It was cold but very beautiful out, and I was lucky enough to locate TWO very distant Snowy Owls in Orange County after work this evening. I spent an hour and a half watching these two incredible birds interact with one another – what a privilege!
I had the day off from work today, so I decided to try and take advantage of it by going for the Sandhill Cranes that had been reported on eBird over the last few days. As I pulled up to the area where the birds have been seen, they were flying overhead. I jumped out of the car and managed to get a few shots.
I wasn’t sure if this was good luck or bad luck! I was happy to have gotten the birds, but they were heading north in a very determined fashion. I looked at the map for a moment and then drove around in hopes of relocating the cranes. I didn’t have any luck with that, so I headed over to River Road to look for Bald Eagles. Deborah Tracy-Kral had informed me that there was a deer carcass on the ice that the eagles were enjoying. When I arrived there was one adult Bald Eagle and two American Crows on the now bare carcass. The eagle did not stick around for long and with not much left of the deer, I left it to the crows. I drove up and down River Road, just to check it out and then headed back to try for the cranes again. On my way over I came across this Cooper’s Hawk:
I drove around for a little while and I was pleasantly surprised when I relocated the two Sandhill Cranes. They were in a small creek and could be seen easily from the road, though they were partially obscured by twigs and branches. The crane on the right only lifted its head one time while I was there:
I was thrilled to see these birds and get some photos too. I left the cranes and headed to more familiar territory. I stopped by Lippincott Road to see if the Common Goldeneyes were still present but I did not locate them. Several Ring-billed Gulls and 4 Common Mergansers were the standouts. From there I headed to the Shawangunk Grasslands. It was a bit early in the afternoon, so I figured I would not get the Short-eared Owls, but I was curious to see what was flying there. It was very cold and windy but I enjoyed seeing some decent birds, here’s my list for the grasslands:
I ended my day by doing some more local birding, heading over to New Hampton, NY. While I was there looking at a large collection of Canada Geese in the Wallkill River, I met some of the folks that live on the river. They were interested in birds too, although the Canada Geese could be a bit loud at times. They invited me into their backyard to get some photos, which I thought was very nice of them and I totally appreciate it.
On my way back to the car I met yet another neighbor that had an interest in birds (and has since visited this blog and commented!). She told me how often they see Bald Eagles, and moments after leaving them, this bird flew overhead:
What a great day of birding! Many good birds and plenty of photo opportunities as well!
I spent the evening at Wallkill River NWR, the light was really nice and I was hoping to get some hawk photos or that maybe the Short-eared Owls would get up early. Neither of those happened, but there was a steady stream of Canada Geese flying over, so I was checking them out, wishing for a Barnacle or Greater White-fronted Goose. Instead, I saw a smaller goose and took several shots. To me this looks like it is good for a Cackling Goose, mostly because of the small stubby bill and the small squarish head. Please comment if you have thoughts on this ID.
The past two evenings after work, I made my way out to the Black Dirt Region hoping to relocate one of the Snowy Owls that has been seen out there. I was successful on both nights and was rewarded with distant but extended views of the bird. It is very enjoyable for me to watch from such a great distance – I can spend some time watching the bird’s behavior and there is no risk of bothering the bird. I can still snap a few distant photos, and sitting in my car, I can entertain the thought that the bird might decide to come a little closer for better looks and photos. This, of course, didn’t happen (this time!), but I like the idea that it might.
Meanwhile, I think I can now identify Snow Buntings by ear. While looking through my binoculars at the Snowy, I heard some birds passing overhead and I immediately thought they sounded like Snow Buntings. My suspicions were confirmed when the flock landed not too far from my car, revealing approximately 15 Horned Larks and 10 Snow Buntings.
Huge thanks to Rob Stone once again for alerting me that he had located a SNOWY OWL in the Black Dirt Region today. As far as I know, this is the first Snowy Owl reported in Orange County since early December. Additionally, in the same field, not far away, were 5 TUNDRA SWANS. I saw Ken McDermott while I was there and he told me that Judy Cinquina had seen 21 (!!!) Tundra Swans there earlier in the day. Another great day for birders in Orange County!
I got out of work a little bit early today and took the opportunity to walk the Liberty Loop at the Wallkill River NWR. It was a nice walk around the loop where I had 16 species identified. Highlights included 6 Short-eared Owls being very vocal and putting on quite a show, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and on my way back to the car I had 5 TUNDRA SWANS fly over. The birds were heading south along the west side of the loop. They followed the loop into New Jersey and eventually headed back north, this time on the east side of the loop (which is where I was located), flying right over me, and back into New York State. I could tell from the shape of the head/bill that the birds were not Mute Swans, and I was thinking Tundra. Fortunately one of the birds was calling periodically, which lead me to conclude that they were indeed Tundra Swans. Of course, I had to listen to the call on my phone app to know this! What a nice surprise on an unplanned trip around the Liberty Loop!
Rob Stone texted me this afternoon to let me know he had located four GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE on Onion Avenue in New Hampton, NY. When I got there later in the afternoon, just after 4 pm, I could only locate one GWFG among approximately 1200 Canada Geese. I spoke to John Haas after I had left, and he let me know that while he was there, a total of five Greater White-fronted Geese were present. Huge thanks to both Rob and John, what a “great” way to make my day!
Tricia and I were back on Long Island this week to spend Christmas with our families. The day after Christmas, I went birding out east with with Tricia’s Brother-in-law Bill. We basically started out at Cupsogue County Park (a spot I’ve been wanting to get to, having seen many reports of good birds there), and then we headed east on Dune Road. The highlight of the day was locating two (!!!) SNOWY OWLS. Both owls could be seen easily from the car on the beach side of Dune Road and the light was nice which made for some nice photos. Aside from the Snowies, we did pretty well, identifying 28 species and seeing a few more than that; I did not have my scope with me which meant leaving some of the more distant birds unidentified. The birding on Long Island is pretty amazing, the birding hotspots seem endless. Thanks once again to Bill for showing me around; it was a super day of birding.
Here is my species list for the outing:
American Black Duck
Great Blue Heron
Great Black-backed Gull
Mourning Dove 9
Tricia and I went to Long Island on Saturday afternoon to attend my sister’s annual Christmas Caroling Party. We left a little early to beat the worst of the snow that was coming, so we joined up with Tricia’s brother-in-law Bill to do some birding on the south shore. Bill has a nice “birding by car” loop that he does, which includes Robert Moses Park, Captree Island, Gilgo Beach, Oak Beach, Cedar Beach, Cedar Beach Marina, and various other stops. We did the loop while the snow got heavier and the winds started to pick up. I think due to the high winds, it was not overly birdy; our best birds where several Northern Harriers and a Merlin fly-by. We went to Cedar Beach Marina to look for the Gyrfalcon that had been reported there, but had no luck.
The party was a blast on Saturday night, but we were still up relatively early, ready to try Bill’s loop again in some better weather. Tricia’s sister Carolyn and her niece Cameron also joined us. The highlight of the day was, without a doubt, finding a SNOWY OWL on Captree Island. It was really exciting because this was a life bird for Bill, Carolyn, and Cameron. Although the bird was very distant (see photo!), we got some decent looks in binoculars and in the scope as the bird changed perches from time to time.
Other highlights of the day included: 2 Peregrine Falcons, Several Northern Harriers, a flock of Brant, many Buffleheads, a handful of Northern Shovelers, several Common Loons, 3 Red-throated Loons, and my personal favorite birds of the day – 4 Long-tailed Ducks. We struck out on the Gyrfalcon once again, but really it was a great day of birding. Huge thanks to Bill and Carolyn for taking us around and showing us all the spots; it’s so good to have the local knowledge and good company too.
The Snow Owl invasion continues. It was just before 3:00 pm and I had just gotten home. I thought my birding for the day was done when I received a phone call from John Haas: He was looking at a Snowy Owl in Bethel, NY. Tricia and I jumped into the car in hopes of getting a look at the bird. When we arrived, the bird was still present, and what a beauty! The markings on this bird were darker than the two I had seen in Orange County and the effect was striking. Many birders were present or on their way to see the bird. I was particularly happy for all the Sullivan County birders to finally get a Snowy Owl for the county. Thanks once again to John Haas for the call. You can go to The Bashakill Birder to see John’s account of the events.
Northern Shrike Update
I also did some birding in Orange County in the morning and I wanted to add that the Northern Shrike on Lower Wisner Road in Warwick, NY continues. I located the bird working the old fence line between Upper and Lower Wisner between 10:00 and 11:00 am. I’m still working on a good photo…