Recently, I was looking over my 2015 list of Orange County birds and noticed it was lacking a couple of birds that figured I would have seen in the county before now – Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark. With that in mind, Monday after work I headed over to Knapp’s View in the town of Chester, a spot where I have never birded but heard both birds could be seen. I did very well with Bobolinks, with plenty being seen and they were close enough for some decent photos. I walked the mowed trails, but did not have any luck with Eastern Meadowlarks, so I decided to head Upper Wisner Road in Warwick where I’ve seen them in the past. Not long after my arrival, as I scanned I found a single meadowlark perched in the distance. Too far for photos, but still nice to get the bird. Before leaving, I had a nice photo opportunity with a Northern Mockingbird, a bird that I have not photographed in quite some time.
After getting so close to seeing the Yellow-breasted Chat this morning near the Canal Road bike path in Vernon Township, New Jersey, I had try again this afternoon while the rain had stopped for a little while. I guess third time’s a charm and I finally got lucky, getting to see the bird this time. It was a brief glimpse at first, but eventually I got several good looks and some photos too. The best part is that at some point I realized that there were definitely two chats present, just as Marianne and I were suspecting on Friday afternoon. First, I had both calling simultaneously from two sides of an open area to the left the trail. Then, I was looking at one bird while the second was calling from behind me! It was very exciting! Kyle Dudgeon eventually joined me and picked up an easy lifer YBCH; we got on one of the birds just moments after he arrived! Good birding!
On Thursday evening, I received word from Marianne Ofenloch that she had a Yellow-breasted Chat along the Appalachian Trail, off the Canal Road bike path in Vernon Township, New Jersey. I tried for the bird on Friday after work and ran into Marianne while I was there. The bird was heard for sure, and we were actually contemplating the possibility of there being two chats; there seemed to be one calling from either side of the trail, but the calls were never close enough together to be 100% sure there were two birds rather than the one moving around. Since I never got a look at that bird, I went back this morning to try for it again, in spite of the steady rain that was falling. Once again the bird was heard but not seen. At a couple of points, I could hear the bird, no more than 25 feet in front of me, but it stayed hidden from view! This is what I should have expected from a chat; I should have known it would not be as easy as when I went to Hopeland Sanctuary in Staatsburg for my lifer YBCH. On Friday morning, while I was working (poor me, ha ha!), Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris went for the chat and had great success, as witnessed by the super photograph of the bird at the top of this post, provided by Linda.
It’s worth mentioning that this is a really good birding spot. In my two visits this weekend I had a total of 41 different species. The trail has a very wild and lush feel to it, but with enough open spaces to allow for good bird viewing and photographing. I am putting it on my list of places to frequent. Highlights included a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos that I was just a little slow on the draw for photos, a Scarlet Tanager family which included a young Brown-headed Cowbird, and Blue-winged Warblers. I should also mention that on Thursday Marianne also had a Golden-winged Warbler there.
QUICK POST: Yesterday evening I finally caught up with the Blue Grosbeak that was reported out at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge (it was my third try in two days). Tonight I went back and managed to get some post-able photos of the bird (I was brain dead last night and blew a pretty good opportunity by not having my camera on the right settings). I’ve included a couple additional shots that I took along the way while out at the refuge.
Well, it was another busy week; I thought for sure I would have gotten this post together well before now. I spent last weekend in the Lake Placid/Saranac Lake area of the Adirondacks. My main goal was to photograph Common Loons, but I also spent a good amount of time birding some of the hotspots of the area. Early Saturday morning I went to Whiteface Mountain’s Veterans’ Memorial Highway, hoping for my lifer Bicknell’s Thrush. After a little bit of a setback (the toll to access VMH doesn’t open until 8:45 am), I had a really enjoyable morning. I had never been up there before, the views were amazing and after parking the car, there is a short, but exciting hike to the peak. It was great to see (and hear!) the many Dark-eyed Juncos that were present. White-throated Sparrows were heard often and Yellow-rumped Warblers were seen and heard. I heard the Bicknell’s Thrush in four different locations, but disappointingly, I did not see any. I guess this is a bird that will have to wait for another time for me. I would not leave the mountain totally disappointed however. As I worked my way back down, pulling over often to bird, I finally got my lifer YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER. I don’t think this should be difficult bird to get in this area, but when I was last here (2 years ago), I missed out completely.
Later in the morning, I headed over to Bloomingdale Bog to walk the trail there. I had three main target birds – Gray Jay, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Boreal Chickadee. Gray Jays are usually very easy to get here; there is actually a feeder station on the trail where they can usually be found, but on this day there were none to be seen. I eventually saw one young Gray Jay further down the trail (a fleeting look, no photos), but struck out on my other two targets. Alder Flycatchers (FREE BEER!) were easily seen and heard on the trail, and my best bird outside of the Gray Jay was a Nashville Warbler that I saw 100 yards from he trail head as I was heading back to my car. I then headed over to Bigelow Road, but by then it was the heat of the afternoon and it was not very birdy at all.
On Sunday morning, I headed back to Bloomingdale Bog, this time starting from the south end of the trail. It was here that I finally got a Black-backed Woodpecker (unfortunately, it was a very distant look). Other highlights included Least Flycatchers right at the trailhead, and hearing a male Ruffed Grouse do its drumming display several times, which was very exciting. A Boreal Chickadee had been reported at this location just a few days earlier, so I was really hoping for one, but it was not to be.
I met up with Kyle Dudgeon today after work and we hit a couple of spots. Our first stop was the Appalachian Trail – Pochuck Creek Boardwalk, which was pretty much a bust. Swamp Sparrows were heard but only seen at a distance. Marsh Wrens were heard but not seen. We had distant looks at Wood Ducks and a Great Blue Heron that flew over a couple of times.
So, from there we headed over to the Appalachian Trail on Route 94 in Vernon Township. The first half a mile of this trail is a good spot for Grasshopper Sparrows, Prairie Warblers, and Field Sparrows. We did well with all three, getting very good looks in nice light. I don’t think this is a great spot to see a large variety of species (we had just over 10 tonight), but you can certainly get good looks at a few.
*Click on photos to enlarge.*
One of my main goals for my weekend trip to the Adirondacks was to photograph the Common Loons. A couple years ago, Tricia and I kayaked one of the “Fish Creek Loops” in Santa Clara, New York, which included kayaking five ponds with four carries between ponds. We had great luck with Common Loons on that day, particularly in one pond in particular, Follensby Clear Pond. This year I went on my own while Tricia was having a “Ladies Weekend” here at the house. I planned my paddling around the good light; Saturday morning was forecasted to be a little cloudy, so I planned to try in the late evening when skies were forecasted to be clear.
As I put in and head out, I was immediately a little bit worried. The water was very choppy, with waves lapping over the front of my kayak as I made my way out. I had seen a single Common Loon from the shore and I headed in its direction. I worked my way around a small island to get the sun at my back, but when I got to where I thought the loon should be, the loon was not to be found. I eventually located the bird, but it kept its distance. I tried for some distant photos, but it was so wavy that I could barely keep the focus point of my camera on the bird. This was discouraging, but the pond is very large, so I figured I would just paddle the perimeter and see what I could find.
In the northwest section of the pond, I saw two more Common Loons. I paddled far and wide around the birds to get the sun at my back. The water was much calmer here, and I stopped paddling and just floated, my kayak drifting slowly towards the birds, which were eventually joined by two more loons. At first the foursome seemed wary of my presence and kept their distance. But as I sat basically motionless, they appeared to get used to my presence and maybe even become curious. Before I knew it, the birds were surfacing from dives less than 15 feet from my kayak! This was just like that first paddle a couple years earlier (when a loon surfaced right next to my kayak within moments of being in the water!). It is difficult to describe what an incredible and almost magical experience it is to see these birds up close like that; diving and interacting with one another. I enjoyed this for a good while, gently back-paddling every once in a while to keep the sun at my back. I love loons; it’s hard to convey what a blast this was!
Next post…birding in the Adirondacks – Bloomingdale Bog, Bigelow Road, and Whiteface Mountain.
*Click on photos to enlarge.*
QUICK UPDATE: Boy, last week was a busy one for me, with tons going on at home and at work as well. I did manage to get out and get a couple of county birds for the year, but I never had the opportunity to process the photos and make a post. On Monday I went to Elks Brox Memorial Park to try for the RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS which had been reported there. Huge thanks to Karen Miller for the heads up on those birds. Then on Thursday I went to Cedar Swamp Road to go for the Bank Swallows that have been there for at least the last couple of years. I had a blast trying for photos of those birds, and though nothing amazing, I was happy to get some decent shots of those birds.
This weekend I went up to the Adirondacks to bird for the weekend. I have loads of photos to go through, so I will get a post together in a couple of days. Meanwhile I have included a teaser shot at the bottom of this post.
My work took me up north today, so I figured I would hit the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR on my way home. I was hoping to have some better luck photographing the Grasshopper Sparrows at the reserve. On my way there, I checked Blue Chip Farms for Upland Sandpipers but did not have any luck. I was a little bit annoyed by it because there have been SO many reports of the bird at that location on eBird lately. I continued to the grasslands where I walked the trails briefly but had no luck with Grasshopper Sparrows (maybe it was the time of day? It was around 4:00 in the afternoon…). I enjoyed seeing and photographing the Bobolinks and I saw a distant Northern Harrier hunting.
On my way home, as I was checking Blue Chip Farms once again (I was doing a drive-by basically), I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw an UPLAND SANDPIPER perched on the fence closest to the road!!! I stopped the car and the bird did not flush. As I reached for my camera, a motorcycle went screaming by and flushed the bird! My heart was broken! It relocated to a far off fence where I got good looks and some distant photos. I went back to my car and waited, and I couldn’t believe it when not one, but two Upland Sandpipers flew in and landed on the grass just beyond the closest fence. Then, one of them flew closer and perched briefly on the fence! I couldn’t believe my luck, what a great day, to get photos of this bird, which until today was considered one of those awesome birds that I would probably never get a decent photograph of!
All twitches should be this easy! Actually it would probably get boring if they were all this easy, but this morning I was more than happy to have an easy time finding the YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT which had been initially located by Steve Bauer and reported by many. I got up very early and headed north towards Hopeland Sanctuary in Staatsburg, NY. It was raining pretty good as I left, and I was beginning to think it was a mistake to try and fit this into my busy day. When I arrived, it was cloudy and gray, but rain-free. I did not have any details about the bird or the sanctuary, I was figuring that there might be some other birders present to point me in the right direction, but unfortunately this was not the case, so I parked and headed up the trail. About 100 yards in, the trail split, the Hopeland Trail continued straight and the Huntington Trail went off to the right. I’m not sure why I took the Huntington Trail, but I did, and a couple hundred yards later I heard and saw the bird, perched out in the open! I watched and photographed as the bird moved around in the brush on the right hand side of the trail, more often out of sight than in sight, but calling nearly non-stop. I took photos whenever the bird did come out in the open, the light was low so the shots are a noisy, but I am so thrilled to get any chat photos at all! This was as different as can be from my Yellow-breasted Chat FAIL from last spring! This was a life bird for me (#341), and an exciting one at that!