Other than the gulls at the Hudson River, it was a relatively uneventful weekend of birding. I tooled around the black dirt region both mornings and had less than the usuals. Even large flocks of geese were hard to come by. But, as always, especially on these cold, sunny, crisp mornings, it was just good to be out. A slow day of birding beats a day at the office any day of the week, no doubt about it.
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.
This morning I headed Rye Playland to try for the GLAUCOUS GULL that Gail Benson and Tom Burke reported at that location yesterday. It was a beautiful, cold and sunny day, my favorite type of winter day; a perfect day to put some new Christmas winter gear (coat and gloves) to the test. I was not optimistic about my chances of getting my target; gulls seem to be tough bird to run for. Regardless, I was pretty sure it would be a good day of birding, Rye in the winter is always a good birding trip.
I parked by the ice rink and walked the pier; a flock of 60 or so Brant flew overhead and I able to locate a Long-tailed Duck and my first Common Loon, Buffleheads, and Red-breasted Mergansers of the day. From there I headed over to Playland Lake, where I had great looks and a photo op with a single adult female Common Goldeneye.
Leaving the lake, I found Gail and Tom – were just on the GLAUCOUS GULL, but it must have flown as they were saying goodbye to a friend and it wasn’t present. I can’t thank Tom and Gail enough, they did everything in their power to relocate the gull for me, and after parting ways for a short time, I received a call from Gail – they had the gull again! I hustled to join up with them, but alas the bird had flown again. Moments later, Tom picked up the bird in flight right over our heads and we watched as it put down on the rocks across the way. What a big, beautiful beast of a gull! I was blown away; I think because I’d lowered my expectations, it was that much better getting the bird. It was the third Glaucous Gull I’d ever seen, and my first in New York state, making it my 311th NYS bird.
Well, it’s been a stressful week regarding the blog, but the site now seems to be working more efficiently. I was having a lingering issue regarding email subscriptions, but I believe I have that figured out; this post will tell the tale.
Anyways, I wasn’t on the computer all the time, and I was out an about this weekend and last weekend as well. But, I’ve hit a little bit of a dry spell – I tried for winter finches in Port Jervis both weekends, but came up empty. Same goes for Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs, as well as Cackling Goose (probably the species I am mostly likely to add to my Orange County year list). Still, as always it’s just good to be out, with enough of the “usuals” around to keep me entertained, especially on a gorgeous day like today.
I’ve been experiencing some technical issues with the blog recently. It has taken some time, and I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ve made some changes and upgrades which will hopefully make it easier for me to create posts, and more importantly, make for a quicker and better experience for the readers. I imagine there will still be some bugs to work out; if you have any problems or would like to share any information with me, leave a comment or email me at email@example.com. Thanks.
It was really, really nice to have four days off in a row. And with the pandemic still raging, we did not travel. So, that made for a good amount of birding during those four days. Noteworthy birds included more RED CROSSBILLS at Reservoir 3, the BARNACLE GOOSE continues in the area, being seen mostly at the Camel Farm, a handful of Snow Buntings at Skinners Lane, and I had my first ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK of the season. I had a good weekend with raptors, topped off by an early morning visit to the Grasslands today. It was enjoyable to be out there sitting in a blind. It sort of felt like the old days when I used to photograph many more raptors.
I did something this weekend that I’ve never done before. I kayaked at Wickham Lake. I’m not sure what took me so long. They have a really excellent put-in, specially made for kayaks which allows you to lock in your paddle to pull yourself into and out of the water. Anyways, I wanted to photograph the Ruddy Ducks that have been at the lake for several days now. Fortunately they were still present, but I soon learned that they are not a very confiding species.
I was hoping that being in the kayak would allow me to get a little closer to the Ruddy Ducks, but that proved not to be the case. The group of approximately two dozen birds very calmly kept their distance from me, regardless of my approach (I mostly just let the water drift me towards them). So, I left the Ruddies in peace, and explored the lake like I never have been able to before. I came across a nice mixed flock on the northwest shore; I enjoyed close up views of many Yellow-rumped Warblers, as well as several Black-capped Chickadees, a Blue-headed Vireo, and a Black-throated Green Warbler. An Osprey was intermittently hunting and relaxing in a tree along the shore. But, it was a Double-crested Cormorant, perched high in a tree, that stole the show for me (at least for photos), as it posed in some nice light and didn’t mind at all as I floated by.
After kayaking Wickham Lake, I headed over to Skinner’s Lane. I was happy to find a relatively large flock (200+ birds) of American Pipits present. They were my first of the year, and they’ve always been a favorite of mine.
I finished the day of birding at Mount Peter Hawkwatch, where I joined counter Bev Robertson and observers Judy Cinquina and Will Test. It was a productive day at the mountain with great variety. I think they totaled just over 100 migrating raptors for the day.
This morning I birded Highland Lakes State Park for the first time in a long time. I was a cool and sunny morning, the kind of morning where it’s just refreshing to be out. I parked where I have in the past, at the entrance on Tamms Road. I don’t actually know the park very well, so I just wandered around the network of trails, trying to keep the sun at my back as much as possible.
It was a pleasant morning, and the park was relatively birdy. It was mostly the usuals, but I did have some noteworthy birds. I had a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows not too far from the parking lot. I also had a half a dozen Purple Finches in the same exact tree I had them in back in the fall of 2016, which I thought was really something. I found some trails I hadn’t hiked on before, one went right along Tamms Pond, and that’s where I found one of my nemesis birds: WINTER WREN! I was extremely excited; the bird was somewhat cooperative and I was able to follow it as it worked along the shore of the pond. Unfortunately it never really got out into the open, so I was happy to get a halfway decent shot of this bird that has been so elusive to me:
By the time I’d gotten back to my car, I had a total of 36 species on my list. Remarkably, three of them were Orange County year birds for me: WINTER WREN, Purple Finch, and I was surprised to see that I’d gotten my firs Golden-crowned Kinglet of the year. These birds put my OC year list up to 209, which lower than I have been at this time in the past 4 years, but still not too bad.
I’ve gone up to the Adirondacks six of the last eight years. Every trip has been great, but this year surpassed them all. I’ve always enjoyed kayaking with the loons and I’ve done well with photos. This year was enhance by getting a beautiful cold and foggy morning, which was a fabulous experience, and also lent itself to some interesting photo ops. I also like to spend some time hiking and birding the area, trying for some of the birds we typically don’t get down our way: Boreal Chickadee, Canada Jay (previously Gray Jay), Black-backed Woodpecker, and Ruffed Grouse. I’ve had varying success with these birds in the past, but this year I made a clean sweep and got them all.
On Saturday, I was putting my kayak into Follensby Clear Pond just as the sun was rising. It was unseasonably cold – just 30 degrees Fahrenheit, but I was prepared for the weather. Early on, the water was like glass and my kayak was cutting through it very nicely. I kayaked though the fog for a good while with no sign of any Common Loons; I began to wonder if my favorite spot wasn’t going to deliver this year. Then I heard my first loon calling and headed in that direction.
I paddled towards the north side of the largest island in the pond; I’d had luck there in the past. This year would be no different. At first there was just a single loon, joined quickly by a second. They were feeding and calling, and three more Common Loons came in. I feel like these must be the same group of loons I’ve photographed in that exact spot in years past. I watched and photographed them for a good while; as always they were very accommodating and just went about their business as I enjoyed the show and, of course, took loads of photos.
On Saturday afternoon, I birded a new spot for me. I’d done a little research on eBird and found a recent report at Blue Mountain Road which included Boreal Chickadees and Ruffed Grouse. I parked and headed down the trail on the south side of the road which lead to the Saint Regis River. About 500 yards into the trail, I heard my first BOREAL CHICKADEE. A little bit further, I walked into a small mixed flock which included two Boreal Chickadees. They initially flew in and landed in the tree directly above my head, and I mean directly – too close for photos! I watched the two BOCHs for a good while, as they worked through a couple of evergreens, I got some great looks, but was unable to get any worthwhile photographs. It was simultaneously one of the best experiences of the weekend but also the most disappointing.
I continued down to the river and then back up to where I parked my car, and took the trail which heads north of the road. About 10 minutes into that walk, I rounded a corner and saw something distant on the trail. I picked up my bins, and sure enough, there was a RUFFED GROUSE on the trail. I stayed put and took some distant photos, just hoping the bird wouldn’t move off of the trail. But, as I was taking those shots, the bird walked across the trail and disappeared into the trees. This is my first good look at a RUGR ever, and I was super excited. The icing on the cake for Saturday was finding moose tracks a little further up the trail. I followed the tracks until I saw where they disappeared, heading west of the trail. I was loving it, it’s amazing to think that not long before I was there, a moose walked that very same trail.
I did not have a great start on Sunday morning. I headed over to Bloomingdale Bog, at the north entrance. I parked and I was getting my gear together when another car pulled up and two men with two dogs got out and headed down the trail I was taking. I followed them slowly, trying to give them some distance, but there were very few birds. I was thinking it was because of the dogs, but eventually I came to the realization that it was more likely just too early – it was another cold morning and the sun was barely up. The dog walkers eventually turned back and left me with the trail to myself. Unfortunately, it was not at all peaceful. Somewhere, it was difficult to figure out where exactly, a man was yelling (screaming) at the top of his lungs and it was echoing throughout the bog. This went on for 10 minutes, and I still have no idea what the heck that was all about. I began to think that after a great Saturday, Sunday would be a bust.
And that’s when my first CANADA JAY flew in. They are very comfortable around people and there is even a feeding station on the trail for them. The bird came in, looking for a snack (I had nothing for it!). It lingered for a while, fed on some berries, and then was on its way. I continued on the trail and checked an area where I’d had Black-backed Woodpecker in the past: no luck. I eventually headed back towards my car; I was going to try the south entrance of the bog, where I’d also seen BBWOs. On my way back I heard tapping on some trees, off the trail to my right. It took a little while, but I was thrilled to find two BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKERS working some trees to the east of the trail. I was not expecting it, because it was a heavily wooded area, and both of my previous experiences with BBWOs had been in open areas with dead trees. Also noteworthy, shortly after the BBWOs, I came across five (!) Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers right on the trail.
Afterwards, I did check the south entrance of the bog and it was pretty much a bust. I didn’t want to get back too late, so from there I headed home, satisfied with a very fulfilling weekend of birding in the Adirondacks.
I just spent an amazing weekend in the Adirondacks; definitely my best to date. I spent some time kayaking with the Common Loons, as I always do (it’s one of my favorite things to do all year!), but this weekend was about so much more. I’m exhausted tonight, and it will likely take be a few days to go through and edit all the photos, so I will be posting sometime this week.