I went out to the black dirt first thing Saturday morning. I was counting at Mount Peter in the afternoon, so I wanted to get an early start. As always, I was looking for shorebirds – any new species or some better looks and photos of some of the birds we’ve been seeing. Well, I didn’t see any new species, and the best I could do for photos was a decent shot of a Greater Yellowlegs. But it was still a decent morning with 6 species of shorebirds: Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Pectoral Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Greater Yellowlegs.
MOUNT PETER HAWKWATCH
In the afternoon I was the official counter at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, taking over for BA McGrath who, unfortunately had a terribly slow morning. The afternoon, in general, wasn’t much busier but ultimately, I counted a total of 67 migrating raptors. A surprise kettle of 39 Broad-winged Hawks accounted for most of that number. I had (3) migrating Bald Eagles, and there were several Common Ravens putting on a show on the cell tower and in the air over the platform. You can see my report for HMANA at the bottom of this post.
This morning I decided it was finally time to give the shorebirds a break. So I headed to Port Jervis and I birded Reservoir #3. It was just what the doctor ordered, birdy, peaceful, perfect weather, and some good photo ops. I tallied 30 species for the morning, with highlights of Brown Creeper (Res 3 is money for that bird!), several Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a pair of Blue-headed Vireos. Actually the real highlight for me came afterwards – after shooting distant shorebirds and raptors, it felt good to look at some decent photos of songbirds.
I enjoyed some pretty good birding this week and into the weekend. As regular readers of this blog know, I’m obsessed with shorebirds and that’s how I spent most of my birding time. I did not add any new species to my year list, but I just enjoyed the variety we’ve been having and trying for photos. The highlight was seeing the largest flock of American Golden-Plovers I’ve ever seen in the black dirt, a remarkable 76 birds. Two Buff-breasted Sandpipers continued up until Thursday evening, but I haven’t seen or heard any reports since then.
On the weekend, I also went up to Mount Peter to see how the hawkwatch was going. Right now should be primetime for Broad-winged Hawk migration and I was hoping to see a kettle or two. I went Saturday for a about an hour or so, and unfortunately it was a bust. Sunday was another story and I enjoyed my most successful flight of Broad-winged Hawks ever. When I left in the early afternoon, over 2,500 BWHAs had been counted. We had over 1,500 in a single hour! I also saw the largest kettle I’ve ever seen, consisting of approximately 700 birds. It was remarkable. Will Test was the official counter, and nearly every other counter from Mt. Pete was there as well, giving him a hand and enjoying one of the best days of the season.
As far as birding went, this past weekend was a total bust. My niece got married, so I spent much of the weekend down on Long Island to attend. But, tonight’s outing definitely took some of the sting out of it. I went to Skinner’s Lane after work, and after a slow start with just a single shorebird (a Black-bellied Plover), things heated up a little bit. First a flock of American Golden-Plovers flew in – twenty birds. They circled around several times before putting down in a distant field. Then a small group of Killdeer flew over; I noticed one bird appeared to be different, so I stayed on it until it landed… and it was a beautiful BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER.
I put the word out, but it was getting dark. Linda Scrima joined me and we enjoyed watching all the birds work their way closer to the road until they were quite close. At that point there was barely any light left, and normally I would have abandoned taking pics, but I really wanted to try for the Buff-breasted. They are all super grainy, but I’ve included my best shot of the BBSA below. It’s always nice to have an unexpectedly nice Monday night after spending the day getting back into the swing of things at work.
This morning I met up with birding bud Bruce Nott and we once again hit the black dirt looking for shorebirds. Early on it was not looking good; we were not finding the multitudes of shorebirds we were hoping for, and the puddling was greatly reduced. We did have a single Baird’s Sandpiper at Skinners Lane, so that was nice. Our fortunes changed at Pine Island Turf Nursery. First off, the office was closed for the holiday, but luckily we ran into some of the folks from the nursery in the parking lot as they were leaving, and they gave us permission to go in and look for birds.
There was a good number of shorebirds present and we had a pretty darn good list with a cool dozen species when it was all said and done:
Last weekend was a total bust for me. We had a sick cat which took up all my time (and money!) on Saturday, as I took my sick little girl to two different veterinarians. I spent Sunday staring at the cat, trying to will her back to health. A week later, the cat is doing better and my mind is no longer all consumed by the state of her health.
Meanwhile, this week the tail end of Hurricane Ida came through our area, leaving the black dirt flooded in many areas, creating great conditions for shorebirds. While storm did not bring in as many birds as I might have thought, afterwards and through the week and into the weekend, we accumulated quite a nice shorebird list in the black dirt:
I also made a relatively quick but very productive stop at Mount Peter Hawkwatch on Saturday afternoon (yes, hawkwatch is starting already!). I joined official counter Ken Witkowski for just about an hour, and we were lucky enough to have nearly 50 migrating raptors – forty something Broadwinged Hawks, 2 Bald Eagles, and an Osprey.
Shorebirds in the black dirt are generally quite distant; just miles out, which means photos are typically just documentary. But this week, I had some birds which, while not close enough for anything remarkable, were close enough to get some decent shots. I’ve been checking the black dirt frequently, I have the feeling we are going to get something good out there this fall. Or maybe I’m just hoping we will. Either way, it was nice to get some shorebirds which were not Killdeer, and some decent photos to boot.
One other quick note – I went out the Hudson River this afternoon, hoping the hurricane/tropical storm might bring in something interesting. I don’t think my timing was great, and there wasn’t much going on. Tomorrow might be better, but unfortunately I’ll be working.
Shorebird migration hitting its stride has really gotten my birding blood pumping. On Saturday and early Sunday morning I birded the black dirt and Liberty Marsh and had a total of 10 species of shorebirds (Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, and Solitary Sandpiper). If I add my mystery shorebirds from last Sunday, which turned out to be UPLAND SANDPIPERS, that’s 11 species of shorebirds in a week.
~Caspian Tern in flight above Cornwall Bay, 08/15/21.~
But, as much as I love shorebirds, the real excitement began later in the morning when Bruce Nott notified me that he had several CASPIAN TERNS at Cornwall Bay. I headed straight over and joined Bruce. Two of the terns had departed, heading south, but that still left six Caspian Terns present. We enjoyed watching as the 3 adult birds actively fished and periodically brought back their prey to feed the waiting and calling 3 juvenile birds. We also had some shorebirds fly in and stay on the sandbar briefly – by my count there were 4 Greater Yellowlegs, 3 Lesser Yellowlegs, 5 Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a single Least Sandpiper. Eventually the terns all settled in on the sand bar presumably content for the moment. We departed definitively content. Huge thanks for Bruce for the heads up and the awesome company.
~Caspian Tern at Cornwall Bay, 08/15/21.~
~Caspian Tern over the treetops, Cornwall Bay, 08/15/21.~
I toyed with the idea of heading back north to try for the Wood Stork again, but ultimately I decided to stay local. The bird was reported at the German Church Road location again yesterday evening, but I haven’t heard anything today.
My first stop was the Camel Farm for shorebirds; I found nearly a dozen Least Sandpipers and a couple of Semipalmated Sandpipers. Moving on, I went to the Liberty Loop. Again my main goal was shorebirds, but I also was hoping for the SNOWY EGRET and LITTLE BLUE HERON, both of which were present. I had a decent list of shorebirds: Semipalmated Plover (2), Killdeer (25+), Least Sandpiper (1), Semipalmated Sandpiper (1), Solitary Sandpiper (2), Greater Yellowlegs (1), and Lesser Yellowlegs (2). It’s great to be seeing shorebirds again.
~Little Blue Heron at Wallkill River Nation Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh, 08/08/21.~
I made a couple more stops after that – I checked Beaver Pond but found poor conditions and no shorebirds. I also went to Skinners Lane, where I had a good number of Killdeer, as well as 3 mystery shorebirds which were rude enough to just do a flyover and not stop. Another exciting thing for me was a decent number of Horned Larks (20 or so), with many young birds in the mix.
This morning I headed north to try for the WOOD STORK that has been seen in Columbia County. I’ll start off by saying I did not get out as early as I would have liked, and then, just as I was getting the drive started I missed my exit. I compounded my error by following the GPS as it re-routed me, instead of just getting off the next exit and turning around. Ultimately, missing that exit cost me about 10 minutes and a life bird.
On my way up, Scotty Baldinger was kind enough to report on the Mearns App that the Wood Stork was present. This got me anxious to get up there, but the trip is just over an hour and a half, so I had to just be patient. When I arrived on German Church Road in Ghent NY, about a quarter mile in I saw two birders on the side of the road. The Wood Stork is there! they reported and I continued just over a half mile to the location. Only the bird wasn’t there. The birders present let me know that it had flown across the road and back along the way I’d just come. We walked along the road looking through the trees to see if the bird had put down. Then, one of the two birders I’d seen earlier came and reported that they’d seen the bird; it flew over their location and over the main road (Union Turnpike). That means, in the two minute drive from where I’d seen them to the location, the bird flew over me and past me and I never saw it! Ugh!
I spent a couple of hours searching the area, checking back at the original location often, but I had no luck. So, I decided to head back to Orange County. I got about 25 minutes away, when I got a report that the Wood Stork was currently being seen again at German Church Road. I turned around, drove back the 25 minutes to find that once again the bird was not there! What?!? I checked my phone and there was a follow up to the report saying that it was a mistake, and the bird actually wasn’t there. Gah! What a morning! At that point, I packed it in and finally headed back to OC, this time all the way home.
I felt the summer doldrums lifting a little bit this weekend, which was nice. On Saturday morning I met Rob Stone out at Wisner Road in Warwick with the goal of trying to get an accurate count of the Sedge Wrens. We spent over an hour listening and walking the road and in the end we felt that there are a minimum of 7 birds, with possibly as many as 10. Which is pretty amazing. Afterwards, I birded 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, which was birdy but with usuals and no real photo ops. In the evening I went to the Camel Farm to check for shorebirds. I was pleasantly surprised to find good shorebird conditions and approximately a dozen shorebirds (Least Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, and Killdeer). I’m optimistic that we’ll see some good birds out there sometime soon.
Today I checked the Camel Farm again; there seemed to be more birds and the same species with the addition of a Spotted Sandpiper. I also went out to Skinners Lane where there was a good number of swallows present (mostly Trees, with also a good number of Barns, and at least one Bank). I also got a nice scope view of a beautiful, dark Red-tailed Hawk which I believe was the subspecies Abieticola, with a dark chin with dribble marks and an extremely dark belly band. It was too distant for photos, but hopefully they will be in the cards in future visits.