The Grasslands Deliver, 11/26/23

This morning I had a fabulous outing at Shawngunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. I had a couple of reasons I wanted to get up there – the first was my target bird, the LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE which has been seen up there this fall. I caught up with (presumably) the same bird about a year ago, and I was hoping to get lucky again. The second was that I was due. It’s that time of year when raptors are flying over the refuges, so I was definitely feeling a visit to the Grasslands.

I arrived just after sunrise; it was a beautifully cold morning, just over 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with barely a whisper of a breeze. As the sun started to get a little higher, I paused to check my camera settings. Looking around for something to shoot, I was surprised to find a young Northern Harrier, just off the trail, peering out of the vegetation at me – I was floored that it hadn’t flushed.

~A frosty perch for this bird. I would have another encounter later in the morning with this immature Northern Harrier. SGNWR, 11/26/23.~

I walked the trails for a while, just enjoying being out. There was a good number of songbirds present, at least for out in the middle of the refuge: Savannah Sparrows, Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, House Finches, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and absolutely loads of Eastern Bluebirds. At one point, I was pretty sure I heard an Eastern Meadowlark, however I wasn’t able to confirm it.

~An Eastern Bluebird takes flight, SGNWR 11/26/23.~

Then, in my binoculars, I saw a white dot in a distant tree. I knew it had to be the shrike, and sure enough it was. I was lucky enough to watch the bird for a good while – it was still perched in some small brush south of the trail when I finally tore myself away. What an excellent bird!

~Loggerhead Shrike at the Grasslands, 11/26/23.~
~Loggerhead Shrike on the tiniest of perches. When I saw this, I started to wonder if the Loggerhead was smaller than the Northern Shrike. I checked my Crossley Guide when I got home, and sure enough, LOSH is listed as 9″, versus the NSHR at 10″.~

On my way back, I was hearing a Northern Harrier calling repeatedly. I eventually found, what I presume is the same young Northern Harrier, harassing a perched Red-tailed Hawk in the distance, on the tree line. As I worked my way along the trail, the harrier, maybe distracted by the presence of the Red-tail, flew directly at me, allowing for an excellent photo op.

~This young NOHA flew directly towards me, only veering off at the last second. SGNWR, 11/26/23.~
~NOHA in flight at the Grasslands, 11/26/23.~
Loggerhead Shrike at SGNWR, 11/26/23.~

Near the parking area, there was a very sharp-looking adult female Northern Harrier perched on a post, that was a nice way to end an excellent and exciting morning of birding.

~Adult female Northern Harrier perched not too far from the parking area, SGNWR 11/26/23.~
~One more of the young NOHA. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 11/26/23.~

Sunday Shots, 11/19/23

It was a relatively uneventful weekend of birding for me. There actually doesn’t seem to be all that much exciting going on in our area at the moment. I checked out a few lakes in southern Orange County on Saturday morning. Then, I spent this morning at the Hudson River. Both mornings were unproductive. The highlight of the weekend for me was in the black dirt later this morning, where, after weeks of trying, I was finally able to get my first Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting photos of the season.

~Always a favorite of mine, as readers of the blog know well – Lapland Longspur in the black dirt 11/19/23.~
~A Red-tailed Hawk being mobbed by American Crows in the Black Dirt Region, 11/19/23.~
~European Starling flock at the Camel Farm, 11/18/23.~
~Stupid heat shimmer from my car did a number on this photo. But, it’s my first Snow Bunting shot of the year, so I wanted to include it. Black dirt 11/19/23.~
~A Great Blue Heron stalks prey on Missionland Road, 11/19/23.~
~One more European Starling image – I was enjoying photographing this flock. Camel Farm 11/18/23.~

Mount Peter Hawkwatch, 11/11/23

I wrapped up my hawkwatching 2023 season on Saturday, and it ended on a good note. I had 83 migrating raptors, which included our best Red-tailed Hawk count for the year (45 birds), and additionally, I enjoyed a good variety of other migrants: Turkey Vulture (10), Bald Eagles (8), Northern Harrier (3), Sharp-shinned Hawk (7), Cooper’s Hawk (1), Red-shouldered Hawk (8), and Peregrine Falcon (1). I’ve included my report at the bottom of this post.

Unfortunately, it was a disappointing season at Mount Peter. We never had a big day for Broad-winged Hawks. The weather worked against us more than for us. And our total year count is way down with only 3,680 migrants tallied for the season as of this evening. Compare that to nearly 5,000 last year and over 10,000 in 2021.

~~A Purple Finch takes pause at Mount Peter Hawkwatch, 11/11/23.~

For me personally, it was mostly a subpar season. September was slow. October was basically a rainout; I was scheduled to count on three Saturdays, and between the three days the weather only allowed for a paltry 4 1/2 hours and 22 migrating raptors. I enjoyed my 2 Saturdays in November but they did not produce any special birds.

BUT, the few good days I did have at Mount Pete this season have somehow rejuvenated my love for hawkwatching. It’s been a few seasons since I’ve had that feeling – the joy and excitement of a day searching the skies for birds. Hawkwatching is how I started birding and it’s been nice getting back to it. I’m ending this season looking forward to next year; I didn’t see that coming.

~This Red-tailed Hawk perched on the cell tower in front of the platform for 15 minutes before zooming past us and into the valley. Mount Peter Hawkwatch, 11/12/23.~
~Female Purple Finch at Mt. Pete, 11/11/23.~

Sunday Shots, 11/05/23

My best birding of the weekend occurred first thing on Saturday morning. I stopped in the black dirt before heading up to Mount Peter Hawkwatch. I was pleased to find a nice sized flock of Horned Larks, and even more so to find a handful of Snow Buntings and a couple Lapland Longspurs. The buntings and longspurs wouldn’t cooperate for photos, so I had to settle for some Horned Lark shots. I went back on Sunday morning, and I don’t know if they moved on or were just laying low, but I had very few larks and no buntings or longspurs.

~Horned Lark in the black dirt, 11/05/23.~

Hawkwatch at Mount Peter was a bust for me. I counted a measly 10 migrating raptors in just over 5 hours. Songbirds were out in force, particularly American Robins, which were moving through in groups of 10-20 birds. I have only one day left in the hawk watching season, next Saturday; I’m hoping for something special to happen on that day.

~Dark-eyed Junco at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch 11/04/23.~
~American Crow just after Sunrise in the black dirt, 11/04/23.~d
~One of 4 White-tailed Deer bucks that I saw over the weekend. Black Dirt Region 11/05/23.~
~Horned Lark with what looks like a very short bill to me. BDR 11/04/23.~
~This might be the winner for the species which is heard WAY more than it is seen. Carolina Wren in the black dirt, 11/05/23.~

Plum Point, 10/29/23

I enjoyed an excellent morning/early afternoon of birding at Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point. Birding bud Bruce Nott let me know he had some good birds on the Hudson River earlier in the morning, so I went over to check it out. Looking out onto the rainy and foggy river from the shelter of the park’s pavilion, it was a slow start, but over approximately three hours of birding I accumulated some good birds:

  • At least 15 Common Loons
  • A fly-by of nearly 20 Bonaparte’s Gulls,
  • (5) Long-tailed Ducks
  • A Skein of approximately 175 Brant
  • A fly-by of (14) Northern Pintails
  • A flock Scaup (species) see photo below
  • And the usuals: Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, (3) Bald Eagles, Double-crested Cormorants, and American Black Ducks.
~Great Cormorant at Plum Point, 10/29/23.~
~Bald Eagle in flight over the Hudson River, Plum Point, 10/29/23.~
~Scaup species, Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point, 10/29/23.~

A Good Day at Mt. Pete, 10/28/23

Based on the weather forecast, I had very low expectations going into today’s hawkwatch at Mount Peter. I was expecting it to be uncomfortably warm with a non-existent flight. But, there was a cool breeze all day which kept it very comfortable on the viewing platform and there were enough migrating raptors to keep it interesting. The highlight for me, however, was not raptor related. I had (4) skeins of BRANT fly over, with a total of approximately 450 birds. I always hope that I’m up at Mt. Pete when Brant come through, and today I was lucky. As always, I’ve included my full report at the bottom of this post.

~Palm Warbler at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, 10/28/23.~
~One of (4) skeins of Brant at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, 10/28/23.~
~Turkey Vulture at Mt. Pete, 10/28/23.~
~One of these things is not like the other… Brant and an unidentified duck pass directly over the Mt. Peter viewing platform, 10/28/23.~
~TUVU at Mt. Pete, 10/28/23.~

Sunday Shots, 10/22/23

It was an interesting weekend in local birding. On Friday afternoon, Linda Scrima located a NORTHERN WHEATEAR in the black dirt. On Saturday morning, it was raining (as usual this fall), so I was able to spend some time searching for the bird. Unfortunately I didn’t have any luck, but I enjoyed another rainy morning in the black dirt, seeing the absolutely massive numbers of American Pipits, and I also found an unlikely sparrow for this time of year – a late Grasshopper Sparrow.

~Grasshopper Sparrow in the Black Dirt Region, 10/21/23.~

I also enjoyed a nice look a Merlin:

~Merlin perched in the wind and rain. Black dirt, 10/21/23.

In the afternoon, when the rain stopped, I managed to squeeze in two and a half hours at Mount Peter Hawkwatch. I had 15 migrating raptors, including another Merlin and a Peregrine Falcon. I’ve included my full report at the bottom of this post.

On Sunday morning, I found a Long-billed Dowitcher at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh. This is a species which we don’t see all that regularly in Orange County; I believe that today was my just 4th siting in the 13 years I’ve birded OC.

~Long-billed Dowitcher at Liberty Marsh, 10/22/23.~
~Love these dudes. American Pipit in the black dirt in the rain, 10/21/23.~
~It’s always good to see our buddy the Leucistic Red-tailed Hawk in Warwick, NY 10/21/23.~

Vulturific Hawkwatch! 10/15/23

After an early morning of unremarkable birding at Winding Waters Trail, I headed up to Mount Peter to see if any raptors were flying. I was not prepared for what the mountain had in store for us today. When I arrived, Ken Witkowski informed that Turkey Vultures were moving in numbers. He wasn’t kidding; he had over 130 the hour before, and we topped that the next hour with 199! They were actually kettling up! Tom Millard joined us shortly after I arrived, and the three of us enjoyed some of the best hawk watching I can recall in recent years.

~Turkey Vultures directly over the viewing platform at Mount Peter, 10/15/23.~

I couldn’t help but think of the epic day we had at Mt. Pete in October of 2021, when we counted over 850 migrating Turkey Vultures in an afternoon. Today didn’t quite reach those heights, but a total of 636 migrating TUVUs were counted today. Plus, we also had loads of other migrating raptors; they came through in decent numbers and with an excellent variety (11 different migrating species counted). See Ken and Tom’s full report below for more details. What a great day – it was a cool fall day, with a beautiful sky, excellent company, and absolutely loads of migrating raptors.

~These three Bald Eagles put on quite a show, before migrating through. Mount Peter Hawkwatch, 10/15/23.~
~Red-shouldered Hawk passes over Mount Peter, 10/15/23.~
~Turkey Vulture close up taken in my backyard last week.~

Rainy Day, 10/14/23

I’ve had rotten luck this year with hawkwatch – I got rained out again today. Between vacation and poor weather, it’s mid October and I’ve only counted at Mt. Peter Hawk for grand total of 10.5 hours. I did enjoy some good birding today in lieu counting raptors. After checking in at Mt. Pete to assure it was in fact raining up there, I went to the black dirt, where some good shorebirds continue, including (40+) Killdeer, (6) American Golden-Plover, (1) Black-bellied Plover, (1) Pectoral Sandpiper, and (1) Wilson’s Snipe. I was also pleased to find a nice sized flock of American Pipits; always a favorite of mine.

~Patience paid off this morning. The American Pipit flock was WAY out in a field, but I waited and eventually a few came closer. AMPI in the black dirt 10/14/23.~

Afterwards, I checked in with Bruce Nott, hoping that the recently reported Laughing Gull was seen at the Newburgh Waterfront today. Unfortunately it hadn’t been seen, but he let me know that there was a young Lesser Black-backed Gull present. I ran for the gull, and it did not disappoint – what a beauty! I really enjoyed seeing and photographing this sharp looking bird.

~What a bird. Lesser Black-backed Gull at the Newburgh Waterfront 10/14/23.~
~Love this bird. LBBG at the Newburgh Waterfront, 10/14/23~
~Good birding in the black dirt this morning. One Black-bellied Plover, 2 American Golden-Plovers, and a couple of American Pipits.

More Good OC Shorebirds, 10/07/23

Just when I was beginning to think that fall shorebird migration was winding down, I enjoyed an excellent morning of shorebirding in the black dirt with birding bud Bruce Nott. Dodging raindrops as the rain persisted on and off all morning, we enjoyed finding over 60 individuals and (7) species of shorebirds:

  • Black Bellied Plover (4)
  • American Golden Plover (6)
  • Killdeer (7)
  • Pectoral Sandpiper (37)
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper (3)
  • Lesser Yellowlegs (5)
~Most of the birds were distant, but these five Lesser Yellowlegs came close enough for a decent shot. Black Dirt Region, 10/07/23.~
~There were 4 Northern Harriers keeping the shorebirds on their toes. Black Dirt Region 10/07/23.~

When the rain finally cleared out of the area for a while, I went to Mount Peter to count hawks (I was the official counter for the day). It was windy and much cooler on the mountain, but unfortunately not too many raptors were migrating through. In two hours of observation, I had only 7 migrants, the highlight being an adult Bald Eagle.

~A puffed up Pectoral Sandpiper in the black dirt, 10/07/23.~