I was cruising through the Black Dirt Region this afternoon, really just sort of doing some half-hearted birding but mostly hoping for Lapland Longspurs, when I heard an Eastern Meadowlark call. I stopped the car and located one and then another meadowlark… only the second bird was not a meadowlark but an UPLAND SANDPIPER! I put the word out and I was eventually joined by Karen Miller, Maria Loukeris, Linda Scrima, and Bruce Nott, who all got good scope views of the bird. Meanwhile, the more I watched the bird, the less sure I was becoming of my initial ID, mostly because the bird was bobbing its tail often, a behavior that I didn’t know Upland Sandpipers exhibited. I spoke with Rob Stone and he found a video online showing bobbing behavior. When Karen got home, she referenced her National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, which read: “It often bobs the rear portion of its body…”. I’ve included a video of the bird at the bottom of this post. According to eBird bar charts, we are not likely to see UPSAs in Orange County until May, so this is really an early bird.
I headed out Saturday morning with my brother-in-law Bill, and for the first time ever, I was disappointed by Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. But only a little bit. The problem is that Easter was so early this year that it was the first time I’ve been to the refuge in March. And Wildlife Drive doesn’t open until April 1st. Here it was, probably the nicest day of the year in Seneca County, and arguably the best part of the refuge was closed. Which didn’t make a bit of sense to me, and you can ask Bill, I was not in good humor about it. So, we birded from the visitor’s center viewing platform and then the rest of the refuge and we ended up having a pretty darn good day. The number one highlight of the day was undoubtedly getting Bill’s lifer SANDHILL CRANES. Not only did we finally get lucky with them, we found them only about 30 yards off the road! We got incredible looks at these big, beautiful birds. We also had three rarities on the day, all early birds for Seneca County: LESSER YELLOWLEGS (2), GREATER YELLOWLEGS (6), and GLOSSY IBIS (2). Huge thanks to Mark Fitzsimmons (who I had met while going for the Barrow’s Goldeneye in Ulster County earlier in the month). Bill and I ran into him at the visitor’s center; he was birding the refuge with his daughter and they gave us the heads-up on both the GRYE and the GLIB. We ended up with 44 species on the day and I wonder how many more we might have added if we had gotten to bird Wildlife Drive.
On Easter Sunday I had no plans to do any birding. Tricia and I took a walk with Bill’s oldest daughter Mackenzie through the neighborhood with their two dogs. It was early afternoon, around 2:00, when as we followed the path through a wooded area I heard a BARRED OWL calling. I didn’t believe it at first. We backtracked a little bit and luckily, I was able to locate the bird pretty quickly. We called Bill and Tricia’s sister Caroline and they met us out there. They brought my camera for me so I was able to get some shots, and Bill, Carol, and Mackenzie got their lifer Barred Owl! It was actually a pretty good walk, because prior to that, I had already seen 2 adult Cooper’s Hawks, a young Bald Eagle, and a slew of songbirds.
I wanted to mention that I finally updated the Species Photos 2016 page last week; I’ve increased the number of species photos from 34 to 62. And after posting this, I will increase it by two more when I add the Sandhill Cranes and the Northern Pintail photos. And lastly, I reached a modest milestone this weekend, getting my 100th subscriber to the blog; that made me happy for sure.
I received a text from Karen Miller while I was at work today; she and Bruce Nott had relocated two RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS (one adult and one juvenile) at Fancher Davidge Park in Middletown, New York. The birds were originally located by Gef Chumard, who birds the park on a regular basis. I talked to Karen on my way home and she provided details, which helped me find the park and the spot pretty easily. I parked and headed down the Nature Observation Trail, which leads to a rather large and beautiful swamp. I was there for about twenty minutes, I hadn’t had any luck, when Gef showed up. He showed me a tree where he had seen one of the birds on a couple of occasions, and while we were talking I located the juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker on a distant dead tree. Gef had someplace to be, so he left me to it. I eventually located the adult as well, and managed to get some ID photos of both birds. It was great fun to bird in a new spot, and the place was loaded with birds (I had 29 species for the afternoon).
Huge thanks to Karen for the heads up, and congratulations to Gef on a great find!
QUICK POST: Late Saturday afternoon and into the evening, I enjoyed photographing these gorgeous falcons alongside Kyle Dudgeon, Linda Scrima, and Maria Loukeris. Clear skies provided nice light, which allowed for much better photo opportunities than last weekend. It is challenging and super exciting to photograph these birds; it’s really incredible to see how fast they fly and of course very interesting to watch their behavior. The birds continue to mate, and they share their meals (we’ve seen both the male and female come back after successfully hunting, eat half of the prey and then pass the remainder off to their partner).
Kyle Dudgeon and I got an early start and spent the morning and early afternoon birding at the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area. I was sort of stumped on where to bird for the day, and when Kyle suggested the Bash, I jumped at the opportunity – it had been ages since I’d been there. We had a really fun and productive outing as we checked out several of the Bashakill’s hotspots. Our best stop of the morning was definitely the Nature Trail, where from the viewing platform saw the two adult Bald Eagles share a brief flight and then watched a single Red-shouldered Hawk flyover. It got really good on our walk back to the car when we had a nice flurry of activity that included several Purple Finches and at least five Fox Sparrows! Photos were backlit and tough, but it was really exciting to see both species.
Another good stop was at the Deli Fields. The birding was a little slow (although we did see an additional 3 Fox Sparrows), but we ran into Scotty Baldinger, who I hadn’t seen in a while. I introduce him to Kyle and it was really good to shoot the breeze and catch up with Scotty.
It was a great day, it was awesome to get back out to the Bash, and we ended the day with a total of 37 species. I’ve included our species list below.
American Black Duck
QUICK POST: Huge thanks to Bruce Nott who texted me to let me know he had located a BONAPARTE’S GULL at Wickham Lake earlier today while I was at work. I ran for the bird after I got out and luckily it was still around, floating in the distance among a large group of Ring-billed Gulls.
I met up with Kyle Dudgeon this morning to try to photograph Peregrine Falcons. The lighting was tough, so with the exception of a few photos such as the one at the top of this post, we ended up having more success shooting video with the iPhone through my spotting scope. We ended up with what I think is some remarkable footage; I’ve included three short clips in this post. The first one shows the birds mating, which was incredible to see live and Kyle and I were flipping out:
The male left the area for a short while, successfully hunted, and then came back with prey. In this video he eats a portion of the prey and then takes off to share the remainder with the female:
and finally, here is a very short clip of the female finishing up preening and taking flight, flying out of view and then cutting right in front of the scope again.
After some uneventful early morning local birding, I drove up to Glasco, New York in Ulster Count to meet up with Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris. We were going for the BARROW’S GOLDENEYE which had been reported at Glasco Mini Park in recent days. We located the bird fairly quickly far out in the Hudson River; it was keeping company with several Common Goldeneyes and a single scaup, which I’m pretty sure was a Greater Scaup. The birds were really quite distant, and additionally it was tough to get good looks because the water was quite choppy and the birds were diving regularly. But, we were patient and eventually we all got good looks in the scope and even managed to take some documentary photos, which was no small feat. One of us would look in the scope and call out when and where the Barrow’s surfaced while the others clicked away, hoping for the best. In spite of the distance and maybe because of the challenge of trying to get good looks, I really enjoyed going for this bird. The Barrow’s Goldeneye was life bird number 345 for me and my 259th New York State bird.
Linda and Maria continued north to do some Adirondack birding and I headed over to the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge to meet up with Kyle Dudgeon to try our luck with Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls. Unfortunately, it was a slow afternoon and the then the owls got up on the late side so we did not do very well with photos at all. Still, it was nice just to be out, especially for Kyle who has been away at school since January.
One of my first stops this morning was certainly the best of the day. I stopped to check out a group of approximately 500 Canada Geese located on Pierce Circle. I was not optimistic that I would find anything good among the Canadas, first of all because there were not very many birds, and second because the birds were close enough to sort through with binoculars (no scope needed!). I perked up when I located one, then two, then four GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE! Then another – make it five! I put the word out, continued looking and found a sixth GWFG. Maria Loukeris must have been in the area because she joined me pretty quickly. Shortly after her arrival, I located the SEVENTH GWFG! Scanning left to right, a group of four, then a pair, and then a single Greater White-fronted Goose sitting in the field on its own. Also present was a single Cackling Goose, close enough for some decent, if backlit photos. It was very exciting, and I particularly enjoyed when the group of four flew into the next field calling the whole time. After a few minutes, they rejoined the flock. It was hard to tear myself away from such great birds, but eventually I did.
I spent the rest of my morning and early afternoon in southern Orange County, but I did not have any additional notable sightings. I will mention that there is a huge group of Common Mergansers at Wickham Lake – I estimate 900 birds. The forecast for the afternoon and evening was clear skies, so I decided to try my luck at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR…
…and I got lucky! The Short-eared Owls got up early (around 5:00), the light was fantastic, and the birds flew close enough for some decent photos. I’ve said it many times before, but you cannot beat photographing SEOWs from the photo blinds out at the Grasslands. I got there early and waited a good while with very few birds. There were several Northern Harriers foraging the throughout the reserve and once in a while they would get close enough for photos, but there were large chunks of time with no birds at all. It was all totally worth it, of course, when the owls got up and put on their show. I counted a total of 5 Short-eared Owls, 7 Northern Harriers, and 2 Red-tailed Hawks. And I also saw my first Eastern Meadowlarks of the year. What a great day of birding!
Third time’s a charm. This afternoon I went for the BULLOCK’S ORIOLE that has been visiting a homeowner’s feeder in Ulster County, and after two unsuccessful previous attempts, I finally got to see the bird. I was joined by a Connecticut birder and we were able to locate the bird in a nearby tree relatively quickly. It fed on the far side of the suet feeder for a short time and then flew into a large evergreen where I lost track of the bird. Moments later, a Sharp-shinned Hawk shot through the yard and scattered all the birds. The Connecticut birder moved on; I stayed and the oriole returned one more time to the yard, perched for a few moments in a tree, fed very briefly and flew off. I was happy that I stayed because I was able to get a couple decent shots when the bird perched in the tree. The bird was not as large as I was for some reason thinking it would be, and the yard is mostly in shade so the bird also did not stand out as much I would have thought. It was and my 345th life bird and my 258th bird in New York State.
The homeowner welcomes birders to come try for the bird – email me for the address if you want to go for it (it has been published before, but I feel strange putting the address here). Please ring the doorbell and ask for permission and he will tell you where to best view the feeders.