I have some things going on this weekend, so my birding window was a brief one early this morning. I made the best of it – I went to Laurel Grove Cemetery, which was quite birdy. Best birds were: a family of Common Mergansers (one adult female with 7 young), Blackpoll Warblers (6+, my FOY), Cape Warbler (1), American Redstart (1), Chestnut-sided Warbler (1), Pine Warbler (2), Yellow-rumped Warblers (4), and most exciting – Bay-breasted Warblers (2, my FOY).
On my way out, I was contacted by Rob Stone; he had 10 SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS and 3 WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS at the Camel Farm. I ran for the birds on my way home, meeting up with Linda Scrima. Unfortunately I was pressed for time, so I was only able to take a quick look at the birds before I had to run, but still it was great to see them and add them to my 2018 Orange County list. I also saw my FOY Bobolink as I was leaving the Camel Farm. Not bad for a quick morning in the field!
Picture this. You spent the day working hard and you are exhausted. But now you are standing on the shore of Wickham Lake in a light rain, listening to a Common Loon perform its eerie call. Swallows buzz over the surface of the lake; you scan persistently and eventually identify 4 of the 5 expected species of swallow: Barn, Tree, Northern Rough-winged, and a beautiful single CLIFF SWALLOW. Your first Solitary Sandpiper of the year works the shore just to your left; a Yellow Warbler and an American Redstart (another FOY) call from the patch of woods near the parking area. And, just like that, your Monday evening has clearly surpassed expectations.
What started out as an uneventful evening ended up being an incredible birding experience. I met Maria Loukeris out at the Liberty Loop; we walked out Liberty Lane – highlights included some distant unidentified shorebirds, several White-crowned Sparrows and my FOY Swamp Sparrows. As we were walking back to the cars, I turned to Maria and said “Let’s go look for some American Bitterns”. I was only half joking, and I had no idea what was in store for us. As we reached the parking area, Maria picked up two birds flying across the marsh and exclaimed “bittern!”. I got on them immediately and was thrilled to see two AMERICAN BITTERNS fly from the front pond and head southwest towards the back of the marsh. We went to the viewing platform; we were pretty sure that we wouldn’t see them again, but had to try. But, then we heard another AMBI calling from just to our left. We scanned and remarkably, Maria located the bird right away. As I ran to get my scope from the car, a different AMBI took flight and flew north over Oil City Road. Shortly after that, yet another bittern joined the one that was calling – that gave us a total of five American Bitterns! I put the word out, and Linda Scrima made record time to arrive to see a pair of them in the scope before we lost the light. What a night! I’m still freaking out!
My weekend of birding started early on Saturday morning. Following up on a tip from Rob Stone, I headed out to Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh. When I arrived, birding bud Linda Scrima was already there, viewing the main part of the marsh from the viewing platform. We walked out to view the pond north of Oil City Road, where a beautiful sight awaited us – 36 PECTORAL SANDPIPERS were huddled together in beautiful morning light. We took photos and scanned for more shorebirds. A single bird flew in and joined the Pecs – it was a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER! Further scanning revealed two distant Wilson’s Snipe and another distant bird that I identified in the field as a Semipalmated Sandpiper, but in retrospect, with the bird being so far out, it is maybe best left unidentified. I had to get up to Mount Peter for hawkwatch, so we headed back to the parking lot. We took one last look at the pond in front of the platform and found yet more shorebirds – 7 Greater Yellowlegs and nearly a dozen Lesser Yellowlegs! What a great morning for shorebirds in OC!
Hawkwatch was once again a bust for me – so far, I am snake bitten this season for sure. I even had the big guns up to help me (Judy Cinquina and Denis Ferrell, fellow Mt. Pete counters), but it didn’t matter, the birds were not flying on this day. Jeff and Elizabeth Zahn visited and turned their (and mine) hawkwatch luck around. We had 12 of my 19 birds in the hour or so while they were there, including a pair of beautiful adult Red-shouldered Hawks that flew directly over the platform. The biggest news during hawkwatch had nothing to do with hawks at all – Maria Loukeris had located and photographed a SAY’S PHOEBE out at Liberty Marsh! She could barely believe it and she sent out photos to confirm the ID. Once confirmed, several folks went out for the bird but it was not relocated. I had plans directly after hawkwatch, so my search for the Says would have to wait until Sunday morning…
So, Sunday morning I went to Liberty Marsh to try for the the Say’s Phoebe. This time when I arrived, Scotty Baldinger was at the viewing platform. It was great to see Scotty (it always is!) and, in spite of not relocating the SAPH, we had a fabulous morning of birding. Sparrows were abundant and we had 5 species: Savannah, Song, White-throated, Swamp, and my FOS WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS. Other highlights included a flock of over 40 American Pipits flying over our heads and landing in a field. Initially it did not look like we would do any good for shorebirds, but on our way back I spotted a flock in flight. There was an adult Peregrine Falcon in the area, we had just seen it earlier, and I’m guessing it was keeping them on their toes. The birds eventually put down in the pond north of Oil City Road – it was the same flock of Pectoral Sandpipers with the White-rumped Sandpiper. The flock was jumpy and took laps around the pond, allowing for some decent photo ops. They eventually left that pond and put down in the marsh south of Oil City Road; we were unable to relocate them. One last look from the viewing platform got us one Greater Yellowlegs and 3 Lessers. Scotty and I parted ways; I hit a couple other spots before heading home, but they were not as productive. What an excellent weekend of birding! I feel like I need it.
I can’t sugarcoat this one. It was a tough day at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch. Seven hours of scouring the bluest, haziest, cloudless sky you can imagine. Under a blazing sun. If the birds were up there, I didn’t find very many of them. I had some good help (and good company) too, but at the end of the day, we scraped and clawed for 54 migrating raptors. Rick Hansen, Kyle Dudgeon, and Rob Stone all visited for periods of time, and who knows how few birds I would have had if they hadn’t come up. They can’t all be winners, and today was not my most fun day on the mountain.
I did end the day on a very positive note. A couple, Henry and Lynne Launig came up to the watch. I immediately got a positive vibe from them. We had some nice conversation and we enjoyed seeing a relatively close young Bald Eagle that flew to the west of the platform (but didn’t migrate). Lynne brought up some feathers from her car that we tried to ID (Red-tailed Hawk?). It ends up that it was their 50th Wedding Anniversary. And they came to Mt. Peter to celebrate. I thought that was pretty cool. Their next stop was going to be the Bashakill; I hope they had a wonderful evening over there.
I stopped by Citgo Pond on my way home. I was pleasantly surprised to see that some new birds had moved in: 4 SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS and 5 Semipalmated Sandpipers joined the shorebirds that have been present for about a week or so. Also, the Wilson’s Snipe was nowhere to be seen.
I’ve been out checking for shorebirds as much as I can this week. For those of you who don’t know, I started a new job about a month ago. I’m really enjoying it and my stress levels are much lower, so the move has made me happy. The downside, however, is that I get out of work later in the evening, so it’s cutting into my birding time. Regardless, I’ve made it out to Citgo Pond three times this week and took a quick tour of the black dirt on another evening. Conditions at Citgo are excellent for shorebirds and I’ve had fairly decent numbers of what I would consider expected species. Tonight I had:
Earlier in the week I had a single Semipalmated Sandpiper; I did not see it tonight. And up until yesterday, the Glossy Ibis that was first reported in late August by Bill Fiero continued, but I did not see the bird tonight and I suspect it finally moved on.
Last night I took a quick spin through the black dirt. I found plenty of Killdeer and was lucky enough to stumble upon 8 American Golden-Plovers. They made my night.
I would also like to mention that John Haas has had some good shorebirds in Sullivan County this week – check out his blog here for the latest.
SUPER QUICK POST: I had loads to do tonight to get ready for my Vermont golf trip, but made it out to the black dirt this evening because conditions seemed ripe for good shorebirds. I was happily surprised beyond what I would have hoped for. On Skinners Lane, I located a really great collection of shorebirds, all in a single field: 12 Black-bellied Plover, 43 American Golden-Plover, 10 Killdeer, 1 Greater Yellowlegs, 4 Lesser Yellowlegs and definitely the best bird of the day, 5 SANDERLINGS.
I put the word out and Linda Scrima and Rob Stone both joined me to enjoy the birds. Excellent OC birding!
QUICK POST: While at work today, Bill Fiero reported to the Mearns Bird Club App a GLOSSY IBIS at Citgo Pond. I made plans with Linda Scrima to meet there after work and go for the bird. When we first got there, it appeared that the bird had moved on, but eventually we located it on the far side of the pond hanging out with the Mallards and the Canada Geese. We were able to get some documentary photos; the lighting was terrible and the bird was pretty distant. Meanwhile, I was also scanning the shorebirds present. Numbers were up considerably, with over 20 Lesser Yellowlegs present, a couple of Semipalmated Sandpipers, a handful of Least Sandpipers, a single Killdeer and the shorebird of the day… a half dozen dowitchers. I think they are likely SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS. I’m sort of playing the odds here because the time is right for SBDO rather than Long-billed, but also, the birds do not appear to be overly humpbacked and their undersides do not seem to be as solidly marked as found in LBDO. Please comment if you have any thoughts on the accurate identification of these birds – thanks. What a great evening of birding, I sort of wasn’t really expecting it! Huge thanks to Bill for locating and reporting the GLIB.
QUICK POST: Things are finally happening! It was a heck of a week in Orange County for shorebirds. On Tuesday 8/22, Linda Scrima reported a single BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER in the black dirt. I tried for that bird in the evening, but came up empty. On Thursday 8/24, Karen Miller had 12 AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVERS in the black dirt. I could not get out there, because I was at the Citgo Pond, checking on conditions, which are bordering on excellent for shorebirds. I had nearly a dozen Least Sandpipers, 5 Lesser Yellowlegs, 1 Greater Yellowlegs, and some Killdeer.
So, today, Friday 8/25, John Haas had two BAIRD’S SANDPIPERS and 4 AMGPs at Pine Island Turf Nursery (be advised that you need permission to bird at PI Turf Nursery. They are very accommodating to birders but if there is work being done access will be denied). I was headed there after work when I was contacted by Linda Scrima, who had 2 BAIRD’S SANDPIPERS at another location in the black dirt. I changed my plans, met Rob Stone, and we got Linda’s two BASAs as well as a single AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER. I was thrilled to finally get some good fall shorebirds, and the icing on the cake was later in the evening, just as it was getting dark, I got fabulous scope views of a pair of UPLAND SANDPIPERS! What a night! Let’s hope this is just the beginning!
I put my kayak into the water at Morningside Park just as the sun was coming up over the trees this morning. My goal was to photograph migrating shorebirds in the early morning light, but unfortunately there were not all that many present (are you sensing a theme this fall?). I had a single Spotted Sandpiper, 2 Solitary Sandpipers, and 3 Least Sandpipers, but that’s it for shorebirds. There was a MERLIN present that was tearing around and keeping the shorebirds on their toes, which was exciting but doesn’t help when your target birds are its prey. The small falcon perched for a while in a nearby tree and I was happy to get some decent photographs; it’s been a while since I’ve seen or photographed a Merlin.
Otherwise, I ran into just “the usuals”, with plenty of Green Herons and Great Blue Herons to photograph in the beautiful morning light. I spent just about 2 hours in the water and had 30 species in that time, which made for some pretty good birding.