Well, in spite of still waiting for spring migration to really kick in, I had a satisfying weekend of birding. I spent Saturday morning at the Hudson River, but aside from the continuing Iceland Gull, it was uneventful. That gull frustrated me because it was on the floating docks at the Newburgh Waterfront, not too far out, but the bird kept its back to me and it was backlit to boot. I successfully chased a Long-tailed Duck at Orange Lake (thanks Bruce), and picked up a Red-breasted Merganser as a bonus. On my way out, I stopped at Gardenertown Road and patience paid off as I was able to locate 2 Wilson’s Snipe after some extensive searching.
Saturday afternoon I walked the Liberty Loop for the first time in ages. IT was a pleasant, if uneventful walk. Highlights included: American Coot, Common Gallinule, and my first Lesser Yellowlegs of the year. All three highlight birds were located on the Sussex County side of the loop.
Sunday morning I checked a number of lakes in southern Orange County, looking for new waterfowl or Bonaparte’s Gulls. For the most part I came up empty, but did manage to find a distant Horned Grebe in beautiful plumage at Round Lake. I stopped to use the restroom at Sterling Forest, and on my way out I had one of my best birds of the day, a Pine Warbler. I had to run to the car for my camera, but fortunately the bird lingered for me. A quick cruise through the black dirt yielded nothing of note, so I called it a day.
I met up with my brother-in-law Bill this morning and we hiked the Bearfort Ridge and Surprise Lake Loop, which is located just west of the southernmost point of Greenwood Lake. It’s an 8 mile loop, and AllTrails includes its rating as moderate. For someone in my shape, I think that means you only have a moderate cardiac event when you hike it. Actually, after the first mile, where we climbed approximately 700 feet, it wasn’t too bad. But, wow that first mile was a doozy.
The weather was perfect, mostly sunny and just cool enough. There are many good lookouts throughout the trail, and we could see New York City from several of them. As for the birds, Turkey Vulture was the bird of the day. They were often overhead and we had a pair of them perched looking over West Pond. Other raptors included at least a couple of Red-shouldered Hawks and a Red-tailed Hawk. The best bird of the day was a couple of Fox Sparrows which Bill spotted rooting around the leaf litter under some trees. A small flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets were a close second place.
In the end, it took us approximately 5 hours to hike the 8 mile loop. That was with plenty of stops for rests, taking in the views, and some birding. When we got back to the cars, we dug into our lunches. Tuna on rye never tasted so good.
I was counting at Mount Peter all day Saturday; it was a slow start with drizzly and foggy weather with a southwest wind, but at around noon the fog cleared out, the winds shifted to west northwest, and the hawks started flying. It was a day with a very good variety of migrating raptors – 11 different species. I particularly enjoyed watching five Northern Harriers fly over – I know they are very common in our area in the winter, but I just love to see them when they migrate; they look like no other raptor. Another highlight was a large skein of BRANT flying over, just as the watch was coming to an end.
Sunday morning I ran around locally. Wickham Lake was my first stop, where I had 13 species of waterfowl (highlights = my first Ring-neck Ducks and Buffleheads of the season, a pair of American Wigeon, and 4 Northern Shovelers). From there I went to the Liberty Loop. I wanted to check for shorebirds at the south pond, so I headed towards Owen’s Station Road. As I turned onto the road, I saw bird on the side of the road. It was a Chukar; their range is out west, but they are sometimes released here as game birds. I’m not sure how commonly they are released locally, but I’d never seen one, so game bird or not, I was sort of excited.
I was only able to locate three species of shorebird in the south pond: Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Pectoral Sandpipers. The walks in and out weren’t very birdy, so I was on my way relatively quickly. On my way out, I saw the Chukar again, this time in the grass, so I stopped and got a few more shots. I made one last stop on the way home, at Skinner’s Lane. I was able to locate, but not photograph a Vesper Sparrow, and there were also some American Pipits around.
Three BLACK TERNS were reported at Wallkill River NWR’s Liberty Loop on Friday by birding bud Maria Loukeris. I couldn’t make it out Friday after work, but tried for them on Saturday morning, fully convinced that they would be gone. But!, luckily one of them hung in there for me; as I walked the east side of the loop a woman who did not appear to be a birder told me it was in the back pond.
Black Tern is a really cool bird, and I enjoyed observing and trying to photograph this bird, which I believe was an adult in non-breeding plumage. Unfortunately, Black Tern is a photo-nemesis bird for me. I don’t know what it is, but in spite of seeing this species at least a half dozen times now, I just can’t get a good photo. One thing that hit home yesterday was that it’s a small tern. I realized it because as the bird fed, there were swallows giving it the business the entire time. It’s the smallest tern we get in the our area, listed in Sibley as a mere 9.75″. Compare that to 12″ and 13″ inches for Common and Forster’s Tern respectively, and a whopping 21″ for Caspian Tern. Add to that an erratic flight while feeding, and the bird is tough to pick up and get into focus in the camera. That said, I’ve had the species perched and still the pics were not great. One day I’ll get a goodie.
I’ve been down in the dumps for a couple of weeks. Literally. Well, not the whole time, just the past 2 Saturday mornings, chasing gulls at Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority. Last week Maria Loukeris and I had no luck, but today, Linda Scrima joined us and we had an excellent morning. We had two main targets: the GLAUCOUS and LESSER BLACK-BACKED Gulls that were reported earlier in the week.
Our morning had a slow start due to the heavy fog. When we first arrived at SCMUA, it was totally fogged in and from what we could tell, there were very few gulls present. So, we went and grabbed some breakfast (french toast!), and when we got back some of the fog had lifted and there were plenty of gulls around.
We got lucky and located the GLAUCOUS GULL within minutes of our arrival. It took over an hour, but eventually Maria located the LESSER-BLACK-BACKED GULL. Both gulls were close enough for some pretty good documentary shots and at different times we were able to photograph each species in flight. We were hoping that we might locate an ICELAND GULL, that would have been the icing on the cake (sorry couldn’t resist), but alas it was not to be.
Other good birds included several Bald Eagles, and just as we were getting ready to leave, several skeins of SNOW GEESE totally approximately 2,000 birds. It was a great morning of birding at the dump, and for me, since I’ve been so into gulls this winter, it was especially satisfying.
Since it’s the beginning of another year, I’ve spent some time this week thinking about what I want my birding to be like this year. To be honest, I don’t really know yet. Fortunately, I did not have to worry about it today (which happens to be my first day of birding of 2019). That’s because this week three excellent rarities were located in our area:
GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW in Downsville, NY, which is in Delaware County. The bird was originally located by Lance Verderame. (Mega-rarity)
BLACK PHOEBE at Hainesville WMA in Sussex County, NJ, originally located by Scott Angus. (Mega-rarity)
SAYS PHOEBE at Wallkill River NWR, Winding Waters Trail, Orange County, NY. The original locator was Tom Sudol.
So, with rarities on our mind, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I headed up to Delaware County early this morning. The Golden-crowned Sparrow had been seen most often early in the day, so we figured that would be a good place to start. Our timing was good and we got on the bird not long after our arrival. We had a brief, unsatisfactory look at first, but then after a little while the bird returned and we were able to get good looks and some photos too. The GCSP was a lifer for Linda and Maria and a NYS bird for me.
On our way back, we stopped at the feeding stations at Smith Road and Woodard Road in Liberty. We did well at both locations for EVENING GROSBEAKS. We had approximately 45 at Smith Road and just under 20 at Woodard. Linda also had a Red-breasted Nuthatch at Woodard, but I never got on that bird.
From there, we headed towards Sussex County to try for the BLACK PHOEBE. It had been reported consistently all morning, so we liked our chances. Again, our timing was quite good. The rain had been falling pretty heavily, but it slowed to a soft drizzle not long after we arrived. And, more importantly, the bird was still present. And what a bird it was – I really enjoyed seeing this bird – what a cool little bird. But, this might have been the most challenging bird I’ve ever tried to photograph. The bird was very vocal, which helped track it, but it was also very active. It barely stayed in one place for a second. And the habitat didn’t help; we were shooting through the brush the entire time. It was a really great bird to see, but getting pictures was tough. The BLPH was a lifer for all three of us, so that was exciting!
We made one final stop, at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Winding Waters Trail to try for the SAYS PHOEBE. The bird had not been reported all day, so we left it for our last stop. We walked the trail and saw other birders searching for it. We tried for just under an hour, but unfortunately, our luck had run out. One of the birders, a guy from Long Island, was pretty sure he heard the bird vocalize, this gives me hope that the bird might still be around and was laying low. Just a sliver of hope. Anyways, as Meatloaf says, two out of three ain’t bad. This is especially true when it come to rare birds.
Kyle Dudgeon and I spent some time very early this morning with the LEAST BITTERNS at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop. It was great to see good numbers of LEBIs, and we got lucky with one particularly accommodating individual, which landed not very far off the path – I’ve included four photos of this bird.
In birding news, Karen Miller watched the ROSEATE SPOONBILL fly north over Oil City Road and into Orange County. Kyle and I searched for the bird down Liberty Lane, and John Haas joined us to help search the area, but unfortunately, as of this writing, the bird had not been relocated.
I wonder how many people can say they saw breeding Common Loons with a chick in the morning and a Roseate Spoonbill in the afternoon? Without taking a flight? I’m guessing not too many, if any at all, but that’s exactly what Kyle Dudgeon and I did today. Just as we were wrapping up our yearly trip to the Adirondacks after a morning of kayaking in the rain (and swimming in Kyle’s case) with Common Loons, I got a phone call from Linda Scrima. She had located a ROSEATE SPOONBILL at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop. Apparently a photo of a ROSP had been posted to the refuge’s Facebook page and Linda followed up on it early this morning and found the bird on the west side of the loop, just over the border into Sussex County, New Jersey. As Kyle and I got on the road, we did some quick figuring and we knew that we would certainly try for the spoonbill. Five or so hours later, we headed down the trail and joined a number of birders and photographers gathered to see the bird. It was very strange to me to see this bird up in our area, after having previously only seen them in their normal range of Florida and Texas. It was a life bird for Kyle, so that was exciting. The bird spent the duration of our time there partially hidden by vegetation, so Linda sent me one of her pics from earlier in the day to use for this post – thanks Linda!
I have a good number of Common Loon photos to get through, but I will post in the next day or so; it’s one of my favorite posts of the year, so I’m looking forward to it. Here is a teaser from earlier this morning, during a break in the rain:
I went out and walked the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop trail to follow up on an eBird report of a Short-billed Dowitcher in the Sussex County portion of the trail. I relocated the SBDO, but I also was fortunate enough to find a STILT SANDPIPER. The bird was feeding most of the time I saw it, head going up and down like a sewing machine. I was feeling lazy and walked the trail without hauling my scope with me, and I really regretted it as the birds were far enough out to make IDing them with binoculars tough. The pond was loaded with shorebirds, in addition to the STSA and the SBDO I also had Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpipers, and Pectoral Sandpipers. Other highlights included a quick look at a young Black-crowned Night-Heron and a beautiful male Northern Harrier hunting over the marsh.
I have to thank Linda Scrima for motivating me this afternoon. I had not come up with a birding plan for the afternoon, and I was feeling a bit uninspired. Earlier in the day, Linda had gone for the Yellow-breasted Chats that had been reported at the Appalachian Trail off the Canal Road bike path in Vernon Township, New Jersey. At that time, she texted a recording of one of the chats calling, but I was unable to listen to it while I was working. Once I was out for the afternoon, I listened to it and I immediately knew I had to run for the birds; it really got me excited to see a chat! When I first arrived, I could hear at least one bird calling, but distant. I stood in the shade and waited it out; the calls came closer and eventually I located the bird as it took a nice high perch and called repeatedly. The bird was a little bit distant, but in perfect light, so I was able to get decent shots (with a very heavy crop). I stayed for a little over an hour and I was only sure of having one chat. Interestingly, it is seven days shy of a year since I had a pair of chats at this same location last summer.