Other than the gulls at the Hudson River, it was a relatively uneventful weekend of birding. I tooled around the black dirt region both mornings and had less than the usuals. Even large flocks of geese were hard to come by. But, as always, especially on these cold, sunny, crisp mornings, it was just good to be out. A slow day of birding beats a day at the office any day of the week, no doubt about it.
My birding today was sort of a comedy of errors. After some unremarkable birding in the black dirt in the morning, I headed over to the Hudson River, where some excellent gulls have been reported recently: Lesser Black-backed Gull, Iceland Gull, and Glaucous Gull. I spent some time at the Newburgh Waterfront without any luck, so I headed over to Beacon. In Beacon, I again had no luck. So, I headed back to Newburgh. As I started scanning, I received a call from birding bud and fellow gull enthusiast Bruce Nott. He was just north of me, and he had located a young GLAUCOUS GULL across the river in Beacon. I located the bird easily with his directions and then jumped in the car and headed BACK to Beacon to try for a better look and some photos.
Once in Beacon, I couldn’t relocated the Glaucous Gull, lol, but I did find a first winter ICELAND GULL. I called Bruce and he was still on the Glaucous – it had drifted pretty far south, so I repositioned myself and got on the bird with my scope. I tried for photos, but it was just too far. I went back to the where the Iceland was but moments after I arrived, a train spooked the gulls and the Iceland flew north until I lost sight of it.
I continued to scan from Beacon, and I located a bird on the Newburgh side of the river that looked good for a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. I called Bruce; he got on the gull and sure enough it was a LBBG! So, I jumped in the car once again, BACK to Newburgh! I joined Bruce at Newburgh Waterfront and he got me back on the bird; it was a beautiful second winter bird that looked incredible in the scope, but again just too far for photos.
Bruce and I lingered for a while, shooting the breeze and scanning for gulls. And it payed off. Bruce located an adult bird with white primaries. It was on the water, head tucked in and distant. My camera wouldn’t focus on the bird – too far again. But Bruce got some shots of the bird on the water, and then when the bird took flight, I followed it in my scope and gave Bruce direction as to the location of the bird so he could get some flight shots (see above). Bruce and I weren’t sure if the bird was an Iceland or a Glaucous; in the field the bird did not appear noticeably smaller or larger than the nearby Herring Gulls. Thankfully Bruce got the photos, which he sent around; the consensus was adult GLAUCOUS GULL, my 265th species in Orange County. What a crazy good day; huge thanks to my partner in crime Bruce.
I headed back up to Sullivan County this morning to try once again for the Northern Shrike that has been seen near Liberty, NY. My second target species was Common Redpoll which have also been reported recently in the same area. I spent the morning traveling the area and scanning for birds, but unfortunately came up empty on both counts. I was enjoying being in the area; it was a beautiful winter morning (sort of) and I was just happy to be out, so flipped open my copy of A Birding Guide to Sullivan County NY and followed the directions over to the Beechwoods Area, which is between Hortonville and Jeffersonville.
The Beechwoods Area proved to be more productive. Although most were the usuals, there were enough birds around to make it interesting. I had many Black-capped Chickadees, they were definitely the bird of the day. I also had six Bald Eagle sitings – I’m not sure how many individual birds but there were at least two that I saw at the same time. The bird of the day, however, was a single COMMON REDPOLL on Buddenhagen Road. I spent loads of time with the bird as it was very accommodating, but the light wasn’t in my favor so I was working for photos. Some days you just pick the right thing to do – by that I mean it’s really what you’re in the mood for. Today was one of those days for me.
What can I even say about 2020? It was a year like no other, that’s for sure. The Covid-19 pandemic changed our lives in many ways, including birding. In early March I started working from home. It was the most time during daylight hours that I’d ever spent at home – my usual routine was go to work during the weekdays and go to birding locations in the evenings and on the weekends. Being home every day, I was amazed at how many good birds could be seen right in my own yard.
Our yard, of course, had plenty of the usuals – chickadees, titmice, wrens etc… but we also had some more interesting birds. I was shocked to see that a pair of Wood Ducks had taken to roosting in the trees in our yard for short time at the end of April. A Wood Thrush spent the morning in our side garden on May 1st; I thought that was pretty cool but it was easily topped by my “Yard Bird of The Year”, a LINCOLN’S SPARROW in the back yard just two days later. Spending time on the back deck and looking to the sky after wrapping up work proved to be productive, with some interesting flyovers: Common Nighthawk, Great Egret, SANDHILL CRANE, and many Bald Eagles. The vultures continued to roost in the evergreens in the backyard. We had success with a hummingbird feeder for the first time. We watched Blue Jays successfully fledge their young in the backyard, while sadly all the eggs were taken one night from the American Robin’s nest in the front yard. In the fall, we had Red-breasted Nuthatches hanging around. It was a silver lining of the pandemic to be able to get a better picture of just what goes on around here when I’m gone.
YEAR OF THE GULL IN ORANGE COUNTY
I had an amazing year with gulls in Orange County, having observed eight different species in 2020. Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed are expected and were seen many times throughout the year. Bonaparte’s are reliable most every year and I had a couple of sitings in April. I had only one Iceland for the year, in January. At the end of March, Bruce Nott located a beautiful young LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. I was able to track that bird down on three occasions. On July 10th, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Fay, I went to Kowawese Unique Area and scanned for gulls in the rain. I was rewarded with a fly-by FRANKLIN’S GULL. It was not only a county bird for me, but a lifer as well (my only life bird of 2020!). Then, on August 4th, in the evening, at the tail end of Tropical Storm Isaias, I had my eighth and final gull species in the county for the year: a hatch year LAUGHING GULL.
There were, of course, many other highlights for me through the year. In January there was a Greater White-fronted Goose at Skinner Lane. In February, there was a gorgeous young GOLDEN EAGLE hanging around the black dirt terrorizing Snow Geese. I couldn’t believe that bird was around and I couldn’t get enough of it. In March I ran for a Eurasian Wigeon at the Bashakill; it wasn’t the greatest look but that’s always an excellent bird to see. In April I had a FORSTER’S TERN as well as a Caspian Tern in Newburgh, as well as a pair of Surf Scoters at Wickham Lake.
On May 18th, Bruce Nott found another great bird, a BLACK TERN in breeding plumage at the Liberty Loop. In early June Rob Stone found a Wilson’s Phalarope at the Camel Farm. I ran for that bird at lunchtime; it was my 260th life bird in Orange County. In late July, when the pandemic was seemingly starting to get under control, we took our only trip of the year and spent just over a week on the Maine coast. We enjoyed taking the Puffin Watch Cruise out to Eastern Egg Rock Island, where I got my best looks and photos of puffins yet.
August, which is typically associated with the doldrums of birding, brought one of my favorite stories of the year. While birding at Beaver Pond on August 15th, a fledging Cedar Waxwing (later to be named Carson C. Waxwing) flew down and landed on my scope and then hopped onto my hand. I eventually rescued Carson and delivered him to The Avian Wildlife Center for rehabilitation. If you missed this story the first time around, you can catch up here, here, and here. I think it’s worth a read. I spoke with Giselle at the center today, and the latest update is that Carson is still at the center, where it has molted and now will over-winter before being released in the spring. So, it’s still looking good for a successful recovery… touch wood, fingers crossed, etc…
In early September I enjoyed a couple of BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS out at Skinner’s Lane, always a favorite. Later in the month I spent a weekend in the Adirondacks, where I did really well getting many of my target species: Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Canada Jay, and my first ever decent look at a Ruffed Grouse. In October I counted the only GOLDEN EAGLE of the season at Mount Peter Hawkwatch on the 17th. At the end of the month I got a fantastic look at a LAPLAND LONGSPUR at Skinner’s. November was pretty exciting with my first ever BARNACLE GOOSE and RED CROSSBILLS in Orange County. I have been waiting for ages to get a Barnacle in the county! December has been a good month too, with another Lapland Longspur (this one at Turtle Bay), and a worthwhile trip to Rye, NY where I saw my first ever Glaucous Gull in NYS.
TOP TEN PHOTOS
This is my favorite part. I really enjoy looking back and picking out the photographs which speak to me and seem to have held up; I hope you enjoy my choices.
So, I guess that’s a wrap on 2020. As always, I’d like to thank everyone who reads the blog . I’d also like to thank all my birding friends out there for yet another excellent year of birding, you know who you are. Happy New Year to everyone out there, here’s hoping that 2021 will be a better, birdier year.
This morning I headed Rye Playland to try for the GLAUCOUS GULL that Gail Benson and Tom Burke reported at that location yesterday. It was a beautiful, cold and sunny day, my favorite type of winter day; a perfect day to put some new Christmas winter gear (coat and gloves) to the test. I was not optimistic about my chances of getting my target; gulls seem to be tough bird to run for. Regardless, I was pretty sure it would be a good day of birding, Rye in the winter is always a good birding trip.
I parked by the ice rink and walked the pier; a flock of 60 or so Brant flew overhead and I able to locate a Long-tailed Duck and my first Common Loon, Buffleheads, and Red-breasted Mergansers of the day. From there I headed over to Playland Lake, where I had great looks and a photo op with a single adult female Common Goldeneye.
Leaving the lake, I found Gail and Tom – were just on the GLAUCOUS GULL, but it must have flown as they were saying goodbye to a friend and it wasn’t present. I can’t thank Tom and Gail enough, they did everything in their power to relocate the gull for me, and after parting ways for a short time, I received a call from Gail – they had the gull again! I hustled to join up with them, but alas the bird had flown again. Moments later, Tom picked up the bird in flight right over our heads and we watched as it put down on the rocks across the way. What a big, beautiful beast of a gull! I was blown away; I think because I’d lowered my expectations, it was that much better getting the bird. It was the third Glaucous Gull I’d ever seen, and my first in New York state, making it my 311th NYS bird.
Since I can only get out on the weekends at this time of the year, it’s extra sweet when I can get some good birds. On Saturday morning Tricia and I stopped at the Grasslands on our way to pick up pottery supplies in New Paltz. It was a gorgeous morning; super cold and frosty, but also sunny and bright. We were just going to stop briefly, but shortly after we arrived, two Short-eared Owls were up and flying. It was a pleasant surprise; we watched from the viewing platform as the owls seemed to be actively hunting and were tangling with Northern Harriers from time to time. We also got the opportunity to catch up with Ralph Tabor, which was really great, it had been too long. Side note: the refuge has put new restrictions in place to mitigate owl disturbance by closing a large percentage of the trails on the weekends. I personally think this is a great idea and long overdue.
This morning I tooled around the black dirt. On Celery Avenue, there was a large flock of geese present. I sorted through them and watched as group after group flew in to join the flock. It was an enjoyable (if cold) way to sort through geese, but unfortunately I didn’t come up with anything other than Canada Geese. I did have a pair of adult Bald Eagles perched in a tree, side by side, as well as a nice close Gray Ghost fly-by.
I found more geese at Turtle Bay Road, this time there were nearly sixty Snow Geese among approximately 400 Canada Geese. There was also a modest flock of Horned Larks foraging on the side of the road. I felt super lucky when a single LAPLAND LONGSPUR put down not far from my car. Heat shimmer from the car prevented a better pic, but as always, it was great to see a LALO.
Other highlights from the morning included many more raptors; who-knows-how-many Red-tailed Hawks, a Rough-legged Hawk, a Cooper’s Hawk, and an American Kestrel. The last good bird of the day was a bird that I typically don’t have much luck with: I found a FOX SPARROW in with a mixed flock of sparrows on Round Hill Road.
Well, it’s been a stressful week regarding the blog, but the site now seems to be working more efficiently. I was having a lingering issue regarding email subscriptions, but I believe I have that figured out; this post will tell the tale.
Anyways, I wasn’t on the computer all the time, and I was out an about this weekend and last weekend as well. But, I’ve hit a little bit of a dry spell – I tried for winter finches in Port Jervis both weekends, but came up empty. Same goes for Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs, as well as Cackling Goose (probably the species I am mostly likely to add to my Orange County year list). Still, as always it’s just good to be out, with enough of the “usuals” around to keep me entertained, especially on a gorgeous day like today.
I’ve been experiencing some technical issues with the blog recently. It has taken some time, and I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ve made some changes and upgrades which will hopefully make it easier for me to create posts, and more importantly, make for a quicker and better experience for the readers. I imagine there will still be some bugs to work out; if you have any problems or would like to share any information with me, leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
It was really, really nice to have four days off in a row. And with the pandemic still raging, we did not travel. So, that made for a good amount of birding during those four days. Noteworthy birds included more RED CROSSBILLS at Reservoir 3, the BARNACLE GOOSE continues in the area, being seen mostly at the Camel Farm, a handful of Snow Buntings at Skinners Lane, and I had my first ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK of the season. I had a good weekend with raptors, topped off by an early morning visit to the Grasslands today. It was enjoyable to be out there sitting in a blind. It sort of felt like the old days when I used to photograph many more raptors.
It’s amazing how sometimes things just work out. Today Bruce Nott located a BARNACLE GOOSE at the Camel Farm. He reported it in the early afternoon – right at my lunch time. I raced over and joined Bruce and Linda Scrima, who informed me that the bird had just taken a short flight and was out of view. John Haas arrived, and moments later the bird took flight again. I was able to get distant flight shots as it flew across the Camel Farm and put down again.
As we were observing the bird, it became clear that it was moving about with 4 other interesting looking geese. It was speculated that these were likely the same birds which have been reported around the northeast in recent years: One Barnacle Goose with 4 Barnacle x Cackling Goose hybrids.
I have to say that I was freaking out. I have waited SO long to get a Barnacle Goose in the county, it was just a fabulous looking bird, and it did not disappoint. It’s been absolutely ages since I was this excited to see a bird. The Barnacle Goose was my 264th Orange County life bird, and my 222nd bird in the county for 2020. I can’t thank Bruce enough!