Waterfowl Weekend

~A Common Loon enjoys what looks like a small crab. Five Islands Park, Westchester County, 02/24/18.~

Well, it was an interesting birding weekend, that’s for sure. Things are happening and birds are on the move, particularly waterfowl. Things got started on Friday afternoon, when Rob Stone located over 60(!) REDHEADS in a small pond on Breeze Hill Road in New Hampton. I was unable to get there before sundown, but apparently several local birders were able to.  I’ve only had Redheads one time in Orange County, and to get over sixty must have been amazing.

~Common Mergansers shifting around the lake, Wickham Lake 02/24/18.~

On Saturday, I was at Breeze Hill Road at sunrise but the birds had already moved on (there was just one lonely Ring-necked Duck left!). I made the rounds hitting several OC ponds and lakes; I had a total of 12 different species of waterfowl:

GLENMERE LAKE & POND: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Wood Duck, Mallard, Amer. Black Duck, GREATER SCAUP, Bufflehead, and Hooded Merganser.

WICKHAM LAKE: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Bufflehead, Gadwall, American Wigeon, GREATER SCAUP, Ring-necked Duck, and Common Merganser.

GREENWOOD LAKE: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Amer. Wigeon, and Common Merganser.

INDIAN KILL RESERVOIR: Canada Goose and Common Merganser.

Common Mergansers were the bird of the day; there were easily over 200 at Wickham Lake and maybe another hundred or so at Greenwood Lake. Sterling Lake was nearly 100% still frozen over, which was surprising to me.

~Ring-billed Gull at Five Island Park in Westchester County, 02/24/18.~ 

In the afternoon, I decided to try for the Black-headed Gull that has been reported at Five Island Park in Westchester County. I had no luck with the gull, but I did well with waterfowl, tallying 14 species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Amer. Black Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, RED-THROATED LOON, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Great Cormorant, and a skein of over 100 TUNDRA SWANS! I had pulled off the road to get a look at a falcon in flight (by the time I pulled over the bird was out of view). Searching for the falcon, I saw a large skein of birds. I first figured Canada Geese – but no, they were white. My mind went immediately to Snow Geese and I took a few quick pics and jumped back in my car; I was blocking someone in where I had stopped. It wasn’t until I got home an looked at the pics that I realized they were swans. I reached out to John Haas and Rob Stone and both indicated Tundra were likely. Then I put it on NY Birders/Facebook and learned through that post that there was huge Tundra Swan movement yesterday.

~Now that’s a lot of swans! And that’s not even the entire skein! TUNDRA SWANS in flight, New Rochelle, NY 02/24/18. 

On Sunday morning I made the rounds in the black dirt, hoping that maybe some Tundra Swans had put down there. Unfortunately, I did not have any luck with the TUSWs. I did have four swans fly and land out in Liberty Marsh, which prompted me to walk the Liberty Loop in the rain. I only found Mute Swans, but the refuge is full of ducks right now and most seem to be Northern Pintails. I checked Glenmere and Wickham but there were no new birds at either location. On my way out of Wickham, I had over 500 gulls in a field. I sorted through them, hoping for something good, I found 494 Ring-billed Gulls and 6 Herring Gulls. Interestingly, one of the RBGUs that I photographed had been banded with a silver band. In my pics I could only make out part of the writing: WH…. LAUR… 794…. I can’t remember seeing a gull banded before, so I thought that was interesting.

~Banded Ring-billed Gull, Warwick NY, 01/25/18.~ 
~Not something you see every day, a Ring-billed Gull with cattle in the background. I had a really nice conversation with the farmer that owns this land and he was telling me that he has always used birds and bird behavior in correlation to weather patterns/season changes. He also said that he convinced a local hunting club to stop hunting coyotes and ever since they have noticed a decline in the “local” Canada Goose population, which apparently can be a problem.~ 

On a final note, I want to mention that Kathy Ashman had a pair of Northern Goshawks at what I call Glenmere Pond (the small pond just up the road from Glenmere Lake). Heartbreakingly, I was with her at the pond but left just a few minutes too soon and missed the birds. Congrats to Kathy, that’s a great OC bird, I look forward to getting one someday…

Weekend Report, 02/18/18

~Northern Harrier hunting over a field in the Black Dirt, 02/18/18.~

Until I started writing this post, I was feeling like my weekend of birding was a little bit on the hum-drum side. But looking back, I actually had some pretty good birds over the weekend, even if it wasn’t overly exciting. On Saturday morning, I made a quick stop at Glenmere Lake, following up on a report from Kathy Ashman of a Cackling Goose on the lake. When I arrived, nearly all the geese, including the Cackler, had already flown. The stop was still worthwhile, however, since I was able to see my first Green-winged Teals, Wood Duck, and Northern Pintails of the year. Then, I ventured back to the Hudson River, spending most of the day working my way from the Bear Mountain Bridge up to Newburgh and getting mostly the usuals. I went to Storm King State Park again, hoping the Golden Eagle would be present, but unfortunately it was not. I walked the trail for a good while, hoping that the bird might make an appearance; if it did I, missed it. There were many raptors in flight over the mountain, however; I had several Bald Eagles, a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, nearly 2 dozen Black Vultures and a couple of Turkey Vultures. I ended the day in the Newburgh Waterfront area, hoping for any interesting gulls. I struck out with the gulls, but thanks to birding bud Bruce Nott, I did get my first Orange County RED-BREASTED MERGANSER of 2018.

~An adult Bald Eagle did a relatively low flyover in the Black Dirt on 02/18/18.~ 

I got out a little later than I should have on Sunday morning and missed the majority of the geese at Glenmere Lake once again. It was a good stop though, I picked up my first OC Ring-necked Ducks of the year and also had a female Red-breasted Merganser. I cruised the black dirt afterwards, hoping that the overnight snow would push some larks and buntings out to the roads.  This proved not to be the case and I actually had very few Horned Larks in my travel (just 2 flocks totaling approximately 70 birds). The highlight of my morning was watching the large flocks of mixed blackbirds (Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Common Grackles). There is something about large flocks of birds, watching them and hearing them is just fascinating. I tried for some pics, but mostly I was disappointed with the results. I ended the day with a nice, low-flying Bald Eagle which provided a decent photo op.

~Close-up of a flock of mixed blackbirds in the Black Dirt, 02/18/18.~ 
~Eleven Ring-necked Ducks at Glenmere Lake, 02/18/18.~ 
~One more shot of one of the mixed blackbird flocks. It was so much fun watching these birds. Black Dirt, 02/18/18.~

Back to Birding the OC

~A Rough-legged Hawk flexes its wings in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~ 

I was looking at the blog the other day and I noticed that for the past 3 weeks, all my posts were at locations outside of Orange County, so I decided to keep it local this weekend. I’m glad that I did, as it was a good weekend of birding. I almost called this post “Crappy Weather = Good Birding”. Yesterday was foggy and misty for a large part of the day, and then in the afternoon it gave way to rain; today was a steady rain, all day.

I spent the day yesterday birding the Hudson River, which was iced over in spots and full of ice floes.  I started at Fort Montgomery and Mine Dock Park where I had my first Orange County Fish Crow of the year and I would see my first 9 Bald Eagles of the day. My next stop was my main objective of the day – I went to the parking area on 9W North, which is a trailhead for and looks out  over Storm King State Park. I immediately took my scope out and scanned the left side of the valley, looking for my target bird –  the GOLDEN EAGLE that has wintered at this spot for the past several years (there are many eBird reports going back to 2013 and a single report in 2010). The bird was present and on it’s usual perch. I took some distant photos and tried to digiscope it, but the fog was a bit too heavy for good results. I walked the trail for a while and got just the usuals, including a nice photo op with a White-breasted Nuthatch, a bird that I don’t photograph very often these days.

~Golden Eagle on its usual perch at Storm King State Park, 02/10/18.~

I ended the day at Cornwall Bay and the Newburgh Waterfront. I was hoping for some interesting ducks and maybe an unexpected gull. At Donahue Memorial Park, I had my best ducks of the day – 4 Common Goldeneyes (the only other waterfowl I had all day were Common Mergansers and Mallards). There were many gulls at the waterfront, but unfortunately I only found the three expected species: Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed. I also had nearly a dozen Bald Eagles there; my total for the day was just under 30 Bald Eagles.

~There were loads of Bald Eagles on the Hudson River this weekend. These two adults were cruising the ice floes at the Newburgh Waterfront, 02/10/18.~

The weather for Sunday was bumming me out; rain all day was not what I was imagining while sitting at my desk at work all week. But, I broke out the rain gear and headed out to the Black Dirt this morning. My main goal was to find some geese. I’ve had rotten luck with them locally all winter long, but today was a different story. Geese were abundant in the Black Dirt, and early on I was able to locate a pair of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE. I got lucky with these birds – I was scanning a flock of Canada Geese and two birds flew in. I put my bins on them and immediately saw their speckled bellies. Although the birds were not very far out, I immediately lost them in the flock when they landed. I set up my scope,  that did the trick and I was able to relocate. The problem was not only the number of geese, but they were located among old corn stalks. I put the word out and Linda Scrima joined me and was able to get the birds as well.

~These dudes made my weekend – 2 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~

The rest of the morning was mostly the usuals – I was happy to see a flock of 29 SNOW BUNTINGS as well as a decent sized flock of mixed blackbirds, consisting of mostly Common Grackles, with Brown-headed Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and European Starlings as well. All but the starlings were my first of 2018 in Orange County.  I did fairly well with raptors and was happy to get a couple of decent photo ops: a wet Rough-legged Hawk that was flexing it’s wings, and also a wet, very light-colored, Red-tailed Hawk as well. It was an excellent weekend of birding here in Orange County and just what I needed after a long work week.

~A wet, very lightly colored Red-tailed Hawk in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18. I thought this bird was interesting and I think it looked light than these photos came out…
~…I didn’t get photos of the bird in flight, but the topside was also very light as you can see in this perched shot.~
~I heard them before I saw them – Snow Buntings in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~ 
~Upside down White-breasted Nuthatch at Storm King State Park, 02/11/18.~ 
~Common Grackle in the Black Dirt, 02/11/18.~ 

Westchester County Barnacle Goose, 02/04/18

~BARNACLE GOOSE!!! With a Cackling Goose just to the left. Rye, New York 02/04/18.~ 

I remember a blog post from a few years back on 10,000 Birds where Corey Finger referred to the BARNACLE GOOSE as “inherently cool”. That struck a chord with me at the time because I felt the same way. To me, of all all the geese we get in our area, the Barnacle Goose is definitely the coolest and by far my favorite. I finally got my lifer back in December of 2014 in Ramsey, New Jersey, after dipping several times on the one that was in Orange County in 2012 (I think) and also missing out on the one at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx (I ran for the bird after work one day, which happened to be the first day it hadn’t been seen in ages).

So, I knew that if the bird was still being reported, I would run this weekend for the Barnacle Goose that had been reported all week at Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, New York. When I arrived in the morning, the bird was not on the pond at the sanctuary, where it has mostly been seen. Luckily, I ran into Tom Burke and Gail Benson while I was there; an hour or so after seeing them they called to say they had located the bird on private property. I raced over to join them and got excellent scope views of the bird. I was pretty excited to see the bird, first just because it’s a Barnacle (see paragraph above), and secondly because I was convinced at that point that I was not going to get it. The BAGO’s  Cackling Goose buddy was right by its side, it was my first Cackler of 2018. The birds were a little distant for good photos, but I was happy to document my first Barnacle in New York State. Huge thanks to Tom and Gail; I never would have gotten the bird without them, not a chance.

~A Barnacle Goose and a nice photo op with a Peregrine Falcon make for a darn good day of birding. This PEFA was perched in a tree on the boardwalk at Rye Playland and did not seem to mind the many folks and dogs that were passing below.~