I’d just gotten home after birding this afternoon when I saw that I missed a call from Karen Miller. I called her back and she told me that the Mearns Bird Club outing had a bird this morning that was later identified (through photos) as a STILT SANDPIPER. The location was at what I refer to as the Glenmere Pond (because it’s just right up the road from Glenmere Lake), but I think most birders call it Beaver Pond. It’s on Pine Hill Road in Chester just south of Glenmere Road. Anyways, I ran for the bird and joined Kathy Ashman, who had seen the bird but it was currently not visible. We shifted position and relocated the bird quickly – it was feeding in its sewing machine style, next to a Lesser Yellowlegs.
Tom Burke and Gail Benson joined us shortly after, as did Karen Miller and Diane Bliss. We mostly enjoyed scope-distance views of the bird, but then all the shorebirds picked up and the Stilt relocated in a much closer position; allowing for much better looks and some halfway decent documentary photos. I was thrilled to finally get a good shorebird in our area – it was the bird that saved August 2019.
So, there really doesn’t seem to be much going on in our area right now. I spent most of the week and weekend trying for shorebirds in Orange County, but have only come up with the birds that we have already seen this season: Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, and Solitary Sandpipers. As a comparison, by this time last year, I’d already seen in the county: a WHIMBREL, several Baird’s Sandpipers, a White-rumped Sandpiper, a Short-billed Dowitcher, several Black-bellied Plover, an American Golden-plover, and several Upland Sandpipers. Last year was a great August, but still, by now I would have hoped to have seen some additional shorebirds.
When it comes to raptors, however, I’ve done much better. Just this weekend, if I include our trip to Croton Point Park, I’ve seen every expected raptor for this time of year in our area, with the exception of Red-shouldered Hawk:
This morning, eight days after the bird was initially located, I finally ran for the WESTERN KINGBIRD at Croton Point Park. I was joined by birding buds Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris, and I can tell you this is the way to run for a bird. We showed up, parked, and immediately found two birders that were on the bird. It was perched high in a distant tree line, we viewed it through one of the birder’s scope and took some documentary photographs. Twenty minutes later the bird flew in close and perched relatively nearby in several different spots, in very nice light. The bird was my 304th species in New York State; it was a life bird for both Linda and Maria.
Finally! An exciting bird in Orange County! It feels like it’s been ages since we’ve had a good bird. Huge thanks to Bruce Nott, who found this beautiful LITTLE BLUE HERON on the Wallkill River just off of Route 208. I ran for the bird and met up with Bruce and John Haas; the bird was moving slowly south along the river and we caught up with it where the river runs along Bradley Park. John left to kayak at Morningside Park and then Karen Miller joined Bruce and I; we enjoyed excellent scope views of the bird and were able to get some halfway decent shots of the bird.
I spent the early morning at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge – I did not have anything too exciting, but I was able to get a decent photo op with a Green Heron just after sunrise. Again, huge thanks to Bruce for making my birding day.
Tricia and I spent a long weekend down at the Jersey Shore; it was sort of a mini-vacation where we focused (for once!) on relaxing rather than running around all over the place. We went to the beach every day. I napped. We did some touristy shopping, and we had some delicious dinners out at several restaurants. That said, I did get out for a bit in the mornings. I managed to get some nice photos; the birds are accessible and the backgrounds are often very clean on the beach. But, I also found myself questioning my birding skills. I kept thinking about birding locally versus birding at a new locale and how it puts one’s birding skills to the test.
The first thing I will say, is that I did not arrive prepared. Sure, I did some quick research on eBird just to find some good locations, but I didn’t do any research to see what the expected species for this time of year are in the region. I am often guilty of under-preparing for a new location; in a perfect world I would spend some quality time prepping beforehand, but it never seems to happen. I think that if you can squeeze in some quality prep time beforehand, it would make your birding at a new location much more enjoyable. One of these days I’m going to do just that.
The second thing is that birding at the Jersey Shore can be intimidating – there are SO MANY BIRDS! It’s very different from birding in Orange County, especially when it comes to shorebirds which are few and far between. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and “in the weeds” while trying to sort through such a large number of birds; I was lacking context and it made identifying the birds that much more difficult. I was also experiencing some eBird intimidation. I figure the checklists in that area are looked at pretty thoroughly – I didn’t want to get anything wrong. Ultimately, for me, patience was the key in this respect. I took it slow while I was birding and I was willing to let some birds go unidentified. I could take some time to think about it some more and maybe do some research and look at my photos later. If, in the end, they remain unidentified, I’m okay with that.
Another thing I was thinking about was birding “county coverage”. Here in our area, I feel like we have a pretty good idea of the birds present. Sure, there are plenty of birds that are missed, but I think we have decent coverage and I kept trying to compare it to the Jersey Shore where just about everywhere you look seems to be a birding hotspot. How many good birders would it take to actually keep up with this many birds? It kind of blows my mind. Maybe they have a handle on things, but to me it seems overwhelming.
And, finally, this trip often made me question my birding skills. Am I thorough enough? Do I know the field marks well enough? I think that maybe I’ve fallen into some bad habits – I’m familiar enough these days with the expected species in Orange County so maybe I’m not looking closely enough at the birds. Does that make sense? Maybe it’s time for a reset and to time to refocus on some of details that go by the wayside while birding the same locations day in and day out. So anyways, while I had all these thoughts running through my mind, I was still able to relax and just enjoy the birding in the south Jersey Shore; sometimes you have to just take a step back and enjoy being out with the birds.
I missed posting last week because Tricia and I went to the Jersey Shore on a mini-vacation. I fit some birding in while I was there, and I’m working on that post. Meanwhile, I got out early this morning and headed to the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. Kathy Ashman was already there when I arrived; we joined forces and had an amazing morning of birding. It was one of those lucky mornings where the light was beautiful and the birds were plentiful and didn’t mind our presence in the least.
My main goal was, of course, shorebirds – I’ll get to them in a minute. Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets are still present at the refuge in good numbers, and this morning they were joined by several very accommodating Green Herons, as well as a brief but amazing look at a pair of Sandhill Cranes. Swallows were also present in good numbers. I had mostly Tree Swallows, with a handful of Barn Swallows and a couple of Bank Swallows. Kathy had Northern Rough-winged before I arrived. Also of note, we had my first Northern Harrier in a good while.
As for shorebirds, we had a respectable nine species:
Semipalmated Plover (3)
Least Sandpiper (35+)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (2)
Wilson’s Snipe (1)
Spotted Sandpiper (3)
Solitary Sandpiper (2)
Greater Yellowlegs (1)
Lesser Yellowlegs (4)
I did pretty well with photos, as the birds seemed to be coming closer and closer rather than the opposite. Which was nice for a change. It was an enjoyable morning of birding; it was great to see Kathy who I hadn’t seen in ages and the birds were numerous and cooperative. Hard to beat that. Stay tuned, Jersey Shore post to come later this weekend…