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.
It’s hard to believe that yet another year of birding is behind us. It was a good year for me, one where I changed my approach a little bit. I tried to put aside the birding expectations I’ve had in the past and simply strive for the most enjoyable overall experience at any given time. For example, there where times when a good long hike is what I needed in my life; we know these long hikes aren’t nearly as birdy as some other locations, but I enjoyed the experience and appreciated whatever birds came my way. I also focused more and more on the species of birds that I enjoy most – raptors, gulls, and shorebirds. The result was a year where my species counts were the lowest they’ve been in years, but where I enjoyed my birding time immensely.
RARITIES OF 2021
We had some very notable rarities our area this year. Here’s my top five, which include the (2) life birds I saw this year:
Ferruginous Hawk in the black dirt. Originally located by Linda Scrima on 01/16/21, this raptor was a BIG deal and pleased birders for most of the winter.
Franklin’s Gull at the Newburgh Waterfront. Originally reported by Ronnie DiLorenzo on 12/16/21. The bird continues as of this writing, being seen mostly at the sewage treatment plant and sometimes at the boat launch.
Sedge Wrens at Wisner Road. I don’t recall the original finder, but I went for these birds on 7/27/21 and was successful in locating at least (4) birds present. This was especially exciting for me because it was a life bird for me.
Ash-throated Flycatcher at Rockefeller State Park Preserve. This might be considered extralimital, but this location was only about an hour away. On 12/28/21 I enjoyed relocating and getting some decent photos of this surprisingly attractive bird. This too was a life bird for me. I believe this bird continues at this location.
Snowy Owl on the Newburgh Ferry. On 12/04/21, while gulling the Newburgh Waterfront with Bruce Nott, I located a beautiful Snowy Owl perched on top of the ferry. The bird, as suspected, was a one hit wonder and wasn’t relocated.
Rarities Notable Mentions: John Haas found a Wilson’s Phalarope at Morningside Park on 05/31/21. Jeanne Cimorelli located a White Ibis at the Camel Farm on 10/18/21. And finally, a bird that seems to be becoming a true rarity in Orange County – I had (3) Upland Sandpipers flyover at Skinner’s Lane on 08/08/21.
GULLS OF 2021
It was another great year of gulling in Orange County where I observed a total of (8) species of gull in the county for the second year in a row. This has increasingly become my favorite type of birding; I really enjoy spending the afternoons at the Newburgh Waterfront scanning through all the gulls. Also of note, I ran for the Lesser Black-backed Gull in Sullivan County on 11/21/21, and it was kind enough to stick around for me. It was my 193rd bird in SC.
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
SHOREBIRDS OF 2021
I had a decent year for shorebirds, with (22) species observed. In Orange County and I totaled (18) species for the year (It very easily could have been (19), but I never went for American Woodcock). The highlight of the year for shorebirds was enjoying the large flock of American Golden-Plovers at Skinner’s Lane for a week or so in mid-September. Other highlights included the Wilson’s Phalarope in Sullivan County on 05/31/21, a flyover of (3) Upland Sandpipers on 08/08/21, and kayaking at Morningside Park to get the Long-billed Dowitcher located by John Haas on 10/17/21.
Ruddy Turnstone (Seneca County)
Purple Sandpiper (Westchester County)
Short-billed Dowitcher (Seneca County)
Long-billed Dowitcher (Sullivan and Orange Counties)
Wilson’s Phalarope (Sullivan County)
YARD BIRDS OF 2021
I continued to work from home of 2021, so once again, yard birding was a focal point. I decided early on to keep a list; I was really curious to see what kind of numbers of species I might be able to observe in my own yard. Part of the way through the year, Judy Cinquina and I were talking about it and decided to place a friendly wager on it. I ended the year with (72) species, and Judy finished with an impressive (68) species, in spite of getting a late start. We have already agreed to a rematch in 2022.
I was surprised by how many warblers I had in my yard – (9) species. I never considered my yard a place to get warblers until the past couple of years. And some of them were impressive, including Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Cerulean, and an unexpected Ovenbird. Other surprised include a Hermit Thrush, and my final bird of the year, a Brown Creeper. There were also three birds I would have expected to have a good chance to see, but did not: Red-tailed Hawk, Rock Pigeon, and Hairy Woodpecker.
TOP TEN PHOTOS OF 2021
Here are my personal favorite photos that I took in 2021, starting with my number one shot of the year, an American Pipit in flight. Each year choosing the top photos seems to get more difficult for me. As I go through the year’s pics, each year I am more and more underwhelmed. I think it’s because now that I’ve been doing this for a good number of years (this spring will be 10 years doing the blog!), it’s becoming more difficult to get new and exciting shots. Anyways, here’s my picks for the top ten photos of the year:
As always, I’d like to thank all my birding friends that have helped to make it such an enjoyable year of birding (you know who you are). I’d also like to thank everyone for tuning in to the blog, especially those of you who subscribe and those of you who comment – it makes my day when I get a comment on a post! Happy New Year to everyone, here’s to another great year of birding in 2022.
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.
I did a good amount of birding during the long holiday weekend, but of course nothing was nearly as exciting as the Snowy Owl. Other than the owl, my timing seems to be a bit off these days and any good birds I’m getting are birds reported by other birders. I finally made it to the Newburgh Waterfront on Wednesday evening to see the Long-tailed Duck that’s been a around for a while. I also ran for the Lesser Black-backed Gull which was originally found by Jeanne Cimorelli on Friday and then relocated and reported by Bill Fierro yesterday afternoon. That gull stuck around for me, but was absolutely miles out, so no pics. Other than those two birds, it was the usual suspects (often less than that), but it was still an enjoyable long weekend with some interesting shots to share.
Tricia and I traveled to the Jersey Shore early Thanksgiving morning to spend the holiday with her family there. I was able run to the beach to sneak in couple of hours of birding before the festivities began. I love birding at the beach in the winter, it’s such a pleasant experience, and I enjoyed many of the expected goodies. Highlights included Common and Red-throated Loons, Black Scoters, and loads of Brant. But the true highlight was when I happened upon a SNOWY OWL resting in the dunes. I shared my discovery with two non-birder women who were appropriately blown away by the view in my scope. What an awesome surprise; it’s been a while since I’ve seen one and this bird did not disappoint.
Yesterday afternoon both Karen Miller and John Haas gave me the heads up that the LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL that was at Sullivan County Community College last week had returned. John was going to check for the bird today and let me know if it was present, but on an impulse I headed to the college first thing this morning. Fortunately the bird was present and confiding. Plus the early morning light was very nice on this very sharp looking bird. I spent some time and got some photos before moving on to Neversink Reservoir.
At the reservoir, my pleasant morning of birding continued with a distant Common Loon. Apparently COLOs have been sparse in the county, so both John and Scotty Baldinger joined me to see the bird. Other highlights at the reservoir included a single Horned Lark landing on the rocks briefly before moving on, an Adult Bald Eagle lazily flying over, and what I’m pretty sure was the call of several American Pipits on a flyover.
From there I went to Liberty to look for the Northern Shrike that has been seen up that way; I didn’t have any luck. I need to catch up with a shrike this winter, it’s been a while since I’ve seen one. I stopped briefly at Morningside Park on my way home, where I had 10 Hooded Mergansers, 3 Ring-necked Ducks, and a single Pied-billed Grebe.
Huge thanks to John and Karen for the heads up about the LBBG, it was my 193rd bird in Sullivan County. And, as a bonus, I wasn’t aware of it but I’d never had a Horned Lark in the county, so that was 194!
What a morning! My first stop was Wickham Lake, which I thought was going to be a total bust because the lake was completely obscured by fog. But, I located a Greater Yellowlegs feeding in the puddles along the shore. The light was beautiful and the bird was very accommodating. I also had a Great Blue Heron in some interesting light, so I got some photos of that bird as well. From there, I was heading up to Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, where I was to be the official counter for the day. On my way there, I had a lovely, close encounter with a beautiful coyote. This was the first coyote I’ve ever seen that showed some curiosity towards me as I pulled my car to the side of the road. It’s been a good while since I’ve seen a coyote, and to get one this confiding was a thrill.
Once I was at Mt. Pete, I was getting the feeling it might be a slow day. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and although the wind was from the northwest, it was just the slightest breeze. I had no raptors at all for nearly 2 hours. Then, I picked up a bird to the northeast of the platform – I immediately recognized it as a young GOLDEN EAGLE! I was so happy, the bird circled up and eventually migrated directly over the platform.
After the excitement of the Golden, my prediction came true and it was an incredibly slow flight. I had a total of only (8) migrating raptors in 6.75 hours of counting. I did have one other highlight though, I found a Purple Finch, which was a new 2021 county bird for me, bringing my total to 203 species this year in Orange County.
The highlight of my weekend was running for the Sullivan County Lapland Longspur yesterday afternoon. But I did get out both mornings as well. American Pipits continue in high numbers in the black dirt, so I took advantage and tried for photos both mornings: Saturday in the rain and puddles and Sunday in the nice light. Late shorebirds in the heavy puddling in the black dirt were my main focus both mornings, but unfortunately they were relatively scarce. I had a nice sized flock of Killdeer Saturday morning (35+ birds), and then on Sunday I found 3 Lesser Yellowlegs at the Camel Farm on Sunday.
Bruce Nott let me know he had a Black Scoter at the Newburgh Waterfront on Saturday; I got there a little late in the morning but the bird was still present. Photos were tough, but scope views were fantastic and the bird was my 202nd bird in Orange County this year.
And finally, later on Sunday morning into the early afternoon I joined official counter Ken Witkowski at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch. I expected a decent flight, but unfortunately it was on the slow side. We did have some pretty good looks at several migrating Red-shouldered Hawks, but otherwise it wasn’t noteworthy.
Those of you that know me or have read the blog for a while probably know that LAPLAND LONGSPUR is one of my favorite birds. So, I was pretty stoked this afternoon when John Haas called me to tell me he’d had a very cooperative LALO at the Neversink Reservoir. It was a little late in the afternoon, but I decided to run for the bird. On my John called me; he was going to meet me out there to help locate the bird. When I arrived, John was already there and on the bird. Running for a bird doesn’t get any easier than that! And the bird was a beauty, in beautiful plumage and was very confiding as John had indicated. The icing on the cake was a single Snow Bunting on the rocks; it was another cooperative bird. The Lapland Longspur was my 192nd bird in Sullivan County. As always, huge thanks to John for all the help.