It was really, really nice to have four days off in a row. And with the pandemic still raging, we did not travel. So, that made for a good amount of birding during those four days. Noteworthy birds included more RED CROSSBILLS at Reservoir 3, the BARNACLE GOOSE continues in the area, being seen mostly at the Camel Farm, a handful of Snow Buntings at Skinners Lane, and I had my first ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK of the season. I had a good weekend with raptors, topped off by an early morning visit to the Grasslands today. It was enjoyable to be out there sitting in a blind. It sort of felt like the old days when I used to photograph many more raptors.
It’s amazing how sometimes things just work out. Today Bruce Nott located a BARNACLE GOOSE at the Camel Farm. He reported it in the early afternoon – right at my lunch time. I raced over and joined Bruce and Linda Scrima, who informed me that the bird had just taken a short flight and was out of view. John Haas arrived, and moments later the bird took flight again. I was able to get distant flight shots as it flew across the Camel Farm and put down again.
As we were observing the bird, it became clear that it was moving about with 4 other interesting looking geese. It was speculated that these were likely the same birds which have been reported around the northeast in recent years: One Barnacle Goose with 4 Barnacle x Cackling Goose hybrids.
I have to say that I was freaking out. I have waited SO long to get a Barnacle Goose in the county, it was just a fabulous looking bird, and it did not disappoint. It’s been absolutely ages since I was this excited to see a bird. The Barnacle Goose was my 264th Orange County life bird, and my 222nd bird in the county for 2020. I can’t thank Bruce enough!
I enjoyed a good couple of days birding this weekend. The highlight came first thing Saturday morning, when I had a group of six RED CROSSBILLS flyover at Reservoir 3 in Port Jervis. This is the first time I’ve had them in Orange County, making it my 263rd life bird in the county, and also my 221st bird of the year in OC. I was especially pleased because I managed to get some photos as they flew over; terrible photos, but good enough to document the species in Orange County.
Early Saturday afternoon I ran up to Kingston following up on a report of a Mew Gull. The bird was still present, but unfortunately it was ultimately determined to be a diminutive 1st cycle Ring-billed Gull. It was an interesting looking bird, I learned a little bit, and I got to see some birding buds. So, while disappointing, it wasn’t all bad.
On Sunday, my best bird came first thing again. I went to Wickham Lake, where I found a beautiful drake LONG-TAILED DUCK. This bird was just gorgeous. Unfortunately it was miles out; I’m including a documentary shot at the bottom of this post. Long-tailed Duck is probably my favorite species of duck, they definitely fit into the category of inherently cool. Leaving Wickham Lake, I went by Wisner Road on the off chance of a Northern Shrike, but of course no luck.
I spent the rest of Sunday morning tooling around the black dirt. It was birdy in general, and I sifted through several flocks of Canada Geese, but didn’t turn up anything interesting. Likewise, I looked through a flock of American Pipits without finding any longspurs or buntings. Still, always nice to see some pipits, especially when they are close enough for photos. The only real excitement I had in the black dirt was witnessing a very distant Great-horned Owl being mobbed by American Crows.
Yesterday was my final day of the year at Mount Peter Hawkwatch, it’s amazing how quickly the season goes by. It was a cool crisp day with a cold WNW wind. It was sunny but with enough clouds in the morning to help find birds. I finished the season on an up note, with a decent day consisting of 72 migrating raptors. Highlights included four Bald Eagles moving through; two adults and two immatures. Also noteworthy was 21 Red-tailed Hawk and seven Red-shouldered hawks; 2 adults and 5 immatures.
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.