Orange County LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, 03/31/20

Just a few months ago, I was gulling with Ken McDermott and I mentioned to him that an immature LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was one bird I would really like to see in Orange County. Well, thanks to Bruce Nott, I got my opportunity today. Bruce posted to the Mearns Bird Club app that he had one at the Newburgh Waterfront. At the end of the workday, I ran for the bird. When I arrived, there were plenty of gulls loafing on the docks just north of Billy Joe’s Ribworks, right where Bruce reported the bird.

~This is a really good bird for the county – immature LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL at the Newburgh Waterfront, 03/31/20.~

Part of the reason I wanted to see this bird, is that I wanted to know if I would be able to identify it. The answer is yes and no. When I first went through the birds, I didn’t have any luck. I gave Bruce a call and we talked through the field marks, mostly things I knew from the books, but hearing from Bruce, on the spot, while I was looking, was extremely helpful. After hanging up with him, I located the bird in less than five minutes. The dark mantle and the size (smaller than Herring and larger than Ring-billed) were the initial giveaways. I also could see well in my scope that the bill and the bulge at the tip wasn’t as heavy as the neighboring Herring Gulls, and it also had that punched in the eye look (although if I’m honest, I feel like I can see that in some Herring Gulls too). This was an exciting bird for me, and I enjoyed viewing and photographing it. I have to wonder if I would have identified this bird on my own. It’s hard to say, but now having seen this one, it will help my chances in the future. Huge thanks to Bruce.

Strange Days

Lucky for us, birding is one of the few things that will not immediately be affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. I hope if at all possible, everyone is getting out, enjoying and appreciating doing what we love to do so much. For me, it’s actually been a bit of a mixed bag. I was hoping that birding would be a welcome escape from the realities of our new world. And it has been, but only to an extent. It’s been good to get out, but, I can’t escape this feeling of agita in the pit of my stomach.

~Mourning Dove in the early morning light at Wickham Lake, 03/22/20.~

Of course my primary concern is the health of everyone and particularly everyone in my world. I’m just hoping we can all get through this as unscathed as possible. And then, the economic impact is also weighing on me. The big picture, the impact nationwide and worldwide is terrifying. And again, for myself and those close to me, knowing there will be struggles, I’m just hoping for the best for everyone. It’s going to be tough. And, maybe the worst thing about it is not knowing how bad it will get and how long it will go on. It’s hard to wrap my head around it. I know folks didn’t visit the blog to read more about Coronavirus, and I won’t go on and on about it, but it’s what is dominating my thoughts these days, so I felt compelled to at least write little bit. That said, I’ll get to some birds.

~This European Starling spent time messing around with the cavity just below him. Then, he perched on top and began calling and chattering/clicking his bill. It was pretty cool to witness. Wickham Lake, 03/22/20.~

It was a weekend of waterfowl. I couldn’t even keep up with the eBird reports and the Mearns Bird Club app reports (mostly from Bruce Nott – thanks Bruce!). I birded the lakes of southern Orange County (among other spots) on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Highlights included:

  • (1) CANVASBACK, (2) Long-tailed Ducks, (3) Greater Scaup, and (2) Horned Grebe at Wickham Lake, 03/20/20.
  • (2) Lesser Scaup and (9) Horned Grebe, Wickham Lake, 03/21/20.
  • (2) Blue-winged Teal at Beaver Pond, 03/21/20.
  • (3) Ruddy Duck at Wickham Lake, 03/22/20.

Other good birds included an Eastern Meadowlark at Lower Wisner Road, Rusty Blackbirds at Wickham Lake on Friday and Sunday, and (10) Wilson’s Snipe at Wisner Road Wetlands. The meadowlark was my first in OC in over a year, so that was a good one for me. Photo ops were few and far between, so I took advantage of seeing some more common birds in good light at Wickham Lake on Sunday morning.

As I mentioned in beginning of this post, I hope everyone is able to get out and enjoying some birding if they can. Keep the faith.

~Common Grackle performing what I believe is courtship behavior; there was a second bird just to the left of this bird, out of frame. Wickham Lake, 03/22/20.~

A Good Couple of Days/Eurasian Wigeon at the Bash!

I rocketed out of work last night and took the long way home, winding slowly through Harriman State Park and eventually entering the area of Sterling Forest State Park. I made a quick stop Indian Kill Reservoir where I didn’t have anything out of the ordinary, but there was a young Bald Eagle trying to terrorize a small raft of Common Mergansers, but they seemed unfazed. From there, I headed to Wickham Lake to follow up on a tip that there were Lesser and Greater Scaup, as well as American Woodcock.

~ A pair of Hooded Mergansers in the marsh across from Fireman’s Park in White Sulphur Springs, NY, 03/14/20.~

BREAKING NEWS: As I was typing this post, I received a call from John Haas; he let me know that Gail Benson and Tom Burke had located a EURASIAN WIGEON at the Bashakill main boat launch. I ran for the bird and it was still present. Distant, but still present (I tried for documentary photos without great success, see the bottom of this post). Many birders ran for the bird; it was strange to see a line of birders with scopes with approximately 6′ between them, practicing social distancing during this uncertain time of the Corona Virus.

Back to Friday evening. At Wickham Lake there was a decent sized raft of birds, consisting of mostly Ring-necked Ducks and approximately 20 scaup. I thought I had maybe 6 Greater and the rest Lesser, but I just couldn’t be sure so I reported them all as Lesser/Greater. The highlight of the night, however, was when the American Woodcocks started peenting and displaying. It was quite dark at this point, so photos were not an option, but I had several woodcocks land as close as 35 feet away, which was a fabulous look in my binoculars.

~Great Blue Heron in flight at Fireman’s Park, 03/14/20.~

On Saturday morning, I headed to Sullivan County to try for the very early PECTORAL SANDPIPER at Fireman’s Park on Shore Road in White Sulphur Springs that was found by Renee Davis a few days earlier. I didn’t have any luck with the Pec, even with Renee stopping by and giving me the lay of the land. But, the morning was a good one. The marsh was active with plenty of birds and I was able to get some decent photos. The highlight for me was a nice looking Red-shouldered Hawk that made its way over the marsh. I also went to Swan Lake, where I had mostly the usuals plus 2 Lesser Scaup.

~Red-shouldered Hawk at Fireman’s Park, 03/14/20.~

My final stop (before heading out again for the EURASIAN WIGEON), was at the duck blind at the Bashakill. John Haas texted me to let me know there was Pied-billed Grebe and Blue-winged Teal present. I immediately found one, and then two Pied-billed Grebes. John joined me, and eventually, after searching for a little while, we located first the drake, and then both the male and female when a Bald Eagle flushed all the ducks. Huge thanks to John for all the intel today, it makes a difference in a day of birding.

~One more shot of the Great Blue Heron, perched way high up at Fireman’s Park, 03/14/20.~
~I have NEVER cropped a photo this much before. Can you see the Eurasian Wigeon? Bashakill, 03/14/20.~

Good Birds, 02/23/20

I birded locally, and I got some good birds this weekend. On Saturday I added a few birds to my year list: I had a pair of Wood Ducks at Wickham Lake and I really scored with two excellent birds at Lockenhurst (284) Pond – a dozen REDHEADS and a VESPER SPARROW. On Sunday, I located a large flock of Snow Geese (approximately 3,000 birds) on Turtle Bay Road. They eventually moved to the pond on Breeze Hill Road, where they were terrorized by the subadult GOLDEN EAGLE that has been in the area. At one point, in the air just over the pond, the eagle had a Snow Goose in it’s clutches but was unable to hold on. About twenty minutes later I watched in the distance as the Golden Eagle, high in the air, in a steep dive, isolated a single Snow Goose and disappeared behind some trees. I assume that the GOEA was successful, because after pestering the geese all morning, it didn’t return after that.

~I still can’t believe we are getting repeated excellent looks at this GOLDEN EAGLE in the Black Dirt Region, 02/23/20.~
~VESPER SPARROW near the 284 Pond in Westown NY, 02/23/20.~
~I’m sparing everyone the mass Snow Goose photos this week. Here’s a blue morph instead, 02/23/20.~
~Horned Lark in the Black Dirt Region, 02/23/20.~
~One more of the GOLDEN EAGLE, Breeze Hill Road 02/23/20.~

Weekend Wrap-up, 02/16/20

I had a pleasant, if uneventful weekend of birding. I spent time at the Hudson River, the Black Dirt, and in between, finding mostly the expected species. Highlights included the continuation of several thousand Snow Geese as well as three Rough-legged Hawks in the black dirt on Sunday. It’s been a slow winter for RLHAs, so that made me pretty happy. On Sunday afternoon I attended workshop on the 2020 New York State Breeding Bird Atlas, which I plan on participating in. I will write more about that in an upcoming post.

~Bald Eagle in flight at Wallkill River NWR, Winding Waters Trail 02/16/20.~
~I’m still obsessed with Gulls, so I spent Saturday afternoon at the Newburgh Waterfront. I had the three expected species: Herring, Great Black-backed, and Ring-billed (like this individual, stealing bread from a Mallard).~
~This shot is representative of how this winter has gone in regards to Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and Lapland Longspurs – few and far between.
~Is everyone tired of Snow Goose pics? I’m not tired of seeing these birds, it’s always quite a scene. Black dirt 02/16/20.~
~Ring-billed Gulls loafing at the Newburgh Waterfront, 02/116/20.~

Heckuva Day, 02/08/20

As I was heading out this morning, I drove along 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, and I saw in the distance a pair of Red-tailed Hawks perched in a tree. They were about 15 feet apart, and in the perfect early morning light the difference between the larger female and the smaller male was quite obvious. It was a beautiful image, and for some reason I took this as an omen that it was going to be a good day.

~ It’s still hard for me to believe that we are getting to see a GOLDEN EAGLE on a somewhat regular basis right now. GOEA in the black dirt, 02/08/20.~

Every once in a while you have a day where things fall into place. It started with a GREAT-HORNED OWL on a nice perch, sunning itself. Add to that several flocks of Snow Geese moving around the black dirt. The icing on the cake was a relatively low flyover by the GOLDEN EAGLE that has been in the area. Getting a better look and photos of this bird was my main goal today, so that was awesome. As the morning ended and crept into the afternoon, things slowed down, but still, I was happy to find a cooperative Red-tailed Hawk on a wire, a bunch of vultures on a deer carcass (not for everyone, but I love those birds and find them very photogenic), and a couple thousand Common Mergansers at Greenwood Lake. Heckuva day for sure.

~Snow Geese in the black dirt, 02/08/20.~
~Black Vulture enjoying a meal. Warwick NY, 02/08/20.~
~GREAT-HORNED OWL sunning itself at an undisclosed location, 02/08/20.~
~I’m not usually a big fan of birds on a wire, but it’s been a while since I’ve taken a Red-tailed Hawk photo. Black Dirt, 02/08/20.
~Beautifully ugly bird. Turkey Vulture in Warwick, 02/08/20.~
~One more shot of the GOLDEN EAGLE. I know I definitely shouldn’t complain, but the light was tough for pics of this bird. Black dirt, 02/08/20.~

Wow, Black Dirt GOLDEN EAGLE!

My plan for the morning was to get outside and take a hike without worrying too much about getting any birds. I walked the trails near Reservoir 3 in Port Jervis. It was predictably quiet, but it was a pleasant walk in the woods on a cool, partly cloudy day. It wasn’t until I was on my way back that I started to think about getting some birds. Earlier, while I was hiking, Joyce Depew reported thousands of Snow Geese in the black dirt. On my way home, Ken McDermott followed up with another report of SNGOs in the fields off Onion Avenue. I figured I would stop by and check them out, especially because it was on my way home. Then, it got interesting: Bruce Nott reported a GOLDEN EAGLE flying over the Snow Geese, heading east.

~GOLDEN EAGLE flyover in the black dirt, photograph by Linda Scrima, 02/02/20.~

I arrived at Onion Avenue convinced that I had missed any opportunity to see the Golden Eagle. But, as I got out of the car everyone was urging me to hurry up – I jumped on Bruce’s scope and sure enough there was the Golden Eagle circling in the distance! It wasn’t great timing (see Linda’s photos in this post), but it was pretty darn good! Another minute or so, and I would have completely missed the bird. Exciting birding!

~One more shot of the GOLDEN EAGLE by Linda Scrima, 02/02/20.~
~My documentary shot of the GOLDEN EAGLE in the black dirt this afternoon, 02/02/20.~

OC Snow Geese, Short but Sweet

This morning I had some good luck and timing. I woke up to find that my car had a flat tire; I’d run over a screw presumably at the dump in Sussex County yesterday morning. I removed the tire and headed out to get it repaired in Tricia’s car. On my way, I received alerts from both Bruce Nott and Linda Scrima; they had approximately 3,000 SNOW GEESE on Onion Avenue. I wasn’t far, so I made a detour and headed over. My timing was excellent, I caught the birds about five minutes before they flew.

~Snow Geese in the black dirt this morning, 01/26/20.~

The birds headed south/southwest. I continued on to get my tire repaired, but Linda and Bruce followed the geese. They reported back to me later that the original group was joined by a second group, making the total number of Snow Geese in the neighborhood of 7,000 birds! Unfortunately the birds did not put down again, instead they continued south/southeast. I’m thankful that I got lucky this morning and huge thanks to Linda and Bruce for putting the word out.

~Definitely one of my favorite local birding sights – Snow Geese in flight over the black dirt, 01/26/20.~
~Snow Geese in the black dirt, 01/26/20.~
~The birds landed very briefly before lifting right back up again and eventually heading out. SNGO in the black dirt, 01/26/20.~

OC Greater White-fronted Goose, 01/25/20

After a week of beautiful weather, I can’t lie, I was ticked off this morning with rain being in the forecast for basically the entire day. I woke up early to get out a little before the rain; Maria Loukeris and I ran to try for the Glaucous Gull that has been reported at Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority. While we were there, it started raining. And, although I got on a larger white-winged gull in flight a couple of times, we we left without ever being able to locate the bird on the ground to confirm the ID (most gulls were landing on the other side of the hill and out of sight). Sigh.

~Awesome bird. Greater White-fronted Goose at Skinners Lane, 01/25/20.~

But, it’s amazing how one single bird can save a day of birding. After dropping off Maria, I stopped by Skinners Lane and found a good sized flock of Canada Geese. I started to sort through them and quickly located a GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE; likely the same bird that has been reported intermittently in the area this winter. I went through the rest of the flock, hoping for a Cackling Goose, but no luck there. I’d put the word out, and Linda Scrima and Karen Miller both ran for and got the GWFG.

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.~