Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to catch up with the two SANDHILL CRANES that have been spending some time in our area. Not only that, I watched from my car as the two birds interacted for approximately 5 minutes. They were very vocal while this was going on; you can see in nearly every photo, one or both of their bills are open. I did some research on the internet and found out that SACRs mate for life, choosing their partners based on dancing displays. But, the timing doesn’t seem right for this, so I kept looking and found a passage on the National Geographic website that indicated that they “also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating but all year long”. It was awesome to see it; here are a number of photos from that five minutes.
QUICK POST: After work today, I ran for the LITTLE BLUE HERON at Stewart Forest SP, that was located and reported by Bill Fiero earlier in the day. I had an event to attend in the evening, so I made a quick pit stop for the LBHE (which was super cooperative – out in the open and close enough to get some decent shots). The bird was in the Maple Lane wetland, which is about 1/4 mile down from the Ridge Road North parking lot. Go left down the paved road and the wetland is on the right. Huge thanks to Bill for finding and reporting.
Wow, what a crazy evening of birding I had tonight! I was feeling optimistic as I headed out to the Black Dirt Region after work. Severe storms had moved through the area and appeared to have dropped a lot of water; I was hoping this would make for some interesting birding. I was planning on covering a fair amount of territory, but my first stop – Skinner’s Lane – ended up being so good, I never left until it was dark. It was raining pretty hard. In fact, it rained pretty good for almost the entire evening, only letting up when I was getting ready to leave. When I arrived, there was a pretty good collection of shorebirds present: BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS (3), Semipalmated Plovers (4), Least Sandpipers (3), Killdeer (many), and one bird that I initially thought was a Semipalmated Sandpiper but for the moment I’m leaving unidentified (see below).
I was just about to leave when I noticed a group of peeps had flown in without my seeing them. It was a group of what I’m pretty sure were Semipalmated Sandpipers. Then things got crazy. A small flock of larger birds flew in – they circled the field once and then flew to the south and out of sight. By this time, all my gear was wet and really, I had now idea what the birds were because I just couldn’t get a good look. But, then they came back – I jumped into my car and grabbed my camera to get some shots. They circled the field 3 more times and then headed northeast and did not return. I must have been a little frazzled because I looked at the pics and still couldn’t ID them… I shot a quick photo to Rob Stone who identified them as BLACK TERNS! I was freaking out! I looked at my photos to get a count – I had a single shot with 7 in it!
More shorebirds arrived after the terns had departed – I added 2 Wilson’s Snipe, 7 Pectoral Sandpipers, and another group of Semipalmated Sandpipers to my list for the evening. What a great night of birding; once again, bad weather=good birds.
Last night and this morning I was having a feeling we might get a good bird in the county today. For some reason I was thinking it would happen at Turtle Bay, but instead it was at Skinner Lane, where I located a WHIMBREL in the rain around 7:30 this morning. I was super pumped; I put the word out and several birders were able to run for the bird. Rob Stone, John Haas, Karen Miller, Kathy Ashman, and Bruce Nott all saw the bird while I was still there; it was a lifer for both Kathy and Bruce. Clay Spencer reported the bird in the late morning as well. Whimbrel is a bird I have daydreamed of finding in our area for a while, and it is the 252nd bird on my Orange County life list.
I was thinking that the best chance to see the Liberty Loop’s ROSEATE SPOONBILL enter Orange County was to wait until just before night fall and hope it flew into New York on its way to roost. Rob Stone had a different idea. His idea was to get up early and watch as the birds (the ROSP and the Great Egrets) returned to the marsh after a night at of roosting. He tried it on Saturday morning, but arrived too late. We agreed to try on Sunday; Rob thought if we arrived just after 5:00 am, the timing would be good. Well, I struggled to get out of bed and ended up rolling in at 5:40 am. Rob was on the viewing platform, his bins were up and he was on something. I hustled to the platform and he got me on the spoonbill. It was heading north along the west side of the marsh. I kept thinking it would put down in New Jersey, but it held on and flew over the berm an into Orange County! We hustled down the path to try for a better look, running, jogging, and then fast walking, the whole time keeping our eyes pinned on the area where the bird went down. When we were nearly at the northwest corner, we watched as the spoonbill took flight, went back over the berm, and into Sussex County once again. I couldn’t believe it stayed in OC for such a short visit – it could only have been 4 or 5 minutes tops! Still, we were pumped to have seen it, and who knows, this could be the start of some new behavior for the bird where it starts to spend some time in OC?
Rob and I decided to continue and walk the entire Liberty Loop. We eventually relocated the Roseate Spoonbill, it was in the general vicinity of where it was first seen last week. We also had a Glossy Ibis among a large crew of Great Egrets. Green Herons are numerous at the refuge right now, and we also located two BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS perched in a tree on the west side of the loop. My best photo op occurred at the south end of the loop, where we had several LEAST BITTERNS flying around and perching out in the open. It was awesome, Rob enjoyed seeing them and I enjoyed getting more photos of one of my favorite birds.
Afterwards, I went to the black dirt to try for shorebirds. I did alright, with a Solitary Sandpiper and a Lesser Yellowlegs at the Camel Farm, as well as a Least Sandpiper and 3 SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS at Turtle Bay. I was heading to Pine Island Turf Nursery when I got a notification that John Haas had relocated the ANHINGA at Morningside Park in Sullivan County. I rushed over, but unfortunately arrived after the bird had already flown. The Anhinga was first seen and considered a one-hit-wonder six days ago! Where has it been all this time? When will it show up again? I really hope I get another shot at that bird, that would be exciting. Great day of birding!
I wonder how many people can say they saw breeding Common Loons with a chick in the morning and a Roseate Spoonbill in the afternoon? Without taking a flight? I’m guessing not too many, if any at all, but that’s exactly what Kyle Dudgeon and I did today. Just as we were wrapping up our yearly trip to the Adirondacks after a morning of kayaking in the rain (and swimming in Kyle’s case) with Common Loons, I got a phone call from Linda Scrima. She had located a ROSEATE SPOONBILL at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop. Apparently a photo of a ROSP had been posted to the refuge’s Facebook page and Linda followed up on it early this morning and found the bird on the west side of the loop, just over the border into Sussex County, New Jersey. As Kyle and I got on the road, we did some quick figuring and we knew that we would certainly try for the spoonbill. Five or so hours later, we headed down the trail and joined a number of birders and photographers gathered to see the bird. It was very strange to me to see this bird up in our area, after having previously only seen them in their normal range of Florida and Texas. It was a life bird for Kyle, so that was exciting. The bird spent the duration of our time there partially hidden by vegetation, so Linda sent me one of her pics from earlier in the day to use for this post – thanks Linda!
I have a good number of Common Loon photos to get through, but I will post in the next day or so; it’s one of my favorite posts of the year, so I’m looking forward to it. Here is a teaser from earlier this morning, during a break in the rain:
RUFFED GROUSE is a bird that I have been trying to get in Orange County for several years now; it’s a bird that, for some reason, really captured my imagination and one that I’ve put in a concerted effort to try and find in the county. So, imagine how pleased I was when I saw Ajit Antony’s eBird report of a RUGR at Black Rock Forest in my “Year Needs Alert” email from eBird on Friday. I had a work obligation yesterday, but I got up early to try for the bird this morning.
It was frustrating start to the morning for me. I don’t know Black Rock Forest at all, so I originally went to completely the wrong place. Then I went to the Black Rock Forest main parking area, where I had a Hooded Warbler calling as soon as I got out of the car. I looked at the map trying to locate “Jupiter’s Boulder”. An obliging local hiker helped me out and told me it would be best to drive to another trailhead, on Old Mineral Springs Road. So, I got back in the car and drove there; I walked nearly half a mile and realized I’d forgotten rain gear for my camera – it sure felt like rain, so I walked back to the car to get it (thus guaranteeing no rain). Then, I was finally ready to take a hike. I’d never birded that area before and it was a nice hike with a beautiful waterfall (no pic, my cell phone died!), and good amount of birds – mostly the usuals but with a couple favorites of mine – Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and a couple of Acadian Flycatchers. You can see my eBird report here.
Ajit’s report stated he heard the drumming of a RUGR “to the SW, a little way from Jupiter’s Boulder”. As I was nearing Jupiter’s Boulder (I didn’t know it at the time, having never been), I came around a bend in the trail and about twenty-five feet or so off the trail, to the left of me, 2 RUFFED GROUSE popped straight up – and like bats out of hell, one flew to the left and the other to the right. They made such a ruckus, it really startled me. I followed the one that headed to the right, hoping to see it put down, but it just kept going until it disappeared into the brush. I continued on the trail, hoping to get lucky and relocate that bird, but it was always going to be tough. Jupiter’s Boulder was only another 100 yards or so up the trail, so I sat there for a while and had some breakfast, hoping to hear or see something. Of course, I never saw either bird again, but wow was that exciting. Huge thanks to Ajit for reporting – Ruffed Grouse is my 250th Orange County life bird. Now, let’s see how many years before I get a GOOD look at one…
Yesterday after work I birded later than usual. I wanted to stay out to see if I could hear Whip-poor-wills to add them to my year list. As I waited, the insects got worse and worse, so I finally took respite in my car for a few minutes. I sat with the window open so I could still hear, and remarkably, the bugs were leaving me alone. I must have caught a bit of movement out of the corner of my eye, because I never heard a sound. I turned to my left to witness a BOBCAT slinking through the grass. It was nearly dark, but fortunately I had adjusted my camera for the best possible results (I cranked the ISO up to 12,800!), just in case I needed it. I grabbed my camera off the passenger seat and took some initial shots – as soon as the cat heard the shutter he looked my way and the above shot is the result. The bobcat continued through the grass and eventually made its way down the trail. I could hardly breathe, I was so excited! I couldn’t get over the size; I’d seen a bobcat one other time only, and that cat was much smaller than this one. What an incredible experience; I got so lucky and I probably have the bugs to thank for it! And to top the night off, I heard several Whip-poor-wills calling right after the bobcat had moved on.
I was fortunate enough to run into Kent Warner at the Liberty Loop first thing this morning. He was on his way out, but he gave me the heads up that he’d heard a SANDHILL CRANE calling north of Oil City Road. I birded from the platform and then hit the west side of the loop, seeing and hearing mostly the usuals, although I did pick up my FOY Willow Flycatcher and Orchard Oriole. Of note was the absence of the Tundra Swan which had been present for just over a week. Then, I headed down Liberty Lane to try for the crane, and sure enough the bird was present feeding in the corn fields. I was happy to finally catch up with this bird – it had been reported in the last month by Linda Scrima, Rob Stone, as well as several others. It’s always excellent to see a SACR; it’s that much better when it’s in Orange County. Later in the morning, Rick Hansen reported that the bird had flown over the Liberty Loop viewing platform.
I birded a couple of other spots this morning. The Camel Farm had a good number of Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, and 2 SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS. At Pochuck Mountain the trail was quite birdy, but all the birds were WAY up at the treetops (with the exception of Ovenbirds). Best birds were a couple of Blackburnian Warblers, several Black-throated Green Warblers, and a handful of Northern Parulas.
Back in November of 2012, I wrote a blog post entitled ‘A Lesson in Swan Identification’. Today was round two in swan identification for me. After a morning of birding in Port Jervis for migrating songbirds (see more on this below), I went to the Liberty Loop platform to see what was going on. In the first pond, there was a swan that was not a Mute Swan. I grabbed my scope and checked the bird out – the first thing I looked for was where the bill meets the head when you look head-0n at the bird. Typically, a V-shape indicates Trumpeter and a U-shape indicates Tundra Swan. Well, this bird had a V-shape, clearly, no doubt about it (see photo below). I was thinking, wow – could I have a Trumpeter here? But something wasn’t sitting right with me. Actually a couple of things. I’d talked with Rob Stone and he mentioned the size. A Trumpeter would be very large; to my eye the bird did not appear that large, but there were no nearby birds for context. The second thing was the connection of the bill to the eye. For a Trumpeter, the connection is very substantial, whereas a Tundra is less so. With today’s bird, the connection did not seem heavy enough to me.
I put the word out that I had a possible Trumpeter and Karen Miller, John Haas, and Bruce Nott all ran for the bird. We had amazing scope looks (even though the bird spent much of the time tucked in). We poured through field guides. The conclusion was that we just didn’t know – we would enter it in eBird as Swan Sp. and seek help with the ID. John provided Kevin McGowan’s contact information, so I emailed him some photos, thinking maybe we would hear back sometime this week. Well, he responded right away: Looks like a SY Tundra Swan: rounded head, very prominent eye nearly disjunct from the black face. The V-notch of the bill is typical of young Tundras and not a mark for Trumpeter. How’s that for a curve ball? That is a detail that I did not pick up when I was researching for my post back in 2012. The V actually switches species depending on the age of the bird (ie., the V= Adult Trumpeter OR young Tundra). No one ever said birding was easy, ha ha. Well, chalk it up to another learning experience, which is really what it’s all about. And when it comes down to it, if you told me this morning I’d have a Tundra Swan in OC, I’d have been thrilled. And so I am.
In other news…..
I birded Laurel Grove Cemetery and Reservoir 1 in Port Jervis this morning. From 7-8 am, Laurel Grove was hopping! It was mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, but I also managed to find a Magnolia Warbler, 3 Cape May Warblers, and my first Chimney Swifts of the year. Reservoir 1 was quieter, but I did see my first Chestnut-sided Warbler of the year. Good morning and a good weekend – I add a remarkable 32 species to my OC year list over the weekend!