6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary

I certainly heard this Carolina Wren before I saw it. 6 12/ Station Road 2-22-13.
I certainly heard this Carolina Wren before I saw it. 6 12/ Station Road 2-22-13.

I think it might be time to change my expectations of 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary. I’m not exactly sure why, but when I go there I am never expecting to see very many birds. Maybe it’s because it is the birding spot closest to home and I get out there pretty often. It is true that there have been many days when I have had hardly any birds, but there are also many days when there are numerous of birds to be seen, and some of them are unexpected.

I made a quick stop at the sanctuary yesterday after work. It was a gray dull day; it snowed for most of the time I was out there. It was not a very good day for photographs, none of the photos in this post are any good with maybe the exception of the Carolina Wren but I did want to document the day. Here is my species list from the forty-five minute stop:

Canada Goose  3
Mallard  11
Hooded Merganser  2
Northern Harrier  3
Red-tailed Hawk  4
Ring-billed Gull  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Peregrine Falcon  1
American Crow  X
Black-capped Chickadee  3
Carolina Wren  1
European Starling  X
Song Sparrow  3
Red-winged Blackbird  20

I really wasn’t expecting to see any ducks, but there was some open water on the sanctuary side of the Heritage Trail where I found eleven Mallards and an unexpected bonus of two male Hooded Mergansers:

These two were a pleasant surprise. Hooded Mergansers out at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary 2-22-13.
These two were a pleasant surprise. Hooded Mergansers out at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary 2-22-13.
Three of the eleven Mallards out at the sanctuary, 2-22-13.
Three of the eleven Mallards out at the sanctuary, 2-22-13.

I had my first of season Red-winged Blackbirds; I guess spring will being coming this year after all:

Red-winged Blackbirds take flight. 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary 2-22-13.
Red-winged Blackbirds take flight. 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary 2-22-13.

As far as raptors go, Red-tailed Hawks are nearly always present at the sanctuary, but I don’t normally see much else. On this day I had three Northern Harriers, one of which was an adult male “Gray Ghost”. Two years ago NOHA were regulars hunting at the sanctuary but I have not seen many this year. The male was flying low and hunting while the other two where soaring up high. All three eventually headed northeast of the sanctuary. Finally, on my way out I saw this Peregrine Falcon fly by with what looked like a Mourning Dove. I been visiting the sanctuary for just over two years – I checked on eBird, and this is my first record of a Peregrine Falcon at 6 1/2 Station Road.

Here's a terrible photo of what was fascinating to watch - a Peregrine Falcon hauls its prey across the sanctuary, 2-22-13.
Here’s a terrible photo of what was fascinating to watch – a Peregrine Falcon hauls its prey across the sanctuary, 2-22-13.

Here is a list of some of the more memorable birds that I have seen out at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary in the past couple of years:

Greater White-fronted Geese

Snow Geese

Common Loon

Bald Eagle

Peregrine Falcon

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

In 2011 I recorded observing 50 species in 25 visits to the sanctuary. In 2012 I had 87 species in 27 visits. I am curious to see how I do in 2013, I would certainly like to increase my recorded visits and, of course, my number of species.

Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 02-16-13

This Northern Harrier spent a lot of time near the blind I was in. I was clicking away and for the longest time the bird did not have any idea I was there.
This Northern Harrier spent a lot of time near the blind I was in. This might be my favorite photo of 2013 so far. NOHA at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 2-16-13.

Today was a memorable day of bird photography for me out at the Shawangunk Grasslands. We received a heavy dusting of snow the night before and the grasslands looked beautiful. The light was not exceptional, but the birds were flying pretty good, mostly Northern Harriers and Rough-legged Hawks. The highlight of the day for me was this Rough-legged Hawk that landed right next to the blind. The RLHAs are usually so aware of human presence and stay pretty far away so I was glad to get this photo:

Rough-legged Hawk at Shawangunk Grasslands 2-16-13.
Rough-legged Hawk at Shawangunk Grasslands 2-16-13.

The Northern Harriers seemed to be exceptionally acrobatic on this day:

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NOHA at the Shawangunk Grasslands 2-16-13.
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NOHA at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 2-16-13
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Look at the legs on this Marsh Hawk! NOHA all stretched out at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 2-16-13.
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NOHA going in for prey, Shawangunk Grasslands 2-16-13.
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Cruising by but keeping an eye on me – N. Harrier at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 2-16-13.

And I finally got a shot of an adult male that I like pretty well:

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Gray Ghost out at the Shawangunk Grasslands 2-16-13.

There are plenty of Red-tailed Hawks out at the grasslands, but they seem to spend the majority of their time along the perimeter of the reserve. This one perched temporarily in the tree right behind the blind.

A Red-tailed Hawk leaves its perch
A Red-tailed Hawk leaves its perch right behind the blind. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 2-16-13.

The Rough-legged Hawks were very active on this day. These two were mixing it up pretty good. One of them had a clump of grass that I assume contained some prey and the other wanted it pretty badly. They made their way across the grasslands chasing and tangling as they went.

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Two RLHA going at it pretty good at the grasslands 2-16-13
Here's one more of the two RLHAs. All of these photos were underexposed and/02 heavily backlit, so it took some post processing to get them to this point. They're not good photos, but it was interesting behavior to watch and document.
Here’s one more of the two RLHAs. All of these photos were underexposed and/or heavily backlit, so it took some post processing to get them to this point. They’re not good photos, but it was interesting behavior to watch and document.

And in case all of that was not exciting enough, at the end of the day a coyote made its way across the reserve…way out in the distance but still a joy to see. What a day!

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After Nemo

Today was the day after Winter Storm Nemo. Approximately 14 inches of snow fell here in Goshen, so I donned my snow shoes and hit the Heritage Trail that leads to 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary. It was a tough walk, but very enjoyable. I did not find any out of the ordinary birds, but many of the usual suspects made a good showing.

The most interesting aspect of the day for me was noticing how the snow lit the underside of the birds as they flew over. The amount of detail I could see on this Red-tailed Hawk was fascinating to me. And as the crows flew over I was seeing colors and highlights I never really noticed before. For both of these birds, what I was seeing came through in my photos. I also had several Black Vultures that looked SO different to me, it was amazing – unfortunately it did not come through in my photos. I also had several Ring-billed Gulls fly over that were the brightest, cleanest white I’ve ever seen; none were very close so I was unable to get any photos.

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A young Red-tailed Hawk with plenty of details showing. 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 2-9-13.
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One more of the same Red-tail, 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary 2-9-13.
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An American Crow flies over, well lit from the fresh snow fall. 6 1/2 Station Rd Sanctuary, 2-9-13.

I was interested in getting some photos of birds in the snow, but it never really panned out. Here are a couple decent shots from the day.

This is one of my best shots of a Downy Woodpecker. For some reason I just haven't gotten a good one yet...
This is one of my best shots of a Downy Woodpecker. For some reason I just haven’t gotten a good one yet…
Song Sparrow in the snow on the Heritage Trail near 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 2-9-13.
Song Sparrow in the snow on the Heritage Trail near 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 2-9-13.

Update: I was thinking today that I have not included many species lists in my posts lately. I think it’s probably because my lists have been pretty sparse. On this day I did pretty well, totaling 15 species for the day. I also used the app Birdlog on my iPhone for the first time. It is actually pretty cool and it allows you to easily keep track the species and their numbers while in the field. I enjoyed using it on this day, but I am interested to see if I start to use it all the time. Here’s my list for the day:

Black Vulture  5
Turkey Vulture  7
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Ring-billed Gull  4
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  3
Blue Jay  3
American Crow  38
Black-capped Chickadee  4
Tufted Titmouse  1
European Starling  12
American Tree Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco  1

 

 

 

Pink-footed Goose!

On Monday evening after work, I caught up with the Pink-footed Goose that has been seen recently at Overpeck Park in Bergen County NJ. I found the bird on a soccer field with about 60 Canada Geese.

I find this bird to be really beautiful. Pink-footed Goose at Overpeck Park 2-4-13.
I find this bird to be really beautiful. Pink-footed Goose at Overpeck Park 2-4-13.
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PFGO with CAGO at Overpeck Park 2-4-13.
Some more Canada Geese came in for a landing while I was there.
Some more Canada Geese came in for a landing to join the party…
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One more of the PFGO with CAGO at Overpeck Park in Bergen County NJ 2-4-13

 

 

 

Rough-legged Hawk At Skinner Lane

I made a quick stop by Skinner Lane today and got lucky with this beautiful Rough-legged Hawk.

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What a surprise to find this beautiful very dark Rough-legged Hawk today at Skinner Lane.
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Here’s a good look at the under wing pattern. RLHA at Skinner Lane 2-3-13.

 

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From my car I watched this bird hunt over a small field for nearly 45 minutes and it did not seem bothered by my presence, but as you can see from this photo, the hawk definitely knew I was there. When I left the bird was in the same tree looking away from me and scanning the field below.

Here’s a couple more:

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RLHA at Skinner Lane 2-3-13
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RLHA at Skinner Lane 2-3-13.

 

 

 

 

Sunday 1-27-13

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This was such a pretty bird to see – Leucistic Red-tailed Hawk in Warwick NY 1-27-13.

Sunday afternoon I had to resist the urge to go back to the Shawangunk Grasslands and sit in the blind. I decided instead check a few spots in Orange County and see what I could find. My first stop was in Warwick to look for a leucistic Red-tailed Hawk that my friend  and fellow hawk counter Carol Linguanti had recently told me about. I was thrilled just to  find the bird and see it, but what was really exciting was to be able to get some photos of this incredible bird. It was amazing to see this bird in flight; what a beauty. Huge thanks to Carol for helping me out with this one.

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It really was something to see this hawk in flight.

There was one Northern Harrier that was flying low and hunting and so many Red-tailed Hawks that this one had to find a perch on the top of a house:

A Red-tailed Hawk perched on the roof of a McMansion in Warwick, NY.
A Red-tailed Hawk perched on the roof of a McMansion in Warwick, NY.

My next stop was Missionland Road. I drove the length of the road and tallied 7 Red-tailed Hawks, 8 Black Vultures, many crows and one American Kestrel (which, of course, was on a wire).

I also got some photos of this bird in flight, but they were all silhouettes. Male American Kestrel at Missionland Rd.
I also got some photos of this bird in flight, but they were all silhouettes. Male American Kestrel at Missionland Road 1-27-13.
I really enjoyed seeing these Black Vultures at Missionland Rd.
I really enjoyed seeing these Black Vultures at Missionland Rd.

For my final stop I figured I would hit my favorite – Wallkill River NWR. I had an enjoyable walk around the Liberty Loop; I did not see anything out of the ordinary but I did get a good showing of “regulars” and took the opportunity to take some photos:

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One more Junco. They were kind enough to sit for some photos.
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I’m still in search of a good one of these – Downy Woodpecker at Wallkill River NWR 1-27-13.
These guys are never too shy. Song Sparrow at Wallkill River NWR 1-27-13.
These guys are never too shy. Song Sparrow at Wallkill River NWR 1-27-13.

 

 

 

 

 

Shawangunk Grasslands NWR

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I made it out to the grasslands yesterday afternoon into the evening and spent some time in one of the blinds. I am finding it hard to resist going there when the light is good because you all but guaranteed to get some birds up close and plenty of good photo opportunities. I knew the day had some possibilities when I got this Merlin from the parking area.

This Merlin was preening in one of the trees closest to the parking area.
This Merlin was preening in one of the trees closest to the parking area.

And this Northern Harrier flew right over head as I made my way to the blind.

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I wasn’t in the blind for more than ten minutes when the Gray Ghost came pretty close  by. As both of these photos are a little soft, I feel like I still haven’t gotten a good photo of a male Northern Harrier.

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The Northern Harriers were really flying, at one point I counted eight that I could see in one sweep. Some where flying VERY close to the blind.

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Here’s a sequence of a NOHA chasing a Red-tailed Hawk that dared to perch in one of the trees near the blind.

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_MG_9699_MG_9700_MG_9701_MG_9702_MG_9703I was hoping the Short-eared Owls would come out early, but they did not. I spoke to Ralph, who opens and closes the gate there every day (among many other responsibilities), and he said they haven’t come up early in a couple of weeks. I’ve noticed the same thing with the SEOWs in Orange County as well. I’m not sure why this would be.

Saturday 1-19-13

 

Northern Harrier at Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge 1-19-13.
Northern Harrier at Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge 1-19-13.

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:

There was no good spot to get a clear photo of these Common Mergansers. It was really a thrill to see all these birds at once. Greenwood Lake 1-19-13.
There was no good spot to get a clear photo of these Common Mergansers. It was really a thrill to see all these birds at once. Greenwood Lake 1-19-13.

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.

Ring-necked Duck at Browns Point Park 1-19-13.
Ring-necked Duck at Browns Point Park 1-19-13.
A female Bufflehead makes her way down the canal at Browns Point Park, 1-19-13.
A female Bufflehead makes her way down the canal at Browns Point Park, 1-19-13.
Buffleheads at Browns Point Park.
Buffleheads at Browns Point Park.

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.

Evidence of the high winds out at Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge, a wind blown song sparrow on the Liberty Loop.
Evidence of the high winds out at Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge, a wind blown song sparrow on the Liberty Loop.
I am still trying to get a good photo of a "gray ghost". This is the best I could do today...
I am still trying to get a good photo of a “gray ghost”. This is the best I could do today…
One more Northern Harrier out at Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge, 1-19-13.
One more Northern Harrier out at Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge, 1-19-13.