but I did not have any additional notable sightings. I will mention that there is a huge group of Common Mergansers at Wickham Lake – I estimate 900 birds. The forecast for the afternoon and evening was clear skies, so I decided to try my luck at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR…
…and I got lucky! The Short-eared Owls got up early (around 5:00), the light was fantastic, and the birds flew close enough for some decent photos. I’ve said it many times before, but you cannot beat photographing SEOWs from the photo blinds out at the Grasslands. I got there early and waited a good while with very few birds. There were several Northern Harriers foraging the throughout the reserve and once in a while they would get close enough for photos, but there were large chunks of time with no birds at all. It was all totally worth it, of course, when the owls got up and put on their show. I counted a total of 5 Short-eared Owls, 7 Northern Harriers, and 2 Red-tailed Hawks. And I also saw my first Eastern Meadowlarks of the year. What a great day of birding!
Third time’s a charm. This afternoon I went for the BULLOCK’S ORIOLE that has been visiting a homeowner’s feeder in Ulster County, and after two unsuccessful previous attempts, I finally got to see the bird. I was joined by a Connecticut birder and we were able to locate the bird in a nearby tree relatively quickly. It fed on the far side of the suet feeder for a short time and then flew into a large evergreen where I lost track of the bird. Moments later, a Sharp-shinned Hawk shot through the yard and scattered all the birds. The Connecticut birder moved on; I stayed and the oriole returned one more time to the yard, perched for a few moments in a tree, fed very briefly and flew off. I was happy that I stayed because I was able to get a couple decent shots when the bird perched in the tree. The bird was not as large as I was for some reason thinking it would be, and the yard is mostly in shade so the bird also did not stand out as much I would have thought. It was and my 345th life bird and my 258th bird in New York State.
The homeowner welcomes birders to come try for the bird – email me for the address if you want to go for it (it has been published before, but I feel strange putting the address here). Please ring the doorbell and ask for permission and he will tell you where to best view the feeders.
I’m not sure why I picked the coldest morning of the year to go out to the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR. Well, actually, I do; I knew the cold temperatures would likely keep many folks away, so I was looking forward to a peaceful morning photographing raptors. I also have been thinking that I haven’t gotten many quality harrier photos this year, so I was hoping to change that. I arrived just after sunrise and as I drove into the refuge I saw the one other person that I suspected might be there – Ed Frampton. Ed is an awesome photographer who spends most early mornings at the refuge. He was shooting an American Kestrel perched in a tree as I slowly drove past his vehicle, doing my best not to flush the bird (which I didn’t). I parked, gathered my gear and headed out to the north photo blind. It was a cold but beautiful morning so I took an iPhone shot of the sunrise:
I spent two and a half hours in the blind and the weather was all over the map. When I arrived it was cold with some clouds, as the morning progressed the with wind picked up and was whipping pretty good. There were long periods of sunshine with intermittent clouds. To the west the sky was very dark and hazy – I eventually found out why as snow flurries moved through the refuge, even while it remained sunny.
The wind was coming from the northwest, so the Northern Harriers were hunting primarily facing that direction. Which meant that for the most part, when the birds were facing me in the blind, they were backlit by the sun as it rose in the east. This can make for some interesting photos, but really it was not what I was hoping for. It was such a beautiful morning and I was hoping for more opportunities of the birds in good light, but they were few and far between.
At one point I counted six harriers in one scan, so there were at least that many out there, and probably more than that. The only other raptor I had for the morning was the American Kestrel as I drove in. I was pretty darn cold by the time I left the blind after two and a half hours. Then, when I headed back to the car, walking into that cold northwest wind really chilled me to the bone, so was quite a relief when I finally got back into my car.
To say the meteorologists got it wrong would be an understatement. With clear, sunny skies in the forecast, Kyle Dudgeon and I headed out to the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge in hopes of getting some good Northern Harrier and Short-eared Owl photos. We arrived early enough to claim one of the four photo blinds at the refuge, but alas, the heavy cloud cover refused to clear. We approximated 6 Northern Harriers were present at the refuge; we tried for the majority of the day to get some decent photos but no harriers came close enough for any decent shots. Fortunately, it was just barely after 3:00 that the Short-eared Owls picked up. And, although they never came very close, they spent enough time around our blind to get some decent (if noisy) shots and they were as entertaining as ever. Another highlight of the day was 3 large skeins of Snow Geese which flew over, heading south.
Kyle Dudgeon and I spent the afternoon in one of the photo blinds at Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. Early on, it was very slow with only a few Northern Harriers being seen and none of them coming close to the blind. Several Red-tailed Hawks moved from perch to perch off in the distance. We had a Wilson’s Snipe do a flyover and then five Eastern Meadowlarks perched in tree. We didn’t have much excitement until later in the afternoon when the SHORT-EARED OWLS got up on the early side and put on quite a show. We had at least 4 owls and they were actively hunting and tangling with each other and a Northern Harrier as well. We spent over an hour watching and photographing the owls, which spent a lot of time around our blind but somehow never came in very close (all these images are pretty heavily cropped). I was happy to get lucky once again with these awesome birds.
My work took me up north today, so I figured I would hit the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR on my way home. I was hoping to have some better luck photographing the Grasshopper Sparrows at the reserve. On my way there, I checked Blue Chip Farms for Upland Sandpipers but did not have any luck. I was a little bit annoyed by it because there have been SO many reports of the bird at that location on eBird lately. I continued to the grasslands where I walked the trails briefly but had no luck with Grasshopper Sparrows (maybe it was the time of day? It was around 4:00 in the afternoon…). I enjoyed seeing and photographing the Bobolinks and I saw a distant Northern Harrier hunting.
On my way home, as I was checking Blue Chip Farms once again (I was doing a drive-by basically), I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw an UPLAND SANDPIPER perched on the fence closest to the road!!! I stopped the car and the bird did not flush. As I reached for my camera, a motorcycle went screaming by and flushed the bird! My heart was broken! It relocated to a far off fence where I got good looks and some distant photos. I went back to my car and waited, and I couldn’t believe it when not one, but two Upland Sandpipers flew in and landed on the grass just beyond the closest fence. Then, one of them flew closer and perched briefly on the fence! I couldn’t believe my luck, what a great day, to get photos of this bird, which until today was considered one of those awesome birds that I would probably never get a decent photograph of!