This morning I joined John Haas and Karen Miller on a trip to Nickerson Beach on Long Island; we were hoping to see some of the great terns that have been reported there in recent days. It was my first time to Nickerson Beach, and I didn’t really know what to expect. There are nesting colonies of Common Terns, Least Terns, and Black Skimmers – all in a relatively small area, so the shear number of birds is absolutely incredible. Our timing was good for tern chicks and we saw plenty of both Least and Common Tern chicks. We spent much of our time between the Common Tern colony and the ocean, and it was remarkable to see how well the terns were doing feeding; there was a steady stream of COTEs heading out to the ocean and coming back with fish in their bills to feed young.
We were hoping that some larger groups of terns would loaf on the beach, this would increase our chances of seeing some different terns, but this never materialized to any great extent. Whenever a larger group of terns would start to develop, sure enough a walker or jogger would come through and flush the birds. It was a perfect “beach day” after all! Apparently we had missed a Royal Tern do a fly-by while we were checking out the Least Tern colony, but we did get lucky with four GULL-BILLED TERNS which spent a good amount of time flying above and through the Common Tern colony. I was excited because of all the likely terns, this is the one I wanted to get shot of – they are a beautiful clean, sharp looking tern and they are distinctly whiter than the Commons that they were flying among. Unfortunately, we left without getting a couple of our targets – Arctic Tern and Roseate Tern. It was a great morning of birding, and getting out super early, we beat the heat for the most part.
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!
Right now, the Bashakill is officially the hottest hotspot in the area. When John Haas reported a TUNDRA SWAN at Haven Road early this morning, I knew that if the bird stuck around, I would run for it after work. I got word as I left work that the bird was still present, so I headed towards the Bash. When I arrived, Ken McDermott was on the bird, which was out quite a ways foraging in the vegetation on the northeast side of Haven Road. Lance Verderame and Matt Price joined us shortly after and we enjoyed good scope views as the bird was in perfect light. Ken and I decided to drive out to the Stop Sign Trail to try to get a better look; we were successful and we got a much closer look at the bird, which looked amazing in Ken’s scope (but was unfortunately backlit for photos). It’s a great time of year – things are happening in the birding world and I’m totally loving the time change and the longer days which are allowing me to finally do some quality birding after work again.
This morning I took Kyle Dudgeon up on his offer to help him count migrating raptors up in Broome County, NY. He had been seeing decent numbers of Golden Eagles recently, so I was hoping today would be more of the same. Almost immediately upon exiting the highway, I came upon a pair of Bald Eagles perched together over Oquaga Creek. I took this as a good sign, and I wasn’t wrong. Through the morning and into the early afternoon, we saw many Bald Eagles; it was tough to keep a count because the birds kept coming and going. Most were locals, but we did have a group of four adult birds migrate through. Three of the birds were flying quite close together; flying almost in formation, which is something I’ve never seen before:
It may sound odd, but all the Bald Eagles ended up being among the least exciting parts of the day. Early on we had an adult GOLDEN EAGLE migrate through; very high. Shortly after that, we had a single young Golden Eagle, a local, make a brief, distant appearance before disappearing behind a distant ridge. Then, Kyle was looking through his scope and said “you gotta get on this bird”. Following his directions, I got on the bird quickly. I knew as soon as I saw the bird what it was – a NORTHERN GOSHAWK! My immediate impression was a massive accipiter with powerful wingbeats. We followed in our scopes as the bird followed the ridge off to our right. At one point it seemed to buzz a perched eagle. I was excited when the light caught the bird nicely on its topside, showing the blue hue of an adult bird – I was was flipping out! The bird eventually disappeared into the trees and we did not see it again. We had one final bit of excitement – not one, but two young GOLDEN EAGLES perched in a snag on a distant ridge. One bird took flight and started buzzing the perched bird; this went on for ages! Eventually, the buzzing bird left the perched bird and worked its way up the ridge to our left, finally got close enough for some documentary photos. What a great day of hawk watching! I can’t thank Kyle enough for the invite.
Sometimes it only takes one bird. To make your day. Your weekend. Your week. Today it was this gorgeous and super cooperative ICELAND GULL at the Beacon Waterfront. Huge thanks to Maria Loukeris for locating and reporting.
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.
Unfortunately, today’s Brooklyn Pelagic was cancelled due to what they described as a “horrendous forecast”. They are trying to reschedule it for February 4th; hopefully it will fill up and I will be able to make it.
I resorted to ‘Plan B’, which I came up with on my commute home last night: I’d take a trip to the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. It’s been a while since I’ve been there and I thought it would be fun to see how well I could do with waterfowl. Afterwards, I ended up also going to the Marshlands Conservancy, which is also in Rye, and then stopping at Piermont Pier on my way home. For the day I had 19 species of waterfowl; here’s my list by location:
The biggest surprise for me was the number of Common Goldeneyes at the sanctuary. My count of 22 is very conservative and I don’t remember ever having nearly that many there in the past. I was also hoping to see my first shorebirds of 2018, but it was not to be (in the past, I have had Purple Sandpipers at E.G. Read Sanctuary and back in December of 2013, I had 13 Dunlin at the Marshlands Conservancy). As for songbirds, I feel like I’ve done better at the sanctuary and the conservancy in the past. My best songbird of the day was a fleeting look at a FOX SPARROW at the Marshlands Conservancy. Here’s some more shots from the day:
Well, another year of birding is officially in the books! The end of year post has always been one of my favorites to write; it’s fun for me to look back on the year of birding and remember all the highlights.
2017 MONTH-BY-MONTH HIGHLIGHTS
JANUARY:I went on my first Winter Pelagic and it did not disappoint. I got two life birds on the trip:DovekieandBlack-legged Kittiwake. Snow Geeserepresented well in the black dirt and provided plenty of photo ops. And, aROSS’S GOOSE was an easy get at Monroe-Woodbury Middle School.
FEBRUARY:Snow Geesecontinued to linger in the Black Dirt and a trip to the Jersey Shore yielded two really good birds:RAZORBILL and aLesser Black-backed Gull.
MARCH:I got my lifer Long-earedandNorthernSaw-Whetowls on a trip to Connecticut. There was a trio of Long-tailed Ducks at Glenmere Lake, and 4Sandhill Cranes in Ulster County. I joined Kathy Ashman, Bruce Nott, and Linda Scrima out at Wickham Lake for one of the best waterfowl fallouts I’d seen in the OC; we had 17 species of waterfowl including 3HornedGrebesand 17Redheads(an OC life bird for me!).
APRIL:Early in the month, I went on a family vacation to Sargent, Texas, where I accumulated 12 life birds. A little later in the month I ran for aTrumpeter Swanat the Bashakill.
MAY:A lot went on in May. Good waterfowl sitings included a White-winged Scoterat Glenmere and4 Red-necked Grebes at Wickham Lake. Linda Scrima located and documented very well aSUMMER TANAGERat Laurel Grove Cemetery. I had a 5 swallow night at the Liberty Loop (Tree, Barn, N. Rough-winged, Bank, and Cliff). I participated in the Mearns Bird Club’s Break 100 on a team with John Haas, Karen Miller, and Jeff Goulding. We located one of the best birds of the day,aLESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. The following day, I got my Orange County liferYellow-breasted Chat, originally located during the Break by the team of Alan & Della Wells and Dave and Sharon Baker. At the Grasslands, I picked up 2 life birds in 2 minutes:DICKCISSELandHENSLOW’S SPARROW. At the end of the month I had a super showing of shorebirds at the Camel Farm, including 2RED-NECKED PHALAROPESand 6White-rumped Sandpipers. Later in the evening, Rob Stone would add aWILSON’S PHALAROPEto the list.
JUNE:Things slowed down a bit in June; there was aBlack Ternat the Liberty Loop that I missed out on. The highlight of the month for me was my yearly trip to Adirondacks; this year Kyle Dudgeon joined me and we overdosed onCommon Loons(never a bad thing).
JULY: Linda Scrima located aForster’s Ternat the Liberty Loop; I ran and was able to get some great shots of that bird. Rob Stone relocated 5 WHITE IBISat Wickham Lake and thanks to Curt McDermott and his kayak, I was able to get some good shots of those birds too. Following up on an eBird report, Linda Scrima and I relocated aSNOWY EGRETat Citgo Pond, which was an OC lifer for both of us. I had an amazing encounter with aLEAST BITTERNwith Linda and Maria at Richard W. DeKorte Park – see more about this below.
AUGUST:There was aGlossy Ibisat Citgo Pond, originally located by Bill Fiero. I located a pair ofUPLAND SANDPIPERSin the black dirt.
SEPTEMBER:Hawkwatch at Mt. Peter began; we counted over 6800Broad-winged Hawksfor the month, which is slightly below average. I had my best showing ofCommon Nighthawkssince moving to OC, with nearly a dozen sitings. I located 5SANDERLINGS, another OC lifer for me, in the Black Dirt.
OCTOBER:Linda Scrima struck again and located aNELSON’S SPARROW at the Liberty Loop. I was lucky enough to get that bird one evening after work. Maria Loukeris made her mark, locating aSAY’S PHOEBE, also at Liberty Marsh. Unfortunately that bird did not stick around for anyone else to see it, but it was documented with a beautiful shot by Maria. I had an amazing 36Pectoral Sandpiperslater in the month, again at Liberty Marsh, as well as a very earlyRough-legged Hawkin the Black Dirt.
NOVEMBER:At Mt. Peter, early in the month, I had my firstGOLDEN EAGLEof the season. I also had my first Snow BuntingsandLAPLAND LONGSPURSof the season. Later in the month, thanks to a lead from John Haas, I got my first (of many)Cackling Gooseof the season.
DECEMBER:I located aRed-headed Woodpeckerat Glenmere Lake and then Kathy Ashman located 2 ROSS’S GEESE, also at Glenmere. I also had a pair of ICELAND GULLS at the Newburgh Waterfront, a week later Curt McDermott had 4ICGU and a singleLesser Black-backed Gullat the same location.
BY THE NUMBERS
I almost left this section out this year because most of my numbers aren’t very pretty, but I enjoy looking at the numbers and I think they can be I had decided last year not to concentrate so much on birding in Orange County, but then I turned around and birded OC nearly exclusively, at the expense of the neighboring counties?!? I’m not sure what it is, but I guess I just enjoy getting birds in my home county more than anywhere else. Here’s my species numbers for the year:
MORE NUMBERS: I added 17 birds to my life list in 2017, putting my total at 388. I also added 12 species to my New York State life list bumping that up to 290, and I add 10 birds to my OC life list, giving me a total of 246. This is my 92nd post of the year, down 7 from last year, which I don’t think is too bad based on my birding time being limited these days.
MOST EXCITING BIRDING EXPERIENCE OF THE YEAR: LEAST BITTERN AT RICHARD W. DEKORTE PARK.
On July 30th Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I took a trip down to Richard W. DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst, New Jersey to break up the summer doldrums a bit. We left at the end of the day having had an experience that not many will have. We had an amazing encounter with a Least Bittern that was feeding right next to one of the blinds. The bird was super focused on its prey and never really reacted to us at all. To me, Least Bitterns are among the most secretive birds in our area, so I never dreamed that we could get such a close-up extended look and unbelievable photos ops. I can’t imagine that it will ever happen again for me.
TOP TEN PHOTOS OF 2017
So it’s always difficult for me to pick my top photos of the year – there are so many different criteria I could use I suppose, but basically it just comes down to the shots that I like the best and have held up in my mind over the year.
I’d like to thank everyone who reads the blog and especially those who comment – the comments really keep me going. And, as usual, I’d like to thank all my birding friends out there for yet another excellent year of birding, with special thanks to Rob Stone, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, Kyle Dudgeon, John Haas, Karen Miller, Ken McDermott, and Judy Cinquina. Happy New Year to everyone out there, here’s to an extremely birdy 2018!
Sadly, another season of hawk watching has come and gone. Judy Cinquina, leader of Mount Peter Hawkwatch, was kind enough to let me share the season ending report here on the blog. Judy does a really great job and it’s an interesting read for sure, with some numbers that will certainly concern many birders. Huge thanks to Judy for sharing.
Mount Peter 2017 – By Judy Cinquina
2017 was the 60th anniversary of the Mount Peter Hawk Watch. Since 1958, every fall season has added more data to our knowledge of raptor numbers, migration and behavior. Leaders celebrated by breaking Red-shouldered Hawk and Peregrine Falcon daily records and toppling the old 1990 Peregrine fall count. The euphoria didn’t last long, even with four Golden Eagles and a Goshawk spicing up the final score of 8,996. Our 74-day count, from September 1 through November 15, failed to show any improvement in Harrier or Kestrel numbers, and the Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks seemed happy to either delay or reject migration altogether.
A slightly below average 6,874 Broad-winged Hawks were counted this season, most moving south between September 10 and 22. Leaders Rick Hansen and Ajit Antony garnered the only 1,000+ days. Rick recorded 1,140 on light SW winds, September 17, in spite of fog socking in the lookout for most of that morning. Ajit’s 1,764 Broad-wings on the 21st kettled up in light, northwest winds, but their migration stopped when clouds moved in for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Both leaders wondered if Broad-wings migrated unseen in the fog or clouds on their respective days. Usually a late October migrant, the majority of Red-shoulders turned up instead between November 4 and 11, producing our second best tally of 122: 69 adult, 11 immature, and 42 unknown. Matt Zeitler grabbed the best day, November 4, counting a record 27 on light north winds and destroying Ken Witkowski’s old record of 24 from October 27, 2013. Hopefully it’s a good sign that most of our three-digit counts of this species have occurred in the last six years. Once again Red-tails failed to move in large numbers before our watch ended on November 15. The 232 recorded was 93% below our 10-year average. Rough-legged Hawks were a no-show for the seventh consecutive fall.
Since 1978 when the watch was extended daily through October and into November, we were rewarded with four-digit tallies of Sharp-shinned Hawks, but not this fall. The 841 counted was 48% below our 10-year average. Our biggest day was 69 on October 20. Compare that to back to back records of 317 and 337 made in late September 1986. Meanwhile, numbers for their larger cousin, the Cooper’s Hawk, have been on the rise since 1990. They reached an above average 121, this fall. After a two-year absence, one Goshawk finally turned up, October 18. Ajit wrote that this large-headed accipiter sailed due south, never beating its wings.
The American Kestrel had a mini-rebound from last year’s abysmal 52, with 83 counted: 11 male, 23 female, 49 unknown. However, their numbers have been woefully low this entire decade. The 18 Merlin was rather average, but the larger Peregrine Falcon brightened our 60th with two records. On October 11, Ajit recorded 6, nudging out John Tramontano’s daily record of 5, counted October 17, 1992. Although we don’t get their falcon numbers, we mirrored Montclair’s and Hook Mountain’s record Peregrine numbers this season, counting 26 and surpassed the 21 counted in 1990.That is excellent news since DDT almost eliminated this species from our landscape by the 1960’s.
Osprey numbers bounced back a bit but still came in 38% below their 10-year average at 111. In the 2016 edition of the Northeast Hawk Watch Report, Drew Panko points out that while Osprey breeding has increased, “numbers counted in migration has been decreasing for the last 30 years…” The cause remains a mystery. Why the N. Harrier numbers are reaching rock bottom is not so mysterious, with their habitat of wetlands and fields disappearing at an alarming rate. The 26 logged this fall is pathetic and well below the record 101 logged in 1980. Bald Eagles are on an amazing rebound, especially in the last 10 years. The 85 noted this season (44 adults, 38 immature, and 3 unknown) was above average. Always uncommon in the northeast, the Golden Eagle came in at an average 4: 3 adult, 1 immature.
We did not begin counting Turkey Vultures until the 1980’s, and differentiating locals from migrants has always been a challenge. The 320 counted this fall was above average, and so were the 96 Black Vultures. 1985 produced the first Black Vulture ever seen over our lookout, and now they’re quite common. Local C. Ravens were with us almost daily with up to 5 counted. 681 Monarch Butterflies surpassed last year’s 131, the majority moving between October 3 and 11.Ruby-throated Hummingbirds barely made an appearance with a mere 15 recorded. Denise Farrell noted 3,515 Canada Geese, September 28, as part of our final 10,365 counted between September 28 and November 11. The high Brant count was 95 on November 4, with 146 tallied by season’s end, and only 10 Snow Geese showed up, with a single Snow hanging on to the end of a skein of Canadas, November 7. Between October 31 and November 10, 19 C. Loons were observed heading east towards Greenwood Lake. Other birds of interest included:
1 Pine Warbler
2 1st C. Nighthawk (5 more, 9/3 – 9/13), 1st Black-throated Green & Red-eyed Vireo
6 1st Prairie (another 3 on 9/10) & Magnolia Warblers, 1st Scarlet Tanager
7 Cape May Warbler
11 Tennessee Warbler & 2 Am. Redstarts
12 1st DC Cormorant (1 on 9/21 & 14 on 9/28)
18 1st C. Loon
22 59 DC Cormorants (235 on 11/4)
23 1st Yellow-bellied Sapsucker seen through 11/14 (male & immature 11/14)
24 Brown Creeper
27 E. Towhee (another 9/21)
39 Blackpoll, E. Phoebe
2 25 E. Bluebirds
4 3 White-crowned Sparrows
5 Red-headed Woodpecker
15 Great Horned Owl heard
What better way to celebrate our 60th consecutive watch then with an official hat, designed and donated by Denise Farrell. Our hats on to Denise! A big thank you to all our friends and visitors who helped with the count, especially Bill Connolly, Rob Stone and Carol Linguanti. Sadly, Carol passed away at the end of October. Carol was the creator of our Facebook page and a dedicated leader. Her enthusiasm and spirit will be missed. A big thank you to our clean-up crew: Denise, Rick Hansen, Rochana Muenthongchin, Beverly Robertson, Gene Tappan, Will Test, and especially Tom Millard who installed our box on the platform. Our deep appreciation to Evan Masten and George Profus, NYDEC Region 3 Foresters who cut some of the larger trees blocking our views before the watch began, and to Mike Limatola and Kurt Muenz and the Fyke Nature Association for providing the insurance required for our Clean-Up day. We are also indebted to Fyke for their continued support, especially for sponsoring our Mount Peter site on Hawkcount.org. We continue as the oldest, continually run, all-volunteer fall watch in the country.
I decided to forego my Christmas shopping on Black Friday, and headed to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge instead (that was a joke, by the way, I know, keep my day job). Birding the refuge can be a little bit overwhelming during duck migration. Black Lake, the first large body of water on the left on Wildlife Drive, was absolutely loaded with waterfowl! There had to be thousands of birds present. Some birds are close enough for good binocular looks and even some photos, but most of the birds are pretty far out – it’s a distant sea of waterfowl. For the day, I had a total of 15 species of swimming waterbirds at the refuge: Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, and American Coot. I also did alright with raptors, with: Red-tailed Hawk (3), Bald Eagle (4), Northern Harrier (3), American Kestrel (1), and ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (1).
One of the more exciting moments was seeing an incredible 87 (!) SANDHILL CRANES. I viewed them from East Road – the birds were relatively obscured by vegetation which made getting a good count difficult. At first I counted approximately 60 birds, but then I discovered there was a second group, just 100 yards away. My best count was 87, but I’m sure there were some birds that were hidden and not counted.
I wanted to drive through Wildlife Drive one more time. I stopped by the visitor’s center and another birder told me that he had seen a SNOWY OWL nearby to the refuge just a little bit earlier. I ran for the owl, but alas, it must have moved and I was unable to relocate it. I did get lucky with the CATTLE EGRET that has been recently reported; a bird that I would normally be pretty excited about but I was bummed to have missed a Snowy by such a small margin. From there, I decided to leave the refuge and bird Cayuga Lake…
…I drove the west side of the lake and ended up at Cayuga Lake State Park, which had a nice dock for viewing the lake. I added 4 species of waterfowl (American Black Duck, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, and Horned Grebe), bringing my total for the day to 19. I was most excited, however, with the gulls present: Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed, and BONAPARTE’S.
On Saturday morning I tried again for the Snowy Owl, but was unsuccessful. I also wanted to try Cayuga Lake again, this time I went down the east side of the lake. I was hoping to do better with Bonaparte’s for photos – I got much better looks, but the photos were terrible. I did add Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, and Common Goldeneye to my waterfowl list, giving me a total of 22 species in two days – not too bad. Good birding in Seneca County!