Seneca Co. Birding, Thanksgiving 2017

~A beautiful Rough-legged Hawk flies over Wildlife Drive at Montezuma NWR, 11/24/17.~

I decided to forego my Christmas shopping on Black Friday, and headed to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge instead (that was a joke, by the way, I know, keep my day job). Birding the refuge can be a little bit overwhelming during duck migration. Black Lake, the first large body of water on the left on Wildlife Drive, was absolutely loaded with waterfowl! There had to be thousands of birds present. Some birds are close enough for good binocular looks and even some photos, but most of the birds are pretty far out – it’s a distant sea of waterfowl. For the day, I had a total of 15 species of swimming waterbirds at the refuge: Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, and American Coot. I also did alright with raptors, with: Red-tailed Hawk (3), Bald Eagle (4), Northern Harrier (3), American Kestrel (1), and ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (1).

~American Wigeon at Montezuma NWR, 11/24/17.

One of the more exciting moments was seeing an incredible 87 (!) SANDHILL CRANES. I viewed them from East Road – the birds were relatively obscured by vegetation which made getting a good count difficult. At first I counted approximately 60 birds, but then I discovered there was a second group, just 100 yards away. My best count was 87, but I’m sure there were some birds that were hidden and not counted.

I wanted to drive through Wildlife Drive one more time.  I stopped by the visitor’s center and another birder told me that he had seen a SNOWY OWL nearby to the refuge just a little bit earlier. I ran for the owl, but alas, it must have moved and I was unable to relocate it. I did get lucky with the CATTLE EGRET that has been recently reported; a bird that I would normally be pretty excited about but I was bummed to have missed a Snowy by such a small margin. From there, I decided to leave the refuge and bird Cayuga Lake…

~A Pied-billed Grebe looking cute at Montezuma NWR, 11/24/17.~
~American Coot shot from Wildlife Drive, 11/24/17.~
~One of two large groups of SANDHILL CRANES viewed from East Road at Montezuma NWR, 11/24/17.~

…I drove the west side of the lake and ended up at Cayuga Lake State Park, which had a nice dock for viewing the lake. I added 4 species of waterfowl (American Black Duck, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser, and Horned Grebe), bringing my total for the day to 19. I was most excited, however, with the gulls present: Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed, and BONAPARTE’S.

On Saturday morning I tried again for the Snowy Owl, but was unsuccessful. I also wanted to try Cayuga Lake again, this time I went down the east side of the lake. I was hoping to do better with Bonaparte’s for photos – I got much better looks, but the photos were terrible. I did add Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, and Common Goldeneye to my waterfowl list, giving me a total of 22 species in two days – not too bad. Good birding in Seneca County!

~Why can’t I get a pic like this of a Bonaparte’s Gull? Ring-billed Gull at Cayuga Lake, 11/25/17.~
~A young Bald Eagle surveys things at Cayuga Lake, 11/25/17.~ 
~One of several Common Loons at Cayuga Lake stretches out, 11/25/17.~ 
~Documentary shot of the Cattle Egret, just outside of Montezuma NWR, 11/24/17.~ 

Orange County Cackling Goose, 11/18/17

~CACKLING GOOSE on Route 416 by Hillcrest Farms, 11/18/17.~ 

The good thing about not being able to bird all week is that I am really appreciating my birding time when I get it, down to the littlest things, such as that beautiful feeling of putting my binoculars up to my eyes and focusing in on a bird; it’s a joy. The bad thing (or at least one bad thing among the many), is that I feel out of practice. This is my second week of no weekday birding and I’ve had the same feeling both weekends, where I was just a little bit out of sorts and not really quick to ID birds.

Additionally, you would think that, since I didn’t have the opportunity to bird all week, that I might come up with a plan for my Saturday morning when I finally can get out. But I didn’t. So I just headed out and cruised the black dirt; my main goal was to try and find some Canada Geese to sort through. The morning was mostly a dud; my highlight was watching in my scope, as an absolutely gorgeous Coyote made its way across a field in the distance. That was awesome. I also bumped into John Haas, who I hadn’t seen in a while, so that was nice. We sorted through the largest group of Canada Geese that I had all morning (maybe 600 birds?). Unfortunately, we came up empty and I was running late to meet up with Linda Lou at the Bashakill to do water testing, so I had to run. While I was doing the water testing, John put out an alert that he had a CACKLING GOOSE on route 416 by Hillcrest Farms. After water testing and little lunch, I headed out into the rain and ran for John’s Cackler. It took me ages to find the bird, but eventually I did. It was a really good stop and I got really great looks in my scope and the usual goose documentary photographs. Huge thanks to John for finding and posting.

~I always hesitate to be too definitive with these birds – I have this as a Greater Scaup, at Round Lake, 11/18/17.~

After, I thought it might be a good idea to try for more waterfowl. I headed to Tomahawk Lake, since it wasn’t far away. I had: Common Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks, and a single Ring-necked Duck there. Then, I headed to Round Lake. I went there because there is a covered spot for viewing the lake, since the rain had picked up pretty good at that point. At Round Lake I had 4 species of waterfowl: Mallards, a single Ruddy Duck, two Pied-billed Grebes, and three Greater Scaup that were close enough to shore for some decent photos (rain and horrible lighting aside). By the time I left Round Lake, it was late and dark already. I was going to head to Glenmere Lake, but  that will have to wait until tomorrow…

~Three Greater Scaup at Round Lake on 11/18/17.~ 


Mount Peter, 11/11/17

~I was excited to get out birding on Sunday afternoon, but really, the day ended up not being very productive.  I did get lucky with this young Red-shouldered Hawk in the black dirt, 11/12/17.~

I tried to get up early on Saturday morning to do some birding before heading up to the mountain. It took ages to get out of the house for some reason, so my time ended up being pretty limited, but I had enough time to take a quick cruise through the black dirt. And, I got really lucky, finding a relatively large flock  of Horned Larks (about 200 birds) right away. In the flock I could see several Snow Buntings while they were in flight. I had a single American Pipit on the road when several birds landed in front of my car. And, most excitingly, I had a single LAPLAND LONGSPUR that I located as I scanned through the flock with my scope.

~I could be wrong, but to me, it looks like the TWO highest birds are both Lapland Longspurs. There is also one Snow Bunting in this shot, and the rest of the birds appear to be Horned Larks. Black Dirt, 11/11/17.~

So, my last day counting up at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch was a pretty good one. And,  to my mind, it was exactly how hawkwatch in early November should be: Very cold, crisp, and sunny with a steady northwest wind blowing and a good flight of Red-tailed Hawks (20) and Red-shouldered Hawks (15). The only missing ingredients were the Golden Eagle or Northern Goshawk that I was hoping very much for, but unfortunately both species were a no-show. I had a lot of good help and company while I was there: fellow Mt. Pete counters Tom Millard and Denise Ferrel spent several hours each helping, and Bruce Christensen, Jose Garcia, Rob Stone, Karen Heifetz, Nancy Sierra and Joe Baldacci all visited and provided plenty of help and good company too. I totaled 49 migrating raptors, which is enough to stay busy for most of the day. Unfortunately, nearly every bird was super high so photo ops were very few; I actually never even got my weekly Turkey Vulture shot.  My final bird of the season, which passed over right at the end of the day, was a sky-high Great Blue Heron that was so high that I needed the scope to get a good ID on the bird. I thought that was a pretty cool way to end the season.

~Horned Lark taking a dust bath, black dirt 11/12/17.~

Sunday 11/5/17


~I finally got some decent looks at American Pipits. They have been a tough bird for me this fall; I’ve seen them plenty of times but never gotten much of a look until today.~

QUICK POST: I took a cruise around the black dirt this morning. I was hoping for Horned Larks/Lapland Longspurs/American Pipits and also to sift through some geese looking for rarities. I did well with American Pipits, seeing them in several locations and finally getting some photographs, but struck out with larks and longspurs. I had a hard time finding any collections of geese; eventually I did find a couple of larger groups, but other than Canada Geese, the only other goose I found was a single Snow Goose. I had a pleasant surprise when I located two late moving American Golden Plovers. They were late enough that when I went to do my eBird report they were flagged as a rare bird. Not an amazing morning, but any time I get a shorebird in OC, I’m a happy birder.

~One of two American Golden Plovers in the Black Dirt this morning, 11/5/17.~


Mt. Peter, 11/4/17 – What a Day!

~One of six migrating Cooper’s Hawks at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, 11/04/17.~

It was a sad day for everyone at Mt. Pete. We learned yesterday evening that fellow counter and friend Carol Linguanti had passed away after a long battle with cancer. In spite of the fact that she had been sick for a while, it was still somehow shocking to me, and I was deeply saddened. Carol was one of the good ones, a truly great friend that had more enthusiasm and love for life, family, friends, and nature than anyone I’ve ever met. She will be missed by so many people it’s hard to grasp. Thoughts, prayers, love, and positive energy go out to her family as they go through this hardest of times.

~The obligatory Turkey Vulture shot. Mt. Pete 11/04/17.~

Well, Carol must have been smiling down on me today. I had an absolutely incredible day at Mt. Pete. The sky was absolutely filled with birds – raptors and more. I had two major raptor highlights – a GOLDEN EAGLE which was located by Ken Witkowski to the east of the viewing platform. I managed to get the bird in the scope as it circled slowly; the distinctly shorter neck, as compared to a Bald Eagle, was apparent and the bird was basically all dark on the underside, so likely an adult. The second highlight was the Red-shouldered Hawk count – I had 27 RSHA which broke the previous daily record of 24! It was an active day for migrating raptors, and in the end I had 113 for the day.

There was also plenty of other bird movement with some of my favorite birds. Six Common Loons were counted; a couple actually passed close enough for photos (typically they are WAY out there). Geese were on the move too, I counted 472 Canada Geese and 95 BRANT. Double-crested Cormorants came through in 5 skeins with a total of 235 birds! At one point a large skein of cormorants flew in line with a small plane and the birds scattered to avoid it. Chaos reigned for a short time but then they got back into formation. We also had a single Great Blue Heron, flying so high you wouldn’t believe it; it passed right over the platform, totally invisible to the naked eye. Incredible stuff, these are the days that I love so much when it comes to hawk watching. Excellent birding – thanks Carol!

~That’s a lot of Double-crested Cormorants! After being scattered by a small plane, they worked to get back in order. Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, 11/04/17.~
~Gotta love the loons! Common Loon in flight at Mt. Peter, 11/04/17.~