Picture this. You spent the day working hard and you are exhausted. But now you are standing on the shore of Wickham Lake in a light rain, listening to a Common Loon perform its eerie call. Swallows buzz over the surface of the lake; you scan persistently and eventually identify 4 of the 5 expected species of swallow: Barn, Tree, Northern Rough-winged, and a beautiful single CLIFF SWALLOW. Your first Solitary Sandpiper of the year works the shore just to your left; a Yellow Warbler and an American Redstart (another FOY) call from the patch of woods near the parking area. And, just like that, your Monday evening has clearly surpassed expectations.
I left the house early this morning with a plan. I was free to bird for most of the day, and after spending my evenings this week birding the Liberty Loop exclusively, I wanted to cover some additional territory in Orange County, mostly hoping for some new passerines for the year.
Laurel Grove Cemetery: This was probably my best stop of the day, the cemetery was extremely birdy. Yellow-rumped Warblers were numerous (25+), as were Northern Flickers and Downy Woodpeckers. I four Orange County first of year (FOY) birds: Cooper’s Hawk, Pine Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, and Blue-headed Vireo. It’s hard for me to believe it has taken me this long to get a Coop.
Reservoir #1: My first bird was my best – a pair of Northern Rough-winged Swallows were busy feeding on the water right in front of the parking area. They were my FOY, as were the several Eastern Towhees I heard while walking the trail. Afterwards, I went to the sand bar in Port Jervis to try for shorebirds or gulls, but unfortunately the water levels were way too high.
Camel Farm: I had very distant looks at both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Several Killdeer were flying around and calling.
Black Dirt: I stopped at one spot quickly to try for a couple things: I wanted to see if the large Horned Lark flock had moved on (it appears to have), and I was also hoping the recent rains might produce some good shorebird conditions (conditions looked good to me, but no shorebirds).
Wickham Lake: On my way to the lake, I started to think that I was accumulating a decent number of species for the day. How many would I get if I stuck to my plan and hit my additional 3 spots? The lake was relatively uneventful – there were many boats out, so I was not surprised to see very little in the way of waterfowl – Common Mergansers (2), Bufflehead (2), Mute Swan (3), Canada Geese (8), and Double-crested Cormorant (2). I did manage to pick up an additional FOY bird: Yellow Warbler.
Glenmere Pond: Waterfowl numbers were down here. Noteworthy birds included a single Northern Rough-winged Swallow and two Ring-necked Ducks which are holding on. It was nice to see an Osprey fly over just before I left.
Glenmere Lake: This stop was pretty much a bust. I think it was just a little too late in the day and there just wasn’t much going on.
I finished the day with 63 species after 7 locations in 8 hours. I’m not sure how that rates but it was a birdy enough day to keep it interesting.
I got out and around locally this morning. My main goal was to check on the American Bitterns from last night – in my imagination I was picturing numerous bitterns flying around the Liberty Loop in perfect light. The reality was more than slightly different; I met Linda Scrima there first thing and although we heard an American Bittern calling repeatedly, we were unable to get a visual. We had no shorebirds, but I did pick up a few FOY birds – Brown Thrasher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Field Sparrow.
A quick stop at the Camel Farm was disappointing – one lonely Killdeer is all Linda and I could find as far as shorebirds go. From there I headed to Wickham Lake; best birds were a Common Loon and a Horned Grebe and I also picked up my FOY Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Glenmere Lake and pond were relatively unproductive but I did have 4 Blue-winged Teal at the pond. I watched them for a good while; they are beautiful. My final stop of the morning was in the black dirt to check on the Horned Lark flock. I last had them on Tuesday evening, but including today I’ve come up empty on my last 2 tries. I spent about an hour trying to wait them out today, but I’m starting to think they have moved on.
What started out as an uneventful evening ended up being an incredible birding experience. I met Maria Loukeris out at the Liberty Loop; we walked out Liberty Lane – highlights included some distant unidentified shorebirds, several White-crowned Sparrows and my FOY Swamp Sparrows. As we were walking back to the cars, I turned to Maria and said “Let’s go look for some American Bitterns”. I was only half joking, and I had no idea what was in store for us. As we reached the parking area, Maria picked up two birds flying across the marsh and exclaimed “bittern!”. I got on them immediately and was thrilled to see two AMERICAN BITTERNS fly from the front pond and head southwest towards the back of the marsh. We went to the viewing platform; we were pretty sure that we wouldn’t see them again, but had to try. But, then we heard another AMBI calling from just to our left. We scanned and remarkably, Maria located the bird right away. As I ran to get my scope from the car, a different AMBI took flight and flew north over Oil City Road. Shortly after that, yet another bittern joined the one that was calling – that gave us a total of five American Bitterns! I put the word out, and Linda Scrima made record time to arrive to see a pair of them in the scope before we lost the light. What a night! I’m still freaking out!
After spending the weekend out of town, and then feeling a little under the weather earlier in the week, it was good to get out and do some productive local birding. At work today I saw multiple reports from Scotty Baldinger and Karen Miller of good waterfowl in Sullivan County, including Common Loons, Horned Grebes, G. Scaup at Kiamesha Lake and more Common Loons, Red-breasted Merganser, and best of all – SURF SCOTERS at Swan Lake. This had me raring to go at the end of the work day to see if I could find any good waterfowl in Orange County. I had time to stop at my two usual spots – Wickham Lake and Glenmere Lake. Wickham was the more productive stop – I had 3 Common Loons, 4 Horned Grebes, and my Osprey of the year in OC. Glenmere was less exciting, but I did have a pair of Lesser Scaup and I also had my first Barn Swallow of the year at the small pond up the road from the lake. It was a nice night to be out and I took a moment to appreciated it.
I recently invited several of the more prolific birders in our area to contribute to the blog whenever they have something that they feel is worth sharing. I think there is a lot of good birding going on that folks would like to hear about, and the end result should be a little more complete coverage of the birds and birding in our area. Kent Warner is the first to take me up on the offer. The timing is perfect too, since I was out of town all weekend and didn’t get any birding done. I found this post very interesting because, generally speaking, not much attention is paid to raptor migration here in Orange County.
SPRING RAPTOR MIGRATION IN ORANGE COUNTY
BY KENT WARNER
Today was a stunner at Bellvale Community for raptors especially. As the sun warmed, and the updrafts started, the first couple of broad-winged hawks, passed low overhead. As the day continued, despite a stiff north breeze, the raptors kept coming – predominantly Broad-winged Hawks and Turkey Vultures, but a little of everything showed. Here is a list of what I saw…
Broad-winged Hawk – 450 (very conservative estimate of just the ones I saw, there were definitely more)
Turkey Vulture – 45
Black Vulture – 6
Osprey – 16
Northern Harrier – 3
Sharp-shinned Hawk – 3
Cooper’s Hawk – 5
Bald Eagle – 5
Red-Shouldered Hawk – 1
Red-tailed Hawk – 6
American Kestrel – 6
Merlin – 1
Peregrine Falcon – 1
I was having a conversation with Rob Stone earlier this week about Lapland Longspurs. I had commented that they had probably migrated north by now; Rob wasn’t so sure and said that he thought his latest date for LALOs was April 7th. We agreed that, if they were around, you might find one in darn nice plumage. I set out to the black dirt this morning with all this in mind. I located large, loose, flock of Horned Larks; they were extremely scattered and jumpy as can be. I eventually located a single LALO in beautiful breeding plumage. The bird was distant so I tried my best to document it by digiscoping video with my phone, but the jumpy birds, the wind, and the heat shimmer made it difficult for sure (see the result at the bottom of this post). I found several LALOs in the flock and it was cool because I could differentiate the birds by their plumage. I put in a good amount of time, and eventually it (sort of) paid off when part of the flock landed close to me and in that group was a LALO nearly in breeding plumage. It was a really exciting time, I really love Lapland Longspurs, and I never thought I’d ever see one in breeding plumage. Beautiful birds!
It was an excellent morning for waterfowl in southern Orange County – I had good birds at nearly every stop I made and a total of 18 species (see my list by location, below). But, it was one extremely accommodating Horned Grebe at Greenwood Lake which made my day. Greenwood Lake is not typically a spot that is good for photos – the birds are typically quite distant – in fact, I often leave my camera in the car. Well I was glad I had it with me today as this HOGR came in close and fed well, completely unconcerned with my presence. I love it when, every once in a while, things work out really well. Here’s what I had today, by location:
6 1/2 STATION ROAD SANCTUARY: 6 Green-winged Teal, 35 Canada Geese, 5 Mallards, 9 American Black Ducks, 2 Mute Swan, and 1 Northern Shoveler.
GLENMERE LAKE: 12 Common Loons, 10 Horned Grebes, 2 Mute Swans, 5 Canada Geese, 6 American Black Ducks, 3 Bufflehead,and 4 Wood Ducks. Thanks to Kathy Ashman for reporting – she had 16 Common Loons prior to my arrival.
WICKHAM LAKE: 2 Common Mergansers, 10 Double-crested Cormorants, 12 Buffleheads, 5 RED-THROATED LOONS, 1 Common Loon, 9 Horned Grebes, 1 Pied-billed Grebe, 4 Lesser Scaup, 2 Mute Swans, and 6 Canada Geese.
GREENWOOD LAKE: 2 Common Loons, 3 Horned Grebes, 15 Double-crested Cormorants, 7 Red-breasted Mergansers, 5 Common Mergansers, 5 Buffleheads, 2 Mallards, 4 Canada Geese, and 2 Mute Swans.
WALTON LAKE: 1 Common Loon and 1 Double-crested Cormorant.
ROUND LAKE: 2 Mallards, 1 Horned Grebe, 2 Greater Scaup, 5 Buffleheads, 14 Double-crested Cormorants, 2 Ruddy Ducks, and 6 Canada Geese.
At first I thought it must be a joke. I really did. But, that’s not Rob’s style. The text read 25 RED-THROATED LOONS at Wickham Lake. Really? You’ve got to be kidding me. I was pessimistic about them sticking around until I got out of work, but somehow they did. I arrived just after 6 pm and I have to say that they did not disappoint. I enjoyed an amazing evening watching these beautiful birds make their way around the lake. They must have been quite comfortable since, with the high winds, the water was extremely rough. I was really curious to see what they would do as the sun started to set, and at 7:10, all but six of the RTLOs took flight. After several laps around the lake, gradually getting higher and higher, they departed, heading west-northwest. Shortly after, I headed out, leaving the lake to the remaining 6 Red-throated Loons. I wonder if they will spend the night?