I got out briefly this morning. It was a very cold, frosty morning with some beautiful light. I wish more birds had been around to photograph, but what can you do. The area of Wisner Road in Warwick was particularly spectacular, with all the trees and bushes being covered in lovely icy crystals. I was looking for Northern Shrike, but I had to settle for icy photographs of Song Sparrows. Glenmere and Wickham Lakes were both completely frozen, but Greenwood Lake was entirely open, with Buffleheads, Common Mergansers, and Ring-billed Gulls present. Oh, and I watched a unidentified falcon chase a Bufflehead across the lake in the distance, about 3 feet above the surface of the water.
I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of a plan each day for my birding lately, but by the time this morning rolled around, I didn’t have anything concrete. So, I decided to just cruise the black dirt early to see what I could come up with. It ended up being a productive morning with some nice highlights: 3 SNOW BUNTINGS in a flock of approximately 80 Horned Larks, distant looks at 3 Rough-Legged Hawks (2 light and one dark phase), and two late but incredibly accommodating VESPER SPARROWS. They were my first VESPs of the year, so that was a nice bonus.
I went home around lunchtime and took care of a few things, but then I made it out again in the afternoon. My first stop was at the Storm King State Park parking area on Route 9W, to try for the the Golden Eagle that has been wintering there. As luck would have it, the bird was present, on it’s normal distant perch. Bruce Nott joined me and also got the bird, it was an OC year bird for him.
From there, Bruce and I headed to the Newburgh Waterfront to try for the ICELAND GULLS I had yesterday evening. It was early enough and the light was nice, so I was hoping for some better photos. When we first arrived, it was a bit of an eagle fest. We had 2 adults and 2 young Bald Eagles flying over the river. The two young birds were flying very high, and as I was watching them, I saw something I’ve never seen before. To the right of the eagles was a massive kettle of gulls – really, really high. Hundreds of birds in a spinning ball of bright white and dark brown birds. Naked eye you could make out the white birds when the sun hit them just right.
Not too long after that, I finally located a single Iceland Gull on the roof of one of the buildings near the ferry parking area. While Bruce and I were looking at that bird, the “kettle” of gulls had landed in the middle of the river. Bruce counted the birds – there were over 400 birds, nearly all Herring Gulls, with a few Great Black-backed Gulls, and our second Iceland Gull of the night. Ken McDermott joined us shortly after and he relocated one of the ICGUs; it was in pretty close, so while I didn’t get the photo I was hoping for, I did get the shot below. I’m happy to say it was another really good day of birding for me – I needed it.
One of these days I’m going to write a post about timing and luck in birding. This afternoon I had an appointment in Newburgh. I scheduled it perfectly (do we create our own luck?), finishing my appointment in time to go to the Newburgh Waterfront to try for gulls before sunset. As luck would have it, there were many gulls present, mostly floating out on the river. I started scanning, and quickly got on a first winter ICELAND GULL.
Shortly after I got on the bird, many of the gulls picked up and and then put down on the roof of Gully’s. They didn’t stay for long and moved back onto the river. It took me a little while to relocate the bird, but when I did, it was with a second ICELAND GULL! I was able to document the two birds together before they once again flew from the river to the roof of Gully’s. John Cavalari joined me at that point and got his lifer Iceland Gull, which was awesome.
John left and I decided to scan the remaining birds on the river one final time. When I did, I found a third Iceland Gull! I immediately pointed my scope back at the roof of Gully’s, and sure enough the other two were still there! Those of you who know me know how crazy I am for gulls; to get a single good gull in an evening makes me freak out. Imagine how I was with three! Awesome birding.
It was nice on this holiday weekend to have a little extra time to get out birding. I managed to squeeze a little bit of birding into each of the last 5 days, which was a nice change from my recent weeks, that’s for sure. I mostly birded locally, but I also made a brief visit to Sandy Hook early Friday morning. While I didn’t have any out-of-the-ordinary birds or see anything new, it was still good birding and just enjoyable to be out and about.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to spend my birding time. I guess it’s because with the time change, I now only get to bird 2 days a week. When your time to bird is that limited, you want to make it count or get as much out of it as you can. I’ve been asking myself a couple of different questions, usually the night before going out:
- What birds would I really enjoy seeing tomorrow? That is, of the birds that are likely to be around, what’s going truly bring me joy?
- What kind of birding experience am I hoping for? Am I hoping for a peaceful walk in the woods? Or maybe try and cover some territory in Orange County, driving to multiple spots?
My birding time on Saturday was limited, so I tried to relocate the Northern Shrike I found last week in the morning, but was unsuccessful. In the evening, I had gulls on the brain, so I headed to the Newburgh Waterfront where I found a fairly sizable accumulation of the three expected species of gull (Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed), but nothing out of the ordinary (I was hoping for Iceland or who-knows-what). A RED-THROATED LOON flying downstream was nice consolation prize.
Today, I had geese on my mind. Both Barnacle and Pink-footed had been reported the day before in Massachusetts, and I’m really hoping to get one or both in our area this year. I found large groups of Canada Geese in 6 locations this morning and sifted through them in the rain without any luck. I really enjoy looking through geese, but the rain can make it frustrating. I have the gear to stay dry, but I just can’t keep my optics dry, especially if I’m looking into the wind. Anyways, it’s early in the season so I’m still hoping we will get lucky with these birds. Especially Barnacle Goose, that would be awesome.
This morning at Wisner Road in Warwick, I located a NORTHERN SHRIKE. I was freaking out because this bird is among my all time favorites. That was the good news. The bad news is that the bird was not very cooperative. Within five minutes of finding it, the bird took off from its distant perch and flew north. I tracked it in my scope as it disappeared behind trees in the distance.
Rob Stone joined me to help relocate, and then Bruce Nott after him. We checked the areas north as well as the area where I first saw the bird for a good long while (I tried for the next three hours), but unfortunately we were unable to relocate it. Hopefully that bird is still around; I was thrilled to get it, but for me a lot of the joy gets zapped if no one else gets the bird. Time will tell, I guess.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I had a great day at Mount Peter Hawkwatch today, with the highlight being not one, but TWO GOLDEN EAGLES! The first one was a subadult bird that I located over the valley to the west of the viewing platform in the morning. I watched this bird for the nearly 5 minutes it took for it to slowly rise up over the valley and eventually head southwest. The second was an adult bird, which I also located over the valley, in the afternoon.
That was the exciting part. The less than exciting part is that both birds where quite distant, so I didn’t get any photos. And, what was really unfortunate is that fellow counters Judy Cinquina and Tom Millard (who both help me tremendously today) didn’t get to see either bird. When Judy arrived, she had missed the first bird by mere moments. The second bird was a heartbreaker; it was a distant bird and I had it in the scope. Judy and Tom tried to get on it with bins without luck. I had Tom try to see it through the scope; I think I may have bumped the scope because when he looked he didn’t see the bird. I tried to jump back on the scope but there were no landmarks in an all blue sky and I never got back on that bird.
All told, we had respectable 75 migrating raptors for the day. Other highlights included a nice showing by Red-shouldered Hawks with 9 migrants. And I always love to find unusual non-raptors in the sky; today we had 2 Common Loons. As always, I’ve included my HMANA report at the bottom of this post.
It’s funny how things work out sometimes. I woke up with the startings of a sore throat, so on my way out for the morning I stopped at QuickChek to get some cough drops. This took my out of my usual way to Glenmere Lake, and past Goshen Reservoir. I’ve done this before; I should probably do it all the time but I never seem to remember. Anyways, when I got to the corner of Reservoir Road and Conklingtown Road I could see there was a number of Canada Geese present. I pulled over and quickly scanned with my binoculars. I quickly got on a goose that I thought was a good candidate for a CACKLING GOOSE, so I ran for my scope to get a better look.
I liked it for a Cackler, significantly smaller that the surrounding Canadas, with a short stubby bill. I ran for my camera (all this in the steady rain!), and documented. It was a dark and rainy morning, so much so that the above shot was taken at 10,000 ISO! So, I’ve applied a fair amount of noise reduction to the photo and the result looks more like a painting than a photograph.
I spent the rest of the morning birding in the rain, an endeavor which has proven extremely fruitful in the past, but unfortunately that wasn’t entirely the case today. I kayaked Glenmere Lake hoping for shorebirds – I found none. I went to Wickham Lake to follow up on a report of an American Coot there earlier, but the bird was either gone or hidden from sight while I was there.
My best stop also had the worst weather. I visited the south end of the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop. Karen Miller and the Mearns Bird Club had a couple of dowitchers there yesterday, as well as some other shorebirds. Well, it poured down buckets almost the entire time I was there – making for some very difficult birding. Just keeping my gear usable with all the water was a task. BUT, I got some good shorebirds: Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, at least a dozen Pectoral Sandpipers, and the pair of Dowitcher Species. Timing and my overall impression have me leaning towards Long-billed, but I just don’t know. I birded my way home through the black dirt, mostly sorting through sparrows (so many!). The rain lessened and then stopped as I pulled up to the house.
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.