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!
Three weeks ago I did a waterfowl survey of 9 locations not too far from my home in Goshen. Today I repeated this survey, hitting the same 9 locations in the same order. The overall number of birds was down from over 950 to under 700 birds, but I had a little more variety today with 16 species of waterfowl (up from 14). I’ve included species lists by location below.
I was hoping for some more interesting birds, but all 16 species were what I consider the usuals. Things were better in that regard earlier in the week, when I had a trio of Long-tailed Ducks at Glenmere Lake, and yesterday when I had a single Common Loon at Wickham Lake:
QUICK POST: I was doing some lazy birding after work this afternoon. I stopped by Glenmere Lake and I was scanning the lake from my car and getting ready to leave, having seen just the usuals. But, then 3 ducks caught my attention; I half-thought they might be LONG-TAILED DUCKS, but it wasn’t until I got out of the car and put the scope on them that I really believed it. The birds were very distant, too distant for even documentary photos, so I walked the snowy trail that heads southwest along the shore of the lake to get a little bit closer. This did allow me to get some documentary photographs and some great looks at the bird, which were in beautiful light. I put the word out and although I had to leave, Karen Miller reported back that she too had gotten the ducks. Good (if lazy) birding!
I decided to do my own Orange County waterfowl survey of sorts this afternoon. I visited nine different locations not too far from my home here in Goshen. First thing I will say is that it was COLD out there today. The temperatures weren’t so bad, in the mid-twenties, but wind made it very cold, bringing tears to my eyes all day. I think if it was a little bit more comfortable out I would have been a little bit more thorough; I felt like I certainly could have spent some more time at some of the locations. That being said, it was a fun way to spend the afternoon and I ended up with 14 species of waterfowl and over 950 individuals. I had a Northern Shoveler and a Pied-billed Grebe at Brown’s Pond and both birds were my first of the year in Orange County. Scroll down to see my results by location.
I’ve birded locally most days in the past week and while it’s been enjoyable, things have been on the slow side. Today things picked up a bit for me when I located a large flock of mixed blackbirds in the black dirt, and then shortly after that had a cooperative Merlin, followed by a large flock of Snow Geese, which I still have not grown tired of. Earlier in the week at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, I had my first Great Blue Heron of the year (and it was in good light!). I’m feeling like I might be ready for winter birding to be over – maybe the flocks of blackbirds are an indication that birds are starting to move?
I spent this beautiful Saturday morning out at the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. Although I saw only the expected birds, I had an excellent morning with 43 species observed. I guess if you are going to get the usuals, it’s good to be in a place where there are a lot of “usuals”. As expected, I did best with waterfowl, seeing 18 different species. It had been over a year since I’d been to the sanctuary and although I was feeling like I was having a good day, I was wondering how it compared to the previous years. Since 2013, I’ve visited the sanctuary 5 times, always in January or February. My average number of species for those visits is 34, and I’ve never had more than 36. And what makes it even more interesting is that this was the first time I’ve been there and the feeder station was not filled up. In past visits that feeder station would really be hopping and I’d get several species right there. Today, all the feeders were empty and I didn’t get a single bird. One bird that I was really hoping for was Purple Sandpiper since it’s a good spot for them, but today I came up empty. I did add seven birds to my New York State year list, which was nice. I’ve included my list of species at the bottom of this post. Good birding!
American Black Duck
Great Blue Heron
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
American Tree Sparrow
First thing this morning I headed to Piermont Pier to see if could get any good ducks. It was a nice stop and I had 7 species of waterfowl:
Canada Goose (3)
Common Goldeneye (2)
Common Merganser (1)
Ruddy Duck (43)
The Common Goldeneyes stole the show for me; I got great looks at one bird that spent some time close to the pier. The Canvasbacks were nice to get, but were very distant and a scope was needed to see them well.
I left Piermont Pier and headed to State Line Lookout to join the hordes of birders/photographers/sheep that were present to try for the Gyrfalcon that has been reported recently there. It was quite a scene and I estimate that in the time I tried for the bird (4 hours), over 125 birders/photogs were there for the bird as well. Millions of photographs were taken of the local Peregrine Falcons (that might not be an exaggeration). The falcons did not fly much, but did spend much time on the closest perches. Other good birds included several Bald Eagles, Common Ravens, and a Cooper’s Hawk which was chased from the far side of the river to the Lookout by the local male Peregrine Falcon. As for the Gyrfalcon, it was of course a no-show. Hopefully it sticks and I’ll try for it another day.
Yesterday I went on a 14 hour pelagic birding trip with See Life Paulagics – it was quite a birding adventure. The Brooklyn VI set sail out of Brooklyn at 5:00 am. We headed 50 miles out to sea and covered one heck of a lot of territory. The target birds for the trip included: Northern Fulmar, Dovekie, Razorbill, Common Murre, Atlantic Puffin, Glaucous, Iceland, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwake, Red Phalarope. We located all the targets with the exception of the Glaucous and Iceland Gulls and Red Phalarope. I spoke with several more experienced birders on board (I didn’t think I would be a good judge since I was thrilled to just be there), and all agreed that the trip was a good one and a success, getting all the target birds that folks really wanted to see and more importantly, getting birds ALL DAY LONG. There were very few lulls in the action, when we weren’t getting any alcids it seemed like the gulls would step it up and keep everyone happy. Full kudos to See Life Paulagics.
I only knew one other person on the boat, Maha Katnani. It was great to see a familiar face and I enjoyed much of the day birding with her and her two friends Barbara Mansell and Susan Ells Joseph. Meanwhile, it was also good to meet some new folks as I moved around the boat. Photography was tough because of a variety of reasons (see below), but with so many birds, there were plenty of photo ops throughout the day. Most of the Alcids tended to be a little on the distant side, but with some closer looks from time to time. Gulls and Gannets, on the other hand, were very available and I particularly enjoyed shooting the BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES. I found that they are a clean, good looking bird with a lot of character and, in my opinion, they are very photogenic. They were one of two life birds I got on the trip (scroll down to see the 2nd…), and I spent a good amount of time photographing them.
THREE THOUGHTS ABOUT PELAGIC BIRDING
1. Pelagic Birding is tough. First of all, it is a long day (and this is one of the shorter trips). I woke up at 2:00 am and left the house a half hour later. The boat set sail at 5:00 am and we travelled in the dark for over two hours before Sunrise. Then, it’s a full day of birding, sunrise to sunset, followed by another two-plus hours in the dark to get back to the dock. And finally, I had the drive back from Brooklyn; I arrived home right at 9:00 pm. That’s a 19 hour day! Secondly, it is exhausting. The long hours speak for themselves, but what’s not so evident is that the entire time you are birding, you are fighting to maintain your balance. Grabbing handrails, leaning on handrails while using your binoculars or camera, constantly counterbalancing to react to the rocking of the boat. I imagine with time this just becomes second nature, and I got better at is as the day went on, but for a land lubber like myself, it was exhausting. And, because the birding was so good and I didn’t want to miss anything, I barely took a break all day long.
2. Birders are nice people. I am not the most social of birders, especially when I first meet folks, but I have to say how great everyone on board was. I’ve said it before on this blog, but here it is again – birders are generous people. Everyone was making sure that the people around them were getting on the birds as much as possible, especially the folks from See Life Paulagics. They have an incredibly talented group that really know the birds and do very well to make sure that everyone gets a decent look at as many species as possible. AND, they are just fun to talk to and good people to be around.
3. Pelagic birding is challenging and therefore, very fun and awesome. Identifying often distant birds on a rocking boat with binoculars is not an easy task. One thing I would consider, moving forward, would be purchasing a set of 8X power binoculars, as opposed to the 10X power in my current bins. I think for pelagic birding there are just too many moving parts and that taking a little shake out of the binoculars by moving to 8X will be worthwhile. So, while it can be difficult, it is SO rewarding, allowing you to get some super birds that you won’t see any other way and also allowing for some great photo opportunities of some gorgeous birds. While I wouldn’t say I’m addicted yet, but I am certainly thinking about my next pelagic birding trip.
With only five days left in the year, I covered some ground in Orange County today, hoping to add to my OC year list. While I did not add any new birds today, but I did have a good, interesting day of birding.
First thing, I birded a cemetery north of Newburgh that had good habitat but ended up being not very birdy. From there, I went to the Newburgh Waterfront, where I found a single Snow Goose, associating with all the ducks that clamor for bread scraps, which was surprising to me. Looking at the bird, it appeared to have an injured wing, which would explain why it was there. I called Friends of the Feathered and Furry Wildlife Center and they said that they would attempt to capture the bird for rehabilitation. I asked them to keep me updated on how it went, but as of this post, I have not heard back from them.
My next stop was Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point, where I had my best bird of the day, a distant White-winged Scoter. The bird was miles out and there was a lot heat shimmer in the air, which made it tough to get a good look at the bird. I eventually made out both the white eye patch and the white secondaries, indicating WWSC.
On my way home for lunch, I stopped at Purgatory Road in Campbell Hall, where I located my second Snow Goose of the day. This one was among a large group of Canada Geese out in a field. And, a quick stop at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary didn’t yield much other than a photo op with some Black-capped Chickadees.
In the afternoon I birded the black dirt and was lucky enough to locate two different flocks of Snow Buntings and Horned Larks. The first flock was flushed by a Sharp-shinned Hawk. I followed the hawk, trying for photos, and lost track of the buntings. The second flock was flushed by a Gray Ghost, but eventually came back to the same spot and I was able to get some photos. At the time I thought the pics would be good, but when I got home and saw them on the computer, I was disappointed.
I ended the day at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh. I met up with Kyle Dudgeon there, and we enjoyed shooting the breeze and birding until the sun set. It was a full, interesting day of birding. I will post any updates I receive regarding the Newburgh Snow Goose.
NEWBURGH SNOW GOOSE UPDATE 12/30: I heard back from FFFWC, and apparently someone has been trying to capture the SNGO improperly, so the goose is very wary and has been difficult to capture. That being said, they still feel confident that they will be able to capture it this weekend.
QUICK POST: I spent a pleasant morning birding in the snowy conditions at Port Jervis Watershed Park and Recreational Area. I walked the trails there for over four hours; it was quite birdy at times, but with all expected species. I did not have any luck with my 2 target birds – Pine Siskins and Crossbills. My best birds for the morning were: a Hooded Merganser (my first of the season), a Fox Sparrow, and couple of Hermit Thrushes.