I enjoyed a cool, rainy morning and early afternoon of birding today. Ironwood Drive at Sterling Forest State Park was far and away my most productive stop. I tallied 15 species of warbler there, and I added 13 birds to my Orange County year list. Best birds for me included Cerulean Warbler (great looks but lousy pics), Hooded Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, and my first Scarlet Tanager of the year.
I headed north to the Newburgh Waterfront to try for waterfowl, gulls, and terns. I’d already checked Glenmere Lake and Greenwood Lake without much success (other than the continuing Greater Scaup – see photo below). There wasn’t much happening at the river, so I headed to Orange Lake to try for the White-winged Scoter that Bruce Nott reported earlier. Unfortunately the scoter had moved on, but remarkably, it had been replaced by 11(!) Common Loons. A quick stop at Washington Lake added Bank Swallow to my year list, but nothing else.
My final stop of the day was at the Orange County Airport, hoping for Upland Sandpipers. No luck with the Uppies, but I did find some recently fledged Killdeer chicks, which were super cute. I also found a pair of Northern Harrier, a female and a young male; they appeared to be performing courtship behavior. It would be awesome if they bred out there. It’s a good time of year with loads of new birds every day; I’m looking forward to tomorrow morning already.
I’ve been wanting to see a Porcupine for ages, but for some reason or other, I never crossed paths with one since I’ve been in the area (11+ years now!). Well, this weekend I saw three, lol. The first one was on a seasonably cold and windy hike at High Point State Park with my brother-in-law Bill on Saturday morning. We hiked for just over 9 miles; the views from High Point were impressive, the number of birds, not so much with just 18 species tallied. The Porcupine was far and away the highlight.
On Sunday morning I headed out to the Bashakill to try my luck there. It’s been ages since I’d been there and it did not disappoint. I immediately ran into John Haas and Scotty Baldinger with a couple other birders when I parked at the front of the Stop Sign Trail. I figured the smart money was on sticking with them – they attract warblers and birds in general like nobody’s business. I wasn’t wrong, the place was hopping with birds, but the first thing that got my attention was not one, but two Porcupines sleeping up in trees! What a weird coincidence! As for the birds, I covered some good territory and counted just under 60 species for the morning, eleven of which were warblers. There were also many birders out and about – too many to mention by name. It was good to catch up with some folks I haven’t seen in a while. Birding highlights for me included excellent looks at Blue-winged and Black-throated Blue Warblers at the Stop Sign Trail, decent looks at a high, singing Cerulean Warbler and a Yellow-throated Vireo at the Horseshoe Trail, and a calling Virginia Rail at the Deli Fields.
As most of you probably know already, spring migration hit our area in a serious way this week, particularly on Wednesday. I was out of commission all day and evening, so unfortunately I missed out on all the fun. You can click John Hass’ post here to read how the Bashakill had 15 species of warbler that morning. Not to be completely left out, I noticed an interesting bird in the backyard while working at my desk this morning. I got my bins on it, and it was an Ovenbird! It was my first of the season as well as a new yard bird for me.
I have to thank larophile Bruce Nott once again. This morning I chased a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL which he reported at the Newburgh Waterfront. Soon after my arrival, I located a distant black-backed gull. There haven’t been many (any?) black-backed gulls around recently, so I was feeling confident that this was the bird. My problem was that the bird was on the water (hiding leg color) and all alone (eliminating being able to judge by size). I needed to confirm that the bird was not the much more likely Great Black-backed Gull, so I waited it out. The bird slowly drifted north, nearly to the bridge. Then it flew south and put down again, south of the waterfront. Again I watched as it drifted north. It took a short flight at one point, and I was pretty sure, but not positive that I saw yellow legs. I watched as it drifted all the way north once again. I saw it next to a Ring-billed Gull, and the size looked good (larger, but not overwhelmingly so). The bird flew south once again and put down on the docks. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the docks, the bird had flown again. Luckily, this time it put down with a pair of Herring Gulls, and now the size looked perfect. I looked at my flight shots, and sure enough, yellow legs! That’s a good bird for the county, and it was really cool to see it in adult breeding plumage – we don’t usually see that in Orange County.
After work on Monday evening, I went to Wickham Lake hoping for new waterfowl or maybe even some gulls. Unfortunately I didn’t have any luck on either count. There was, however, a good number of swallows present, including my first Northern Rough-winged Swallows of the year. Along with the NRW Swallows were a handful of Barn Swallows and more than 100 Tree Swallows. Without much else going on, and with the light pretty good from time to time, I decided to try much luck photographing swallows in flight. It was my first time doing this with my new 500mm lens, and it made it challenging. I shot freehand on this day, but I think next time I’ll see how I do with the monopod. It was a nice way to spend a Monday evening.
Well, in spite of still waiting for spring migration to really kick in, I had a satisfying weekend of birding. I spent Saturday morning at the Hudson River, but aside from the continuing Iceland Gull, it was uneventful. That gull frustrated me because it was on the floating docks at the Newburgh Waterfront, not too far out, but the bird kept its back to me and it was backlit to boot. I successfully chased a Long-tailed Duck at Orange Lake (thanks Bruce), and picked up a Red-breasted Merganser as a bonus. On my way out, I stopped at Gardenertown Road and patience paid off as I was able to locate 2 Wilson’s Snipe after some extensive searching.
Saturday afternoon I walked the Liberty Loop for the first time in ages. IT was a pleasant, if uneventful walk. Highlights included: American Coot, Common Gallinule, and my first Lesser Yellowlegs of the year. All three highlight birds were located on the Sussex County side of the loop.
Sunday morning I checked a number of lakes in southern Orange County, looking for new waterfowl or Bonaparte’s Gulls. For the most part I came up empty, but did manage to find a distant Horned Grebe in beautiful plumage at Round Lake. I stopped to use the restroom at Sterling Forest, and on my way out I had one of my best birds of the day, a Pine Warbler. I had to run to the car for my camera, but fortunately the bird lingered for me. A quick cruise through the black dirt yielded nothing of note, so I called it a day.
This morning started out well, I was able to add two new Orange County year birds at my second stop – Solitary Sandpiper and Blue-winged Teal at Beaver Pond near Glenmere Lake. The rest of the day proved to be uneventful. Wickham Lake held no new birds. I tried Greenwood Lake but it was socked in with fog. I stopped at Round Lake and photographed a Bufflehead. Then I headed to the Hudson River where the birds were on the scarce side. It was a tough day for pics with few opportunities and poor light. I had my best photo op of the day with a Great Blue Heron in the pond near my house, just before finishing up for the day.
I’ve enjoyed some good birding in recent days. I got out on both Thursday and Friday evenings after work and a couple of times today. In those three days I was able to add 10 species to my Orange County 2021 list:
Barn Swallow, 4/8 at Wickham Lake
Osprey, 4/8 at Wickham Lake
Palm Warbler, 4/9 at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary
Swamp Sparrow, 4/9 at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary
American Coot, 4/9 at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary
Virginia Rail, 4/9 at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary
Eastern Meadowlark, 4/10 at Wisner Road
Chipping Sparrow, 4/10 at Greenwood Lake
BONAPARTE’S GULL, 4/10 at Washington Lake
PECTORAL SANDPIPER, 4/10 at Lynch Road in the black dirt
Other good birds included a distant Common Loon at Greenwood Lake this morning, and excellent looks at an immature ICELAND GULL at the Newburgh Waterfront. Huge thanks to Bruce Nott for reporting both the Bonaparte’s and the Iceland Gulls. Also thanks to Maria Loukeris for letting me know about the post regarding the Pectoral Sandpiper on the Mearns Facebook page – thanks to Amy Klein for posting it.
Happy Easter to everyone that celebrates. It’s been a quiet one here; hopefully the last quiet holiday of this rotten pandemic. This week was mostly uneventful as far as the birding goes. I got out often, but without many exciting birds nor good photo ops. On Wednesday I went out to Lynch Avenue in the black dirt to chase the Wilson’s Snipe that had been reported by Bruce Nott and Linda Scrima. It was nice to get a shorebird in Orange County that wasn’t a Killdeer. Yesterday I only had the early morning to bird and today I got out all morning. I spent both morning checking lakes and the Hudson River, mostly for ducks but also on the off chance of a Bonaparte’s Gull or a Caspian Tern (no luck on either). I added Ruddy Duck to my OC list yesterday morning at Glenmere, and I added Lesser Scaup (Orange Lake) and Common Loon (Greenwood Lake) to it this morning. Anyways, here’s some shots from the week.
So I took the plunge this week. My buddy Kyle Dudgeon was looking to upgrade his equipment, so he offered me a great deal on his Canon 500mm f/4 Mark I lens. It was an offer couldn’t resist, especially since I know that this particular lens is capable of taking spectacular shots – you can check out some of the work Kyle did with it here. I never really pictured myself upgrading to such a large lens, but I have to say, a week into it and I’m hooked.
Kyle warned me that there would be a learning curve before getting optimal results with this lens, and that has certainly shown to be true; I’ve had a real mixed bag of results. But, I like where it is heading, and I’m looking forward to learning some new things. I’m also looking forward to getting some more decent opportunities with birds, because this week was sort of a dud for me with not many opportunities.