Every once in a while, my best bird isn’t a bird at all. I spent the afternoon after work today birding at Goosepond South, a spot that I’ve never been to before. Towards the end of an uneventful and not overly birdy hike, I came upon this mink and it made my day. I’ve never really caught more than a glimpse of a mink, but in this case I was sitting still for quite some time and the mink did not appear to know I was there and appeared on the far shore of the stream. It then actually swam closer to me before disappearing into the grasses on the near side of the stream’s edge.
Wow, what a night at the Camel Farm! I went out to check for shorebirds after work; I was not feeling optimistic but wanted to just check just to see if anything was going on. Surprisingly, there was a good number of shorebirds present. Shortly after I began scanning the big pond, I located a single RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, followed shortly after by a second one! I was completely freaking out and I put the word out. Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, Karen Miller, John Haas, and Scotty Baldinger all joined me and we had what we considered quite a good list of shorebirds…
RED-NECK PHALAROPE (2)
Least Sandpiper (3)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (2)
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (6!)
Spotted Sandpiper (1)
Lesser Yellowlegs (1)
…until Rob Stone called me later this evening, just before it started getting dark, and amazingly added a WILSON’S PHALAROPE, a Dunlin, and three Short-billed Dowitchers! What an incredible night for OC shorebirds! I’m floored by it, and I’m trying to figure out a way to get out and check on the these birds first thing in the morning, especially the WIPH, I’d love to get a look at that bird!
After work today, I was finally going to make it out to Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge after work today to go for the DICKCISSEL that has been seen there in recent days. Little did I know that today would be an extra lucky day for me.
As I headed out towards the south blind, where the Dickcissel has been seen, I looked out that way and there was a relatively large crowd of birders there. This surprised me because I thought most had come for the Dickcissel already, but I continued to make my way out towards the crowd. About halfway out, I got a text message from Karen Miller – they were on a HENSLOW’S SPARROW! That explained the big crowd! I picked up my pace and joined the group, many of which I ended up knowing. Shortly after my arrival, the sparrow started calling and then jumped up and perched nicely. It was so exciting! Meanwhile, I was still concerned about whether or not the Dickcissel was still around and I was assured that it was. It wasn’t more than five minutes later that the Dickcissel made an appearance, perching nicely in the distance on a thistle. That made for 2 life birds in a matter of minutes! I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that this morning! As John Haas told me once – you never know when the next big thing will hit! Super exciting birding!
After participating in the Break 100 on Friday and Saturday, I had no plans to bird on Sunday. That all changed when I received a text message from Linda Scrima, containing the call of a YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT! I dropped everything and headed out to Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Winding Waters Trail. When I arrived, Linda was on not one, but two chats! At first the birds did not call, but then they started to. One bird popped up and and perched in perfect light. I’m not sure what happened (lack of sleep? brain cramp? who knows?), but my settings were all off and my pics were pretty bad. But, I got great looks at the bird before it dropped down into the brush. Shortly after, the second bird perched high in a tree – providing great looks in my binoculars, but the bird was totally backlit so photos were not much of an option. I was super excited to see this bird; I have been hoping to get one in Orange County for ages, having gotten them in both counties north and south of OC (Sussex, NJ and Ulster). Many other birders arrived and got the birds as well – there was genuine joy on folk’s faces when they saw and heard the birds. Huge thanks to Linda for relocating the bird, which was originally located yesterday during the Break 100 by the team of Alan and Della Wells and Dave and Sharon Baker.
The past couple of days I participated in the Edgar A. Mearns Bird Club’s BREAK 100 – a 24 hour challenge to find one hundred species of bird in Orange County. The “Break” starts on Friday at 4:00 pm and ends on Saturday at the same time. This was my second break, and we had a great team: Jeff Goulding, Karen Miller, John Haas, Lisa O’Gorman, and myself. We all wanted to do as well as possible, while having a lot of laughs along the way (usually at another team member’s expense – it’s easy when you spend nearly every minute together for a full 24 hours). Lisa ultimately ended up not being able to participate, but we kept her updated all the while with texts.
This year was a little different from last year. Birds seemed to be more difficult to come by, particularly migrating warblers, most of which had apparently moved out of the area on Thursday’s south winds. We ended up with only 2 migrant species in our count – a pair of BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS, found at Pochuck Mountain and Blackpoll Warblers at several locations. I thought things might be a little easier when we went to the Camel Farm for shorebirds. I’ve been cleaning up there lately, getting loads of birds. But today was a different story – we left having only added 2 species of shorebird to our list. AND, we finished with a meager 5 species of shorebirds (Least Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, and American Woodcock).
I was actually starting to wonder if we would make it to 100. We kept at it, made a lot of good decisions on the fly, and crept closer and closer to 100 species. We had a productive stop at Sterling Forest State Park, where we added 5 species, including one of the best birds of the day, a KENTUCKY WARBLER. The bird was calling, calling, calling, from the side of the road, but never revealed itself. This is a bird that I’ve never had any experience with; on any other day I would have liked to stick around and try to get a look and, of course, some photos.
I think it was just before 2:30 when we arrived in Newburgh with 98 species (only an hour and a half left!). We were pleasantly surprised break 100 and to jump to 101 birds by scoring 3 species of gull, including the undisputed bird of the day, an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL! We had located a bunch of gulls on the docks and John immediately identified the LBBG. We were flipping out – what a great bird for the county and to get it in late May was just incredible. John considered it the best bird he’s ever gotten during an Orange County Break 100.
Hamptonburgh Preserve was our final stop. This is a new location for me, and we ended the break on a really high note, adding two really good final birds to our list: RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH and a WHITE-EYED VIREO. This pushed our number to 106 species, exactly matching our total from last year. Huge thanks to my teammates, who worked hard but mostly just made me laugh a lot; what a fun, full, day of birding.
You can check out John’s take on the break, which I’m sure will be interesting, on his blog, BASHAKILL BIRDER.
I’ll tell you what, I had an absolutely incredible afternoon out at Sterling Forest State Park. And, you know what? I totally had a feeling about it. As I arrived and was parking my car, a sense of optimism came over me. I was dressed appropriately in muted colors, it was just a beautiful afternoon, and I just felt like anything was possible. The one question I had was regarding the wind – I thought it might be a little bit too breezy for songbirds, but that proved not to be the case.
I got out of my car and headed down the trail. Behind me, right by my car, I heard a song and I wasn’t sure what it was. I turned around, and perched in a tree right across the road from my car was a beautiful HOODED WARBLER. This bird has been sort of a photo nemesis for me; I’ve never gotten a good close look at one before. The bird stayed put and sang away as I crossed the road and I was able to get some decent shots.
A little bit later, I was walking a trail and I heard the call of a GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER. I moved slowly and I could see that the bird was likely calling from the other side of a tree that was about 30 yards off the trail. I tried to wait it out, but then got impatient and tried to get further down the trail for another vantage point and though I did not see it fly, the bird must have flushed. It wasn’t until I was on my way back, in the same area I heard the bird again. This time I had the patience to wait it out. Eventually the bird came around the tree and exposed itself to me – I was thrilled just to get a look at the bird. I was taking some distant pics, just hoping for the best, when the bird picked up and flew into a lower tree right in front of me. I couldn’t believe it! I was able to take a bunch of shots before the bird moved on; I’ve never gotten such a great look at a GWWA!
I had one final excellent moment – I was walking the trail with a swampy area to my left. It was relatively quiet and I was disappointed because I’ve done well at that swamp in the past. I was scanning for birds when out of the corner of my eye I saw a pair of beavers swimming in the water. I stayed completely still and one came my way and got within twenty feet of me! It was really cool to see it so close up; shortly thereafter, the beaver moved on and so did I. On my way out, I noticed on the far side of the swamp, a single Great Blue Heron sitting high up on a nest. What an afternoon!
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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: