Today was another relatively slow day for me at Mt. Peter. I recently wrote that I have been snake bit this season, but in retrospect, I’m not sure that’s true. Instead, I think that the crazy warm temperatures have really affected the counts this year, particularly in October (which has felt more like August). We have had fewer “good” days this October. Last year, we had 10 days with over 50 migrating raptors; this year we have had only 6. We have also had more “bad” days this year, with less than 25 birds on 13 days! Last year, by comparison, had only 8 days in October with less than 25 birds.
I was hoping for the best, but I was not overly optimistic coming into today. The continuing warm temperatures and a south wind were not a promising combination. I totaled 24 migrating raptors (see report below), which was just enough to keep me from going bonkers. An added bonus was that the majority of the migrating birds today flew over very low. This allowed for some really great looks and some photo ops too. I had additional photo ops when one of the local Red-tailed Hawks finally decided to spend some time near the viewing platform. And, I’m always hoping for something a little different to fly over the mountain, and today I was not disappointed – I had 3 skeins of BRANT fly over! I really should have gotten a good Brant photo, but I was a little slow on the draw. The Brant made my day, as they were my 216th species in Orange County this year.
So, I’ve been at my new job for just over two months and up until today, I hadn’t done any birding in the area, choosing to hustle home and bird in Orange County instead. Well, the days have finally gotten short enough that it’s really tough for me to do any birding in OC, so today, for the first time, I decided to bird near my work in Garnerville, NY.
My original plan was to go to Stony Point Park, which is only 10 minutes from my work and, on the map, it looked perfect to bird the Hudson River since the park is located on a peninsula that juts out into the river. My plan was foiled when I arrived at the park to find out that it closes daily at 5:00 pm! I was ripping mad about it, but I took a look at the map on my phone and picked a second nearby location, dropping a pin on a spot that looked like I might get a look at the river. When I arrived at the location, to my surprise, it was a park! It was the Town of Stony Point’s River Front Park to be more precise, and what a find! It’s actually closer to my work and the location is just super. I’ve included a map below, you can see Stony Point Park just to the north, and that River Front Park actually sticks out further into the river than Stony Point SP.
It was a perfect night for birding on the Hudson, and just how I would want it to be: cold and windy, with super dark clouds and patches of beautiful bright gold sunlight peeking through periodically. It was a simultaneously creepy and beautiful night. I set up and began to scope the river; I was happy to see many gulls. I had Ring-billed (many), Herring (3), and Great Black-backed (2) gulls tonight and I’m hoping that I have more gulls to look forward to this winter. Waterfowl were less accommodating tonight; I had only Double-crested Cormorants (12). As I left the park, I could see that there is plenty of other good birding possibilities in this little area, so that was exciting to me; I have something to look forward to.
My weekend of birding started early on Saturday morning. Following up on a tip from Rob Stone, I headed out to Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Marsh. When I arrived, birding bud Linda Scrima was already there, viewing the main part of the marsh from the viewing platform. We walked out to view the pond north of Oil City Road, where a beautiful sight awaited us – 36 PECTORAL SANDPIPERS were huddled together in beautiful morning light. We took photos and scanned for more shorebirds. A single bird flew in and joined the Pecs – it was a WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER! Further scanning revealed two distant Wilson’s Snipe and another distant bird that I identified in the field as a Semipalmated Sandpiper, but in retrospect, with the bird being so far out, it is maybe best left unidentified. I had to get up to Mount Peter for hawkwatch, so we headed back to the parking lot. We took one last look at the pond in front of the platform and found yet more shorebirds – 7 Greater Yellowlegs and nearly a dozen Lesser Yellowlegs! What a great morning for shorebirds in OC!
Hawkwatch was once again a bust for me – so far, I am snake bitten this season for sure. I even had the big guns up to help me (Judy Cinquina and Denis Ferrell, fellow Mt. Pete counters), but it didn’t matter, the birds were not flying on this day. Jeff and Elizabeth Zahn visited and turned their (and mine) hawkwatch luck around. We had 12 of my 19 birds in the hour or so while they were there, including a pair of beautiful adult Red-shouldered Hawks that flew directly over the platform. The biggest news during hawkwatch had nothing to do with hawks at all – Maria Loukeris had located and photographed a SAY’S PHOEBE out at Liberty Marsh! She could barely believe it and she sent out photos to confirm the ID. Once confirmed, several folks went out for the bird but it was not relocated. I had plans directly after hawkwatch, so my search for the Says would have to wait until Sunday morning…
So, Sunday morning I went to Liberty Marsh to try for the the Say’s Phoebe. This time when I arrived, Scotty Baldinger was at the viewing platform. It was great to see Scotty (it always is!) and, in spite of not relocating the SAPH, we had a fabulous morning of birding. Sparrows were abundant and we had 5 species: Savannah, Song, White-throated, Swamp, and my FOS WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS. Other highlights included a flock of over 40 American Pipits flying over our heads and landing in a field. Initially it did not look like we would do any good for shorebirds, but on our way back I spotted a flock in flight. There was an adult Peregrine Falcon in the area, we had just seen it earlier, and I’m guessing it was keeping them on their toes. The birds eventually put down in the pond north of Oil City Road – it was the same flock of Pectoral Sandpipers with the White-rumped Sandpiper. The flock was jumpy and took laps around the pond, allowing for some decent photo ops. They eventually left that pond and put down in the marsh south of Oil City Road; we were unable to relocate them. One last look from the viewing platform got us one Greater Yellowlegs and 3 Lessers. Scotty and I parted ways; I hit a couple other spots before heading home, but they were not as productive. What an excellent weekend of birding! I feel like I need it.
If you had a chance to be out this evening, you know it was a gorgeous night, cool and breezy with an amazing sunset. The only thing that could make it better is a beautiful bird, and the Rusty Blackbird is the kind of bird that can just make your day with their distinctive call and fabulous coloring. I ran into several of these beauties this evening at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary and I’m still smiling about it.
Mount Peter was fogged in this morning, so I took the opportunity to bird a couple of nearby spots before the fog cleared out. My first stop was Cascade Lake, which was very birdy. The most numerous bird was definitely Ruby-crowned Kinglet; I had over a dozen easily. Among the kinglets I had a couple of warblers. One was a Black-throated Green, but the other I haven’t been able to ID. I’ve posted a couple of shots of the bird – if any one has any ideas, please comment. I was surprised to also do well with raptors while there; I had an Osprey, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, and a Cooper’s Hawk.
Next, I went to Wickham Lake, where Yellow-rumped Warblers were the bird of the day; they were seemingly everywhere. Other birds of note included a Pied-billed Grebe and my FOS Ruddy Ducks and Gadwall.
I headed back up to Mt. Pete just before noon. By 12:15 the fog was thinking about clearing out and I began the day’s hawkwatch. I had 7 migrating raptors in the first 45 minutes, which had me thinking it might be a good flight. Alas, it was not to be and I had only 2 additional migrating hawks in the next 4 hours! This has not been my year for hawkwatching so far, but I’m hoping that changes starting next Saturday.
We all know how crazy the weather has been this fall; it’s the summer that wouldn’t end. That being said, I was not very optimistic going into Saturday’s hawkwatch, with the warm temperatures and south/southeast winds on tap. It was a slow start, and I didn’t get all that many migrating raptors (31), but I had excellent variety with a total of 8 different migrating species. It made me think about when I first started going hawk watching at Hawk Mountain many years ago. I usually chose early to mid October because it offered the best variety of birds – I had looked at previous years data on their website to figure it out. Jeff Zahn visited early and missed out on most of the birds. Kent Warner showed up a little later and things started to heat up and we got some Sharp-shinned Hawks. But, it was when Sylvia Kleff and Robert Montgomery showed up that things got good. They really brought the birds with them, and together we saw 7 of the 8 migrating species in a little over an hour’s time (Sylvia and Robert – the Bald Eagle came through only 10 minutes after you left!). See my report at the bottom of this post. It was a pretty decent day of hawkwatching, all things considered.
I received a text from Linda Scrima while I was at work today – she had located a NELSON’S SPARROW at the Liberty Loop! After work I headed straight to the loop. This is only the second record of a NESP in Orange County, and as I was driving, I was hoping that I would have better luck than I did with the first one: It was mid-October in 2013, and Rob Stone had located one at the Citgo Pond; I went for that bird several times and never got it.
When I arrived at the loop, Linda was there with Karen Miller and Lance Verderame. They had just seen the bird but it was back down in the grasses. Almost immediately it took a short flight, but I did not pick up any field marks. I waited it out and eventually the bird perched up right in front of us for maybe 10 seconds – enough time for me to get a good look, but certainly not enough time for a photo. I was so excited! I didn’t let myself think that I would actually get the bird this time around, so I was pretty happy. I’m hoping the bird sticks around, I would love to get better looks and maybe some photos. too. Huge thanks to Linda, who just keeps finding great birds in the county.
I feel like I’m sort of in a birding slump these days – things have just been slow and it feels like ages since I’ve taken a decent photograph. Saturday’s hawkwatch at Mt. Peter was more of the same; I had a total of only 21 migrating raptors for the day. That being said, the weather was excellent (it actually felt like fall!), and I had a pleasant day on the mountain. Most of my highlights are not raptor related: I had my best bird of the day before I even unpacked my gear – a Blackpoll Warbler in the evergreen right next to the platform. Throughout the day, I had 24 skeins of Canada Geese fly over, with a total of over 1000 geese, which was exciting to me. I’m looking forward to sifting through some geese this winter. As far as raptors go, I had 4 Osprey pass over in an hour’s time and my first migrating Peregrine Falcon of the year. Here’s my report with the season totals:
Odds and Ends:
I’ve been checking on the shorebirds at Citgo Pond regularly, but unfortunately I’ve been finding pretty much the same birds all week. I did have my first Bald Eagle there in a while on Thursday. On Wednesday I tried for shorebirds in the black dirt, but ended up finding more falconers than shorebirds.
Fall warblers have pretty much been a bust for me this year, but I did manage to get a few this weekend. As I mentioned above, I had a Blackpoll Warbler at Mt. Peter; I also had an American Redstart and Northern Parula this morning at Winding Waters. Other good birds at Winding Waters today included a Blue-headed Vireo, several Eastern Towhees, and 6 species of sparrow: Song, Swamp, Lincoln’s, Field, Savannah, and White-throated.
Anyways, the good thing about a birding slump is that it has to come to an end. I’m looking forward to the next big thing, maybe next Saturday I’ll get an excellent flight at Mt. Pete – I’m due.