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.
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 read John Haas’ blog, The Bashakill Birder on a regular basis. Recently John has posted about the great birding he has been doing from his kayak. He has been seeing some of the birds that are little more interesting to me: American Bitterns, Least Bitterns, Common Gallinules and high numbers of Great Blue Herons and Wood Ducks. Inspired by this, I made it out to the Basha Kill early this morning to do some birding by kayak. It was a beautiful morning and it was very refreshing to be out in the marsh all alone. While I did not have success with some of the harder to find birds, I did get to see many Wood Ducks (almost at every turn!) and Great Blue Herons too. I was able to get out much closer to the Osprey’s nest where I watched the two adults going after a Great Blue Heron that decided to land in a tree a little too close to the nest. I also got some amazing looks at all three Bald Eagles. I was a little disappointed that I was unable to see (or even hear!) any Common Gallinules or Bitterns, but this is just something I will work towards. It was a great day of birding and I did alright with the camera. Here are some photos from the day:
Tricia and I met Karen Miller out at Linear Park this evening. We were having a tough night of birding – we were hearing plenty of birds but not seeing much of anything. To make matters worse the mosquitoes were positively vicious. We were getting eaten alive in spite of putting on plenty of repellent. It was all worth it when Tricia spotted a GREAT HORNED OWL while looking at some Black-capped Chickadees across a field. The owl flew seconds later deep into the woods. We looked desperately through binoculars into the woods for the bird but with no luck. Eventually I saw a large bird fly across the path a couple hundred yards in front of us and I actually ran to try and see where it would end up. Tricia found it again perched in a tree in the field on the other side of the path. We got decent looks in our binoculars and I managed to get some photos. What an exciting experience! What an incredible bird!
I made it out to the Basha Kill yesterday to do some birding, which of course includes stopping by the main boat launch to check on the Bald Eagle and Osprey nests that can be seen from there. It is good to get out there on the weekend because on Saturdays and Sundays from late April until the end of June, the Basha Kill Area Association (in cooperation with The Eagle Institute & The NYS Department of Environ. Conservation) runs their Nature Watch Program. Volunteers are on site from 10 am until 4 pm with spotting scopes aimed at both the Bald eagle nest and the Osprey nest. According to the Nature Watch Volunteer Handbook, the goals and objectives of this program are:
To provide education and heighten awareness of Bald Eagles, while encouraging the need to protect these birds, as well as the other resources of the Basha Kill.
To ensure that visitors practice “eagle etiquette,” or the safest and least intrusive viewing of Bald Eagles, while viewing eagles at the Basha Kill and elsewhere.
To provide data and anecdotal information to the DEC about the eagle and other wildlife activity and visitation.
I love to go out there while the program is running because you can get a fantastic view of the Bald Eagles and the nest in the spotting scopes, and I love interacting with the volunteers who will answer any questions about the Bald Eagles, the Basha Kill and the local businesses. I particularly like getting out there on Saturdays because Ed is there with his own spotting scope. Ed knows EVERYTHING about the Basha Kill, he monitors the eagles very closely and talking with Ed is always interesting and entertaining, and informative.
When I arrived at boat launch yesterday, Ed immediately informed me that the Eastern Bluebirds were once again active in the nesting box located there. He also told me that the eaglet was out of the nest – it had moved down onto a branch maybe 15 feet from the nest. The eaglet is now almost 12 weeks old and should fly any day now. I looked in one of the scopes and I could see both adults up by the nest and the eaglet down below, flapping its wings like mad, getting ready for that first flight. I stayed at the boat launch for over an hour in hopes to see the eaglet fly but it was not to be. Once the eaglet flies, it will stay close to the nest and its parents for one to two months, which will make for some exciting viewing at the Nature Watch for sure. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Maryallison Farley and Patricia Diness who do everything to keep the Nature Watch Program vibrant and running smoothly – they both do such an amazing job. I would also like to thank Linda Lou Bartle for her great photos of the Basha Kill eagles.
Aside from the main boat launch, I spent some time at Haven Road, the stop sign trail, and the deli fields. It was a productive day – I identified 33 species and got a few photos:
I spent some time yesterday at the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve in Bergen County, New Jersey (see link). The Tufted Titmice put on a show for me. Many thanks to Ken McDermott for helping me figure out who is who in these photos:
During the week, I frequently leave work and go straight to the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I planned on doing just that today, but the route I take to get there passes by the Appalachian Trail in Vernon Township, New Jersey. I later found out that this area is called the Pochuck Creek Section of the Appalachian Trail. I have often thought about stopping there and taking a walk to see if it is any good for birding. Well, today I finally stopped to try it out. The trail is primarily a narrow boardwalk that snakes through the Pochuck Creek Marsh and eventually crosses the Pochuck Creek.
I knew the trail had possibilities when heard a Willow Flycatcher just about thirty paces in, and then right after that I was able to take pictures of a new sparrow for me which I later identified as a Swamp Sparrow:
I continued slowly on the trail, enjoying being outside and appreciating the cool breezes. As I made my way towards the bridge that crossed Pochuck Creek I heard and saw a good number of birds.
I arrived at the bridge and as I crossed it I was looking left and then right. When I looked right I saw my highlight of the day: a female merganser with 8 chicks swimming down the creek and quickly around the bend! I was not sure if it was a Common Merganser or a Hooded Merganser – I did not get a great look at her, and also I think because I was so surprised to see a merganser – I haven’t seen one in this area since mid March. After considering for a while and looking in some bird guides I am leaning towards Common Merganser with chicks, but I need to go back to (hopefully!) get a second look to make a positive identification.
I had my second highlight as I made my way back to my car. A female Wood Duck with several ducklings were hidden under the boardwalk, and as I approached I inadvertently flushed them out. I managed to get this photo before this duckling disappeared into the grasses: