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.
And this Northern Harrier flew right over head as I made my way to the blind.
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.
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.
Here’s a sequence of a NOHA chasing a Red-tailed Hawk that dared to perch in one of the trees near the blind.
I 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.
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.
It is really amazing to me when you go out looking for a specific bird and you actually get to see it. Tricia and I were on our way to a wedding in New Hope Pennsylvania. I checked the map and our route took us right past the Great Swamp NWR. I was there not too long ago and had a conversation with a local birder. He told me that there are a pair of Barred Owls that are pretty regular at the reserve, he even told me where they are likely to be found. Well Tricia and I went to the reserve and looked where he had said, but had no luck. On our way out however, we saw a stopped car. The driver was out and had his camera set up on a tripod…I figured it had to be something good. The photographer (I was so excited I never got his name!) told me he had found a Barred Owl. This was the first owl he had ever found on his own, so he was pretty excited too. He showed us where owl was and we got really good looks in our binoculars. Photos, however were pretty tough because the bird was deep in the woods and there were so many little branches between myself and the bird. The photographer had set up his camera in the only clear shot at the bird. I took a couple photos right along side with some success, but then he surprised me by removing his camera body off the lens and asking me if I wanted to take some photos using his lens! He had a monster lens set up, and the result is the above photo. Huge thanks to that photographer – how generous!
Well, it is now officially 2013 and I figured I would take a quick look back on the year that was here at Orange Birding. Here are my final counts for 2012:
World: 199 Species
United States: 171 Species
New York State: 167 Species
New Jersey State: 85 Species
Orange County, NY: 126 Species
Sullivan County, NY: 112 Species
Favorite Bird of the Year: American Bittern At the Basha Kill:
I picked the American Bittern as my favorite bird of the year mostly because this is a bird that I was not very confident I would ever get a chance to see (much like the Least Bittern now!). I have for a long time been fascinated by this bird, and to finally get to see one and also get to take some photographs was really a special treat.
Favorite Photograph of the Year: Black-crowned Night Heron at Denning’s Point:
This is another case of finally getting to see a bird that I really wasn’t convinced I’d ever get a good look at, not to mention a decent photograph. Finding this bird out in the early afternoon was very fortunate for me indeed. The final result is a photograph that I think about often. I’m not sure it’s my best shot of the year, but it is definitely my favorite. Honorable mention goes to the Short-eared Owl shot I got just last week at the Shawangunk Grasslands. Again, this is a bird I did not see myself getting a good photo of any time soon:
Favorite Birding Location of the Year: The Cliffs Of Moher, Ireland:
Taking a small boat tour along the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland was an amazing experience. It’s not every day you get to see Northern Fulmars, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Common Murres, Razorbills, and of course Atlantic Puffins. It was an amazing day of birding!
Honorable mention goes to the Liberty Loop at Wallkill River NWR. This is the location that I think I went to the most frequently last year – I always felt that it offered a good look at a wide variety of bird species.
Most Exciting Birding Experience: Great Horned Owl at Linear Park:
I think this was my most exciting birding experience of the year for two reasons. The first is obvious…It’s a GREAT HORNED OWL – what an incredible bird! The second reason is that Tricia, Karen, and I went out to Linear Park with no real expectations and no prior knowledge of the possibility of finding a Great Horned Owl there. So, to be out there and to find this owl was shocking and exciting.
Well, here’s hoping that 2013 brings as many (hopefully more!) awesome birding experiences. Happy New Year!
I spent five hours yesterday in a photo blind out at the Shawangunk Grasslands. I feel like when it comes to bird photography when it rains it pours – the light was really nice all day, there were plenty of birds to be seen, and best of all, the Short-eared Owls came up early.
Seeing the above Northern Shrike was the highlight of a great Saturday of birding. Huge thanks to John Haas and Bill and Jayne Fiero who found the bird during the Eastern Orange County Christmas Bird Count (see John’s blog post about it here). Also many thanks to Ken McDermott who was also out at Corbett Road and let me know exactly where he had seen the bird earlier in the day. And finally, congratulations to Jeff Goulding who was having a tough day. The Northern Shrike was a life bird for him and I’m sure it made his day just a little bit better.
I started the morning off with a quick stop at Orange-Rockland Lake. I have been stopping by there fairly regularly and finding good numbers of both Ruddy Ducks and Ring-necked Ducks. This morning was no different:
My next stop was at Brown’s Pond, where I found an incredible variety of waterfowl in huge numbers:
7 Canada Goose
11 Mute Swan
4 Ring-necked Duck
2 Lesser Scaup
7 Hooded Merganser
9 Common Merganser
63 (!) Ruddy Duck
I was also surprised by getting a few good songbirds:
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
2 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Tufted Titmouse
3 Eastern Bluebird
t was after Brown’s Pond that I went to Montgomery and saw the Northern Shrike. What a thrill, this is a bird that is very exciting to me. I became convinced that I was not going to see the bird when Ken had to leave, but about five minutes later I spotted the bird – exactly where Ken had seen it earlier in the day. I also had an adult Bald Eagle fly over in the distance while I was there. Here’s one more of the shrike:
My final stop was the Shawangunk Grasslands. You can drive your car into the grasslands now and park on the old airplane runway. It was pretty cold today, so I was happy to have this as an option. The highlight was getting my best look ever at a Rough-legged Hawk. It was tangling pretty good with some of the Northern Harriers:
So it may not officially be winter yet, but it feels like it to me. My birding time has been cut back considerably and when I do get some time it is usually in the afternoons when the light is very gray and disappearing quickly. That being said, I am still getting out, and while the conditions have not been great for seeing and photographing birds, the birding has still been pretty good.
After work 0n December 3, I went out to Mission Land Road in Pine Island. Rob Stone had reported to the Mearns Bird Club that he had 4 Sandhill Cranes there, so I wanted to see if I could get a look. I found the birds easily enough, pretty much right where he had found them. They were WAY off in the distance, which meant no photos, but I got good looks in my scope and then in my binoculars as I watched them fly off towards the Wallkill River NWR. What big beautiful birds, especially in flight. I also had a number of Canada Geese and a Male American Kestrel while I was out there.
Later that week I took the trip into the Bronx, to Van Cortlandt Park in search of a Barnacle Goose. The goose had been reported many times on eBird, and I also saw it in a post buy Corey Finger at 10,000 Birds (which is an amazing site that you must check out!). I’ll tell you what, the Barnacle Goose has my number. You can ask Tricia how much time I spent last fall trying to track one down here in Orange County with no luck. Well it was the same deal in the Bronx. In a soccer field at Van Cortlandt Park there were approximately 700 Canada Geese to sift through. I sifted until it got dark but alas no Barnacle Goose. I checked on eBird afterwards, and no one else had the goose that day either, so I am figuring the bird just wasn’t present that day. There WAS a reported siting the very next day… I did find the above Cackling Goose, though I don’t know if I would have identified it if I hadn’t read in Corey’s blog post that he had one out there. Either way it was very cool to see this bird, which was a life bird for me. The light was horrible so the photos are nothing to write home about, but really not too bad I guess.
On the weekend of December 8-9, I did some Orange County birding both days. The weather was not cooperating; Saturday was rainy, foggy and gray, Sunday was just a cloudy gray day. On Saturday I hit Skinner’s Lane, Mission Land Road, and Wallkill River NWR. While I did not have any out of the ordinary birds, I was able to get some photos.
On Sunday I tried a new spot in Orange County (for me)- Brown’s Pond. Bruce Nott had reported a Lesser Scaup out at Brown’s Pond so I thought that might be an interesting stop. I did not find the Lesser Scaup, but I did have 27 Common Mergansers (my first ones since the spring), and 3 Hooded Mergansers which are always a favorite of mine. On my way home I stopped at my local spot: 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary and saw mostly the usual cast of characters, with the highlight for me being this Brown Creeper:
Finally, this week I did some birding in Bergen County, New Jersey. At Franklin Lake early in the week I had a couple of great days, finally getting there to see the pair of Redheads that where originally reported on eBird by Rob Fanning on the third of December. I felt like I was kind of dragging my feet, finally getting over there on December 10th. Luckily the birds where still there, along with 42(!) Ring-necked Ducks, 11 Mute Swans, 4 Gadwalls, and one lonely Canada Goose.
Then, on Friday, Karen Miller made it down to Bergen County. We met over at Franklin Lake in hopes of seeing the Redheads, but, believe it or not, the sun was TOO BRIGHT. There was a tremendous glare on the lake making seeing the birds very difficult, so we decided to head over to Franklin Lakes NR which is right down the road. We walked some of the trails there. Highlights included many Hooded Mergansers, 10 Gadwall, and we got some really nice looks at a very active Belted Kingfisher.
Last weekend Tricia and I made it out Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge while visiting her family just outside Syracuse, New York. As we pulled into the refuge, we immediately saw a group of large white birds fly over…I was hoping and expecting to see some Snow Geese, but these birds did not have black wing tips. I remembered that we had seen a Trumpeter Swan the last time we were at Montezuma NWR in early September. What I forgot though, was that we spent some time trying to determine whether it was a Trumpeter Swan or the more common Tundra Swan. From what I have read, Montezuma NWR is one of the relatively few places where both species occur. So we spent the day at the refuge and saw many swans and at the time I was thinking they were all Trumpeter Swans. It wasn’t until we were back at the house that I realized that what we were seeing could have been either Trumpeter Swans or Tundra Swans (or both!)
So I looked over my photos and did some reading, and it seems like even for experienced birders, it is not very easy to tell the two species apart. One of the best guides that I found for identifying the two species can be found on the Sibley Guides website. I particularly like the drawing on this page that compares the head of the Trumpeter to that of the Tundra. David Sibley focuses on what he calls “bill-shape field marks”, and this certainly what was most helpful for me as I went through my photos and tried to identify them. I also spent a lot of time on the Trumpeter Swan Society‘s page. They have a Swan and Goose Identification Brochure that is very informative and it is printable.
There is a small yellow spot on the bill, in front of the eye for 90% of Tundra Swans. In the above picture you can see this on the front bird (looking left), while it can’t easily be seen in the back bird (in other photos of the back bird, it can be seen but only very faintly). The remaining 10% percent have all black bills – just like Trumpeter Swans.
When seen in profile, the bill has a slight curve to it and the connection from the bill to the eye is slight; it almost comes to a point. The bird on the left in the above photo illustrates both aspects nicely.
When viewed head-on or top-down, where the bill meets the head and connects the eyes is rounded. I did not get a photo from this angle, so click here for photos by Mike Cooper that illustrate this view.
The shape of the head – the Tundra has a more rounded head that rises up a bit at the crown. The slope of Trumpeter crown more closely matches bill slope.
All black bill that is a bit larger in proportion the head as compared to the Tundra Swan.
When seen in profile, the bill appears pretty straight and where the bill meets the eye is a heavier connection. Most of my photos are in profile and for me this was very helpful.
When viewed head-on or top-down, where the bill meets the head and connects the eyes is pointed. You can see this a bit in my photo below, or you can click here for the photos by Mike Cooper that illustrate this view.
The shape of the head – the crown of the Trumpeter Swan’s head more closely matches the slope of the bill. The back of the head is not rounded like the Tundra’s, rather it drops off more sharply.
Identifying these birds in flight is another matter! If I had to guess for the above birds, I would say they are Trumpeter Swans – for two reasons. 1 – if I zoom in on the heads of these birds it looks like there is a substantial connection between the bill and the eye. 2 – I read somewhere in the past couple of days that you are more likely to see Trumpeters in small groups like this and Tundra Swans are likely to be in larger groups of 20 or so birds.
Oh, and we did also get to see some Snow Geese. All were at a great distance, but they were so beautiful to see:
On Sunday afternoon, Tricia and I made an impromptu visit to Jones Beach. We were heading back to Goshen after celebrating my little sister’s 40th birthday at the Irish Times Pub in Holbrook, Long Island the night before. A skein of Brant flying over changed our plans in a hurry – I was really itching to do some birding. Tricia was on the phone with her sister at the time and she told us how to get to Jones Beach.
We had a really good afternoon of birding. We saw many species and were able to identify the following:
Great Black-backed Gull
Northern Mocking Bird
I had a pretty good day with the camera – I managed to get pretty good exposures on almost all my photographs. I have thought about it and I think there are a couple of reasons. The first is that the light was pretty steady, there were no clouds moving through or anything else to change the light significantly. The second is that I think I am getting better at making the proper adjustments. I was also making adjustments as I photographed certain birds, getting several shots that were lighter as well as some darker ones.
It really was a very exciting day of birding, I am having trouble deciding on my highlight. It was a lot of fun to bird in a different location because we got to see so many birds that we don’t normally get to see. I am pretty sure that it is not anything special to see loons at Jones Beach, but it was a thrill for me. Same for the Brant. The Crossbills were very exciting too – life birds for me, but I think getting such a close look at the Merlin was probably my favorite part of the afternoon. Because we don’t get to see them very often, Tricia’s highlight was seeing all the shorebirds as we walked along the beach.
I have spent most of my birding time this week looking for waterfowl and swimming waterbirds. I made three visits out to 61/2 Station Road Sanctuary here in Goshen early in the week and did pretty well:
Most of these birds were located in the small pond located south of the Heritage Trail. It is pretty difficult to get any good looks on this pond – there are many branches and brush blocking the view, plus the birds are pretty far away. I used my scope to get some good looks, but taking photos is tough.
I also made it out to the Celery Farm a couple days after work. I did pretty well there, seeing more Canada Geese and Mallards, my first Hooded Mergansers of the fall, a Ruddy duck and Northern Shoveler. I also scored with a Double-crested Cormorant that posed nicely for me.
Also located near my work in Bergen County NJ, The Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve seemed like a good place to search for waterbirds moving through. I made it out there two afternoons after work and I was not disappointed:
I had a little bonus while I was out there – a GREEN HERON! It is definitely unusual to see a Green Heron in Bergen county at this time of the year, and eBird considers it a rare bird right now. It certainly caught me by surprise but I was able to snap a photo as it flew off:
Finally, on Saturday I went out to Swan Lake in Sullivan County NY with my birding buddy Karen Miller. I want to thank John Haas for giving us the lay of the land – it really helped out and we had a great morning of birding. Highlights for me were several Lesser Scaup which is a life bird for me (thanks John for help with the ID!) and also seeing over 100 Common Mergansers (my first of the fall). I was finally able to get some waterfowl photos: