*Click on links in orange to go to original blog post for each species.*
The 2015 birding year was interesting for sure; filled with highs and lows. It was a year of extreme rarities in our area, such as the amazing and famous Gyrfalcon, observed in both Orange and Ulster County in February and also the one-eyed Crested Caracara, which was seen in the Montgomery area in April.
Winter provided outstanding birding this year, with plenty of raptors (including the Gyrfalcon), a good showing from Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings, some notable gulls (Iceland Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull, both at Newburgh Waterfront), and some late January Snow Geese.
Spring and summer went as one would expect, with plenty of good birding especially in the spring. Autumn, however was strange and unproductive. Actually, early fall was good; shorebirds were being seen regularly including several notable birds (Stilt Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and White-rumped Sandpiper). But, the seasonably warm weather seemed to affect the fall raptor migration here in Orange County; at Mount Peter Hawkwatch nearly all migrating raptors were down in numbers. Broad-winged Hawks provided a glaring exception and a welcome highlight of the season: a record breaking 11,256 Broadies were counted at Mt. Pete this season. It was difficult to find many migrating waterfowl this fall, especially in southern Orange County where I spend most of my birding time. I only had two notable sightings in the county: a Common Goldeneye at Wickham Lake and a White-winged Scoter at Indian Kill Reservoir.
BY THE NUMBERS
Here are my species totals for the year, with previous years’ totals for comparison:
I really ended up focusing my birding here in Orange County in 2015. At some point in the fall, I realized that 200 species was a possibility, so that became my goal. But, I struggled coming down the stretch and finished the year with 197. I missed a few birds that figured I would get (Fox Sparrow, Purple Finch, and Pine Siskin), but really I think if I had done better with warblers this year I would have reached 200 no problem.
I added 29 life birds this year; 2 fewer than last year. Eighteen of them were added while we vacationed in Florida in the spring. I am now up to 344 life birds. My New York State Life List stands at 256 species; I added 14 birds to it this year.
This is my 128th post of the year. I was surprised when I totaled it up because I would have thought that I had posted more than last year, but in fact this is 25 fewer posts than I did last year.
And finally, according to Google Analytics, the blog had 21,228 visits by 9,913 individuals. I am happy to report that visits have more than doubled in the last year and the blog has reached over 2 1/2 times as many individuals this year.
BIRD OF THE YEAR AND MOST EXCITING BIRDING EXPERIENCE OF THE YEAR: GYRFALCON!
The Gyrfalcon was originally located by Karen Maloy near Blue Chip Farms on February 6th in the afternoon. When I relocated the Gyrfalcon the following day, it was definitely my most exciting birding experience of the year, maybe of my life. I nearly had a heart attack when I pulled up my binoculars to check out a raptor that had just landed in an evergreen, and it was the Gyrfalcon! This is not a bird you can mistake, but I felt like I had to keep checking – I just couldn’t believe it! What an incredible looking bird, just gorgeous. And then, it became famous. Birders and photographers came from all over to see it. It caused traffic jams wherever it decided to perch. For me it was and easy decision, the Gyrfalcon = Bird of the Year AND Most Exciting Birding Experience rolled into one.
BIRDING LOCATION OF THE YEAR: MOUNT PETER HAWKWATCH
It was difficult for me to come up with any location that stood out this year, but as I started to think back over the year I realized that doing the hawkwatch is definitely one of my favorite types of birding, if not my favorite. I really enjoy the challenge of identifying raptors in flight, and it helps that I felt more confident than ever this year. I also enjoy the camaraderie at the hawkwatch. Judy Cinquina has really assemble a great crew of dedicated volunteers. The record number of Broad-winged Hawks was fun and exciting, but my personal highlight was seeing my first Golden Eagle at Mt. Pete. It was great to finally get one up there; it was a juvenile that was very accommodating as it flew directly over the viewing platform which allowed me to get some decent shots of the bird.
TOP TEN PHOTOS OF THE YEAR
Last year I changed this section from “Photo of the Year” to “Top Five Photos of the Year”. After looking back at my photos from 2015, I’ve decided to increase it once again, this time to ten photos. While I did not have a single shot that stood out as the “best”, I did feel like I had a good number of good photos and it was difficult to pare them down to ten. And, photographs have always been an important part of this blog, so I figured why not. Due to a strange update to the blog, you need to click on the photos once, and then a second time to see large versions.
Once again, I’d like to thank all the birders in our area. Special thanks to Rob Stone, John Haas, Judy Cinquina, Karen Miller, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris and Kyle Dudgeon for all their help and good company this year. Happy New Year to everyone, I’m looking forward to the birds of 2016!