I headed up north to Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County this morning to try and catch up with the RED CROSSBILLS which have been reported there in recent days. On my way up I became convinced that I’d waited one day too many, but fortunately I was wrong and the birds continued. I got nice looks and just so-so photo ops of these fantastic birds. I also ran into Rick Hansen and PJ Singh; it was really good to see the two of them and enjoy the birds with them.
I was out and about on Saturday too; it was mostly unremarkable birding but very pleasant to be out of the house and birding. Here’s a few shots from the day.
In spite of less than ideal conditions, I decided to head out to the Grasslands for sunrise this morning. By less than ideal conditions, I mean it was partly to mostly cloudy with a pretty strong northwest wind. Ideally I would prefer the steady morning sun and a south wind (so that the raptors hunt facing south, keeping the sun on their face and at my back). Anyways, I got there quite early and I was able to get into the only blind that’s open on the weekends (southernmost blind). While the strong winds seemed to keep the birds from flying quite as much as I would have liked, I had some decent opportunities and some nice birds. Raptors included Northern Harriers (4), Rough-legged Hawks (3), Red-tailed Hawks (3), a couple of Turkey Vultures, and a single American Kestrel. One other highlight was my first Eastern Meadowlark of the year.
I looked at this morning’s forecast last night and it made me cranky. I’m sitting at my desk working all week with beautiful sunshine out the window, then on the weekend it’s snow, rain, and clouds. But then I took a different perspective on it. The rain would keep most folks home… so with that in mind I went to Piermont Pier, a location I’ve been avoiding because I figure especially during the pandemic, it’s likely to be loaded with people. I mostly had the place to myself, and while the rain made birding a little bit difficult, it was a good morning.
The highlight of the morning was relocating the pair of PURPLE SANDPIPERS which have been reported this winter. I was surprised to find them, because I looked on eBird last night and they hadn’t been reported in a couple of weeks. My main goal for the morning was to see what waterfowl were present; I was disappointed by the number of species (only 8), but I counted an impressive 288 Ruddy Ducks present. That’s by far the most Ruddies I’ve ever seen in one place.
Afterwards, I birded the Hudson River, making my way all the way up to Newburgh. It wasn’t exciting, but it was enjoyable. My best bird was a Lesser Scaup at Plum Point, my first LESC in Orange County for the year.
I feel like I’ve been on a pretty good roll lately. Last night Bruce Nott, birding bud and fellow Larophile, emailed me some fabulous photos he took of an adult Iceland Gull. I was already planning to head to the river the next day, but this gorgeous bird got me really excited to head over – I’ve been saying for years that I’d love to get a look at an adult ICGU. So, I joined Bruce and Joe Chernek at the Newburgh Waterfront early this afternoon; Bruce had already relocated the bird and it wasn’t very far out. We enjoyed tremendous looks at this beautiful bird and, of course, took loads of photos. Karen Miller joined us and she got the bird as well.
Joe and Karen left, but Bruce and lingered. More gulls were moving in, and we were hoping to see the immature Glaucous Gull. I located an interesting bird that was a little bit distant. It was definitely a white-winged gull that was showing some gray on its upper back and wings. Eventually the bird relocated and we got some better looks – it was a subadult Iceland Gull! We were both pretty jazzed about that bird, but also greedy… and it paid off as Bruce was able to locate the immature Glaucous Gull before we got too cold and wrapped things up. It was another great day of gulling; I can’t thank Bruce enough for all the work he’s been doing and for keeping everyone informed.
I’ll tell you what, I could get used to the good birding I’ve been enjoying recently. It was another excellent weekend, filled with some super birds and some decent photo ops. I spent both mornings tooling around the black dirt; highlights included a total of 4 LAPLAND LONGSPURS between the two days, a nice sized flock of COMMON REDPOLLS, and my second (and much better) look at the FERRUGINOUS HAWK which continues in the black dirt. I spent Saturday afternoon over in Beacon with Bruce Nott and we did really well with gulls – we had a GLAUCOUS GULL, an ICELAND GULL, and a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, all immature birds, as well as the three expected species. It was freezing cold with a strong wind on that side of the river, but worth the suffering. This is ending up being a photo heavy post, so I’ll just let the pics do the rest of the talking.
~I saw two Coyotes this weekend, both distant. This one might not have been close, but you can see it is well aware of my presence.~
Saturday and Sunday were both gorgeous days – mostly sunny, cold, crisp, with a brisk wind out of the north. It was great to just be out and about after a week staring at my work computer. On Saturday I went up to Sullivan County to try for the Northern Shrike near Liberty NY; unfortunately I had no luck. That’s my third time trying for that bird, and I’m sort of feeling like three strikes and you’re out. The trip was still worth it though, I had a single COMMON REDPOLL and a brief look at three EVENING GROSBEAKS, my first of the winter. In the afternoon I went to the Newburgh Waterfront, where I located a first winter ICELAND GULL.
On Sunday morning I walked the Winding Waters trail at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. It was a beautiful, freezing cold walk, and I enjoyed it immensely. The highlight was a single COMMON REDPOLL, my first in Orange County this winter. In the early afternoon, Bruce Nott reported a GLAUCOUS GULL at the Newburgh Waterfront. I ran for the bird; when I arrived we actually located a second bird for two GLGUs! Huge thanks to Bruce as always. It was a good weekend, and I even got a few shots to share, which makes me happy.
Yesterday during the waterfowl count, Linda Scrima spotted an interesting hawk. She was thinking it was a perhaps a leucistic Red-tailed Hawk, took some photos to check out later and continued with the count. It ends up the bird was a FERRUGINOUS HAWK! There were many birders out trying to relocated the bird this morning, but it was of course John Haas who found the bird on Celery Avenue (click here to see John’s post with some fantastic photos). I rushed over and joined several other birders to view the bird. It was a little distant and in the trees, so scope views of this gorgeous bird were fantastic, but photos were tough. The bird eventually flew and was relocated by Bruce Nott on Lynch Avenue. The bird was in the air tangling with a couple of Red-tails, but then put down in a field. The bird moved around after that, and as of this writing had been relocated two more times, with many, many birders going for it. From what I’m told, this is a first New York State record of Ferruginous Hawk; super exciting birding! Nice job and congrats to Linda on an amazing find.
This morning, for the third year running, I teamed up with Linda Scrima to do Mearns Bird Club’s Orange County Winter Waterfowl Count. Our area is basically the black dirt region; we divided and conquered with Linda taking the west side along Route 12 for the most part, while I was mainly on the east side off of Pulaski Highway. It wasn’t the most exciting waterfowl count, but I do enjoy contributing towards these counts from time to time. Linda had our best birds, a couple of Snow Geese and an American Coot. Here’s our totals:
Canada Goose: 3,009
Snow Goose: 2
American Black Duck: 12
Mute Swan: 9
Common Merganser: 12
American Coot: 1
In the afternoon I headed over to the Hudson River. My first stop was at the Storm King State Park parking area, where I was finally able to catch up with the wintering GOLDEN EAGLE. I’d tried for this bird several other times this month without any luck, and I was beginning to worry that maybe the bird hadn’t returned. From there I went to the Newburgh Waterfront for some gulling. There were plenty of gulls present, with more coming in as the day drew to a close. Bruce Nott joined me, and not too much later, he located an adult ICELAND GULL in flight. I was able to get on the bird and get some documentary shots of it. We believe this is likely the same bird we had last Saturday, which, upon further review was determined to be an Iceland rather than a Glaucous. It wasn’t a good day for photos, but it was a good day for birds.
My birding today was sort of a comedy of errors. After some unremarkable birding in the black dirt in the morning, I headed over to the Hudson River, where some excellent gulls have been reported recently: Lesser Black-backed Gull, Iceland Gull, and Glaucous Gull. I spent some time at the Newburgh Waterfront without any luck, so I headed over to Beacon. In Beacon, I again had no luck. So, I headed back to Newburgh. As I started scanning, I received a call from birding bud and fellow gull enthusiast Bruce Nott. He was just north of me, and he had located a young GLAUCOUS GULL across the river in Beacon. I located the bird easily with his directions and then jumped in the car and headed BACK to Beacon to try for a better look and some photos.
Once in Beacon, I couldn’t relocated the Glaucous Gull, lol, but I did find a first winter ICELAND GULL. I called Bruce and he was still on the Glaucous – it had drifted pretty far south, so I repositioned myself and got on the bird with my scope. I tried for photos, but it was just too far. I went back to the where the Iceland was but moments after I arrived, a train spooked the gulls and the Iceland flew north until I lost sight of it.
I continued to scan from Beacon, and I located a bird on the Newburgh side of the river that looked good for a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. I called Bruce; he got on the gull and sure enough it was a LBBG! So, I jumped in the car once again, BACK to Newburgh! I joined Bruce at Newburgh Waterfront and he got me back on the bird; it was a beautiful second winter bird that looked incredible in the scope, but again just too far for photos.
Bruce and I lingered for a while, shooting the breeze and scanning for gulls. And it payed off. Bruce located an adult bird with white primaries. It was on the water, head tucked in and distant. My camera wouldn’t focus on the bird – too far again. But Bruce got some shots of the bird on the water, and then when the bird took flight, I followed it in my scope and gave Bruce direction as to the location of the bird so he could get some flight shots (see above). Bruce and I weren’t sure if the bird was an Iceland or a Glaucous; in the field the bird did not appear noticeably smaller or larger than the nearby Herring Gulls. Thankfully Bruce got the photos, which he sent around; the consensus was adult GLAUCOUS GULL, my 265th species in Orange County. What a crazy good day; huge thanks to my partner in crime Bruce.
What can I even say about 2020? It was a year like no other, that’s for sure. The Covid-19 pandemic changed our lives in many ways, including birding. In early March I started working from home. It was the most time during daylight hours that I’d ever spent at home – my usual routine was go to work during the weekdays and go to birding locations in the evenings and on the weekends. Being home every day, I was amazed at how many good birds could be seen right in my own yard.
Our yard, of course, had plenty of the usuals – chickadees, titmice, wrens etc… but we also had some more interesting birds. I was shocked to see that a pair of Wood Ducks had taken to roosting in the trees in our yard for short time at the end of April. A Wood Thrush spent the morning in our side garden on May 1st; I thought that was pretty cool but it was easily topped by my “Yard Bird of The Year”, a LINCOLN’S SPARROW in the back yard just two days later. Spending time on the back deck and looking to the sky after wrapping up work proved to be productive, with some interesting flyovers: Common Nighthawk, Great Egret, SANDHILL CRANE, and many Bald Eagles. The vultures continued to roost in the evergreens in the backyard. We had success with a hummingbird feeder for the first time. We watched Blue Jays successfully fledge their young in the backyard, while sadly all the eggs were taken one night from the American Robin’s nest in the front yard. In the fall, we had Red-breasted Nuthatches hanging around. It was a silver lining of the pandemic to be able to get a better picture of just what goes on around here when I’m gone.
YEAR OF THE GULL IN ORANGE COUNTY
I had an amazing year with gulls in Orange County, having observed eight different species in 2020. Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed are expected and were seen many times throughout the year. Bonaparte’s are reliable most every year and I had a couple of sitings in April. I had only one Iceland for the year, in January. At the end of March, Bruce Nott located a beautiful young LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. I was able to track that bird down on three occasions. On July 10th, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Fay, I went to Kowawese Unique Area and scanned for gulls in the rain. I was rewarded with a fly-by FRANKLIN’S GULL. It was not only a county bird for me, but a lifer as well (my only life bird of 2020!). Then, on August 4th, in the evening, at the tail end of Tropical Storm Isaias, I had my eighth and final gull species in the county for the year: a hatch year LAUGHING GULL.
There were, of course, many other highlights for me through the year. In January there was a Greater White-fronted Goose at Skinner Lane. In February, there was a gorgeous young GOLDEN EAGLE hanging around the black dirt terrorizing Snow Geese. I couldn’t believe that bird was around and I couldn’t get enough of it. In March I ran for a Eurasian Wigeon at the Bashakill; it wasn’t the greatest look but that’s always an excellent bird to see. In April I had a FORSTER’S TERN as well as a Caspian Tern in Newburgh, as well as a pair of Surf Scoters at Wickham Lake.
On May 18th, Bruce Nott found another great bird, a BLACK TERN in breeding plumage at the Liberty Loop. In early June Rob Stone found a Wilson’s Phalarope at the Camel Farm. I ran for that bird at lunchtime; it was my 260th life bird in Orange County. In late July, when the pandemic was seemingly starting to get under control, we took our only trip of the year and spent just over a week on the Maine coast. We enjoyed taking the Puffin Watch Cruise out to Eastern Egg Rock Island, where I got my best looks and photos of puffins yet.
August, which is typically associated with the doldrums of birding, brought one of my favorite stories of the year. While birding at Beaver Pond on August 15th, a fledging Cedar Waxwing (later to be named Carson C. Waxwing) flew down and landed on my scope and then hopped onto my hand. I eventually rescued Carson and delivered him to The Avian Wildlife Center for rehabilitation. If you missed this story the first time around, you can catch up here, here, and here. I think it’s worth a read. I spoke with Giselle at the center today, and the latest update is that Carson is still at the center, where it has molted and now will over-winter before being released in the spring. So, it’s still looking good for a successful recovery… touch wood, fingers crossed, etc…
In early September I enjoyed a couple of BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS out at Skinner’s Lane, always a favorite. Later in the month I spent a weekend in the Adirondacks, where I did really well getting many of my target species: Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Canada Jay, and my first ever decent look at a Ruffed Grouse. In October I counted the only GOLDEN EAGLE of the season at Mount Peter Hawkwatch on the 17th. At the end of the month I got a fantastic look at a LAPLAND LONGSPUR at Skinner’s. November was pretty exciting with my first ever BARNACLE GOOSE and RED CROSSBILLS in Orange County. I have been waiting for ages to get a Barnacle in the county! December has been a good month too, with another Lapland Longspur (this one at Turtle Bay), and a worthwhile trip to Rye, NY where I saw my first ever Glaucous Gull in NYS.
TOP TEN PHOTOS
This is my favorite part. I really enjoy looking back and picking out the photographs which speak to me and seem to have held up; I hope you enjoy my choices.
So, I guess that’s a wrap on 2020. As always, I’d like to thank everyone who reads the blog . I’d also like to thank all my birding friends out there for yet another excellent year of birding, you know who you are. Happy New Year to everyone out there, here’s hoping that 2021 will be a better, birdier year.