I got up really early this morning and headed over the the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. It was a little bit overcast as I arrived at just around 6:30, but it quickly cleared up and turned into a gorgeous morning. I parked my car out by the road in an effort to see as many species as possible, it can be quite birdy on the road into the refuge. It was towards the end of that road that I had my first Brown Thrasher of the year. As I entered the refuge, I could immediately hear one of my target birds, the Grasshopper Sparrow. I really like this bird for some reason, it is certainly not the most attractive bird, but I love its behavior and its call as well. I walked the Red Trail out to the furthest blind and then back; I saw 3 and heard an additional 3 Grasshopper Sparrows which seems like more than I had in that area last year at this time.
Bobolinks were numerous and very busy calling and flying over. Meadowlarks were heard more than seen, but I did see ten or so, some perched and some in flight in the distance. Killdeer could be heard and seen on occasion and I saw three American Kestrels. One pleasant surprise was a female Northern Harrier that flew close to me; she had a Red-winged Blackbird in hot pursuit.
My only disappointment of the day is that I struck out with the Upland Sandpipers. I stopped by Blue Chip Farms after leaving the refuge and then I also tried the airport in Montgomery, but it was not to be. At the grasslands, I accumulated what I think is a respectable species list for the morning, with 35 species being seen or heard:
Turkey Vulture Northern Harrier
Great Crested Flycatcher
Gray Catbird Brown Thrasher
Savannah Sparrow Grasshopper Sparrow
I made it out to 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary after work this afternoon. My primary objective was to check for shorebirds at the Citgo Pond; I was only moderately successful with 4 Killdeer (3 adults and one chick), 3 Least Sandpipers, 1 Spotted Sandpiper, and 1 Semipalmated Plover. The highlight of the afternoon was getting my first good look at a Green Heron for the season. Up until now, I only caught glimpses of them, including 2 flyovers on the highway during my commute to work. After birding the Citgo Pond, I continue over to the Heritage Trail side of the refuge. It was not terribly birdy, but it was a nice walk with enough birds to keep me occupied. It occurred to me that I have not included a complete list of species in a post in a while, so here’s a list of the 31 species I had for the day:
Canada Goose 15
Wood Duck 12
Great Blue Heron 1
Green Heron 2
Turkey Vulture 4
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Semipalmated Plover 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Least Sandpiper 3
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1
Willow Flycatcher 1
Eastern Kingbird 1
Warbling Vireo 5
American Crow 4
Tree Swallow 8
Marsh Wren 2
American Robin 5
Gray Catbird 3
European Starling 14
Cedar Waxwing 2
Common Yellowthroat 6
Yellow Warbler 4
Song Sparrow 8
Swamp Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 2
Indigo Bunting 2
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle 4
Baltimore Oriole 3
This afternoon, Tricia and I took a drive to Apollo Plaza to see and take photos of the Killdeer chicks. What a joy to see these little fuzzballs with their over-sized legs and feet. I think I missed out on photographing any Killdeer last year, so when I saw one in the distance at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary this morning, it got me thinking that I should not miss out again this year. Just because they’re cute.
I was on my way out the door this morning when I I received a text from Bruce Nott saying he had a phalarope on Orange Lake. He had originally located the bird yesterday, but the bird was quite distant and it had not been determined if it was a Wilson’s or a Red-necked. I made my way over and I was luckily able to locate the bird pretty quickly (that’s a small bird on a big lake!). At first, the views were a bit distant but eventually the bird got a little bit closer for some better looks in my scope. I called John Haas to discuss the identification of the bird; he eventually joined me and arrived while the bird was still in relatively close. He immediately looked at the bird in my scope and identified the bird as a RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, noting the completely vibrant red hind neck – it was totally red, there was no white stripe down the center as you would see in a Wilson’s Phalarope. In addition to this, the dark gray cap versus the pale gray cap of a Wilson’s was easily discerned. I managed to get some photos, which was tough because I struggled just to find that bird in the camera! The bird was still quite distant for photos and all the shots in this post are heavily cropped. Huge thanks and congratulations to Bruce!
Please Note: ORANGE LAKE HAS NO PUBLIC ACCESS! The lake is private and there are no public viewing areas.
One of my target birds during our trip to Florida was the SNAIL KITE. When I checked on eBird before we got down to the Fort Myers area, it looked very likely that I would have to do some traveling if I was to see this federally endangered species. But, sometimes you get lucky. Twice. First, we met another birder (whose name I never got) at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and she shared with us a super location for Snail Kites – they could be seen hunting their favorite food, the apple snail in the canal that leads into Harn’s Marsh in Fort Myers. We went for them the next evening, as we arrived and parked the car, I could immediately see a Snail Kite over the canal – Yes! There were three kites present and they were actively hunting. Unfortunately, from our vantage point the light was terrible and the birds were all silhouetted. That’s when we got our second lucky break – we met local bird photographer Cindy Reilly. She took us to an amazing location just up the canal a bit, where there were 3 additional Snail Kites hunting. Huge thanks to Cindy – because of her we got amazing looks at these birds, who seemed completely unfazed by our presence. I was, however, still fighting the light for photos; it was getting later and some clouds had rolled in. I cranked up the ISO on my camera and did the best I could. I felt like I would like another try for some photos, so I went back two days later in the morning. The birds were not hunting, but I did manage to get some better perched photos of the male and the immature bird. What a super birding experience, so lucky and awesome.
Since my return from Florida I have gotten out and done a lot of local birding whereI have seen and heard many birds, yet it has not felt overly fulfilling. I was thinking about it today and that’s when I realized that I am not well; I am suffering from a case of Post Florida Birding Syndrome. A while back, Linda Scrima warned me that this would happen. Who would have guessed that it would difficult to transition from taking super close-up photos of multiple life birds every day to trying to locate the smallest of birds among the leaves in the highest treetops?
The good news is that I think I’ve found a remedy: I’m thinking back on all the amazing first-of-the-year birds that I’ve had in the eight days since I’ve been back. The list is 50 species long just for Orange County! What better indication is there of all the great birding that is going on right now? And the Mearns Bird Club had their BREAK 100 event this weekend; every team but one had over 100 species in 24 hours! How awesome is that? Additionallhy, while they were not Florida-close, I did manage to get some decent photos during the week. It makes me think about what a great pastime birding is, how there are amazing birds at every turn and that you never know what the next big thing will be.
For those that are interested, these are the new birds added to my Orange County List in the last eight days:
The J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island was definitely my favorite of all the birding spots I hit in southwest Florida. Like Montezuma NWR and Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, the refuge has a Wildlife Drive. The drive is five miles long and the birding is incredible, with many species of birds present, and they are usually close to the road for fantastic looks. A lot of folks ride bikes through Wildlife Drive, I think this would be an enjoyable way to experience it. The refuge is also really pretty and if you get there early the light is super for photographs. I made it out to the refuge two mornings in a row, the first day I was on my own and the second day Tricia joined me – there was no way she was going to miss out on seeing ROSEATE SPOONBILLS. The spoonbills surprised me in how beautiful and charismatic they were. I have, of course, seen many photos of the birds and I was never particularly moved, but seeing them in person changed that for sure. On the second day, after lunch we also went to Bailey Tract to go for the BLACK-NECKED STILTS We got really good looks at the birds, but due to the time of day the light was very harsh for photos.
Over the two days I had 43 bird species and a river otter between Wildlife Drive and Bailey Tract. Ten of the bird species were life birds for me (although the Anhinga and Brown Pelicans I had already seen outside of the refuge).
Pied-billed Grebe MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD
Double-crested Cormorant ANHINGA
American White Pelican BROWN PELICAN
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron REDDISH EGRET
White Ibis ROSEATE SPOONBILL
Osprey SWALLOW-TAILED KITE
Black-bellied Plover BLACK-NECKED STILT
Eurasian Collared-Dove COMMON GROUND-DOVE
Great Crested Flycatcher
American Redstart CAPE MAY WARBLER
I love shorebirds. I really love shorebirds, but boy can they be difficult to identify. Especially when you are at a beach in another state a thousand miles away and you really haven’t done your homework.
I got several recommendations to go to Bunche Beach while I was in Florida, and I ended up going there early in the morning on two different days. On the first day, the number of shorebird species I had was on the low side; two photographers were there ahead of me and were literally chasing the birds around. I did better on the second day when I basically had the beach to myself. What a great joy to have all these beautiful shorebirds in perfect, gorgeous light. But then, of course, you have to identify them. I struggled as I sorted through the birds, but I think I eventually figured them all out. Here is my list of shorebirds I had for the two days; if you see any of the photos here misidentified, please comment to help me get it right – thanks! Life birds are in all caps.
Willet MARBLED GODWIT
Ruddy Turnstone RED KNOT
Bunche Beach is a great location and I had more good birds than just the shorebirds. I enjoyed watching a large group of Black Skimmers flying in unison over the water in the distance; I estimated at least 65 birds were there. When they came to rest on a distant sandbar, I noticed that there were approximately a dozen ROYAL TERNS there as well. I also did well with wading birds, including: Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, REDDISH EGRET, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, and five ROSEATE SPOONBILLS did a flyby on that second morning. Beautiful birds!
QUICK POST: I hit two state parks that are close to home this morning, Sterling Forest State Park and Goosepond Mountain State Park.
GOOSEPOND MOUNTAIN: I got here very early this morning and had the place to myself, which was very enjoyable. I walked the trails there for probably 4 miles or so and saw or heard 38 species. Highlights included: Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Blue-winged Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Scarlet Tanager, Spotted Sandpiper, and hearing a Black-billed Cuckoo. I tried to wait out that bird, I heard it call 3 times, but never close by and I never got a look at the bird.
STERLING FOREST STATE PARK: It was not the optimum time of day to go here after walking Goosepond for a while, but I figured I would give it a shot. I walked the power cut at the end of Ironwood Drive; I had a total of 20 species. Here’s a list of the more noteworthy birds: Prairie Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Yellow-throated Vireo. I also had one unidentified warbler that sounded vaguely like the squeaky wheel of a Black-and-white Warbler to me, but when I caught a glimpse of the bird and I thought I saw a flash of yellow.