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 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.
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!
I got up really early this morning and headed over the the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. It was a little bit overcast as I arrived at just around 6:30, but it quickly cleared up and turned into a gorgeous morning. I parked my car out by the road in an effort to see as many species as possible, it can be quite birdy on the road into the refuge. It was towards the end of that road that I had my first Brown Thrasher of the year. As I entered the refuge, I could immediately hear one of my target birds, the Grasshopper Sparrow. I really like this bird for some reason, it is certainly not the most attractive bird, but I love its behavior and its call as well. I walked the Red Trail out to the furthest blind and then back; I saw 3 and heard an additional 3 Grasshopper Sparrows which seems like more than I had in that area last year at this time.
Bobolinks were numerous and very busy calling and flying over. Meadowlarks were heard more than seen, but I did see ten or so, some perched and some in flight in the distance. Killdeer could be heard and seen on occasion and I saw three American Kestrels. One pleasant surprise was a female Northern Harrier that flew close to me; she had a Red-winged Blackbird in hot pursuit.
My only disappointment of the day is that I struck out with the Upland Sandpipers. I stopped by Blue Chip Farms after leaving the refuge and then I also tried the airport in Montgomery, but it was not to be. At the grasslands, I accumulated what I think is a respectable species list for the morning, with 35 species being seen or heard:
Turkey Vulture Northern Harrier
Great Crested Flycatcher
Gray Catbird Brown Thrasher
Savannah Sparrow Grasshopper Sparrow
I received word from Denise Farrel that the Gyrfalcon had been relocated for the fourth straight day while I was at work today. It was a beautiful day out with nice light, so I headed up to Ulster County right after work to see if I could see the bird. I knew when I saw the first traffic jam ever on Bruyn Turnpike that I would indeed be able to see the bird. The bird was perched on a fence post way out in a field, where it stayed for some time but then eventually headed back north. Karen Miller had also come straight from work and finally caught up with the bird (third times a charm). We both went to the Grasslands to see what was going on there, but there was not much activity, just one distant Rough-legged Hawk. After Karen left, I sat with Ralph Tabor and we waited for the Short-eared Owls. It was a gorgeous night with a fabulous sky and although they got up a little late for photos, Ralph and I enjoyed watching 7 Short-eared Owls put on a nice show. What a great way to end the day.
While the Eastern Meadowlarks were the highlight for me this past Sunday morning, I also did relatively well with raptors. Especially since I was out for only two and a half hours. One interesting observation I made was that since it was a windy morning with the wind coming from the west, most of my shots ended up being at least partially backlit. It seems to me that, at least when it comes to Northern Harriers, these birds tend to hunt while flying into the wind. With a west wind, that means most of the time when I had a bird flying towards the blind it had the sun at its back.
Here is a list of raptors that I had for the morning, and I should mention that when I got back to my car, Ralph let me know that about a dozen Short-eared Owls got up for about twenty minutes – not too far from the parking area. I never saw them since I have my back to the parking area when I’m in the north blind.
Black Vulture 7
Northern Harrier 5
Red-tailed Hawk 3
Rough-legged Hawk 4
American Kestrel 1