2014 – Year in Review

It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone! I know I say it every year, but the older I get, the faster the years go by. I’ve decided to start 2015 with a new look for the blog; I am curious about what folks think of the new layout, so please comment if you have any thoughts about it. It was another great year of birding for me, and I really enjoyed doing the blog. Here’s a snapshot of the year 2014 here at Orangebirding.


Here are my species totals for the year, with the last two year’s totals for comparison:

Area                                        2014                     2013                 2012

World:                                        244                         240                    199

United States:                           244                         240                    171

New York State:                        209                         211                      167

New Jersey State:                     130                          107                     85

ORANGE COUNTY:                   186                         176                     126

Sullivan County:                         114                          133                     112

Looking at the numbers, I did not have as good a year as I might have thought. I only increased my total birds for the year by 4, and my New York State and Sullivan County totals were both actually down. Orange County, however, went up by 11.  Without really realizing it, I certainly increased the importance of birding in my home county this year.

I started 2014 with 284 life birds and ended the year with 315, that’s 31 new life birds added! This is a lot  of new birds, but it is, of course, down from last year when I add 69 life birds to my list. I think there are a couple of reasons for this; last year we travelled to Colorado where many of the birds that I saw were lifers – I picked up 22 life birds in a week and a half. This year we spent two weeks in Maine, which is not quite as far from home, and I only added 6 life birds to my list. The second reason is where I am in my birding; life birds, especially found locally, will become increasingly difficult to see.

I also thought it would be interesting to look at the number of posts I did in the last year – this is my 153rd post of the year. This is up from the 117 posts I made last year. And finally, for what it’s worth, according to Google Analytics the blog had 10,740 visits by 3,925 individuals.


For the past two years I have included my favorite photo of the year in my end of year post. This year I did not feel like I had a single shot that stood out, so I have decided to go with a top five:

Forster’s Tern at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge 6/16/14. I love the pastel colors of this shot and also that I got lucky with the catchlight in the bird’s eye.
Blackburnian Warbler at Pochuck Mountain State Forest, 5/11/14. Pretty colors in this one, and the bird is super crisp.
One of my favorite birds to photograph, a male Northern Harrier on Mission Land Road, 1/12/14. I got very lucky with this shot, I was driving on Mission Land and this “Gray Ghost” just flew right alongside my car.
A flock of mixed blackbirds on Onion Avenue in New Hampton, NY, 3/14/14. I got lucky with the light on this one – right place right time. If you can view this one full screen, it makes a difference.
Laughing Gull photographed from back of the Ferry from Lewes DE to Cape May NJ, 6/15/14. I just like this one and I got a terrific reaction when I posted it as well.


Barn Owl in flight, Orange County NY, February 2014.

I’ve always put Barn Owl in the category of “Birds I never thought I would photograph”, particularly in Orange County NY. Seeing this bird in the wild and so close to home was amazing; getting some decent photos was the icing on the cake.


A pair of Atlantic Puffins
A pair of Atlantic Puffins, Eastern Egg Rock Island ME, 8/4/14.

Tricia and I did not get the best conditions for the two puffin boating excursions we took while we were in Maine; the fog was very thick at both locations. It did not deter us, we got some great birds, including 5 life birds for me: Northern Fulmar (LB), Great Shearwater (LB), Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Northern Gannet, Red Phalarope, Roseate Tern (LB), Arctic Tern (LB), Common Murre, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Parasitic Jaeger (LB), and Atlantic Puffin. Additionally, I still managed to get some decent photos in spite of the heavy fog.

We also had many Great Shearwaters. Whale Watching Tour off of Bar Harbor ME, 8/1/14.
Great Shearwaters on Whale Watching Tour off of Bar Harbor ME, 8/1/14.


A Glossy Ibis picks through the small pond south of the Heritage Trail at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 8/20/14.
A Glossy Ibis picks through the small pond south of the Heritage Trail at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 8/20/14.

6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary is the birding spot closest to my home in Goshen, but that is not why I went there so frequently this year. The reason is, that the birding was flat out good. I saw a tremendous variety of the expected species and a few less expected birds as well, including Virginia Rail, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Stilt Sandpiper, and Glossy Ibis. In all I had 92 species at the sanctuary this year; this includes birds located at what I refer to as the Citgo Trail, which is the trail that leads to the smaller pond south of the Heritage Trail.

This Yellow-billed Cuckoo made my morning. 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 9/21/14.
One of my favorites, a  Yellow-billed Cuckoo at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary on 9/21/14.


I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the birders in our area; they are such good company and always helpful and generous with their knowledge. I hope as I learn and progress that I can do the same for others. Special thanks to Rob Stone, John Haas, Judy Cinquina, Karen Miller, Linda Scrima, and Maria Loukeris for all their help and good company this year. Happy New Year to everyone out there – may your 2015 be filled with all the birds you can wish for, from Black-capped Chickadees to Pink-footed Geese.

Orange County Iceland Gull, 12/29/14

Iceland Gull with Herring Gulls, Newburgh Waterfront, 12/29/14.
Iceland Gull with Herring Gulls, Newburgh Waterfront, 12/29/14.

I decided to head up to Newburgh, NY after work tonight to look for gulls. Ken McDermott had reported an Iceland Gull there a week or so ago, so I figured I would try my luck. I tried first from where the ferry goes out. I located a distant floating “white winged gull” almost immediately, but soon lost the bird among all the other gulls while trying to switch between scope and camera. Luckily, I was able to get the above shot from that location.  The gulls were also floating steadily north on the Hudson River and out of my view. I jumped in my car and moved to the parking lot near what used to be Torches Restaurant. I relocated the bird from that position, but it was getting dark and the bird was even further out. I gave Ken McDermott a call and he walked me through the ID: a white winged gull that is smaller than a Herring Gull but larger than a Ring-billed. The nearly all black bill indicates that this is likely a first winter bird. Thanks Ken for your help, it is greatly appreciated!

This Iceland Gull was probably my favorite bird of the day. I think it is a very elegant looking gull. The New Jersey Crew was having a discussion about this bird, wondering if it could possibly be a hybrid. The reason for this was that it was very close in size to the Herring Gulls it was found with. According to The Crossley ID Guide, the Iceland is 22" as compared to the Herring Gull at 25". The Iceland Gull was certainly smaller, just not noticeably.
Here’s a better look at an Iceland Gull. I photographed this bird in January of this year at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park in New Jersey. 

Orange County Cackling Goose 12/28/14

Cackling Goose with Canada Geese at the Camel Farm in Orange County NY, 12/28/14.
Cackling Goose with Canada Geese at the Camel Farm in Orange County NY, 12/28/14.

I made the rounds in southern Orange County on this gray, drizzly, Sunday morning. I was a little cranky due to the poor weather and not sleeping well, so I was pretty happy to find a single Cackling Goose among approximately 500 Canada Geese at the Camel Farm in Orange County, NY. I put the word out, and luckily both Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris were close by and ran for the bird. It was a lifer for both of them, so that was exciting. Another highlight was 8 Snow Buntings in with a large flock of Horned Larks in the Black Dirt Region. Aside from that, I had 34 species for the morning, all birds you would expect to see.

American Tree Sparrow off of Onion Avenue, 12/28/14. 
A female Common Merganser in the Wallkill River in Pine Island, NY. It was funny because, although not in this photo, the merganser was hanging out with a Wood Duck. They were the only birds that I saw in this location and they were never more than a few yards from one another. 

I was eating my lunch, contemplating my next move, when I I received a text from Maria -She had located a Barred Owl in Vernon NJ! I hustled down and got super looks at the bird and some photos too (in spite of large number of branches in the way). I have no idea how she located this bird, the pics don’t do justice to how well it was hidden. Huge thanks to Maria for the heads up.

It's always awesome to see a Barred Owl. Appalachian Trail in Vernon NJ, 12/28/14.
Awesome bird –  Barred Owl. Appalachian Trail in Vernon NJ, 12/28/14.


Point Lookout Town Park, 12/20/14

A nice close look at a drake Harlequin Duck, Point Lookout Town Park, 12/20/14.

It was a crazy week at work which left me without much time for birding. On Saturday, however, things worked out pretty well for me. My sister was having a Christmas party at her place on Long Island, and also had to deliver a stained glass window to a residence in, of all places, Point Lookout NY. After making my delivery, Tricia and I stopped by Point Lookout Town Park for a brief visit before the party. Thanks to John Haas and Tom Reichert, both of which helped me out with the lay of the land. I did pretty well for a relatively quick stop, seeing 10 different species of swimming waterbirds:

Canada Goose
Common Eider
Harlequin Duck
Long-tailed Duck
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Horned Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant

It was a less than ideal day for photos, very gray and overcast, but many of the birds were quite accessible so that helped. I will be back on the island for Christmas, I am hoping to maybe sneak out to Point Lookout again if the weather is better. I highly recommend this spot – you can get great looks at some super birds.

Common Eiders at the end of the first jetty. Point Lookout Town Park, 12/20/14.
This was certainly one of my best looks at a Red-throated Loon. Point Lookout Town Park, 12/20/14.
A Sanderling works the shoreline. Point Lookout Town Park, 12/20/14.
Female Harlequin Duck, Point Lookout Town Park, 12/20/14.
One of two male Harlequin Ducks located near the third jetty at Point Lookout Town Park, 12/20/14.
Red-breasted Merganser fly-by, Point Lookout Town Park, 12/20/14.


-BARNACLE GOOSE in Ramsey NJ, Mirror Lake Area, 12/17/14.
-BARNACLE GOOSE in Ramsey NJ, Mirror Lake Area, 12/17/14.

I got out of work a little bit late this afternoon, but I still had time to try for the BARNACLE GOOSE which had been reported in Ramsey, New Jersey on eBird. I tried for the bird yesterday without any luck, but today it worked out great. I got my lifer BAGO and it did not disappoint – what a super bird! I was able to get very good looks and my photos, while quite grainy due to the low light, still made me very happy. The Barnacle Goose has been sort of a nemesis bird for me. There have been a few Barnacle Geese that have been reported in the NY/NJ area in the past several years. There was one in Orange County back in 2012 that eluded me as did the one in the Bronx last year (which I only tried for one time). There was a Barnacle Goose reported at this same location last year and I tried for it several times but struck out each time. So, it was VERY satisfying to finally see this bird. If you are planning to go for this bird, please contact me and I will give you details.

– Another look at the BARNACLE GOOSE in Bergen County today, 12/17/14.

Sunday 12/14/14

-Short-eared Owl hunting at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/14/14.

So, as I mentioned in my post yesterday, I had a full day of birding in before the Short-eared Owl extravaganza at the Shawangunk Grasslands. In the morning I did a tour of the Black Dirt Region, mostly hoping to find a Snowy Owl or perhaps an interesting goose. I failed to locate either, but instead had an interesting morning with a good number of passerines at various locations. I had nearly 30 species in the black dirt, and for me the hightlight was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker which was seen on Onion Avenue in Goshen.

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker climbs the trunk of a tree, Black Dirt Region, Orange County NY 12/14/14.


I haven’t posted a shot of a goldfinch in a while. Black dirt, 12/14/14.

Canada Goose
Great Blue Heron
Black Vulture
Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
American Goldfinch

-Ring-billed Gull, head on. Newburgh Waterfront, 12/14/14.


In the early afternoon I headed over the Newburgh Waterfront to try and pick up a couple of county birds that I needed – with the end of the year looming, I am trying to maximize my Orange County species list. I was looking for a Great Black-backed Gull and a Great Cormorant (both of which Bruce Nott had reported being there earlier in the week), and I was successful on both counts:

Great Cormorant at the Newburgh Waterfront, 12/14/14.
A Great Black-backed Gull flies over the Hudson River, Newburgh Waterfront 12/14/14.

After Newburgh, I headed over to the Shawangunk Grasslands as I wrote about in yesterday’s post. I stopped at Blue Chip Farms long enough to get this shot of a European Starling:

I’m still trying for a good European Starling photo. Blue Chip Farms, 12/14/14.

And finally, here are a few more shots of the Short-eared Owls at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, all on 12/14/14:

A Short-eared Owl and a Northern Harrier tangle, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/14/14.
I believe this SEOW was trying to make itself seem bigger (and meaner!) because it was being buzzed repeatedly by a Northern Harrier. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/14/14.
Head on Short-eared Owl, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 13/14/14.


Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/14/14

I like the little tilt of the head of the bird in this photo. Short-eared Owl at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/14/14.

I had a full day of birding today, but the best was saved for last. Huge thanks to PJ Singh who texted me to let me know that there was a single Short-eared Owl up early at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR. I was over in Newburgh picking up a couple of birds I needed for the county (Great Black-backed Gull and Great Cormorant), and I was not going to go to the grasslands. It had been gray and cloudy all day which would not make for good photos, and the owls had not been up early yet this year as far as I knew. I decided to head over to check it out and boy am I glad I did. Sun came out and the so did the SEOWs, right before 3:30. I was lucky enough to get into the south blind and that’s where the birds seemed to spend most of their time tonight. PJ joined me in the blind shortly after the owls got up and wow did they put on a show! I approximate at least 10 Short-eared Owls were there, but it is tough to get a good count while photographing. What an exciting afternoon!

Short-eared Owl in flight at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/14/14. 
This is my favorite shot of the day, I love how both the bird and the grasses are well lit on a dark background. SEOW at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/14/14.
SEOW at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/14/14. 
This stick was a favorite perch of the Short-eared Owls, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 12/14/14.
This shot was taken as the sun started to get lower, SEOW at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/14/14. 
Ralph put this perch in the perfect position, directly in front of the blind, and the owls love it. Perched Short-eared Owl at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/14/14.

Cackling Goose 12/13/14

Cackling Goose among Canada Geese. Blue Chip Farm, Ulster County NY, 12/13/14/.
Cackling Goose among Canada Geese. This bird was quite distant and this photo has been heavily cropped. Blue Chip Farm, Ulster County NY, 12/13/14/.

This afternoon I was sifting through a flock of Canada Geese at Blue Chip Farms in Ulster County and I observed the above bird, which I believe is a Cackling Goose. The bird was a shade paler than the surrounding Canada Geese, with a small stubby bill, and a shorter neck. I am having a little hesitation in positively identifying this bird because although the bird was smaller than the Canada Geese, it did not appear to be as small as some Cackling Geese that I have seen in the past. According to the Crossley Guide, “Most look small and cute compared to Canada Geese, but this is not always the case”. I believe that this bird falls into the latter category. If anyone has thoughts about this bird, please comment.

I did some other running around today, particularly looking for the Snow Geese that I’d seen fly over last night. I didn’t have any luck with them, but I did get some photos along the way:

Red-tailed Hawk in Goshen NY, 12/13/14.
Red-tailed Hawk in Goshen NY, 12/13/14.
Horned Larks in the black dirt. There was a single Snow Bunting with these birds but I was unable to get a photo. 12/13/14.

I spent the afternoon and evening at the Shawangunk Grasslands, which were a little quieter than last weekend. I still had several Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harriers. When I left at 4:30 the Short-eared Owls were still not up. Here’s one shot I got of a young harrier:

Northern Harrier in flight. This was taking as I walked the trail rather than when I was in the blind. I was a little unlucky today, while I was in the blind I did not have any birds come close by. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/13/14.
Northern Harrier in flight. This was taking as I walked the trail rather than when I was in the blind. I was a little unlucky today, while I was in the blind I did not have any birds come close by. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/13/14.

And one more shot of the Cackling Goose:


Snow Geese!

A large skein of Snow Geese flies over the Black Dirt Region, Orange County NY, 12/12/14.
Snow Geese flyover in the Black Dirt Region tonight, 12/12/14.

QUICK POST:  Rob Stone and I had two large groups of Snow Geese fly over the black dirt this evening just around sunset. I approximate the number of birds somewhere in the neighborhood of 700. Given the height that the birds were flying and the time of day, I am hoping that they put down somewhere in the area. I will certainly be out tomorrow morning to check it out…stay tuned.

UPDATE: No luck this morning relocating the Snow Geese. I was at the Camel Farm just after 8 and then I made the rounds without success.

Um hmmm they ARE Snow Geese! Terrible pic of super birds. Black Dirt Region 12/12/14.
Um hmmm they ARE Snow Geese! Terrible pic of super birds. Black Dirt Region 12/12/14.

Raptor’s Delight

A backlit light morph Rough-legged Hawk at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, 12/7/14.
A backlit light morph Rough-legged Hawk at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, 12/7/14.

**NOTE: I finally figured out how to get email subscriptions to the blog. If you are interested, please look at the top of the side bar on the right to subscribe. Please note that you have to respond to the confirmation sent to your email address.**

One thing I knew I wanted to do this weekend was to try to get out to the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR. When Ken McDermott let me know on Friday evening that he had a Northern Shrike there that day, I knew for sure that’s where I was headed. Saturday was, unfortunately, a wash. Steady rains all day made for poor birding, though it was not for lack of trying. I went to the grasslands early in the day where I met up with John Haas and Ralph Tabor and we had no luck with the shrike. Sunday was a different story; it was a beautiful, sunny, cold, and crisp day which was very refreshing. No luck again with the Northern Shrike, but I did REALLY well with raptors. I spent a few hours in the morning in the new blind that Ralph placed pretty far into the eastern most portion of the refuge. The blind is well placed with several nearby trees for the birds to perch on, and it is in an area where the Rough-legged Hawks seem to spend a lot of time. By the time I headed back to my car in the early afternoon, I had put together what I consider a pretty good list of raptors:

Black Vulture (3)
Turkey Vulture (4)
Bald Eagle (2 adults)
Northern Harrier (4)
Red-tailed Hawk (5)
Rough-legged Hawk (5 – at least!)
American Kestrel (1)
Peregrine Falcon (1)

And, being in a blind, I had some very good opportunities for photos:

This male American Kestrel could be seen working the grasslands all morning long, and then luckily stopped to perch in the tree right in front of the blind. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.
American Kestrel in flight, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.
xDark morph Rough-legged Hawk in flight over the blind at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.
This is the same bird pictured above, as it came in to perch. RLHA at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.
VERY distant shot of a Pergrine Falcon that seemed to just pass through. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.

In the parking lot of the refuge I ran into PJ Singh who decided to join me in looking for some waterfowl. At our first stop, Lippincott Road in Wallkill, we saw a half dozen Common Mergansers, but that’s it. We did much better at our second stop, Chadwick Lake. The highlight for me was five Common Goldeneyes, and we also had: Ruddy Duck (9), Ring-necked Duck (35), Hooded Merganser (6), Common Loon (1), and a single Mute Swan.

Ruddy Duck at Chadwick Lake, 12/7/14. This is one of the few that were not tucked in.
xThree of five Common Goldeneye at Chadwick Lake, 12/7/14.

Since it was such a gorgeous afternoon, I returned to the grasslands in the afternoon to try for photos of the Short-eared Owls. The light was a good as it could be, but unfortunately the owls did not cooperate and did not get up until after dark. It was tough to see, but when they did come up I counted at least three. I sat in the north blind until it was too dark for photos and did alright with Northern Harriers:

The harriers seem to be eating well at the grasslands. Many of the birds I photographed had full crops like this bird. Northern Harrier at Shawangunk Grasslands, 12/7/14.
NOHA at the grasslands, 12/7/14.
Here’s another bird with a pretty full crop. Northern Harrier hunting at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.
And finally, the deer are plentiful at the refuge.