2020 Orange County Waterfowl Count

Today, for the second year running, Linda Scrima and I participated in the Mearn’s Bird Club’s Orange County Winter Waterfowl Count. Like last year, our sector was the Black Dirt Region. Which means more fields than bodies of water, so we spent the majority of the time searching for, counting, and sorting flocks of Canada Geese. We met at the Liberty Loop parking area at sunrise, and then made our way through the black dirt, hitting the usual spots as well as scouting some relatively unfamiliar territory.

~The bird of the day – blue morph Snow Goose viewed from Celery Avenue, 01/18/20.~

Last year we got lucky and located a couple of rare birds (Cackling and Greater White-fronted Goose). This year was a little less exciting; our best bird was a blue morph Snow Goose that we found on Celery Avenue. But, we did increase our number of species from 2019 to 2020 (6 to 7). Here’s our totals for the day:

  • Canada Goose: 1,755
  • Mallard: 48
  • American Black Duck: 2
  • Mute Swan: 5
  • Ring-necked Duck: 1
  • Common Merganser: 17
  • Snow Goose: 1
~One of three Great Blue Herons we had in the black dirt today, 01/19/20.~

We did have some notable other birds as we made our way around. Raptors top the list with: Red-tailed Hawk (6), Red-shouldered Hawk (1), Rough-legged Hawk (1), Sharp-shinned Hawk (1), and Bald Eagle (2). We also had a surprising (3) Great Blue Herons as well as an extremely large flock of blackbirds that passed in the far distance; it is hard to put a number on it, but there were probably north of 3,500 birds.

I enjoyed participating in the count – it was nice to have a defined purpose in our birding. I’m thinking this is a direction I’d like to take to a larger degree in my birding moving forward.

~A small flock of Canada Geese lift off from Skinners Lane with High Point in the distance.~

Good Day in the OC, 11/16/19

I got a nice early start this morning, meeting Linda Scrima at Wickham Lake just after sunrise. It was relatively uneventful, but we did have a single CACKLING GOOSE, which we first saw in my scope and then heard calling periodically while we were there. With the wind whipping pretty good, it was brutally cold on the lake, so after determining there were no other interesting waterfowl on the lake, we were happy to move on.

~These guys (gals?) were tough to photograph! They were moving around so quickly! One of three Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers at Lake Osiris, 11/16/19.~

After a quick and unproductive stop at Glenmere Lake, we decided to follow up on some of the great birds that were reported this week. We headed to Lake Osiris to try for the GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE that Bruce Nott found on Tuesday. There were many Canada Geese on the lake, but after scanning pretty thoroughly we were ready to leave without any luck. Just as we were getting ready to leave, several skeins of geese flew in and landed on the lake. We scanned again, and voilà, there it was! We did our best to get some decent shots of the bird. The light was nice, but, as it goes with these geese, the bird was quite distant. Interestingly, just like the Cackler earlier, the bird started calling from time to time. It was a first for both of us and it was really cool. The bonus for the stop was watching an interesting exchange between three young Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. They seemed to be playing, chasing each other through the trees right next to us, oblivious to our existence. It was awesome.

~Always a favorite of mine. When I was thinking about what birding I wanted to do over the weekend, this bird was tops on my list. GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE, Lake Osiris 11/16/19.~

From there, we headed to Orange Lake to chase yet another Bruce find – a WHITE-WINGED SCOTOER from earlier in the morning. It was a good stop; we located the bird, an adult male hanging out with 4 adult male LONG-TAILED DUCKS. Unfortunately the birds were just too distant for even documentary shots. The heat shimmer just rendered my images useless.

~Great Cormorant at Brown’s Pond, 11/16/19.~

Next stop was Brown’s Pond to try for the GREAT CORMORANT that Ken McDermott reported last Sunday. Fortunately, the bird was still present and after a little searching, Linda located the bird on the far side of the pond.

~American Pipit at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, 11/16/19. Apparently this bird had an injury on the right side of its face; I never actually photographed that side. It seemed to be getting around and feeding well, so I’m hoping for the best for this cutie.~

For our final stop, we met up with Maria Loukeris and walked the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop trail. It was a nice, brisk walk which was mostly uneventful, but we did have two birds that I was pretty excited about: Fox Sparrow and American Pipit. Mostly, however it was nice to get out with friends for a walk and be outside for a while.

Orange County White-winged Scoters, 04/22/19

I love scoters. I particularly love scoters when they are found locally. But, I had mixed feelings this morning when Kathy Ashman reported 2 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS at Wickham Lake. It was early in the day when she reported them, and I was convinced they wouldn’t stick around until the evening when I got out of work. Well, fortunately I was wrong and the birds were still present when I arrived around 6 pm. They were quite distant, so I took a walk on the trail that runs along the east side of the lake to try for a better vantage point and some better photos. I didn’t get anything great, but it was a definite improvement from the tiny specks I had in the camera initially. These were the first scoters I’ve had in the county this year. Huge thanks to Kathy for finding and reporting the birds!

~ One of the 2 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS at Wickham Lake this evening, 04/22/19.~
~White-winged Scoters at Wickham Lake, 04/22/19.~

Saturday, 04/06/19

Today was an interesting day for me. I had plans to play my first round of golf of the year at 10 am, so I got up early and made stops at both Glenmere Lake and Wickham Lake. Glenmere had a good number of waterfowl present – mostly Buffleheads and Ring-necked Ducks. My best bird there was a Red-necked Grebe, I’m not sure if this is the same bird that’s been there for a while or if it’s a new bird. At Wickham the birds were a little more sparse, but I did have an up close Horned Grebe as well as 2 distant birds that I believe were Red-necked Grebes. The distance, backlighting, and fog prevented a definitive ID; I wanted to get back this evening, but I never made it (see below).

~So far Horned Grebe is the only waterfowl I’ve gotten any decent shots of this spring migration. This dude was at Wickham Lake, 04/06/19.~

After golf, I stopped by the Newburgh on my way home. I birded Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point, and I made several stops along the Newburgh Waterfront. Unfortunately, I found way more people than birds, so I scrammed. I made a quick stop at Lake Washington, where I found a dozen scaup way out in the lake. They were all tucked in, but from what I could tell, they looked like Lesser Scaup. From there I headed to Brown’s Pond. I was going to just make a quick stop, but the birding was good enough that I stayed for a good while (preventing me from getting back to Wickham Lake). There was a beautiful Horned Grebe in breeding plumage – distant but I enjoyed some incredible scope views of that bird. I had 9 species of waterfowl, but it was the Bald Eagles that stole the show. There was a trio of young Bald Eagles flying around the lake; I saw one fishing, but mostly they seemed to be enjoying terrorizing the ducks and tangling with one anther. I sat on a bank and enjoyed the show; taking pictures whenever they came close enough.

~Bald Eagle at Brown’s Pond, 04/06/19.~
~Sibling rivalry? Two young Bald Eagles mixing it up at Brown’s Pond, 04/06/19.~
~A young Bald Eagle fishing at Brown’s Pond, 04/06/19.~
~Tree Swallow at Wickham Lake early this morning, 04/06/19.~
~This one is from Tuesday after work – Common Goldeneye with 2 Buffleheads at the small pond near Glenmere Lake, 04/02/19.~
~Also from earlier this week, a Double-crested Cormorant in flight at Wickham Lake, 04/02/19.~

A Good, Long Day, 03/16/19

This morning Maria Loukeris and I headed to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Morris County, NJ. Maria had some business to attend to in the area and we birded the refuge beforehand. We mostly drove around from spot to spot, but we did walk the trails briefly as well. We had a total of 25 species during our visit; four were first of year (FOY) birds for me: Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee, Tree Swallow, and my favorite bird of the morning, RUSTY BLACKBIRD.

~I got lucky with this bird – HORNED GREBE close to the shore at Wickham Lake, 03/16/19.~

In the afternoon I birded three local lakes: Greenwood Lake, Wickham Lake, and Glenmere Lake. Wickham was far and away the best stop; I had 8 species of waterfowl, including over 200 Common Mergansers, a single Red-breasted Merganser drake, and an up close look at a beautiful little HORNED GREBE. At Glenmere, the RED-NECKED GREBE continues but was so far out I didn’t even take documentary photos. For the day I had a total of 37 species. I’ve included a list of all the birds with locations at the bottom of this post.

~I had my FOY Eastern Phoebe at Great Swamp NWR, 03/16/19.~
~Roadside Red-tailed Hawk in Sussex County, NY 03/16/19.~

Here’s my list of species for the day, with locations (Great Swamp = GS. Wickham Lake = WL, Greenwood Lake = GRL, and Glenmere Lake = GLL).

  • Canada Goose (all locations)
  • Mute Swan (WL, GRL, GLL)
  • Wood Duck (GS, WL)
  • Mallard (GS, GLL)
  • Gadwall (GLL – small pond up the road)
  • American Black Duck (GS, GLL)
  • Bufflehead (GRL, WL, GLL)
  • Ring-necked Duck (WL, GLL)
  • Hooded Merganser (GRL, WL, GLL)
  • Common Merganser (GRL, WL, GLL)
  • RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (WL)
  • HORNED GREBE (WL)
  • RED-NECKED GREBE (GLL)
  • Ring-billed Gull (GRL, WL, GLL)
  • Herring Gull (WL)
  • Turkey Vulture (GS, WL)
  • Bald Eagle (GS, WL)
  • Red-tailed Hawk (GS, WL)
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk (on the road, Sussex Co.)
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (GS)
  • Blue Jay (GS, GLL)
  • American Crow (GS, WL)
  • Fish Crow (GRL)
  • Common Raven (WL)
  • Tree Swallow (GS)
  • White-breasted Nuthatch (GS)
  • Tufted Titmouse (GS)
  • Eastern Bluebird (GS)
  • American Robin (GS, WL)
  • European Starling (GS)
  • Dark-eyed Junco (GS)
  • Song Sparrow (GS)
  • Eastern Towhee (GS)
  • American Tree Sparrow (WL)
  • Red-winged Blackbird (GS, WL, GLL)
  • RUSTY BLACKBIRD (GS)
  • Common Grackle (GS, WL)
~Bald Eagle fishing at Great Swamp NWR, 03/16/19.~

A Good Day, 03/09/19

~Rough-legged Hawk in the black dirt, 03/09/19.~

There were some good birds reported locally this week, so that gave me some targets for today. At first light I headed over to Glenmere Lake to try for the Red-necked Grebe that Kathy Ashman located yesterday, and fortunately bird was still present. Kathy also showed up, and the bird put on a pretty good show as it tried to swallow a fish that was just way too large. Eventually a Ring-billed Gull swooped in and stole the fish, putting a halt to the grebes attempts. Glenmere is one of the few lakes with open water in the county, and including the grebe, I had 10 species of waterfowl: Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallards, American Wigeons, Ring-necked Ducks, and 2 COMMON GOLDENEYES.

-A distant shot of the Red-necked Grebe with two Canada Geese at Glenmere Lake, 03/09/19. I sort of like this shot because to me it shows the profile of the RNGR well.~

I then cruised the black dirt for a while – I had several large groups of Canada Geese, maybe around 5,000 total, I sifted through them all and unfortunately did not located any other species. I did alright for raptors; I had my first Sharp-shinned Hawk in the count for the year, several Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, an American Kestrel on a wire, and I got some decent shots of a Rough-legged Hawk.

~Perched Rough-legged Hawk in the black dirt this morning, 03/09/19.~
~Common Merganser on the Wallkill River in the black dirt, 03/09/19. These birds have such varying looks depending on the light.~

My next move was to head north to Ulster County to try for the Ross’s Goose that had been reported all week. I tried Bates Lane at Blue Chip Farms first, and I got lucky as another birder, Neil from the Schenectady was already on the bird when I arrived. He gave me a look in his scope, as the bird was at quite a distance, and I tried to get some documentary shots of the bird. It’s always good to see a Ross’s, and this bird is just the perfect beautiful example of the species. I made a quick stop at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, since I was so close, in spite of the parking lot being full of cars (at just after noon!) there were not many birds flying and I had only a single Turkey Vulture in the distance.

I had planned to head over to Cornwall to try for the Lesser Black-backed Gull that Bruce Nott found yesterday, but I ran out of time. I may try for that bird tomorrow. What a satisfying day of birding, I feel like we are on the verge of some really good birding in our area.

~I love this little bird. Ross’s Goose at Bates Lane in Ulster County, NY 03/09/19. I’d have loved to get a better look at this bird, but unfortunately it was miles out.~
~Red-necked Grebe trying to choke down a massive fish at Glenmere Lake, 03/09/19~
~Canada Geese in flight at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, 03/09/19~


Here Comes Trouble…

I got a good look at several Ring-necked Ducks at Glenmere Lake just after sunrise this morning. Glenmere is not typically a good place for photographing waterfowl from the shore, especially first thing in the morning as the view generally looks southeast, creating a severely backlit situation if there is a clear sunrise. This morning, however, these Ring-necked Ducks were located in a little cove of sorts along the shore. I positioned myself behind a tree and shot them with the sun just off my left shoulder; it was nice surprise to get some decent shots with nice light.

Sunday in Sullivan County, 02/17/19

~EVENING GROSBEAK at the Woodard Road feeders in Sullivan County, 02/17/19.~

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.

This bird was photographed at the Smith Road feeders, 02/17/19.~

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.

A Good, Long Day, 02/16/19

~CACKLING GOOSE at Lockenhurst Pond in Westtown, NY 02/16/19.~

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’ll be interested to hear opinions on the bigger of these 2 birds – both birds were significantly smaller than the surrounding Canadas, and although the photo doesn’t show it that well, both had a lighter, frosty look to them. CACKLING GEESE (GOOSE?) at Glenmere Lake, 02/16/19.~

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.

~Mixed blackbird flock – mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, but I also see Brown-headed Cowbirds, E. Starlings, and a single Common Grackle.~

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.

~CACKLING GOOSE at Lockenhurst Pond in Westtown NY, 02/16/19.~

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.

~Ring-billed Gull in flight over the Hudson River, Newburgh Waterfront 02/16/19.~

Sunday, 02/10/19

~Black-capped Chickadee at Goosepond Mountain, 02/10/19.~

I guess I’m feeling a little blas√© 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.

~One of my few photo ops with waterfowl today: Red-breasted Merganser in nice light at Edith Read Wildlife Sanctuary, 02/10/19.~

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.

~Northern Mockingbird at the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary, 02/10/19.~
Northern Cardinal perched near the feeder station at the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary, 02/10/19.~