OC Snow Geese, Short but Sweet

This morning I had some good luck and timing. I woke up to find that my car had a flat tire; I’d run over a screw presumably at the dump in Sussex County yesterday morning. I removed the tire and headed out to get it repaired in Tricia’s car. On my way, I received alerts from both Bruce Nott and Linda Scrima; they had approximately 3,000 SNOW GEESE on Onion Avenue. I wasn’t far, so I made a detour and headed over. My timing was excellent, I caught the birds about five minutes before they flew.

~Snow Geese in the black dirt this morning, 01/26/20.~

The birds headed south/southwest. I continued on to get my tire repaired, but Linda and Bruce followed the geese. They reported back to me later that the original group was joined by a second group, making the total number of Snow Geese in the neighborhood of 7,000 birds! Unfortunately the birds did not put down again, instead they continued south/southeast. I’m thankful that I got lucky this morning and huge thanks to Linda and Bruce for putting the word out.

~Definitely one of my favorite local birding sights – Snow Geese in flight over the black dirt, 01/26/20.~
~Snow Geese in the black dirt, 01/26/20.~
~The birds landed very briefly before lifting right back up again and eventually heading out. SNGO in the black dirt, 01/26/20.~

OC Greater White-fronted Goose, 01/25/20

After a week of beautiful weather, I can’t lie, I was ticked off this morning with rain being in the forecast for basically the entire day. I woke up early to get out a little before the rain; Maria Loukeris and I ran to try for the Glaucous Gull that has been reported at Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority. While we were there, it started raining. And, although I got on a larger white-winged gull in flight a couple of times, we we left without ever being able to locate the bird on the ground to confirm the ID (most gulls were landing on the other side of the hill and out of sight). Sigh.

~Awesome bird. Greater White-fronted Goose at Skinners Lane, 01/25/20.~

But, it’s amazing how one single bird can save a day of birding. After dropping off Maria, I stopped by Skinners Lane and found a good sized flock of Canada Geese. I started to sort through them and quickly located a GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE; likely the same bird that has been reported intermittently in the area this winter. I went through the rest of the flock, hoping for a Cackling Goose, but no luck there. I’d put the word out, and Linda Scrima and Karen Miller both ran for and got the GWFG.

2020 Orange County Waterfowl Count

Today, for the second year running, Linda Scrima and I participated in the Mearn’s Bird Club’s Orange County Winter Waterfowl Count. Like last year, our sector was the Black Dirt Region. Which means more fields than bodies of water, so we spent the majority of the time searching for, counting, and sorting flocks of Canada Geese. We met at the Liberty Loop parking area at sunrise, and then made our way through the black dirt, hitting the usual spots as well as scouting some relatively unfamiliar territory.

~The bird of the day – blue morph Snow Goose viewed from Celery Avenue, 01/18/20.~

Last year we got lucky and located a couple of rare birds (Cackling and Greater White-fronted Goose). This year was a little less exciting; our best bird was a blue morph Snow Goose that we found on Celery Avenue. But, we did increase our number of species from 2019 to 2020 (6 to 7). Here’s our totals for the day:

  • Canada Goose: 1,755
  • Mallard: 48
  • American Black Duck: 2
  • Mute Swan: 5
  • Ring-necked Duck: 1
  • Common Merganser: 17
  • Snow Goose: 1
~One of three Great Blue Herons we had in the black dirt today, 01/19/20.~

We did have some notable other birds as we made our way around. Raptors top the list with: Red-tailed Hawk (6), Red-shouldered Hawk (1), Rough-legged Hawk (1), Sharp-shinned Hawk (1), and Bald Eagle (2). We also had a surprising (3) Great Blue Herons as well as an extremely large flock of blackbirds that passed in the far distance; it is hard to put a number on it, but there were probably north of 3,500 birds.

I enjoyed participating in the count – it was nice to have a defined purpose in our birding. I’m thinking this is a direction I’d like to take to a larger degree in my birding moving forward.

~A small flock of Canada Geese lift off from Skinners Lane with High Point in the distance.~

Sunday Shots 01/12/20

I enjoyed a pleasant weekend of birding. After the first full work week in a while, it just felt good to get out and see some birds. That being said, I didn’t come across anything too exciting, with the exception of one bird – Linda Scrima had an ICELAND GULL at the Newburgh Waterfront on Saturday evening. This is likely the same bird that Bruce Nott located in the same area on Friday. Unfortunately, while we were lucky to get the bird, we were a bit unlucky in that it flew south after only a couple of minutes and we were unable to relocate it. See poor photo of that bird at the bottom of this post.

~This bird actually flew in and landed right near me and started repeatedly diving. Bufflehead at Wickham Lake, 01/12/20.~

Aside from the Iceland Gull, the weekend was a bit hum-drum. Linda and I tried for the Storm King Golden Eagle, but didn’t have any luck. On Saturday morning, Linda relocated the Greater White-fronted Goose that has been hanging around the black dirt, but it flew before I could even think about running for it. I sorted through many geese on both days with nothing other than Canada Geese. Wickham Lake on Sunday morning was a pleasant stop; I had a couple of American Widgeon, a couple of Ring-necked Ducks, and a very accommodating Bufflehead. Still, it was great to get out, especially with the weather being so mild.

~Dark-eyed Junco at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 01/11/20.~
~I haven’t seen too many American Tree Sparrows this winter. This one was at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 01/11/20.~
~This was an absolutely beautiful bird, one of the whitest ICELAND GULLS I’ve seen. I really wish we would have been able to spend a little more time with it, but unfortunately that’s the way birding goes sometimes. ICGU at the Newburgh Waterfront (by Blupointe restaurant), 01/11/20.~
~One more shot of my friend the Bufflehead, Wickham Lake 01/12/20.~

Great Black-backed Gull #1997-12641

On the evening of December 21st, I was birding at the Newburgh Waterfront. While I was there, I located a Great Black-backed Gull with a black band on its left leg. Through my spotting scope I could see that it read, in white print: 4RO. I reported it at the U.S. Geological Survey’s www.reportband.gov, and on Tuesday of this week I received an email with the subject line of ‘Certificate of Appreciation’.

The certificate indicates that this gull, of unknown sex, was hatched in 2008 or earlier. That means this bird is at least 12 years old! I’m not sure what the life expectancy of gulls is, but I found it interesting that the bird was that old. It was banded on Appledore Island in York County, Maine by Dr. Sara R. Morris.

The body of the email read as follows:

The North American Bird Banding Program

Bird banding is important for studying the movement, survival and behavior of birds. About 60 million birds representing hundreds of species have been banded in North America since 1904. About 4 million bands have been recovered and reported.

Data from banded birds are used in monitoring populations, setting hunting regulations, restoring endangered species, studying effects of environmental contaminants, and addressing such issues as Avian Influenza, bird hazards at airports, and crop depredations. Results from banding studies support national and international bird conservation programs such as Partners in Flight, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and Wetlands for the Americas.

The North American Bird Banding Program is under the general direction of the U.S. Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service. Cooperators include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mexico’s National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity and Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources; other federal, state and provincial conservation agencies; universities; amateur ornithologists; bird observatories; nature centers; nongovernmental organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and the National Audubon Society; environmental consulting firms and other private sector businesses. However, the most important partner in this cooperative venture is you, the person who voluntarily reported a recovered band. Thank you for your help.

U.S. Geological Survey
Canadian Wildlife Service

Please Report Bands at 

2019 Year in Review

My end of year post is one that I usually very much look forward to writing, but this year that’s not really the case. Twenty-nineteen is a year that I won’t mind putting behind me. I went through personal, health, and work struggles for nearly the entire year; honestly I’ve never had a year like it. And, on top of that, the birds didn’t seem to cooperate as much as they have in previous years. Of course there were still plenty of great days, exciting finds, and even a handful of life birds, which isn’t bad considering I never left the tri-state area:

  1. Black Phoebe – Hainesville WMA, NJ (#417)
  2. Pacific Loon – Manasquan Inlet, NJ (#418)
  3. Townsend’s Warbler – Trenton Sewage Ponds, NJ (#419)
  4. Lark Sparrow – 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary (#420)
  5. King Eider – Sterling Forest SP (#421)

I wanted to mention some personal highlights for the year. In early February, I ran with Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris for the Pacific Loon and the Townsend’s Warbler down in New Jersey. It was a long day of birding which was both a lot of fun and also very successful. On the 5th of May, Bruce Nott and I chased Common Terns and Bonaparte’s Gulls on the Hudson River in the rain; this was a super exciting day for me and rates as one of my best days of the year. Earlier this month there was a King Eider at Sterling Forest of all places. I spent two days looking at that bird; that was pretty exciting too. But, for me personally, the best day was in late March when I located a Yellow-headed Blackbird in the black dirt. I was pumped to have found the bird, and a good number of folks ran for the bird and got it.

~Pacific Loon at Manasquan Inlet in Ocean County NJ, 02/02/19.~


Unlike years past, this year it was a bit of an endeavor to come up with my top ten photographs. I feel like my criteria have changed. These days everyone is taking photos, and a lot of good ones at that. My Facebook feed is overloaded with them. For me, this has made it hard to find shots that stand above the rest. So, as I looked through my photos from the year, I felt a little underwhelmed. I had plenty of decent, even good shots, but not very many that stood out. But, as I looked over them further, I had to remember that I can be my own worst critic, and some shots started to speak to me and things started to fall into place and I developed my top ten plus one honorable mention.

~Semipalmated Sandpiper, Stone Harbor Point 08/04/19.~
~Always a favorite of mine, I was happy to get this clean shot of a Brant in flight at Shark River Inlet in Monmouth County, NJ 01/12/19.~
~Black-crowned Night-heron at a roadside stop in Stone Harbor, NJ 08/04/19.~
~Ruddy Turnstone at Stone Harbor Point, 08/04/19.~
~Northern Mockingbird at Harriman State Park, 07/04/19.~
~Common Yellowthroat at Glenmere Lake, 09/22/19.~
~Common Tern in flight at Two Mile Landing in Wildwood Crest NJ, 08/06/19.~
~Wilson’s Snipe at Glenmere Lake, 09/29/19.~
~Song Sparrow at Wisner Road in Warwick NY, 12/08/19.~
~Pectoral Sandpiper at Glenmere Lake, 10/05/19.~
~This shot gets honorable mention, only because of the bird, I mean it’s a Sora after all! I was thrilled when I got this shot, finally getting a shot of this bird. Wallkill River NWR, 05/25/19.~

So, this is not the cheery end of year post I have enjoyed writing in the past. But, I’m looking forward to 2020, and I’m feeling confident that it will be a better year than 2019. My health has improved, which will help with birding and with work, and I have my fingers crossed for no major personal issues. As usual, it was great birding with everyone this year and I’d like to thank everyone for all their help and support. Cheers!

12/29/19 – A Pretty Good Day

I’ve gotten out a good amount during the holiday break, but while I’ve enjoyed getting out, unfortunately most of my birding has been unremarkable. Today I finally got a couple of notable birds. The first was at Glenmere Lake, where I had a female Red-breasted Merganser swimming with a couple of Common Mergansers. I also had four Ruddy Ducks, which were nice to see, and I sorted through a good number of gulls (only Ring-billed and Herring Gulls present).

~Excellent bird to see any day in Orange County: Greater White-fronted Goose at Turtle Bay Road in the black dirt, 12/29/19.~

Just as I was getting ready to leave Greenwood Lake, I got a call from Linda Scrima; she had a GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE off Turtle Bay Road in the black dirt. Always a favorite, I ran for the bird. It’s been a good year for them in our area; I have four sitings in 2019. The bird stuck around and was close enough for some decent shots (least as far as rare geese in Orange County go). Huge thanks for Linda for locating and getting the word out.

~Red-breasted Merganser (left) with a Common Merganser, Greenwood Lake 12/29/19.~

On my way home, I drove by 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary. I could see a collection of gulls on the ice, so I stopped and got my scope out. I was surprised to find, along with 12 expected Ring-billed Gulls, 18 Herring Gulls. I don’t think I’ve ever come even close to that number at that location. It was a nice way to end a good day of birding.

~Red-tailed Hawk at Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, 12/27/19.~
~First winter Ring-billed Gull at Crawbuckie Park (just south of Croton Point Park), 12/27/19.~
~Ruddy Duck at Croton Point Park, 12/27/19.~
~White-throated Sparrow at Winding Waters Trail, Wallkill River NWR, 12/28/19.~

Interesting Goose, 12/22/19

Earlier this week Linda Scrima located a diminutive white goose which was a possible candidate for a ROSS’S GOOSE in the black dirt. Unfortunately she only got a brief look and her photos were inconclusive. The bird was relocated this afternoon and Bruce Nott and I were able to view it and document it as well. Unfortunately, while I was there the bird was distant and being viewed through trees, but I think I was able to get some useful pics. Bruce had the bird a little closer later in the day.

~Goose Sp. in the black dirt this afternoon, 12/22/19.~

In the field, I felt the bird had two field marks which I felt were not indicative of Ross’s. The first was my impression of the size of the bird; it’s hard to get a sense of the size without any Snow Geese present, but I just would have expected it to be a little more remarkably smaller than the nearby Canada Geese. The second was the length of the bill. It was short, but maybe just a little longer than what you would expect in a Ross’s. In support of it being a Ross’s, in the scope I could see that there was no obvious “grin patch” and feathering at the base of the bill appeared straight.

~Goose Sp. in the black dirt, 12/22/19.~

When I got home, I quickly edited some of my photos and sent them out for opinions. The longer I looked at my photos, the more I was leaning towards Ross’s Goose. I found photos online with Canadas where the Ross’s size seemed similar to my photos. I saw documentation of a certain amount of variability in Ross’s (see here). I was starting to get excited. BUT, when Bruce forwarded his photos of the bird from a much closer distance, that changed things. With the additional documentation, consensus shifted towards the dirty “H” word: Hybrid. So, ultimately (but not definitively), this bird is likely a Snow Goose x Ross’s Goose hybrid, still cool to see but not a countable bird. If anyone reading this has any additional thoughts, please comment or email me at orangebirdingdotcom@gmail.com.

~Likely Snow x Ross’s Goose Hybrid, black dirt 12/22/19. Photo by Bruce Nott.~

Mount Peter 2019 Season Report

I spent some time this morning in the black dirt, and then this evening at the Hudson River. Raptors were the most noteworthy birds I had; I saw a total of 8 species: Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, Rough-legged Hawk, American Kestrel, Great-horned Owl, Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, and Barred Owl. So, it seems appropriate that on a day where I did pretty well for raptors, I would post this year’s end of season report for migrating raptors at Mount Peter Hawkwatch. The report was written, as usual, by MPH leader Judy Cinquina. Huge thanks to Judy for sharing.

~GOLDEN EAGLE at Storm King SP, viewed from the parking area on 9W.~

MOUNT PETER 2019 By Judith Cinquina

Despite record Bald Eagles and a good buteo turnout, Mount Peter’s 62nd annual fall hawk watch recorded disappointing numbers for many species of concern in 2019. The 74-day count, from September 1 through November 15, produced a healthy 9,800 raptors, averaging 20.4 hawks per hour. But Broad-winged Hawks comprised 75% of that final tally, while the Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk and American Kestrel flight dropped below average. Fortunately, near record Golden Eagles brought a bit of warmth to the cold and windy end of the season.

 A slightly above average 7,360 Broad-wings were detected over the lookout, most mere specks out on the edge of visibility, between September 16 and 19. Volunteer Tom Millard managed to score a Broadwing trifecta, single-handedly counting 1,395 after other volunteers had left on the 16th, between 3 and 5 pm. He then popped up to the lookout the next morning to help count the 539 leaving a nearby roost between 9 and 10 am. And finally he joined Ajit and Liza Antony and Jeanne Cimorelli on the 18th, to help score our best Broadwing day of 2,096.  Most or 1,300 were noted between 3 and 4 pm.

Red-shouldered Hawks had their second best year ever with 203 recorded, just under our 213 record set in 2018: 100 adult, 22 immature,  81 unknown. 160 Red-tails also took advantage of the winds on the 8th. Their final tally was an average 443. Note: the chart includes counts from 1980-2016 but not the last two record fall counts. Denise Farrell grabbed our best flight of 25 on November 8th on very strong NW winds. Chart from RPI (Raptor Population Index).

Sharp-shinned Hawk numbers were down across the Northeast. Our 693 count (not shown on chart) was our second lowest since the watch was extended into November in 1978 and was 55% lower than our 10-year average. 82 Cooper’s Hawks was also below average, and the Goshawk was a no-show. Chart from RPI.

After a healthy bounce last season, American Kestrels managed a below average 85 this season: 12 male, 19 female and 54 unknown.  Our best day was a mere 14, September 24 on moderate NW winds. Not a falcon year for us, the Merlin with 8 and the Peregrine with 14 were also below average.

What’s up with Osprey? They’re reportedly breeding successfully in the Northeast, yet numbers are down over the lookouts. Our 123 count was below average. Although 11 moved through with the large Broad-wing push, September 18, Matt Zeitler nabbed the best count of 12 on lazy south winds, the 28th

After a terrible showing last season, the N. Harrier continued its decline, with 27 sighted, 66% lower than its 10-year average: 7 male, 6 female, 4 immature, and 10 unknown.

Eagles sustained our volunteers through the entire watch, with record Bald and near record Golden counts. Our first ever two-digit count of Bald Eagles was 12 in 1988. Then in 2012 we tallied our first triple-digit count of 130. That record was crushed this season, with a tally of 163: 114 adult, 47 immature and 2 unknown. Will Test pulled in the best day with a record 30 noted on November 3 on moderate W winds. The flight began low and moved southwest early. Later in the morning and early afternoon, the eagles were higher and in small groups or pairs that headed west towards the Kittatinny Mountains. To confuse the issue, 12 local Balds were noted but not counted that day. Will and six other leaders were rewarded with Golden Eagle sightings. Matt Zeitler and Ajit and Liza Antony scored the best days with two, November 2, 9 and 13. The 9 counted, 5 adult and 4 immature, was our second best tally since the record 10 was made in 1994. 

Vulture numbers were above average, Black -136 and Turkey-426. Ken Witkowski garnered a record day with 123 Turkeys, October 26. We had two or three local Common Ravens, but Denise Farrell noted eight migrating past the lookout November 8. It’s interesting that 10 went through last year on the 10th

A healthy 1,607 Monarchs migrated past the lookout, quadrupling the number counted last season. The good news is our count is now part of a country-wide annual Monarch survey. A mere 16 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were noted in September.   Once again, Denise netted our biggest Canada Goose day with 860, November 1.  5,245 were counted for the season. Denise also noted the only Brant, with 500, October 18 and 345 more, November 1. The sole Snow Goose reports came from Ajit and Liza Antony, with 85 “glinting in the sun” November 6 and 615 more, the 13th

Other birds of interest: Perhaps, the most exciting and the rarest was the Parasitic Jaeger I observed just over the treetops, heading from NE to SSE, October 15, around 10:15 DST on light NW winds. It disappeared behind the trees, and I suspect it headed towards Greenwood Lake. It had a strong, gull-like wingbeat, husky chest, long-squared-off tail, and a rounded head. Peregrine-sized, it was a mottled dark gray and was probably an immature. 

September 16 3 C. Nighthawks, 2 more 9/23   (Tom Millard & Elizabeth McGrath)

October     11 450 Double-crested Cormorants   (Denise Farrell)

November   2 – (2) Purple Finch   (Matt Zeitler)

                    3 – (8) Sandhill Cranes over valley to the west   (Will Test)

                    8 – flock of 30 Snow Buntings  (spotted by Tim Vogel)

                  11 –  a Woodcock flushed from trail near platform  (Tom Millard)

Our 11 volunteer leaders could not have produced these results without the help of friends and visitors who helped spot in-coming and kept us sane during the lulls, especially Bill Connolly, John and Liz Sherry and Rob Stone. A welcome back to Beverly Robertson, and a big thanks to sharp-eyed Jeanne Cimorelli who popped up whenever she could. Kudos to our clean-up crew: Ajit and Liza Antony, Mike Buckley, Denise Farrell, Ken Witkowski, Chris Vogel, and especially to Tom Millard who repaired the platform and Will Test who went the extra mile and with Tom spent an afternoon cleaning up a mess. As always we are indebted to our sponsors, the Fyke Nature Association of Bergen County, NJ who supplied our insurance and to Fyke and all of you who supported our site on hawkcount.org. Our wish for our 63rd watch is a new road up to our lot and an unobstructed view to our SE from our platform. As always we remain the oldest, continually run, all-volunteer fall watch in the country.

Sunday Shots, 12/15/19

I was back at Sterling Lake before sunrise this morning. And the funny thing is that Bruce Nott was there already, ha ha. We were happily surprised to see that the KING EIDER had remained on the lake. Rob Stone and John Haas both joined us a little after, to get better views and photos (last night in the rain and fog was tough!), and they weren’t disappointed. I took the opportunity to try and use my 1.4x extender, since the bird remained at a distance. I set it up on my scope tripod for some added stability; I think the results were decent but certainly not amazing. We also had a Winter Wren (nemesis!), so I finally got that bird for the year.

~KING EIDER at Sterling Forest State Park, 12/15/19. Super bird for the county.~
~I think this shot looks pretty good for ISO 5000. I cleaned it up a little, but still. Huge thanks to Bruce and John for getting me this Winter Wren. This bird hates me and would never let me get it on my own, ha ha. Sterling Forest State Park, 12/15/19.~
~As usual, when looking for a Northern Shrike, you know a Northern Mockingbird will be found. Kendridge Farm, 12/14/19.~
~One more shot of the KING EIDER, Sterling Lake 12/15/19.~