Mount Peter 2021 Season Report

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.

~ My personal highlight of the season, Golden Eagle over the platform on 11/06/21.~


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.

~The Big Turkey Vulture Event of 2021. Just a fraction of the 850+ migrating TUVUs on 10/23/21.~

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 

Breakneck Loop, 11/13/21

Yesterday evening, on impulse, my brother-in-law Bill called me and asked me if I wanted to go hiking. And on impulse I said yes. He wanted to hike the Breakneck Ridge, Breakneck Bypass, Wilkinson Trail Loop in Beacon, New York; a friend of his had highly recommended it. He texted me a link via the AllTrails app; it was rated as difficult and I began to wonder what I had signed up for.

~This was my view from where I parked my car, looking across the river at Storm King Mountain. Breakneck Loop 11/13/21.~

In the morning, at the trail head, Bill and I read the sign which read: “WARNING: This is not just a walk in the park! Breakneck Ridge is a steep rock scramble that is for experienced hikers in excellent physical condition only”. Experienced hikers? Check. Excellent physical condition? Ummm, that might be a problem. In the first 3/4 of a mile we climbed 1,250 feet! But, we took it slowly and rested when we need to; doing it that way made it not too difficult for us. It was pretty exhilarating to reach the flags and check out the views at that point. It was a bonus to have a Peregrin Falcon hanging around the area. My camera was in my bag, so unfortunately not shots of that bird.

~Breakneck Loop 11/13/21.~

The rest of the way was less challenging than the first 3/4 mile. The loop in its entirety is listed as 2.8 miles, but for us, including getting to and from our cars it was just over three and a half miles. And it took over three hours to complete, lol. The signage indicates that it’s approximately a 3 hour loop, so I guess we weren’t moving too terribly slowly.

~Photo by Bill Barrett. Smile through the pain! Breakneck Loop 11/13/21.~

The descent was of course much more gradual; which was relaxing and allowed for Bill and I to catch up and talk more as we hiked. As for birds, it was typical hiking birding with not many species seen or heard. The list is short: Peregrine Falcon, Common Raven, Turkey Vulture, Ring-billed Gull, Eastern Bluebird, Black-capped Chickadee, and Dark-eyed Junco.

~Breakneck Loop; the view looking south down the Hudson River, 11/13/21. Photo by Bill Barrett.~

I got my best bird of the day on my way home – I stopped at the Beacon waterfront and found a single Bonaparte’s Gull out on the Hudson River. I waited the bird out and it eventually flew and I was able to get salvageable shot, in spite of screwing up my settings.

~Bonaparte’s Gull at Long Dock Park at the Beacon waterfront, 11/13/21.
~A Common Raven plays with a stick over the Hudson River. Breakneck Loop, 11/13/21.~

More Good OC Shorebirds, 09/06/21

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.

~A nice look at a Lesser Yellowlegs at Pine Island Turf Nursery, 09/06/21.~

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:

  • Black-bellied Plover
  • Semipalmated Plover
  • Killdeer
  • SANDERLING
  • BAIRD’S SANDPIPER
  • Least Sandpiper
  • WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Solitary Sandpiper
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
~Wow, a relatively close Pectoral Sandpiper! PITN 09/06/21.~
~Sanderling in flight at Pine Island Turf Nursery, 09/06/21.~
~Baird’s Sandpiper alongside a Lesser Yellowlegs, PITN 09/06/21.~
~Great Egrets in a field at Pine Island Turf Nursery, 09/06/21.~
~I got lucky with this shot – I was focusing on the Lesser Yellowlegs, but happened to also catch what I believe is a Baird’s Sandpiper in flight ahead of the yellowlegs.~

Sunday Shots, 03/28/21

So I took the plunge this week. My buddy Kyle Dudgeon was looking to upgrade his equipment, so he offered me a great deal on his Canon 500mm f/4 Mark I lens. It was an offer couldn’t resist, especially since I know that this particular lens is capable of taking spectacular shots – you can check out some of the work Kyle did with it here. I never really pictured myself upgrading to such a large lens, but I have to say, a week into it and I’m hooked.

~Double-crested Cormorant at Round Lake this morning, 03/28/21.~

Kyle warned me that there would be a learning curve before getting optimal results with this lens, and that has certainly shown to be true; I’ve had a real mixed bag of results. But, I like where it is heading, and I’m looking forward to learning some new things. I’m also looking forward to getting some more decent opportunities with birds, because this week was sort of a dud for me with not many opportunities.

~Eastern Bluebird in the black dirt 03/27/21. This shot was taken with my 1.4 extender.~
~On Friday evening we sat out on the back deck to enjoy the warmer temperatures. The Turkey Vultures which normally roost in our yard did a fly-by before deciding to roost elsewhere; I’m thinking it was because of the high winds we had that night.~
~There was something weird about this Greater Scaup’s wing, I’m not sure if it was injured or not. There’s also something funky about this photo, I can’t put my finger on it but I’m not loving it. GRSC at Glenmere Lake, 03/22/21.~
~One more shot of the DCCO at Round Lake this morning in the rain.~

Test Post, 12/10/20

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 orangebirdingdotcom@gmail.com. Thanks.

Black Dirt Shorebirds, 09/13/20

This weekend I was finally able to connect with some shorebirds in the black dirt. On Saturday, Jodi Brodsky reported an American Golden-Plover on Missionland Road. I was at the back of the Liberty Loop with birding bud Maria Loukeris when she reported it, but luckily the bird stuck around long enough for me to get it (thanks Jodi!). Then, this morning, after getting a relatively late start, I was able to locate 2 BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS on Skinner’s Lane. Initially I had them waaay out in a field; they flew shortly after I’d located them, and I thought they were long gone, but I was able to relocate them, and this time they were a little closer to road and I was able to get some shots, though most were ruined by the dreaded heat shimmer.

~Always a favorite – BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER at Skinner’s Lane this morning, 09/13/20.~

I’ve, of course, done some other running around, so I’ve included several shots from last Sunday and this weekend. Good birding!

~Wild Turkey Turtle Bay Road, 09/12/20.~
~Blue-winged Teal at the Liberty Loop back pond, 09/06/20.~
~Ruby-throated Hummingbird at the Liberty Loop, 09/06/20.~
~It’s always nice to catch up with a couple of Sandhill Cranes in the back dirt, 09/12/20.~
~I like this shot because along with the Green Heron, there are both the Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs. Liberty Loop back pond, 09/06/20.~
~Terrible documentary shot of the American Golden-Plover at Missionland Road, 09/12/20.~

Sunday Shots, 07/05/20

I did a lot of hiking this holiday weekend; I walked a total of around 15 miles in the three mornings. I love hiking this time of year, it’s fun to cover a lot of ground as you never know what you will come across. Highlights included Acadian Flycatcher at two locations in Sterling Forest State Park: the Appalachian Trail near Little Dam Lake, and on the Sterling Loop trail. Also on Sterling Valley Loop trail, I saw my second ever Five-lined Skink this morning. It was a little too quick for me to get a photo, but click here to see the one I had at Silver Mine Lake last year.

~I have this as a young female Baltimore Oriole. I took this shot out my back door, into the crabapple tree we have there. I love the late evening light. I don’t know if this is just a good year in my yard, or if I’m just more in tune with the birds in the area because I’m home much more often (since I’m working from home). BAOR in my yard, 07/04/20.

The AT near Little Dam Lake was a nice surprise, it’s a beautiful hike with nice views of the lake, and it’s quite birdy. I had a close encounter with a Red-shouldered Hawk there – I was looking out over the lake and the bird flew past my right shoulder, very close, I don’t think it knows about social distancing. And just beyond the lake, there is a rise in elevation, and I had a singing Hermit Thrush there, which was nice.

~Also in the crabapple tree in my yard, House Wren on 07/02/20. I hear and see these birds constantly, but they never seem to pose for pics. Until now.~

The only thing I don’t like about hiking – it’s not very productive for photos. Most of the trails I was on are through relatively dense woods, so the light is terrible (see Acadian Flycatcher, below). Plus, the birds aren’t numerous, nor are they close to the trail very often. Still, a bad day on the trail beats any day in the office.

~Common Yellowthroat at Sterling Forest SP, 07/04/20.~
~Always a favorite of mine – Acadian Flycatcher on the Sterling Loop Trail, 07/05/20. I think I missed the boat when I did my cool birds post; this bird should have been included. Any bird that screams “PIZZA” in the dark woods is okay by me. This photo was taken at ISO 5000, so some creative noise reduction was necessary.~
~I love this shot, it’s dreamy, mysterious, and maybe even a little sinister. Baltimore Oriole in my yard on the Fourth of July, 2020.~
~I believe this is a Canada Lily, Tricia looked it up and came up with that ID for me. Ironwood Drive power cut, which I took up to join the Sterling Loop Trail, 07/05/20.~

Orange County BLACK TERN, 05/18/20

It was just after 4 o’clock this afternoon, when the bird finding machine known and Bruce Nott reported a BLACK TERN at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop. My problem is that Tricia and I were north of Newburgh at that time and would have to stop home first. I hustled over and arrived just after 5:30, and don’t you know it, the bird hung in there for me! It was an absolute beauty and it was also quite accommodating, feeding right in front of the viewing platform for much of the time I was there. Many other birders came for the bird as well; it was good to see some folks I haven’t seen much lately (at an acceptable social distance!). When I left the bird was still putting on the show. Huge thanks to Bruce, another goodie!

~Black Tern at the Liberty Loop, Wallkill River NWR, 05/18/20.~
~Up in the clouds. Black Tern at the loop, 05/18/20.~

Sunday Shots, 03/29/20

I’m trying to decide if there really isn’t much going on right now in the birding world, or if I’m just becoming a little jaded (which I certainly hope isn’t the case). While I enjoyed getting out this weekend, I just didn’t find much to get excited about. The rainy, gray weather didn’t help, I suppose. It wasn’t until late Sunday morning that I found some excitement, and it wasn’t bird related: I watched a pair of RIVER OTTERS feeding for approximately 20 minutes. They were distant, but in my scope I enjoyed some fantastic looks; they appeared to be dining on crawfish. Now that’s something to get excited about. Moving forward, I’m hoping that the birding picks up a little bit, or I can get out of this birding funk, whichever comes first.

~It’s funny because we have loads of deer in our backyard constantly, but out on the trail it seems different. White-tailed Deer at Goosepond Mountain State Park, 03/27/20.~
~The siting of the weekend – RIVER OTTER in New York State.~
~White-breasted Nuthatch at Goosepond Mountain State Park, 03/27/20.~
~There is a small pond in my neighborhood. Tricia and I were taking a walk and this dude was hanging out at the pond. Great Blue Heron in Goshen, NY 03/26/20.~

Thanksgiving Weekend Wrap-up, 12/01/19

It was nice on this holiday weekend to have a little extra time to get out birding. I managed to squeeze a little bit of birding into each of the last 5 days, which was a nice change from my recent weeks, that’s for sure. I mostly birded locally, but I also made a brief visit to Sandy Hook early Friday morning. While I didn’t have any out-of-the-ordinary birds or see anything new, it was still good birding and just enjoyable to be out and about.

~It’s been a good while since I’d seen the leucistic Red-tailed Hawk in Warwick. On Black Friday I got lucky and caught up with this (mostly) white hawk.~
~I’m still hopeful that the Northern Shrike I located on Wisner Road is somewhere in that area. While trying for it, I photographed this Red-tailed Hawk on a nice perch, 11/27/19.~
~Unfortunately my time at Sandy Hook was brief. One of several Yellow-rumped Warblers I had there the day after Thanksgiving, 11/29/19.~
~Song Sparrow at Sandy Hook, 11/29/19.~
~My goodness there were a lot of Northern Mockingbirds at Sandy Hook. I’ve seen a lot of them in general lately; I still find them very photogenic. Sandy Hook, 11/29/19.~
~White-crowned Sparrow in the parking area at Liberty Marsh, 12/01/19.~
~The highlight of my Sunday – Orange County Great Horned Owl, 12/01/19.~