I made it out to the grasslands yesterday afternoon into the evening and spent some time in one of the blinds. I am finding it hard to resist going there when the light is good because you all but guaranteed to get some birds up close and plenty of good photo opportunities. I knew the day had some possibilities when I got this Merlin from the parking area.
And this Northern Harrier flew right over head as I made my way to the blind.
I wasn’t in the blind for more than ten minutes when the Gray Ghost came pretty close by. As both of these photos are a little soft, I feel like I still haven’t gotten a good photo of a male Northern Harrier.
The Northern Harriers were really flying, at one point I counted eight that I could see in one sweep. Some where flying VERY close to the blind.
Here’s a sequence of a NOHA chasing a Red-tailed Hawk that dared to perch in one of the trees near the blind.
I was hoping the Short-eared Owls would come out early, but they did not. I spoke to Ralph, who opens and closes the gate there every day (among many other responsibilities), and he said they haven’t come up early in a couple of weeks. I’ve noticed the same thing with the SEOWs in Orange County as well. I’m not sure why this would be.
I feel like it has been forever since I got out for a full day of birding with any success. Karen Miller and I met out at Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge right around sunrise this morning. It was really cold out, 25 degrees Fahrenheit with a substantial wind chill. We sat in the car for a while and then on the platform for a bit until it got too cold. There were many raptors to be seen – Red-tail Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, a juvenile Bald Eagle, and several Northern Harriers. We decided to follow up on a post seen on the Mearns Bird Club site; we went to Greenwood Lake.
Neither one of us had ever been birding at Greenwood Lake, so it was a bit of an adventure for us as we drove around and explored the lake. We ended up having a great visit with many birds. The highlight for me was a large raft of Common Mergansers that we estimated at approximately 500 individuals:
We stumbled upon Browns Point Park, in West Milford NJ. I totally missed the sign, but Karen saw it and had me turn around. Thank goodness too, because the park provided the best look at ducks that we had all day. We got very good close looks at: Buffleheads, Ring-necked Ducks and Mallards.
After Greenwood Lake, Karen and I headed back to Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge. We decided to walk the Liberty Loop trail; it had warmed up considerably but it was still really windy. Walking through the wind and snow was tough but we were rewarded by seeing many sparrows, Northern Harriers, and a surprise showing of a Short-eared Owl at 12:45 pm. What a great day of birding! Pretty good for January nineteenth.
It is really amazing to me when you go out looking for a specific bird and you actually get to see it. Tricia and I were on our way to a wedding in New Hope Pennsylvania. I checked the map and our route took us right past the Great Swamp NWR. I was there not too long ago and had a conversation with a local birder. He told me that there are a pair of Barred Owls that are pretty regular at the reserve, he even told me where they are likely to be found. Well Tricia and I went to the reserve and looked where he had said, but had no luck. On our way out however, we saw a stopped car. The driver was out and had his camera set up on a tripod…I figured it had to be something good. The photographer (I was so excited I never got his name!) told me he had found a Barred Owl. This was the first owl he had ever found on his own, so he was pretty excited too. He showed us where owl was and we got really good looks in our binoculars. Photos, however were pretty tough because the bird was deep in the woods and there were so many little branches between myself and the bird. The photographer had set up his camera in the only clear shot at the bird. I took a couple photos right along side with some success, but then he surprised me by removing his camera body off the lens and asking me if I wanted to take some photos using his lens! He had a monster lens set up, and the result is the above photo. Huge thanks to that photographer – how generous!
I have been spending much of my birding time this fall hawk watching. I volunteer at Mt. Peter Hawk Watch, which is located on Kain Road in Warwick NY (just across the street from Bellvale Farms Creamery), so I have been out there on many days. I have been thinking about why I enjoy hawk watching so much and I came up with a few good reasons. It is really amazing how many birds you can see if you sit in one spot for a while. On September 20th, Mt. Peter had its highest count of the year – 1,281 migrating raptors! Over a thousand of them were Broad-winged Hawks! And this is not even considered a “big day” for Broad-winged Hawks. You don’t just see hawks either, I have seen Brant, a Great Blue Heron, Gulls, Common Ravens, Common Loons, and even Glossy Ibis fly over hawk watches! There is also plenty of time to look for songbirds when there is a lull in the hawk activity.
I also find hawk watching to be extremely challenging. It is certainly a different way of birding for me. Some days it is difficult just to to find any migrating hawks in the sky, depending on wind and weather conditions, how high the birds are flying, and what the cloud cover is like (among other things). An all blue sky is the most difficult sky to find hawks in. Sunny with some clouds seems to make the hawks most visible for me. Some days it can be tough to just locate the birds, but identifying the raptors is by far the most challenging and rewarding aspect of Hawk Watching. It is so much fun trying to figure out what species of bird you are looking at – sometimes at a great distance, often in silhouette, usually with no size comparisons to be made.
Finally, there is an aspect of hawk watching that would never have guessed would become so enjoyable to me – the camaraderie. I always enjoyed birding alone – sort of an escape, but I am finding more and more that I am enjoying birding with other people. Mt. Peter is extraordinary, the people there are amazing – so friendly, knowledgeable, generous. I highly recommend a visit.
If you are interested in seeing the data collected by the Mt. Peter volunteers, please visit: http://www.hawkcount.org/.
Tricia and I also made it out to Hawk Mountain for the first weekend of October. The highlight for me was 9 Peregrine Falcons on Saturday.
I put my kayak into the water at the Basha Kill right at sunrise this morning. It was a chilly paddle at first, but as the sun made it over the mountain it warmed up quickly. There were many Wood Ducks flying over and I came across at least a half a dozen Great Blue Herons as I paddled the channel. I spotted a couple of falcons that darted behind the trees before I could get a good ID on them. Ironically the highlight of my paddle this morning came when I stopped at Haven Road and got out of my kayak to chat with fellow birder/blogger John Haas (The Bashakill Birder). We watched as a Merlin flew across Haven Road and then chased a Mourning Dove over the kill and around the corner. The Merlin was overhead again shortly after that and then perched on a tree right on Haven road, giving me a good opportunity to get a photo:
After my paddle, I headed over to the Deli Fields to have a look around:
I read John Haas’ blog, The Bashakill Birder on a regular basis. Recently John has posted about the great birding he has been doing from his kayak. He has been seeing some of the birds that are little more interesting to me: American Bitterns, Least Bitterns, Common Gallinules and high numbers of Great Blue Herons and Wood Ducks. Inspired by this, I made it out to the Basha Kill early this morning to do some birding by kayak. It was a beautiful morning and it was very refreshing to be out in the marsh all alone. While I did not have success with some of the harder to find birds, I did get to see many Wood Ducks (almost at every turn!) and Great Blue Herons too. I was able to get out much closer to the Osprey’s nest where I watched the two adults going after a Great Blue Heron that decided to land in a tree a little too close to the nest. I also got some amazing looks at all three Bald Eagles. I was a little disappointed that I was unable to see (or even hear!) any Common Gallinules or Bitterns, but this is just something I will work towards. It was a great day of birding and I did alright with the camera. Here are some photos from the day:
Yesterday evening I took a walk on the Heritage Trail which is just a block or so from my house. The trail runs along side 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary which, according to the Orange County Tourism web site (see links), is a “62 acre wetland bird sanctuary owned and maintained by the Orange County Audubon Society”. It is a great spot for birding and just happens to be a short walk from my house.
I headed out without high expectations. I have been struggling with the camera lately, not getting good exposures, so I just wanted to go out and experiment and try to work on a few things. For some reason I did not think there would be many birds. Boy, was I wrong! I had a slow start with a lot of the usual suspects – American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Gray Catbirds, and a couple different kinds of warblers. Then things started to get good. A Green Heron flew across the water giving me a great look and then landed in a tree on the far side of the sanctuary. Not long after that I spotted a beautiful bright orange male Baltimore Oriole. As I was checking out the oriole, I heard some crows making a racket and I looked up to see two crows mobbing an adult Bald Eagle right above me. The eagle flew over several times giving me a really good look and a chance to get some photos. Moments after that I saw my best bird of the night – a COMMON LOON. I stayed for a while getting photos of the loon and got to hear it make its call. What a great evening! I ended up with twenty-four species in all, here are some additional highlights and some photos: