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.
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
QUICK POST: Yesterday John Haas texted me that there was a Tundra Swan at the Main Boat Launch at the Bashakill. I was going to run for it after work, but instead I went to the Celery Farm in Bergen County to try for the Yellow-throated Warbler that has been seen there (the YTWA would have been a lifer, but I dipped on it in a frustrating afternoon). Meanwhile, yesterday evening they got better looks at the swan; Linda Scrima and Bruce Nott both got photos that seemed to indicate TRUMPETER instead. The bird cooperated this morning and John Haas and Karen Miller got good looks and good photos and it ends up the bird is a Trumpeter – the first ever record in Sullivan County! I ran for the bird this afternoon and I joined John at the boat launch; the bird was a little distant but we still got really good scope looks of the bird. The large straight bill, the heavy connection of the bill to the eye, and the forehead that closely matches the slope of the bill were all very evident. It was harder to see that where the bill meets the head it is pointed (as opposed to rounded in Tundra), but I could see hints of it in John’s photos. Back in 2012 I did a post comparing the two swans – check it out here.
For the complete story on this bird, check out John’s blog.
QUICK POST: I stopped by Wickham Lake after work this evening to try for the Red-throated Loon that Rob Stone had located earlier in the day. I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment and only had a few minutes, plus the rain was coming down pretty hard. I got to the lake, set up my scope, looked in and had not one, but two (!) RED-THROATED LOONS. As I was enjoying seeing the birds, it started to thunder and lightning. I high-tailed it to my car and went to my appointment soaking wet. Afterwards, I went back to the lake. The rain had stopped and the sun even came out briefly. I enjoyed much better looks of the RTLOs as well as a pair of Common Loons and a single Long-tailed Duck. Excellent birds!
I was not planning doing any birding this morning. But, when I woke up, there was already a text from Curt McDermott – he had four SANDHILL CRANES in the town of Shawangunk. I quickly made some coffee and ran for the birds, which ended up sticking around and being very cooperative. When I arrived, Bruce Nott, John Haas, and Bill Fiero were on the birds already; they had all been there for a bit and headed out shortly after I arrived. Karen Miller joined me and we enjoyed super looks at the birds along with Scotty Baldinger. The birds flew at one point and relocated in an area where they could still be view well. Several Ulster County birders arrived for the birds and when I left they were still enjoying excellent scope views of the birds. What a great way to start the day! Huge thanks to Curt for the heads up on these great birds.
This post may be a day late and a dollar short, but in a conversation today with birding bud Linda Scrima, she reminded me of just how good of a bird ROSS’S GOOSE really is for Orange County and that it was certainly post-worthy.
I should have known when I left early Saturday morning for my pelagic adventure that, like clockwork, a good bird would be located in Orange County. It was upon my return to cell service, while still out at sea, that I started receive texts and voicemails from earlier in the day, regarding the Ross’s Goose that had been located at Monroe-Woodbury Middle School. Looking through my eBird rare bird reports as I write this, it appears that the bird was originally located by Bob Miller and it was Mark DeDea that informed the Mearns Bird Club of the bird so that they would be able to include it in their annual Winter Waterfowl Count. Huge thanks to both of them.
I woke up a little on the late side Sunday morning; I was exhausted from the day before. The Ross’s Goose was in the back of my mind but I had no plans to go for it. I was first of all tired, secondly excited to go through my photos and write a post for the pelagic, and thirdly, after a year of chasing every bird I got wind of in Orange County, I just wasn’t dying to run for the bird. But, in the early afternoon, I received a call from Ken McDermott, letting me know the bird was still present. I was in a better place by that time, so I ran for the bird. I saw Karen Miller and Kathy Ashman who were also going for the bird while I was there. A Ross’s Goose can’t come any easier than this; the bird was in ball field with forty or so Canada Geese. It was only my second time ever seeing a Ross’s (my first one was also in Orange County, at the Camel Farm in 2013). I was able to get some decent documentary shots of the bird, shooting through a fence. I promptly went home and took it easy for the rest of the day.
One final note: The bird was reported at the same location yesterday (Monday 01/16), but I have not seen any reports for today yet.
I woke up this morning on a mission: To relocate the PINK-FOOTED GOOSE that Bruce Nott had found the day before. I met Linda Scrima out at the Camel Farm just after sunrise, and we were joined shortly afterwards by Walter Eberz. It was very cold and windy, but the three of us sorted through approximately 1200 Canada Geese without any luck. We decided to divide and conquer and I headed over to Turtle Bay, where I found a group of approximately 800 Canada Geese out in a field. I quickly found a Cackling Goose, and then not long after that I got on a bird that looked good… Yes, it was the PINK-FOOTED GOOSE! I put the word out and both Linda and Walter joined me and we enjoyed the bird for nearly an hour before all the birds picked up, circled overhead, and then headed north. What a bird, not only is the PFGO a genuine rarity, it is also just a beautiful goose – wonderfully proportioned and I just love the wrinkles in the bird’s neck. The bird was a lifer for Walter and it was my 214th bird in Orange County this year. Also of note, we located at least 2 Cackling Geese and a single Snow Goose. Super exciting birding!
QUICK POST: Huge thanks to Bruce Nott, who contacted me earlier today to let me know he had a RED-THROATED LOON at Orange Lake. Not only that, he came back out in the evening and was present with his scope on the bird when I arrived! You can’t ask for any more than that! It was a beautiful bird, we had distant (of course), but good looks in our scopes. I tried for photos but they came out terribly; the bird was just too darn far. I was pretty excited as it was my 213th bird in Orange County this year and also a county life bird (#236). Excellent birding!
I was pretty sure that hawkwatch would be a dud this past Saturday. Southwest winds were in the forecast and the previous day’s count was on the low side (with a northwest wind!). Early on, it seemed like I was right; the watch got off to a very slow start, and I have to say, I was super cranky about it. I did not have a raptor of any sort for the first two hours and fifteen minutes, when I finally had a local Red-tailed Hawk hunting over the valley. Migrating birds started to trickle through shortly after that, but really, it was a slow day.
Things started looking up when I got a visit from Gerhard and Tracy Patsch. We had some interesting conversations, and they seemed to have brought one of the local Red-tails along with them. It was the first time that I’ve had a local “tail” perch and hunt in the viewing platform area. And then bird put on a final show for us, hanging in the air directly above the platform and not very high up. The three of us really enjoyed great looks and I took many photos.
The highlight of the day came at 3:45 pm, when I counted just my 20th migrating raptor of the day, which was the GOLDEN EAGLE. I picked it up due north of the platform; it was distant but I knew immediately that it was an eagle and very shortly after that, that it was a Golden. As luck would have it, the bird flew slowly closer and passed at a nice easy pace right over the platform, circling several times before continuing due south. What a thrill it was, I am still freaking out about it a day later. The Golden Eagle is the 209th bird that I’ve had in Orange County this year. Here’s my report for the day:
Official Counter: Matt Zeitler
Visitors: Gerhard and Tracy Patsch, Tricia Zeitler, Carrie and Cruz Craigmyle, Bill, Carolyn, Cameron, and Mackenzie Martocci.
Weather: Partly cloudy with a southwest wind. Temperatures ranged from 4 to 18 degrees Celsius.
Raptor Observations: It was a slow start; the first raptor observed was a local Red-tailed Hawk over 2 hours and 15 minutes into the watch. One female Northern Harrier and at 3:45 one immature Golden Eagle passed through, circling right over the view platform, giving amazing views.
Non Raptor Species: American Crow (28), Blue Jay (24), White-breasted Nuthatch (2), Black-capped Chickadee (9), American Robin (32), Common Raven (2), Cedar Waxwing (25), Tufted Titmouse (1), Downy Woodpecker (1), Pileated Woodpecker (1), Ring-billed Gull (1), Red-bellied Woodpecker (1), Eastern Bluebird (5), Canada Goose (6), European Starling (20).