Satisfying Sunday Birding, 05/14/17

~Pileated Woodpecker at Laurel Grove Cemetery, 05/14/17.~

This time of year it’s easy for me to feel like migration is just flying by (no pun intended) and leaving me in the dust. I had a busy week, so I didn’t get out as much as I would have liked, and then Saturday ended up being a total wash out. So, when Sunday morning rolled around, I was raring to go and I was going to bird, rain or shine. Fortunately, the rain held off and I had a very pleasant morning and early afternoon of birding.

I started the morning in Port Jervis at Laurel Grove Cemetery. I knew there was a chance that I could have a decent day when, as I got out of the car I heard the heavy thumping of a Pileated Woodpecker doing its thing. The bird was working a stump and I was able to get some decent, if noisy shots. An early highlight at the cemetery was several BLACKPOLL WARBLERS that had moved in. After just over an hour, I left to go to Elks Brox Memorial Park. I was just getting started there when I received a call from Rob Stone. He was at the cemetery and had CAPE MAY WARBLERS and a Wilson’s Warbler. I bailed on Elks Brox and headed back to the cemetery. The CMWAs hung around and I was able to get my first ever looks at them in breeding plumage, having only seen them in the fall before; I was pretty stoked. Between my two trips to the cemetery, I had a total of 41 species.

~What a beauty! CAPE MAY WARBLER at Laurel Grove Cemetery, 05/14/17.~
~One of several BLACKPOLL WARBLERS at Laurel Grove Cemetery, 05/14/17. BLPWs are definitely among my favorite warblers, I just think it is a cool bird.~

My next stop was the Camel Farm, to try for the DUNLIN that had been reported there. Rob and I met up there and sure enough, the pair of Dunlin were still present, as was the White-rumped Sandpiper. Yellowlegs (Greater and Lesser) and Solitary Sandpiper numbers were way down, but many Least Sandpipers continued.

~I had to include this photo for the craziness factor. I was on my way to the Camel Farm and this adult Bald Eagle was being harassed by several crows. The eagle seemed to want to pick up a freshly killed squirrel on the road, but the crows gave it such a hard time that eventually it gave up.~

I made a quick, uneventful stop at the viewing platform at the Liberty Loop, and then headed over to Pochuck Mountain State Park. At first the trail seemed quiet, but as I made my way up the mountain a bit, I started to get some birds. Highlights included my FOY Veery and SWAINSON’S THRUSH. It was getting late, so I did not go very far up the trail but still managed to find 24 species.

It was a productive and satisfying day for me – I feel a little bit like I am back up to speed with this year’s migration. I totaled 71 species for the day, which I was tracking since the Mearns Bird Club’s Break 100 is just five days away.

~I finally got a decent look and a photo of a Blue-winged Warbler. Pochuck Mountain SP, 05/14/17.~
~Scarlet Tanager at Elks Brox Memorial Park, 05/14/17.~

Five Swallow Night, 05/11/17

~A Bank Swallow cruises over the water of the pond in front of the viewing platform at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh, 05/12/17.~

On Thursday evening, I met up with Rob Stone and Maria Loukeris at the Liberty Loop Trail viewing platform and we had five species of swallows feeding over the marsh: Tree, Barn, Northern Rough-winged, Bank, and Cliff. It was a learning experience for me, and I think I now have a pretty decent handle on identifying these erratic and fast flying birds. The highlight for me was getting incredible scope views of a perched Cliff Swallow, sitting among some Barn Swallows. I went back on Friday evening and tried for some flight photos. I had all the same swallows except for Cliff Swallow.

~Barn Swallow in flight over the mirk of the marsh. Wallkill River NWR, 05/12/17.~
~Three Barn Swallows above a single Cliff Swallow, Wallkill River NWR 05/11/17.~
~Bank Swallow in flight, Wallkill River NWR 05/12/17.~ 


~SUMMER TANAGER at Laurel Grove Cemetery, 05/09/17. Photo by Linda Scrima.~

Wow! SUMMER TANGER in the OC! How exciting is that? I ran for the bird this evening after work, but I came up empty. Here’s Linda Scrima’s account of seeing the first Summer Tanager in Orange County since May of 1980:

I went to Laurel Grove this morning, hoping to view some of the warblers during this spring migration.  I was searching the tree tops, hoping to see the warblers that move around in the tree canopy.  I heard a call from a bird perched at the top of an  evergreen and looked up and saw this tanager. It was not the call of a Scarlet Tanager, but yet, this tanager was calling.  My cell phone battery was dead, so I was not able to try to get a audio/video of the tanager calling.  The tanager’s head formed a peaked crest, which was different than that of a Scarlet Tanager’s head (and the bill looking slightly different, too).  The tanager was facing me in a a resting position, so I was not able to see the wings, but I was able to see enough of the front appearance to notice the lack the prominent dark black wings of the Scarlet Tanager.  I noticed the overall red color, and hoped that I had some photos of a side profile view, showing the lack of the darker black wings.  The tanager moved in the tree and my view was obscured by the evergreen branches.  I waited a few minutes, and decided, to move on in search for more spring migrants.  I then wanted additional views of the tanager.  I circled back to the evergreens and then saw the tanager fly in and perch on top of another evergreen, near the original evergreen.  Although I did see a few warblers while at this location, my thoughts were that I wanted to make sure that this was actually a Summer Tanager.  My mind was screaming silently that it was a Summer Tanager, but I had to caution myself because I had never seen a Summer Tanager, and this location is in *Orange County*.  When I got home, I plugged in my cell phone and took a few cell snapshots of the tanager photos from camera viewfinder. I was glad to see that I did get the side profile views, showing the overall red color (noticeable, the lack of the prominent black wings).

~Another look at the SUMMER TANAGER at Laurel Grove Cemetery, 05/09/17. Photo by Linda Scrima.~

I texted the photos to Matt Zeitler, Rob Stone, and Ken McDermott, all who have much more birding experience than I do, and especially in *Orange County*.  All came back with SUMMER TANAGER!  Ken McDermott stated that it is a second recorded sighting here in Orange County.  Ken McDermott  saw the first recorded sighting almost thirty seven years ago! It is an exciting find.  Thanks to Matt, Rob and Ken for confirming the sighting.  Another good bird sighting in Orange County!

No, thank you Linda! Nice job with the photos and the write up too, it’s certainly appreciated. And congrats on another great find!  – Matt

And a final shot of the SUMMER TANAGER at Laurel Grove Cemetery, 05/09/17. Photo by Linda Scrima.~

Warbler Woes, 05/07/17





~This is a great bird – BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER at Laurel Grove Cemetery, 05/07/17.~

All birders seem to love warblers. Me? I’ve never been that big on them. And I think I’m starting to figure out why. There are a couple obvious reasons: trying to find the smallest backlit birds up in the treetops is not exactly easy. Then if you find them, you have to be able to identify them, which can also be difficult. I’m improving with both of these things, but there is third reason that I’ve just recently figured out. Warblers are all about timing. This time of the year, the morning after a southwest wind the night before, with the radar lit up, is just perfect. Unfortunately, I’m at work in the morning five days out of the week, and have to hope for good timing on the weekends. I get out in the evenings, of course, and you can do alright then, but it’s certainly not prime warbler time. And the window for warblers is not a large one. Time flies by and before you know it, it’s over. Don’t blink.

So, this weekend I sabotaged myself by making an appointment to have my car serviced first thing Saturday morning. I made it a few weeks back and I guess I just wasn’t thinking. After my appointment, I managed to get to Pochuck Mountain State Park by around 10 am. The trail was quite birdy, with more birds being heard than seen, but plenty of action. I had 30 species on my walk; a glimpse of a BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, a nice look at my first of the year Blue-headed Vireo, and several Black-throated Green Warbler being heard were all highlights. I checked the Camel Farm afterwards and had a decent showing of shorebirds: Least Sandpipers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, and Killdeer. I made one final stop for the day at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, where I saw my first Northern Rough-winged Swallows of the year.

~Magnolia Warbler at Laurel Grove Cemetery, 05/07/17.~ 

On Sunday I got out early-ish, arriving at Laurel Grove Cemetery just after 7 am. I did well for warblers here (for me). The best part was getting really good looks and a decent photo of a BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER. Catching a glimpse of one at Pochuck the day before wasn’t cutting it, so I was pretty thrilled to get such a good look at this bird. Other good birds include my FOY Magnolia Warbler, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Indigo Bunting. I had nearly 40 species at the cemetery with 9 species of warbler.

I stopped by the Camel Farm on my way home. I was already planning on going there, but I was pretty excited to get there because Rob Stone and Curt McDermott had let me know that they had located a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER there earlier that morning. This was undoubtedly the bird of the day for me! I relocated the bird fairly quickly and Linda Scrima joined me to get a quick look. Now this was my kind of birding! A good collection of shorebirds was present:

Semipalmated Sandpiper (1), Killdeer (4), Least Sandpiper (20), WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (1), Pectoral Sandpiper (2), Solitary Sandpiper (4), Greater Yellowlegs (1), and Lesser Yellowlegs (5)

Unfortunately at the Camel Farm the birds are really quite distant. I tried for photos, mostly by digiscoping, but I couldn’t even manage documentary photos of the WRSA.
~Definitely the easiest warbler to photograph – Ovenbird at Pochuck Mountain SP, 05/06/17.~
~Earlier this week I had some luck photographing Blue-gray Gnatcatchers at Sterling Forest SP, 05/02/17.~ 
~A female American Redstart at Laurel Grove Cemetery, 05/07/17.~ 
~I thought this pair of Chipping Sparrows was cute. Laurel Grove Cemetery, 05/07/17.~
~This bird was very accommodating, but the light conditions were tough. Scarlet Tanager at Pochuck Mountain SP, 05/06/17.~

Excellent OC Evening Birding, 05/01/17

~I’ve seen plenty of Yellow-rumped Warblers this spring. I’m still working on getting a good shot. Wickham Lake, 05/01/17.~

After work today I headed straight to Glenmere Lake to follow up on a lead from Rob Stone – he had two WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS there earlier in the day. And I just can’t get enough of sea ducks in Orange County, I find it fascinating. When I arrived, the birds were still present. I had distant but excellent looks in my scope and I managed to digiscope a few halfway decent shots with my phone. While I was there, I also had a remarkable 4 Ospreys flying over the lake and 2 Bald Eagles; one adult and one immature.

~Digiscoped WHITE-WINGED SCOTER, one of 2 at Glenmere Lake, 05/o1/17.~ 

From there, I headed over to Wickham Lake, following up on another tip from Rob; he let me know about a Northern Waterthrush that was near the parking area at Wickham Woodlands Town Park. At first I was having no luck, but after a while I heard the bird. I really wanted to see the bird, so I waited a long time… and eventually I caught just the briefest look. While I was waiting, the area was birdy and I had several other warblers: Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler, and my first of the year American Redstart.

~Yellow Warbler at Wickham Lake, 05/01/17.~

I finally went to the shore of the lake to scan for waterfowl. I was not optimistic, but wanted to check before heading home. I was pleasantly surprised to first hear and then see a Common Loon out in the distance. What a great sound and sight! But that was just the beginning – I continued scanning and…wait let me count them… one, two, three, four RED-NECKED GREBES! They were in the company of 4 Ruddy Ducks. Again the birds were quite distant – I took some shots with my camera and I digiscoped some as well and got enough just to document. What a super night of birding, you just never know what you’ll find when you get out there!

~Two of the 4 RED-NECKED GREBES at Wickham Lake, 05/01/17.~
~Four Red-necked Grebes, all tucked in. Digiscoped at Wickham Lake, 05/01/17.~


It’s On!

~On Friday evening, this bird made my day. Black-throated Blue Warbler at Goosepond Mountain State Park, 04/28/17.~

As we all know, it’s a great time of the year for birding. Migration is on and new birds are showing up on a regular basis. I had a relatively busy week, so I didn’t get out birding as often as I usually do, but I still had 19 new birds in Orange County. This morning I birded Pochuck Mountain State Park with Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris; it was the most productive outing of the week, with 7 FOY birds and nearly 40 total species being identified. Here’s my list of new OC birds for the past week, in chronological order and locations:

I love this time of year! And, what’s really exciting is that things are just getting started.

~Ovenbirds were plentiful at Pochuck Mountain SP this morning, 04/29/17.~
~Thursday 04/27/17 after work, I walked the Sterling Lake Loop at Sterling Forest SP. I had several Black-and-white Warblers, this one was most cooperative.~
~I had my first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the year last weekend at Glenmere Lake, 4/22/17.~
~I guess the Worm-eating Warblers at Pochuck Mountain are on the early side – they came up as a rare bird when entered into eBird. One of 3 WEWAs at Pochuck Mountain SP, 04/29/17.~



Why Do Birders Bird?

~I’m taking this post as an opportunity to show some of the owl photos I took over this past winter. Orange County Barred Owl, Winter 2016-2017. I love the snow on this bird’s head.~


This is a question that I ask myself from time to time to time. I’ve thought about this in terms of the big picture – as in birders in general, and also in terms of myself – what drives me to be out birding nearly every single day and how does that compare to other birders? To try and get some answers, I emailed a questionnaire to a number of birders that I know and I received responses from 11 avid birders.

~I’ve always liked this photo of Lance Vederame and John Haas – these guys are really enjoying themselves in Rye, NY in spite of the COLD weather.~

Based on the responses received, it appears that “getting back to nature” is the main reason most birders bird. Over half of the respondents included something along these lines in their answers to the opening general question of why they bird. Terms such as “escape”, “peaceful time”, and “relaxation” were used to describe the experience. At the end of the questionnaire, I asked directly about this aspect of birding, and it was nearly unanimous that this was an important part of birding, and 8 of the eleven considering it either the most important or very important. Karen Miller wrote that getting back to nature “…helps you remember what’s important in life.”  Additionally, I think it goes hand in hand with stress reduction, which was inferred by most and mentioned specifically by 4 respondents. According to Scotty Baldinger “When I was still working it was the great stress reliever being out in the field and at one with nature.  Now that I’m retired it still is as good.”, while Judy Cinquina wrote “Birding, being outdoors, even just in my own yard, clears my mind of all the detritus that seems to get caught up in there and keeps me sane.”

~Perched Short-eared Owl, Orange County NY, winter 2016-2017.~

I would consider a “sense of adventure” or “excitement” as the next most popular reason for birding. Four of the 11 respondents refer to this concept in their in their answers to the opening general question of why they bird and 7 refer to this idea elsewhere in their answers. You can add me to the list, as I know that this has always been a big part of birding for me. Walter Eberz put it very well: “When I was introduced to birding, I quickly felt the excitement of finding a species for the first time.  I think that sense of adventure is what drew me into birding.” Birding can be and is often very exciting, as Kyle Dudgeon wrote: “there’s always something new around each and every corner”, and I also like Bill Martocci’s take on it: “It may be my natural hunting instincts being fulfilled without killing an animal.”  For many, this excitement is linked directly to seeing rare or unusual birds. I asked the respondents how important it was to see and find rare or unusual birds which was nearly unanimously considered important. Most indicated that it was exciting and enjoyable; John Haas wrote “I have been birding for 25 years and seeing rarities and observing different birds and their behaviors help keep the hobby fresh and exciting for me.” Sharing the excitement appears to factor in as well and was mentioned a few birders. Ken McDermott writes: “Part of the fun and rewards of birdingis that we get to see species that we have never seen before whether on ourLife/State/County/Home/Year list they are all enjoyed. The “who finds it” is not so important as seeing it. If one DOES find a special bird a huge portion of the enjoyment is sharing it with other interested birders.”

~Here is an exception to the “large group” negativity – birders gather for the Gyrfalcon in Ulster County, NY back in 2015.~

Other significant aspects of birding that were part of the questionnaire or raised in the answers include: participating in citizen science, the social aspect, the study of birds and bird behavior, and bird photography.

Citizen Science: All of the respondents keep birding lists of some sort, and all but one are using eBird. For most, the importance of Citizen Science for the birds is recognized, but it does not play a large role in their reasons for birding. Curt McDermott speaks to this: “I am a supporter of Citizen Science Projects, such as E-Bird, Great Backyard Bird Count and Hawk Watches. Information gathered by participation in these projects, may help to ensure that birding and birds will stand the test of time.” However, only Lance Verderame and John expressed that CS was VERY important to their birding. Lance sums it up well: “As birders our input into eBird is an extremely valuble history of records that could point out key staging and resting habitat that needs protection.” And, on a different note, Kyle brought up a point that I found interesting – that people are using eBird in a way that directly affects the birds negatively: “People abuse it now. Some things (i.e. nest locations, owl locations. Endangered species locations, etc.) were not meant to be reported and ultimately are ruined due to people.”

Study of Birds/Behavior: I think we all engage in this to a certain extent while birding without really realizing it. I neglected to raise this issue in the questionnaire, but both Lance and Judy brought it up in their responses. Judy wrote about a recent change in her birding: “Rare or “Life Birds” used to be a very important aspect of my birding until recently. Now I’m happy to just see bird behavior that I’ve never seen before.”

Social Aspect: Responses indicate that the social aspect of birding is enjoyable but not highly important. AND, birding in large groups was mentioned by 4 as a negative experience. Small groups or birding alone seem to be the preference. Denise Ferrell seems to speak for a lot of birders when she wrote “I enjoy small groups where EVERYONE is working to find birds AND I also enjoy birding by myself. I detest birding in large groups. They tend to turn into chat sessions with only a few people doing all the work finding the birds.”

Bird Photography: This aspect may have had the most diverse response. Two respondents take photos for records or identification purposes only and 3 do not take bird photographs at all. But, for the remaining 6 respondents, photography is an important, integral part of birding. I, of course, put myself into this category as well. All of the birders in this category share their photos by publishing, be it for a blog, website, or social media. For everyone in this group, the words of Bill may resonate: “It is clearly the #1 reason I bird.  I rarely if at all go out without my camera.  I will post great shots of birds or rare finds on group sites on Facebook. But I do keep a gallery of birding photos that few if anyone sees regularly.”

~Perched on the ground Orange County Short-eared Owl, winter 2016-2017.~

So, I’ve touched on some of the thoughts on my own birding above, but will elaborate here. I can remember growing up in suburban Long Island. My siblings and I (my brother Chris especially), used to absolutely love all the nature shows. I particularly remember one about the wild dogs of Africa. It was exciting and fascinating to see all the amazing animals all over the world. But, in my mind, that was elsewhere, not here, especially not in the neighborhood of Holtsville where we grew up. Meanwhile, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Think about all the amazing birds on Long Island! They were all out there, in Holtsville and at the beaches and lakes not very far away. Birding has given me the opportunity to live out the adventures I dreamt about while watching those nature shows as a kid. Who knew you could find over 200 species of birds in Orange County in a single year? It still blows my mind! And because it blows my mind, I am compelled and I enjoy very much sharing it here on this blog.

Getting back to nature another huge aspect for me. Being out in the field gives me great enjoyment as well as life-saving stress relief. I cannot imagine my life without it and I think that would remain so even if I wasn’t birding. This ties into the social aspect of birding. I particularly enjoy getting out by myself and really getting “lost” out there, but that being said, I do enjoy birding with smaller groups and I have made many really great friends through birding. The exception to this (and Judy mentioned it in her response as well), is hawk watching. I’m not sure why this is different, perhaps because we have such a great group up at Mount Peter, but I really enjoy my time up there; the more birders the merrier.

Regarding bird behavior, I think I am just starting to scratch the surface here. I think that as I become more experienced and learn more, the exploration of bird behavior will become more important to me. And when it comes to Citizen Science, like many birders I am happy to contribute and I see the importance but it is not a deciding factor in my daily birding.

As for rare or unusual birds, for me this is a driving force. It links directly to the sense of adventure or excitement I am looking for in my birding. I find it very exciting every time I see any bird that is out of the ordinary; it can just be a personal first of year bird and I will get jazzed. And, I’ve always wanted to be the one to find the birds. Ever since I became a member of the Mearns Bird Club and I started getting notifications, I thought to myself that I wanted to be the one finding the birds. It is exciting, satisfying, and great fun to share a good bird.


And, finally, a huge thanks to all the birders that help with this post, I, of course, could not have written it without them:

Scotty Baldinger

Judy Cinquina
Kyle Dudgeon
Walter Eberz
Denise Ferrell
John Haas
Bill Martocci
Curt McDermott
Ken McDermott
Karen Miller
Lance Verderame
~A pretty night for a Shortie in flight. Orange County, NY winter of 2016-2017.~

Newburgh Bonaparte’s Gull, 04/20/17

~What a beauty! BONAPARTE’S GULL in flight over the Hudson River, Newburgh NY 04/20/17.~

I got my absolute best look at an Orange County BONAPARTE’S GULL this evening at the Newburgh waterfront. Every BOGU I’ve ever had in Orange County prior to this one has been just miles out. This bird, on the other hand, actually flew closer to me as I started to take photographs. It was a minor birding miracle : )

~Bonaparte’s Gull at the Newburgh Waterfront, 04/20/17.~
~BOGU coming in for a landing, Newburgh waterfront, 04/20/17.~

Good Birding at Wallkill River NWR, 4/18/17

~I got my Orange County FOY Savannah Sparrow this afternoon at Wallkill River NWR, 04/18/17.~

(ANOTHER) QUICK POST: I had an excellent evening of birding at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I ran for four VESPER SPARROWS that Rob Stone had located earlier in the day and miraculously the birds were still present and I was able to relocate them. When I returned to the platform at Oil City Road, I met up with Karen Miller and we birded from there for a while. The next good bird to come in was a pair of LESSER YELLOWLEGS, my first of the year. They seemed to fly over the entire marsh before settling in out of sight about 100 yards in front of the platform. Then Karen Miller saw a bird emerge from the grasses in the pool right in front of the platform – it was a COMMON GALLINULE!!! I snapped a few quick photos, and I’m glad that I did, because the bird stashed itself in the grasses soon afterwards and could only be seen through the scope. What an unexpectedly excellent night of birding!

~Super exciting bird! One of four VESPER SPARROWS at Wallkill River NWR, 04/18/17.~
~Another OC first of the year – one of two Lesser Yellowlegs flying over the platform at Wallkill River NWR, 04/18/17.~
~And one final FOY Orange County bird – COMMON GALLINULE. I’ve never had a COGA at Wallkill River NWR before today, 04/18/17.~ 


~04/13-17 : A distant shot of the TRUMPETER SWAN that has spent the past couple of days at the Bashakill.~ 

QUICK POST: Yesterday John Haas texted me that there was a Tundra Swan at the Main Boat Launch at the Bashakill. I was going to run for it after work, but instead I went to the Celery Farm in Bergen County to try for the Yellow-throated Warbler that has been seen there (the YTWA would have been a lifer, but I dipped on it in a frustrating afternoon). Meanwhile, yesterday evening they got better looks at the swan; Linda Scrima and Bruce Nott both got photos that seemed to indicate TRUMPETER instead. The bird cooperated this morning and John Haas and Karen Miller got good looks and good photos and it ends up the bird is a Trumpeter – the first ever record in Sullivan County! I ran for the bird this afternoon and I joined John at the boat launch; the bird was a little distant but we still got really good scope looks of the bird. The large straight bill, the heavy connection of the bill to the eye, and the forehead that closely matches the slope of the bill were all very evident. It was harder to see that where the bill meets the head it is pointed (as opposed to rounded in Tundra), but I could see hints of it in John’s photos. Back in 2012 I did a post comparing the two swans – check it out here.

For the complete story on this bird, check out John’s blog.