QUICK POST: For the second consecutive time, on my way to participate in a DEC Raptor Survey, I had a really nice photo op. Two weeks ago I had a large group of confiding Ring-necked Ducks. Last night, it was Six Snow Buntings on the side of the road. They seemed uncooperative at first and flushed, but then came back to land very close to my car, posing nicely on the tops of the piles of plowed snow. Good birds for sure!
I’ve gotten out a good amount in the past week, but really haven’t had anything all that amazing. I’ve spent much of my birding time chasing a couple of mixed flocks of Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and Lapland Longspurs hoping for photographs. A farm truck spilled some corn on the road and it was a mixed blessing. It was great because for a few days the birds were actively feeding on the the spilled corn. It was not so great because, in my opinion, the corn does not really make for good pics.
My only other noteworthy observations involved some good local waterfowl. On Wednesday evening after work, I went to the Newburgh Waterfront looking for gulls. Instead, I found Ken McDermott, who told me he had 2 Horned Grebes at Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point. I ran for the birds and relocated them, pretty far out into the Hudson River, but I had good scope views. Then, on Friday after work, I went to Wickham Lake to try for a couple of Common Goldeneyes that Rob Stone had seen there earlier in the day. The birds were still present and I was able to take some documentary photos. I also stopped by Warwick Town Hall where I had a really good mix of waterfowl: Canada Goose (2), Gadwall (18), American Wigeon (1), Mallard (25), Northern Pintail (1), Ring-necked Duck (2), and Greater Scaup (1). By the time I got there it was too dark for photographs, but good birds for sure!
Otherwise, I’ve just been doing lot of running around, seeing mostly the usuals, and taking loads of photos. Here are several I felt were worth sharing:
I woke up this morning on a mission: To relocate the PINK-FOOTED GOOSE that Bruce Nott had found the day before. I met Linda Scrima out at the Camel Farm just after sunrise, and we were joined shortly afterwards by Walter Eberz. It was very cold and windy, but the three of us sorted through approximately 1200 Canada Geese without any luck. We decided to divide and conquer and I headed over to Turtle Bay, where I found a group of approximately 800 Canada Geese out in a field. I quickly found a Cackling Goose, and then not long after that I got on a bird that looked good… Yes, it was the PINK-FOOTED GOOSE! I put the word out and both Linda and Walter joined me and we enjoyed the bird for nearly an hour before all the birds picked up, circled overhead, and then headed north. What a bird, not only is the PFGO a genuine rarity, it is also just a beautiful goose – wonderfully proportioned and I just love the wrinkles in the bird’s neck. The bird was a lifer for Walter and it was my 214th bird in Orange County this year. Also of note, we located at least 2 Cackling Geese and a single Snow Goose. Super exciting birding!
I got out and did a fair amount of birding this weekend, especially because I didn’t count hawks at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch on Saturday, due to the fog and light rain that persisted throughout the day.
BLACK DIRT REGION: I received reports from Bruce Nott and Ken and Curt McDermott on Saturday that the collection of plovers in the black dirt continued. Curt and Ken had a very nice count of 41 American Golden-Plovers and 5 Black-bellied Plovers. On Sunday, I met Linda Scrima in the late morning. The plovers were present, but distant. We lingered, and eventually they flew in closer, with a couple even landing on the road. We had a total of 34 AMGPs and 3 BBPLs. The highlight, however, was when a Killdeer flew over being chased by another smaller bird. Linda picked it up and got me on the birds. I stayed on the smaller bird and when it landed, I was thrilled to see it was an AMERICAN PIPIT! We eventually saw 3 more for a total of 4 AMPIs. The pipits were my 204th species in Orange County this year.
WICKHAM WOODLANDS TOWN PARK: I birded here on Saturday morning so I could stay close to Mt. Peter, in case the weather cleared up. The highlight for me was a trio of Ruddy Ducks. I also had a nice look at a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Mockingbirds and Northern Flickers were present in numbers.
6 1/2 STATION ROAD, CITGO POND: I made three trips to the pond this weekend and finally on Sunday I had some new shorebirds:
4 Pectoral Sandpipers (one new bird)
3 Lesser Yellowlegs (one new bird)
1 Greater Yellowlegs (new bird)
11 Least Sandpiper (same number)
On Friday evening I had a Northern Harrier fly over the pond and a Sharp-shinned Hawk as well. Both kinglets were present on the trail into the pond. On Saturday I also went over to the Heritage Trail side of the sanctuary, where I had many Yellow-rumped Warblers and a pair of Black-throated Green Warblers.
HIGHLAND LAKES STATE PARK: I made it out here for early Sunday morning. The place was very birdy and I had 27 species plus one unidentified flycatcher in just over an hour. Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and White-throated Sparrows were all quite numerous. Again, I had a couple of Black-throated Green Warblers, but besides that, not many noteworthy birds.
QUICK POST: Every once in a while you go out looking for a specific bird and you find it. That’s what happened to me tonight when I went out to the Black Dirt hoping for Black-bellied Plovers. I had located a collection of plovers – many Killdeer and a good number of American Golden-Plovers. There were 4 plovers that were slightly larger than the AMGPs, with a noticeably more substantial bills. I was feeling pretty sure that they were BBPLs; I waited it out and eventually a couple of them took short flights, exposing the black wing pits diagnostic of BBPLs! I put out the word and Maria Loukeris and Kathy Ashman both ran for them. All three of us enjoyed good scope views of the birds, even if photos were tough. My final count was 23 American Golden-Plovers, 4 Black-bellied Plovers, and approximately 40 Killdeer. Excellent evening of birding!
QUICK POST: It’s late so I have to make this quick. I had some great birds and some darn good photo ops while birding the black dirt this evening. Highlights included: 2 BUFF BREASTED SANDPIPERS, 9 American Golden-Plovers, a Northern Harrier close encounter, and a late evening Common Nighthawk flyover. Here’s some of my shots from the day.
I spent nearly all my birding time this weekend looking for shorebirds in Orange County. Saturday was a bit of a bust, in spite of favorable overnight winds. Today was another story. I got out to the black dirt early while it was still on the cool side. At my first stop I had a small shorebird flyover with a small flock of Killdeer. I watched the bird in my binoculars until it was out of sight, never to be identified. At my second stop, I had a similar experience, but this time the bird put down about three fields over. I got on it with my scope and it looked like a BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER! I followed the bird, walking on the road as the bird worked the field. I would stop every so often when the bird would come to an area unobstructed by grasses and put down my scope for a look or to take some photos, becoming more and more convinced that it was a BBSA. I eventually lost the bird, so I walked the road to the other side of the field to try and relocate it. At first I could not find it, but I did see in the middle of the field, a single AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER! Very exciting! Of course, at the time I wasn’t sure exactly which plover it was (American Golden or Black-bellied), I figured that out later. I eventually relocated the Buff-breasted Sandpiper and it was with a second Buffie. Then I heard a call I was unfamiliar with – I looked away from the scope to see 3 more American Golden-Plovers coming in! I took photos as the birds came in to land on the field – showing clear wing pits (not black as would be seen in Black-bellied). I had put the word out earlier, but unfortunately, before anyone arrived to see the birds, a low flying plane flushed first the plovers, followed shortly afterwards by the Buffies. Kathy, Scotty, Bruce, and I combed the area but came up empty. Sorry for the poor photos of these birds, but they were extremely distant and the heat shimmer was terrible.
I did check 6 1/2 Station Road’s Citgo Pond in the early afternoon, but I did not locate any new birds – I found basically the same birds as were present on Thursday, minus the Baird’s Sandiper and the Greater Yellowlegs.
This past winter I volunteered to participate in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Winter Raptor Survey, which was an interesting and fulfilling experience. The survey, which was well run by Malcolm Grant and Emily Underwood of the DEC, primarily focused on two species—the state endangered Short-eared Owl and the state threatened Northern Harrier. Surveys were conducted in the Black Dirt Region and the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge Area every other week from early December until mid April (all of the surveys I participated in were in the Black Dirt Region). Locations were assigned to volunteers; surveys started one half hour before sunset and concluded one half hour after sunset. All raptor activity observed was recorded on the forms and marked on a map which had been provided. It was fun and challenging to try and keep track of all the raptors in a given location, especially in the final minutes of the survey when temperatures would dive and the light was really low.
Over the 4 1/2 months that I participated in the surveys, much data was collected and given to the DEC. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure what the information was to be used for, so I wrote to Malcolm, and he explained a little bit further:
The DEC’s surveying effort addresses several goals:
1. To develop and implement an effective methodology for surveying and documenting wintering raptors with a focus on Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers, to identify site occupancy and/or population changes over the long term to provide a complete picture of the status of these state listed species into the future. So, a part of this was just figuring out the methods, i.e. stationary survey half hour before to half hour after sunset, etc). These methods were finalized a few years ago.
2. To recruit volunteers to continue this effort in order to monitor the wintering population of raptors in NYS.
3. Determine critical winter habitat use by Short-eared owls at selected sites in New York
-Identify the extent of habitat used at each site.
-Characterize the type of habitat preferred by Short-eared owls in New York for both foraging and roosting.
4. To document areas that are important for wintering raptors (mainly Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers) and produce spatially explicit maps of observations and critical habitat use. These areas are added to the New York Natural Heritage Database. This database is used to screen development and construction projects so that impacts to endangered and threatened species can be avoided or minimized.
It’s really a great feeling to know that just doing something that I love this much can have a positive effect, and that it is time well spent which will ultimately benefit the birds.
I was cruising through the Black Dirt Region this afternoon, really just sort of doing some half-hearted birding but mostly hoping for Lapland Longspurs, when I heard an Eastern Meadowlark call. I stopped the car and located one and then another meadowlark… only the second bird was not a meadowlark but an UPLAND SANDPIPER! I put the word out and I was eventually joined by Karen Miller, Maria Loukeris, Linda Scrima, and Bruce Nott, who all got good scope views of the bird. Meanwhile, the more I watched the bird, the less sure I was becoming of my initial ID, mostly because the bird was bobbing its tail often, a behavior that I didn’t know Upland Sandpipers exhibited. I spoke with Rob Stone and he found a video online showing bobbing behavior. When Karen got home, she referenced her National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, which read: “It often bobs the rear portion of its body…”. I’ve included a video of the bird at the bottom of this post. According to eBird bar charts, we are not likely to see UPSAs in Orange County until May, so this is really an early bird.
After a disappointing Saturday of birding, I did much better on Sunday. I started the day in Port Jervis, hitting several spots. I added four birds to my Orange County year list, including two birds that I feel are pretty good birds for the county: GREATER SCAUP and COMMON GOLDENEYE. The other two birds were a Peregrine Falcon and a small flock of Cedar Waxwings. The highlight of the morning, however, was first hearing and then seeing a skein of approximately 75 SNOW GEESE fly overhead as I walked down a trail. This got me thinking about the possibility of finding some Snow Geese in the black dirt, which would be my next stop.
I made my way out to the Black Dirt Region, where I met up with Bruce Nott and Linda Scrima. We sifted through a nice sized group of Canada Geese and found some gems: 6 Snow Geese, 1 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE, and I was finally able catch up with a CACKLING GOOSE (there have been many reports in the region). Afterwards, Bruce and I continued to the Pine Island Turf Nursery, in search of pipits. We didn’t have any luck with the pipits, but we had a good sized flock of Horned Larks and a good collection of songbirds that provided some photo ops. It was a really good day of birding for me, something that I certainly needed.