I really enjoy the cold and sunny weather we had for most of this weekend. It’s a pleasure to gear up and get out into the cold, especially when the sun is out, and ended up with some good birds and some decent photo ops. My best bird by far, was the MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD in Ulster County that I ran for today. I drove up to Esopus Meadows Preserve first thing this morning. When I arrived just before 9:00, there were already several birders on the bird. By the time I got out of my car, the bird was no longer in sight. I waited alongside Ken McDermott, and we both got our first glimpse of this beautiful bird as it hovered alongside a tall evergreen across the road. The MOBL was a beautiful and cooperative bird, and my 315th bird in New York State. It wasn’t a lifer, as I’d seen MOBLs in Colorado back in 2013.
Afterwards, I tried for gulls/waterfowl at the Hudson River, first trying from Long Dock Park on the Beacon Side, and then from the Newburgh Waterfront. I didn’t have any luck with gulls nor ducks, but I did finally catch up with the Tennessee Warbler which has been hanging around near the sewage plant.
Saturday was less successful, but it was still good to be out. In the morning I participated with Linda Scrima in Mearns Bird Club’s Orange County Winter Waterfowl Count. Unfortunately it was a bit of bust for me – I had a total of only (5) species of waterfowl (Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, American Black Duck, and Common Merganser). I think this is the first time doing this that we did not find a rare goose of some kind. In the evening I went to the Newburgh Waterfront. It was COLD! And a bust for gulls, but I enjoyed a close up Common Merganser and (4) Bald Eagles flying over pretty low.
I’m off work this week, so I’ll likely be getting out all week. Yesterday morning was frustrating: I tried for three different locally reported Northern Shrikes and came up empty. But, my luck began to change in the evening at the Newburgh Waterfront. First, I caught up with the continuing FRANKLIN’S GULL. Then, a little later in the evening, I joined forces with Bruce Nott, and we were able to locate two Iceland Gulls on the river.
This morning I headed over to Westchester County to try for the ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER which has been reported recently at Rockefeller State Park Preserve. It was a beautiful morning, with the fog lifting and the sun coming out. I wandered around the park; it was birdy, but initially there was no sign of the flycatcher. I was joined by three other birders, all looking for the bird. I eventually located the bird and got two of the three others on it. It made only two brief appearances before retreating to the tree line. I waited for a while for the bird to show again, but then I decided to leave. I’d gotten good looks and some decent photos of this good looking bird, so I was ready to continue birding elsewhere. The ATFL was a life bird for me (#424) and, of course a NYS bird (#314).
I enjoyed good birding on both days of the weekend, but the highlight undoubtedly came early Saturday morning when I relocated the FRANKLIN’S GULL which was reported at the Newburgh Waterfront on Thursday and Friday. I feared that with the drop in temperature and the rainy weather the bird might have moved on, but fortunately that was not the case. FRGU is a really good bird anywhere in New York State, and now I’ve seen two right here in Orange County. To say I got a better look at this bird than the one in July of 2020 would be a huge understatement. This bird was very cooperative and I enjoyed fantastic looks.
Sunday was a different kind of day. The weather turned out to be very nice – crisp and cool with a mix of sun and clouds. I headed out to the black dirt, and early on it seemed to be quite birdy, so I decided to count my total species for the morning of birding. Which, surprisingly, is not something I do very often. I cruised the black dirt, spend a few minutes at the viewing platform at Liberty Marsh, went to Wickham Lake, and finished up at Greenwood Lake. I had a total of 43 species for the morning, which doesn’t seem too bad for this time of the year. I had a some nice surprises – a Brown Creeper at Celery Ave, (8) Northern Shovelers at Liberty Marsh, my first Merlin in ages on Onion Ave, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Wickham Lake. I’ve included my complete list below.
Although it had a slow start, yesterday was quite a day for me. I went to the Grasslands for sunrise and walked out to one of the blinds. Unfortunately neither the light nor the birds cooperated. I saw several Northern Harriers early on, but after rising, they seemed to be leaving the refuge to hunt; I saw at least 5 birds fly over the southern tree line and head out to the farm fields. Three hours in the blind with only one close encounter, and the light wasn’t very good.
Things improved when I went to the Wallkill River in Wallkill and located a good looking GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE. I was able to find a pull off on the road and get a decent shot of the bird.
I went home and had some lunch and did a few things around the house. In the afternoon I headed to the Newburgh Waterfront where I ran into birding bud Bruce Nott. He immediately got me on an adult Iceland Gull in his scope. The bird was nearly on the other side of the river, but the light was perfect and we enjoyed pretty darn good views of this super sharp looking bird.
BUT! The real excitement started shortly after that. I was scanning for gulls in my binoculars. On top of the ferry, I thought I saw something that looked like a SNOWY OWL. I whipped my scope around and got on it and said to Bruce “unless this is a fake, I’m looking at a SNOWY OWL!!!” We were, of course, freaking out; it was so exciting. Many other birders got to see the owl, which was really cool. I sat and waited as it got dark, figuring the bird would eventually pick up to go hunt. It was getting pretty dark, but sure enough the bird eventually left its perch on the ferry. I did okay with the flight photos, especially considering I had to shoot at ISO 16000. It’s the first time I’ve seen a Snowy in flight since 2014, so that was a thrill. From what I can tell, this bird looks like a one hit wonder, as it was not relocated today.
This morning I headed north to try for the WOOD STORK that has been seen in Columbia County. I’ll start off by saying I did not get out as early as I would have liked, and then, just as I was getting the drive started I missed my exit. I compounded my error by following the GPS as it re-routed me, instead of just getting off the next exit and turning around. Ultimately, missing that exit cost me about 10 minutes and a life bird.
On my way up, Scotty Baldinger was kind enough to report on the Mearns App that the Wood Stork was present. This got me anxious to get up there, but the trip is just over an hour and a half, so I had to just be patient. When I arrived on German Church Road in Ghent NY, about a quarter mile in I saw two birders on the side of the road. The Wood Stork is there! they reported and I continued just over a half mile to the location. Only the bird wasn’t there. The birders present let me know that it had flown across the road and back along the way I’d just come. We walked along the road looking through the trees to see if the bird had put down. Then, one of the two birders I’d seen earlier came and reported that they’d seen the bird; it flew over their location and over the main road (Union Turnpike). That means, in the two minute drive from where I’d seen them to the location, the bird flew over me and past me and I never saw it! Ugh!
I spent a couple of hours searching the area, checking back at the original location often, but I had no luck. So, I decided to head back to Orange County. I got about 25 minutes away, when I got a report that the Wood Stork was currently being seen again at German Church Road. I turned around, drove back the 25 minutes to find that once again the bird was not there! What?!? I checked my phone and there was a follow up to the report saying that it was a mistake, and the bird actually wasn’t there. Gah! What a morning! At that point, I packed it in and finally headed back to OC, this time all the way home.
It’s been a while since I’ve gotten a life bird (over a year), but that’s what happened today. It was a bonus that the location was in Orange County and less than a 1/2 hour away. So, after work tonight I headed over to Lower Wisner Road, where up to 4 SEDGE WRENS have been reported in the last couple of days. As soon as I got out of the car, I could hear a SEWR calling from the north side of the road. As I got closer, I could hear a second bird, closer, calling from the south side of the road. I stayed still, listened and scanned, and eventually I located the bird, just about 30 yards out. I was pretty excited, it’s not every Tuesday evening you can get a lifer that easily; it was my 424th life bird.
IMPORTANT: *Please do not use tapes to try and get these birds closer for views or photos. They are pretty cooperative and patience will pay off. Use of tapes will likely disturb their attempts at breeding and ruin this great situation.* Thanks to John Haas for the above advice put forth on his blog Bashakill Birder.
This evening I went to Newburgh to try again for the Eurasian Collared-Dove that has been reported there (I tried last Saturday with no luck). The bird has been reported at the tennis courts on Lilly Street, and when I arrived there was another birder there – I’m drawing a blank, but I believe his name was Paul. He had seen the bird already, but was lingering for another look at it. And I’m glad he did because he was able to relocate the bird about a block away. He actually came and got me on it – huge thanks. It’s a beautiful bird and a New York State bird for me; I’m glad I was able to catch up with it this time.
I have to thank larophile Bruce Nott once again. This morning I chased a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL which he reported at the Newburgh Waterfront. Soon after my arrival, I located a distant black-backed gull. There haven’t been many (any?) black-backed gulls around recently, so I was feeling confident that this was the bird. My problem was that the bird was on the water (hiding leg color) and all alone (eliminating being able to judge by size). I needed to confirm that the bird was not the much more likely Great Black-backed Gull, so I waited it out. The bird slowly drifted north, nearly to the bridge. Then it flew south and put down again, south of the waterfront. Again I watched as it drifted north. It took a short flight at one point, and I was pretty sure, but not positive that I saw yellow legs. I watched as it drifted all the way north once again. I saw it next to a Ring-billed Gull, and the size looked good (larger, but not overwhelmingly so). The bird flew south once again and put down on the docks. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the docks, the bird had flown again. Luckily, this time it put down with a pair of Herring Gulls, and now the size looked perfect. I looked at my flight shots, and sure enough, yellow legs! That’s a good bird for the county, and it was really cool to see it in adult breeding plumage – we don’t usually see that in Orange County.
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.