After spending the weekend out of town, and then feeling a little under the weather earlier in the week, it was good to get out and do some productive local birding. At work today I saw multiple reports from Scotty Baldinger and Karen Miller of good waterfowl in Sullivan County, including Common Loons, Horned Grebes, G. Scaup at Kiamesha Lake and more Common Loons, Red-breasted Merganser, and best of all – SURF SCOTERS at Swan Lake. This had me raring to go at the end of the work day to see if I could find any good waterfowl in Orange County. I had time to stop at my two usual spots – Wickham Lake and Glenmere Lake. Wickham was the more productive stop – I had 3 Common Loons, 4 Horned Grebes, and my Osprey of the year in OC. Glenmere was less exciting, but I did have a pair of Lesser Scaup and I also had my first Barn Swallow of the year at the small pond up the road from the lake. It was a nice night to be out and I took a moment to appreciated it.
It was an excellent morning for waterfowl in southern Orange County – I had good birds at nearly every stop I made and a total of 18 species (see my list by location, below). But, it was one extremely accommodating Horned Grebe at Greenwood Lake which made my day. Greenwood Lake is not typically a spot that is good for photos – the birds are typically quite distant – in fact, I often leave my camera in the car. Well I was glad I had it with me today as this HOGR came in close and fed well, completely unconcerned with my presence. I love it when, every once in a while, things work out really well. Here’s what I had today, by location:
6 1/2 STATION ROAD SANCTUARY: 6 Green-winged Teal, 35 Canada Geese, 5 Mallards, 9 American Black Ducks, 2 Mute Swan, and 1 Northern Shoveler.
GLENMERE LAKE: 12 Common Loons, 10 Horned Grebes, 2 Mute Swans, 5 Canada Geese, 6 American Black Ducks, 3 Bufflehead,and 4 Wood Ducks. Thanks to Kathy Ashman for reporting – she had 16 Common Loons prior to my arrival.
WICKHAM LAKE: 2 Common Mergansers, 10 Double-crested Cormorants, 12 Buffleheads, 5 RED-THROATED LOONS, 1 Common Loon, 9 Horned Grebes, 1 Pied-billed Grebe, 4 Lesser Scaup, 2 Mute Swans, and 6 Canada Geese.
GREENWOOD LAKE: 2 Common Loons, 3 Horned Grebes, 15 Double-crested Cormorants, 7 Red-breasted Mergansers, 5 Common Mergansers, 5 Buffleheads, 2 Mallards, 4 Canada Geese, and 2 Mute Swans.
WALTON LAKE: 1 Common Loon and 1 Double-crested Cormorant.
ROUND LAKE: 2 Mallards, 1 Horned Grebe, 2 Greater Scaup, 5 Buffleheads, 14 Double-crested Cormorants, 2 Ruddy Ducks, and 6 Canada Geese.
At first I thought it must be a joke. I really did. But, that’s not Rob’s style. The text read 25 RED-THROATED LOONS at Wickham Lake. Really? You’ve got to be kidding me. I was pessimistic about them sticking around until I got out of work, but somehow they did. I arrived just after 6 pm and I have to say that they did not disappoint. I enjoyed an amazing evening watching these beautiful birds make their way around the lake. They must have been quite comfortable since, with the high winds, the water was extremely rough. I was really curious to see what they would do as the sun started to set, and at 7:10, all but six of the RTLOs took flight. After several laps around the lake, gradually getting higher and higher, they departed, heading west-northwest. Shortly after, I headed out, leaving the lake to the remaining 6 Red-throated Loons. I wonder if they will spend the night?
QUICK POST: I’m exhausted this evening, so I’m going to try and make this a quick one. My brother-in-law Bill and I made our yearly Easter visit to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. We hit the usual spots; it seemed a little quieter than normal to me. We totaled 30 species for the morning, which seems low for the time of the year, and all were expected species. We had a few highlights – a Sandhill Crane flew over on my drive to the refuge, and then, after Bill and I made our way through Wildlife Drive, at Tschache Pool we had a group of over 50 Great Blue Herons as well a half dozen Bald Eagles tormenting ducks (and each other), flying over the pool.
Back here in Orange County, the action continued through the weekend and. today was another good day with some good birds reported: Wilson’s Snipe was the big winner, being reported at three locations in the county: Lynch Road in New Hampton, the Liberty Loop, and Citgo Pond. Additionally, Rob Stone located a Common Loon, 40+ Scaup, and a Bonaparte’s Gull at Wickham Lake, which is where I headed after work. The scaup were still present, as was the Common Loon, but the Bonaparte’s Gull had moved on. The loon was in beautiful breeding plumage, but was WAY out and photos were not an option. It was nice to get a good look at the 45 or so Greater Scaup.
Well, as we all know, timing is crucial when it comes to birding. This week my timing went from poor to excellent. It initially looked to me like I might miss out on seeing the EURASIAN WIGEON that John Haas located on Thursday. Instead, the bird stuck around and when I arrived first thing this morning, it was relatively close to the road and the light was beautiful! I was very excited about this. Wilma Amthor joined me shortly after my arrival, and shortly after that we had a small crowd of birders on the bird, including Diane Bliss, Karen Miller, Scotty Baldinger, Kevin Kreischer, and of course, John. It’s been several years since I’ve seen a Eurasian Wigeon (2014), and I’d forgotten what an absolutely gorgeous bird it is. Additionally, this is my first time seeing the bird in New York State.
I spent the remainder of the morning and the early afternoon at the Bashakill and every bird was a year bird for the county since it was my first birding foray into Sullivan County for 2018. I was happy that John offered for me to join him to check out the Pine Boat Launch; my car never would have made it down that treacherous pothole-filled road. John also gave a tip to go to the Horseshoe Pulloff for a Winter Wren. The bird was exactly where he said it would be; it was singing but never made an appearance. I managed to get 2 Orange County nemeses birds today: Winter Wren and Fox Sparrow, and I totaled 40 species for the day, which I felt was pretty good. Huge thanks to John for finding and reporting the wigeon, and also for his help and company today.
Well, it was an interesting birding weekend, that’s for sure. Things are happening and birds are on the move, particularly waterfowl. Things got started on Friday afternoon, when Rob Stone located over 60(!) REDHEADS in a small pond on Breeze Hill Road in New Hampton. I was unable to get there before sundown, but apparently several local birders were able to. I’ve only had Redheads one time in Orange County, and to get over sixty must have been amazing.
On Saturday, I was at Breeze Hill Road at sunrise but the birds had already moved on (there was just one lonely Ring-necked Duck left!). I made the rounds hitting several OC ponds and lakes; I had a total of 12 different species of waterfowl:
GLENMERE LAKE & POND: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Wood Duck, Mallard, Amer. Black Duck, GREATER SCAUP, Bufflehead, and Hooded Merganser.
WICKHAM LAKE: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Bufflehead, Gadwall, American Wigeon, GREATER SCAUP, Ring-necked Duck, and Common Merganser.
GREENWOOD LAKE: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Amer. Wigeon, and Common Merganser.
INDIAN KILL RESERVOIR: Canada Goose and Common Merganser.
Common Mergansers were the bird of the day; there were easily over 200 at Wickham Lake and maybe another hundred or so at Greenwood Lake. Sterling Lake was nearly 100% still frozen over, which was surprising to me.
In the afternoon, I decided to try for the Black-headed Gull that has been reported at Five Island Park in Westchester County. I had no luck with the gull, but I did well with waterfowl, tallying 14 species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Amer. Black Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, RED-THROATED LOON, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Great Cormorant, and a skein of over 100 TUNDRA SWANS! I had pulled off the road to get a look at a falcon in flight (by the time I pulled over the bird was out of view). Searching for the falcon, I saw a large skein of birds. I first figured Canada Geese – but no, they were white. My mind went immediately to Snow Geese and I took a few quick pics and jumped back in my car; I was blocking someone in where I had stopped. It wasn’t until I got home an looked at the pics that I realized they were swans. I reached out to John Haas and Rob Stone and both indicated Tundra were likely. Then I put it on NY Birders/Facebook and learned through that post that there was huge Tundra Swan movement yesterday.
On Sunday morning I made the rounds in the black dirt, hoping that maybe some Tundra Swans had put down there. Unfortunately, I did not have any luck with the TUSWs. I did have four swans fly and land out in Liberty Marsh, which prompted me to walk the Liberty Loop in the rain. I only found Mute Swans, but the refuge is full of ducks right now and most seem to be Northern Pintails. I checked Glenmere and Wickham but there were no new birds at either location. On my way out of Wickham, I had over 500 gulls in a field. I sorted through them, hoping for something good, I found 494 Ring-billed Gulls and 6 Herring Gulls. Interestingly, one of the RBGUs that I photographed had been banded with a silver band. In my pics I could only make out part of the writing: WH…. LAUR… 794…. I can’t remember seeing a gull banded before, so I thought that was interesting.
On a final note, I want to mention that Kathy Ashman had a pair of Northern Goshawks at what I call Glenmere Pond (the small pond just up the road from Glenmere Lake). Heartbreakingly, I was with her at the pond but left just a few minutes too soon and missed the birds. Congrats to Kathy, that’s a great OC bird, I look forward to getting one someday…
This morning Maria Loukeris, Linda Scrima, and I headed to Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon County, NJ. Our target bird was an EARED GREBE that has been reported there recently. Initially it did not look good – the bird was reportedly keeping company with several Horned Grebes; we located the group of birds, but they were miles out and terribly backlit. One certainly looked different and was presumable the Eared Grebe, but the birds were just too distant to be sure. We decided to bird the reservoir in hopes that we would get better looks, and eventually we did. The Eared Grebe was with 8 Horned Grebes; we enjoyed good scope looks and took distant, backlit, documentary photos. It was a life bird for all 3 of us, so that was exciting. Other highlights included 3 Red-necked Grebes, nearly a dozen Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and a good photo op with a Merlin as we were leaving.
As we were leaving, Maria checked her phone and saw that a GYRFALCON (!!!) had been reported at (location removed, see post update below)! We rushed over, stopping at 2 wrong spots before finally finding the right location. The place was loaded with birders and photographers, and thankfully, the Gyrfalcon was still present, sitting in the sun on a distant dead snag perch in the reservoir. The bird was a dark morph Gyrfalcon, and scope views of this big, beautiful bird were excellent but photos were again on the documentary side. Not long after our arrival, the bird took off and we did not see it again.
Meanwhile, in the water there was a vast array of waterfowl, including an estimated 5,000 Snow Geese. We started looking through the birds and I was able to locate 4 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE! I was stoked to find them and we got the other birders present on them. Shortly after that, another birder located a GLAUCOUS GULL! That would be a lifer for me, so I rushed over to his scope to view. I then got the bird in my scope and was able to take some digiscoped shots with Linda and Maria’s phones (my phone had a meltdown for some reason and was completely dead). I couldn’t believe and big, white, and beautiful that gull was, it really was some bird. It’s not very often these days that I can get a single life bird, not to mention two in one day. The GLGU was life bird #390 for me.
A ROSS’S GOOSE was located by other birders a couple different times in the mass of Snow Geese; unfortunately none of us were able to get on that bird and it seemed that the bird was being lost almost as soon as it was found. There were plenty of other waterfowl present, including: Canada Geese, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Northern Pintails, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, and a single Common Goldeneye. The flock of Snow Geese put on a nice show, picking up and putting back down several time while were there. Huge thanks to Maria for suggesting we take the trip down, it was truly an incredible day of birding with good friends, beautiful weather, and amazing birds.
POST UPDATE: When I entered my lists to eBird, the Gyrfalcon came up as a sensitive species, so reports won’t be made public. With that in mind, I have removed the location from this post, I figure it’s best to err on the side of caution with these things. Also, after looking at our photos, it looks like we had a TUNDRA SWAN at Round Valley Reservoir; thanks to Maria for digging in and figuring it out. I’ve included a photo at the bottom of this post.
Unfortunately, today’s Brooklyn Pelagic was cancelled due to what they described as a “horrendous forecast”. They are trying to reschedule it for February 4th; hopefully it will fill up and I will be able to make it.
I resorted to ‘Plan B’, which I came up with on my commute home last night: I’d take a trip to the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. It’s been a while since I’ve been there and I thought it would be fun to see how well I could do with waterfowl. Afterwards, I ended up also going to the Marshlands Conservancy, which is also in Rye, and then stopping at Piermont Pier on my way home. For the day I had 19 species of waterfowl; here’s my list by location:
The biggest surprise for me was the number of Common Goldeneyes at the sanctuary. My count of 22 is very conservative and I don’t remember ever having nearly that many there in the past. I was also hoping to see my first shorebirds of 2018, but it was not to be (in the past, I have had Purple Sandpipers at E.G. Read Sanctuary and back in December of 2013, I had 13 Dunlin at the Marshlands Conservancy). As for songbirds, I feel like I’ve done better at the sanctuary and the conservancy in the past. My best songbird of the day was a fleeting look at a FOX SPARROW at the Marshlands Conservancy. Here’s some more shots from the day:
After yesterday’s snow, I knew I wanted to check out the black dirt today. One of my main goals was to try for Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs among the large flocks of Horned Larks. I was hoping the snow cover would push the birds closer to the roadsides, this only happened to a small extent, but I was able to get a single LAPLAND LONGSPUR out at Skinner’s Lane. The bird was only about 40 yards off the road, but I was a little slow on the draw and missed getting a shot. I did a little bit better shooting raptors; I got my first decent shot of a Norther Harrier for the season. I also watched a Merlin enjoy a snack on a telephone pole, and miraculously, when it had finished, it took off in my direction, allowing for a decent shot.
After the black dirt, I checked out Wickham Lake, where I happy to find 12 species of waterfowl! They were pretty much the usuals, but it was excellent birding. The following species were present: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Am. Black Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, and Am. Coot.
From there I went to Glenmere Lake and found the birds of the day: a single BLACK SCOTER and 2 LONG-TAILED DUCKS. I haven’t had any sea ducks this fall, so I was pretty happy to see these birds. All in all, it made for a really great day of birding, one that I needed. It’s rare that I post twice in a single day – click here or on the link below to see my post from this morning with the Mount Peter 2017 end of season report by Judy Cinquina.
I decided to forego my Christmas shopping on Black Friday, and headed to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge instead (that was a joke, by the way, I know, keep my day job). Birding the refuge can be a little bit overwhelming during duck migration. Black Lake, the first large body of water on the left on Wildlife Drive, was absolutely loaded with waterfowl! There had to be thousands of birds present. Some birds are close enough for good binocular looks and even some photos, but most of the birds are pretty far out – it’s a distant sea of waterfowl. For the day, I had a total of 15 species of swimming waterbirds at the refuge: Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, and American Coot. I also did alright with raptors, with: Red-tailed Hawk (3), Bald Eagle (4), Northern Harrier (3), American Kestrel (1), and ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (1).
One of the more exciting moments was seeing an incredible 87 (!) SANDHILL CRANES. I viewed them from East Road – the birds were relatively obscured by vegetation which made getting a good count difficult. At first I counted approximately 60 birds, but then I discovered there was a second group, just 100 yards away. My best count was 87, but I’m sure there were some birds that were hidden and not counted.
I wanted to drive through Wildlife Drive one more time. I stopped by the visitor’s center and another birder told me that he had seen a SNOWY OWL nearby to the refuge just a little bit earlier. I ran for the owl, but alas, it must have moved and I was unable to relocate it. I did get lucky with the CATTLE EGRET that has been recently reported; a bird that I would normally be pretty excited about but I was bummed to have missed a Snowy by such a small margin. From there, I decided to leave the refuge and bird Cayuga Lake…
…I drove the west side of the lake and ended up at Cayuga Lake State Park, which had a nice dock for viewing the lake. I added 4 species of waterfowl (American Black Duck, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, and Horned Grebe), bringing my total for the day to 19. I was most excited, however, with the gulls present: Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed, and BONAPARTE’S.
On Saturday morning I tried again for the Snowy Owl, but was unsuccessful. I also wanted to try Cayuga Lake again, this time I went down the east side of the lake. I was hoping to do better with Bonaparte’s for photos – I got much better looks, but the photos were terrible. I did add Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, and Common Goldeneye to my waterfowl list, giving me a total of 22 species in two days – not too bad. Good birding in Seneca County!