It was 25 degrees out when I woke up this morning. When I ventured out, I found it was accompanied by a wicked, cold, strong, wind. It’s past mid-March, and winter is still hanging in there, that much is clear. Likewise, most of my birding this weekend focused on winter birds. On Wednesday evening I got nice scope views of a gorgeous Lapland Longspur; its breeding plumage was coming in nicely. I tried to relocate that bird (or any Lapland Longspurs) both days this weekend with no luck. I was, however, able to get some nice photos of a sharp looking, cooperative Horned Lark.
In my travels through the black dirt, I came across loads of raptors this week. I got my first decent looks at Rough-legged Hawks of the year (better late than never). I had a light and a dark morph on Wednesday evening, and another dark morph today. Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks were numerous; American Kestrels were also, but to a lesser extent. Other raptors included Sharp-shinned Hawk, both vulture species, and Bald Eagle.
I also tried for gulls on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was a heartbreaker, Bruce Nott had located an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, I ran for it but missed the bird by 10 minutes or so. Gulls were plentiful on both days, but for me, I had only the 3 expected species. On Sunday I was pleasantly surprised to have a Common Goldeneye fly in. I have to say, even when it’s not necessarily productive, I love birding the Hudson River – sorting through gulls and having that hope that something awesome might just show up.
My best birding of the weekend came on Saturday afternoon. I finally went to the Newburgh Waterfront at the most productive time of the day, only to find it completely dead. I looked across the river to Beacon and saw that there were many gulls present there. I headed over, figuring the birds would cross the river to Newburgh while I was driving. Fortunately, they didn’t; as a matter of fact the birds stayed at the Beacon Waterfront until when I left just before sunset. I had a total of (5) gull species for the afternoon; in addition to the expected three species (Ring-billed, Herring, & Great Black-backed), I was able to locate a young Iceland Gull and a young Lesser Black-backed Gull. The LBBG was particularly satisfying for a couple of reasons: 1. It’s a bird I somehow missed in 2022, and 2. the LBBG is not the easiest bird to pick out of the crowd.
Other good birds on Saturday included a pair of Snow Buntings in the black dirt and my first Common Goldeneye (Wickham Lake) and Merlin (BDR) in Orange County 2023.
Sunday was mostly uneventful. First thing, I birded 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary for the first time in ages. It was quite birdy and I was pleased with 27 species in just under an hour of birding. Afterwards, I cruised the black dirt and it was pretty quiet. I found several larger flocks of Canada Geese; I enjoyed sorting through them, but didn’t find any additional species.
I love these cold, crisp, sunny days. Especially after a long work week with absolutely no birding – it just feels good to be out and about. This morning it was cold enough for me to stick primarily to car birding, so I drove around the black dirt. I made an effort to explore some areas that are a bit off my personal beaten path; it gave me a little bit of sense of exploration even though I was close to home. It was an enjoyable morning with pretty much the usuals. There is still a large flock of Snow Geese in the area – these days they are on the south end of the black dirt, close to the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. I found several flocks of Horned Larks but no flocks of Snow Buntings. Sifting through the larks, I was able to find a couple of Lapland Longspurs and a couple of Snow Buntings.
I also had several large flocks of blackbirds. These flocks were probably 99% Common Grackles, with just a smattering of Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and European Starlings among them. At one point I caught a flash of white in a flying flock – my immediate thought was Yellow-headed Blackbird. I eventually relocated the bird and it was a Common Grackle with several white tail feathers and white at the back of the head. It was a cool looking bird, and it got my heart racing for a minute. Unfortunately the bird did not cooperate for any decent photos.
This morning I participated in the yearly Mearn’s Bird Club’s Orange County Winter Waterfowl Count. I joined Linda Scrima and we covered the black dirt region as we have for the past several years. I’ll post the results once I get them. While we were doing the count, we had many Snow Geese flying overhead. It was exciting to get them for the count, but it was even more exciting when I joined Kyle Knapp later in the day in the black dirt to enjoy approximately 5,000+ Snow Geese do their thing. It’s a spectacle which I always enjoy, and I love taking photos of Snow Geese. The large flocks are captivating and the photos often look like art; as individuals the birds seem to have so much character – constantly making a racket and feasting on corn stubble. All photos taken in the black dirt today, 01/14/23.
Yesterday was much more productive, but I did get out this morning as well. I didn’t have much of a plan, so I pretty much just wandered the black dirt in hopes of shorebirds or large collections of geese. I pretty much got neither, lol. The only shorebirds of the day were a half dozen Pectoral Sandpipers and 2 Killdeer at the Camel Farm. And, in spite of seeing flock after flock fly over, I never tracked down any large groups of geese. I always like to check in on Sundays regardless, so here’s a few shots from the past couple of days. I hope you are not sick of pipits yet – they are all over the black dirt and I can’t seem to resist photographing them.
My first bird of the weekend was a new yard bird for me – Common Raven. It was just after sunrise on Saturday morning and the bird landed on one of the evergreens in the backyard and was calling repeatedly. I grabbed my camera and the sun was just barely over the trees and casting the bird in warm light as I snapped some shots. The bird was species number 55 in my yard for 2022; I thought that was a nice way to start the weekend’s birding.
I was the official counter at Mount Peter Hawkwatch on Saturday. I got out early and birded the black dirt for a little while before heading up to the mountain. I was rewarded with a couple of BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS. There were also hundreds (thousands?) of Tree Swallows around. When I saw them, in a few separate fields, they were on the ground and periodically picking up and taking flight. It was the most Tree Swallows I’ve ever seen.
Tree Swallows would prove to be the theme of the day; when I got to Mount Peter there were just loads of them migrating through. Again, I witness hundreds and hundreds of Tree Swallows as I searched the skies for migrating raptors.
The raptor flight was weak, and I only had 14 migrating birds for the day. I did count another Osprey (always cool to see in migration), and I counted my first migrating Bald Eagle of the year. For more details, see my report for the day at the bottom of this post.
This morning I birded the Black Dirt Region again – I was able to locate three Buff-breasted Sandpipers, but no other shorebirds (other than the expected loads of Killdeer). I’m coming across loads of American Kestrels in the black dirt recently; I saw ten just this morning.
Work has been super stressful for me lately, and as we all know so well, Mondays are the absolute worst. Usually birding is my respite from any worries in my life, and it’s normally particularly effective when it’s work related. But lately, even on good birding days, I haven’t been able to completely shake it and it’s taken some of the joy out of my birding. Tonight, however was different. It was a beautiful evening to get out, and as I entered the black dirt I could feel the tension leaving my body.
It was pleasantly birdy in the black dirt, and then I had a really nice experience with one of my favorites – a Horned Lark. Horned Larks breed in the county, but really, I don’t see them all that often in the summer. So I was pretty happy to come across one this evening. To make it better, instead of the usual distant look, the bird was relatively close and slowly worked its way toward me, allowing for excellent looks and a chance to get some photos. It’s strange how things coalesce sometimes; the right bird at the right time, on a beautiful night in the black dirt.
I had some hits and some misses this weekend. On Friday evening, and again on Saturday afternoon, I tried for the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher which was reported in Beacon, NY. On Friday evening I missed that bird by just over an hour; as far as I know that was the last time the bird was seen.
But, I had a really great Saturday morning. I went for the Dickcissel which was found by Ronnie DiLorenzo in the black dirt earlier in the week. I joined Kyle Knapp and the we not only enjoyed the Dickcissel, we also had a very confiding Grasshopper Sparrow. The light was nice, the birds were close and singing their hearts out; it’s hard to ask for much more than that!
Afterwards, I went to the Camel Farm to try for shorebirds. I was not disappointed; there were 2 Semipalmated Plovers, 1 Semipalmated Sandpiper, and a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER present. Kyle and Linda Scrima joined me there and got the birds. Unfortunately, as is always the case at the Camel Farm, the birds were too distant for photos. As a consolation prize, we watched a Peregrine Falcon chase a white pigeon across the field and then fly right over us.
This morning I went back to the Camel Farm and the White-rumped Sandpiper and the Semipalmated Sandpiper were still present, sharing the pond with a Spotted Sandpiper. I also went to the south pond at the Liberty Loop, hoping for shorebirds. Unfortunately conditions weren’t great and I didn’t have any shorebirds. But, again, consolation prize, I had a nice experience with two White-tailed Deer fawns that were playing and just going bananas running around the marsh. They were so cute!
Yard Birds 2022: (49) I’ve stalled out in my yard; I didn’t add any new birds since my last post.
I got out really early this morning in an effort to get as much birding in before the snow got too bad. I played a hunch and arrived at the Beacon Waterfront not too long after sunrise. I was rewarded with a beautiful first winter Iceland Gull perched on a tent on one of the docks. Not the prettiest perch, but I was still thrilled. I photographed the bird and hoped it would change perches, but alas it eventually took off and flew northeast without even a look back.
I checked the Newburgh Waterfront afterwards; there wasn’t much going on, so I headed out to the black dirt just as it started snowing. Once in the black dirt, one of my first birds was a beautiful Rough-legged Hawk. It was snowing quite a bit, but the birds were active. I found many Horned Larks and spent most of the morning looking through them, searching for my main target of the morning: Lapland Longspur. I eventually did locate one; its plumage was pretty nice, but this far into March I was hoping for better. A small flock of Snow Geese flew overhead, and I was eventually able to relocate them. They blended in very well in a distant snowy field.
The snow was starting to accumulate pretty good, so I headed home. I passed through Lynch Avenue, where in a flooded field I had 4 Northern Pintails with a group of Mallards and Canada Geese. I missed the Wilson’s Snipe which had been reported there, mostly because a large plow was coming through and I needed to get out of the way and get my butt safely home.
Yard Birds 2022: (30) – I added Red-shouldered Hawk and Ring-billed Gull since my last post. I will also mention that yesterday evening I had a white-winged gull fly over the house. It happened too quickly to get a photo; my impression was that the bird was likely an Iceland Gull, but I can’t be sure.
I got my best birds of the weekend right after work on Friday evening. I met Karen Miller at the main boat launch at Bashakill WMA; we walked the Birch Trail to find the TUNDRA SWANS which were located earlier in the week by John Haas. It was a gorgeous evening, and we enjoyed our walk in spite of having to be careful because of the icy conditions on the trail. The birds were still present; we were able to locate 12 of the 15 reported birds. Unfortunately they were quite distant and partly obscured by vegetation. Scope views were beautiful, but photos were tough. I’ve included a documentary shot at the bottom of this post.
Saturday morning I tried for the Northern Shrike at Wickham Woodlands Park, but was unsuccessful. From there I headed over to the black dirt, where I sorted through Canada Geese and flocks of mixed blackbirds looking for rarities; I came up empty. Then, on Onion Avenue, I was pleasantly surprised to find a large flock of Snow Geese. I’d seen reports of Snow Geese during the week, but I was under the impression that the birds had moved on. My estimate was approximately 4-5 thousand birds present. It wasn’t long after I found a nice pull off and grabbed my scope, that a model airplane flushed all the birds. It was quite a spectacle, of course, but I was disappointed to not have the opportunity to try and locate a Ross’s Goose among the flock.
I tried for gulls at the Newburgh Waterfront on Saturday evening, but unfortunately it was a dud and I only was able to locate the 3 expected species of gull.
On Sunday morning I went out to the black dirt to try and relocate the Snow Geese. I was only able to find a couple of smaller groups, but one of them was close enough for some decent photos. I received a report in the early afternoon of approximately 2,500 SNGOs, so it’s good to know at least some of the birds have stuck around.
Early Sunday afternoon Tricia and I went to Wickham Lake. There is now plenty of open water. It was an enjoyable visit, with plenty of birds to keep it interesting: Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, 2-300 Common Mergansers, an adult Bald Eagle, and a very noisy mixed flock of blackbirds which you could hear clear across the lake.
Yard Birds 2022: (28) Species. I added Fish Crow this week.