I really enjoy the cold and sunny weather we had for most of this weekend. It’s a pleasure to gear up and get out into the cold, especially when the sun is out, and ended up with some good birds and some decent photo ops. My best bird by far, was the MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD in Ulster County that I ran for today. I drove up to Esopus Meadows Preserve first thing this morning. When I arrived just before 9:00, there were already several birders on the bird. By the time I got out of my car, the bird was no longer in sight. I waited alongside Ken McDermott, and we both got our first glimpse of this beautiful bird as it hovered alongside a tall evergreen across the road. The MOBL was a beautiful and cooperative bird, and my 315th bird in New York State. It wasn’t a lifer, as I’d seen MOBLs in Colorado back in 2013.
Afterwards, I tried for gulls/waterfowl at the Hudson River, first trying from Long Dock Park on the Beacon Side, and then from the Newburgh Waterfront. I didn’t have any luck with gulls nor ducks, but I did finally catch up with the Tennessee Warbler which has been hanging around near the sewage plant.
Saturday was less successful, but it was still good to be out. In the morning I participated with Linda Scrima in Mearns Bird Club’s Orange County Winter Waterfowl Count. Unfortunately it was a bit of bust for me – I had a total of only (5) species of waterfowl (Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, American Black Duck, and Common Merganser). I think this is the first time doing this that we did not find a rare goose of some kind. In the evening I went to the Newburgh Waterfront. It was COLD! And a bust for gulls, but I enjoyed a close up Common Merganser and (4) Bald Eagles flying over pretty low.
My first stop on this icy, cold, morning with freezing rain was at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, which thankfully is only a mile or so from our house. Peter and Joe Chernak reported a couple of Canvasbacks there late yesterday, and I was hoping the birds were still around. When I first arrived, I was not having any luck with my targets, but I did locate a pretty darn good bird for the county – a single Common Goldeneye. Then, partially hidden by Canada Geese, I located one and then two CANVASBACKS. Canvasback is a really good bird for Orange County – I checked my personal records and I’ve only had them in the county two times prior to today. Huge thanks to Peter and Joe for finding and reporting the birds.
I went to the black dirt this morning and was able to catch up with 3 of my 4 target birds. Early on I got a distant look at my first Rough-legged Hawk of the season, a beautiful light morph bird. A little later I caught up with a flock of Horned Larks; I looked through them and found a single Snow Bunting and a single Lapland Longspur. I tried for the Greater White-fronted Goose which has been reported at the Route 1 pond, but no luck there.
In the afternoon I headed to Newburgh. I dipped on the Golden Eagle at Storm King State Park, but I cleaned up with gulls, tallying 6 species: Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed, FRANKLIN’S, Iceland, and Glaucous. What a refreshing, cold, beautiful day of birding. Beats sitting at the desk like I did all week, that’s for sure.
Generally speaking, this is a feel-good blog. I’m typically posting when something interesting, exciting, or just fun is happening. Today, unfortunately, is the exception. This morning Tricia and I headed over to the Beacon waterfront; I was hoping for gulls even though I know that early in the day is typically a bust for gulls on the river. As expected, it was very quiet at Long Dock Park when we arrived. Just a handful of Ring-billed Gulls around, and some Common Mergansers and a Great Black-backed Gull way out on the river.
We walked out by the kayak launch, and at the end of the dock there was a single gull. It was a first winter ICELAND GULL, but, it was in some sort of distress. It was very messy looking and kept either trying to call or regurgitate something but was not having any luck. As I watched, a young child ran near the bird and it did not fly, it just slowly walked away.
I went to my car to get my carrier (it’s for my gear, but also perfect for bird rescue). When I returned, Debbie van Zyl was with the bird and she helped me capture the bird, which actually proved to be quite easy, an indication of the condition of the bird. Tricia and I drove the bird to the veterinary hospital, where it was going to be picked up by the rehabber. We headed home, hoping for the best. Unfortunately, not too long after arriving home, I received word that the bird did not make it. We know that a high percentage of gulls don’t make it through their first year, that’s just natural, but it’s heartbreaking to be invested and to witness it up close and personal like that. May that bird rest in peace.
It’s hard to believe that yet another year of birding is behind us. It was a good year for me, one where I changed my approach a little bit. I tried to put aside the birding expectations I’ve had in the past and simply strive for the most enjoyable overall experience at any given time. For example, there where times when a good long hike is what I needed in my life; we know these long hikes aren’t nearly as birdy as some other locations, but I enjoyed the experience and appreciated whatever birds came my way. I also focused more and more on the species of birds that I enjoy most – raptors, gulls, and shorebirds. The result was a year where my species counts were the lowest they’ve been in years, but where I enjoyed my birding time immensely.
RARITIES OF 2021
We had some very notable rarities our area this year. Here’s my top five, which include the (2) life birds I saw this year:
Ferruginous Hawk in the black dirt. Originally located by Linda Scrima on 01/16/21, this raptor was a BIG deal and pleased birders for most of the winter.
Franklin’s Gull at the Newburgh Waterfront. Originally reported by Ronnie DiLorenzo on 12/16/21. The bird continues as of this writing, being seen mostly at the sewage treatment plant and sometimes at the boat launch.
Sedge Wrens at Wisner Road. I don’t recall the original finder, but I went for these birds on 7/27/21 and was successful in locating at least (4) birds present. This was especially exciting for me because it was a life bird for me.
Ash-throated Flycatcher at Rockefeller State Park Preserve. This might be considered extralimital, but this location was only about an hour away. On 12/28/21 I enjoyed relocating and getting some decent photos of this surprisingly attractive bird. This too was a life bird for me. I believe this bird continues at this location.
Snowy Owl on the Newburgh Ferry. On 12/04/21, while gulling the Newburgh Waterfront with Bruce Nott, I located a beautiful Snowy Owl perched on top of the ferry. The bird, as suspected, was a one hit wonder and wasn’t relocated.
Rarities Notable Mentions: John Haas found a Wilson’s Phalarope at Morningside Park on 05/31/21. Jeanne Cimorelli located a White Ibis at the Camel Farm on 10/18/21. And finally, a bird that seems to be becoming a true rarity in Orange County – I had (3) Upland Sandpipers flyover at Skinner’s Lane on 08/08/21.
GULLS OF 2021
It was another great year of gulling in Orange County where I observed a total of (8) species of gull in the county for the second year in a row. This has increasingly become my favorite type of birding; I really enjoy spending the afternoons at the Newburgh Waterfront scanning through all the gulls. Also of note, I ran for the Lesser Black-backed Gull in Sullivan County on 11/21/21, and it was kind enough to stick around for me. It was my 193rd bird in SC.
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
SHOREBIRDS OF 2021
I had a decent year for shorebirds, with (22) species observed. In Orange County and I totaled (18) species for the year (It very easily could have been (19), but I never went for American Woodcock). The highlight of the year for shorebirds was enjoying the large flock of American Golden-Plovers at Skinner’s Lane for a week or so in mid-September. Other highlights included the Wilson’s Phalarope in Sullivan County on 05/31/21, a flyover of (3) Upland Sandpipers on 08/08/21, and kayaking at Morningside Park to get the Long-billed Dowitcher located by John Haas on 10/17/21.
Ruddy Turnstone (Seneca County)
Purple Sandpiper (Westchester County)
Short-billed Dowitcher (Seneca County)
Long-billed Dowitcher (Sullivan and Orange Counties)
Wilson’s Phalarope (Sullivan County)
YARD BIRDS OF 2021
I continued to work from home of 2021, so once again, yard birding was a focal point. I decided early on to keep a list; I was really curious to see what kind of numbers of species I might be able to observe in my own yard. Part of the way through the year, Judy Cinquina and I were talking about it and decided to place a friendly wager on it. I ended the year with (72) species, and Judy finished with an impressive (68) species, in spite of getting a late start. We have already agreed to a rematch in 2022.
I was surprised by how many warblers I had in my yard – (9) species. I never considered my yard a place to get warblers until the past couple of years. And some of them were impressive, including Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Cerulean, and an unexpected Ovenbird. Other surprised include a Hermit Thrush, and my final bird of the year, a Brown Creeper. There were also three birds I would have expected to have a good chance to see, but did not: Red-tailed Hawk, Rock Pigeon, and Hairy Woodpecker.
TOP TEN PHOTOS OF 2021
Here are my personal favorite photos that I took in 2021, starting with my number one shot of the year, an American Pipit in flight. Each year choosing the top photos seems to get more difficult for me. As I go through the year’s pics, each year I am more and more underwhelmed. I think it’s because now that I’ve been doing this for a good number of years (this spring will be 10 years doing the blog!), it’s becoming more difficult to get new and exciting shots. Anyways, here’s my picks for the top ten photos of the year:
As always, I’d like to thank all my birding friends that have helped to make it such an enjoyable year of birding (you know who you are). I’d also like to thank everyone for tuning in to the blog, especially those of you who subscribe and those of you who comment – it makes my day when I get a comment on a post! Happy New Year to everyone, here’s to another great year of birding in 2022.
I spent the last two days birding locally and was lucky enough to get some good birds. Yesterday morning I birded the black dirt; early on I found a handful of American Pipits feeding on some piles of discarded onions, but the real highlight came a little later on Turtle Bay Road, where I located a single GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE among a flock of approximately 1,000 Canada Geese. In the evening I went gulling at the Newburgh Waterfront with Bruce Nott. While we were together, we had (5) species of gull (Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed, LESSER BLACK-BACKED, and ICELAND GULL), but Bruce was finishing up a remarkable (7) gull day (same as above plus: FRANKLIN’S, and GLAUCOUS).
This morning I was sort of taking it easy and I just visited some nearby lakes: Wickham, Greenwood, Round, and Walton. I had a total of (9) species of waterfowl: Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Mallard, A. Black Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, and the highlight of the morning, a relatively cooperative COMMON LOON. The loon was at Greenwood Lake; the bird was not too far out and I stood on the shore patiently until the bird came close enough for some decent shots.
I’m off work this week, so I’ll likely be getting out all week. Yesterday morning was frustrating: I tried for three different locally reported Northern Shrikes and came up empty. But, my luck began to change in the evening at the Newburgh Waterfront. First, I caught up with the continuing FRANKLIN’S GULL. Then, a little later in the evening, I joined forces with Bruce Nott, and we were able to locate two Iceland Gulls on the river.
This morning I headed over to Westchester County to try for the ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER which has been reported recently at Rockefeller State Park Preserve. It was a beautiful morning, with the fog lifting and the sun coming out. I wandered around the park; it was birdy, but initially there was no sign of the flycatcher. I was joined by three other birders, all looking for the bird. I eventually located the bird and got two of the three others on it. It made only two brief appearances before retreating to the tree line. I waited for a while for the bird to show again, but then I decided to leave. I’d gotten good looks and some decent photos of this good looking bird, so I was ready to continue birding elsewhere. The ATFL was a life bird for me (#424) and, of course a NYS bird (#314).
I enjoyed good birding on both days of the weekend, but the highlight undoubtedly came early Saturday morning when I relocated the FRANKLIN’S GULL which was reported at the Newburgh Waterfront on Thursday and Friday. I feared that with the drop in temperature and the rainy weather the bird might have moved on, but fortunately that was not the case. FRGU is a really good bird anywhere in New York State, and now I’ve seen two right here in Orange County. To say I got a better look at this bird than the one in July of 2020 would be a huge understatement. This bird was very cooperative and I enjoyed fantastic looks.
Sunday was a different kind of day. The weather turned out to be very nice – crisp and cool with a mix of sun and clouds. I headed out to the black dirt, and early on it seemed to be quite birdy, so I decided to count my total species for the morning of birding. Which, surprisingly, is not something I do very often. I cruised the black dirt, spend a few minutes at the viewing platform at Liberty Marsh, went to Wickham Lake, and finished up at Greenwood Lake. I had a total of 43 species for the morning, which doesn’t seem too bad for this time of the year. I had a some nice surprises – a Brown Creeper at Celery Ave, (8) Northern Shovelers at Liberty Marsh, my first Merlin in ages on Onion Ave, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Wickham Lake. I’ve included my complete list below.
At the conclusion of each hawkwatch season, Mount Peter Hawkwatch leader Judy Cinquina writes a report summing up the year. She always does a great job with the write up, and this year is no different. As she has in the past, Judy provided her report to me so I could include it here on the blog (thanks Judy!). Enjoy the read.
Mount Peter 2021, by Judy Cinquina
Except for a curious Black Bear and an unprecedented invasion of Turkey Vultures, Mount Peter’s 64th annual fall watch provided few surprises. Eleven volunteers manned our 71-day count for 472 hours, September 1 through November 15 and produced 10,120 migrants, primarily Broad-winged Hawks, resulting in a very average 21.44 hawks per hour.
Our most abundant migrant, the Broad-winged Hawk awarded leader Will Test our only four-digit day, September 19. The 3,888 he recorded appeared in “huge” distant kettles, resembling swarms of gnats on light NNE winds. Most began moving at 10 a.m. EST and continued through the nine-hour day, peaking with 1,502 between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. The next morning, Elisabeth McGrath and Ken Witkowski mopped up leftovers, netting 991 more, and then things quieted down. Red-shouldered Hawks came in under their 10-year average at 119: 56 adult, 17 immature, 46 undetermined. Although our watch was extended into November in the ‘80’s, it wasn’t until 2012 Red-shoulders topped 100 or above at our lookout. Our all time record was set only four years ago when 213 took advantage of strong NW winds. Red-tailed Hawks failed to show up this season, coming in 14% below our 10-year average and well below our record 905 set in 2003. Our final tally of 113 was the lowest since 1980 when the count was extended into November. It is concerning, but history has taught us that this species moves on strong NW winds which 2021 failed to produce. Our two best days garnered a mere 13 apiece, November 1 and 10.
Since scoring a record 2,440 Sharp-shinned Hawks in 1986, our 10-year average for this small accipiter has dropped 34%. Only 871 showed up this season, one of seven of our counts under 1,000 since 1978 when our watch expanded into October. Our count mirrors a decline of Sharpies across the Northeast. One explanation, according to Trudy Battaly, Editor of the North East Hawk Watch Journal, may be a decline in songbirds, an important food source for Sharpies. Sharpie numbers may be going down but the larger Cooper’s Hawk numbers are up. This season’s 114 tied their current 10-year average and is a 119% increase over the 52 averaged in the 1980’s. Their larger cousin, the N. Goshawk failed to make an appearance for the third straight season.
Are American Kestrels on a new, positive trajectory? For the second consecutive fall, their numbers held above the 100 mark at 125: 14 male, 25 female, and 86 unknown. Most were too high or far out to sex. The 10-year average of this little falcon has plunged 133% since the 1970’s. Ken Witkowski scored the best day with 30 on WNW winds, September 30. To put that in perspective, our best day in our 64-year history was September 11, 1965 when 210 Kestrels moved through along with hundreds of dragonflies, a favorite food. Any migrant Merlin or Peregrine Falcon is considered a gift at our lookout. Although both produced below average counts, the 8 Merlin and 11 Peregrines were welcome treats.
The last three fall watches brought us the best Bald Eagle numbers in our 64-year watch. A good tally of 140 was noted this fall: 62 adult, 76 immature and 2 undetermined, although it doesn’t beat last year’s record 177. Will Test claimed the best day with 11 that went through with the Broad-wings, September 19. Golden Eagles showed well across the Northeast this season. Between October 19 and November 6, we recorded four Golden Eagles: 1 adult and 3 immature, all on northwest winds. Our record stands at 12 Goldens in 1994.
For the 13th consecutive season, Osprey came in below their 10-year average with 122 recorded. Beverly Robertson nailed the best day with 22, September 12, on light northwest winds.
Like the beleaguered Kestrel, the N. Harrier has declined so much from the 101 seen in 1980 that any slight improvement elicits cheers. The 46 Harriers counted this fall was above the 10-year average: 5 male, 7 female, 14 immature and 20 unknown. Two male Harriers helped draw the curtain on our 2021 watch, on November 15. Leader Bill O’Keefe spotted the two pearl-gray males flying south ahead of an approaching snow shower, as our 2021 watch drew to a close.
Vultures have always been a problem for our leaders. Both species are constantly around, perching on the microwave towers in front of us and hunting the farm fields below. Last season reinforced the fact that some of our vultures do migrate when an unbroken stream of 175 Turkey Vultures went over in one hour, October 27 and pushed our final tally to a record 850. This year the big Turkey Vulture event occurred, October 23. Just as things were getting boring, hundreds of dark specks were spotted in the distance. Leader Jeanne Cimorelli described it as “a tremendous, single-event stream of 851 Turkey Vultures beginning at 2:55 P.M. EST and lasting 45 minutes as birds streamed and kettled out over the valley west of the platform. At its peak, there were three kettles of varying sizes with streaming birds to either side and more birds coming in from the north.” The last of them shifted southeast right over the platform. “It was just beautiful to watch,” Jeanne wrote. Black Vultures came in under their 10-year average with 77. But, like all our vultures, they’re difficult to count and always hanging around.
Although local Ravens entertain us daily, Tom Millard observed two migrating south, October 7. That same day, he was alone, scanning the sky when he looked down and was startled to find a Black Bear directly below the platform. “He looked around for a minute,” Tom wrote, “and went back into the woods.” Ruby-throated Hummingbirds totaled a very average 21 in September. Our record is 45 in 2013. Monarchs migrate in almost any weather with a healthy 1,152 counted through October 27. We counted 4,075 Canada Geese with Denise Farrell toping counts with 1,061 on October 18 and 1,314 on the 27th. Rick Hansen scored 120 Brant, October 22, and Tom Millard noted the only Snow Geese with 20, November 11.
Other birds of interest included: Common Nighthawks September 12 and 14; Great Egrets on September 27 and October 23;Yellow-bellied Sapsucker from October 24 through November 6; Red-breasted Nuthatch singles from September 7 through November 7; and Purple Finch migrants daily between October 23 and November 14.
Thanks to our very dedicated and enthusiastic volunteer crew who put in 472 hours, sometimes without company, and made this report possible. We’re very grateful to Tom Millard for repairs on the platform and installing and taking down our platform box and to Bill O’Keefe for painting over the graffiti. Many visitors benefited from the informative posters created by Denise Farrell. Kudos to our clean-up crew, Denise, Tom, Bill, Rick Hansen, Tom Mitchell and Will Test who picked up trash and cut back weeds
Although it was another slow start to the birding day, in the end it was quite successful with a nice 6 species of gull observed in Orange County. It makes me happy because at this time of the year I am only birding on the weekend, so it’s very rewarding to have a good day. This morning I had a BONAPARTE’S GULL (species #1) at Wickham Lake, and a good number of Ring-billed Gulls (species #2) in the fields nearby. In the afternoon, joined up with gulling buddy Bruce Nott at the Newburgh Waterfront. Bruce was on fire today; not long after my arrival, he spotted and got me on a distant adult ICELAND GULL (species #3). That bird eventually relocated to the roof of Gully’s, where in spite of the very low light we were able to get some shots of the bird. Bruce also located a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (species #4) in the mess of birds on Gully’s roof. Add to the mix approximately 150 Herring Gulls (species #5) and about a dozen Great Black-backed Gull (species #6), and you have a great day of gulling in the county.