The highlight of the weekend was, of course, the Yellow-headed Blackbird on Saturday in the black dirt. But, I did a bunch of running around all weekend and had some pretty good birds. Here’s some highlights by day:
Saturday: I had both a Red-necked Grebe and a Horned Grebe at Glenmere Lake. At Laurel Grove Cemetery, I had my first Orange County Tree Swallows of year; I watched a group of approximately 20 feeding on the river. The best stop of the day, however, was at the Westtown Pond on Route 284, where I had 8 species of waterfowl (including a Common Goldeneye) and in the field across the street – 25+ Killdeer and my FOY Wilson’s Snipe.
Sunday: I made a tour of many of the lakes in southern Orange County (Glenmere, Wickham, Greenwood, Sterling, Blue, Walton, and Tomahawk) as well as whatever small ponds I saw along the way. I had a total of 16 species of waterfowl:
I don’t know if I have premonitions or if I just think this way all the time and when it happens it becomes a premonition in my mind, but I was sorting through a flock of mixed blackbirds on Lynch Avenue in the black dirt this afternoon and I suddenly thought that I was going to see a YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD. As immediately as I had the thought, bam! there was a Yellow-headed Blackbird in my binoculars! I couldn’t believe my eyes!
After initially freaking out, I quickly grabbed my camera and took some quick shots through my passenger side window. I put the word out, and of course as soon as I did that, the flock picked up and relocated across the street in a small patch of woods. I relocated the bird three times as the flock shifted and moved through the woods, but by the time anyone showed up I’d lost track of the bird. Maria Loukeris, Karen Miller, and John Haas were the first birders to arrive. We staked out the area initially, but then a large number of the birds took off and headed south and WAY out into the fields. By the time Bruce Nott and Rick Hansen showed up, we were dividing up and driving around looking. Bruce located a large flock, very distant, at the south end of Lynch and everyone eventually joined him, as did Gail Benson and Tom Burke. And it was Bruce who finally relocated the bird (way to go Bruce!) – in the center of a tree way across the field. Everyone present got on the bird and everyone was really excited about this bird! John was thrilled because YHBL has been an OC nemesis bird for him for quite some time. Rick told me it was a lifer for him. I’m sure for others it was either a county bird or a state bird; for me it was both (I’d gotten my lifer in Colorado a few years back). What a great birding experience, I was so happy that Bruce relocated it and that other birders also got to enjoy the bird.
This morning Maria Loukeris and I headed to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Morris County, NJ. Maria had some business to attend to in the area and we birded the refuge beforehand. We mostly drove around from spot to spot, but we did walk the trails briefly as well. We had a total of 25 species during our visit; four were first of year (FOY) birds for me: Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee, Tree Swallow, and my favorite bird of the morning, RUSTY BLACKBIRD.
In the afternoon I birded three local lakes: Greenwood Lake, Wickham Lake, and Glenmere Lake. Wickham was far and away the best stop; I had 8 species of waterfowl, including over 200 Common Mergansers, a single Red-breasted Merganser drake, and an up close look at a beautiful little HORNED GREBE. At Glenmere, the RED-NECKED GREBE continues but was so far out I didn’t even take documentary photos. For the day I had a total of 37 species. I’ve included a list of all the birds with locations at the bottom of this post.
Here’s my list of species for the day, with locations (Great Swamp = GS. Wickham Lake = WL, Greenwood Lake = GRL, and Glenmere Lake = GLL).
With the beginning of Daylight Savings Time over the weekend, I’ve finally been able to get some after work evening birding in this week. Tonight I stopped at Greenwood Lake and had a really great night of birding. I did really well with waterfowl, with 9 species:
The real highlight came when I located a gull with darker gray coloring. The bird was out on the ice and quite distant, but I was thinking it looked good for a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. At the distance and the low light (it was getting late), I could not pick up the coloring on the legs. But, the size looked good to me and the head was smudgy. Rob Stone ran to join me, but as fate would have it, the bird flew literally just as he put his eye to my spotting scope. When I got home, I reviewed my pics and became more convinced that is was a Lesser Black-backed Gull; it looked to me like it might be a 2nd year with a dark bill tip as seen in The Crossley Guide. I emailed the photos to John Haas, he reviewed them and agreed with my ID! That’s a good bird for the county! And it’s great to be out during the week again!
There were some good birds reported locally this week, so that gave me some targets for today. At first light I headed over to Glenmere Lake to try for the Red-necked Grebe that Kathy Ashman located yesterday, and fortunately bird was still present. Kathy also showed up, and the bird put on a pretty good show as it tried to swallow a fish that was just way too large. Eventually a Ring-billed Gull swooped in and stole the fish, putting a halt to the grebes attempts. Glenmere is one of the few lakes with open water in the county, and including the grebe, I had 10 species of waterfowl: Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallards, American Wigeons, Ring-necked Ducks, and 2 COMMON GOLDENEYES.
I then cruised the black dirt for a while – I had several large groups of Canada Geese, maybe around 5,000 total, I sifted through them all and unfortunately did not located any other species. I did alright for raptors; I had my first Sharp-shinned Hawk in the count for the year, several Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, an American Kestrel on a wire, and I got some decent shots of a Rough-legged Hawk.
My next move was to head north to Ulster County to try for the Ross’s Goose that had been reported all week. I tried Bates Lane at Blue Chip Farms first, and I got lucky as another birder, Neil from the Schenectady was already on the bird when I arrived. He gave me a look in his scope, as the bird was at quite a distance, and I tried to get some documentary shots of the bird. It’s always good to see a Ross’s, and this bird is just the perfect beautiful example of the species. I made a quick stop at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, since I was so close, in spite of the parking lot being full of cars (at just after noon!) there were not many birds flying and I had only a single Turkey Vulture in the distance.
I had planned to head over to Cornwall to try for the Lesser Black-backed Gull that Bruce Nott found yesterday, but I ran out of time. I may try for that bird tomorrow. What a satisfying day of birding, I feel like we are on the verge of some really good birding in our area.
I got a good look at several Ring-necked Ducks at Glenmere Lake just after sunrise this morning. Glenmere is not typically a good place for photographing waterfowl from the shore, especially first thing in the morning as the view generally looks southeast, creating a severely backlit situation if there is a clear sunrise. This morning, however, these Ring-necked Ducks were located in a little cove of sorts along the shore. I positioned myself behind a tree and shot them with the sun just off my left shoulder; it was nice surprise to get some decent shots with nice light.
I arrived at Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge just after sunrise this morning. I was happy – a steady snow was falling, it was cold but not uncomfortably so, and I was the only one there. I walked the trails for a little while; I heard coyotes off in the distance. As the sun started to rise, I noticed a few of the Northern Harriers had started to fly, so I headed into the “Bobolink” blind and waited. But, the snow seemed to keep the harriers from flying like they have been recently, and it was songbirds that stole the show for me. I had several American Tree Sparrows just off to my right; every once in a while one would perch up on a bush. A Savannah Sparrow flew in front of the blind, perched briefly and then disappeared into the grasses. A trio of Northern Flickers spent some time in the tree directly in front of the blind, before flying south and finding another tree out in the middle of the grasslands. Then I heard a call I was hoping to hear all morning – Eastern Meadowlarks! A group of nine had landed in the ‘flicker tree’ and were gently calling.
I then walked the trails for a while, covering a good portion of the north end of the refuge. The snow eventually stopped and the refuge had a different feel, much brighter and warmer. The harriers remained relatively sparse on my walk although I did see a distant “Gray Ghost” flying over near Galeville Park. An Eastern Bluebird perched in a tree right alongside the trail. Four Black Vultures circled directly overhead. When I arrived back near the parking area, I ran into one of my favorite people: Ralph Tabor. We caught up for a while and enjoyed the birds at the feeder station. A Brown Creeper made its way up a tree just to the right of the feeders; I’m pretty sure it’s the first one I’ve ever had in Ulster County. Ralph then spotted a Short-eared Owl in the distance, being harassed by some American Crows. As I walked back towards my car, the crows flushed a second Shorty and I was able to get some photos before both owls settled down again. It was great morning of birding; it far exceeded my expectations when I headed out this morning.