It’s the time of year when birds are heard more often than seen. It’s also the time of year, especially now that things are opening up on the tail end of the pandemic, when there are things going on that are not birding. I know, it’s true sometimes I do things other than work and bird, lol. Anyways, last weekend was a bust in spite of a full morning of birding the Port Jervis area on Saturday, hence no post. This weekend was only slightly better in terms of photos. I spent Saturday morning birding my NYSBBS priority block Warwick CE; I was able to confirm Cedar Waxwing and Common Grackle. The block now has 29 confirmed species; I have to thank Jarvis Shirky who has been birding the block often and has confirmed 10 species. Photo ops were few, thank goodness for the Bobolinks at Knapp’s View, otherwise this weekend would have been another photo bust.
This morning I woke up super early and took a road trip up to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. I was heading up in hopes of getting a shorebird fix and to meet up with my ex-wife Stephanie Bane who lives in the area and who volunteers at the refuge and birds it regularly. We had an excellent morning of birding, as you know Montezuma very rarely disappoints. Non shorebird highlights for me included the Purple Martins at the visitor’s center, a single Snow Goose on Wildlife Drive, and watching a Bald Eagle and a Northern Harrier tangle way up in the sky.
But, as hoped, it was the shorebirds that stole the show. Most of the birds were fairly distant, but we enjoyed excellent scope views of 10 species of shorebird:
- BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (25+)
- Semipalmated Plover (6)
- Killdeer (10)
- RUDDY TURNSTONE (7)
- Dunlin (35+)
- Least Sandpiper (15+)
- Semipalmataed Sandpiper (1)
- Short-billed Dowitcher (2)
- Greater Yellowlegs (2)
- Lesser Yellowlegs (3)
We were joking about how awesome it would be to see RUDDY TURNSTONES, and then moments later I was looking at 7 of them in the scope! The flock of Dunlin were beautiful to see and were putting on quite a show, making frequent flights from muddy island to muddy island. We had a handful of BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS on Wildlife Drive, but also were pleasantly surprised to find another 30 or so at the Potato Fields, our last stop of the morning. It was a tough morning for photos, with very few ops, but the good company and the shorebird fix more than made up for that.
I looked at this morning’s forecast last night and it made me cranky. I’m sitting at my desk working all week with beautiful sunshine out the window, then on the weekend it’s snow, rain, and clouds. But then I took a different perspective on it. The rain would keep most folks home… so with that in mind I went to Piermont Pier, a location I’ve been avoiding because I figure especially during the pandemic, it’s likely to be loaded with people. I mostly had the place to myself, and while the rain made birding a little bit difficult, it was a good morning.
The highlight of the morning was relocating the pair of PURPLE SANDPIPERS which have been reported this winter. I was surprised to find them, because I looked on eBird last night and they hadn’t been reported in a couple of weeks. My main goal for the morning was to see what waterfowl were present; I was disappointed by the number of species (only 8), but I counted an impressive 288 Ruddy Ducks present. That’s by far the most Ruddies I’ve ever seen in one place.
Afterwards, I birded the Hudson River, making my way all the way up to Newburgh. It wasn’t exciting, but it was enjoyable. My best bird was a Lesser Scaup at Plum Point, my first LESC in Orange County for the year.
Last night I decided that I wanted to change it up a little bit this weekend. And I wanted to go to the beach. So, I headed to Rye, New York early this morning to bird the Playland and the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary. The weather was my favorite – cold and mostly sunny. This location is a great place to bird, because you are guaranteed to get birds, especially waterfowl. It was a pleasant morning of birding were I had 21 species of waterfowl. Suffice to say you won’t see that in Orange County this time of year. Noteworthy species included Surf Scoter, Horned Grebe, Great Cormorant, Common Goldeneye, and Ruddy Duck. I finished the morning with 35 species on my list.
I headed back up to Sullivan County this morning to try once again for the Northern Shrike that has been seen near Liberty, NY. My second target species was Common Redpoll which have also been reported recently in the same area. I spent the morning traveling the area and scanning for birds, but unfortunately came up empty on both counts. I was enjoying being in the area; it was a beautiful winter morning (sort of) and I was just happy to be out, so flipped open my copy of A Birding Guide to Sullivan County NY and followed the directions over to the Beechwoods Area, which is between Hortonville and Jeffersonville.
The Beechwoods Area proved to be more productive. Although most were the usuals, there were enough birds around to make it interesting. I had many Black-capped Chickadees, they were definitely the bird of the day. I also had six Bald Eagle sitings – I’m not sure how many individual birds but there were at least two that I saw at the same time. The bird of the day, however, was a single COMMON REDPOLL on Buddenhagen Road. I spent loads of time with the bird as it was very accommodating, but the light wasn’t in my favor so I was working for photos. Some days you just pick the right thing to do – by that I mean it’s really what you’re in the mood for. Today was one of those days for me.
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.
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 rocketed out of work last night and took the long way home, winding slowly through Harriman State Park and eventually entering the area of Sterling Forest State Park. I made a quick stop Indian Kill Reservoir where I didn’t have anything out of the ordinary, but there was a young Bald Eagle trying to terrorize a small raft of Common Mergansers, but they seemed unfazed. From there, I headed to Wickham Lake to follow up on a tip that there were Lesser and Greater Scaup, as well as American Woodcock.
BREAKING NEWS: As I was typing this post, I received a call from John Haas; he let me know that Gail Benson and Tom Burke had located a EURASIAN WIGEON at the Bashakill main boat launch. I ran for the bird and it was still present. Distant, but still present (I tried for documentary photos without great success, see the bottom of this post). Many birders ran for the bird; it was strange to see a line of birders with scopes with approximately 6′ between them, practicing social distancing during this uncertain time of the Corona Virus.
Back to Friday evening. At Wickham Lake there was a decent sized raft of birds, consisting of mostly Ring-necked Ducks and approximately 20 scaup. I thought I had maybe 6 Greater and the rest Lesser, but I just couldn’t be sure so I reported them all as Lesser/Greater. The highlight of the night, however, was when the American Woodcocks started peenting and displaying. It was quite dark at this point, so photos were not an option, but I had several woodcocks land as close as 35 feet away, which was a fabulous look in my binoculars.
On Saturday morning, I headed to Sullivan County to try for the very early PECTORAL SANDPIPER at Fireman’s Park on Shore Road in White Sulphur Springs that was found by Renee Davis a few days earlier. I didn’t have any luck with the Pec, even with Renee stopping by and giving me the lay of the land. But, the morning was a good one. The marsh was active with plenty of birds and I was able to get some decent photos. The highlight for me was a nice looking Red-shouldered Hawk that made its way over the marsh. I also went to Swan Lake, where I had mostly the usuals plus 2 Lesser Scaup.
My final stop (before heading out again for the EURASIAN WIGEON), was at the duck blind at the Bashakill. John Haas texted me to let me know there was Pied-billed Grebe and Blue-winged Teal present. I immediately found one, and then two Pied-billed Grebes. John joined me, and eventually, after searching for a little while, we located first the drake, and then both the male and female when a Bald Eagle flushed all the ducks. Huge thanks to John for all the intel today, it makes a difference in a day of birding.
Ahh, I finally got out and did some Orange County birding after work tonight – thank goodness for Daylight Saving Time. It was just a brief stop at Glenmere Lake, with the usuals, but it’s a sign of the start of spring for me. I wasn’t able to fit in as much birding as I normally do for the past couple of weekends due to traveling to visit family. Last weekend I went to the Poconos to visit my sister Aileen and her husband Bill. We had a nice breakfast and I headed out before noon. That left the rest of the weekend to try for birds, but it was just one of those weekends and I didn’t have any luck at all.
Then, this past weekend Tricia and I headed up to Syracuse to meet up with her brother John, her sister Carolyn and Carolyn’s husband Bill. It was a work weekend, so I didn’t get out at all on Saturday, but I was able to get out for a few hours on Sunday. I headed to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. On the way, I called my ex-wife Stephanie Bane, who lives in the area and volunteers at the refuge, to see if she was free to meet me there. It had been several years since we’d seen each other, so birds or no, it would be good to catch up. We met at the visitor’s center, where we had several species of waterfowl (Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Canada Goose, and Mallard). Unfortunately Wildlife Drive was closed, so we headed over to East Road (Knox Marsellus Marsh; some folks call it the Mucklands too, I think). It was a good choice, we arrived to find what I estimate was 8,000 to 10,000 Snow Geese. It was certainly the most Snow Geese I’d ever seen at once. There were also plenty of Bald Eagles around; they kept flushing the geese which provided some good photo ops. I felt for the geese though – they didn’t barely get a moment of peace. At one point, two young Bald Eagles were just flying through a sea of Snow Geese, I swear they were just doing it because it was fun. I didn’t have much time to bird Montezuma, but we certainly made the best of it.
I had a pleasant, if uneventful weekend of birding. I spent time at the Hudson River, the Black Dirt, and in between, finding mostly the expected species. Highlights included the continuation of several thousand Snow Geese as well as three Rough-legged Hawks in the black dirt on Sunday. It’s been a slow winter for RLHAs, so that made me pretty happy. On Sunday afternoon I attended workshop on the 2020 New York State Breeding Bird Atlas, which I plan on participating in. I will write more about that in an upcoming post.