I feel like it has been forever since I got out for a full day of birding with any success. Karen Miller and I met out at Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge right around sunrise this morning. It was really cold out, 25 degrees Fahrenheit with a substantial wind chill. We sat in the car for a while and then on the platform for a bit until it got too cold. There were many raptors to be seen – Red-tail Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, a juvenile Bald Eagle, and several Northern Harriers. We decided to follow up on a post seen on the Mearns Bird Club site; we went to Greenwood Lake.
Neither one of us had ever been birding at Greenwood Lake, so it was a bit of an adventure for us as we drove around and explored the lake. We ended up having a great visit with many birds. The highlight for me was a large raft of Common Mergansers that we estimated at approximately 500 individuals:
We stumbled upon Browns Point Park, in West Milford NJ. I totally missed the sign, but Karen saw it and had me turn around. Thank goodness too, because the park provided the best look at ducks that we had all day. We got very good close looks at: Buffleheads, Ring-necked Ducks and Mallards.
After Greenwood Lake, Karen and I headed back to Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge. We decided to walk the Liberty Loop trail; it had warmed up considerably but it was still really windy. Walking through the wind and snow was tough but we were rewarded by seeing many sparrows, Northern Harriers, and a surprise showing of a Short-eared Owl at 12:45 pm. What a great day of birding! Pretty good for January nineteenth.
I have been spending much of my birding time this fall hawk watching. I volunteer at Mt. Peter Hawk Watch, which is located on Kain Road in Warwick NY (just across the street from Bellvale Farms Creamery), so I have been out there on many days. I have been thinking about why I enjoy hawk watching so much and I came up with a few good reasons. It is really amazing how many birds you can see if you sit in one spot for a while. On September 20th, Mt. Peter had its highest count of the year – 1,281 migrating raptors! Over a thousand of them were Broad-winged Hawks! And this is not even considered a “big day” for Broad-winged Hawks. You don’t just see hawks either, I have seen Brant, a Great Blue Heron, Gulls, Common Ravens, Common Loons, and even Glossy Ibis fly over hawk watches! There is also plenty of time to look for songbirds when there is a lull in the hawk activity.
I also find hawk watching to be extremely challenging. It is certainly a different way of birding for me. Some days it is difficult just to to find any migrating hawks in the sky, depending on wind and weather conditions, how high the birds are flying, and what the cloud cover is like (among other things). An all blue sky is the most difficult sky to find hawks in. Sunny with some clouds seems to make the hawks most visible for me. Some days it can be tough to just locate the birds, but identifying the raptors is by far the most challenging and rewarding aspect of Hawk Watching. It is so much fun trying to figure out what species of bird you are looking at – sometimes at a great distance, often in silhouette, usually with no size comparisons to be made.
Finally, there is an aspect of hawk watching that would never have guessed would become so enjoyable to me – the camaraderie. I always enjoyed birding alone – sort of an escape, but I am finding more and more that I am enjoying birding with other people. Mt. Peter is extraordinary, the people there are amazing – so friendly, knowledgeable, generous. I highly recommend a visit.
If you are interested in seeing the data collected by the Mt. Peter volunteers, please visit: http://www.hawkcount.org/.
Tricia and I also made it out to Hawk Mountain for the first weekend of October. The highlight for me was 9 Peregrine Falcons on Saturday.
I made it out to Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge before sunrise THREE times this week in hopes of finally getting some Black-crowned Night-Heron photos. I identified 37 species of birds (and one really cute mammal) in those three days. Here’s a short list of favorites:
Great Blue Herons(many!)
I finally got a pretty good look at both an adult and a juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron this morning, and it is thanks to John – a fellow birder I met out at the refuge this morning. He told me when he first arrived that he had never had any luck finding BCNH at this site. Moments later one flew right over our heads! He later found three BCNH in a couple of trees just off of the east side of the trail and he made sure I knew exactly where to find them. Thanks John!
Monday afternoon I sat hidden in the bushes by the pond near my house in Goshen, NY for over two hours. I know, strange behavior. Well actually, I was watching and photographing two Green Herons that were spending their afternoon there. The herons spent their time grooming, hunting, and just sitting. It was fascinating to see how these birds can take on a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their behavior.
I made it out to Sterling Forest State Park in Tuxedo New York this evening to try to see the Mississippi Kites that had been seen there over the last several days. I would like to thank all the folks from the Edgar A. Mearns Bird Club who posted about the kites. I was not disappointed in the least! I was there for an hour and a half and both birds where present almost the entire time. I watched as they ate dragonflies and also got to see them mate on two separate occasions! What a great day of birding! Here’s some photos:
Yesterday evening I took a walk on the Heritage Trail which is just a block or so from my house. The trail runs along side 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary which, according to the Orange County Tourism web site (see links), is a “62 acre wetland bird sanctuary owned and maintained by the Orange County Audubon Society”. It is a great spot for birding and just happens to be a short walk from my house.
I headed out without high expectations. I have been struggling with the camera lately, not getting good exposures, so I just wanted to go out and experiment and try to work on a few things. For some reason I did not think there would be many birds. Boy, was I wrong! I had a slow start with a lot of the usual suspects – American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Gray Catbirds, and a couple different kinds of warblers. Then things started to get good. A Green Heron flew across the water giving me a great look and then landed in a tree on the far side of the sanctuary. Not long after that I spotted a beautiful bright orange male Baltimore Oriole. As I was checking out the oriole, I heard some crows making a racket and I looked up to see two crows mobbing an adult Bald Eagle right above me. The eagle flew over several times giving me a really good look and a chance to get some photos. Moments after that I saw my best bird of the night – a COMMON LOON. I stayed for a while getting photos of the loon and got to hear it make its call. What a great evening! I ended up with twenty-four species in all, here are some additional highlights and some photos:
I went to the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge (http://www.fws.gov/northeast/wallkillriver/index.htm) today after work and found a Green Heron in a tree. I walked the Liberty Loop trail which is about 2 miles long. I was almost back to my car when I saw the heron fly in and land in a tree nearby. I was able to get the above photo, which I don’t love but it was the best I could do. It was a really nice walk with many birds – I was able to identify 24 species. Highlights for me:
(1) Green Heron
(3) Double Crested Cormorant
(1) Osprey – Hovering and fishing
(4) Lesser Yellowlegs
(2) Common Yellowthroat
(6) Yellow Warblers – Flying very close to me as if I was not there