Since it’s the beginning of another year, I’ve spent some time this week thinking about what I want my birding to be like this year. To be honest, I don’t really know yet. Fortunately, I did not have to worry about it today (which happens to be my first day of birding of 2019). That’s because this week three excellent rarities were located in our area:
GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW in Downsville, NY, which is in Delaware County. The bird was originally located by Lance Verderame. (Mega-rarity)
BLACK PHOEBE at Hainesville WMA in Sussex County, NJ, originally located by Scott Angus. (Mega-rarity)
SAYS PHOEBE at Wallkill River NWR, Winding Waters Trail, Orange County, NY. The original locator was Tom Sudol.
So, with rarities on our mind, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I headed up to Delaware County early this morning. The Golden-crowned Sparrow had been seen most often early in the day, so we figured that would be a good place to start. Our timing was good and we got on the bird not long after our arrival. We had a brief, unsatisfactory look at first, but then after a little while the bird returned and we were able to get good looks and some photos too. The GCSP was a lifer for Linda and Maria and a NYS bird for me.
On our way back, we stopped at the feeding stations at Smith Road and Woodard Road in Liberty. We did well at both locations for EVENING GROSBEAKS. We had approximately 45 at Smith Road and just under 20 at Woodard. Linda also had a Red-breasted Nuthatch at Woodard, but I never got on that bird.
From there, we headed towards Sussex County to try for the BLACK PHOEBE. It had been reported consistently all morning, so we liked our chances. Again, our timing was quite good. The rain had been falling pretty heavily, but it slowed to a soft drizzle not long after we arrived. And, more importantly, the bird was still present. And what a bird it was – I really enjoyed seeing this bird – what a cool little bird. But, this might have been the most challenging bird I’ve ever tried to photograph. The bird was very vocal, which helped track it, but it was also very active. It barely stayed in one place for a second. And the habitat didn’t help; we were shooting through the brush the entire time. It was a really great bird to see, but getting pictures was tough. The BLPH was a lifer for all three of us, so that was exciting!
We made one final stop, at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Winding Waters Trail to try for the SAYS PHOEBE. The bird had not been reported all day, so we left it for our last stop. We walked the trail and saw other birders searching for it. We tried for just under an hour, but unfortunately, our luck had run out. One of the birders, a guy from Long Island, was pretty sure he heard the bird vocalize, this gives me hope that the bird might still be around and was laying low. Just a sliver of hope. Anyways, as Meatloaf says, two out of three ain’t bad. This is especially true when it come to rare birds.
Well, it was an interesting year for sure. I’d changed jobs at the end of 2017, so 2018 was my first full year of birding on a more restricted schedule where most of my birding had to be done on the weekends or in the evenings (and, I only had enough time in the evenings during Daylight Savings Time). I also got a promotion late in the summer, which also took some of my focus away from the birds. I felt like I was not as in touch with the birding world in our area as I had been in previous years; this was alleviated by my birding buds keeping me in the loop, as well as the Mearns Bird Club phone app, which kept the alerts rolling in, even while I was at work (a nice respite!). In spite of the time restrictions, 2018 proved to be my most productive ever in regards to Orange County birds. A lot of things just seemed to fall into place and I had a very lucky birding year and I finished with 228 species on my OC year list.
I had some amazing luck when it came to mammals this year. I was fortunate enough to see and photograph BOBCATS on two occasions, one adult and one kitten. I also went through a time when I felt like I couldn’t walk out the front door without running into a bear. That got a little unnerving after a while. Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I had a wonderful experience seeing the seals in Sandy Hook back in March, during a pelagic trip in November, humpback whales, fin whales, and common dolphins put on quite a show, and late in November I played a hunch and took my camera to work; I found a red fox in the snow that morning.
TOP TEN PHOTOS OF 2018
Every year it’s tough for me to pick out my favorite photos. This year proved to be no different. Looking back over a year of posts, here are the ten photos that speak to me the most:
As always, I’d like to thank some folks at the end of the year. Thanks so much to everyone that reads the blog, and especially those of you that make comments – you have no idea how much they mean to me. And, huge thanks go to the contributors to the blog – Karen Miller, Bill Fiero, and Kent Warner; I hope they will all continue to contribute in 2019. I’d also like to thank all my birding friends out there, with special thanks going to Rob Stone, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, Kyle Dudgeon, John Haas, Karen Miller, Ken McDermott, Kathy Ashman, and Judy Cinquina. Happy New Year everyone, here’s to an exciting and bird-filled 2019!
This morning I finally caught up with my latest nemesis bird, that confounded Winter Wren. Kathy Ashman contacted me yesterday to let me know that she’d seen yet another WIWR on the trail at Glenmere Lake (she has been reporting them there and at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary all fall and winter). I’ve tried for this bird many times, but come up empty each time. This morning, as I walked in the freshly fallen snow, I played a hunch. There is a little off-shoot from the main trail, not far from the pavilion. I’d only walked it one other time but I remembered there was much brushy habitat, the sort that Winter Wrens like. As I walked the trail, I could here some bird activity. I pished and several Black-capped Chickadees and a bunch of Dark-eyed Juncos made their presence known. I continued to pish from time to time and eventually I saw a smaller, darker bird disappear into the brush. I tried to keep track of the bird, but I lost it. Eventually it revealed itself, and sure enough it was a wren. But my looks were brief and I wasn’t sure which wren it was. I waited it out; I was begging that bird (in my mind) to come out into the open, and sure enough it finally did! Winter Wren with pics! It’s my 228th species in Orange County this year, so I was thrilled.
I spent the rest of the day trying for any possible last minute OC birds for the year. I was unsuccessful, but the birding was pretty darn good. At Wickham Lake, I located two LONG-TAILED DUCKS. It was busy on the lake, as 12 (yes at least 12, maybe more!) Bald Eagles were keeping all the birds on their feet. I’ve never seen that many eagles at Wickham Lake before, and I don’t have any explanation for them being there today.
From there, I headed to the Hudson River. Again, I did not pick up any new birds, but I stopped at the Storm King pull off on Route 9W, and the GOLDEN EAGLE was there, on its usual perch. In Newburgh, I sorted through a decent number of gulls, but only came up with the expected species (Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed). The best bird there was a single male Red-breasted Merganser, swimming with a number of Common Mergansers. What a great way to end my birding for 2018! Huge thanks to Kathy for helping me with the Winter Wren.
So, I seem to be ending the year on a high note. I picked up 2 additional Orange County birds for 2018 in the final week of the year: Eastern Screech Owl and Cackling Goose. I’ve been trying for a Cackling Goose for ages; most years I just happen upon one before too long but this year it took 363 days. This has been my most productive December in regards to OC birds – I’ve added 7 species to my county year list this month.
I spent much of the past couple of days running around Orange County in hopes of adding a bird or two to my 2018 list. My most likely candidates are Cackling Goose, which I can’t believe I haven’t had this year, and Winter Wren, which is a bird that apparently hates me very much. I failed at locating either of my targets, and frankly, the birding was not very exciting.
This morning was slightly better than yesterday, and I ended up getting some good looks and decent shots of several raptors. It started early this morning when I had a huge number of Black Vultures in a neighborhood in Warwick, having their way with a road-kill deer. There must have been upwards of 40 Black Vultures, around the carcass, on lawns, and on rooftops. Then, at Wickham Lake, there were 5 Bald Eagles present – 3 adults and 2 young birds. Later, I ran into the leucistic Red-tailed Hawk in Warwick for the first time in absolutely ages. On my way home, I spied a light morph ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK hunting over 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary. It was only my 3rd RLHA of the season, and my first decent look; the bird was kind enough to circle directly overhead.
With raptors on my mind, I decided to head up to the Shawangunk Grasslands in the evening. It was good to see Ken McDermott and also Justin Schmidt, who I hadn’t seen in who-knows-how-long. The place is absolutely loaded with Northern Harriers – it’s hard to put a number on it, but I’d say at least 15 or so. The Short-eared owls came up just as it was getting dark; my best count was 7 of them. They put on pretty good show, in spite of the fading light, and it was really good to see and hear them.
Well, today was quite a day. It started out like any other work day, but it took a bad turn during my commute when I was rear ended on the highway. Traffic had come to a screeching halt; the driver behind me was not quick enough and slammed right into the back of my car and launching my car into the car in front of me. The airbags were deployed, but thankfully I was uninjured. My car, on the other hand, did not fair as well. It was towed away and it looks like it might be totaled.
A little later in the morning, after I’d contacted the insurance companies and made a reservation for a car rental, Kyle Dudgeon offered to pick me up and take me to his house to see the EVENING GROSBEAKS that they’ve been getting there recently. I took him up on the offer, Rob Stone joined us, and fortunately the EVGRs did not disappoint. They were easily heard at first and then we had them in his front yard before the flock of 8 birds settled down to grab a snack at his feeders. This definitely made my day more than just a little less terrible. The EVENING GROSBEAKS were an OC life bird and my 225th species in the county for 2018. Huge thanks to Kyle for the hook up (and the cheer up!).
Judy Cinquina runs the Mount Peter Hawkwatch. She is a fabulous leader and she does an excellent write up at the end of each season. It’s an interesting read for sure and I’ve included a few recent raptor photos which I haven’t had a opportunity to post yet. Thanks so much to Judy for everything she does at the watch and for sharing her report.
MOUNT PETER 2018 by Judith Cinquina
Twenty four days of bad weather shortened the 2018 Mount Peter Hawk Watch to 418 hours between September 1 and November 15, but produced a healthy 8,529 raptors, averaging 20.4 per hour. Highlights of the 74-day count included record Red-shouldered and Cooper’s Hawks, daily records for the Turkey Vulture and Red-shoulder and an encouraging increase in the once common American Kestrel. Results for the N. Harrier, however, remained depressing. Although the Rough-legged Hawk failed to show up for the eighth consecutive season, Golden Eagles and Goshawks sprinkled a bit of glitter on our 61st season.
September seemed a never-ending series of fog, drizzle, rain, heat and weak winds from the wrong direction, yet our 11 volunteer leaders persisted and ticked off 5,071 Broad-winged Hawks, most of them pepper specks at the edge of invisibility. Matt Zeitler drew the best day and counted 1,257 on the 22nd with a light NW wind. October, however, was kinder and graced us with a few record scores and rarities. The 213 Red-shouldered Hawks beat out our old record of 165 from 2012 (90 adult, 21 immature and 102 unknown). Most moved through between October 19 and November 4 on strong NW winds. Just to be contrary, light S winds generated a new daily record of 28 Shoulders on October 26 for Denise Farrell. That wiped out the record 27 scored November 4, 2017 by Matt. This species has gone through low and high seasons for decades, but since 2012 has been on an upward swing. The 508 Red-tailed Hawks was an improvement over last season but a far cry from the record 905 scored in 2003. Nick Bolgiano wrote in the 2012 season’s Hawk Migration Studies –Vol. 38, No. 2 that Red-tails in the Kittatinny Ridge corridor are “short-stopping” or not migrating as far south as their ancestors or not migrating at all. In that same area Christmas Bird Counts have seen an increase in Red-tails. According to Bolgiano, the same thing holds for the no-show Rough-legged Hawks.
The 1,469 Sharp-shinned Hawks was better than the 841 that graced the 2017 season, but remains part of a downward trend in the Northeast. Our only three-digit count was on October 12 with 173 on strong northwest winds. Their cousin the Cooper’s Hawks has been increasing, evidenced by our new record of 176 that squelched the 165 tallied in 2012. This species hit triple digit tallies beginning in 1990 and has been increasing ever since all over the Northeast. The much rarer Goshawk made two appearances this season.Both Ajit Anthony and Will Test bagged immature Goshawks, Ajit on October 17 and Will on November 14, on brisk west and northwest winds. Both Gos provided close views, and Will, who endured below freezing temperatures and howling 20 m/h winds, stated that the sighting warmed him up a bit.
After three seasons of two-digit counts, the American Kestrel bounced back to a three-digit 159 ( 35 male, 27 female, 97 unknown). That’s good news for this little falcon, although it can’t approach the 592 totaled in 1981. Most moved through between October 12 and 24, a very late peak for this species. Denise garnered the best day with 41 on strong NW winds on the 12th, a day that produced many Kestrels all over the Northeast including 5,406 at Cape May. Mount Peter is not a falcon lookout, so the 15 Merlin, although a bit below average, were a treat, especially the three Tom Millard tallied October 30. Peregrines brought in our second best score ever, with 23 noted. The record 26 was made just last season, so this species is on the up-swing after practically disappearing in the 1960’s. Ajit Antony and Bill O’Keefe each scored three Peregrines on September 19 and 30 respectively.
After five mediocre seasons, the Osprey produced a bit of a bounce with 134 noted but the tally remains under our 10-year average. Bill O’Keefe nabbed the best count of 19, September 20 on weak NE winds. The elegant N. Harrier barely made it over our lookout with a mere 35 spotted this fall (3 male, 9 female, 8 immature and 15 unknown). Bald Eagles came in at an above-average 112 (58 adult, 51 immature and 3 unknown). We also had 58 Bald Eagle visitors who weren’t counted and headed north. Sometimes a pair would entertain us, interacting and flirting and distracting us from counting real migrants. Others accompanied true migrants past the platform then headed back north. Matt Zeitler observed 10 on September 29 that weren’t counted, five of them adults flying north together. Six Golden Eagles were shared by leaders this season: 2 adult, 4 immature.Rick Hansen reported a young Golden appeared over the lookout at 8:45 a.m. November 10, sat on the updraft along the west side and stooped into the valley and disappeared. The next day, a young Golden almost slipped by to the east, where trees block our view but was spotted at the last second by Jeanne Cimorelli and Tomorrow Millard.
Turkey Vultures produced their 2nd best tally ever, with 504 counted. Denise Farrell netted the record day with 88 on strong NW winds, October 12. Black Vultures muddled along with 79 tallied. Up to five local Ravens were with us almost daily, and Rick Hansen counted seven migrating past the lookout November 10. A moderate 307 Monarch Butterflies were recorded, along with a mere 13 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Once again, Denise had the big Canada Goose day of 1,884 on October 5. Only 5,081 were counted for the season. Matt had the only Brant with 250 on October 13, and he also scored the most Blue Jays on September 22 with 600 noted. The season produced 1,628. Between September 1 and October 24, we tallied 458 Double-crested Cormorants, including Ken Witkowski’s 417 on September 24. Nine C. Loons were spotted this season heading towards Greenwood Lake. Other birds of interest included:
We can’t thank our friends and visitors enough for their support, especially on high, blue days when even eagles were invisible to the naked eye or overcast days when the wind howled and every migrant shot like an arrow past the watch. A special shout out goes to Bill Connolly, John and Liz Sherry and Rob Stone for their many hours of spotting and company, and a big welcome to new leader JeanneCimorelli. Our 61st count was enriched by all of you.We our indebted to our clean-up crew Denise Farrell, Rick Hansen, Tom Millard and Gabriele Schmitt and to the Fyke Nature Association of Bergen County, NJ who supplied our insurance. Here’s hoping that the NYDEC Region 3 Foresters can do something about the trees that block our view of low migrants to the SE of the platform before next season and that the pot-holed dirt track to our lot can be improved.We our indebted to Fyke for sponsoring our count and to all who supported our site on Hawkcount.org. We continue as the oldest, continually run, all-volunteer fall watch in the country.
This morning Jody Brodsky reported an immature NORTHERN SHRIKE at Kendridge Farm in Cornwall. I was already out birding, but I dropped all my plans and headed straight over. When I arrived, I wandered around a while and then reached out to Jody for more details. Karen Miller, who was doing the Christmas Bird Count with Jody, called me and gave me the low down. I was unable to locate the bird where they had it earlier, but I was waiting it out when Jim Schlickenrieder reported on the Mearns app that he had the bird on the red trail. I hustled over there but missed the bird; it had flown and we were unable to relocate. Jim and his crew left and again I waited in the area where they had last seen it. Finally, I gave up and decided to call it a day. On my way out, in the general area where Jody and Karen had it earlier, I heard a call I did not know. I stopped the car and eventually located the shrike. As soon as I got on the bird, it took flight, chasing a songbird. After a short flight, the shrike perched on the top of another tree and stayed put for a good while. I took photos, which were difficult in today’s light, and I enjoyed fantastic looks in my scope. At one point, while I was watching in the scope, the bird expelled a pellet! It was so awesome! It was a great ending to a day where I thought luck was not on my side. The NORTHERN SHRIKE is OC bird #224 for 2018, that’s 2 county year birds in 2 days – not bad for mid-December! Huge thanks to Jody and her team for locating and reporting the bird.
On Thursday, Bruce Nott found a CANVASBACK at the Newburgh Waterfront. Fortunately the bird stuck around and I saw reports of it while at work on Friday. And even more fortunately, Friday was my work’s Christmas Party, so we got out early. I ran for the bird and it was still present – woohoo! Orange County life bird #254 and OC year bird #223! The bird spent most of it’s time tucked in, but finally, just as it was getting dark, a bunch of gulls made a raucous and the bird finally looked up and I was able to get some grain pics. It made me think – it was this time last year I was trying hard for Canvasback in OC because we had so many just downriver in Rockland County near my work. The bird appeared to be settling in for the night as I left – hopefully it will stick around for a little while so more folks get to see it.
This morning I headed up to Sullivan County. All week John Haas and others had been reporting some really good birds in the Liberty area of SC. I was especially ready for some good birding after a pretty disappointing Saturday birding locally in Orange County. The day was saved by a single bird – a PINE SISKIN at Linda Scrima’s feeding station – thanks so much Linda!
I connected early with John and he met me at Rayano’s feeder station, where I was able to briefly get on a single EVENING GROSBEAK. It was my lifer EVGR, so I was pretty pumped (#415). I snapped a few distant, documentary shots before the bird flushed. And then, while we waited hoping the bird would return, Karen Miller called John to report that she had COMMON REDPOLLS on Clements Road. We raced over (and when I say raced, I mean it – I didn’t know the way and I was trying to keep up with John, who was on a mission! Let’s just say I’m glad I recently got new tires.). Fortunately the birds were still present. We had great looks and I tried for pics but they were just a bit out of range for good ones.
Afterwards, I headed back to Rayano’s, hoping for a better look and maybe some photos of the grosbeaks. Karen joined me, as did a trio of birders from Rockland County as well as Ken McDermott and Lisa O’Gorman. We all waited for a good while and I was the first to leave. I figured I’d check the feeders at Woodard Road before heading back, and I’m glad I did. When I arrived there were nearly a dozen EVENING GROSBEAKS at the feeder station. I put out the word and then took photos. The whole crew from Rayano’s joined me, but unfortunately the birds flushed just as they pulled up. I couldn’t believe it! I waited a little while, but the birds did not seem like they were coming back any time soon so I left. Ken notified me later that 16 EVGRs showed up not too long after I left and everyone got them. Excellent day of birding!