The Grasslands Deliver, 11/26/23

This morning I had a fabulous outing at Shawngunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. I had a couple of reasons I wanted to get up there – the first was my target bird, the LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE which has been seen up there this fall. I caught up with (presumably) the same bird about a year ago, and I was hoping to get lucky again. The second was that I was due. It’s that time of year when raptors are flying over the refuges, so I was definitely feeling a visit to the Grasslands.

I arrived just after sunrise; it was a beautifully cold morning, just over 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with barely a whisper of a breeze. As the sun started to get a little higher, I paused to check my camera settings. Looking around for something to shoot, I was surprised to find a young Northern Harrier, just off the trail, peering out of the vegetation at me – I was floored that it hadn’t flushed.

~A frosty perch for this bird. I would have another encounter later in the morning with this immature Northern Harrier. SGNWR, 11/26/23.~

I walked the trails for a while, just enjoying being out. There was a good number of songbirds present, at least for out in the middle of the refuge: Savannah Sparrows, Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, House Finches, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and absolutely loads of Eastern Bluebirds. At one point, I was pretty sure I heard an Eastern Meadowlark, however I wasn’t able to confirm it.

~An Eastern Bluebird takes flight, SGNWR 11/26/23.~

Then, in my binoculars, I saw a white dot in a distant tree. I knew it had to be the shrike, and sure enough it was. I was lucky enough to watch the bird for a good while – it was still perched in some small brush south of the trail when I finally tore myself away. What an excellent bird!

~Loggerhead Shrike at the Grasslands, 11/26/23.~
~Loggerhead Shrike on the tiniest of perches. When I saw this, I started to wonder if the Loggerhead was smaller than the Northern Shrike. I checked my Crossley Guide when I got home, and sure enough, LOSH is listed as 9″, versus the NSHR at 10″.~

On my way back, I was hearing a Northern Harrier calling repeatedly. I eventually found, what I presume is the same young Northern Harrier, harassing a perched Red-tailed Hawk in the distance, on the tree line. As I worked my way along the trail, the harrier, maybe distracted by the presence of the Red-tail, flew directly at me, allowing for an excellent photo op.

~This young NOHA flew directly towards me, only veering off at the last second. SGNWR, 11/26/23.~
~NOHA in flight at the Grasslands, 11/26/23.~
Loggerhead Shrike at SGNWR, 11/26/23.~

Near the parking area, there was a very sharp-looking adult female Northern Harrier perched on a post, that was a nice way to end an excellent and exciting morning of birding.

~Adult female Northern Harrier perched not too far from the parking area, SGNWR 11/26/23.~
~One more of the young NOHA. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 11/26/23.~

Sunday Shots, 10/22/23

It was an interesting weekend in local birding. On Friday afternoon, Linda Scrima located a NORTHERN WHEATEAR in the black dirt. On Saturday morning, it was raining (as usual this fall), so I was able to spend some time searching for the bird. Unfortunately I didn’t have any luck, but I enjoyed another rainy morning in the black dirt, seeing the absolutely massive numbers of American Pipits, and I also found an unlikely sparrow for this time of year – a late Grasshopper Sparrow.

~Grasshopper Sparrow in the Black Dirt Region, 10/21/23.~

I also enjoyed a nice look a Merlin:

~Merlin perched in the wind and rain. Black dirt, 10/21/23.

In the afternoon, when the rain stopped, I managed to squeeze in two and a half hours at Mount Peter Hawkwatch. I had 15 migrating raptors, including another Merlin and a Peregrine Falcon. I’ve included my full report at the bottom of this post.

On Sunday morning, I found a Long-billed Dowitcher at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh. This is a species which we don’t see all that regularly in Orange County; I believe that today was my just 4th siting in the 13 years I’ve birded OC.

~Long-billed Dowitcher at Liberty Marsh, 10/22/23.~
~Love these dudes. American Pipit in the black dirt in the rain, 10/21/23.~
~It’s always good to see our buddy the Leucistic Red-tailed Hawk in Warwick, NY 10/21/23.~

Getting Lucky with Uppies, 08/18/23

It’s been the summer of the Upland Sandpiper for me. Tonight I was birding in the black dirt and an Uppy ran right across the road in front of my car! I’d inadvertently flushed the bird from the long grasses on the roadside. It flew into the field to my right and then made its way across the field and then flew to the neighboring field. I put the word out and Karen Miller and I enjoyed my best Upland Sandpiper looks of the year. The bird eventually disappeared into a tall grassy area, so we decided to move on. I got back to my car and a second Upland Sandpiper flew across the road! It was an excellent evening of birding. All photos taken in the Black Dirt Region, 08/18/23.

More Uppy Images, 08/08/23

I received word while I was working today that the 4 UPLAND SANDPIPERS continued in the black dirt. I was going to check for them regardless, but knowing they were still around got me excited. When I first arrived, the birds were being viewed by several other birds. The birds were distant, but I enjoyed watching them in my scope. As the evening progressed, all the workers and all the other birders save one had left, the birds made their way closer to the road. They never got close enough for good pics, but still it was great to see them and fun to try for photos.

~UPSA in the black dirt, 08/08/23.~
~Upland Sandpiper in the Black Dirt Region, 08/08/23.~
~Uppy in the black dirt, 08/08/23.~

WOW! Four Upland Sandpipers in the Black Dirt, 08/07/23

After work this evening I headed out to the black dirt with UPLAND SANDPIPERS on my mind… and I hit the jackpot! I was searching through the black dirt and I located a good number of Killdeer in a couple of fields side by side. I scanned quickly with my binoculars and immediately got on an interesting looking bird. I got it it in the scope, and sure enough it was an Uppie! With another one right nearby! Oh wait, is that a third? And a fourth? Wow!

~My initial documentary shot of two of the four Upland Sandpipers in the black dirt on 08/07/23.~

I put out the word and Linda Scrima and Kyle Knapp joined me in no time flat. It was a good thing too, because the Uppies were on the move. I did my best to track the birds while Linda and Kyle documented – I never would have been able to keep track and document by myself. Jeanne Cimorelli showed up as we were leaving, and she later let me know that she had relocated 2 of them. What an exciting evening of birding!

~Linda Scrima was able to capture this great flight shot – Upland Sandpiper in the black dirt, 08/07/23.~
~Upland Sandpipers in flight overhead, photo by Kyle Knapp. Black Dirt Region 08/07/23.~
~One more shot by Linda Scrima. Uppy in the black dirt, 08/07/23.~


I’m pretty jazzed as I write this. After work this evening I headed out to the black dirt with shorebirds on my mind. The evening was mostly a bust, with only Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers being observed. I was just about wrapping up, and I was looking in an area that has been good for Horned Larks, not really shorebirds, when I saw a bird naked eye that I knew had to be an Upland Sandpiper. I got my bins on it, and sure enough, it was! I was thrilled! What a bird! Regular readers of the blog know that I’m shorebird obsessed and I’m particularly partial to Uppies.

UPLAND SANDPIPER in the black dirt this evening, 07/21/23.~
~Uppy in the BDR, 07/21/23.~

Sunday Shots – Life Bird Edition, 06/04/23

This morning I headed out to the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area to try for the PROTHONATORY WARBLER which had been present for 6 days. Well, make it 7 days, as the bird was still present and with some patience I got some fabulous looks and some decent photos. Huge thanks to John Haas, who got me on the bird initially, and Scotty Baldinger, who got me on it for my photos. It was great to see them, as well as some of my other favorite birders, Mary B, PJ Singh, Jeff and Liz Zahn, and Karen Miller. The PROTHONOTARY WARBLER was a life bird for me (#443), and of course, a Sullivan County bird (#208).

~PROTHONOTARY WARBLER at the Bashakill, 06/04/23.~
~One more look at the PRWA, Bashakill WMA, 06/04/23.~

FINALLY! Lapland Longspur in Breeding Plumage, 04/23/23

When I first started birding, I remember looking in my bird guide book at Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings in breeding plumage. I didn’t realize at the time that it’s extremely unlikely to see either of those birds in breeding plumage unless you travel to their breeding grounds. But then, a few years back, Rob Stone put it in my head that it was possible to get Lapland Longspurs in the early spring in beautiful plumage. I can remember this beautiful bird that I found in early April of 2018 – it was nearly there. But it wasn’t until today that I was finally able to see and capture a LALO in breeding plumage. I was so excited!

~What a bird! Lapland Longspur in the black dirt, 04/23/23.~

I hit the black dirt this morning, hoping mostly for shorebirds, but also hoping for American Pipits, since I’d seen that they were reported on Saturday. Shorebirds were a bust for me, but I did find a flock of approximately 30 pipits; I enjoyed watching and photographing them in the morning rain. Then I located a decent sized flock of Horned Larks in flight. I tracked them with my bins and saw where they put down; I got my scope on them and one of the first birds I saw was a beautiful LALO in breeding plumage. The birds were distant, and I was unable to get photos. I knew I wasn’t going anywhere, so I waited them out and finally got my opportunity. There were at least (3) longspurs in the flock; I have photos of 3 distinct plumages.

~Another favorite, American Pipit sitting on onions in the black dirt, 04/23/23.~
~LALO in the black dirt, 04/23/23.~

On Saturday I took a 6 mile hike at Black Rock Forest. I was just in the mood to take a hike and get my legs moving, but it ended up being surprisingly birdy. I added 10 birds to my OC year list; highlights included Brown Creeper and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Afterwards, I ran for the WILSON’S PHALAROPE that Jeanne Cimorelli reported at the Camel Farm on Friday evening. That’s a really great find and an excellent bird for the county, however I didn’t get too excited about it because between the great distance and the heat shimmer, my looks were pretty terrible.

~Black-crowned Night-Heron at Quassaic Creek in Newburgh, 04/22/23.~
~I love these rainy shots. Red-winged Blackbird in the black dirt o4/23/23.~
~Backyard bee on our crabapple tree, 04/21/23.~
~Another Lapland Longspur in the black dirt, 04/23/23.~

Sunday Shots, 04/02/23

I focused my birding time mostly on waterfowl again this weekend. For the most part it was the same birds we’ve been seeing, but I was able to add (3) new species to my Orange County year list. On Saturday birding bud Bruce Nott let me know he had a Common Loon on Orange Lake (I would find another one at Glenmere Lake on Sunday). Then, I had my first Blue-winged Teal of the year this morning at Beaver Pond in Florida, NY. And finally, I ran to the mouth of the Quassaick Creek where it meets the Hudson River, to catch up with a GREAT CORMORANT located by Bruce earlier in the morning. This was definitely the bird of the weekend (even if my photos weren’t very good). It’s been a number of years since I’ve had that bird in Orange County.

~GREAT CORMORANT on the Hudson River near Newburgh, NY 04/02/23.!
~By contrast, here’s a nice close-up of a Double-crested Cormorant at Round Lake, 04/02/23.~
~Horned Grebe at Orange Lake, 04/01/23.~
~A Red-winged Blackbird singing in the rain at Gardnertown Road, 04/01/23.~
~I have these as Lesser Scaup; Wickham Lake 04/02/23.~
~On Thursday evening, I ran to the Newburgh Waterfront hoping to catch up with the Bonaparte’s Gulls that had been reported the day before. I got lucky and found (6) of them. This photo has (3) species of gull in it – mostly Herring Gulls, the (6) Bonies, and a couple of Ring-billed Gulls. Newburgh Waterfront, 03/30/23.~

Sunday Shots 03/05/23: Looking Back at Some Glory Days

This weekend was a complete bust for me. I’m actually surprised that this doesn’t happen more often. I checked some of the lakes in southern Orange County on Saturday and didn’t get anything to speak of. I was feeling wiped out from the work week, so I called it quits early.

Then, on Sunday Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and I headed up to Williamstown Massachusetts, where we joined Rob Stone to try for the Bohemian Waxwings that have been reported there recently. Suffice to say we didn’t even see a single Cedar Waxwing. It was a pretty grim morning of birding, and after a delicious lunch (which took the edge off a little bit), we headed back to OC.

With all the time spent in the car, we of course got to telling stories and reliving some of the glory days in the past decade or so that we’ve spent birding in the area. I figured since I came up empty this weekend, I would take the opportunity to look back at some old posts and relive some of the good old days – this edition will focus on raptors:

~Valentine’s Day, 2014. I got super lucky with excellent views and some decent photos of a rare (for our area) BARN OWL. This shot is a little bit soft – my settings were not correct at all, and I feel lucky that it came out this good. This bird was absolutely incredible to see in person; it still blows my mind to think about it.~
~On February 7th, 2015, I was able to relocate this gorgeous GYRFALCON in Ulster County, not too far from the Grasslands. The bird was originally located the day before by Karen Maloy Brady; birders combed the area on 02/07/15 in the morning, but the bird was unable to be rolocated. I tried for the bird in the afternoon and got super lucky, finding it perched on an evergreen and then watched as it ate a duck. This photo is three days later on 02/10/15.~
~In early April of 2015, Curt McDermott found a CRESTED CARACARA in Ulster County. I was able to catch up with bird a few times afterwards; on April 12th I spent an excellent evening photographing the bird as it dined on an opossum at a small golf course.~
~Back in 2012, there was a pair of MISSISSIPPI KITES at Sterling Forest. I don’t who originally located them, but I was lucky enough to spend a day watching and photographing these incredible raptors. MIKI at Sterling Forest SP on 05/29/12.~