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, 11/19/23

It was a relatively uneventful weekend of birding for me. There actually doesn’t seem to be all that much exciting going on in our area at the moment. I checked out a few lakes in southern Orange County on Saturday morning. Then, I spent this morning at the Hudson River. Both mornings were unproductive. The highlight of the weekend for me was in the black dirt later this morning, where, after weeks of trying, I was finally able to get my first Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting photos of the season.

~Always a favorite of mine, as readers of the blog know well – Lapland Longspur in the black dirt 11/19/23.~
~A Red-tailed Hawk being mobbed by American Crows in the Black Dirt Region, 11/19/23.~
~European Starling flock at the Camel Farm, 11/18/23.~
~Stupid heat shimmer from my car did a number on this photo. But, it’s my first Snow Bunting shot of the year, so I wanted to include it. Black dirt 11/19/23.~
~A Great Blue Heron stalks prey on Missionland Road, 11/19/23.~
~One more European Starling image – I was enjoying photographing this flock. Camel Farm 11/18/23.~

Sunday Shots, 11/05/23

My best birding of the weekend occurred first thing on Saturday morning. I stopped in the black dirt before heading up to Mount Peter Hawkwatch. I was pleased to find a nice sized flock of Horned Larks, and even more so to find a handful of Snow Buntings and a couple Lapland Longspurs. The buntings and longspurs wouldn’t cooperate for photos, so I had to settle for some Horned Lark shots. I went back on Sunday morning, and I don’t know if they moved on or were just laying low, but I had very few larks and no buntings or longspurs.

~Horned Lark in the black dirt, 11/05/23.~

Hawkwatch at Mount Peter was a bust for me. I counted a measly 10 migrating raptors in just over 5 hours. Songbirds were out in force, particularly American Robins, which were moving through in groups of 10-20 birds. I have only one day left in the hawk watching season, next Saturday; I’m hoping for something special to happen on that day.

~Dark-eyed Junco at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch 11/04/23.~
~American Crow just after Sunrise in the black dirt, 11/04/23.~d
~One of 4 White-tailed Deer bucks that I saw over the weekend. Black Dirt Region 11/05/23.~
~Horned Lark with what looks like a very short bill to me. BDR 11/04/23.~
~This might be the winner for the species which is heard WAY more than it is seen. Carolina Wren in the black dirt, 11/05/23.~

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.~

Monhegan Island, 2023

Last week, Tricia and I spent 7 fabulous days on Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine. The weather was spectacular, and while most of the birders on the island (and there are plenty of them) considered the birding to be on the slow side, there was still plenty of birds to be found. I observed a total of 73 species for the week (5 better than last year), and even managed to get a lifer (Philadelphia Vireo). I’ll include a complete species list at the bottom of this post.

~Yellow Warbler, Monhegan Island during the last week of September 2023.~
~Excellent bird. Lark Sparrow on Monhegan Island during the last week of September 2023.~

For me, there are two different birding approaches to take on the island. The first I’ll call birder-birding. It’s a very small island, and as I indicated above, there are loads of birders around. If you are a social birder, this is the style of birding you will excel at. It’s not my forte, but I did my best to stay in touch with the other birders and to hit all the known hotspots each morning to see if anything new came in. Interestingly, most of the hotspots are right in town. It’s definitely the most productive birding you can do on the island. Plus you get to meet some really great people. Some not-so-great people too, but that comes with the birding territory (and life in general, I guess). My best birder-birding species included: Lark Sparrow, Philadelphia Vireo, White-crowned Sparrow, Virginia Rail, Sora, Rusty Blackbird, and Northern Waterthrush.

~Common Yellowthroat on Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~Black Guillemot, Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~

The second approach is what I call adventure birding. This is my preferred style – I think I walked every single trail on the island this week. I wish I’d tracked all my hikes, but I estimate that I probably hiked 40-50 miles (and many of the trails are not easy going, especially along Cliff Trail #1). While it’s generally less productive, I really enjoy the sense of adventure and potential in this type of birding. I include doing a seawatch in this style because I get the same feelings while doing one – you never know what you’ll see looking far out over the ocean! Species highlights from this kind of birding included: Great Cormorant, Laughing Gull (Herring and Great Black-backed are the only expected gulls), Broad-winged Hawk (any buteo is considered rare on the island), Surf and Black Scoters, and plenty of Northern Gannetts. Plus, while I was at it, I got to see whales, dolphins, and seals.

~Common Eider, Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~

As always, I took loads of photos. I hope you enjoy them – I’m including a lot in this post, I hope it’s not overkill.

~Tricia and I were out at Pebble Beach, on the north side of the island when we had an excellent experience with a young Bald Eagle. The bird was perched out on a smaller island, but then started to fly. I said, c’mon fly to us. Well, it did! Not only that, it did an acrobatic maneuver right in front of us. It was really cool. Bald Eagle on Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~
~A not so typical look at a Bald Eagle. Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~Passing right by us on our left – not much of a crop on this shot. Bald Eagle, Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~I was not expecting to get a lifer on this trip. That said, I really should have gotten a Philadelphia Vireo by now, lol. Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~Black Guillemots were plentiful on the island this year. Last year I only had them on the ferry ride to and from. I love the plumage on this bird. Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~Common Eider with a snack. Monhegan Island the last week of September, 2023.
~Seal at Pebble Beach on Monhegan Island during the last week of September 2023. It’s tough to get good photos of these dudes, so we’ll settle for this one with flaring nostrils.~
There is a considerable population of Ring-necked Pheasants on the island. At one point, I was standing on a trail with nearly a dozen young pheasants grazing at my feet. It was pretty awesome. Monhegan Island, September 2023.~
~This Virginia Rail spent a morning in garden, of all places. I did my best to get a shot of the bird, but it came out a little crazy looking. Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~
~Great Cormorant, Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~
~Surf Scoters causing by during one of my seawatches. Monhegan Island, last week of September 2023.~
~How awesome is this? Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls on Monhegan Island, the last week of September 2023.~

Monhegan Island 2023 Teaser

Tricia and I spent the week on Monhegan Island, a small island in Lincoln County Maine, approximately 12 nautical miles off the coast. We went to the island last year at this same time; click here to see my blog post from that visit. It’s a perfect vacation for us, as it’s an established artist’s retreat as well as a fabulous birding destination. It was a great week, but I have loads of photos to get through before I’ll be able to post. Here’s a look at one of the many Black Guillemots I saw over the week… stayed tuned for a full report.

~Black Guillemot, Monhegan Island Maine, September 2023.~

Sensational Shorebirding, 09/18/23

Everyone knows at this point that bad weather typically equals excellent birding. This evening after work I followed up on several reports of shorebirds in the black dirt. When I left the house, it was raining cats and dogs. But, by the time I arrived in the black dirt, it had slowed down and there were some clear skies in the distance. At first I was viewing the birds from inside my car, using my window mount for the scope. As it slowed up, Linda Scrima joined me; eventually it cleared up and we were treated to a beautiful double rainbow.

~Rainbow in the Black Dirt Region, 09/18/23. It was really cool because the shorebirds were located in the field directly under the end of the rainbow.~

We had an excellent assortment of shorebirds: Killdeer (35), Semipalmated Plover (1), Black-bellied Plover (4), American Golden-Plover (30), Semipalmated Sandpiper (1), Pectoral Sandpiper (45), and a flyover of (6) Short-billed Dowitchers. Pipits were flying over calling. All with a beautiful rainbow, allowing for some really interesting photo ops. What a night.

~Plovers flying through the rainbow. Black Dirt Region 09/18/23.~
~PLovers doing their thing in the BDR, 09/18/23.~
~A more conventional shot of the flock of Black-bellied and American Golden-Plovers in the black dirt this evening, 09/18/23.~
~One more rainbow/plover shote. Black Dirt Region, 09/18/23.!

Good Birding, 09/02/23

The hottest hotspot in the area right now is the southern leg of Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop, in Sussex County NJ. I met Linda Scrima at the loop yesterday evening after work. We missed a couple of the more exciting birds (White Ibis, and Stilt Sandpiper), but it was an excellent night of birding. But we did catch up with the immature Little Blue Heron, and the number of shorebird individuals present was striking to me – very possibly the most I’ve seen in one small area in our region. We tallied (11) species of shorebirds, with the highlight being (4) White-rumped Sandpipers. The icing on the cake was finding 30+ Common Nighthawks flying over the parking area when we got back to our cars.

~Little Blue Heron at the Liberty Marsh, Sussex Co. NJ, 09/01/23.~
~Wilson’s Snipe at the Liberty Loop, 09/01/23.~
~The West side of the loop was filthy with Green Herons, so I couldn’t resist taking a few photos.~

This morning I figured the loop would be loaded with birders and photographers, so I chose to bird the black dirt instead. It was mostly the usuals, with very few shorebirds (other than Killdeer), but I was able to find a single BAIRD’S SANDPIPER. It was kind of a crazy story because I had just met a birder named Joe. He was out for one reason – to get his lifer Baird’s Sandpiper. About 5 minutes after Joe and I parted ways, don’t you know I found a BASA. I tried to flag him down; I was waving and practically doing somersaults to try to get his attention, as I could still see his car at a distance. Unfortunately he didn’t see me, and the Baird’s flew shortly after I’d located it.

~Distant shot of a Baird’s Sandpiper in the black dirt, 09/02/23.~
~Wild Turkey family in the black dirt, 09/02/23.~
~Bobolink on Turtle Bay Road in the black dirt, 09/02/23.~
~One more shot of the Little Blue Heron at the Liberty Loop, 09/01/23.~

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.

Sunday Shots, 08/13/23

After work on Friday I followed up on a report by Diane Bliss of several Purple Martins at Wickham Lake. Fortunately the birds were still present when I arrived, so I was able to take some photos and add them to my 2023 county list. Afterwards I sent to Wisner Road to try for the Sedge Wren that Kyle Knapp located back on July 31st. I didn’t have any luck with the wren, but I went back first thing Saturday morning and heard the bird singing deep in one of the fields.

~Purple Martin at Wickham Lake, 08/11/23.~

Shorebirds were the main focus for me for the rest of the weekend, but unfortunately I was unable to add any new species to my fall migration list. The hotspot for me was the Camel Farm, where I had: Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, and Solitary Sandpipers. The black dirt was loaded with Killdeer and I had several sightings of Least Sandpipers and one Spotted Sandpiper. I saw reports of Upland Sandpiper in the rare bird report, but I didn’t have any luck with them. Anyways, here’s my images from the weekend, I hope you enjoy them.

~Eastern Kingbird at Wickham Lake, 08/11/23.~
~One of a number of Least Sandpipers in the black dirt, 08/13/23.~
~I saw this hawk from a distance and I knew I wanted to get a better look. Patience paid off and I was able to get a decent shot of this Red-tailed Hawk with some unusual and beautiful plumage. Black Dirt Region, 08/12/23.~
~Lesser Yellowlegs at the Camel Farm, 08/12/23.~
~I’m really digging the light and colors in these Eastern Kingbird photos. Wickham Lake 08/11/23.~
~One more shot of the Purple Martins at Wickham Lake, 08/11/23.~