I ran around southern Orange County this morning and into the early afternoon. It felt really good to be out in the field after a long week of all work and no birding; this time of year is rough for me. The highlight of my travels was locating one of my favorites: a single GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE at the Camel Farm. Linda Scrima and her husband Artie met me out there and got on the bird as well. The bird was not exactly cooperative; it was quite distant and seemed to prefer spending time down in a ditch. Still, it was a great bird to see and I’ve included a documentary shot below. Other good birds for the day included 4 Blue Morph Snow Geese ( also in the black dirt – one adult with 3 juveniles), a young Red-shouldered Hawk at Wisner Avenue, and a nice sized flock of mixed blackbirds on Lynch Avenue (probably 200 birds – Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and European Starlings).
The rainy, windy weather put the kibosh on hawkwatch at Mount Peter today, so instead I ran around Orange County hoping that once again bad weather would equal good birding. I checked Greenwood Lake and Wickham Lake early and came up empty, so I decided to shift gears and head to the black dirt. By the way, birding today was tough. It wasn’t raining all that hard, but it was pretty steady and the wind was strong and relentless. You absolutely HAD to bird with your back to the wind, otherwise your binoculars or scope would be instantly drenched. Or the inside of your car. Anyways, in the black dirt, the bird of the day was the American Pipit. I had many today, in several locations. In one flock, I was lucky enough to locate a couple of LAPLAND LONGSPURS, always a favorite of mine. I thought there might be some shorebirds around, but other than a single SANDERLING at Skinner Lane, I had no shorebirds in the black dirt (they’d come later, see below).
In the afternoon I head to Glenmere Lake. Not for ducks, but for shorebirds. Kathy Ashman had let me know that she had been observing shorebirds on the vegetation in the southwest corner of the lake. You can walk out the blue trail about a half a mile or so and there is a lookout onto the lake. Which is what I did this afternoon, and I had a nice collection of shorebirds: 14 DUNLIN, 3 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 1 Least Sandpiper, and 1 WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER. I got pretty excited and went back to my car, unloaded my kayak, and headed out to get a better look. It was not the easiest paddle; it was with the wind on the way out and I was practically riding the waves but it was into the wind (and waves) on the way back, making it a bit of a chore. But, it was worth it! It was really cool to see these shorebirds up close and to get some photos. Oh, and of course there was bunch of American Pipits moving amounts the vegetation as well. I was exhausted and wet by the time I was done, but I felt I’d made the best of a blustery, wet day in Orange County.
Saturday was a busy day for me, so I’m finally getting around to writing this post early Sunday morning. First, the bad news: hawkwatch at Mt. Peter was a total bust as the mountain was completely fogged in all day. The good news, was that I did some more traditional birding and it was very productive.
My first stop was Skinner Lane. It was supposed to just be a pit stop, but since the fog was showing no sign of lifting and the birding was good, I stayed for a good while (actually, I ran up to Mt. Pete at 10:30 thinking it might be clear; it wasn’t so I headed back to Skinner). When I first arrived, I was impressed by the number of Tree Swallows present. I was pleasantly surprised to find a pretty good sized flock of Horned Larks had moved in, among them several AMERICAN PIPITS. The big surprise came when I was scanning the larks and came across a LAPLAND LONGSPUR! This is a bird that is certainly one of my favorite, has a certain inherent coolness to it, and I just seem to have a knack for tracking them down. I was pumped, and although the bird was not really close, I was able to get some documentary photos; I’ve posted one at the bottom of this post. Kyle Dudgeon joined me shortly after I’d located the LALO, but unfortunately we were unable to relocate it.
Shorebirds were, of course, my initial target for my stop at Skinner. I’d had 6 American Golden-Plovers earlier, and Kyle relocated them as soon as he arrived. Then, we had a single shorebird flying and calling. We tracked the bird in our binoculars, waiting for it to put down. But, it never found a spot that it liked and it rose up and flew out of range. We thought that was the last we would see of the bird, but minutes later it returned and did the same routine but this time it put down in the distance. We relocated to try to get a better vantage point, but alas we were unable to relocate the bird. Based on the overall coloring, size, and its call, we believe that it was a SANDERLING. Karen Miller had arrived, and she was able to get the American Pipits and the American Golden-Plovers, but we were unable to relocate the Lapland Longspur nor the Sanderling.
Kyle and I had an unproductive stop at the Pine Island Turf Nursery, a single Solitary Sandpiper and several American Kestrels were our best birds. Kyle had to head home, but I continued, heading over to Liberty Lane; Rob Stone had let me know it was pretty active earlier in the morning. It was still hopping when I was there. I had a nice walk with loads of birds with almost every step. Swamp Sparrows and Song Sparrows dominated, but there were also some highlights: 4 White-crowned Sparrows, a Palm Warbler, a Blackpoll Warbler, and a CAPE MAY WARBLER. The Cape May Warbler was super accommodating and I was able to take many photos of it. On my way out I had a single Lesser Yellowlegs flying and calling overhead, which was a nice way to end a good day of birding.
Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to catch up with the two SANDHILL CRANES that have been spending some time in our area. Not only that, I watched from my car as the two birds interacted for approximately 5 minutes. They were very vocal while this was going on; you can see in nearly every photo, one or both of their bills are open. I did some research on the internet and found out that SACRs mate for life, choosing their partners based on dancing displays. But, the timing doesn’t seem right for this, so I kept looking and found a passage on the National Geographic website that indicated that they “also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating but all year long”. It was awesome to see it; here are a number of photos from that five minutes.
This morning was yet another productive morning for shorebirds in Orange County. I went straight to Turtle Bay first thing; Rob Stone had located a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER there the evening before. The place was loaded with birds and I had a total of 10 species of shorebird: Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, Pectoral Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpiper, and I was able to relocate Rob’s WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER. That’s a good list of shorebirds for Orange County for sure! Maria Loukeris and Linda Scrima joined me and also got the bird; several others got the bird later in the morning.
From there, Maria, Linda, and I headed to Skinners Lane, where we ran into birding buds and fellow Mt. Peter Hawkwatchers Judy Cinquina, Tom Millard, and Rick Hansen. The place was pretty dead, so they headed for Turtle Bay after hearing our report of the birds there. Linda headed home, but Maria and I lingered. I’m glad we did – while scanning I saw some movement in a field with some taller grass. It ended up being a Killdeer, but moments after getting on the Killdeer, a BAIRD’S SANDPIPER walked into my field of vision. And then a second one! A good number of folks got to see the birds: Linda, Rob, Judy, Tom, John Haas, and returning from the dead, Bruce Nott (always good to see you Bruce!), which made me happy. It was a good day of birding and for seeing some of my favorite birding buds.
QUICK POST: The crazy weather and the good shorebirding continued in Orange County this afternoon. Another substantial storm rolled through, so I ran back out to see if I could get any more good shorebirds. My first stop was Skinners Lane where I had several Lesser Yellowlegs, one Greater Yellowlegs, several Least Sandpipers, and the ever present hordes of Killdeer. I was on my way out and I checked one more area – I was thrilled to locate an UPLAND SANDPIPER, one of my favorites for sure. I put the word out, shortly afterwards a second UPPY joined the first. It didn’t stick around for long – it took flight and I didn’t follow it because I wanted to keep and eye on the bird that stayed. Linda Scrima and Rob Stone joined me and we all enjoyed nice scope views of the remaining Upland Sandpiper. Good shorebirding continues in the OC!
I made the rounds in the black dirt this morning, searching for shorebirds of course. I was once again optimistic after last night’s storms. The best spot of the day was Turtle Bay, where there were many shorebirds present. I ran into Kathy Ashman out there early and we sifted through some quite distant birds and had 5 species of shorebird: Least Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpipers, and Killdeer. I checked back a little later and ran into John Haas, who had located an additional, excellent species: SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER. The bird of the day for me, however, was a single AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER out at Skinner Lane. The bird was close enough for some decent photos, and at one point was kind enough to confirm its identity with a nice wing stretch, exposing clear wing-pits. Kathy Ashman and Linda Scrima both ran for the bird and enjoyed good looks at the bird as well.
QUICK POST: I have to keep this one short because it’s late and I’m exhausted. I had another good evening for shorebirds in the Black Dirt Region. My first stop was at Turtle Bay, where, among many Killdeer, I had 12 Semipalmated Plovers. I think that might be the most I’ve ever had at a location in Orange County. Then I headed to Pine Island Turf Nursery*, where I located a Dowitcher Species. I have good photos of this bird, so I know it will be identified, but I think I need to put some work in to learn how to differentiate between the Long-billed and the Short-billed. According to eBird, it is much more likely to be a Short-billed as their bar chart doesn’t have LBDOs coming through until Mid-September. But, tonight is not the night to learn this, I’m too tired and I have to get up early. I’ll leave it unidentified for the moment, if anyone has thoughts on this bird, please comment or email me. Rob Stone and Linda Scrima both ran for the bird and got it. As a bonus, we got to enjoy a double rainbow when the rain finally let up a bit.
On my way home, I stopped at Skinner Lane. It was almost to dark to see, but luckily I had a good bird right near the road – BAIRD’S SANDPIPER! I cranked up the ISO and was at least able to get some documentary shots. What a night! In case you couldn’t tell, I just LOVE shorebirds in the OC.
*Please remember that you have to get permission to bird at Pine Island Turf Nursery! Ask at the office – they are really nice people!
Wow, what a crazy evening of birding I had tonight! I was feeling optimistic as I headed out to the Black Dirt Region after work. Severe storms had moved through the area and appeared to have dropped a lot of water; I was hoping this would make for some interesting birding. I was planning on covering a fair amount of territory, but my first stop – Skinner’s Lane – ended up being so good, I never left until it was dark. It was raining pretty hard. In fact, it rained pretty good for almost the entire evening, only letting up when I was getting ready to leave. When I arrived, there was a pretty good collection of shorebirds present: BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS (3), Semipalmated Plovers (4), Least Sandpipers (3), Killdeer (many), and one bird that I initially thought was a Semipalmated Sandpiper but for the moment I’m leaving unidentified (see below).
I was just about to leave when I noticed a group of peeps had flown in without my seeing them. It was a group of what I’m pretty sure were Semipalmated Sandpipers. Then things got crazy. A small flock of larger birds flew in – they circled the field once and then flew to the south and out of sight. By this time, all my gear was wet and really, I had now idea what the birds were because I just couldn’t get a good look. But, then they came back – I jumped into my car and grabbed my camera to get some shots. They circled the field 3 more times and then headed northeast and did not return. I must have been a little frazzled because I looked at the pics and still couldn’t ID them… I shot a quick photo to Rob Stone who identified them as BLACK TERNS! I was freaking out! I looked at my photos to get a count – I had a single shot with 7 in it!
More shorebirds arrived after the terns had departed – I added 2 Wilson’s Snipe, 7 Pectoral Sandpipers, and another group of Semipalmated Sandpipers to my list for the evening. What a great night of birding; once again, bad weather=good birds.
Last night and this morning I was having a feeling we might get a good bird in the county today. For some reason I was thinking it would happen at Turtle Bay, but instead it was at Skinner Lane, where I located a WHIMBREL in the rain around 7:30 this morning. I was super pumped; I put the word out and several birders were able to run for the bird. Rob Stone, John Haas, Karen Miller, Kathy Ashman, and Bruce Nott all saw the bird while I was still there; it was a lifer for both Kathy and Bruce. Clay Spencer reported the bird in the late morning as well. Whimbrel is a bird I have daydreamed of finding in our area for a while, and it is the 252nd bird on my Orange County life list.