Hawk Watching


An immature Bald Eagle flies right over the Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, 10-14-12
Osprey at Mt. Peter 9-23-12

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/.

A busy day out at Mt. Peter Hawk Watch 9-23-12
One of the local Red-tail Hawks at Mt. Peter 9-23-12

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.

Me at Hawk Mountain. Photo by Tricia.
An Osprey flies on the West side of the North Lookout at Hawk Mountain.
At Hawk Mountain, many of the looks are from above. I have this as a Cooper’s Hawk 10-6-12.
One more Osprey. They counted 55 Osprey migrating over Hawk Mountain on 10-6-12

Wallkill River NWR – Sparrows and Sparrow Hawks

At times referred to as the American Sparrow Hawk, this male was one of five American Kestrels at Wallkill River NWR.

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

A perched female American Kestrel at the Wallkill River NWR 9-29-12

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:

A Savannah Sparrow thinks things over.
I love this Savannah Sparrow photo- check out the details on the bird’s head.
A Song Sparrow strikes a pose as usual. Wallkill River NWR 9-29-12

Basha Kill 9/15/12

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:

Merlin on Haven Road at the Basha Kill
Two of the many Wood Ducks that flew over as I paddled the channel.

After my paddle, I headed over to the Deli Fields to have a look around:

Eastern Phoebe at the Basha Kill Deli Fields
A sad looking American Goldfinch at the Deli Fields
Song Sparrow posing at the Deli Fields

Upstate NY – 8/26/12

I had an amazing Sunday morning of bird photography!

Red-headed Woodpecker in Upstate NY.
Juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker in Upstate NY
Early on I was taking some really long distance photos of this Sharp-shinned Hawk. While I was taking other photos, the hawk flew closer and landed on this perch right in front of me! UPDATE 3/19/14: Thanks to Ryan J Bass who commented and pointed out that this is likely a Red-shouldered Hawk, not a Sharpie. I think he is right – any other opinions? 
I really wanted to get a shot of this hawk in flight, but he flew away from me and I got this photo just as he was landing on another dead tree.
There was a pair of Green Herons about 25 in front of me. I didn’t take any photos of them because they were all in shadows…until they started hunting.
A happy, full Green Heron in upstate NY.
A Northern Flicker landed right above my head.
American Goldfinch in upstate NY.
Here’s a brighter male American Goldfinch.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird in upstate NY..
This pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers seemed to be striking a pose for me.
One last one of a Red-headed Woodpecker. What a treat to see these birds.

Wallkill River NWR – A decidedly different feel

A rather elegant looking Lesser Yellowlegs at Wallkill River NWR.

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.

One of the Bobolinks that were flocking at the Liberty Loop.

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:

  • (4) Killdeer
  • (2) Solitary Sandpiper
  • (3) Lesser Yellowlegs
  • (24) Least Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs at the Wallkill River NWR

I was pleasantly surprised to find several types of ducks in the back pond:

  • Mallard
  • Wood Duck
  • American Black Duck
  • Blue-winged Teals
  • Green-winged Teals

It was nice to see a variety of ducks again!

I think this is a mix of Green-winged Teals and Blue-winged Teals found in the back pond at Wallkill River NWR. For some reason I didn’t manage to get any good shots of ducks.

On my way out, I found this juvenile Black-Crowned Night-heron:

This summer I was looking for a BCNH for so long with no luck and now it seems like I see one every time I go out!

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:

Black-Crowned Night-heron at Wallkill River NWR.

Dennings Point State Park – Heron Triple Play

A young Black-Crowned Night-heron out during the day at Dennings Point in Beacon NY.

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
  • Canada Geese
  • Ring-billed Gulls

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:

A pair of Green Herons ignore each other.
A Great Blue Heron in the distance.
I took this photo through the branches. A young Black-Crowned Night-heron and a a Green Heron hang out together at Dennings Point in Beacon NY.
This Blue Jay chased off two Green Herons and one Black-Crowned Night-heron. One Green Heron put up a fight, but the jay won in the end. To the victor go the spoils I guess.

Skinner Lane – 8/14/12

One of over a hundred Killdeer I saw out at Skinner Lane

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:

I believe this is a female Horned Lark – Skinner Lane 8/14/12
This photo is blurry but shows the markings a little better.

On my way out I spotted an American Kestrel with a fresh kill. He was dining on the top of a power line pole.

After several photos of just a silhouette of this bird, I over-exposed this shot to get the details to show.
Here’s another of the many Killdeer at Skinner Lane – 8/14/12

Wallkill River NWR – Looking For Black-crowned Night-Herons

Black-crowned Night-Heron at Walllkill River WR

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:

  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Herons(many!)
  • Great Egret
  • Green Heron
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Bald Eagle
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Bobolink

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!

I cropped this pretty heavily because I am amazed at the color of this bird’s eyes.
This is the best shot I could manage of this young Black-crowned Night-Heron. I love the markings on this bird!
I thought this was a beautiful Red-winged Blackbird.
I am pretty sure this is a female Bobolink, though when I took the photo I thought it was a Red-winged Blackbird in the yellow early morning sun.
This Double-crested Cormorant landed in the water in front of the viewing platform for just long enough to get a couple photos before he was on his way…
I thought the light was really nice on this Canada Goose in flight.
Karen Miller found this little critter when we were out on Saturday morning. We found out later that it is an Ermine. In the winter it will have a white coat with a black nose! (Thanks for the info Gail).
A Green Heron on a wire. A first for me, though I saw it two times this week.
One more of the adult Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Appalachian Trail – Pochuck Creek Section and Wallkill River WR 7/17/12

Great Egret on the AT Pochuk Section.

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.

One of four Green Herons all hanging out in one little area.
One more of the Great Egret on a stump.

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.

Killdeer at Wallkill River WR

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).

Orchard Oriole at Wallkill River WR.
An Eastern Kingbird hunting over the water at Wallkill River WR.

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:

It was so dark when I took this photo I could barely make out the figure of a bird in the camera.
I really couldn’t see what I was taking pictures of. This shot is cool because I somehow got 3 herons in it.

Basha Kill By Kayak II – 7/6/12

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.

*Click on photos to enlarge*

Pied-billed Grebe at the Basha Kill.
Here is the grebe again, nearly completely submerged.
This Great Blue Heron had no idea I was there, it flew right at me and then over me to my left.
The same bird as it passes just to my left.
It was a beautiful morning and the moon was still very visible.
This Great Blue Heron was too involved in fishing to notice me floating by.
I know, enough of the Wood Duck duckling photos. But they are so darn cute!