I arrived at Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge just after sunrise this morning. I was happy – a steady snow was falling, it was cold but not uncomfortably so, and I was the only one there. I walked the trails for a little while; I heard coyotes off in the distance. As the sun started to rise, I noticed a few of the Northern Harriers had started to fly, so I headed into the “Bobolink” blind and waited. But, the snow seemed to keep the harriers from flying like they have been recently, and it was songbirds that stole the show for me. I had several American Tree Sparrows just off to my right; every once in a while one would perch up on a bush. A Savannah Sparrow flew in front of the blind, perched briefly and then disappeared into the grasses. A trio of Northern Flickers spent some time in the tree directly in front of the blind, before flying south and finding another tree out in the middle of the grasslands. Then I heard a call I was hoping to hear all morning – Eastern Meadowlarks! A group of nine had landed in the ‘flicker tree’ and were gently calling.
I then walked the trails for a while, covering a good portion of the north end of the refuge. The snow eventually stopped and the refuge had a different feel, much brighter and warmer. The harriers remained relatively sparse on my walk although I did see a distant “Gray Ghost” flying over near Galeville Park. An Eastern Bluebird perched in a tree right alongside the trail. Four Black Vultures circled directly overhead. When I arrived back near the parking area, I ran into one of my favorite people: Ralph Tabor. We caught up for a while and enjoyed the birds at the feeder station. A Brown Creeper made its way up a tree just to the right of the feeders; I’m pretty sure it’s the first one I’ve ever had in Ulster County. Ralph then spotted a Short-eared Owl in the distance, being harassed by some American Crows. As I walked back towards my car, the crows flushed a second Shorty and I was able to get some photos before both owls settled down again. It was great morning of birding; it far exceeded my expectations when I headed out this morning.
My main goal today was to follow up on the swan the John Haas located yesterday at Rondout Reservoir. For just over 24 hours, there was some uncertainty regarding which species of swan it was, but just this afternoon the bird was confirmed as a TRUMPETER SWAN by Kevin McGowan at Cornell University, after reviewing photos by John and Bruce Nott. This is only the second record of the species in Sullivan County. John has written 3 posts on his blog about the bird – check it out here.
I ran for the bird this morning and fortunately it was still present. Karen Miller arrived right after me, and we both set up our scopes and enjoyed viewing the bird. My initial thoughts on the bird was that it looked good for trumpeter for two main reasons – 1. The bill shape and size looked good to me – it was large and fairly straight and 2. The connection of the bill to the eye seemed substantial enough. But, one field mark that wasn’t present was the “V” shape where the bill meets the forehead (in this bird it was more like a “U”). According to John’s blog, Kevin McGowan explained that variability in individual birds does not make this a reliable fieldmark for final identification. If you are interested in learning more about swan identification, have had a couple of hard lessons on swan identification that I have blogged about: one at Montezuma NWR and one at Wallkill River NWR.
I also did a little local birding today. Prior to running for the TRSW, I had a nice stop at Glenmere Lake, where I had 8 species of waterfowl: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Wood Duck, and American Black Duck. Kathy Ashman was there after me, and she also had a COMMON GOLDENEYE. I’m not sure how I missed that bird! In the early afternoon I ran around the black dirt for a while. I went through probably 1,500 Canada Geese in 2 locations but did not come up with anything. I got lucky with a beautiful ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK that flew right over me at Liberty Marsh. Oh, and I started the day, right around sunrise, with a coyote in a field not too far from my house. Great day!
My plan for the day was to head up to Sullivan County to see if I could do any good with waterfowl at Rondout Reservoir. Before heading up north, I made an early stop at Glenmere Lake and met up with Kathy Ashman again. She had located 2 GREATER SCAUP and relocated the single LESSER SCAUP. I found the GRSCs easily enough, but never did locate the LESC.
From there, I headed to Rondout Reservoir. John Haas and Karen Miller have recently reported some good waterfowl there; I thought it would be fun to head up that way and see how I could do. It was a worthwhile stop as I had 8 species of waterfowl. The highlight for me was my first COMMON GOLDENEYES of the year. There were 9 present and they were actively feeding and displaying in the furthest corner of open water along with several Hooded Mergansers and 3 female Buffleheads. I would have loved to get some photos, but the birds were just too distant.
I then headed towards Liberty, to visit the feeder stations in hopes of finding Evening Grosbeaks and any other interesting birds. I got lucky and had 12 EVGRs at the Woodard Road feeders and an additional 30 or so at the Smith Road feeders. At Smith Road, it was tough to get an accurate count, as the birds were here and there and coming and going; 30 is a conservative estimation. I tooled around the Liberty area a bit, but ended up heading home without any additional notable birds.
Regular readers of this blog may remember that it took me 51 weeks in 2018 to get a CACKLING GOOSE in Orange County. Well, today I potentially had three. Which just shows you how crazy birding can be. First thing this morning I headed to Glenmere Lake, hoping for the ROSS’S GOOSE that Kathy Ashman had seen there earlier in the week. The Ross’s wasn’t present, but I did run into Kathy and we had some good birds, including one bird that looked to us like a sure Cackler and a second bird that looked pretty good, but was slightly larger with a slightly longer bill. See photo below, I’d love to hear any opinions on these birds. The birds stuck together the entire time we were there, a cute tiny couple. Other waterfowl present: Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Gadwalls, and a single LESSER SCAUP.
I tooled around the black dirt and then took a walk at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh; it was actually pretty quiet and I had mostly the usuals including White-crowned Sparrows at two locations. On Onion Avenue there was a large flock of mixed blackbirds – perhaps 1,000 birds or so, nearly all Red-winged Blackbirds with a sprinkling of Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles, and European Starlings thrown in.
My final stop in southern OC was at Lockenhurst Pond. This is the small pond on Route 284 in Westtown, NY; I just looked it up to see what it was actually called. While I was there I sifted through the flock of approximately 400 Canada Geese and eventually located another CACKLING GOOSE. This bird looks good to me, see top photo as well as below.
After a late lunch, I headed up to the Newburgh Waterfront to try for more waterfowl and gulls. I had only the 3 expected species of gull, and for waterfowl the only noteworthy species was 9 Northern Pintails. I can only remember one other time having NOPIs on the Hudson River. Just as it was starting to get dark and I was thinking about heading home, I saw something I’ve not seen before. A group nearly 60 Canada Geese flew in and landed on the river. I don’t know if they were out in the fields all day, or if they just finished a long flight, but as soon at they landed all the birds were drinking from the river. I found it sweet to see 60 Canadas sipping away as the sun set.
I guess I’m feeling a little blasé about today’s birding, I’m not sure why; maybe I’m just tired. First thing this morning, I went to the Edith Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. This is a favorite spot of mine at this time of the year, particularly for waterfowl. I looked back at visits from years past at this time, and today was just a little on the low side of my average – I had 11 species of waterfowl. Highlights included Common Goldeneye, 30+ Long-tailed Ducks, and at least 15 Horned Grebes (I can’t remember ever having that many there before). Unfortunately, most birds were quite distant so I didn’t do much as far a photos go. And, the pier at Rye Playland was closed for some reason; I typically can get more photo ops from the pier than at the sanctuary. I was also hoping I might get lucky with the Greater White-fronted Goose that has been at the sanctuary recently, but no such luck.
Back closer to home, I made a few quick stops, including Glenmere Lake since it’s one of the few spots in southern Orange County with open water right now . It was nice to run into birding bud Kathy Ashman and we had some decent waterfowl among the medium sized flock of Canada Geese on the lake: 2 Northern Pintails (funny to see them walking around on the ice!), a dozen or so Ring-necked Ducks, and a single Lesser Scaup.
I decided to stay local this morning. I cruised the black dirt, made a quick stop at Glenmere Lake, and took a walk at Wallkill River NWR’s Liberty Marsh. It was actually a pretty quiet morning bird-wise, but after a hectic work week it was just nice to be out and looking at whatever birds I could track down. It was on the cold side (19 degrees F when I headed out), with a whipping wind that made it very difficult to be outside for any extended period of time. I had a total of 27 species for the day and nearly all were the usuals. Noteworthy birds included 5 Ring-necked Ducks and a single Bufflehead at Glenmere Lake, as well as a pair of Common Mergansers at Skinner Lane. My best birds were found in the black dirt: 2 Rough-legged Hawks and 2 LAPLAND LONGSPURS. I initially had the longspurs at a distance in my spotting scope. I tried to digiscope them to document, but between the cold and the wind I didn’t have any success. Just as I was driving off, I heard LALO call to the left of my car and not too far out. I got on it and was able to get a shot of the bird, which made me happy.
Early this morning, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I headed to Manasquan Inlet to try for the PACIFIC LOON that has been seen there. This was definitely one of the easier rarities we’ve run for – we parked the car and the bird was in the channel right in front of us! And what a beautiful bird, a nice dark loon with a lovely chin strap. It was also very cooperative, swimming quite close and the light was pretty nice too. This bird alone was definitely worth the trip, but we also had some really nice photo ops with some Long-tailed Ducks (which are apparently a garbage bird around there!) and a gorgeous RED-THROATED LOON. We checked for gulls from Red’s Lobster Pot and got lucky with a 1st winter ICELAND GULL. Unfortunately that bird was just too far for pics. Then we walked out onto the jetty, where we enjoyed seeing many of the usuals – highlights included a Common Goldeneye flyby, a flock of Dunlin, and 2 Horned Grebes.
We then headed to the Trenton Sewage Ponds in Mercer County to try for the TOWNSEND’S WARBLER that has been there. We were informed as soon as we arrived by other birders that the bird was still present, and we got on it not too long after that. It was a good looking warbler, but unfortunately the lighting was absolutely horrible and the bird was severely backlit from our vantage point. We tried for a while to get shots of the bird as it foraged around the pools, and eventually the bird perched in a nearby tree. It was still backlit, but closer to us and with a natural setting made the difference for me. Also present was a Eastern Phoebe, several Yellow-rumped Warblers, a handful of Ruby-crowned Warblers, and a Palm Warbler.
Both birds were lifers for all three of us – it’s not too often we get lifers these days, so it was AWESOME!
You know how certain birds just do it for you? That’s how it was today with this Rough-legged Hawk; it is the best looking bird I’ve seen in a long while. What I wouldn’t have done for a decent photograph of this bird. I had several fantastic scope views of this bird perched, and it just blew me a way; there’s just something about the bird’s pale, vanilla colored head that is just gorgeous to me. Who knows, maybe our paths will cross again and things will work out differently…
As I drifted off to sleep on Friday night, I came up with a birding plan for Saturday. I would hit the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR at sunrise for some “sure thing” birding (with an outside shot at the Northern Shrike), then head up to Dutchess County to try for the Golden Eagles that have been reported there this winter, and finally, on my way home stop at the Newburgh Waterfront to try for gull (Glaucous and Iceland had both been reported earlier in the week.
I had a great stop at the grasslands, I spent some time in a blind which gave me a couple of nice photo ops (in addition to the accommodating Northern Harrier perched right near the parking area). NOHAs are still numerous, and I also had 2 Rough-legged Hawks (distant), and from the blind I watched approximately 10 Eastern Meadowlarks work their way around the refuge. I tried for the N. Shrike from the Galeville Park side, but had no luck.
From there, I headed up to Dutchess County to try for the Golden Eagles. I was able to get views of two birds I believe were Goldens – a young bird (100%, see photo below), and a possible adult (totally silhouetted, but the head/neck size looked really good to me). Additionally, I had a handful of Red-tailed Hawks, a Cooper’s Hawk, and several Bald Eagles, including a young bird which was enjoying a meal in a tree right off the road:
My final stop at the Newburgh Waterfront was pretty much a bust, other than running into two of my favorite birding buds, Bruce Nott and Kathy Ashman. It was a beautiful night and while it was fun to sift through the gulls, we came up with nothing other than the expected three species: Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed. It was a good day of birding for me – some good birds, some decent photo ops, and a little bit of good camaraderie.
Each species of bird can conjure up different thoughts and emotions for us as birders. Some can be seen as just flat out beautiful, like a Northern Pintail or a first winter Iceland Gull are for me. Some are cute, I’d put the Atlantic Puffin and Snow Bunting in that category. And we all have our favorites, often for inexplicable or a large variety of reasons ( for me: Upland Sandpiper, and either species of Cuckoo spring to mind). There are also certain birds that I consider inherently “cool”. I stole this idea from Corey Finger, who made mention of it in a post on 10,000 Birds back in 2012. It has stuck with me ever since I read it because it struck a chord with me – I do feel like certain birds just have a coolness factor. It popped back into my mind after my recent trip to the Jersey Shore where we had a Razorbill (very cool bird!). Here is my personal top 5 “cool” birds list; I’d love to hear which birds others might put on their list.
LAPLAND LONGSPUR: The coolest of them all, in my opinion. Beautiful and awesome looking in any plumage.
BARNACLE GOOSE: I love this bird, the coolest of the geese for sure. We need one to show up in our area, it’s been a while (2012? I never caught up with that bird…).
RAZORBILL: While the Atlantic Puffin is cute and the other Alcids are all sharp looking birds, the Razorbill stands above as the coolest. I think it’s that large ridged bill with white lines.
NORTHERN SHRIKE: I would venture to guess this might be on a lot of birder’s list. A cute killer, how cool is that?
BUFF BREASTED SANDPIPER: I lose my mind when I see this bird.
Honorable Mention – BARN OWL: A wonderful combination of beautiful, elegant, and so rare for our area.