I got out this morning and hit several southern Orange County lakes – Glenmere, Wickham, Greenwood, Walton, and Round. These days I have several birds on my mind that I’m hoping for: Loons, Long-tailed Ducks, Scoters, Grebes, Caspian Tern, and Bonaparte’s Gull. I did well with Common Loons, finding them at 3 locations – Wickham, Greenwood, and Walton Lakes. Besides that, the only success I had was 2 Horned Grebes at Wickham Lake, in beautiful breeding plumage (boy do I wish those birds were closer to shore!). I also made a brief stop in the black dirt, hoping for shorebirds (I’d had 30+ Wilson’s Snipe and several Killdeer at Lynch Avenue a couple of times earlier this week – birds originally located by Bruce Nott, I believe). It was a gorgeous but relatively uneventful morning of birding; I did, however, manage to get a few shots.
Today was an interesting day for me. I had plans to play my first round of golf of the year at 10 am, so I got up early and made stops at both Glenmere Lake and Wickham Lake. Glenmere had a good number of waterfowl present – mostly Buffleheads and Ring-necked Ducks. My best bird there was a Red-necked Grebe, I’m not sure if this is the same bird that’s been there for a while or if it’s a new bird. At Wickham the birds were a little more sparse, but I did have an up close Horned Grebe as well as 2 distant birds that I believe were Red-necked Grebes. The distance, backlighting, and fog prevented a definitive ID; I wanted to get back this evening, but I never made it (see below).
After golf, I stopped by the Newburgh on my way home. I birded Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point, and I made several stops along the Newburgh Waterfront. Unfortunately, I found way more people than birds, so I scrammed. I made a quick stop at Lake Washington, where I found a dozen scaup way out in the lake. They were all tucked in, but from what I could tell, they looked like Lesser Scaup. From there I headed to Brown’s Pond. I was going to just make a quick stop, but the birding was good enough that I stayed for a good while (preventing me from getting back to Wickham Lake). There was a beautiful Horned Grebe in breeding plumage – distant but I enjoyed some incredible scope views of that bird. I had 9 species of waterfowl, but it was the Bald Eagles that stole the show. There was a trio of young Bald Eagles flying around the lake; I saw one fishing, but mostly they seemed to be enjoying terrorizing the ducks and tangling with one anther. I sat on a bank and enjoyed the show; taking pictures whenever they came close enough.
The highlight of the weekend was, of course, the Yellow-headed Blackbird on Saturday in the black dirt. But, I did a bunch of running around all weekend and had some pretty good birds. Here’s some highlights by day:
Saturday: I had both a Red-necked Grebe and a Horned Grebe at Glenmere Lake. At Laurel Grove Cemetery, I had my first Orange County Tree Swallows of year; I watched a group of approximately 20 feeding on the river. The best stop of the day, however, was at the Westtown Pond on Route 284, where I had 8 species of waterfowl (including a Common Goldeneye) and in the field across the street – 25+ Killdeer and my FOY Wilson’s Snipe.
Sunday: I made a tour of many of the lakes in southern Orange County (Glenmere, Wickham, Greenwood, Sterling, Blue, Walton, and Tomahawk) as well as whatever small ponds I saw along the way. I had a total of 16 species of waterfowl:
- Canada Goose
- Mute Swan
- Wood Duck
- American Wigeon
- Green-winged Teal
- Greater Scaup (Round Lake)
- Ring-necked Duck
- Common Goldeneye (Glenmere Lake & Round Lake)
- Hooded Merganser
- Common Merganser
- Horned Grebe (Glenmere and Greenwood Lake)
- Red-necked Grebe (Glenmere)
- Double-crested Cormorant
I don’t know if I have premonitions or if I just think this way all the time and when it happens it becomes a premonition in my mind, but I was sorting through a flock of mixed blackbirds on Lynch Avenue in the black dirt this afternoon and I suddenly thought that I was going to see a YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD. As immediately as I had the thought, bam! there was a Yellow-headed Blackbird in my binoculars! I couldn’t believe my eyes!
After initially freaking out, I quickly grabbed my camera and took some quick shots through my passenger side window. I put the word out, and of course as soon as I did that, the flock picked up and relocated across the street in a small patch of woods. I relocated the bird three times as the flock shifted and moved through the woods, but by the time anyone showed up I’d lost track of the bird. Maria Loukeris, Karen Miller, and John Haas were the first birders to arrive. We staked out the area initially, but then a large number of the birds took off and headed south and WAY out into the fields. By the time Bruce Nott and Rick Hansen showed up, we were dividing up and driving around looking. Bruce located a large flock, very distant, at the south end of Lynch and everyone eventually joined him, as did Gail Benson and Tom Burke. And it was Bruce who finally relocated the bird (way to go Bruce!) – in the center of a tree way across the field. Everyone present got on the bird and everyone was really excited about this bird! John was thrilled because YHBL has been an OC nemesis bird for him for quite some time. Rick told me it was a lifer for him. I’m sure for others it was either a county bird or a state bird; for me it was both (I’d gotten my lifer in Colorado a few years back). What a great birding experience, I was so happy that Bruce relocated it and that other birders also got to enjoy the bird.
This morning Maria Loukeris and I headed to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Morris County, NJ. Maria had some business to attend to in the area and we birded the refuge beforehand. We mostly drove around from spot to spot, but we did walk the trails briefly as well. We had a total of 25 species during our visit; four were first of year (FOY) birds for me: Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee, Tree Swallow, and my favorite bird of the morning, RUSTY BLACKBIRD.
In the afternoon I birded three local lakes: Greenwood Lake, Wickham Lake, and Glenmere Lake. Wickham was far and away the best stop; I had 8 species of waterfowl, including over 200 Common Mergansers, a single Red-breasted Merganser drake, and an up close look at a beautiful little HORNED GREBE. At Glenmere, the RED-NECKED GREBE continues but was so far out I didn’t even take documentary photos. For the day I had a total of 37 species. I’ve included a list of all the birds with locations at the bottom of this post.
Here’s my list of species for the day, with locations (Great Swamp = GS. Wickham Lake = WL, Greenwood Lake = GRL, and Glenmere Lake = GLL).
- Canada Goose (all locations)
- Mute Swan (WL, GRL, GLL)
- Wood Duck (GS, WL)
- Mallard (GS, GLL)
- Gadwall (GLL – small pond up the road)
- American Black Duck (GS, GLL)
- Bufflehead (GRL, WL, GLL)
- Ring-necked Duck (WL, GLL)
- Hooded Merganser (GRL, WL, GLL)
- Common Merganser (GRL, WL, GLL)
- RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (WL)
- HORNED GREBE (WL)
- RED-NECKED GREBE (GLL)
- Ring-billed Gull (GRL, WL, GLL)
- Herring Gull (WL)
- Turkey Vulture (GS, WL)
- Bald Eagle (GS, WL)
- Red-tailed Hawk (GS, WL)
- Sharp-shinned Hawk (on the road, Sussex Co.)
- Red-bellied Woodpecker (GS)
- Blue Jay (GS, GLL)
- American Crow (GS, WL)
- Fish Crow (GRL)
- Common Raven (WL)
- Tree Swallow (GS)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (GS)
- Tufted Titmouse (GS)
- Eastern Bluebird (GS)
- American Robin (GS, WL)
- European Starling (GS)
- Dark-eyed Junco (GS)
- Song Sparrow (GS)
- Eastern Towhee (GS)
- American Tree Sparrow (WL)
- Red-winged Blackbird (GS, WL, GLL)
- RUSTY BLACKBIRD (GS)
- Common Grackle (GS, WL)
With the beginning of Daylight Savings Time over the weekend, I’ve finally been able to get some after work evening birding in this week. Tonight I stopped at Greenwood Lake and had a really great night of birding. I did really well with waterfowl, with 9 species:
- Canada Goose
- Mute Swan
- Lesser Scaup
- Greater Scaup
- Hooded Merganser
- Common Merganser
- Common Goldeneye
The real highlight came when I located a gull with darker gray coloring. The bird was out on the ice and quite distant, but I was thinking it looked good for a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. At the distance and the low light (it was getting late), I could not pick up the coloring on the legs. But, the size looked good to me and the head was smudgy. Rob Stone ran to join me, but as fate would have it, the bird flew literally just as he put his eye to my spotting scope. When I got home, I reviewed my pics and became more convinced that is was a Lesser Black-backed Gull; it looked to me like it might be a 2nd year with a dark bill tip as seen in The Crossley Guide. I emailed the photos to John Haas, he reviewed them and agreed with my ID! That’s a good bird for the county! And it’s great to be out during the week again!
There were some good birds reported locally this week, so that gave me some targets for today. At first light I headed over to Glenmere Lake to try for the Red-necked Grebe that Kathy Ashman located yesterday, and fortunately bird was still present. Kathy also showed up, and the bird put on a pretty good show as it tried to swallow a fish that was just way too large. Eventually a Ring-billed Gull swooped in and stole the fish, putting a halt to the grebes attempts. Glenmere is one of the few lakes with open water in the county, and including the grebe, I had 10 species of waterfowl: Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallards, American Wigeons, Ring-necked Ducks, and 2 COMMON GOLDENEYES.
I then cruised the black dirt for a while – I had several large groups of Canada Geese, maybe around 5,000 total, I sifted through them all and unfortunately did not located any other species. I did alright for raptors; I had my first Sharp-shinned Hawk in the count for the year, several Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, an American Kestrel on a wire, and I got some decent shots of a Rough-legged Hawk.
My next move was to head north to Ulster County to try for the Ross’s Goose that had been reported all week. I tried Bates Lane at Blue Chip Farms first, and I got lucky as another birder, Neil from the Schenectady was already on the bird when I arrived. He gave me a look in his scope, as the bird was at quite a distance, and I tried to get some documentary shots of the bird. It’s always good to see a Ross’s, and this bird is just the perfect beautiful example of the species. I made a quick stop at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, since I was so close, in spite of the parking lot being full of cars (at just after noon!) there were not many birds flying and I had only a single Turkey Vulture in the distance.
I had planned to head over to Cornwall to try for the Lesser Black-backed Gull that Bruce Nott found yesterday, but I ran out of time. I may try for that bird tomorrow. What a satisfying day of birding, I feel like we are on the verge of some really good birding in our area.
I got a good look at several Ring-necked Ducks at Glenmere Lake just after sunrise this morning. Glenmere is not typically a good place for photographing waterfowl from the shore, especially first thing in the morning as the view generally looks southeast, creating a severely backlit situation if there is a clear sunrise. This morning, however, these Ring-necked Ducks were located in a little cove of sorts along the shore. I positioned myself behind a tree and shot them with the sun just off my left shoulder; it was nice surprise to get some decent shots with nice light.
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!