Finally! An exciting bird in Orange County! It feels like it’s been ages since we’ve had a good bird. Huge thanks to Bruce Nott, who found this beautiful LITTLE BLUE HERON on the Wallkill River just off of Route 208. I ran for the bird and met up with Bruce and John Haas; the bird was moving slowly south along the river and we caught up with it where the river runs along Bradley Park. John left to kayak at Morningside Park and then Karen Miller joined Bruce and I; we enjoyed excellent scope views of the bird and were able to get some halfway decent shots of the bird.
I spent the early morning at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge – I did not have anything too exciting, but I was able to get a decent photo op with a Green Heron just after sunrise. Again, huge thanks to Bruce for making my birding day.
Tricia and I spent a long weekend down at the Jersey Shore; it was sort of a mini-vacation where we focused (for once!) on relaxing rather than running around all over the place. We went to the beach every day. I napped. We did some touristy shopping, and we had some delicious dinners out at several restaurants. That said, I did get out for a bit in the mornings. I managed to get some nice photos; the birds are accessible and the backgrounds are often very clean on the beach. But, I also found myself questioning my birding skills. I kept thinking about birding locally versus birding at a new locale and how it puts one’s birding skills to the test.
The first thing I will say, is that I did not arrive prepared. Sure, I did some quick research on eBird just to find some good locations, but I didn’t do any research to see what the expected species for this time of year are in the region. I am often guilty of under-preparing for a new location; in a perfect world I would spend some quality time prepping beforehand, but it never seems to happen. I think that if you can squeeze in some quality prep time beforehand, it would make your birding at a new location much more enjoyable. One of these days I’m going to do just that.
The second thing is that birding at the Jersey Shore can be intimidating – there are SO MANY BIRDS! It’s very different from birding in Orange County, especially when it comes to shorebirds which are few and far between. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and “in the weeds” while trying to sort through such a large number of birds; I was lacking context and it made identifying the birds that much more difficult. I was also experiencing some eBird intimidation. I figure the checklists in that area are looked at pretty thoroughly – I didn’t want to get anything wrong. Ultimately, for me, patience was the key in this respect. I took it slow while I was birding and I was willing to let some birds go unidentified. I could take some time to think about it some more and maybe do some research and look at my photos later. If, in the end, they remain unidentified, I’m okay with that.
Another thing I was thinking about was birding “county coverage”. Here in our area, I feel like we have a pretty good idea of the birds present. Sure, there are plenty of birds that are missed, but I think we have decent coverage and I kept trying to compare it to the Jersey Shore where just about everywhere you look seems to be a birding hotspot. How many good birders would it take to actually keep up with this many birds? It kind of blows my mind. Maybe they have a handle on things, but to me it seems overwhelming.
And, finally, this trip often made me question my birding skills. Am I thorough enough? Do I know the field marks well enough? I think that maybe I’ve fallen into some bad habits – I’m familiar enough these days with the expected species in Orange County so maybe I’m not looking closely enough at the birds. Does that make sense? Maybe it’s time for a reset and to time to refocus on some of details that go by the wayside while birding the same locations day in and day out. So anyways, while I had all these thoughts running through my mind, I was still able to relax and just enjoy the birding in the south Jersey Shore; sometimes you have to just take a step back and enjoy being out with the birds.
I missed posting last week because Tricia and I went to the Jersey Shore on a mini-vacation. I fit some birding in while I was there, and I’m working on that post. Meanwhile, I got out early this morning and headed to the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. Kathy Ashman was already there when I arrived; we joined forces and had an amazing morning of birding. It was one of those lucky mornings where the light was beautiful and the birds were plentiful and didn’t mind our presence in the least.
My main goal was, of course, shorebirds – I’ll get to them in a minute. Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets are still present at the refuge in good numbers, and this morning they were joined by several very accommodating Green Herons, as well as a brief but amazing look at a pair of Sandhill Cranes. Swallows were also present in good numbers. I had mostly Tree Swallows, with a handful of Barn Swallows and a couple of Bank Swallows. Kathy had Northern Rough-winged before I arrived. Also of note, we had my first Northern Harrier in a good while.
As for shorebirds, we had a respectable nine species:
Semipalmated Plover (3)
Least Sandpiper (35+)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (2)
Wilson’s Snipe (1)
Spotted Sandpiper (3)
Solitary Sandpiper (2)
Greater Yellowlegs (1)
Lesser Yellowlegs (4)
I did pretty well with photos, as the birds seemed to be coming closer and closer rather than the opposite. Which was nice for a change. It was an enjoyable morning of birding; it was great to see Kathy who I hadn’t seen in ages and the birds were numerous and cooperative. Hard to beat that. Stay tuned, Jersey Shore post to come later this weekend…
It was an interesting and productive weekend of birding for me. It started on Friday evening after work at Ironwood Drive at Sterling Forest State Park. I had over 40 species in total; highlights included an up-close look at a Hooded Warbler, 2 American Woodcocks peenting and in flight, and several Eastern Whip-poor-wills calling. I had an exciting moment when 2 Whip-poor-wills took flight after sunset, calling as they flew right into the parking area at the end of Ironwood Drive. I could barely see them but I picked them up as they flew through and then disappeared into the night.
On Saturday morning, I woke up unsure of where to bird, or even what type of birding I should do. I had thoughts of shorebirds at the Route 207 Marsh, but instead I headed to Port Jervis to try for passerines. I went to Laurel Grove Cemetery first and it was birdy, but without many warblers present. New birds for the year (for me) included: Brown Thrasher, Least Flycatcher, and Chimney Swifts. From there, I headed up to Elks Brox Memorial Park, where it was also birdy, but with many more warblers. I had 10 species of warbler: Ovenbird, Worm-Eating Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, BAY-BREASTED WARBLER, BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler. Best of all, I got some decent looks and photo ops of several species. Other good birds at Elks Brox included: RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES (FOY), Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, and my FOY Eastern Wood-Peewee.
In the afternoon I joined Karen Miller and we headed to the Bashakill to volunteer for Nature Watch. A pair of BLACK TERNS had been located and reported earlier in the day by the Mearns Bird Club outing, so we stopped at Haven Road first to try for the birds. When we arrived, several other birders were also looking for the birds, which hadn’t been seen in nearly 45 minutes. Birding bud Bruce Nott was there and I told him I had a feeling we would see the birds… five minutes later Bruce located them, north of the bridge and quite distant. Karen and I looked at them briefly but then had to head to the Main Boat Launch for Nature Watch. The terns eventually made their way all the way to us, and we enjoyed viewing them for most of our shift.
Today (Sunday) was yet another cold and rainy day. It rained ALL day long. I got out early and was optimistic that it wouldn’t rain too hard. I went to the 207 Marsh to try for shorebirds. I didn’t stay as long as I would have liked because the rain was relentless and my optics were just saturated. Every time I went use the scope or my binoculars they would instantly fog over. I did add a new shorebird for the year: SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS. I went home to dry off and then headed back out in the afternoon, again in search of shorebirds. I went to Lynch Ave (Least Sandpipers, Solitary Sanpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Killdeer) and then to the Camel Farm (same species plus Greater Yellowlegs). The Camel Farm is loaded with shorebirds right now, but sadly there really isn’t a good spot for viewing. My final stop made all the wet weather birding worth it – I located a GLOSSY IBIS at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve included a documentary shot at the bottom of this post. I have to say it feels good to be home, warm and dry!
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.
QUICK POST: Family obligations pretty much kept me out of commission this weekend birding-wise, so I have nothing to post from the weekend. However, I’ve been wanting to post this bathing Dunlin since I photographed it a couple of weeks ago out at Glenmere Lake. I’ve always liked bird images with water, particularly with splashing, spraying, or flowing water. I’ve tried to photograph bathing birds before, but usually the results are just not that great. I found these shots interesting and I hope you enjoy this glimpse of Dunlin behavior.
It’s going to take me a couple of days to go through and edit my photos from yesterday’s pelagic trip to the Huson Canyon, out of Brooklyn, NY. The trip proved to be interesting in ways I don’t think most of you would imagine, so stay tuned, I should post in the next few days. Meanwhile, with perfect timing, Bill Fiero has contributed yet another excellent post. I personally can’t get over how beautiful the Eastern Cattle Egret in breeding plumage is – great shot Bill and thanks for the post. -Matt
A Word About Cattle Egrets – By Bill Fiero
Cattle Egrets have undergone an extremely rapid and wide ranging expansion in the last century or so; originally found in tropical and subtropical Africa and Asia, at the end of the 19th century it was found in Souther Africa, and now occurs virtually worldwide, first being observed in North America in 1941.
The Eastern and Western populations have been recently split by some taxonomic systems as ‘Western” (Bubulcus ibis) and ‘Eastern’ (Bubulcus coromandus). They are very similar in appearance, but different enough to be considered separate species.
Here are pictures of both; the now famous ‘Western’ Cattle Egret found by Matt at the Liberty Loop, and the ‘Eastern’ species that I took in Sri Lanka; both are shown in non-breeding plumage. At the top of the page is a shot of the Eastern species in breeding plumage.
I went to Glenmere Lake again today, and it was awesome! I had 7 species of shorebirds: Dunlin (15+), WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (at least 3), Semipalmated Sandpiper (9), Lesser Yellowlegs (1), Greater Yellowlegs (1), Killdeer (2), and Pectoral Sandpiper (3). The water was much calmer, and the sun actually was peeking out from time to time. I had rare occurrence of getting home and liking my photos more than I had anticipated, so that’s always a good thing.
The other excitement of the day was when I found a CATTLE EGRET in the parking area of the Liberty Loop. I pulled in and was eating my breakfast. It wasn’t until I got out of my car that I noticed the CAEA just 30 feet or so from my car! John Haas ran for the bird, and apparently the bird stuck around because I got word from several birders that they got it later in the day. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for CAEA photos.
This morning’s rain delayed the start of hawkwatch, so I spent the morning in the black dirt looking for shorebirds. Although it was not raining all that hard, the weather was tough on my gear today. The humidity must have been through the roof, because frustratingly, every time I lifted my binoculars to my eyes they seemed to fog over. I had two sets out and I was alternating just to be able to see with any consistency. Even my scope developed some moisture between the filter and the lens, leaving a perfect circle of condensation which lasted for most of the day. Regardless, I ran around for shorebirds and here’s what I had:
The rain let up and I was up at Mount Peter for Hawkwatch at 11:45. It was a really good day to be on the mountain, with cool temperatures and a steady northwest wind. Birds were flying and I had a decent number of birds (total of 83 migrants), with very good variety (11 species). Linda Scrima, Rob Stone, and Bob Klenk all visited and helped me out. Sharp-shinned Hawks were the number one migrant, and highlights for me included a couple of Merlins, a Peregrine Falcon, and a couple of Northern Harriers ( a bird we see frequently in our area, but to me it’s awesome to see them flying high over the hawkwatch in migration). Non-raptors had some good highlights too, with a couple of CAPE MAY WARBLERS, and two skeins of BRANT flying over. See my full report at the bottom of this post.
After hawkwatch, I stopped at Glenmere Lake, where the Mearns Bird Club was holding a big sit. They spent the whole day, sunrise to sunset, at the lake counting birds. I joined Kathy Ashman and Karen Miller, who had a long but good day of birding along with 12 other members of the club. They finished the day with 47 species, which I thought was pretty good.
I headed home, tired but happy with a full day of birding behind me.
I had a pretty good hawkwatch today while it lasted, a nice combination of migrating songbirds and raptors. Fellow counter Denise Farrel joined me up at Mount Peter; I had my first 4 migrating Osprey of the year, as well as a couple of Broad-winged Hawks and a single Cooper’s Hawk. As for passerines, a couple of mixed flocks moved through quickly – I was able to pick up several American Redstarts, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a Prairie Warbler, a Red-eyed Vireo, two Palm Warblers, a likely Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a Northern Parula (you can see my complete list of birds in my hawkwatch report below). The rain began during the third hour of the watch and was light at first, but then it started fall a little more steadily, so at 2 o’clock I packed it in.
I took the opportunity and spent the rest of the rainy afternoon looking for shorebirds. My first stop was at the Liberty Loop’s southernmost pool, where a few good birds were seen yesterday (Wilson’s Phalarope, Baird’s Sandpiper, and Little Blue Heron). I whiffed on all three of those birds, but I was lucky enough to locate a STILT SANDPIPER, the first one I’ve seen in quite a while. This is a bird I’ve been talking about wanting to see lately, so it was nice for it to happen.
Afterwards, I headed to Skinner Lane where I had a trio of good birds: BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER (5), BAIRD’S SANDPIPER, and AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER. The big difference today is that, finally, the birds were not absolutely miles out. So, I was able to get some really good looks (especially in the scope), as well as some decent shots. All in all it was quite a good day of birding – a little bit of everything.