I got out briefly this morning. It was a very cold, frosty morning with some beautiful light. I wish more birds had been around to photograph, but what can you do. The area of Wisner Road in Warwick was particularly spectacular, with all the trees and bushes being covered in lovely icy crystals. I was looking for Northern Shrike, but I had to settle for icy photographs of Song Sparrows. Glenmere and Wickham Lakes were both completely frozen, but Greenwood Lake was entirely open, with Buffleheads, Common Mergansers, and Ring-billed Gulls present. Oh, and I watched a unidentified falcon chase a Bufflehead across the lake in the distance, about 3 feet above the surface of the water.
I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of a plan each day for my birding lately, but by the time this morning rolled around, I didn’t have anything concrete. So, I decided to just cruise the black dirt early to see what I could come up with. It ended up being a productive morning with some nice highlights: 3 SNOW BUNTINGS in a flock of approximately 80 Horned Larks, distant looks at 3 Rough-Legged Hawks (2 light and one dark phase), and two late but incredibly accommodating VESPER SPARROWS. They were my first VESPs of the year, so that was a nice bonus.
I went home around lunchtime and took care of a few things, but then I made it out again in the afternoon. My first stop was at the Storm King State Park parking area on Route 9W, to try for the the Golden Eagle that has been wintering there. As luck would have it, the bird was present, on it’s normal distant perch. Bruce Nott joined me and also got the bird, it was an OC year bird for him.
From there, Bruce and I headed to the Newburgh Waterfront to try for the ICELAND GULLS I had yesterday evening. It was early enough and the light was nice, so I was hoping for some better photos. When we first arrived, it was a bit of an eagle fest. We had 2 adults and 2 young Bald Eagles flying over the river. The two young birds were flying very high, and as I was watching them, I saw something I’ve never seen before. To the right of the eagles was a massive kettle of gulls – really, really high. Hundreds of birds in a spinning ball of bright white and dark brown birds. Naked eye you could make out the white birds when the sun hit them just right.
Not too long after that, I finally located a single Iceland Gull on the roof of one of the buildings near the ferry parking area. While Bruce and I were looking at that bird, the “kettle” of gulls had landed in the middle of the river. Bruce counted the birds – there were over 400 birds, nearly all Herring Gulls, with a few Great Black-backed Gulls, and our second Iceland Gull of the night. Ken McDermott joined us shortly after and he relocated one of the ICGUs; it was in pretty close, so while I didn’t get the photo I was hoping for, I did get the shot below. I’m happy to say it was another really good day of birding for me – I needed it.
One of these days I’m going to write a post about timing and luck in birding. This afternoon I had an appointment in Newburgh. I scheduled it perfectly (do we create our own luck?), finishing my appointment in time to go to the Newburgh Waterfront to try for gulls before sunset. As luck would have it, there were many gulls present, mostly floating out on the river. I started scanning, and quickly got on a first winter ICELAND GULL.
Shortly after I got on the bird, many of the gulls picked up and and then put down on the roof of Gully’s. They didn’t stay for long and moved back onto the river. It took me a little while to relocate the bird, but when I did, it was with a second ICELAND GULL! I was able to document the two birds together before they once again flew from the river to the roof of Gully’s. John Cavalari joined me at that point and got his lifer Iceland Gull, which was awesome.
John left and I decided to scan the remaining birds on the river one final time. When I did, I found a third Iceland Gull! I immediately pointed my scope back at the roof of Gully’s, and sure enough the other two were still there! Those of you who know me know how crazy I am for gulls; to get a single good gull in an evening makes me freak out. Imagine how I was with three! Awesome birding.
It was nice on this holiday weekend to have a little extra time to get out birding. I managed to squeeze a little bit of birding into each of the last 5 days, which was a nice change from my recent weeks, that’s for sure. I mostly birded locally, but I also made a brief visit to Sandy Hook early Friday morning. While I didn’t have any out-of-the-ordinary birds or see anything new, it was still good birding and just enjoyable to be out and about.