This evening I met up with Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh. We were following up on a second hand report by Ken McDermott, from earlier in the day, of a CATTLE EGRET at the marsh. We had a pretty fabulous night of birding, with 4 species of shorebirds being seen right along Oil City Road (Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe, and Solitary Sandpiper). An American Bittern called as soon as I got out of the car, and Linda got a sweet shot of one in flight (see below). Sora could be heard calling from just east of the viewing platform. And then, the CATTLE EGRET flew out of the marsh and right over the platform! It headed north and settled down just off of Liberty Lane. It didn’t stay there for long, however, it picked up and, lucky for us, put down about 100 yards out from the viewing platform. Excellent, lucky night of birding!
What started out as an uneventful evening ended up being an incredible birding experience. I met Maria Loukeris out at the Liberty Loop; we walked out Liberty Lane – highlights included some distant unidentified shorebirds, several White-crowned Sparrows and my FOY Swamp Sparrows. As we were walking back to the cars, I turned to Maria and said “Let’s go look for some American Bitterns”. I was only half joking, and I had no idea what was in store for us. As we reached the parking area, Maria picked up two birds flying across the marsh and exclaimed “bittern!”. I got on them immediately and was thrilled to see two AMERICAN BITTERNS fly from the front pond and head southwest towards the back of the marsh. We went to the viewing platform; we were pretty sure that we wouldn’t see them again, but had to try. But, then we heard another AMBI calling from just to our left. We scanned and remarkably, Maria located the bird right away. As I ran to get my scope from the car, a different AMBI took flight and flew north over Oil City Road. Shortly after that, yet another bittern joined the one that was calling – that gave us a total of five American Bitterns! I put the word out, and Linda Scrima made record time to arrive to see a pair of them in the scope before we lost the light. What a night! I’m still freaking out!
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 looking at the blog the other day and I noticed that for the past 3 weeks, all my posts were at locations outside of Orange County, so I decided to keep it local this weekend. I’m glad that I did, as it was a good weekend of birding. I almost called this post “Crappy Weather = Good Birding”. Yesterday was foggy and misty for a large part of the day, and then in the afternoon it gave way to rain; today was a steady rain, all day.
I spent the day yesterday birding the Hudson River, which was iced over in spots and full of ice floes. I started at Fort Montgomery and Mine Dock Park where I had my first Orange County Fish Crow of the year and I would see my first 9 Bald Eagles of the day. My next stop was my main objective of the day – I went to the parking area on 9W North, which is a trailhead for and looks out over Storm King State Park. I immediately took my scope out and scanned the left side of the valley, looking for my target bird – the GOLDEN EAGLE that has wintered at this spot for the past several years (there are many eBird reports going back to 2013 and a single report in 2010). The bird was present and on it’s usual perch. I took some distant photos and tried to digiscope it, but the fog was a bit too heavy for good results. I walked the trail for a while and got just the usuals, including a nice photo op with a White-breasted Nuthatch, a bird that I don’t photograph very often these days.
I ended the day at Cornwall Bay and the Newburgh Waterfront. I was hoping for some interesting ducks and maybe an unexpected gull. At Donahue Memorial Park, I had my best ducks of the day – 4 Common Goldeneyes (the only other waterfowl I had all day were Common Mergansers and Mallards). There were many gulls at the waterfront, but unfortunately I only found the three expected species: Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed. I also had nearly a dozen Bald Eagles there; my total for the day was just under 30 Bald Eagles.
The weather for Sunday was bumming me out; rain all day was not what I was imagining while sitting at my desk at work all week. But, I broke out the rain gear and headed out to the Black Dirt this morning. My main goal was to find some geese. I’ve had rotten luck with them locally all winter long, but today was a different story. Geese were abundant in the Black Dirt, and early on I was able to locate a pair of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE. I got lucky with these birds – I was scanning a flock of Canada Geese and two birds flew in. I put my bins on them and immediately saw their speckled bellies. Although the birds were not very far out, I immediately lost them in the flock when they landed. I set up my scope, that did the trick and I was able to relocate. The problem was not only the number of geese, but they were located among old corn stalks. I put the word out and Linda Scrima joined me and was able to get the birds as well.
The rest of the morning was mostly the usuals – I was happy to see a flock of 29 SNOW BUNTINGS as well as a decent sized flock of mixed blackbirds, consisting of mostly Common Grackles, with Brown-headed Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and European Starlings as well. All but the starlings were my first of 2018 in Orange County. I did fairly well with raptors and was happy to get a couple of decent photo ops: a wet Rough-legged Hawk that was flexing it’s wings, and also a wet, very light-colored, Red-tailed Hawk as well. It was an excellent weekend of birding here in Orange County and just what I needed after a long work week.
I remember a blog post from a few years back on 10,000 Birds where Corey Finger referred to the BARNACLE GOOSE as “inherently cool”. That struck a chord with me at the time because I felt the same way. To me, of all all the geese we get in our area, the Barnacle Goose is definitely the coolest and by far my favorite. I finally got my lifer back in December of 2014 in Ramsey, New Jersey, after dipping several times on the one that was in Orange County in 2012 (I think) and also missing out on the one at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx (I ran for the bird after work one day, which happened to be the first day it hadn’t been seen in ages).
So, I knew that if the bird was still being reported, I would run this weekend for the Barnacle Goose that had been reported all week at Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. When I arrived in the morning, the bird was not on the pond at the sanctuary, where it has mostly been seen. Luckily, I ran into Tom Burke and Gail Benson while I was there; an hour or so after seeing them they called to say they had located the bird on private property. I raced over to join them and got excellent scope views of the bird. I was pretty excited to see the bird, first just because it’s a Barnacle (see paragraph above), and secondly because I was convinced at that point that I was not going to get it. The BAGO’s Cackling Goose buddy was right by its side, it was my first Cackler of 2018. The birds were a little distant for good photos, but I was happy to document my first Barnacle in New York State. Huge thanks to Tom and Gail; I never would have gotten the bird without them, not a chance.
This morning Maria Loukeris, Linda Scrima, and I headed to Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon County, NJ. Our target bird was an EARED GREBE that has been reported there recently. Initially it did not look good – the bird was reportedly keeping company with several Horned Grebes; we located the group of birds, but they were miles out and terribly backlit. One certainly looked different and was presumable the Eared Grebe, but the birds were just too distant to be sure. We decided to bird the reservoir in hopes that we would get better looks, and eventually we did. The Eared Grebe was with 8 Horned Grebes; we enjoyed good scope looks and took distant, backlit, documentary photos. It was a life bird for all 3 of us, so that was exciting. Other highlights included 3 Red-necked Grebes, nearly a dozen Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and a good photo op with a Merlin as we were leaving.
As we were leaving, Maria checked her phone and saw that a GYRFALCON (!!!) had been reported at (location removed, see post update below)! We rushed over, stopping at 2 wrong spots before finally finding the right location. The place was loaded with birders and photographers, and thankfully, the Gyrfalcon was still present, sitting in the sun on a distant dead snag perch in the reservoir. The bird was a dark morph Gyrfalcon, and scope views of this big, beautiful bird were excellent but photos were again on the documentary side. Not long after our arrival, the bird took off and we did not see it again.
Meanwhile, in the water there was a vast array of waterfowl, including an estimated 5,000 Snow Geese. We started looking through the birds and I was able to locate 4 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE! I was stoked to find them and we got the other birders present on them. Shortly after that, another birder located a GLAUCOUS GULL! That would be a lifer for me, so I rushed over to his scope to view. I then got the bird in my scope and was able to take some digiscoped shots with Linda and Maria’s phones (my phone had a meltdown for some reason and was completely dead). I couldn’t believe and big, white, and beautiful that gull was, it really was some bird. It’s not very often these days that I can get a single life bird, not to mention two in one day. The GLGU was life bird #390 for me.
A ROSS’S GOOSE was located by other birders a couple different times in the mass of Snow Geese; unfortunately none of us were able to get on that bird and it seemed that the bird was being lost almost as soon as it was found. There were plenty of other waterfowl present, including: Canada Geese, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Northern Pintails, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, and a single Common Goldeneye. The flock of Snow Geese put on a nice show, picking up and putting back down several time while were there. Huge thanks to Maria for suggesting we take the trip down, it was truly an incredible day of birding with good friends, beautiful weather, and amazing birds.
POST UPDATE: When I entered my lists to eBird, the Gyrfalcon came up as a sensitive species, so reports won’t be made public. With that in mind, I have removed the location from this post, I figure it’s best to err on the side of caution with these things. Also, after looking at our photos, it looks like we had a TUNDRA SWAN at Round Valley Reservoir; thanks to Maria for digging in and figuring it out. I’ve included a photo at the bottom of this post.
First thing this morning I followed up on Kathy Ashman’s report of two ROSS’S GEESE at Glenmere Lake from yesterday morning. It was a dark, cold, and snowy morning; I arrived at the lake before sunrise and immediately located the 2 Ross’s among approximately 300 Canada Geese. I put the word out and John Haas was able to join me. With the snow fall and the heavy cloud cover, it never got light enough for good photos, but we both did our best. Ross’s are always exciting, and in spite of the poor light, the birds were relatively close and we got pretty good looks. Around 9 am, the birds picked up and John and I headed our separate ways. Huge thanks to Kathy for finding and reporting the birds.
My goal for the day was to make a last ditch effort to find some new birds for my Orange County 2017 year list. I scoured the Hudson River, starting at the Bear Bridge and eventually ending up at the Newburgh Waterfront. I was hoping for Canvasback (I’d had 75 near my work in Rockland County the day before!) or for Great Cormorant. It was a fun day exploring new spots and hoping for the best, but ultimately I did not add any birds to my list. The highlight at the Hudson came at my final stop, where I ran into John Haas once again. He had just located an Iceland Gull. The bird was super cooperative and I got some decent shots. John had put the word out, but unfortunately, before anyone else had arrived the bird picked up and flew all the way to Beacon. Curt McDermott and Rick Hansen missed the bird by moments and Curt chased it over to Beacon (he said that it would guarantee that the bird would come back to Newburgh). Kathy Ashman showed up shortly after his departure and Curt was right, the bird did come back and Kathy and Rick both got their lifer Iceland Gulls! That was a pretty exciting way to end the day. I didn’t add any birds to my OC year list, but any day with 2 Ross’s Geese and an Iceland Gull is a good day of birding.
A couple weeks ago, I incorrectly reported a couple of Red-headed Woodpeckers in an eBird checklist for Glenmere Lake. It was a data entry error on my part – I had intended on reporting the 2 Red-BELLIED Woodpeckers I’d seen there that day, but clicked on the wrong box. My error was pointed out to me by birding buds Rob Stone and Linda Scrima; they had seen the report online and followed up with me about it.
As coincidence would have it, this afternoon I was at Glenmere Lake and I was pleasantly surprised to see a young RED-HEADED WOODPECKER as I was getting back to my car. The bird was very accomadating and I was fortunate enough to get some decent photos. This is my third straight year seeing this bird in Orange County; in 2015 there was a pair at Elks Brox Park in Port Jervis, last year there were a couple birds at Fancher Davidge Park in Middletown, and earlier this year I had two young birds at Hamptonburgh Preserve just north of Goshen.
The good thing about not being able to bird all week is that I am really appreciating my birding time when I get it, down to the littlest things, such as that beautiful feeling of putting my binoculars up to my eyes and focusing in on a bird; it’s a joy. The bad thing (or at least one bad thing among the many), is that I feel out of practice. This is my second week of no weekday birding and I’ve had the same feeling both weekends, where I was just a little bit out of sorts and not really quick to ID birds.
Additionally, you would think that, since I didn’t have the opportunity to bird all week, that I might come up with a plan for my Saturday morning when I finally can get out. But I didn’t. So I just headed out and cruised the black dirt; my main goal was to try and find some Canada Geese to sort through. The morning was mostly a dud; my highlight was watching in my scope, as an absolutely gorgeous Coyote made its way across a field in the distance. That was awesome. I also bumped into John Haas, who I hadn’t seen in a while, so that was nice. We sorted through the largest group of Canada Geese that I had all morning (maybe 600 birds?). Unfortunately, we came up empty and I was running late to meet up with Linda Lou at the Bashakill to do water testing, so I had to run. While I was doing the water testing, John put out an alert that he had a CACKLING GOOSE on route 416 by Hillcrest Farms. After water testing and little lunch, I headed out into the rain and ran for John’s Cackler. It took me ages to find the bird, but eventually I did. It was a really good stop and I got really great looks in my scope and the usual goose documentary photographs. Huge thanks to John for finding and posting.
After, I thought it might be a good idea to try for more waterfowl. I headed to Tomahawk Lake, since it wasn’t far away. I had: Common Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks, and a single Ring-necked Duck there. Then, I headed to Round Lake. I went there because there is a covered spot for viewing the lake, since the rain had picked up pretty good at that point. At Round Lake I had 4 species of waterfowl: Mallards, a single Ruddy Duck, two Pied-billed Grebes, and three Greater Scaup that were close enough to shore for some decent photos (rain and horrible lighting aside). By the time I left Round Lake, it was late and dark already. I was going to head to Glenmere Lake, but that will have to wait until tomorrow…
My weekend of birding started early on Saturday morning. Following up on a tip from Rob Stone, I headed out to Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh. When I arrived, birding bud Linda Scrima was already there, viewing the main part of the marsh from the viewing platform. We walked out to view the pond north of Oil City Road, where a beautiful sight awaited us – 36 PECTORAL SANDPIPERS were huddled together in beautiful morning light. We took photos and scanned for more shorebirds. A single bird flew in and joined the Pecs – it was a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER! Further scanning revealed two distant Wilson’s Snipe and another distant bird that I identified in the field as a Semipalmated Sandpiper, but in retrospect, with the bird being so far out, it is maybe best left unidentified. I had to get up to Mount Peter for hawkwatch, so we headed back to the parking lot. We took one last look at the pond in front of the platform and found yet more shorebirds – 7 Greater Yellowlegs and nearly a dozen Lesser Yellowlegs! What a great morning for shorebirds in OC!
Hawkwatch was once again a bust for me – so far, I am snake bitten this season for sure. I even had the big guns up to help me (Judy Cinquina and Denis Ferrell, fellow Mt. Pete counters), but it didn’t matter, the birds were not flying on this day. Jeff and Elizabeth Zahn visited and turned their (and mine) hawkwatch luck around. We had 12 of my 19 birds in the hour or so while they were there, including a pair of beautiful adult Red-shouldered Hawks that flew directly over the platform. The biggest news during hawkwatch had nothing to do with hawks at all – Maria Loukeris had located and photographed a SAY’S PHOEBE out at Liberty Marsh! She could barely believe it and she sent out photos to confirm the ID. Once confirmed, several folks went out for the bird but it was not relocated. I had plans directly after hawkwatch, so my search for the Says would have to wait until Sunday morning…
So, Sunday morning I went to Liberty Marsh to try for the the Say’s Phoebe. This time when I arrived, Scotty Baldinger was at the viewing platform. It was great to see Scotty (it always is!) and, in spite of not relocating the SAPH, we had a fabulous morning of birding. Sparrows were abundant and we had 5 species: Savannah, Song, White-throated, Swamp, and my FOS WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS. Other highlights included a flock of over 40 American Pipits flying over our heads and landing in a field. Initially it did not look like we would do any good for shorebirds, but on our way back I spotted a flock in flight. There was an adult Peregrine Falcon in the area, we had just seen it earlier, and I’m guessing it was keeping them on their toes. The birds eventually put down in the pond north of Oil City Road – it was the same flock of Pectoral Sandpipers with the White-rumped Sandpiper. The flock was jumpy and took laps around the pond, allowing for some decent photo ops. They eventually left that pond and put down in the marsh south of Oil City Road; we were unable to relocate them. One last look from the viewing platform got us one Greater Yellowlegs and 3 Lessers. Scotty and I parted ways; I hit a couple other spots before heading home, but they were not as productive. What an excellent weekend of birding! I feel like I need it.