My birding today was sort of a comedy of errors. After some unremarkable birding in the black dirt in the morning, I headed over to the Hudson River, where some excellent gulls have been reported recently: Lesser Black-backed Gull, Iceland Gull, and Glaucous Gull. I spent some time at the Newburgh Waterfront without any luck, so I headed over to Beacon. In Beacon, I again had no luck. So, I headed back to Newburgh. As I started scanning, I received a call from birding bud and fellow gull enthusiast Bruce Nott. He was just north of me, and he had located a young GLAUCOUS GULL across the river in Beacon. I located the bird easily with his directions and then jumped in the car and headed BACK to Beacon to try for a better look and some photos.
Once in Beacon, I couldn’t relocated the Glaucous Gull, lol, but I did find a first winter ICELAND GULL. I called Bruce and he was still on the Glaucous – it had drifted pretty far south, so I repositioned myself and got on the bird with my scope. I tried for photos, but it was just too far. I went back to the where the Iceland was but moments after I arrived, a train spooked the gulls and the Iceland flew north until I lost sight of it.
I continued to scan from Beacon, and I located a bird on the Newburgh side of the river that looked good for a LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. I called Bruce; he got on the gull and sure enough it was a LBBG! So, I jumped in the car once again, BACK to Newburgh! I joined Bruce at Newburgh Waterfront and he got me back on the bird; it was a beautiful second winter bird that looked incredible in the scope, but again just too far for photos.
Bruce and I lingered for a while, shooting the breeze and scanning for gulls. And it payed off. Bruce located an adult bird with white primaries. It was on the water, head tucked in and distant. My camera wouldn’t focus on the bird – too far again. But Bruce got some shots of the bird on the water, and then when the bird took flight, I followed it in my scope and gave Bruce direction as to the location of the bird so he could get some flight shots (see above). Bruce and I weren’t sure if the bird was an Iceland or a Glaucous; in the field the bird did not appear noticeably smaller or larger than the nearby Herring Gulls. Thankfully Bruce got the photos, which he sent around; the consensus was adult GLAUCOUS GULL, my 265th species in Orange County. What a crazy good day; huge thanks to my partner in crime Bruce.
What can I even say about 2020? It was a year like no other, that’s for sure. The Covid-19 pandemic changed our lives in many ways, including birding. In early March I started working from home. It was the most time during daylight hours that I’d ever spent at home – my usual routine was go to work during the weekdays and go to birding locations in the evenings and on the weekends. Being home every day, I was amazed at how many good birds could be seen right in my own yard.
Our yard, of course, had plenty of the usuals – chickadees, titmice, wrens etc… but we also had some more interesting birds. I was shocked to see that a pair of Wood Ducks had taken to roosting in the trees in our yard for short time at the end of April. A Wood Thrush spent the morning in our side garden on May 1st; I thought that was pretty cool but it was easily topped by my “Yard Bird of The Year”, a LINCOLN’S SPARROW in the back yard just two days later. Spending time on the back deck and looking to the sky after wrapping up work proved to be productive, with some interesting flyovers: Common Nighthawk, Great Egret, SANDHILL CRANE, and many Bald Eagles. The vultures continued to roost in the evergreens in the backyard. We had success with a hummingbird feeder for the first time. We watched Blue Jays successfully fledge their young in the backyard, while sadly all the eggs were taken one night from the American Robin’s nest in the front yard. In the fall, we had Red-breasted Nuthatches hanging around. It was a silver lining of the pandemic to be able to get a better picture of just what goes on around here when I’m gone.
YEAR OF THE GULL IN ORANGE COUNTY
I had an amazing year with gulls in Orange County, having observed eight different species in 2020. Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed are expected and were seen many times throughout the year. Bonaparte’s are reliable most every year and I had a couple of sitings in April. I had only one Iceland for the year, in January. At the end of March, Bruce Nott located a beautiful young LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. I was able to track that bird down on three occasions. On July 10th, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Fay, I went to Kowawese Unique Area and scanned for gulls in the rain. I was rewarded with a fly-by FRANKLIN’S GULL. It was not only a county bird for me, but a lifer as well (my only life bird of 2020!). Then, on August 4th, in the evening, at the tail end of Tropical Storm Isaias, I had my eighth and final gull species in the county for the year: a hatch year LAUGHING GULL.
There were, of course, many other highlights for me through the year. In January there was a Greater White-fronted Goose at Skinner Lane. In February, there was a gorgeous young GOLDEN EAGLE hanging around the black dirt terrorizing Snow Geese. I couldn’t believe that bird was around and I couldn’t get enough of it. In March I ran for a Eurasian Wigeon at the Bashakill; it wasn’t the greatest look but that’s always an excellent bird to see. In April I had a FORSTER’S TERN as well as a Caspian Tern in Newburgh, as well as a pair of Surf Scoters at Wickham Lake.
On May 18th, Bruce Nott found another great bird, a BLACK TERN in breeding plumage at the Liberty Loop. In early June Rob Stone found a Wilson’s Phalarope at the Camel Farm. I ran for that bird at lunchtime; it was my 260th life bird in Orange County. In late July, when the pandemic was seemingly starting to get under control, we took our only trip of the year and spent just over a week on the Maine coast. We enjoyed taking the Puffin Watch Cruise out to Eastern Egg Rock Island, where I got my best looks and photos of puffins yet.
August, which is typically associated with the doldrums of birding, brought one of my favorite stories of the year. While birding at Beaver Pond on August 15th, a fledging Cedar Waxwing (later to be named Carson C. Waxwing) flew down and landed on my scope and then hopped onto my hand. I eventually rescued Carson and delivered him to The Avian Wildlife Center for rehabilitation. If you missed this story the first time around, you can catch up here, here, and here. I think it’s worth a read. I spoke with Giselle at the center today, and the latest update is that Carson is still at the center, where it has molted and now will over-winter before being released in the spring. So, it’s still looking good for a successful recovery… touch wood, fingers crossed, etc…
In early September I enjoyed a couple of BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS out at Skinner’s Lane, always a favorite. Later in the month I spent a weekend in the Adirondacks, where I did really well getting many of my target species: Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Canada Jay, and my first ever decent look at a Ruffed Grouse. In October I counted the only GOLDEN EAGLE of the season at Mount Peter Hawkwatch on the 17th. At the end of the month I got a fantastic look at a LAPLAND LONGSPUR at Skinner’s. November was pretty exciting with my first ever BARNACLE GOOSE and RED CROSSBILLS in Orange County. I have been waiting for ages to get a Barnacle in the county! December has been a good month too, with another Lapland Longspur (this one at Turtle Bay), and a worthwhile trip to Rye, NY where I saw my first ever Glaucous Gull in NYS.
TOP TEN PHOTOS
This is my favorite part. I really enjoy looking back and picking out the photographs which speak to me and seem to have held up; I hope you enjoy my choices.
So, I guess that’s a wrap on 2020. As always, I’d like to thank everyone who reads the blog . I’d also like to thank all my birding friends out there for yet another excellent year of birding, you know who you are. Happy New Year to everyone out there, here’s hoping that 2021 will be a better, birdier year.
This morning I headed Rye Playland to try for the GLAUCOUS GULL that Gail Benson and Tom Burke reported at that location yesterday. It was a beautiful, cold and sunny day, my favorite type of winter day; a perfect day to put some new Christmas winter gear (coat and gloves) to the test. I was not optimistic about my chances of getting my target; gulls seem to be tough bird to run for. Regardless, I was pretty sure it would be a good day of birding, Rye in the winter is always a good birding trip.
I parked by the ice rink and walked the pier; a flock of 60 or so Brant flew overhead and I able to locate a Long-tailed Duck and my first Common Loon, Buffleheads, and Red-breasted Mergansers of the day. From there I headed over to Playland Lake, where I had great looks and a photo op with a single adult female Common Goldeneye.
Leaving the lake, I found Gail and Tom – were just on the GLAUCOUS GULL, but it must have flown as they were saying goodbye to a friend and it wasn’t present. I can’t thank Tom and Gail enough, they did everything in their power to relocate the gull for me, and after parting ways for a short time, I received a call from Gail – they had the gull again! I hustled to join up with them, but alas the bird had flown again. Moments later, Tom picked up the bird in flight right over our heads and we watched as it put down on the rocks across the way. What a big, beautiful beast of a gull! I was blown away; I think because I’d lowered my expectations, it was that much better getting the bird. It was the third Glaucous Gull I’d ever seen, and my first in New York state, making it my 311th NYS bird.
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!
It’s hard to believe it, but it’s already time for the start of another season at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch. Today was my first day as official counter, and as early as it is in the season, it was expectedly slow with only 10 migrating raptors. But, there were some highlights – (8) Bald Eagle sightings, four of which migrated, a quick look at a couple of Cape May Warblers, a couple of lingering Black-throated Green Warblers, and my favorite part of the day: a messy ball of 11 Double-crested Cormorants flying high south of the viewing platform. You can see my report for HawkCount at the bottom of this post.
Yesterday I got out of work a little bit early, so I decided to head up the the hottest hotspot in Ulster County: Ashokan Reservoir. There has been a White Pelican present for some time, and now there is a BROWN BOOBY. I took a nice drive up to the reservoir, and with some guidance from a quick call with John Haas, I was able to locate the bird easily. It’s quite a bird to see, and I had nice looks in my scope, but unfortunately it’s preferred perch is just a bit out of range for good photos. Consolation prize (in the photography dept) was a young Bald Eagle perched close to the road. I enjoyed the booby, and I was glad to add it to my NYS list – # 310.
The back pond at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge’s Liberty Loop has been one of the hottest birding spots in the area recently (this part of the loop is located in Sussex County, NJ for all of you concerned with which county and state the birds are located in). I spent a pleasant and productive morning there; I’m pretty sure I got all the recent good birds/rarities reported: GLOSSY IBIS (3), LITTLE BLUE HERON, SNOWY EGRET, and SANDERLING.
My main goal of the morning was, of course, shorebirds. Although besides the Sanderling I did not find anything else out of the ordinary, shorebirds were plentiful in number of both species and individuals:
Semipalmated Plover (2)
Least Sanpiper (10+)
Pectoral Sandpiper (3)
Semipalmated Sandpiper (4)
Wilson’s Snipe (3)
Solitary Sandpiper (3)
Lesser Yellowlegs (20+)
I left the refuge just before 10 am, just as it was starting to get a little warm. I finished the morning with 44 species; the only target bird I missed was Least Bittern, which I’ve been getting out there on a regular basis. Nice morning of birding, and some photo ops on top of it all.
Three BLACK TERNS were reported at Wallkill River NWR’s Liberty Loop on Friday by birding bud Maria Loukeris. I couldn’t make it out Friday after work, but tried for them on Saturday morning, fully convinced that they would be gone. But!, luckily one of them hung in there for me; as I walked the east side of the loop a woman who did not appear to be a birder told me it was in the back pond.
Black Tern is a really cool bird, and I enjoyed observing and trying to photograph this bird, which I believe was an adult in non-breeding plumage. Unfortunately, Black Tern is a photo-nemesis bird for me. I don’t know what it is, but in spite of seeing this species at least a half dozen times now, I just can’t get a good photo. One thing that hit home yesterday was that it’s a small tern. I realized it because as the bird fed, there were swallows giving it the business the entire time. It’s the smallest tern we get in the our area, listed in Sibley as a mere 9.75″. Compare that to 12″ and 13″ inches for Common and Forster’s Tern respectively, and a whopping 21″ for Caspian Tern. Add to that an erratic flight while feeding, and the bird is tough to pick up and get into focus in the camera. That said, I’ve had the species perched and still the pics were not great. One day I’ll get a goodie.
QUICK POST: Today would have been a good day to get out of work early. As it was, I had a hellacious work day and ended up working pretty late. I did make it out the Newburgh Waterfront in time for one darn good bird late in the evening: a hatch year LAUGHING GULL. The bird was hanging out with a number of Ring-billed Gulls on the docks by Blue Pointe restaurant. Earlier in the evening, I missed some good birds. Rob Stone had two SOOTY TERNS fly south along the river, as well as another unidentified tern. Also, Bruce Nott, after putting in a lot of time at the river, went to Washington Lake and located a Common/Forster’s Tern there. And finally, while not not on the river, Linda Scrima had a Short-billed Dowitcher in the puddles at Turtle Bay. Once again, bad weather = good birds.
I have to thank birding bud Maria Loukeris. This morning she forwarded a Birdcast email about Tropical Storm Fay. At that point, the storm wasn’t even on my radar, but I soon learned that Fay was forecasted to pass right through our area this afternoon and into the night. With that in mind, I headed over to the Hudson River after work, hoping the storm would bring in some interesting birds.
My first stop was at Plum Point, where I used the pavilion to stay dry and still be able to scan the river. After about forty minutes or so, I had an interesting gull fly by. UPDATE 07/11/20: The ID of the interesting gull in question has been corrected; the bird is not a Laughing Gull but rather a FRANKLIN’S GULL! I was up early and out at the Hudson River when John Haas gave me a call. He was looking at the photos on the blog (rather than an iPhone shot of the back of my camera), and he was having his doubts about the bird being a Laughing, and that he was leaning towards it more likely being a Franklin’s. He wasn’t very familiar with the bird in this plumage, but he mentioned the white tips on the primaries, as well as the more extensive white on the nape. A little later, Richard Guthrie reported on the Mearns app that the bird was in fact a Franklin’s Gull. I’m going to go back now and look at my photos vs the books and see what I can learn. The good news for me is that the FRGU is a life bird for me, number 422 worldwide!
My plan was to just bird from Plum Point, and then head home. But, I got some more help, this time from Rob Stone. He said I should definitely head over to the Newburgh Waterfront before heading home. There was a break in the weather, so I decided to do just that. Before I left , though, I also had an Osprey, which I thought was interesting.
At the riverfront, shortly after my arrival I located a tern flying high overhead. I actually wasn’t sure what kind of tern it was, I guess I was kind of freaking out and I was taking photos in an effort to document. The bird stayed at a pretty good height and eventually disappeared from view, heading south along the river. Looking at photos afterwards, it became clear that it was a CASPIAN TERN. I’m surprised I didn’t get the ID right away, but that’s how it goes sometimes. What a night! And, with the storm continuing through tonight, I’ll be back at the river at first light, hoping for more goodies.
This morning I got a call from Rob Stone. I figured it had to be something good for him to call me while I’m working, and it was. He had located a WILSON’S PHALAROPE at the Camel Farm. I was able to run for the bird at lunch time and thankfully it hung in there for me. Gail Benson and Tom were on the bird when I arrived, which made it a very easy get. They said that they believed the bird to be a transitioning female, but wanted to check additional resources to be sure. It wasn’t the most colorful bird, but beautiful to see nonetheless. I tried to document, but between the distance, the harsh sun, and heat shimmer, the results were less than stellar. The bird was my 260th Orange County life bird.