As we all know, it’s a great time of the year for birding. Migration is on and new birds are showing up on a regular basis. I had a relatively busy week, so I didn’t get out birding as often as I usually do, but I still had 19 new birds in Orange County. This morning I birded Pochuck Mountain State Park with Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris; it was the most productive outing of the week, with 7 FOY birds and nearly 40 total species being identified. Here’s my list of new OC birds for the past week, in chronological order and locations:
I love this time of year! And, what’s really exciting is that things are just getting started.
This is a question that I ask myself from time to time to time. I’ve thought about this in terms of the big picture – as in birders in general, and also in terms of myself – what drives me to be out birding nearly every single day and how does that compare to other birders? To try and get some answers, I emailed a questionnaire to a number of birders that I know and I received responses from 11 avid birders.
Based on the responses received, it appears that “getting back to nature” is the main reason most birders bird. Over half of the respondents included something along these lines in their answers to the opening general question of why they bird. Terms such as “escape”, “peaceful time”, and “relaxation” were used to describe the experience. At the end of the questionnaire, I asked directly about this aspect of birding, and it was nearly unanimous that this was an important part of birding, and 8 of the eleven considering it either the most important or very important. Karen Miller wrote that getting back to nature “…helps you remember what’s important in life.” Additionally, I think it goes hand in hand with stress reduction, which was inferred by most and mentioned specifically by 4 respondents. According to Scotty Baldinger “When I was still working it was the great stress reliever being out in the field and at one with nature. Now that I’m retired it still is as good.”, while Judy Cinquina wrote “Birding, being outdoors, even just in my own yard, clears my mind of all the detritus that seems to get caught up in there and keeps me sane.”
I would consider a “sense of adventure” or “excitement” as the next most popular reason for birding. Four of the 11 respondents refer to this concept in their in their answers to the opening general question of why they bird and 7 refer to this idea elsewhere in their answers. You can add me to the list, as I know that this has always been a big part of birding for me. Walter Eberz put it very well: “When I was introduced to birding, I quickly felt the excitement of finding a species for the first time. I think that sense of adventure is what drew me into birding.” Birding can be and is often very exciting, as Kyle Dudgeon wrote: “there’s always something new around each and every corner”, and I also like Bill Martocci’s take on it: “It may be my natural hunting instincts being fulfilled without killing an animal.” For many, this excitement is linked directly to seeing rare or unusual birds. I asked the respondents how important it was to see and find rare or unusual birds which was nearly unanimously considered important. Most indicated that it was exciting and enjoyable; John Haas wrote “I have been birding for 25 years and seeing rarities and observing different birds and their behaviors help keep the hobby fresh and exciting for me.” Sharing the excitement appears to factor in as well and was mentioned a few birders. Ken McDermott writes: “Part of the fun and rewards of birdingis that we get to see species that we have never seen before whether on ourLife/State/County/Home/Year list they are all enjoyed. The “who finds it” is not so important as seeing it. If one DOES find a special bird a huge portion of the enjoyment is sharing it with other interested birders.”
Other significant aspects of birding that were part of the questionnaire or raised in the answers include: participating in citizen science, the social aspect, the study of birds and bird behavior, and bird photography.
Citizen Science: All of the respondents keep birding lists of some sort, and all but one are using eBird. For most, the importance of Citizen Science for the birds is recognized, but it does not play a large role in their reasons for birding. Curt McDermott speaks to this: “I am a supporter of Citizen Science Projects, such as E-Bird, Great Backyard Bird Count and Hawk Watches. Information gathered by participation in these projects, may help to ensure that birding and birds will stand the test of time.” However, only Lance Verderame and John expressed that CS was VERY important to their birding. Lance sums it up well: “As birders our input into eBird is an extremely valuble history of records that could point out key staging and resting habitat that needs protection.” And, on a different note, Kyle brought up a point that I found interesting – that people are using eBird in a way that directly affects the birds negatively: “People abuse it now. Some things (i.e. nest locations, owl locations. Endangered species locations, etc.) were not meant to be reported and ultimately are ruined due to people.”
Study of Birds/Behavior: I think we all engage in this to a certain extent while birding without really realizing it. I neglected to raise this issue in the questionnaire, but both Lance and Judy brought it up in their responses. Judy wrote about a recent change in her birding: “Rare or “Life Birds” used to be a very important aspect of my birding until recently. Now I’m happy to just see bird behavior that I’ve never seen before.”
Social Aspect: Responses indicate that the social aspect of birding is enjoyable but not highly important. AND, birding in large groups was mentioned by 4 as a negative experience. Small groups or birding alone seem to be the preference. Denise Ferrell seems to speak for a lot of birders when she wrote “I enjoy small groups where EVERYONE is working to find birds AND I also enjoy birding by myself. I detest birding in large groups. They tend to turn into chat sessions with only a few people doing all the work finding the birds.”
Bird Photography: This aspect may have had the most diverse response. Two respondents take photos for records or identification purposes only and 3 do not take bird photographs at all. But, for the remaining 6 respondents, photography is an important, integral part of birding. I, of course, put myself into this category as well. All of the birders in this category share their photos by publishing, be it for a blog, website, or social media. For everyone in this group, the words of Bill may resonate: “It is clearly the #1 reason I bird. I rarely if at all go out without my camera. I will post great shots of birds or rare finds on group sites on Facebook. But I do keep a gallery of birding photos that few if anyone sees regularly.”
So, I’ve touched on some of the thoughts on my own birding above, but will elaborate here. I can remember growing up in suburban Long Island. My siblings and I (my brother Chris especially), used to absolutely love all the nature shows. I particularly remember one about the wild dogs of Africa. It was exciting and fascinating to see all the amazing animals all over the world. But, in my mind, that was elsewhere, not here, especially not in the neighborhood of Holtsville where we grew up. Meanwhile, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Think about all the amazing birds on Long Island! They were all out there, in Holtsville and at the beaches and lakes not very far away. Birding has given me the opportunity to live out the adventures I dreamt about while watching those nature shows as a kid. Who knew you could find over 200 species of birds in Orange County in a single year? It still blows my mind! And because it blows my mind, I am compelled and I enjoy very much sharing it here on this blog.
Getting back to nature another huge aspect for me. Being out in the field gives me great enjoyment as well as life-saving stress relief. I cannot imagine my life without it and I think that would remain so even if I wasn’t birding. This ties into the social aspect of birding. I particularly enjoy getting out by myself and really getting “lost” out there, but that being said, I do enjoy birding with smaller groups and I have made many really great friends through birding. The exception to this (and Judy mentioned it in her response as well), is hawk watching. I’m not sure why this is different, perhaps because we have such a great group up at Mount Peter, but I really enjoy my time up there; the more birders the merrier.
Regarding bird behavior, I think I am just starting to scratch the surface here. I think that as I become more experienced and learn more, the exploration of bird behavior will become more important to me. And when it comes to Citizen Science, like many birders I am happy to contribute and I see the importance but it is not a deciding factor in my daily birding.
As for rare or unusual birds, for me this is a driving force. It links directly to the sense of adventure or excitement I am looking for in my birding. I find it very exciting every time I see any bird that is out of the ordinary; it can just be a personal first of year bird and I will get jazzed. And, I’ve always wanted to be the one to find the birds. Ever since I became a member of the Mearns Bird Club and I started getting notifications, I thought to myself that I wanted to be the one finding the birds. It is exciting, satisfying, and great fun to share a good bird.
**PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS POST; I AM REALLY CURIOUS TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT WHY EVERYONE IS OUT THERE BIRDING! Thanks.
And, finally, a huge thanks to all the birders that help with this post, I, of course, could not have written it without them:
I got my absolute best look at an Orange County BONAPARTE’S GULL this evening at the Newburgh waterfront. Every BOGU I’ve ever had in Orange County prior to this one has been just miles out. This bird, on the other hand, actually flew closer to me as I started to take photographs. It was a minor birding miracle : )
(ANOTHER) QUICK POST: I had an excellent evening of birding at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I ran for four VESPER SPARROWS that Rob Stone had located earlier in the day and miraculously the birds were still present and I was able to relocate them. When I returned to the platform at Oil City Road, I met up with Karen Miller and we birded from there for a while. The next good bird to come in was a pair of LESSER YELLOWLEGS, my first of the year. They seemed to fly over the entire marsh before settling in out of sight about 100 yards in front of the platform. Then Karen Miller saw a bird emerge from the grasses in the pool right in front of the platform – it was a COMMON GALLINULE!!! I snapped a few quick photos, and I’m glad that I did, because the bird stashed itself in the grasses soon afterwards and could only be seen through the scope. What an unexpectedly excellent night of birding!
QUICK POST: Yesterday John Haas texted me that there was a Tundra Swan at the Main Boat Launch at the Bashakill. I was going to run for it after work, but instead I went to the Celery Farm in Bergen County to try for the Yellow-throated Warbler that has been seen there (the YTWA would have been a lifer, but I dipped on it in a frustrating afternoon). Meanwhile, yesterday evening they got better looks at the swan; Linda Scrima and Bruce Nott both got photos that seemed to indicate TRUMPETER instead. The bird cooperated this morning and John Haas and Karen Miller got good looks and good photos and it ends up the bird is a Trumpeter – the first ever record in Sullivan County! I ran for the bird this afternoon and I joined John at the boat launch; the bird was a little distant but we still got really good scope looks of the bird. The large straight bill, the heavy connection of the bill to the eye, and the forehead that closely matches the slope of the bill were all very evident. It was harder to see that where the bill meets the head it is pointed (as opposed to rounded in Tundra), but I could see hints of it in John’s photos. Back in 2012 I did a post comparing the two swans – check it out here.
For the complete story on this bird, check out John’s blog.
Tricia and I spent nearly a week in Texas on a family birding vacation with Tricia’s sister Carolyn, her husband Bill, and their daughter Cameron. We stayed at Bill’s friend Joe Zanone’s beach house at Sargent Beach, which is a barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico.
We flew into Houston and on our first day Bill and I did some brief birding at Hogg Park, walking a trail that bordered the White Oak Bayou. The next day we headed to the beach and did the remainder of our birding at Sargent Beach and two nearby National Wildlife Refuges – San Bernard NWR and Brazoria NWR. We did a good deal of birding right off of Joe’s back deck, looking over the Intracoastal Waterway into the marsh. Both NWRs were were loaded with birds and feature extensive wildlife drives which allowed us to cover a lot of territory in the car. As good as the refuges were, my best birding experience was when Joe took Bill and I to the north end of the island. The “road” that heads out this way is just brutal. It is not really a road, having just been created by vehicle traffic, and it is littered with absolutely massive potholes. Bill and I tried to head out that way on an earlier occasion, but had to turn back because the road was too bad. Joe, however, knew the road and knew how to drive it. He drove us way out, pretty much in the middle of nowhere; we eventually saw the fenceposts that border San Bernard NWR. We had not seen many Osprey the whole trip, but out here, for some reason, there were at least a half a dozen Osprey, all perched either on the ground or very low perches, something that I’d never seen before and found fascinating. I really enjoyed the feeling of being pretty much in the middle of nowhere; it was just us and the birds.
The whole area is extremely birdy, but I think because we never really birded any significantly different habitats, I felt that our total number of birds was on the low side. We had a total of 108 species in what amounted to five days in the area (I’ve included a list of all species at the bottom of this post). Of those 108 species, I managed to get 12 life birds:
*Neotropic Cormorant, White-winged Dove, Long-billed Curlew, Wilson’s Plover, White-tailed Kite, Least Grebe, White-tailed Hawk, Vermilion Flycatcher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Gull-billed Tern, Snowy Plover, and Western Sandpiper.*
Normally the raptors on any list would be among my favorites, but I think because we got such limited looks at both the White-tailed Hawk And the White-tailed Kite they don’t rate as high as I would have thought. My favorites were the WILSON’S PLOVER, SNOWY PLOVER, and of course the SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER. All three are beautiful birds that we got really good looks at and photos too. The LEAST GREBE was also pretty amazing to see, but it was miles out and could only seen with the scope.
It was a really great birding trip, and I hope to get back there again some day soon. Enjoy the photos.
QUICK POST: I stopped by Wickham Lake after work this evening to try for the Red-throated Loon that Rob Stone had located earlier in the day. I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment and only had a few minutes, plus the rain was coming down pretty hard. I got to the lake, set up my scope, looked in and had not one, but two (!) RED-THROATED LOONS. As I was enjoying seeing the birds, it started to thunder and lightning. I high-tailed it to my car and went to my appointment soaking wet. Afterwards, I went back to the lake. The rain had stopped and the sun even came out briefly. I enjoyed much better looks of the RTLOs as well as a pair of Common Loons and a single Long-tailed Duck. Excellent birds!
There was some good birding to be had in Orange and Sullivan Counties today. I, of course, was not only working, but working late two hours away in New Milford, Connecticut. Early in the day I got a report from Linda Scrima that there was a CASPIAN TERN at the Bashakill; the bird was originally located by Scotty Baldinger. John Haas also had several other good birds in Sullivan County, including HORNED GREBE, AMERICAN PIPITS, and LONG-TAILED DUCK. Click here to see his blog post from today.
In Orange County birding news, I got word from Bruce Nott that he had a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON at Masterson Park (next to Washington Lake). And Rob Stone reported RED-NECKED GREBE, HORNED GREBE, and LONG-TAILED DUCK at Wickham Lake. I made it back to OC in the late evening and joined Linda Scrima at Wickham and we were able to relocate all three of these birds. We had good scope looks of the HOGR, very distant but decent scope views of the RNGR, and the LTDU was right by the shore! I wanted to cry because in my haste to leave the studio for my appointment in Connecticut, I had forgotten my camera. The one time there is actually a close good duck at Wickham Lake and there I was camera-less! Thankfully, Linda got good shots of the bird and shared them with me for this post. This is an exciting time of year, things are happening!
QUICK POST: Tricia and I returned last night from family birding vacation in Sargent, Texas. We joined Tricia’s sister Carolyn, her husband Bill, and their daughter Cameron for 6 days in this very birdy area. I have over a thousand photos to get through, so I anticipate getting a post together for this weekend… stay tuned.