Sometimes, at the end of a rough week of work, I just desperately need a good birding experience. That was the case this week, and and this morning Skinner’s Lane delivered. I went primarily for shorebirds, and it was good with five species present throughout the morning: Black-bellied Plover, American Golden-Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin, and likely White-rumped Sandpiper.
~Yes!!! One of the coolest birds in North America – LAPLAND LONGSPUR at Skinner’s Lane, 10/31/20.~
But, it was the mixed flocks of American Pipits, Horned Larks, SNOW BUNTINGS, and LAPLAND LONGSPURS that really made my day. Among a large number of American Pipits and couple dozen Horned Larks, I found three Snow Buntings, and 3 Lapland Longspurs. The Longspurs, of course made my day, especially when one came and landed on the road not too far from me. I put the word out and Rob Stone, Linda Scrima, and Bruce Nott eventually joined me and we enjoyed a really a good morning, which was just what I needed.
I was counting at Mount Peter all day Saturday; it was a slow start with drizzly and foggy weather with a southwest wind, but at around noon the fog cleared out, the winds shifted to west northwest, and the hawks started flying. It was a day with a very good variety of migrating raptors – 11 different species. I particularly enjoyed watching five Northern Harriers fly over – I know they are very common in our area in the winter, but I just love to see them when they migrate; they look like no other raptor. Another highlight was a large skein of BRANT flying over, just as the watch was coming to an end.
Sunday morning I ran around locally. Wickham Lake was my first stop, where I had 13 species of waterfowl (highlights = my first Ring-neck Ducks and Buffleheads of the season, a pair of American Wigeon, and 4 Northern Shovelers). From there I went to the Liberty Loop. I wanted to check for shorebirds at the south pond, so I headed towards Owen’s Station Road. As I turned onto the road, I saw bird on the side of the road. It was a Chukar; their range is out west, but they are sometimes released here as game birds. I’m not sure how commonly they are released locally, but I’d never seen one, so game bird or not, I was sort of excited.
I was only able to locate three species of shorebird in the south pond: Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Pectoral Sandpipers. The walks in and out weren’t very birdy, so I was on my way relatively quickly. On my way out, I saw the Chukar again, this time in the grass, so I stopped and got a few more shots. I made one last stop on the way home, at Skinner’s Lane. I was able to locate, but not photograph a Vesper Sparrow, and there were also some American Pipits around.
I was not schedule to be the counter at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch today. But, the day hadn’t been filled, so I volunteered to take it. I’m glad I did, because it was an excellent day. In spite of a completely cloudless blue sky, we tallied a total of 129 migrating raptors. We had a good variety of birds today, with eleven different species of migrating raptors, but it was the eagles that stole the show.
~Two young Bald Eagles migrating over Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, 10/17/20.~
The highlight of the day came during the 4th hour of the watch, when I picked up an immature GOLDEN EAGLE north of the platform, circling up and slowly gaining altitude. The bird was distant, but in the scope the white base of the tail with dark terminal and the white patches at the “hands” were well seen. Not to be outdone, the Bald Eagles had quite a showing as well, with 14 migrating birds counted. Ten of them were immature birds.
I’ve included my report at the bottom of this post. Huge thanks to Tom Millard, Denise Farrell, BA McGrath, and Jeff Zahn. Without their eyes, who knows how many birds would have been lost to that all blue sky today.
I did something this weekend that I’ve never done before. I kayaked at Wickham Lake. I’m not sure what took me so long. They have a really excellent put-in, specially made for kayaks which allows you to lock in your paddle to pull yourself into and out of the water. Anyways, I wanted to photograph the Ruddy Ducks that have been at the lake for several days now. Fortunately they were still present, but I soon learned that they are not a very confiding species.
I was hoping that being in the kayak would allow me to get a little closer to the Ruddy Ducks, but that proved not to be the case. The group of approximately two dozen birds very calmly kept their distance from me, regardless of my approach (I mostly just let the water drift me towards them). So, I left the Ruddies in peace, and explored the lake like I never have been able to before. I came across a nice mixed flock on the northwest shore; I enjoyed close up views of many Yellow-rumped Warblers, as well as several Black-capped Chickadees, a Blue-headed Vireo, and a Black-throated Green Warbler. An Osprey was intermittently hunting and relaxing in a tree along the shore. But, it was a Double-crested Cormorant, perched high in a tree, that stole the show for me (at least for photos), as it posed in some nice light and didn’t mind at all as I floated by.
After kayaking Wickham Lake, I headed over to Skinner’s Lane. I was happy to find a relatively large flock (200+ birds) of American Pipits present. They were my first of the year, and they’ve always been a favorite of mine.
I finished the day of birding at Mount Peter Hawkwatch, where I joined counter Bev Robertson and observers Judy Cinquina and Will Test. It was a productive day at the mountain with great variety. I think they totaled just over 100 migrating raptors for the day.
QUICK POST: I had a really good weekend of birding with some interesting images to share, but here it is Sunday night after a day on the mountain and I am drained. So, here is my report from Mount Peter today; I will post more about the weekend in the next couple of days.
Mt. Pete was a really productive today with over 150 migrating raptors. Raptor highlights for me included four Northern Harriers, which I love to see in migration, and nine Red-shouldered Hawks, a good day for that species. We also had over 100 skeins of Canada Geese, consisting of approximately 4,370 individuals. I love seeing that. Anyways, more about the weekend in a future post.
This morning I birded Highland Lakes State Park for the first time in a long time. I was a cool and sunny morning, the kind of morning where it’s just refreshing to be out. I parked where I have in the past, at the entrance on Tamms Road. I don’t actually know the park very well, so I just wandered around the network of trails, trying to keep the sun at my back as much as possible.
It was a pleasant morning, and the park was relatively birdy. It was mostly the usuals, but I did have some noteworthy birds. I had a couple of Lincoln’s Sparrows not too far from the parking lot. I also had a half a dozen Purple Finches in the same exact tree I had them in back in the fall of 2016, which I thought was really something. I found some trails I hadn’t hiked on before, one went right along Tamms Pond, and that’s where I found one of my nemesis birds: WINTER WREN! I was extremely excited; the bird was somewhat cooperative and I was able to follow it as it worked along the shore of the pond. Unfortunately it never really got out into the open, so I was happy to get a halfway decent shot of this bird that has been so elusive to me:
By the time I’d gotten back to my car, I had a total of 36 species on my list. Remarkably, three of them were Orange County year birds for me: WINTER WREN, Purple Finch, and I was surprised to see that I’d gotten my firs Golden-crowned Kinglet of the year. These birds put my OC year list up to 209, which lower than I have been at this time in the past 4 years, but still not too bad.