I didn’t sleep well last night, but I somehow dragged my butt out of bed this morning and strapped my kayak to the roof of my car. I’m glad I did, because it was a beautiful and crisp morning; the wind was down, the clouds hadn’t completely rolled in yet, making for a pleasant paddle on Glenmere Lake. My main goal (as usual), was shorebirds, but today in addition to a smattering of shorebirds, I found a couple of favorites as well.
The bird of the day for me was undoubtedly the American Pipit. There were many on the lake, working all the little “islands” of muck that the shorebirds enjoy so much as well. I would estimate I had at least 75 AMPIs, but it was hard to get any sort of accurate count. I can tell you this: pipits are not like shorebirds (for the most part oblivious to me in the kayak). They are much more jumpy and moved frequently from island to island. I finally made a slow, smooth approach and was able to get a decent pipit shot.
I worked my way along the shore and came across a mixed flock. I’d noticed some activity and slowly made my way over. Birds seemed to be everywhere around me- Yellow-rumped Warbers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, American Robins, and Cedar Waxwings. Then I noticed a small flock of mixed blackbirds feeding on the ground in the vegetation along the shore. I could first hear and then see several RUSTY BLACKBIRDS among them. I was just settling in to try and get some photos when a Sharp-shinned Hawk flushed just about all the birds. The blackbird flock took off over my head (unfortunately I never did catch up with them again).
As for shorebirds, I found a pair of Least Sandpipers, (6) Wilson’s Snipe which were flushed by a Cooper’s Hawk, (4) Killdeer, and (6) mystery shorebirds, also flushed by a raptor – not sure which because I kept my binoculars on the shorebirds as they flushed; they flew up over the trees heading west and I watched in my bins until they disappeared in the distance. My best guess for those birds is Dunlin, but we’ll never know. I totaled 39 species, which isn’t too bad for a couple hours or so on the water.
It was a vulturific day from the get-go. Yeah, I just made that word up, and yeah I know it’s cheesy. Anyways, when I woke up, the vulture roost in our backyard was in beautiful light. I was thinking that I don’t photograph these birds nearly enough, so I tried for some shots while the light was still good. Then I had a cup of coffee and got ready to head up to Mount Peter to count migrating raptors all day.
It was chilly up on the mountain – 37 degrees Fahrenheit with a breeze from the northwest. I had a slow start with nearly cloudless sky and no migrants in the first hour, but then things picked up. Jeff and Liz Zahn joined me in the second hour; we had a nice mix of birds including my only migrating Bald Eagle of the day, an adult over the valley which was located by Liz. .
It was during the fourth hour of the watch when fellow counter Jeanne Cimorelli located a kettle of vultures due north of the platform. The birds rose up very high and then began to stream out, heading SSW in a determined fashion. Counting a few stragglers that followed the kettle, there was a total of 41 Turkey Vultures and 2 Black Vultures that passed through.
In my final hour, I was getting ready to wrap things up a little early because I hadn’t had a migrating raptor in over an hour. Then Amanda Stanley and Jon Fazio (visiting from Wildcat Ridge Hawkwatch) showed up and we had one last flurry of activity to end the day with: a Cooper’s Hawk, a young Northern Harrier, and a Peregrine Falcon. I finished the day with 97 migrating raptors; this brought our year total to over 8600 birds. As usual I’ve included my HMANA (Hawk Migration Assoc. of North America) at the bottom of this post.
Well, it was an interesting weekend of birding for me. I counted at Mount Peter Hawkwatch on Saturday, and it was a bit of mixed bag. In 7 hours of counting, I had only 22 migrating raptors. But! I had a remarkable 14 sitings of Bald Eagles, 6 of which were countable, migrating birds. I also had my first migrating Northern Harriers of the season. And, I somehow managed to add 4 birds to my 2019 Orange County list: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Swainson’s Thrush, Hermit Thrush, and very exciting – a skein of 27 BRANT! I haven’t really been going for numbers this year, but as the fall has rolled in I started looking at it with the hopes of at least reaching 200 birds in the county this year. These four birds brought my total to 199.
I also had some really great visitors on Saturday, which helped the time pass when things were slow. Some folks even brought me snacks. You can see the list of visitors in my HMANA report at the bottom of this post. On my way home I stopped at Glenmere Lake and joined Karen Miller, Kathy Ashman, and Diane Bliss for the last little while of the Mearns Bird Club’s Big Sit. We had a nice flurry of songbirds come through (mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers) just as we were getting ready to leave.
On Sunday I didn’t have the opportunity to get out until the early afternoon. My first stop was Citgo Pond, hoping for shorebirds. There were only 2 shorebirds present (a Greater Yellowlegs and a late Solitary Sandpiper), but the trail had plenty of birds. They were mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, but also some more interesting birds: Blue-headed Vireo, Palm Warbler, and my 200th bird of the year in the county, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
I also made a brief stop at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I walked Liberty Lane briefly and in sheer numbers, I had as many sparrows as I can remember ever having out there. That being said, I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary, but I did have a total of 6 sparrow species: Song, Swamp, Field, Savannah (easily the most numerous), White-crowned, and Chipping. I wanted to do some kayaking at Glenmere Lake in the evening, but to be honest I just ran out of juice and stayed in.
I got a slightly later start than I wanted this morning. I struggled sleeping last night; I eventually got back to sleep around 5 am, but that made it tough to wake up early. My plan was to get to Citgo Pond before the sun was over the trees (once it’s over the trees, the birds are severely backlit and tough to ID). Anyways, I had to forego that plan and I headed directly to my next planned stop: Glenmere Lake. It ended up being a good decision as I had some really good birds in perfect light.
I kayaked the lake, just as I did last weekend. As I paddled out, I could see some good shorebird activity in the distance at the south end of the lake. I heard a shorebird call; I couldn’t put my finger on it and I also couldn’t locate the bird – it seemed to be moving over great distance. I eventually caught up with that bird, it was an AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER, undoubtedly the bird of the day. Prior to locating the plover, I’d come across nearly a dozen Pectoral Sandpipers (always a favorite), and 5 Lesser Yellowlegs. Of course there were many Killdeer around as well. Photo ops were mostly good as the light was good and the birds were cooperative. One other bird of note was a single American Pipit flyover, calling as it went. Again, I can’t express how great it is to be able to see these fabulous birds up close and personal – kayaking for shorebirds rules. I’ll be out again in the morning, fingers crossed for some good birds.
I had an excellent weekend of birding, which frankly is not something I’ve been able to say too much recently. I’ll start with today, Sunday, because it was most exciting. While I was at Citgo Pond searching for shorebirds first thing this morning, Kathy Ashman put out an alert on the Mearns Bird Club app – she was at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary and had located a LARK SPARROW! I did my best to make sure I wasn’t missing anything good at Citgo and headed directly over to 6 1/2, where the bird was not only still present, it was also very accommodating, allowing for some decent photos in spite of the low light conditions.
The LARK SPARROW was a life bird for me – #420. It was, of course also a county (#258) and state (#305) bird for me. Huge thanks and congratulations to Kathy on an awesome find.
From there, I finally did some kayaking at Glenmere lake. I’m shorebird obsessed as most of you know, and I’ve had some shorebirds there recently, but it’s so tough to see from the shore with all the foliage in the way, so I wanted to get out on the water and see what I could find. While I didn’t come up with any new birds, I did have a good collection of shorebirds (Killedeer, Least Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Wilson’s Snipe). I got a much better look at the habitat at the south end of the lake – it’s good for shorebirds and it’s also vast! And then there is the magic of being in a kayak with shorebirds. If you move slowly and smoothly, they just don’t seem to know you exist and pay absolutely zero attention to you (except for the Killdeer!). It’s really amazing and allows for some incredible looks excellent photo ops. I was particularly happy to get the snipe up so close – I don’t think I’ve ever had them like that before.
SATURDAY 09/28/19 – HAWKWATCH AT MOUNT PETER
I had low expectations for hawkwatch on Saturday. The winds were not good (SE and SW), and plenty of birds had moved through during the week. I didn’t imagine there would be all that many moving for me on Saturday. But, I ended up having a pretty darn good day. With the help of fellow counters Ken Witkowski and Jeanne Cimorelli, I tallied 139 birds for the day. Highlights included 12 Ospreys, a massive and gorgeous Peregrine Falcon, and 3 Bald Eagles. My HMANA report is included below.
I was pleasantly surprised with a decent flight today at Mount Peter Hawkwatch. This week nearly 5,400 Broad-winged Hawks were counted at the watch, and I just sort of had the feeling that there wouldn’t be many birds passing through today on a very light (1 mph) northwest wind. While it wasn’t a huge number, I was happy to count 215 BWHAs in what was a tough sky – nearly all blue with almost no cloud cover. Huge thanks to fellow counters that helped – Judy Cinquina, Tom Millard, and BA McGrath. I’ve included my report for HMANA (Hawk Migration Association of North America) at the bottom of this post.
On Saturday, I had my first day as official counter at Mt. Peter for the season. I’m cutting back a little this year and not doing every Saturday, so when the schedule came out in August and I saw I had the 14th of September, I was excited – primetime for Broad-winged Hawks! Little did I know then that conditions and weather would conspire against me to deliver my least productive day of counting at Mt. Pete ever. I had a paltry 2 (!) migrating raptors all day. It rained periodically. Even the local Red-tailed Hawks and vultures took the day off for the most part. On the positive side, I did have a Broad-winged Hawk perched in the parking lot when I arrived, as well as a nice mixed flock of warblers that worked the area all day (Yellow-rumped, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, and American Redstart).
On Sunday I went to the Winding Waters trail at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge to try for warblers. I did alright, in spite of a late start, with 9 species of warbler:
Black-throated Green Warbler
I also spend some time at Mt. Peter, where the birds were actually flying on Sunday. It wasn’t an amazing flight, but there were enough birds to keep it interesting. And I was able to get a Broad-winged Hawk in flight. All in all, not a bad weekend for birding in the OC.
I spent the morning running for birds that most local birders got to see yesterday. Actually, my first stop was at the Volkswagen dealership to get my car serviced. Do you know they gave me a 6:20 am appointment and I was out birding by 7:15? I thought that was pretty incredible. Anyways, my first stop was at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge to run for the BAIRD’S SANDPIPER that was reported there yesterday. I got lucky, the bird was present, first distant but then it came in closer and I was able to get some shots before it was flushed by one of the two Merlins patrolling the refuge this morning.
I made my way over to Winding Waters Trail, where Kathy Ashman had reported an Olive-sided Flycatcher. Unfortunately the bird was no longer present. Then I cruised the black dirt for a good while hoping for more good shorebirds. I was hoping for the pair of BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS which had been reported yesterday, but I didn’t have any luck. From there I went over to Beaver Pond and Glenmere Lake. At Beaver Pond, shorebird numbers were down and I only had a Lesser Yellowlegs, and a handful each of Killdeer and Least Sandpipers. At Glenmere Lake, conditions at the south end of the lake are improving for shorebirds. I walked the trail to better survey that area, but only found a single Killdeer (as far as shorebirds go).
I was thinking about packing it in for the day when Jim Schlickenrieder put out an alert that he had relocated the BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS. I ran and joined Jim and Bruce Nott in viewing one of my favorite birds. They were a little bit distant, so photos are documentary, but the views in my scope were incredible. Excellent bird, thanks Jim for reporting.
It was really great to have the day off, and I thought that the conditions and the timing would be pretty darn good for some interesting shorebirds in the black dirt today (Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, American Golden-plovers were among my targets). Alas, in spite of searching while the storms were passing through our area, and afterwards as well, I came up empty. I even struck out with the STILT SANDPIPER at Beaver Pond (I’m thinking that bird has likely moved on as I know of a couple folks that went for it without success).
Fortunately there were enough raptors around to provide a couple decent photo ops. And I was entertained by a young Green Heron trying to swallow an absolutely massive frog. It swallowed the entire frog, except for its two back feet, only to regurgitate the entire thing and then have success on the 2nd try. It’s back to work for me tomorrow morning – that ought to bring some shorebirds in.
Wow, September already. The only real birding excitement today was a revisit to the STILT SANDPIPER from yesterday. Bruce Nott relocated the bird first thing this morning and reported it on the Mearns app. He was still there when I arrived; we were joined shortly by Linda Scrima and then John Haas. The bird cooperated and came in pretty close, but unfortunately I didn’t really improve on my photos from yesterday because the bird was backlit. Anyways, not too much else going today, so here’s some shots from the past few days.