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 went out to the Wallkill River NWR on Saturday morning, planning on walking the Liberty Loop. It was a gray rainy morning, but I was still hoping to get some flight photos of the Northern Harriers that have been cruising the loop lately and I also had 3 Pied-billed Grebes out there on Thursday evening and I wanted to see if they were still at the refuge. When I arrived I took a quick look around from the viewing platform and noticed a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree north of Oil City Road. I decided to walk up Liberty Lane and check it out and leave the Liberty Loop for another day. I was not disappointed, especially in the raptor department:
5 (!) American Kestrels
2 Northern Harriers
1 Red-tail Hawk
1 Sharp-shinned Hawk
There was a complete absence of shore birds, but there were 6 Great Egrets and 2 Great Blue Herons in the pond to the left of Liberty Lane. There was a good showing of songbirds – I got a nice look at a Red-bellied Woodpecker, there were many American Goldfinches, and I had a couple of Palm Warblers too. I saw many sparrows which I struggled to identify as usual. I really have to put more time into it, but I haven’t made it happen yet. I had several Song Sparrows and I believe I also had a number of Savannah Sparrows, which I identified with my photos once I got home:
I put my kayak into the water at the Basha Kill right at sunrise this morning. It was a chilly paddle at first, but as the sun made it over the mountain it warmed up quickly. There were many Wood Ducks flying over and I came across at least a half a dozen Great Blue Herons as I paddled the channel. I spotted a couple of falcons that darted behind the trees before I could get a good ID on them. Ironically the highlight of my paddle this morning came when I stopped at Haven Road and got out of my kayak to chat with fellow birder/blogger John Haas (The Bashakill Birder). We watched as a Merlin flew across Haven Road and then chased a Mourning Dove over the kill and around the corner. The Merlin was overhead again shortly after that and then perched on a tree right on Haven road, giving me a good opportunity to get a photo:
After my paddle, I headed over to the Deli Fields to have a look around:
I walked the Liberty Loop at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday evening. I have been doing some reading and working on shorebird identification lately, so my primary goal was to see if my work would pay off. The Liberty Loop trail had a different feel on this day for sure. As soon as I got out of the car I heard birds overhead. To me they sounded like they were saying “me…me………me…me”. Karen Miller and I had heard the same call the day before out at the Shawangunk Grasslands. I managed to get some good looks and some photos and when I got home I figured out it was a flock of Bobolinks – at least 40 birds. From the viewing platform several shorebirds could be seen as well as a couple dozen Canada Geese, a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret. A Northern Harrier cruised the marsh looking for prey. There was a conspicuous lack of Red-winged Blackbirds. Fall migration sure seemed to be underway.
I walked quickly to the southern end of the loop to look for shorebirds. There were a good many present and as usual I struggled to identify them. I took some time with it and determined that there were no out of the ordinary shorebirds present. Here’s my count:
(2) Solitary Sandpiper
(3) Lesser Yellowlegs
(24) Least Sandpiper
I was pleasantly surprised to find several types of ducks in the back pond:
American Black Duck
It was nice to see a variety of ducks again!
On my way out, I found this juvenile Black-Crowned Night-heron:
As you can see from the above photo, this heron was well aware of my presence, but did not seem to be bothered by me in the least. I walked slowly down the trail until I was in a good position for a photo and then snapped away. When I moved on, this young heron was still sitting in the same spot.
I was happy with my work with the camera – it was nearly dark, but I still managed to get some good photos. I am getting better with both my settings and with keeping the camera stead with a slow shutter speed (1/50th of a second!). Here’s one more of the BCNH:
Yesterday evening I was supposed to meet Karen Miller at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR. I was running early, so I decided to head over to Dennings Point State Park in Beacon NY. I had birded there one other time – it was a really nice hike but I did not see or hear very many birds. I figured I would give it another shot and it really paid off. About ten minutes into the hike I reached the first view of the water. As I got close to the shore, I flushed three Green Herons by tripping on a root! I looked out over the water and a along the shore and saw:
7 Green Herons
3 Black-Crowned Night-herons
2 Great Blue Herons
4 Great Egrets
Wow! What a great start! I talked to Karen and we decided to save the Shawangunk Grasslands for another day, she would join me at Dennings Point instead. It was a great day of birding! I had 29 species for the day and I got many good looks at both the Green Herons and Black-Crowned Night-herons. At one point, at a point in the trail a little deeper in the woods, we had close to ten species of song birds in just a few minutes. This was Karen’s highlight of the day. Here’s some photos from the day:
I went out to Skinner Lane in Goshen today after work. Last fall Skinner Lane was a really good spot for shorebirds, so I figured I would swing by and see what I could find. There were many Killdeer present, I counted at least 100, but they were the only shorebirds to be found. I wasn’t there long when many of the Killdeer suddenly flew. That is when I noticed a Northern Harrier cruising above the fields. I checked my eBird checklists – this was the first Northern Harrier I had seen since the end of March! I watched in my binoculars for a short while until it dropped into one of the fields and disappeared in the crops. I waited but I never did see the hawk again.
The highlight of the day was seeing a group of approximately 15 Horned Larks. This is a life bird for me, so it was very exciting. They landed not very far away from me, but there was a car coming so I had to snap a few pictures as quickly as I could before they flew. I did the best I could, but I was not very happy with the results:
On my way out I spotted an American Kestrel with a fresh kill. He was dining on the top of a power line pole.
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!
Tuesday after work I put in some serious birding time. I started right around 4:00 in the afternoon and I drove home in the dark at around 9:30. I started at the Appalachian Trail Pochuck Creek Section. I wasn’t sure if I would ever go back there because last time there was SO much foot traffic and as a result very few birds. On Tuesday it was very hot and muggy and I was hoping that the heat would keep people off the trail – which it did. I had a productive afternoon where I identified 21 species. I caught a couple glimpses of a Marsh Wren which was pretty exciting and I got a really good look at two Great Egrets that were not very far off the trail. My best moment was finding FOUR Green Herons in the trees and bushes alongside the creek. At one point I had all four herons in my binoculars at one time.
I headed over to the Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge to meet up with Karen Miller around 6:00. Despite the recent rains the water levels were still very low and there were many shore birds present. I struggle with the shore birds, but since Karen hadn’t arrived yet I took the opportunity to take out my Sibley guide and try to figure out what birds I was seeing. I used the numerous Killdeer as a gauge for size and also watched their behavior and this is what I came up with: (1) Greater Yellowlegs, (10) Killdeer, (2) Least Sandpipers, (3) Solitary Sandpipers, and (2) Spotted Sandpipers.
Karen arrived and we watched the shore birds for a while and then decided to walk the east side of the trail, the side we always like. We had a great evening of birding – we had 29 species. There were many Great Blue Herons (probably over 40) and they were very active. They were often in flight and many of them were vocalizing. We also talked about the high numbers of Canada Geese and Mallards that were present – many more than I have seen out there lately. A highlight for both of us was seeing an Orchard Oriole (thanks to John Haas for help with the ID).
A final highlight came at the end of the walk. It was getting pretty dark but we could see that there were some bigger birds in the water in front of the viewing platform. Karen asked me if I wanted to see a Green Heron. I wasn’t convinced, but when I looked where she told me there sure was a bird that had the general shape of a Green Heron. It looked too big to me so I started thinking it could be a Black-crowned Night Heron. It was just too dark to make out the bird from where we stood, so we made our way closer – to the viewing platform. Unfortunately, as we were trying to get a look a car pulled up and the bird flew.
I was pretty sure that it was a Black-crowned Night Heron, so I went back the next night right before Sunset. Just as it got dark FIVE Black-crowned Night Herons arrived and started to hunt in the water in front of the viewing platform. It was incredible! I tried to take some photos but did not have great results:
I made it back out to the Basha Kill early this morning and I had a little better luck this time around. I identified 25 species including a Pied-billed Grebe which I was able to get some photos of and I was lucky enough to see two Common Gallinules – a first for me. It was a beautiful morning with some excellent birding.