This morning I got a call from Rob Stone. I figured it had to be something good for him to call me while I’m working, and it was. He had located a WILSON’S PHALAROPE at the Camel Farm. I was able to run for the bird at lunch time and thankfully it hung in there for me. Gail Benson and Tom were on the bird when I arrived, which made it a very easy get. They said that they believed the bird to be a transitioning female, but wanted to check additional resources to be sure. It wasn’t the most colorful bird, but beautiful to see nonetheless. I tried to document, but between the distance, the harsh sun, and heat shimmer, the results were less than stellar. The bird was my 260th Orange County life bird.
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.
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 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.
I’d just gotten home after birding this afternoon when I saw that I missed a call from Karen Miller. I called her back and she told me that the Mearns Bird Club outing had a bird this morning that was later identified (through photos) as a STILT SANDPIPER. The location was at what I refer to as the Glenmere Pond (because it’s just right up the road from Glenmere Lake), but I think most birders call it Beaver Pond. It’s on Pine Hill Road in Chester just south of Glenmere Road. Anyways, I ran for the bird and joined Kathy Ashman, who had seen the bird but it was currently not visible. We shifted position and relocated the bird quickly – it was feeding in its sewing machine style, next to a Lesser Yellowlegs.
Tom Burke and Gail Benson joined us shortly after, as did Karen Miller and Diane Bliss. We mostly enjoyed scope-distance views of the bird, but then all the shorebirds picked up and the Stilt relocated in a much closer position; allowing for much better looks and some halfway decent documentary photos. I was thrilled to finally get a good shorebird in our area – it was the bird that saved August 2019.
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)
- Killdeer (8+)
- 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!