So everyone that I sent my photos to came back with the ID of KING EIDER, including Tom Burke (John forwarded to him). As I posted below, either bird would have been exciting, BUT, I was hoping for King Eider because it is a life bird for me (#421). It’s also my 259th bird in Orange County. I’m going to head back first thing tomorrow morning with the hopes that the bird is still present and I can maybe get some better looks and photos.
Today was almost one of the worst days of birding I’ve had all year. The weather was crappy and I wasn’t finding any birds. But then, birding bud Maria Loukeris passed on an interesting alert from one of the New Jersey birding apps. Daniel Carola, Hugh Carola, and Ivan Kossak reported a KING EIDER on Sterling Lake at Sterling Forest State Park. I immediately turned my car around and started heading that direction. I connected with Linda Scrima and we made our way to the lake.
When we first arrived, we viewed the lake from behind the visitor’s center; it was raining pretty good and the fog was thick as pea soup. We could barely see more than 75 yards into the lake. We decided to relocate and we followed the blue trail on the west side of the lake. The viewing was much better and the fog seemed to be lifting just as we located a lone duck in the distance. I got it in the scope, and sure enough, it was an eider; very exciting! Now, the question was is it a King or a Common? We put the word out and tried our best to study and document. Photos were tough; between the lack of light and the distance, our ISOs were cranked up high so the photos would certainly be grainy. In my scope, I had some good looks that, to me showed some good King Eider field marks: warm brown coloring, a shorter, all dark bill will a little bit of slope and a pale area above the eye. But, neither of us had previous experience with the species, so I was hoping for help.
Eventually Rob Stone, John Haas, and Bruce Nott showed up. Viewing the bird in our scopes, we all discussed the bird and went back and forth on the ID. Once home, I quickly edited pics and sent them around; now we await confirmation on the ID. I’ll be happy either way – both are Orange County life birds for me and both are super exciting. Excellent birding! Huge thanks again to Maria for the intel; I’ll post a follow up as soon as we know more about the ID.
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.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to spend my birding time. I guess it’s because with the time change, I now only get to bird 2 days a week. When your time to bird is that limited, you want to make it count or get as much out of it as you can. I’ve been asking myself a couple of different questions, usually the night before going out:
- What birds would I really enjoy seeing tomorrow? That is, of the birds that are likely to be around, what’s going truly bring me joy?
- What kind of birding experience am I hoping for? Am I hoping for a peaceful walk in the woods? Or maybe try and cover some territory in Orange County, driving to multiple spots?
My birding time on Saturday was limited, so I tried to relocate the Northern Shrike I found last week in the morning, but was unsuccessful. In the evening, I had gulls on the brain, so I headed to the Newburgh Waterfront where I found a fairly sizable accumulation of the three expected species of gull (Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed), but nothing out of the ordinary (I was hoping for Iceland or who-knows-what). A RED-THROATED LOON flying downstream was nice consolation prize.
Today, I had geese on my mind. Both Barnacle and Pink-footed had been reported the day before in Massachusetts, and I’m really hoping to get one or both in our area this year. I found large groups of Canada Geese in 6 locations this morning and sifted through them in the rain without any luck. I really enjoy looking through geese, but the rain can make it frustrating. I have the gear to stay dry, but I just can’t keep my optics dry, especially if I’m looking into the wind. Anyways, it’s early in the season so I’m still hoping we will get lucky with these birds. Especially Barnacle Goose, that would be awesome.
This morning at Wisner Road in Warwick, I located a NORTHERN SHRIKE. I was freaking out because this bird is among my all time favorites. That was the good news. The bad news is that the bird was not very cooperative. Within five minutes of finding it, the bird took off from its distant perch and flew north. I tracked it in my scope as it disappeared behind trees in the distance.
Rob Stone joined me to help relocate, and then Bruce Nott after him. We checked the areas north as well as the area where I first saw the bird for a good long while (I tried for the next three hours), but unfortunately we were unable to relocate it. Hopefully that bird is still around; I was thrilled to get it, but for me a lot of the joy gets zapped if no one else gets the bird. Time will tell, I guess.
I got a nice early start this morning, meeting Linda Scrima at Wickham Lake just after sunrise. It was relatively uneventful, but we did have a single CACKLING GOOSE, which we first saw in my scope and then heard calling periodically while we were there. With the wind whipping pretty good, it was brutally cold on the lake, so after determining there were no other interesting waterfowl on the lake, we were happy to move on.
After a quick and unproductive stop at Glenmere Lake, we decided to follow up on some of the great birds that were reported this week. We headed to Lake Osiris to try for the GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE that Bruce Nott found on Tuesday. There were many Canada Geese on the lake, but after scanning pretty thoroughly we were ready to leave without any luck. Just as we were getting ready to leave, several skeins of geese flew in and landed on the lake. We scanned again, and voilà, there it was! We did our best to get some decent shots of the bird. The light was nice, but, as it goes with these geese, the bird was quite distant. Interestingly, just like the Cackler earlier, the bird started calling from time to time. It was a first for both of us and it was really cool. The bonus for the stop was watching an interesting exchange between three young Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. They seemed to be playing, chasing each other through the trees right next to us, oblivious to our existence. It was awesome.
From there, we headed to Orange Lake to chase yet another Bruce find – a WHITE-WINGED SCOTOER from earlier in the morning. It was a good stop; we located the bird, an adult male hanging out with 4 adult male LONG-TAILED DUCKS. Unfortunately the birds were just too distant for even documentary shots. The heat shimmer just rendered my images useless.
Next stop was Brown’s Pond to try for the GREAT CORMORANT that Ken McDermott reported last Sunday. Fortunately, the bird was still present and after a little searching, Linda located the bird on the far side of the pond.
For our final stop, we met up with Maria Loukeris and walked the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop trail. It was a nice, brisk walk which was mostly uneventful, but we did have two birds that I was pretty excited about: Fox Sparrow and American Pipit. Mostly, however it was nice to get out with friends for a walk and be outside for a while.
On Saturday I was mostly out of commission as I had a wedding to attend in Westchester County. I say mostly because between the church and the reception we had some time to kill, so Tricia and I made a stop at Five Islands Park in New Rochelle. I was hoping for Monk Parakeets, but alas we didn’t have any luck with them. It was the third time I’ve been to that park and still I haven’t seen the Monk Parakeets.
On Sunday I got up early and checked my emails. An Iceland Gull had been reported in Westchester County, not far from Croton Point Park. I figured I could make the morning of it by heading over to try for the gull and then bird the park afterwards. I didn’t have any luck with the gull, but I got lucky in another way. I ran into another birder, the original locator of the Iceland Gull. He is a long time birder/naturalist from New York City. We checked for the gull near the Boathouse Restaurant and the neighboring park and then he showed where he had originally located the bird at the Croton Point Park train station. I had never birded that spot, even though I knew of it, so it was good to get the lay of the land. He shared stories of his birding over the years; he had seen some really amazing local birds and he also had gone on some amazing birding trips. He showed me a photograph that he took of a Spoon-billed Sandpiper in full breeding plumage back in 1995 on a film camera; it was unbelievable and made me want to cry. What a bird. Anyways, my takeaway from it was that there is an awful lot of birding out there, be it locally or even more so if you are willing to travel. It made me look forward to when I can look back on 30++ years of my own birding adventures…