Upstate NY – 8/26/12

I had an amazing Sunday morning of bird photography!

Red-headed Woodpecker in Upstate NY.
Juvenile Red-headed Woodpecker in Upstate NY
Early on I was taking some really long distance photos of this Sharp-shinned Hawk. While I was taking other photos, the hawk flew closer and landed on this perch right in front of me! UPDATE 3/19/14: Thanks to Ryan J Bass who commented and pointed out that this is likely a Red-shouldered Hawk, not a Sharpie. I think he is right – any other opinions? 
I really wanted to get a shot of this hawk in flight, but he flew away from me and I got this photo just as he was landing on another dead tree.
There was a pair of Green Herons about 25 in front of me. I didn’t take any photos of them because they were all in shadows…until they started hunting.
A happy, full Green Heron in upstate NY.
A Northern Flicker landed right above my head.
American Goldfinch in upstate NY.
Here’s a brighter male American Goldfinch.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird in upstate NY..
This pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers seemed to be striking a pose for me.
One last one of a Red-headed Woodpecker. What a treat to see these birds.

Wallkill River NWR – A decidedly different feel

A rather elegant looking Lesser Yellowlegs at Wallkill River NWR.

I walked the Liberty Loop at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday evening. I have been doing some reading and working on shorebird identification lately, so my primary goal was to see if my work would pay off. The Liberty Loop trail had a different feel on this day for sure. As soon as I got out of the car I heard birds overhead. To me they sounded like they were saying “me…me………me…me”. Karen Miller and I had heard the same call the day before out at the Shawangunk Grasslands. I managed to get some good looks and some photos and when I got home I figured out it was a flock of Bobolinks – at least 40 birds. From the viewing platform several shorebirds could be seen as well as a couple dozen Canada Geese, a Great Blue Heron and a Great Egret. A Northern Harrier cruised the marsh looking for prey. There was a conspicuous lack of Red-winged Blackbirds. Fall migration sure seemed to be underway.

One of the Bobolinks that were flocking at the Liberty Loop.

I walked quickly to the southern end of the loop to look for shorebirds. There were a good many present and as usual I struggled to identify them. I took some time with it and determined that there were no out of the ordinary shorebirds present. Here’s my count:

  • (4) Killdeer
  • (2) Solitary Sandpiper
  • (3) Lesser Yellowlegs
  • (24) Least Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs at the Wallkill River NWR

I was pleasantly surprised to find several types of ducks in the back pond:

  • Mallard
  • Wood Duck
  • American Black Duck
  • Blue-winged Teals
  • Green-winged Teals

It was nice to see a variety of ducks again!

I think this is a mix of Green-winged Teals and Blue-winged Teals found in the back pond at Wallkill River NWR. For some reason I didn’t manage to get any good shots of ducks.

On my way out, I found this juvenile Black-Crowned Night-heron:

This summer I was looking for a BCNH for so long with no luck and now it seems like I see one every time I go out!

As you can see from the above photo, this heron was well aware of my presence, but did not seem to be bothered by me in the least. I walked slowly down the trail until I was in a good position for a photo and then snapped away. When I moved on, this young heron was still sitting in the same spot.

I was happy with my work with the camera – it was nearly dark, but I still managed to get some good photos. I am getting better with both my settings and with keeping the camera stead with a slow shutter speed (1/50th of a second!). Here’s one more of the BCNH:

Black-Crowned Night-heron at Wallkill River NWR.

Dennings Point State Park – Heron Triple Play

A young Black-Crowned Night-heron out during the day at Dennings Point in Beacon NY.

Yesterday evening I was supposed to meet Karen Miller at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR.  I was running early, so I decided to head over to Dennings Point State Park in Beacon NY. I had birded there one other time – it was a really nice hike but I did not see or hear very many birds. I figured I would give it another shot and it really paid off. About ten minutes into the hike I reached the first view of the water. As I got close to the shore, I flushed three Green Herons by tripping on a root! I looked out over the water and a along the shore and saw:

  • 7 Green Herons
  • 3 Black-Crowned Night-herons
  • 2 Great Blue Herons
  • 4 Great Egrets
  • Canada Geese
  • Ring-billed Gulls

Wow! What a great start! I talked to Karen and we decided to save the Shawangunk Grasslands for another day, she would join me at Dennings Point instead. It was a great day of birding! I had 29 species for the day and I got many good looks at both the Green Herons and Black-Crowned Night-herons. At one point, at a point in the trail a little deeper in the woods, we had close to ten species of song birds in just a few minutes. This was Karen’s highlight of the day. Here’s some photos from the day:

A pair of Green Herons ignore each other.
A Great Blue Heron in the distance.
I took this photo through the branches. A young Black-Crowned Night-heron and a a Green Heron hang out together at Dennings Point in Beacon NY.
This Blue Jay chased off two Green Herons and one Black-Crowned Night-heron. One Green Heron put up a fight, but the jay won in the end. To the victor go the spoils I guess.

Skinner Lane – 8/14/12

One of over a hundred Killdeer I saw out at Skinner Lane

I went out to Skinner Lane in Goshen today after work. Last fall Skinner Lane was a really good spot for shorebirds, so I figured I would swing by and see what I could find. There were many Killdeer present, I counted at least 100, but they were the only shorebirds to be found. I wasn’t there long when many of the Killdeer suddenly flew. That is when I noticed a Northern Harrier cruising above the fields. I checked my eBird checklists – this was the first Northern Harrier I had seen since the end of March! I watched in my binoculars for a short while until it dropped into one of the fields and disappeared in the crops. I waited but I never did see the hawk again.

The highlight of the day was seeing a group of approximately 15 Horned Larks. This is a life bird for me, so it was very exciting. They landed not very far away from me, but there was a car coming so I had to snap a few pictures as quickly as I could before they flew. I did the best I could, but I was not very happy with the results:

I believe this is a female Horned Lark – Skinner Lane 8/14/12
This photo is blurry but shows the markings a little better.

On my way out I spotted an American Kestrel with a fresh kill. He was dining on the top of a power line pole.

After several photos of just a silhouette of this bird, I over-exposed this shot to get the details to show.
Here’s another of the many Killdeer at Skinner Lane – 8/14/12

Wallkill River NWR – Looking For Black-crowned Night-Herons

Black-crowned Night-Heron at Walllkill River WR

I made it out to Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge before sunrise THREE times this week in hopes of finally getting some Black-crowned Night-Heron photos. I identified 37 species of birds (and one really cute mammal) in those three days. Here’s a short list of favorites:

  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Great Blue Herons(many!)
  • Great Egret
  • Green Heron
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Bald Eagle
  • Cooper’s Hawk
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Bobolink

I finally got a pretty good look at both an adult and a juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron this morning, and it is thanks to John – a fellow birder I met out at the refuge this morning. He told me when he first arrived that he had never had any luck finding BCNH at this site. Moments later one flew right over our heads! He later found three BCNH in a couple of trees just off of the east side of the trail and he made sure I knew exactly where to find them. Thanks John!

I cropped this pretty heavily because I am amazed at the color of this bird’s eyes.
This is the best shot I could manage of this young Black-crowned Night-Heron. I love the markings on this bird!
I thought this was a beautiful Red-winged Blackbird.
I am pretty sure this is a female Bobolink, though when I took the photo I thought it was a Red-winged Blackbird in the yellow early morning sun.
This Double-crested Cormorant landed in the water in front of the viewing platform for just long enough to get a couple photos before he was on his way…
I thought the light was really nice on this Canada Goose in flight.
Karen Miller found this little critter when we were out on Saturday morning. We found out later that it is an Ermine. In the winter it will have a white coat with a black nose! (Thanks for the info Gail).
A Green Heron on a wire. A first for me, though I saw it two times this week.
One more of the adult Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Appalachian Trail – Pochuck Creek Section and Wallkill River WR 7/17/12

Great Egret on the AT Pochuk Section.

Tuesday after work I put in some serious birding time. I started right around 4:00 in the afternoon and I drove home in the dark at around 9:30. I started at the Appalachian Trail Pochuck Creek Section. I wasn’t sure if I would ever go back there because last time there was SO much foot traffic and as a result very few birds. On Tuesday it was very hot and muggy and I was hoping that the heat would keep people off the trail – which it did. I had a productive afternoon where I identified 21 species. I caught a couple glimpses of a Marsh Wren which was pretty exciting and I got a really good look at two Great Egrets that were not very far off the trail. My best moment was finding FOUR Green Herons in the trees and bushes alongside the creek. At one point I had all four herons in my binoculars at one time.

One of four Green Herons all hanging out in one little area.
One more of the Great Egret on a stump.

I headed over to the Wallkill River Wildlife Refuge to meet up with Karen Miller around 6:00. Despite the recent rains the water levels were still very low and there were many shore birds present. I struggle with the shore birds, but since  Karen hadn’t arrived yet  I took the opportunity to take out my Sibley guide and try to figure out what birds I was seeing. I used the numerous Killdeer as a gauge for size and also watched their behavior and this is what I came up with: (1) Greater Yellowlegs, (10) Killdeer, (2) Least Sandpipers, (3) Solitary Sandpipers, and (2) Spotted Sandpipers.

Killdeer at Wallkill River WR

Karen arrived and we watched the shore birds for a while and then decided to walk the east side of the trail, the side we always like. We had a great evening of birding – we had 29 species. There were many Great Blue Herons (probably over 40) and they were very active. They were often in flight and many of them were vocalizing. We also talked about the high numbers of Canada Geese and Mallards that were present – many more than I have seen out there lately. A highlight for both of us was seeing an Orchard Oriole (thanks to John Haas for help with the ID).

Orchard Oriole at Wallkill River WR.
An Eastern Kingbird hunting over the water at Wallkill River WR.

A final highlight came at the end of the walk. It was getting pretty dark but we could see that there were some bigger birds in the water in front of the viewing platform. Karen asked me if I wanted to see a Green Heron. I wasn’t convinced, but when I looked where she told me there sure was a bird that had the general shape of a Green Heron. It looked too big to me so I started thinking it could be a Black-crowned Night Heron. It was just too dark to make out the bird from where we stood, so we made our way closer – to the viewing platform. Unfortunately, as we were trying to get a look a car pulled up and the bird flew.

I was pretty sure that it was a Black-crowned Night Heron, so I went back the next night right before Sunset. Just as it got dark FIVE Black-crowned Night Herons arrived and started to hunt in the water in front of the viewing platform. It was incredible! I tried to take some photos but did not have great results:

It was so dark when I took this photo I could barely make out the figure of a bird in the camera.
I really couldn’t see what I was taking pictures of. This shot is cool because I somehow got 3 herons in it.

Basha Kill By Kayak II – 7/6/12

I made it back out to the Basha Kill early this morning and I had a little better luck this time around. I identified 25 species including a Pied-billed Grebe which I was able to get some photos of and I was lucky enough to see two Common Gallinules – a first for me. It was a beautiful morning with some excellent birding.

*Click on photos to enlarge*

Pied-billed Grebe at the Basha Kill.
Here is the grebe again, nearly completely submerged.
This Great Blue Heron had no idea I was there, it flew right at me and then over me to my left.
The same bird as it passes just to my left.
It was a beautiful morning and the moon was still very visible.
This Great Blue Heron was too involved in fishing to notice me floating by.
I know, enough of the Wood Duck duckling photos. But they are so darn cute!


Green Herons in Goshen – Shapeshifters?

Monday afternoon I sat hidden in the bushes by the pond near my house in Goshen, NY for over two hours. I know, strange behavior. Well actually, I was watching and photographing two Green Herons that were spending their afternoon there. The herons spent their time grooming, hunting, and just sitting. It was fascinating to see how these  birds can take on a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their behavior.

*Click on photos to enlarge*


Basha Kill By Kayak 7/1/12

The recently fledged Bald Eagle, Basha Kill WMA


 I read John Haas’ blog, The Bashakill Birder on a regular basis. Recently John has posted about the great birding he has been doing from his kayak. He has been seeing some of the birds that are little more interesting to me: American Bitterns, Least Bitterns, Common Gallinules and high numbers of Great Blue Herons and Wood Ducks. Inspired by this, I made it out to the Basha Kill early this morning to do some birding by kayak. It was a beautiful morning and it was very refreshing to be out in the marsh all alone. While I did not have success with some of the harder to find birds, I did get to see many Wood Ducks (almost at every turn!) and Great Blue Herons too. I was able to get out much closer to the Osprey’s nest where I watched the two adults going after a Great Blue Heron that decided to land in a tree a little too close to the nest. I also got some amazing looks at all three Bald Eagles. I was a little disappointed that I was unable to see (or even hear!) any Common Gallinules or Bitterns, but this is just something I will work towards. It was a great day of birding and I did alright with the camera. Here are some photos from the day:


This adult Bald Eagle was keeping a close eye on its young one.
Wood Ducks were everywhere, many of them were ducklings.
One of the many Wood Ducks I flushed as I kayaked the channel.
This Mallard put on a show for me, dipping under the water several times and then flapping her wings like mad.
Adult Bald Eagle, Basha Kill WMA



Great Horned Owl at Linear Park, Sullivan County.

Tricia and I met Karen Miller out at Linear Park this evening. We were having a tough night of birding – we were hearing plenty of birds but not seeing much of anything. To make matters worse the mosquitoes were positively vicious. We were getting eaten alive in spite of putting on plenty of repellent. It was all worth it when Tricia spotted a GREAT HORNED OWL while looking at some Black-capped Chickadees across a field. The owl flew seconds later deep into the woods. We looked desperately through binoculars into the woods for the bird but with no luck. Eventually I saw a large bird fly across the path a couple hundred yards in front of us and I actually ran to try and see where it would end up. Tricia found it again perched in a tree in the field on the other side of the path. We got decent looks in our binoculars and I managed to get some photos. What an exciting experience! What an incredible bird!