I did a good amount of birding during the long holiday weekend, but of course nothing was nearly as exciting as the Snowy Owl. Other than the owl, my timing seems to be a bit off these days and any good birds I’m getting are birds reported by other birders. I finally made it to the Newburgh Waterfront on Wednesday evening to see the Long-tailed Duck that’s been a around for a while. I also ran for the Lesser Black-backed Gull which was originally found by Jeanne Cimorelli on Friday and then relocated and reported by Bill Fierro yesterday afternoon. That gull stuck around for me, but was absolutely miles out, so no pics. Other than those two birds, it was the usual suspects (often less than that), but it was still an enjoyable long weekend with some interesting shots to share.
Tricia and I traveled to the Jersey Shore early Thanksgiving morning to spend the holiday with her family there. I was able run to the beach to sneak in couple of hours of birding before the festivities began. I love birding at the beach in the winter, it’s such a pleasant experience, and I enjoyed many of the expected goodies. Highlights included Common and Red-throated Loons, Black Scoters, and loads of Brant. But the true highlight was when I happened upon a SNOWY OWL resting in the dunes. I shared my discovery with two non-birder women who were appropriately blown away by the view in my scope. What an awesome surprise; it’s been a while since I’ve seen one and this bird did not disappoint.
Yesterday afternoon both Karen Miller and John Haas gave me the heads up that the LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL that was at Sullivan County Community College last week had returned. John was going to check for the bird today and let me know if it was present, but on an impulse I headed to the college first thing this morning. Fortunately the bird was present and confiding. Plus the early morning light was very nice on this very sharp looking bird. I spent some time and got some photos before moving on to Neversink Reservoir.
At the reservoir, my pleasant morning of birding continued with a distant Common Loon. Apparently COLOs have been sparse in the county, so both John and Scotty Baldinger joined me to see the bird. Other highlights at the reservoir included a single Horned Lark landing on the rocks briefly before moving on, an Adult Bald Eagle lazily flying over, and what I’m pretty sure was the call of several American Pipits on a flyover.
From there I went to Liberty to look for the Northern Shrike that has been seen up that way; I didn’t have any luck. I need to catch up with a shrike this winter, it’s been a while since I’ve seen one. I stopped briefly at Morningside Park on my way home, where I had 10 Hooded Mergansers, 3 Ring-necked Ducks, and a single Pied-billed Grebe.
Huge thanks to John and Karen for the heads up about the LBBG, it was my 193rd bird in Sullivan County. And, as a bonus, I wasn’t aware of it but I’d never had a Horned Lark in the county, so that was 194!
Today was my final day of counting at Mount Peter Hawkwatch for the year. Tomorrow is the last day of the season; it always seems to go by so quickly. The season ended with a dud for me, as I had (8) countable birds in six hours. Of note, I had a Common Loon fly nearly directly over the viewing platform and my penultimate bird of the season was a young Bald Eagle with tail plumage that made my heart race for a split second. It was a good season for me; I enjoyed it much more than last season and it’s got me excited to do it all over next year. I’ve included today’s report summary at the bottom of this post; I will also do a future post which will include Judy Cinquina’s end of season report.
Yesterday evening, on impulse, my brother-in-law Bill called me and asked me if I wanted to go hiking. And on impulse I said yes. He wanted to hike the Breakneck Ridge, Breakneck Bypass, Wilkinson Trail Loop in Beacon, New York; a friend of his had highly recommended it. He texted me a link via the AllTrails app; it was rated as difficult and I began to wonder what I had signed up for.
In the morning, at the trail head, Bill and I read the sign which read: “WARNING: This is not just a walk in the park! Breakneck Ridge is a steep rock scramble that is for experienced hikers in excellent physical condition only”. Experienced hikers? Check. Excellent physical condition? Ummm, that might be a problem. In the first 3/4 of a mile we climbed 1,250 feet! But, we took it slowly and rested when we need to; doing it that way made it not too difficult for us. It was pretty exhilarating to reach the flags and check out the views at that point. It was a bonus to have a Peregrin Falcon hanging around the area. My camera was in my bag, so unfortunately not shots of that bird.
The rest of the way was less challenging than the first 3/4 mile. The loop in its entirety is listed as 2.8 miles, but for us, including getting to and from our cars it was just over three and a half miles. And it took over three hours to complete, lol. The signage indicates that it’s approximately a 3 hour loop, so I guess we weren’t moving too terribly slowly.
The descent was of course much more gradual; which was relaxing and allowed for Bill and I to catch up and talk more as we hiked. As for birds, it was typical hiking birding with not many species seen or heard. The list is short: Peregrine Falcon, Common Raven, Turkey Vulture, Ring-billed Gull, Eastern Bluebird, Black-capped Chickadee, and Dark-eyed Junco.
I got my best bird of the day on my way home – I stopped at the Beacon waterfront and found a single Bonaparte’s Gull out on the Hudson River. I waited the bird out and it eventually flew and I was able to get salvageable shot, in spite of screwing up my settings.
What a morning! My first stop was Wickham Lake, which I thought was going to be a total bust because the lake was completely obscured by fog. But, I located a Greater Yellowlegs feeding in the puddles along the shore. The light was beautiful and the bird was very accommodating. I also had a Great Blue Heron in some interesting light, so I got some photos of that bird as well. From there, I was heading up to Mt. Peter Hawkwatch, where I was to be the official counter for the day. On my way there, I had a lovely, close encounter with a beautiful coyote. This was the first coyote I’ve ever seen that showed some curiosity towards me as I pulled my car to the side of the road. It’s been a good while since I’ve seen a coyote, and to get one this confiding was a thrill.
Once I was at Mt. Pete, I was getting the feeling it might be a slow day. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and although the wind was from the northwest, it was just the slightest breeze. I had no raptors at all for nearly 2 hours. Then, I picked up a bird to the northeast of the platform – I immediately recognized it as a young GOLDEN EAGLE! I was so happy, the bird circled up and eventually migrated directly over the platform.
After the excitement of the Golden, my prediction came true and it was an incredibly slow flight. I had a total of only (8) migrating raptors in 6.75 hours of counting. I did have one other highlight though, I found a Purple Finch, which was a new 2021 county bird for me, bringing my total to 203 species this year in Orange County.