On Thursday, Bruce Nott found a CANVASBACK at the Newburgh Waterfront. Fortunately the bird stuck around and I saw reports of it while at work on Friday. And even more fortunately, Friday was my work’s Christmas Party, so we got out early. I ran for the bird and it was still present – woohoo! Orange County life bird #254 and OC year bird #223! The bird spent most of it’s time tucked in, but finally, just as it was getting dark, a bunch of gulls made a raucous and the bird finally looked up and I was able to get some grain pics. It made me think – it was this time last year I was trying hard for Canvasback in OC because we had so many just downriver in Rockland County near my work. The bird appeared to be settling in for the night as I left – hopefully it will stick around for a little while so more folks get to see it.
QUICK POST: I spent most of my morning running around southern Orange County checking the lakes for waterfowl. The day was mostly a bust, but it was made when I located two WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS at Wickham Lake. Rob Stone and John Haas were both able to join me; it was rainy and foggy and the birds were distant, but we enjoyed what looks we could get of them in our scopes. I was excited because, for one thing I just love scoters, and for another, it was my 221st species in Orange County for the year, making it my most productive year yet. And it was good bird for John too – it was his 270th Orange County life bird – congrats John!
I had a nice weekend of local birding; after two weeks with almost no birding, it was just good to be out and about. For the most part, the birding was uneventful – I finally managed to locate a Fox Sparrow in Orange County which was noteworthy on a personal note as it was my 220th bird in the county this year.
The real excitement, however, happened late Sunday afternoon. I picked up my car from the shop and just wanted to do some last ditch effort birding (I didn’t want the weekend to end!). So, I headed to Skinner Lane, since I was nearby. It was mostly quiet until I heard the familiar sound of SNOW GEESE calling over my head. I didn’t even have my camera unpacked, so I grabbed it quickly and snapped some shots. Three more large skeins flew over, and then I noticed in the far distance, well south of my location, a large group of Snow Geese putting down. I’d put the word out, and I eventually met up with Ken McDermott and Linda Scrima. Ken had seen them putting down too – he thought maybe at Pine Island Turf Nursery, but we had no luck there. It wasn’t until we were leaving that Linda noticed a large group of SNGOs in flight just off of Route 1, west of the turf nursery. They were hidden once they put down, but we were able to get some grainy shots (darkness was coming quickly) of the birds in flight over the fields. What an excellent way to end the weekend!
This past weekend, Kyle Dudgeon joined me in what has become a yearly trip for me to the Adirondacks to photograph Common Loons. We arrived Saturday afternoon, set up camp, and we were heading out in our kayaks onto Follensby Clear Pond by early evening. Moments after I got in the water, a Common Loon popped up right next to my kayak, checked me out for a minute or so, and then dove under. We spent the evening on the pond with several cooperative adult birds; the weather was great and we had some decent light for photos.
We timed the trip so that we might be able to see some loon chicks. When the sun had set on Saturday evening, we were questioning our timing since we’d seen only adults.
Over dinner, I double checked when I’d had chicks there in the past – our timing seemed okay, and when we woke up Sunday morning at our campsite there was an adult with a chick on the pond about 75 yards out. Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worse, and it was a rainy, dark, morning. We enjoyed seeing the adult feeding the chick and we had some real excitement when an intruder loon came into the area and “our” adult tangled pretty good with the intruder, eventually forcing him/her out of the area. The chick, in the meantime, hid itself along the shore. We knew where it was, but only because we saw it go there – it was REALLY well camouflaged. Eventually the adult came back and the two were reunited. It wasn’t long after that when the second adult arrived and the two adults took turns feeding the chick. It was pretty cool stuff to see, even though the distance and lack of light limited the number of decent photos.
Kyle was determined to get into the water and photograph the loons using a boogie board to prop his camera on. The idea is to get as low of an angle as possible, which always seems desirable for bird photography. On Saturday, at first, he tried it in deeper water and struggle to keep the camera from getting wet. Later he tried where he could stand and he had much more success. He couldn’t convince me to get out of the kayak and try it (I’ve had enough camera issues recently, I don’t need to drop one in the pond!), but he ended up swimming with the loons both days and I have to say I love the low angle he achieved:
It was a brief, but excellent weekend with the loons. It would be interesting to spend a summer with these birds – you would learn so much and the photo ops would be insane. Until that happens, I’ll try to keep up the yearly visits. Here are some more of my favorite shots from the weekend:
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…