My plan for the day was to head up to Sullivan County to see if I could do any good with waterfowl at Rondout Reservoir. Before heading up north, I made an early stop at Glenmere Lake and met up with Kathy Ashman again. She had located 2 GREATER SCAUP and relocated the single LESSER SCAUP. I found the GRSCs easily enough, but never did locate the LESC.
From there, I headed to Rondout Reservoir. John Haas and Karen Miller have recently reported some good waterfowl there; I thought it would be fun to head up that way and see how I could do. It was a worthwhile stop as I had 8 species of waterfowl. The highlight for me was my first COMMON GOLDENEYES of the year. There were 9 present and they were actively feeding and displaying in the furthest corner of open water along with several Hooded Mergansers and 3 female Buffleheads. I would have loved to get some photos, but the birds were just too distant.
I then headed towards Liberty, to visit the feeder stations in hopes of finding Evening Grosbeaks and any other interesting birds. I got lucky and had 12 EVGRs at the Woodard Road feeders and an additional 30 or so at the Smith Road feeders. At Smith Road, it was tough to get an accurate count, as the birds were here and there and coming and going; 30 is a conservative estimation. I tooled around the Liberty area a bit, but ended up heading home without any additional notable birds.
Regular readers of this blog may remember that it took me 51 weeks in 2018 to get a CACKLING GOOSE in Orange County. Well, today I potentially had three. Which just shows you how crazy birding can be. First thing this morning I headed to Glenmere Lake, hoping for the ROSS’S GOOSE that Kathy Ashman had seen there earlier in the week. The Ross’s wasn’t present, but I did run into Kathy and we had some good birds, including one bird that looked to us like a sure Cackler and a second bird that looked pretty good, but was slightly larger with a slightly longer bill. See photo below, I’d love to hear any opinions on these birds. The birds stuck together the entire time we were there, a cute tiny couple. Other waterfowl present: Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Gadwalls, and a single LESSER SCAUP.
I tooled around the black dirt and then took a walk at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh; it was actually pretty quiet and I had mostly the usuals including White-crowned Sparrows at two locations. On Onion Avenue there was a large flock of mixed blackbirds – perhaps 1,000 birds or so, nearly all Red-winged Blackbirds with a sprinkling of Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles, and European Starlings thrown in.
My final stop in southern OC was at Lockenhurst Pond. This is the small pond on Route 284 in Westtown, NY; I just looked it up to see what it was actually called. While I was there I sifted through the flock of approximately 400 Canada Geese and eventually located another CACKLING GOOSE. This bird looks good to me, see top photo as well as below.
After a late lunch, I headed up to the Newburgh Waterfront to try for more waterfowl and gulls. I had only the 3 expected species of gull, and for waterfowl the only noteworthy species was 9 Northern Pintails. I can only remember one other time having NOPIs on the Hudson River. Just as it was starting to get dark and I was thinking about heading home, I saw something I’ve not seen before. A group nearly 60 Canada Geese flew in and landed on the river. I don’t know if they were out in the fields all day, or if they just finished a long flight, but as soon at they landed all the birds were drinking from the river. I found it sweet to see 60 Canadas sipping away as the sun set.
I guess I’m feeling a little blasé about today’s birding, I’m not sure why; maybe I’m just tired. First thing this morning, I went to the Edith Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. This is a favorite spot of mine at this time of the year, particularly for waterfowl. I looked back at visits from years past at this time, and today was just a little on the low side of my average – I had 11 species of waterfowl. Highlights included Common Goldeneye, 30+ Long-tailed Ducks, and at least 15 Horned Grebes (I can’t remember ever having that many there before). Unfortunately, most birds were quite distant so I didn’t do much as far a photos go. And, the pier at Rye Playland was closed for some reason; I typically can get more photo ops from the pier than at the sanctuary. I was also hoping I might get lucky with the Greater White-fronted Goose that has been at the sanctuary recently, but no such luck.
Back closer to home, I made a few quick stops, including Glenmere Lake since it’s one of the few spots in southern Orange County with open water right now . It was nice to run into birding bud Kathy Ashman and we had some decent waterfowl among the medium sized flock of Canada Geese on the lake: 2 Northern Pintails (funny to see them walking around on the ice!), a dozen or so Ring-necked Ducks, and a single Lesser Scaup.
Early this morning, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I headed to Manasquan Inlet to try for the PACIFIC LOON that has been seen there. This was definitely one of the easier rarities we’ve run for – we parked the car and the bird was in the channel right in front of us! And what a beautiful bird, a nice dark loon with a lovely chin strap. It was also very cooperative, swimming quite close and the light was pretty nice too. This bird alone was definitely worth the trip, but we also had some really nice photo ops with some Long-tailed Ducks (which are apparently a garbage bird around there!) and a gorgeous RED-THROATED LOON. We checked for gulls from Red’s Lobster Pot and got lucky with a 1st winter ICELAND GULL. Unfortunately that bird was just too far for pics. Then we walked out onto the jetty, where we enjoyed seeing many of the usuals – highlights included a Common Goldeneye flyby, a flock of Dunlin, and 2 Horned Grebes.
We then headed to the Trenton Sewage Ponds in Mercer County to try for the TOWNSEND’S WARBLER that has been there. We were informed as soon as we arrived by other birders that the bird was still present, and we got on it not too long after that. It was a good looking warbler, but unfortunately the lighting was absolutely horrible and the bird was severely backlit from our vantage point. We tried for a while to get shots of the bird as it foraged around the pools, and eventually the bird perched in a nearby tree. It was still backlit, but closer to us and with a natural setting made the difference for me. Also present was a Eastern Phoebe, several Yellow-rumped Warblers, a handful of Ruby-crowned Warblers, and a Palm Warbler.
Both birds were lifers for all three of us – it’s not too often we get lifers these days, so it was AWESOME!
Today Linda Scrima and I participated in the Mearns Bird Club’s Orange County Waterfowl Count. Our area was the black dirt, which basically means searching for, counting, and sorting through Canada Geese for the most part. We decided to divide and conquer – Linda would take the western side while I took on the eastern black dirt. We ended up meeting up twice when we had located large collections of geese. The first time was at Skinner Lane, where among approximately 600 Canada Geese, I had 4 blue morph Snow Geese and 2 CACKLING GEESE. I tried to document the Cacklers, but photos were tough due to the distance and heat shimmer. The second time we met up was when Linda located a GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE across from the pond on Route 284 in Westtown, NY. Shortly after I arrived, (and before I had a chance to see the GWFG), all the geese in the field lifted up. Thankfully, they just relocated to the pond across the street. It took us ages, but eventually we relocated the GWFG on the ice with its back to us. I felt like we had a pretty good waterfowl count for our area, with the biggest surprise being that we did not see one Mallard. Here’s our totals:
Yesterday morning, Maria Loukeris, Linda Scrima, and I headed to the Jersey Shore. Our target was the RAZORBILLS which had been reported at Manasquan Inlet, but really, we were just heading to the beach where we knew we’d find loads of birds.
Manasquan Inlet was our first and best stop. Not long after our arrival, we got the best look any of us had ever had of a Black Scoter. It was a day of photo ops, starting with this bird. Other highlights included my first shorebirds of the year, Dunlin and PURPLE SANDPIPERS. There was a very cooperative group of just under 30 Long-tailed Ducks at the end of the jetty. Humpback Whales were being seen in the distance, and a Gray Seal came in for a slightly closer look. A Bald Eagle was hunting WAY out in the ocean and you could barely throw a rock without hitting one of my favorites, the Common Loon. Most importantly, we had 6 RAZORBILLS in the ocean; we had distant but good enough looks. Then a fellow birder located a Razorbill in the channel, and as it worked its way back to sea, we got absolutely incredible looks and some decent photo ops.
Our second stop was Shark River, which was loaded with birds. There has been a Eurasian Wigeon reported at that location, in fact it was reported several times yesterday, but we never located it. I feel like there might be some local knowledge going on here (we went back for a second try when it was reported in the afternoon, but still dipped on the bird). Regardless, the spot was loaded with waterfowl, we had 10 different species, with over 40 Mute Swans, 300+ Brant, and 60+ Buffleheads making up the bulk of the birds.
Shark River Inlet was our final official stop (we did run for the EUWI back at Shark River afterwards, however). I was excited to get back to this spot because last time we were there we had the most cooperative Red-throated Loon there. This time around it was not to be. But, we did get some really good scope views of our first SURF SCOTERS of the day, which was nice, and I was able to take my favorite photo of the day, a Brant in flight (above). Brant are up there in my favorite birds, and to me this shot is a nice one and it made me happy. The day went by quickly and the sun was setting as we headed home happy and tired.
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: