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.
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:
I got my absolute best look at an Orange County BONAPARTE’S GULL this evening at the Newburgh waterfront. Every BOGU I’ve ever had in Orange County prior to this one has been just miles out. This bird, on the other hand, actually flew closer to me as I started to take photographs. It was a minor birding miracle : )
Tricia and I spent nearly a week in Texas on a family birding vacation with Tricia’s sister Carolyn, her husband Bill, and their daughter Cameron. We stayed at Bill’s friend Joe Zanone’s beach house at Sargent Beach, which is a barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico.
We flew into Houston and on our first day Bill and I did some brief birding at Hogg Park, walking a trail that bordered the White Oak Bayou. The next day we headed to the beach and did the remainder of our birding at Sargent Beach and two nearby National Wildlife Refuges – San Bernard NWR and Brazoria NWR. We did a good deal of birding right off of Joe’s back deck, looking over the Intracoastal Waterway into the marsh. Both NWRs were were loaded with birds and feature extensive wildlife drives which allowed us to cover a lot of territory in the car. As good as the refuges were, my best birding experience was when Joe took Bill and I to the north end of the island. The “road” that heads out this way is just brutal. It is not really a road, having just been created by vehicle traffic, and it is littered with absolutely massive potholes. Bill and I tried to head out that way on an earlier occasion, but had to turn back because the road was too bad. Joe, however, knew the road and knew how to drive it. He drove us way out, pretty much in the middle of nowhere; we eventually saw the fenceposts that border San Bernard NWR. We had not seen many Osprey the whole trip, but out here, for some reason, there were at least a half a dozen Osprey, all perched either on the ground or very low perches, something that I’d never seen before and found fascinating. I really enjoyed the feeling of being pretty much in the middle of nowhere; it was just us and the birds.
The whole area is extremely birdy, but I think because we never really birded any significantly different habitats, I felt that our total number of birds was on the low side. We had a total of 108 species in what amounted to five days in the area (I’ve included a list of all species at the bottom of this post). Of those 108 species, I managed to get 12 life birds:
*Neotropic Cormorant, White-winged Dove, Long-billed Curlew, Wilson’s Plover, White-tailed Kite, Least Grebe, White-tailed Hawk, Vermilion Flycatcher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Gull-billed Tern, Snowy Plover, and Western Sandpiper.*
Normally the raptors on any list would be among my favorites, but I think because we got such limited looks at both the White-tailed Hawk And the White-tailed Kite they don’t rate as high as I would have thought. My favorites were the WILSON’S PLOVER, SNOWY PLOVER, and of course the SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER. All three are beautiful birds that we got really good looks at and photos too. The LEAST GREBE was also pretty amazing to see, but it was miles out and could only seen with the scope.
It was a really great birding trip, and I hope to get back there again some day soon. Enjoy the photos.
~POOR PHOTOS OF LIFERS SECTION~
QUICK POST: Tricia and I returned last night from family birding vacation in Sargent, Texas. We joined Tricia’s sister Carolyn, her husband Bill, and their daughter Cameron for 6 days in this very birdy area. I have over a thousand photos to get through, so I anticipate getting a post together for this weekend… stay tuned.
It’s not very often these days that I can get two life birds in one day, but that’s exactly what happened today. The first was a bird that I have been really hoping to get for some time now, the LONG-EARED OWL. The bird did not disappoint, such a beautiful little owl, absolutely gorgeous. The second was a bird that I’ve had some experience with in the past, the NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL. Back in the fall of 2013, Tricia and I joined a John Haas, Karen Miller, Scott Baldinger, and Arlene Borko in Sullivan County to call in migrating NSWOs. We heard several that night and caught a glimpse of one in flight in the dark, but I guess at the time I didn’t think that was enough to count it as a lifer. Today was quite different and there is no doubt about getting my lifer NSWO. These two owls are life birds #373 and #374 for me. Forgive the vague post, but with the best interests of these birds in mind, I will not be sharing their locations.
QUICK POST: For the second consecutive time, on my way to participate in a DEC Raptor Survey, I had a really nice photo op. Two weeks ago I had a large group of confiding Ring-necked Ducks. Last night, it was Six Snow Buntings on the side of the road. They seemed uncooperative at first and flushed, but then came back to land very close to my car, posing nicely on the tops of the piles of plowed snow. Good birds for sure!
It’s not very often that I get good photo ops with ducks because, as we all know, ducks tend to keep their distance. I think it would take some work, planning, and likely a photo blind to actually get really good shots of most ducks (at least from the shore – I’ve had much better luck from the kayak). Yesterday afternoon I found a group of Ring-necked Ducks at Upper Greenwood Lake that just didn’t seem to care. I saw the birds from my car, I pulled over and parked, but unfortunately the only way to approach was on foot. I did so slowly, fully expecting the birds to swim in the opposite direction, leaving me wanting. I must be on a roll because they did no such thing and instead just carried on as before. I photographed them for about 20 minutes; when I left they were still in the same area going about their business. I then continued towards the black dirt, where I was going to spend the evening participating in the DEC’s Raptor Survey. It was an excellent pit stop which yielded a nice series of pics of these RNDUs, in really nice light.
So, I bumped my head on Tuesday evening. I didn’t even hit it very hard (I’ve certainly hit it way harder), but I must have gotten it just right and I ended up giving myself a concussion. Which put me to some degree out of commission for a few days. When Saturday afternoon rolled around, I was feeling a little bit better so I did some birding, mostly just driving around southern Orange County. As I drove around, I was getting the usuals but I was enjoying it very much just because I hadn’t been out much during the week. Then I happened to see two falcons flying together in the distance. Luckily there was a nice area to pull over, so I parked and watched as the two birds spent some time coming and going from the overhead wires and then, excitingly, the birds mated on a wire. How lucky can you get? American Kestrels mating right in front of me in perfect light. It was very cool to observe and I believe it is only my second time seeing AMKEs mating, the first time being a few years back at the Shawangunk Grasslands from one of the photo blinds.
I’ve birded locally most days in the past week and while it’s been enjoyable, things have been on the slow side. Today things picked up a bit for me when I located a large flock of mixed blackbirds in the black dirt, and then shortly after that had a cooperative Merlin, followed by a large flock of Snow Geese, which I still have not grown tired of. Earlier in the week at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, I had my first Great Blue Heron of the year (and it was in good light!). I’m feeling like I might be ready for winter birding to be over – maybe the flocks of blackbirds are an indication that birds are starting to move?