Moments like these are like actual small miracles in my life. I will look back at them and draw on them for the rest of my days. Bobcat kitten, New York State, October 2018.
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.
This past weekend, Kyle Dudgeon joined me in what has become a yearly trip for me to the Adirondacks to photograph Common Loons. We arrived Saturday afternoon, set up camp, and we were heading out in our kayaks onto Follensby Clear Pond by early evening. Moments after I got in the water, a Common Loon popped up right next to my kayak, checked me out for a minute or so, and then dove under. We spent the evening on the pond with several cooperative adult birds; the weather was great and we had some decent light for photos.
We timed the trip so that we might be able to see some loon chicks. When the sun had set on Saturday evening, we were questioning our timing since we’d seen only adults.
Over dinner, I double checked when I’d had chicks there in the past – our timing seemed okay, and when we woke up Sunday morning at our campsite there was an adult with a chick on the pond about 75 yards out. Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worse, and it was a rainy, dark, morning. We enjoyed seeing the adult feeding the chick and we had some real excitement when an intruder loon came into the area and “our” adult tangled pretty good with the intruder, eventually forcing him/her out of the area. The chick, in the meantime, hid itself along the shore. We knew where it was, but only because we saw it go there – it was REALLY well camouflaged. Eventually the adult came back and the two were reunited. It wasn’t long after that when the second adult arrived and the two adults took turns feeding the chick. It was pretty cool stuff to see, even though the distance and lack of light limited the number of decent photos.
Kyle was determined to get into the water and photograph the loons using a boogie board to prop his camera on. The idea is to get as low of an angle as possible, which always seems desirable for bird photography. On Saturday, at first, he tried it in deeper water and struggle to keep the camera from getting wet. Later he tried where he could stand and he had much more success. He couldn’t convince me to get out of the kayak and try it (I’ve had enough camera issues recently, I don’t need to drop one in the pond!), but he ended up swimming with the loons both days and I have to say I love the low angle he achieved:
It was a brief, but excellent weekend with the loons. It would be interesting to spend a summer with these birds – you would learn so much and the photo ops would be insane. Until that happens, I’ll try to keep up the yearly visits. Here are some more of my favorite shots from the weekend:
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.
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: