There was an awful lot of birding action in Orange County today. I was at work, but my phone was blowing up with reports: Kathy Ashman had 8 HORNED GREBES, a Red-breasted Merganser, and a Pine Warbler at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary. Bill Fiero had a Wilson’s Snipe and 3 Eastern Phoebes at Stewart Forest, and then Kathy had 7 more Horned Grebes, 3 Greater Scaup, and an 80 Snow Geese fly-over at Glenmere Lake. Ken McDermott had Ruddy Ducks, 7 LONG-TAILED DUCKS, and 2 Horned Grebes at Orange Lake. In the black dirt, Maria Loukeris reported 4 Eastern Meadowlarks and 200+ Snow Geese. Rob Stone had 6 Long-tailed Ducks at Wickham Lake. Phew! That’s a lot of good birds!
Luckily, I got out of work a little bit early, so I was able to run for some birds. And, maybe even luckier still, ALL the birds I ran for stuck for me! I went to Wickham Lake first and got the 6 Long-tailed Ducks as well as a Red-breasted Merganser and a Ruddy Duck. At Glenmere Lake I relocated the Horned Grebes, the Greater Scaup, and also had a single Ruddy Duck there. At the pond near Glenmere, I made a quick stop and had my first Northern Shoveler of the year in Orange County. From there I went to the black dirt and did well with Snow Geese (200++) and also managed to relocate 2 of the Eastern Meadowlarks. And finally, my last stop was at 6 1/2 Station Road where the Horned Grebes were kind enough to stick around and were close enough for some documentary photos. Not a bad haul for a work day! Excellent birding, thanks so much to everyone that reported!
It had been a while (over five years!) since I’ve birded Sandy Hook, NJ (part of the Gateway National Recreation Area), so I jumped at the opportunity to take a day trip with birding buds Maria Loukeris and Linda Scrima. Our first stop was to check on the large group of seals that have been seen on the sand bar near lot C. I’ve never seen anything like it; over 100 seals of all shapes and sizes, piled up on a single sand bar. We spent some time with the seals, enjoying incredible scope views and taking loads of pics. This was not something I expected to see on this day. We also picked up our first shorebirds of the day, three American Oystercatchers, as well as several species of waterfowl: Brant, Horned Grebe, American Black Duck, Bufflehead, and Red-breasted Mergansers. Northern Gannets streamed overhead and out in the distance, a theme for the day, as we easily saw over 100 gannets for the day.
From there, we headed out to the point. Our target bird was Piping Plovers, which unfortunately were not to be found. We picked up some other shorebirds, however. Many Sanderlings were working the shoreline and flying over the water, four Black-bellied Plovers were hanging out closer to the dunes, and we had a handful of additional oystercatchers. For waterfowl we added several species to our list: We had a small group of Black Scoters, several Long-tailed Ducks, a Red-necked Grebe, a Double-crested Cormorant, and a trio of Common Loons. We also had our FOY Eastern Phoebe and Osprey.
When we got back to the car, Maria received a text alert – TUFTED DUCK at the “North Pond”! But where is the North Pond? Fortunately we ran into a large group of birders who had just come from viewing the Tufted Duck and they gave us perfect directions. We went for the bird and although it was not in sight at first, we waited it out and eventually it swam back into view amongst a group of Ring-necked Ducks – a beautiful rarity! I saw a TUDU one other time several years back, but the look was distant so I really appreciated the great looks we got of this one.
On the way home we stopped at Raritan Bay Waterfront Park. We were hoping for some of the excellent gulls that had been recently reported, but the tide was too high and there were not many gulls present. We scanned for waterfowl and I was impressed with the large number of Horned Grebes present – easily over a dozen. We added a single species to our list for the day – Red-throated Loon – putting our total to over 40 species for the day. What a super day – excellent birds (and sea mammals) and great company.
Right now, the Bashakill is officially the hottest hotspot in the area. When John Haas reported a TUNDRA SWAN at Haven Road early this morning, I knew that if the bird stuck around, I would run for it after work. I got word as I left work that the bird was still present, so I headed towards the Bash. When I arrived, Ken McDermott was on the bird, which was out quite a ways foraging in the vegetation on the northeast side of Haven Road. Lance Verderame and Matt Price joined us shortly after and we enjoyed good scope views as the bird was in perfect light. Ken and I decided to drive out to the Stop Sign Trail to try to get a better look; we were successful and we got a much closer look at the bird, which looked amazing in Ken’s scope (but was unfortunately backlit for photos). It’s a great time of year – things are happening in the birding world and I’m totally loving the time change and the longer days which are allowing me to finally do some quality birding after work again.
This morning I took Kyle Dudgeon up on his offer to help him count migrating raptors up in Broome County, NY. He had been seeing decent numbers of Golden Eagles recently, so I was hoping today would be more of the same. Almost immediately upon exiting the highway, I came upon a pair of Bald Eagles perched together over Oquaga Creek. I took this as a good sign, and I wasn’t wrong. Through the morning and into the early afternoon, we saw many Bald Eagles; it was tough to keep a count because the birds kept coming and going. Most were locals, but we did have a group of four adult birds migrate through. Three of the birds were flying quite close together; flying almost in formation, which is something I’ve never seen before:
It may sound odd, but all the Bald Eagles ended up being among the least exciting parts of the day. Early on we had an adult GOLDEN EAGLE migrate through; very high. Shortly after that, we had a single young Golden Eagle, a local, make a brief, distant appearance before disappearing behind a distant ridge. Then, Kyle was looking through his scope and said “you gotta get on this bird”. Following his directions, I got on the bird quickly. I knew as soon as I saw the bird what it was – a NORTHERN GOSHAWK! My immediate impression was a massive accipiter with powerful wingbeats. We followed in our scopes as the bird followed the ridge off to our right. At one point it seemed to buzz a perched eagle. I was excited when the light caught the bird nicely on its topside, showing the blue hue of an adult bird – I was was flipping out! The bird eventually disappeared into the trees and we did not see it again. We had one final bit of excitement – not one, but two young GOLDEN EAGLES perched in a snag on a distant ridge. One bird took flight and started buzzing the perched bird; this went on for ages! Eventually, the buzzing bird left the perched bird and worked its way up the ridge to our left, finally got close enough for some documentary photos. What a great day of hawk watching! I can’t thank Kyle enough for the invite.
I headed to Port Jervis early this morning to hit some of my usual spots in that area: Laurel Grove Cemetery, Reservoir 1, Reservoir 3, and Eagle’s Nest. It was a nice morning to be out: it was blustery, cold, and sunny; my eyes watered throughout the morning; fogging up my binoculars regularly and by morning’s end, my crow’s feet to become salty and crusty. It was a birdy morning, with enough activity at each spot to keep me busy. My best stop was at Reservoir 3, where I had a pair of Brown Creepers and three Golden-crowned Kinglets. I struggled with a somewhat accommodating kinglet, but I was happy to get a halfway decent creeper shot; that’s a bird that I’ve struggled to get good pics. For the morning I had a total of 33 species. I haven’t included a full species list in a while, so see today’s list below.
The Lapland Longspur is another bird that, to me, has an inherent coolness factor. Even the name is cool. I can remember when I first began birding, looking in a guide at the Lapland Longspur and thinking: Now THIS is a bird I would like to see. Of course, I was looking in the book at the bird in breeding plumage- rather than the more muted winter plumage we see them in here in Orange County. I hadn’t had much luck photographing LALOs this winter until today in the black dirt, where I located approximately a half dozen amongst flock of horned larks. The snow cover was forcing the birds to feed at the roadside, so I finally got my photo op. And, at this late date in the winter, some of the birds were just starting to get their summer colors – it’s the first time I’ve ever had LALOs showing any significant amount of breeding plumage – I think they look awesome!
Well, as we all know, timing is crucial when it comes to birding. This week my timing went from poor to excellent. It initially looked to me like I might miss out on seeing the EURASIAN WIGEON that John Haas located on Thursday. Instead, the bird stuck around and when I arrived first thing this morning, it was relatively close to the road and the light was beautiful! I was very excited about this. Wilma Amthor joined me shortly after my arrival, and shortly after that we had a small crowd of birders on the bird, including Diane Bliss, Karen Miller, Scotty Baldinger, Kevin Kreischer, and of course, John. It’s been several years since I’ve seen a Eurasian Wigeon (2014), and I’d forgotten what an absolutely gorgeous bird it is. Additionally, this is my first time seeing the bird in New York State.
I spent the remainder of the morning and the early afternoon at the Bashakill and every bird was a year bird for the county since it was my first birding foray into Sullivan County for 2018. I was happy that John offered for me to join him to check out the Pine Boat Launch; my car never would have made it down that treacherous pothole-filled road. John also gave a tip to go to the Horseshoe Pulloff for a Winter Wren. The bird was exactly where he said it would be; it was singing but never made an appearance. I managed to get 2 Orange County nemeses birds today: Winter Wren and Fox Sparrow, and I totaled 40 species for the day, which I felt was pretty good. Huge thanks to John for finding and reporting the wigeon, and also for his help and company today.
I was pretty psyched when recently the Turkey Vultures began roosting in our backyard again. It’s so exciting to get home from work in the evenings and have a tree full of vultures on the property. Even better, today came home early to find them all hunkered down to get through the snow storm. I’m not sure how excited others would get at having them in their yard, but I love it. They made my day today.
For the most part, I birded Orange County this weekend (the exception being a brief excursion to Dutchess County for a beautiful ICELAND GULL). I was optimistic about the possibility of some interesting waterfowl on Saturday morning after the Nor’easter came through on Friday. I was mostly disappointed, I ran around much of southern Orange County and my best birds were 5 Common Goldeneye at Glenmere Lake. But, then birding bud Bruce Nott saved the day; he had located three RED-NECKED GREBES at Orange Lake. I ran for the birds, joining Ken McDermott who had just arrived. We got on the birds relatively quickly in our scopes, first a single bird, then two, and finally three RNGR in a single scope view! Unfortunately, the birds were positively miles out. Technically, I was able to get photos of them, but they are horrible, barely identifiable. On that same note, you can probably tell from this post, it was a terrible weekend for photos (with the wonderful exception of the ICGU in Beacon).
On Sunday morning I checked Glenmere and Wickham Lakes but had nothing of note. I then decided to walk the Liberty Loop to try and relocate the Eurasian Wigeon that had been reported there. I had no luck with the wigeon, but the refuge is still loaded with waterfowl. Pintails stole the show; they were numerous and flying to and fro for the duration of my walk. Other waterfowl present included: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Amer. Black Duck, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Ducks, and my first Northern Shovelers of the year. It was a pleasant walk with plenty of birds around, but mostly the usuals. Winter raptors are still hanging in; I saw several Northern Harriers and a had single Rough-legged Hawk hover-hunting in the distance. The only other bird of note was a pair of Swamp Sparrows, my first of the year. I made one final stop at the Citgo Pond; it was relatively uneventful with approximately 30 Ring-necked Ducks being the highlight.
Sometimes it only takes one bird. To make your day. Your weekend. Your week. Today it was this gorgeous and super cooperative ICELAND GULL at the Beacon Waterfront. Huge thanks to Maria Loukeris for locating and reporting.