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:
I made it out to Sterling Forest State Park in Tuxedo New York this evening to try to see the Mississippi Kites that had been seen there over the last several days. I would like to thank all the folks from the Edgar A. Mearns Bird Club who posted about the kites. I was not disappointed in the least! I was there for an hour and a half and both birds where present almost the entire time. I watched as they ate dragonflies and also got to see them mate on two separate occasions! What a great day of birding! Here’s some photos:
Yesterday after work I made it out to the Hyper Humus Marshes (now called the Paulinskill River Hyper-Humus Wildlife Management Area). I saw on eBird that Red Phalarope had been spotted there, so I figured I would go check it out. It was my first visit to the Hyper Humus Marshes, and I will definitely be going back. The site is located near Lafayette in Sussex County, New Jersey. According to the Audubon website ( http://iba.audubon.org/iba/viewSiteProfile.do?siteId=3115&navSite=state), it is an Important Bird Area and “most of site is composed of freshwater forested and emergent wetlands fed by the Paulinskill River and numerous permanent springs. The site contains several cattail marshes and large ponds originally created in the 1900s by a peat and humus mining operation belonging to the Hyper Humus Company”. It is a really nice walk and there were plenty of birds to see.
I had a relatively quick outing, I was there for just under and hour and a half. I did not have any luck with the Red Phalarope, but it was a productive day. I ran into Mary Ann, an experienced birder that I met one other time out at the Wallkill River WR. We walked together and she helped with some of my identifications (thanks!). For the day, I had 26 species:
Great Blue Heron
Alder Flycatcher (thanks to Mary Ann for the ID)
Warbling Vireo (heard)
Wood Thrush (heard, thanks again Mary Ann)
Indigo Bunting (heard first by Mary Ann then we both got a good look)
The highlight of the day for me was getting a good look the Indigo Bunting. Hearing the Veery was great too, that song is just amazing.
On Thursday I went out to the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge to meet up with Karen Miller. Karen is good company and I really enjoy birding with her. We are both at a similar level with our birding and we are both really into it. We decided to walk just the eastern side of the Liberty Loop, out and back. We both agreed – that section of the trail is where we have each had the most luck.
Well, luck certainly was with us, we had a very productive evening. We had over thirty species in just over an hour and a half and with not much effort. The birds just seemed to be revealing themselves to us. Here’s our list:
Wood Duck (heard)
Great Blue Heron
Red-bellied Woodpecker (heard)
Northern Flicker (heard)
Karen messaged me that the Brown Thrasher, Peregrine, and Bobolink were here favorites, and don’t forget the Indigo Bunting! I was very excited to see the Bobolink also because it was a life bird for me, but my best bird of the day was the Peregrine Falcon. I will never get tired of seeing that bird! Here’s a couple more photos:
I spent a long day birding out at the Basha Kill today. I started out on Haven Road, hoping to see an American Bittern again. I ran into a large group of birders- members of the Edgar A. Mearns Bird Club (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Mearnsbirdclub/). They had just spotted an American Bittern, but it was in the weeds and out of view. The group moved on, but I stayed for a while and I kept looking back to where the bittern had been found and eventually I was rewarded as the bittern flew most of the way across the Kill, only to disappear into the weeds once again.
Next I went to the Deli Fields where I saw Baltimore Orioles collecting nesting materials, many Song Sparrows, a Brown Thrasher (first of season for me), and I got a really nice look at an immature Bald Eagle. The Bald Eagle took me by surprise and was too far away for any good photos before I knew it. In general, it was a frustrating day with the camera. I was slow on the draw all day, and in addition to that struggled with my settings, forgetting to make the proper changes as the conditions changed.
A good example of my camera struggles occurred at my next stop, the nature trail. I had a Yellow Warbler taking a bath, splashing around having a good time. I had just finished trying to get some shots of an adult Bald Eagle in bright sunlight and this warbler was in the shade. Lesson learned: It is so important for me to be aware of my current settings and change them as the light conditions change. Here is the best picture I got:
I went to the “stop sign trail” next to try and see some warblers. I probably went there a little too late in the day- there was not much bird activity. I did see: more Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers, American Redstarts, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and a Common Yellowthroat. I ran into Maryallison Farley from the Basha Kill Area Association. As always, it was really nice to see her and she invited me to go up to her place to get some photos of the Eastern Bluebirds that are nesting there:
At the end of the day I had identified 28 species, which not bad for me, but only a fraction of what can be seen out there. In addition, I saw and photographed a couple flycatchers which I continue to struggle to identify. The American Bittern in flight was the highlight of the day for me. Here are some more photos:
Yesterday evening I took a walk on the Heritage Trail which is just a block or so from my house. The trail runs along side 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary which, according to the Orange County Tourism web site (see links), is a “62 acre wetland bird sanctuary owned and maintained by the Orange County Audubon Society”. It is a great spot for birding and just happens to be a short walk from my house.
I headed out without high expectations. I have been struggling with the camera lately, not getting good exposures, so I just wanted to go out and experiment and try to work on a few things. For some reason I did not think there would be many birds. Boy, was I wrong! I had a slow start with a lot of the usual suspects – American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Gray Catbirds, and a couple different kinds of warblers. Then things started to get good. A Green Heron flew across the water giving me a great look and then landed in a tree on the far side of the sanctuary. Not long after that I spotted a beautiful bright orange male Baltimore Oriole. As I was checking out the oriole, I heard some crows making a racket and I looked up to see two crows mobbing an adult Bald Eagle right above me. The eagle flew over several times giving me a really good look and a chance to get some photos. Moments after that I saw my best bird of the night – a COMMON LOON. I stayed for a while getting photos of the loon and got to hear it make its call. What a great evening! I ended up with twenty-four species in all, here are some additional highlights and some photos: