It was 25 degrees out when I woke up this morning. When I ventured out, I found it was accompanied by a wicked, cold, strong, wind. It’s past mid-March, and winter is still hanging in there, that much is clear. Likewise, most of my birding this weekend focused on winter birds. On Wednesday evening I got nice scope views of a gorgeous Lapland Longspur; its breeding plumage was coming in nicely. I tried to relocate that bird (or any Lapland Longspurs) both days this weekend with no luck. I was, however, able to get some nice photos of a sharp looking, cooperative Horned Lark.
In my travels through the black dirt, I came across loads of raptors this week. I got my first decent looks at Rough-legged Hawks of the year (better late than never). I had a light and a dark morph on Wednesday evening, and another dark morph today. Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks were numerous; American Kestrels were also, but to a lesser extent. Other raptors included Sharp-shinned Hawk, both vulture species, and Bald Eagle.
I also tried for gulls on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was a heartbreaker, Bruce Nott had located an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, I ran for it but missed the bird by 10 minutes or so. Gulls were plentiful on both days, but for me, I had only the 3 expected species. On Sunday I was pleasantly surprised to have a Common Goldeneye fly in. I have to say, even when it’s not necessarily productive, I love birding the Hudson River – sorting through gulls and having that hope that something awesome might just show up.
I was lucky enough to have a fantastic close encounter with a red fox today. The fresh snowfall was the icing on the cake. I watched as the fox successfully dug up several items from the snow and munched on them happily. It’s unclear to me what it was digging up, but it definitely looked like some sort of vegetation; maybe someone who knows more about foxes can enlighten us. All photos were taken today, 03/14/23, in Orange County.
Quick update on this post: I did a brief Google search and I think this fox was maybe digging for some sort of tuber. We all know the internet never lies:
And regarding the fox being pregnant, if you look at the second image from the top, you can see that her teats appear quite full and pronounced.
After photographing Northern Harriers at the grasslands on Saturday morning, the rest of the weekend was pretty much the usuals. I did see my first Tree Swallows of the year – at two locations – Wisner Avenue on Sunday and the grasslands on Saturday. There are plenty of ducks around, but I didn’t find anything new for the year. I visited the Hudson River and several lakes over the 2 days: Wickham, Greenwood, Walton, Round, Orange, and Brown’s Pond. I also spent time on both Saturday and Sunday looking through flocks of Horned Larks hoping for Lapland Longspurs. I feel like I’m normally pretty lucky when it comes to finding LALOs, but this weekend it was not in the cards. It’s too bad too, because it’s nearly mid March, and I imagine they might be in some impressive plumage.
I took the opportunity of a snowy morning to head out to the Shawngunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. I did one of my favorite things; which I haven’t done in ages – I spent several hours in one of the refuge’s photo blinds. On a good day (like I had today), it’s hard to beat being in a blind. The birds have absolutely no idea you are there, so with just a little luck, close up flight photos are likely. I had an excellent morning; Northern Harriers were numerous and relatively cooperative.
This weekend was a complete bust for me. I’m actually surprised that this doesn’t happen more often. I checked some of the lakes in southern Orange County on Saturday and didn’t get anything to speak of. I was feeling wiped out from the work week, so I called it quits early.
Then, on Sunday Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I headed up to Williamstown Massachusetts, where we joined Rob Stone to try for the Bohemian Waxwings that have been reported there recently. Suffice to say we didn’t even see a single Cedar Waxwing. It was a pretty grim morning of birding, and after a delicious lunch (which took the edge off a little bit), we headed back to OC.
With all the time spent in the car, we of course got to telling stories and reliving some of the glory days in the past decade or so that we’ve spent birding in the area. I figured since I came up empty this weekend, I would take the opportunity to look back at some old posts and relive some of the good old days – this edition will focus on raptors:
My best birding today was first thing at Wickham Lake. It was a little bit cold, but the wind was down, making it relatively comfortable. I joined Kyle Knapp, who was there when I arrived. Of course I got zero photos, as the birds were distant, but we tallied an enjoyable 15 species of waterfowl:
American Wood Duck
Afterwards, I checked on various other lakes in the region. The single CANVASBACK continues at Greenwood Lake; I thought its days were numbered as an adult Bald Eagle tried to take it – the Canvasback went under just before the eagle hit the water. At Round Lake I found both Lesser and Greater Scaup. I also had two exciting water mammals in my travels – a river otter (no pics) and a mink, see above.
I also briefly cruised the black dirt region; it was mostly the usuals. I was happy to see some of the Snow Geese are still hanging in there. The ones in this photo were hanging out with a large flock of Canada Geese that I sifted through but didn’t find any rarities.
I headed to Sullivan County this snowy morning. I covered a decent amount of ground in the Parksville area, hoping for Evening Grosbeaks or maybe get lucky with Ruffed Grouse. Neither came to fruition, so I headed to the Neversink Reservoir, where I had a little more luck. I found 5 very confiding Snow Buntings feeding on the roadside. I enjoyed watching and photographing the birds; cursing the poor light as I did so.
I wanted to check Rondout Reservoir next, but the snow was falling at a decent clip and the road I wanted to take hadn’t been treated at all, so I bailed. I headed to the Bashakill instead. Haven Road was productive, with 8 species of waterfowl, 3 Bald Eagles, and a handful of Rusty Blackbirds. I was thwarted by the snow again, when I went to the Main Boat Launch to try for the multitude of waterfowl that has been reported there. No cars had entered the parking area and the snow looked just a little too substantial to risk it.
My best birding of the weekend came on Saturday afternoon. I finally went to the Newburgh Waterfront at the most productive time of the day, only to find it completely dead. I looked across the river to Beacon and saw that there were many gulls present there. I headed over, figuring the birds would cross the river to Newburgh while I was driving. Fortunately, they didn’t; as a matter of fact the birds stayed at the Beacon Waterfront until when I left just before sunset. I had a total of (5) gull species for the afternoon; in addition to the expected three species (Ring-billed, Herring, & Great Black-backed), I was able to locate a young Iceland Gull and a young Lesser Black-backed Gull. The LBBG was particularly satisfying for a couple of reasons: 1. It’s a bird I somehow missed in 2022, and 2. the LBBG is not the easiest bird to pick out of the crowd.
Other good birds on Saturday included a pair of Snow Buntings in the black dirt and my first Common Goldeneye (Wickham Lake) and Merlin (BDR) in Orange County 2023.
Sunday was mostly uneventful. First thing, I birded 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary for the first time in ages. It was quite birdy and I was pleased with 27 species in just under an hour of birding. Afterwards, I cruised the black dirt and it was pretty quiet. I found several larger flocks of Canada Geese; I enjoyed sorting through them, but didn’t find any additional species.
When Karen Miller invited me to be on her team for this year’s Sullivan County Feathered Frenzy, I jumped at the opportunity to break out of the winter birding routine. The Feathered Frenzy is a friendly contest where teams try to locate as many species as they can in a single day in Sullivan County. Karen and I had a really great time; it was great to catch up, do some good birding, and enjoy the sunny beautiful day (in spite of the cold temperatures and a wickedly cold wind). Scotty Baldinger emailed an excellent write-up on the event, and was kind enough to allow me to use it for this post:
Sullivan County Feathered Frenzy, by Scotty Baldinger
Five teams competed in this year’s Feathered Frenzy racing around the county to find as many birds as possible in one day for Sullivan County. Weather conditions were pretty decent for February. Mostly sunny with temps starting out in the upper 20s ranging into mid to upper 30s during the day. It was very windy especially during the morning portion of today’s event with some gusts as high as 25 miles an hour. With open water on the Bashakill and the Rondout Reservoir, we had an excellent mix of waterfowl.
It was a fun filled and exciting day with a total of 63 species found in Sullivan County! Congrats to the team of John Haas, Bruce Nott, and Scott Graber on their outstanding total of 53 species for the day. They found the only American Kestrel, Pine Siskin, Brown Creepers, Belted Kingfisher, and Cooper’s Hawk in the county. The team of Scott Baldinger, Steve Altman with an assist from Paula Baldinger in the early morning logged 48 species for the day. They found the only Great-horned Owl, Green-winged Teals, and Turkey Vulture in the county. The team of Karen Miller and Matt Zeitler rolled in with 40 species, finding the only Northern Harrier, Merlin, and Northern Flicker in the county. The team of Renee Davis and Marge Gorton also rolled in with 40 species, finding the only Golden Eagle and Brown-headed Cowbird in the county. The team of Patrick and Riley Dechon came in with 30 species on the day, finding the only Black Vultures in the county. Congratulations to all who participated in this great event. See full species list at the bottom of this post.
On Sunday morning I finally was able to run for the good waterfowl that Kyle Knapp had located at Greenwood Lake earlier in the week. Noteworthy birds included: 9 Redheads, 1 American Coot, 2 Greater Scaup, and a single Canvasback. I also went to the Greenwood Lake Fire Department – where Kyle found 5 Lesser Scaup earlier in the morning. Then, at Round Lake, I found another 2 Greater Scaup. That’s some pretty good birds for Orange County in February!
Feathered Frenzy species list:
American Black Duck
American Tree Sparrow
Team Davis: 8.5 hours Total 162 miles
Team Miller: 9.75 hours Total 95 miles
Team Dechon: 6 hours Total 108 miles
Team Haas: 10.5 hours Total 142 miles
Team Baldinger: 10.25 hours Total 173 miles
Again, thanks to all who participated in this year’s Feathered Frenzy!
Early this morning, I birded Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge with Linda Scrima. Raptors were well represented; we had 5 species: Red-tailed Hawk (5), Rough-legged Hawk (1), Red-shouldered Hawk (1), Northern Harrier (5), and one small falcon which I believe was a Merlin. Snow Geese could be seen in the distance, to the north of the refuge, and there was a steady stream of Canada Geese flying over, heading north.
Afterwards, I headed to the Hudson River, where I had one exciting species. I was looking through a raft of Common Mergansers in the middle of the river, when two CANVASBACKS flew through my scope view. I was pretty excited because Canvasback is a pretty darn good bird for Orange County, I think I’ve had them in the county 2 or 3 times before. Bruce Nott and Ronnie DiLorenzo joined me and got the birds; while they were there I also located a single male Red-breasted Merganser. Gulls were a bust yet again for me, with only the three expected species seen. Later in the day is better for gulls at the Newburgh Waterfront, so I think I need to make an effort to be there a little later in the afternoons.