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.
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.
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 email@example.com. Thanks.
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.
I’ve, of course, done some other running around, so I’ve included several shots from last Sunday and this weekend. Good birding!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
Finally! An exciting bird in Orange County! It feels like it’s been ages since we’ve had a good bird. Huge thanks to Bruce Nott, who found this beautiful LITTLE BLUE HERON on the Wallkill River just off of Route 208. I ran for the bird and met up with Bruce and John Haas; the bird was moving slowly south along the river and we caught up with it where the river runs along Bradley Park. John left to kayak at Morningside Park and then Karen Miller joined Bruce and I; we enjoyed excellent scope views of the bird and were able to get some halfway decent shots of the bird.
I spent the early morning at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge – I did not have anything too exciting, but I was able to get a decent photo op with a Green Heron just after sunrise. Again, huge thanks to Bruce for making my birding day.
As birders, we are really lucky. We are part of what I sometimes think of as a secret club, one that sees the world a little bit differently than everyone else. We have the ability to turn a 3-1/2 hour car ride from Syracuse from drudgery into our own personal nature film, like I did on Sunday evening. While everyone else is driving along searching in vain to be entertained by the radio, we can just sit back and enjoy the nature show. A Pileated Woodpecker flying across the road to perch on an old wood telephone pole. An American Kestrel hover-hunting over the median. A Red-tailed Hawk being mobbed by a gang of American Crows. An adult Bald Eagle soaring at the treetops, and then a young eagle not long after that. Of course much of the drive was just the usuals- but even so, I was getting a kick out of how many Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and Brown-headed Cowbirds you can actually see while traveling on the highway.
I wrote the above paragraph for the most part on Sunday night when we got home. Coincidentally, on my way to work this morning there was an accident on the Palisades Parkway and traffic was brought to a dead stop. I was late for work, but I didn’t care. I birded from my now stopped car and saw or heard nearly a dozen species of birds while I waited for the traffic to get moving again. I think it’s a nice way to live.
Regular readers of this blog may remember that it took me 51 weeks in 2018 to get a CACKLING GOOSE in Orange County. Well, today I potentially had three. Which just shows you how crazy birding can be. First thing this morning I headed to Glenmere Lake, hoping for the ROSS’S GOOSE that Kathy Ashman had seen there earlier in the week. The Ross’s wasn’t present, but I did run into Kathy and we had some good birds, including one bird that looked to us like a sure Cackler and a second bird that looked pretty good, but was slightly larger with a slightly longer bill. See photo below, I’d love to hear any opinions on these birds. The birds stuck together the entire time we were there, a cute tiny couple. Other waterfowl present: Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Gadwalls, and a single LESSER SCAUP.
I tooled around the black dirt and then took a walk at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh; it was actually pretty quiet and I had mostly the usuals including White-crowned Sparrows at two locations. On Onion Avenue there was a large flock of mixed blackbirds – perhaps 1,000 birds or so, nearly all Red-winged Blackbirds with a sprinkling of Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles, and European Starlings thrown in.
My final stop in southern OC was at Lockenhurst Pond. This is the small pond on Route 284 in Westtown, NY; I just looked it up to see what it was actually called. While I was there I sifted through the flock of approximately 400 Canada Geese and eventually located another CACKLING GOOSE. This bird looks good to me, see top photo as well as below.
After a late lunch, I headed up to the Newburgh Waterfront to try for more waterfowl and gulls. I had only the 3 expected species of gull, and for waterfowl the only noteworthy species was 9 Northern Pintails. I can only remember one other time having NOPIs on the Hudson River. Just as it was starting to get dark and I was thinking about heading home, I saw something I’ve not seen before. A group nearly 60 Canada Geese flew in and landed on the river. I don’t know if they were out in the fields all day, or if they just finished a long flight, but as soon at they landed all the birds were drinking from the river. I found it sweet to see 60 Canadas sipping away as the sun set.