Right now, the Bashakill is officially the hottest hotspot in the area. When John Haas reported a TUNDRA SWAN at Haven Road early this morning, I knew that if the bird stuck around, I would run for it after work. I got word as I left work that the bird was still present, so I headed towards the Bash. When I arrived, Ken McDermott was on the bird, which was out quite a ways foraging in the vegetation on the northeast side of Haven Road. Lance Verderame and Matt Price joined us shortly after and we enjoyed good scope views as the bird was in perfect light. Ken and I decided to drive out to the Stop Sign Trail to try to get a better look; we were successful and we got a much closer look at the bird, which looked amazing in Ken’s scope (but was unfortunately backlit for photos). It’s a great time of year – things are happening in the birding world and I’m totally loving the time change and the longer days which are allowing me to finally do some quality birding after work again.
This morning I took Kyle Dudgeon up on his offer to help him count migrating raptors up in Broome County, NY. He had been seeing decent numbers of Golden Eagles recently, so I was hoping today would be more of the same. Almost immediately upon exiting the highway, I came upon a pair of Bald Eagles perched together over Oquaga Creek. I took this as a good sign, and I wasn’t wrong. Through the morning and into the early afternoon, we saw many Bald Eagles; it was tough to keep a count because the birds kept coming and going. Most were locals, but we did have a group of four adult birds migrate through. Three of the birds were flying quite close together; flying almost in formation, which is something I’ve never seen before:
It may sound odd, but all the Bald Eagles ended up being among the least exciting parts of the day. Early on we had an adult GOLDEN EAGLE migrate through; very high. Shortly after that, we had a single young Golden Eagle, a local, make a brief, distant appearance before disappearing behind a distant ridge. Then, Kyle was looking through his scope and said “you gotta get on this bird”. Following his directions, I got on the bird quickly. I knew as soon as I saw the bird what it was – a NORTHERN GOSHAWK! My immediate impression was a massive accipiter with powerful wingbeats. We followed in our scopes as the bird followed the ridge off to our right. At one point it seemed to buzz a perched eagle. I was excited when the light caught the bird nicely on its topside, showing the blue hue of an adult bird – I was was flipping out! The bird eventually disappeared into the trees and we did not see it again. We had one final bit of excitement – not one, but two young GOLDEN EAGLES perched in a snag on a distant ridge. One bird took flight and started buzzing the perched bird; this went on for ages! Eventually, the buzzing bird left the perched bird and worked its way up the ridge to our left, finally got close enough for some documentary photos. What a great day of hawk watching! I can’t thank Kyle enough for the invite.
I headed to Port Jervis early this morning to hit some of my usual spots in that area: Laurel Grove Cemetery, Reservoir 1, Reservoir 3, and Eagle’s Nest. It was a nice morning to be out: it was blustery, cold, and sunny; my eyes watered throughout the morning; fogging up my binoculars regularly and by morning’s end, my crow’s feet to become salty and crusty. It was a birdy morning, with enough activity at each spot to keep me busy. My best stop was at Reservoir 3, where I had a pair of Brown Creepers and three Golden-crowned Kinglets. I struggled with a somewhat accommodating kinglet, but I was happy to get a halfway decent creeper shot; that’s a bird that I’ve struggled to get good pics. For the morning I had a total of 33 species. I haven’t included a full species list in a while, so see today’s list below.
The Lapland Longspur is another bird that, to me, has an inherent coolness factor. Even the name is cool. I can remember when I first began birding, looking in a guide at the Lapland Longspur and thinking: Now THIS is a bird I would like to see. Of course, I was looking in the book at the bird in breeding plumage- rather than the more muted winter plumage we see them in here in Orange County. I hadn’t had much luck photographing LALOs this winter until today in the black dirt, where I located approximately a half dozen amongst flock of horned larks. The snow cover was forcing the birds to feed at the roadside, so I finally got my photo op. And, at this late date in the winter, some of the birds were just starting to get their summer colors – it’s the first time I’ve ever had LALOs showing any significant amount of breeding plumage – I think they look awesome!
Well, as we all know, timing is crucial when it comes to birding. This week my timing went from poor to excellent. It initially looked to me like I might miss out on seeing the EURASIAN WIGEON that John Haas located on Thursday. Instead, the bird stuck around and when I arrived first thing this morning, it was relatively close to the road and the light was beautiful! I was very excited about this. Wilma Amthor joined me shortly after my arrival, and shortly after that we had a small crowd of birders on the bird, including Diane Bliss, Karen Miller, Scotty Baldinger, Kevin Kreischer, and of course, John. It’s been several years since I’ve seen a Eurasian Wigeon (2014), and I’d forgotten what an absolutely gorgeous bird it is. Additionally, this is my first time seeing the bird in New York State.
I spent the remainder of the morning and the early afternoon at the Bashakill and every bird was a year bird for the county since it was my first birding foray into Sullivan County for 2018. I was happy that John offered for me to join him to check out the Pine Boat Launch; my car never would have made it down that treacherous pothole-filled road. John also gave a tip to go to the Horseshoe Pulloff for a Winter Wren. The bird was exactly where he said it would be; it was singing but never made an appearance. I managed to get 2 Orange County nemeses birds today: Winter Wren and Fox Sparrow, and I totaled 40 species for the day, which I felt was pretty good. Huge thanks to John for finding and reporting the wigeon, and also for his help and company today.
I was pretty psyched when recently the Turkey Vultures began roosting in our backyard again. It’s so exciting to get home from work in the evenings and have a tree full of vultures on the property. Even better, today came home early to find them all hunkered down to get through the snow storm. I’m not sure how excited others would get at having them in their yard, but I love it. They made my day today.
For the most part, I birded Orange County this weekend (the exception being a brief excursion to Dutchess County for a beautiful ICELAND GULL). I was optimistic about the possibility of some interesting waterfowl on Saturday morning after the Nor’easter came through on Friday. I was mostly disappointed, I ran around much of southern Orange County and my best birds were 5 Common Goldeneye at Glenmere Lake. But, then birding bud Bruce Nott saved the day; he had located three RED-NECKED GREBES at Orange Lake. I ran for the birds, joining Ken McDermott who had just arrived. We got on the birds relatively quickly in our scopes, first a single bird, then two, and finally three RNGR in a single scope view! Unfortunately, the birds were positively miles out. Technically, I was able to get photos of them, but they are horrible, barely identifiable. On that same note, you can probably tell from this post, it was a terrible weekend for photos (with the wonderful exception of the ICGU in Beacon).
On Sunday morning I checked Glenmere and Wickham Lakes but had nothing of note. I then decided to walk the Liberty Loop to try and relocate the Eurasian Wigeon that had been reported there. I had no luck with the wigeon, but the refuge is still loaded with waterfowl. Pintails stole the show; they were numerous and flying to and fro for the duration of my walk. Other waterfowl present included: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Amer. Black Duck, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Ducks, and my first Northern Shovelers of the year. It was a pleasant walk with plenty of birds around, but mostly the usuals. Winter raptors are still hanging in; I saw several Northern Harriers and a had single Rough-legged Hawk hover-hunting in the distance. The only other bird of note was a pair of Swamp Sparrows, my first of the year. I made one final stop at the Citgo Pond; it was relatively uneventful with approximately 30 Ring-necked Ducks being the highlight.
Well, it was an interesting birding weekend, that’s for sure. Things are happening and birds are on the move, particularly waterfowl. Things got started on Friday afternoon, when Rob Stone located over 60(!) REDHEADS in a small pond on Breeze Hill Road in New Hampton. I was unable to get there before sundown, but apparently several local birders were able to. I’ve only had Redheads one time in Orange County, and to get over sixty must have been amazing.
On Saturday, I was at Breeze Hill Road at sunrise but the birds had already moved on (there was just one lonely Ring-necked Duck left!). I made the rounds hitting several OC ponds and lakes; I had a total of 12 different species of waterfowl:
GLENMERE LAKE & POND: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Wood Duck, Mallard, Amer. Black Duck, GREATER SCAUP, Bufflehead, and Hooded Merganser.
WICKHAM LAKE: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Bufflehead, Gadwall, American Wigeon, GREATER SCAUP, Ring-necked Duck, and Common Merganser.
GREENWOOD LAKE: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Amer. Wigeon, and Common Merganser.
INDIAN KILL RESERVOIR: Canada Goose and Common Merganser.
Common Mergansers were the bird of the day; there were easily over 200 at Wickham Lake and maybe another hundred or so at Greenwood Lake. Sterling Lake was nearly 100% still frozen over, which was surprising to me.
In the afternoon, I decided to try for the Black-headed Gull that has been reported at Five Island Park in Westchester County. I had no luck with the gull, but I did well with waterfowl, tallying 14 species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Amer. Black Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, RED-THROATED LOON, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Great Cormorant, and a skein of over 100 TUNDRA SWANS! I had pulled off the road to get a look at a falcon in flight (by the time I pulled over the bird was out of view). Searching for the falcon, I saw a large skein of birds. I first figured Canada Geese – but no, they were white. My mind went immediately to Snow Geese and I took a few quick pics and jumped back in my car; I was blocking someone in where I had stopped. It wasn’t until I got home an looked at the pics that I realized they were swans. I reached out to John Haas and Rob Stone and both indicated Tundra were likely. Then I put it on NY Birders/Facebook and learned through that post that there was huge Tundra Swan movement yesterday.
On Sunday morning I made the rounds in the black dirt, hoping that maybe some Tundra Swans had put down there. Unfortunately, I did not have any luck with the TUSWs. I did have four swans fly and land out in Liberty Marsh, which prompted me to walk the Liberty Loop in the rain. I only found Mute Swans, but the refuge is full of ducks right now and most seem to be Northern Pintails. I checked Glenmere and Wickham but there were no new birds at either location. On my way out of Wickham, I had over 500 gulls in a field. I sorted through them, hoping for something good, I found 494 Ring-billed Gulls and 6 Herring Gulls. Interestingly, one of the RBGUs that I photographed had been banded with a silver band. In my pics I could only make out part of the writing: WH…. LAUR… 794…. I can’t remember seeing a gull banded before, so I thought that was interesting.
On a final note, I want to mention that Kathy Ashman had a pair of Northern Goshawks at what I call Glenmere Pond (the small pond just up the road from Glenmere Lake). Heartbreakingly, I was with her at the pond but left just a few minutes too soon and missed the birds. Congrats to Kathy, that’s a great OC bird, I look forward to getting one someday…
Until I started writing this post, I was feeling like my weekend of birding was a little bit on the hum-drum side. But looking back, I actually had some pretty good birds over the weekend, even if it wasn’t overly exciting. On Saturday morning, I made a quick stop at Glenmere Lake, following up on a report from Kathy Ashman of a Cackling Goose on the lake. When I arrived, nearly all the geese, including the Cackler, had already flown. The stop was still worthwhile, however, since I was able to see my first Green-winged Teals, Wood Duck, and Northern Pintails of the year. Then, I ventured back to the Hudson River, spending most of the day working my way from the Bear Mountain Bridge up to Newburgh and getting mostly the usuals. I went to Storm King State Park again, hoping the Golden Eagle would be present, but unfortunately it was not. I walked the trail for a good while, hoping that the bird might make an appearance; if it did I, missed it. There were many raptors in flight over the mountain, however; I had several Bald Eagles, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, nearly 2 dozen Black Vultures and a couple of Turkey Vultures. I ended the day in the Newburgh Waterfront area, hoping for any interesting gulls. I struck out with the gulls, but thanks to birding bud Bruce Nott, I did get my first Orange County RED-BREASTED MERGANSER of 2018.
I got out a little later than I should have on Sunday morning and missed the majority of the geese at Glenmere Lake once again. It was a good stop though, I picked up my first OC Ring-necked Ducks of the year and also had a female Red-breasted Merganser. I cruised the black dirt afterwards, hoping that the overnight snow would push some larks and buntings out to the roads. This proved not to be the case and I actually had very few Horned Larks in my travel (just 2 flocks totaling approximately 70 birds). The highlight of my morning was watching the large flocks of mixed blackbirds (Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Common Grackles). There is something about large flocks of birds, watching them and hearing them is just fascinating. I tried for some pics, but mostly I was disappointed with the results. I ended the day with a nice, low-flying Bald Eagle which provided a decent photo op.