We’ve had some decent shorebirds in the county this week. It started with some post-tropical storm Isaiah puddling at Turtle Bay Road. Right after the storm, Linda Scrima was on the scene and located a SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER as well as: 3 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 3 Pectoral Sandpipers, 4 Least Sandpipers, 3 Semipalmated Plovers, a Spotted Sandpiper, and of course a bunch of Killdeer. Not a bad haul! A couple of days afterwards, I finally made it over, and fortunately the dowitcher had stuck around, as did the Semipalmated Plovers. Turtle Bay continues up to today as pretty much the only good shorebird spot that I know of in southern part of the county, and although the SB Dowitcher has moved on, I had as many as 8 Pectoral Sandpipers over the weekend. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts, as the spot is getting dryer by the day. Meanwhile, Beaver Pond and the Camel Farm appear to have water levels too high for optimum conditions. I haven’t been out to Citgo Pond, but I’m assuming the same holds true there. Let’s hope they dry up enough for good conditions soon.
Three BLACK TERNS were reported at Wallkill River NWR’s Liberty Loop on Friday by birding bud Maria Loukeris. I couldn’t make it out Friday after work, but tried for them on Saturday morning, fully convinced that they would be gone. But!, luckily one of them hung in there for me; as I walked the east side of the loop a woman who did not appear to be a birder told me it was in the back pond.
Black Tern is a really cool bird, and I enjoyed observing and trying to photograph this bird, which I believe was an adult in non-breeding plumage. Unfortunately, Black Tern is a photo-nemesis bird for me. I don’t know what it is, but in spite of seeing this species at least a half dozen times now, I just can’t get a good photo. One thing that hit home yesterday was that it’s a small tern. I realized it because as the bird fed, there were swallows giving it the business the entire time. It’s the smallest tern we get in the our area, listed in Sibley as a mere 9.75″. Compare that to 12″ and 13″ inches for Common and Forster’s Tern respectively, and a whopping 21″ for Caspian Tern. Add to that an erratic flight while feeding, and the bird is tough to pick up and get into focus in the camera. That said, I’ve had the species perched and still the pics were not great. One day I’ll get a goodie.
QUICK POST: Today would have been a good day to get out of work early. As it was, I had a hellacious work day and ended up working pretty late. I did make it out the Newburgh Waterfront in time for one darn good bird late in the evening: a hatch year LAUGHING GULL. The bird was hanging out with a number of Ring-billed Gulls on the docks by Blue Pointe restaurant. Earlier in the evening, I missed some good birds. Rob Stone had two SOOTY TERNS fly south along the river, as well as another unidentified tern. Also, Bruce Nott, after putting in a lot of time at the river, went to Washington Lake and located a Common/Forster’s Tern there. And finally, while not not on the river, Linda Scrima had a Short-billed Dowitcher in the puddles at Turtle Bay. Once again, bad weather = good birds.
Since returning from Maine, work has been busy, and I’ve also been busy with projects at home. So, while I’ve gotten out a fair bit, I haven’t really had time to look at photos or do any posts.
The big news this week was on Thursday, when Bruce Nott finding an adult LITTLE BLUE HERON at Beaver Pond on Pines Hill Road in Chester. I ran for the bird on my lunch hour and was able to get a brief, distant look. I got better looks (not much) yesterday; I’ve included a severely backlit and distant photo of the bird at the bottom of this post.
Other than that, for me it’s been mostly more of the usuals. Shorebirds are on the move, but it’s usually tough to get good shorebird shots in Orange County. In the last couple of days, I’ve had the following shorebirds:
- Citgo Pond: Least Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer.
- Beaver Pond: Least Sandpipers, Solitary Sandpipers, Killdeer, and Semipalmated Plovers.
- Camel Farm: Lesser Yellowlegs and Killdeer.
- Skinner’s Lane: Killdeer.
I’ve also include some shots from Maine, where Red-breasted Nuthatches and Hermit Thrushes were pretty easy to come by. I also had a nice pile of harbor seals loafing on the rocks at Porter Preserve and Roberts Wharf.
Tricia and I spent the past week on vacation in East Boothbay, Maine. On Monday, we went on a Puffin Watch cruise to Eastern Egg Rock Island. The watch is run by Hardy Boat Cruises, and we headed out on the Hardy III from their dock located in New Harbor. The watch is only 1 1/2 hours long, but because Eastern Egg Rock is only five miles out, most of the time is spent viewing the birds.
I wasn’t sure if they would be operating due to Covid-19, but fortunately they were. As a precaution, they were only filling the boat to 43% capacity, and masks were mandatory, so that made me comfortable with going. Plus, puffins. The watch we attended was not sold out, so we ran at less than 43%, which allowed for ample social distancing. My one complaint is that they start at noon, which is the worst time of the day for photos. If the demand calls for it, they will do a second watch in the evening, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case while we were there. And, it was a hot, bright, sunny day. But, I was happy with my photos in spite of the harsh light.
The Atlantic Puffins, of course, stole the show. The island now has 188 breeding pairs of puffins on it. As we neared the island, it became apparent how numerous the puffins were; they were on the island, in the water, and flying through the air. It’s always exciting to see puffins, and to have so many around us was awesome. I was clicking away, hoping to get some decent shots and hoping that my settings were okay for the harsh sun.
Also breeding on the island are Black Guillemots and 3 three species of terns: Common, Arctic, and Roseate. I enjoyed the Black Guillemots; they were regularly zipping past the boat in quick direct flights. I did terribly with tern photos and tern identification – it’s hard when things are happening so quickly and plus I was mostly focused on the puffins. We went on the same watch back in 2014, and at that time they had an Audubon Naturalists on board who were able to easily ID the terns in flight and point them out. This year, due to Covid-19, that wasn’t the case, so I struggled. I tried to take as many photos of terns as I could, but all my shots appear to be Commons except one Arctic. In lieu of the naturalist, the Captain narrated the watch. He was knowledgeable and he was able to maneuver the boat deftly even though we had high winds and it was quite lumpy. At one point he was explaining how Great Black-backed Gulls were the number one puffin predator, and just as he finished saying it, a Great Black-backed Gull snatched up a Common Eider duckling, only to be chased off by a ferocious mother eider.
This was by far my best experience with Atlantic Puffins to date. In 2014 we had a more diverse species list, but the dense fog made for tough viewing once we got out to Eastern Egg Rock Island. I believe the puffins on EER are the southernmost breeding Atlantic Puffins and for many of us the best chance to see these wonderful birds. If you are heading up to Maine, definitely put this watch on your list.
The weekend wasn’t very exciting compared to Friday. I went to the Hudson River early on Saturday morning and met up with Bruce Nott and then Karen Miller joined us a little later. Bruce and I had 3 distant Caspian Terns and the three of us had another unidentifiable distant tern after that. This morning I went to Goosepond Mountain SP to do some atlasing. I did well and confirmed 4 additional species (Baltimore Oriole, Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and one that really made my day – Blue-winged Warbler). I have had rotten luck with photos at that place. I was close to having several opportunities with Blue-winged Warbler and Worm-eating Warbler, but the birds, while close, just never showed well. Anyways, here are some shots from the week.
I have to thank birding bud Maria Loukeris. This morning she forwarded a Birdcast email about Tropical Storm Fay. At that point, the storm wasn’t even on my radar, but I soon learned that Fay was forecasted to pass right through our area this afternoon and into the night. With that in mind, I headed over to the Hudson River after work, hoping the storm would bring in some interesting birds.
My first stop was at Plum Point, where I used the pavilion to stay dry and still be able to scan the river. After about forty minutes or so, I had an interesting gull fly by. UPDATE 07/11/20: The ID of the interesting gull in question has been corrected; the bird is not a Laughing Gull but rather a FRANKLIN’S GULL! I was up early and out at the Hudson River when John Haas gave me a call. He was looking at the photos on the blog (rather than an iPhone shot of the back of my camera), and he was having his doubts about the bird being a Laughing, and that he was leaning towards it more likely being a Franklin’s. He wasn’t very familiar with the bird in this plumage, but he mentioned the white tips on the primaries, as well as the more extensive white on the nape. A little later, Richard Guthrie reported on the Mearns app that the bird was in fact a Franklin’s Gull. I’m going to go back now and look at my photos vs the books and see what I can learn. The good news for me is that the FRGU is a life bird for me, number 422 worldwide!
My plan was to just bird from Plum Point, and then head home. But, I got some more help, this time from Rob Stone. He said I should definitely head over to the Newburgh Waterfront before heading home. There was a break in the weather, so I decided to do just that. Before I left , though, I also had an Osprey, which I thought was interesting.
At the riverfront, shortly after my arrival I located a tern flying high overhead. I actually wasn’t sure what kind of tern it was, I guess I was kind of freaking out and I was taking photos in an effort to document. The bird stayed at a pretty good height and eventually disappeared from view, heading south along the river. Looking at photos afterwards, it became clear that it was a CASPIAN TERN. I’m surprised I didn’t get the ID right away, but that’s how it goes sometimes. What a night! And, with the storm continuing through tonight, I’ll be back at the river at first light, hoping for more goodies.
I did a lot of hiking this holiday weekend; I walked a total of around 15 miles in the three mornings. I love hiking this time of year, it’s fun to cover a lot of ground as you never know what you will come across. Highlights included Acadian Flycatcher at two locations in Sterling Forest State Park: the Appalachian Trail near Little Dam Lake, and on the Sterling Loop trail. Also on Sterling Valley Loop trail, I saw my second ever Five-lined Skink this morning. It was a little too quick for me to get a photo, but click here to see the one I had at Silver Mine Lake last year.
The AT near Little Dam Lake was a nice surprise, it’s a beautiful hike with nice views of the lake, and it’s quite birdy. I had a close encounter with a Red-shouldered Hawk there – I was looking out over the lake and the bird flew past my right shoulder, very close, I don’t think it knows about social distancing. And just beyond the lake, there is a rise in elevation, and I had a singing Hermit Thrush there, which was nice.
The only thing I don’t like about hiking – it’s not very productive for photos. Most of the trails I was on are through relatively dense woods, so the light is terrible (see Acadian Flycatcher, below). Plus, the birds aren’t numerous, nor are they close to the trail very often. Still, a bad day on the trail beats any day in the office.
I inadvertently made a really good choice of places to bird this morning.I was tired from the week, and a little uninspired, so I ended up sleeping in a little late for me (7:30), especially for a hot summer day when it’s good to bird early to beat the heat. I dragged my self out of bed and and made a coffee. Then I decided to head over to the Mongaup River Trail just outside of Port Jervis. I hadn’t been there in a while, and I remembered that it was a pretty good spot for summer birding.
What I didn’t remember is that it’s also a very cool (temperature-wise) place to bird. The sun doesn’t get up over the ridge to the east of the trail until a little later, plus it’s just nice and cool walking along the river. The trail winds alongside the Mongaup River for just over a mile and a quarter, ending at a small cemetery in the woods.
It was a nice cool walk, not exceptionally birdy, but still enough birds to keep me interested. I’d forgotten how loud the river can be, especially at the beginning of the trail, making pretty difficult to hear the birds. I had a modest total of 26 species for the morning. There were a couple of birds I was surprised to have missed: Louisiana Waterthrush and Northern Parula. I don’t think I’ve ever been there in the summer and not gotten both species.
The highlight of the day was having a Common Merganser family swim up to where I was birding on the shore. I was hoping to see Common Mergansers, but every other time I’ve been there, the birds were very aware and kept their distance. Maybe it was because I was standing still for a good while, so they weren’t aware of my presence. They swam up river, feeding as they went. Then they stopped and climbed on some rocks and began preening and then eventually took a little snooze. I sat on the shore, trying to stay motionless other than taking photos, while they did their thing less than 45 feet away, seemingly oblivious to me.
On the way back, I found a secondary trail that I’d never noticed before. It doubled back the way I had come, at first climbing up and then flattening out and continuing parallel to the lower trail and the river. I added a few species to my list, and it was just nice to explore a new trail.
I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks – it’s not that I haven’t gotten out, it’s just that time of year where the birds are basically all expected breeding species, doing their thing, so there’s not as much excitement (at least not locally). Still, I’ve enjoyed getting out, taken some hikes, and continued atlasing in my priority block. I struggled last week to get many post-worthy photos, but I did a little bit better this week.