After some uneventful early morning local birding, I drove up to Glasco, New York in Ulster Count to meet up with Linda Scrima and Maria Loukeris. We were going for the BARROW’S GOLDENEYE which had been reported at Glasco Mini Park in recent days. We located the bird fairly quickly far out in the Hudson River; it was keeping company with several Common Goldeneyes and a single scaup, which I’m pretty sure was a Greater Scaup. The birds were really quite distant, and additionally it was tough to get good looks because the water was quite choppy and the birds were diving regularly. But, we were patient and eventually we all got good looks in the scope and even managed to take some documentary photos, which was no small feat. One of us would look in the scope and call out when and where the Barrow’s surfaced while the others clicked away, hoping for the best. In spite of the distance and maybe because of the challenge of trying to get good looks, I really enjoyed going for this bird. The Barrow’s Goldeneye was life bird number 345 for me and my 259th New York State bird.
Linda and Maria continued north to do some Adirondack birding and I headed over to the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge to meet up with Kyle Dudgeon to try our luck with Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls. Unfortunately, it was a slow afternoon and the then the owls got up on the late side so we did not do very well with photos at all. Still, it was nice just to be out, especially for Kyle who has been away at school since January.
One of my first stops this morning was certainly the best of the day. I stopped to check out a group of approximately 500 Canada Geese located on Pierce Circle. I was not optimistic that I would find anything good among the Canadas, first of all because there were not very many birds, and second because the birds were close enough to sort through with binoculars (no scope needed!). I perked up when I located one, then two, then four GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE! Then another – make it five! I put the word out, continued looking and found a sixth GWFG. Maria Loukeris must have been in the area because she joined me pretty quickly. Shortly after her arrival, I located the SEVENTH GWFG! Scanning left to right, a group of four, then a pair, and then a single Greater White-fronted Goose sitting in the field on its own. Also present was a single Cackling Goose, close enough for some decent, if backlit photos.It was very exciting, and I particularly enjoyed when the group of four flew into the next field calling the whole time. After a few minutes, they rejoined the flock. It was hard to tear myself away from such great birds, but eventually I did.
I spent the rest of my morning and early afternoon in southern Orange County, but I did not have any additional notable sightings. I will mention that there is a huge group of Common Mergansers at Wickham Lake – I estimate 900 birds. The forecast for the afternoon and evening was clear skies, so I decided to try my luck at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR…
…and I got lucky! The Short-eared Owls got up early (around 5:00), the light was fantastic, and the birds flew close enough for some decent photos. I’ve said it many times before, but you cannot beat photographing SEOWs from the photo blinds out at the Grasslands. I got there early and waited a good while with very few birds. There were several Northern Harriers foraging the throughout the reserve and once in a while they would get close enough for photos, but there were large chunks of time with no birds at all. It was all totally worth it, of course, when the owls got up and put on their show. I counted a total of 5 Short-eared Owls, 7 Northern Harriers, and 2 Red-tailed Hawks. And I also saw my first Eastern Meadowlarks of the year. What a great day of birding!
Third time’s a charm. This afternoon I went for the BULLOCK’S ORIOLE that has been visiting a homeowner’s feeder in Ulster County, and after two unsuccessful previous attempts, I finally got to see the bird. I was joined by a Connecticut birder and we were able to locate the bird in a nearby tree relatively quickly. It fed on the far side of the suet feeder for a short time and then flew into a large evergreen where I lost track of the bird. Moments later, a Sharp-shinned Hawk shot through the yard and scattered all the birds. The Connecticut birder moved on; I stayed and the oriole returned one more time to the yard, perched for a few moments in a tree, fed very briefly and flew off. I was happy that I stayed because I was able to get a couple decent shots when the bird perched in the tree. The bird was not as large as I was for some reason thinking it would be, and the yard is mostly in shade so the bird also did not stand out as much I would have thought. It was and my 345th life bird and my 258th bird in New York State.
The homeowner welcomes birders to come try for the bird – email me for the address if you want to go for it (it has been published before, but I feel strange putting the address here). Please ring the doorbell and ask for permission and he will tell you where to best view the feeders.
I’m not sure why I picked the coldest morning of the year to go out to the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR. Well, actually, I do; I knew the cold temperatures would likely keep many folks away, so I was looking forward to a peaceful morning photographing raptors. I also have been thinking that I haven’t gotten many quality harrier photos this year, so I was hoping to change that. I arrived just after sunrise and as I drove into the refuge I saw the one other person that I suspected might be there – Ed Frampton. Ed is an awesome photographer who spends most early mornings at the refuge. He was shooting an American Kestrel perched in a tree as I slowly drove past his vehicle, doing my best not to flush the bird (which I didn’t). I parked, gathered my gear and headed out to the north photo blind. It was a cold but beautiful morning so I took an iPhone shot of the sunrise:
I spent two and a half hours in the blind and the weather was all over the map. When I arrived it was cold with some clouds, as the morning progressed the with wind picked up and was whipping pretty good. There were long periods of sunshine with intermittent clouds. To the west the sky was very dark and hazy – I eventually found out why as snow flurries moved through the refuge, even while it remained sunny.
The wind was coming from the northwest, so the Northern Harriers were hunting primarily facing that direction. Which meant that for the most part, when the birds were facing me in the blind, they were backlit by the sun as it rose in the east. This can make for some interesting photos, but really it was not what I was hoping for. It was such a beautiful morning and I was hoping for more opportunities of the birds in good light, but they were few and far between.
At one point I counted six harriers in one scan, so there were at least that many out there, and probably more than that. The only other raptor I had for the morning was the American Kestrel as I drove in. I was pretty darn cold by the time I left the blind after two and a half hours. Then, when I headed back to the car, walking into that cold northwest wind really chilled me to the bone, so was quite a relief when I finally got back into my car.
To say the meteorologists got it wrong would be an understatement. With clear, sunny skies in the forecast, Kyle Dudgeon and I headed out to the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge in hopes of getting some good Northern Harrier and Short-eared Owl photos. We arrived early enough to claim one of the four photo blinds at the refuge, but alas, the heavy cloud cover refused to clear. We approximated 6 Northern Harriers were present at the refuge; we tried for the majority of the day to get some decent photos but no harriers came close enough for any decent shots. Fortunately, it was just barely after 3:00 that the Short-eared Owls picked up. And, although they never came very close, they spent enough time around our blind to get some decent (if noisy) shots and they were as entertaining as ever. Another highlight of the day was 3 large skeins of Snow Geese which flew over, heading south.
Kyle Dudgeon and I spent the afternoon in one of the photo blinds at Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. Early on, it was very slow with only a few Northern Harriers being seen and none of them coming close to the blind. Several Red-tailed Hawks moved from perch to perch off in the distance. We had a Wilson’s Snipe do a flyover and then five Eastern Meadowlarks perched in tree. We didn’t have much excitement until later in the afternoon when the SHORT-EARED OWLS got up on the early side and put on quite a show. We had at least 4 owls and they were actively hunting and tangling with each other and a Northern Harrier as well. We spent over an hour watching and photographing the owls, which spent a lot of time around our blind but somehow never came in very close (all these images are pretty heavily cropped). I was happy to get lucky once again with these awesome birds.
My work took me up north today, so I figured I would hit the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR on my way home. I was hoping to have some better luck photographing the Grasshopper Sparrows at the reserve. On my way there, I checked Blue Chip Farms for Upland Sandpipers but did not have any luck. I was a little bit annoyed by it because there have been SO many reports of the bird at that location on eBird lately. I continued to the grasslands where I walked the trails briefly but had no luck with Grasshopper Sparrows (maybe it was the time of day? It was around 4:00 in the afternoon…). I enjoyed seeing and photographing the Bobolinks and I saw a distant Northern Harrier hunting.
On my way home, as I was checking Blue Chip Farms once again (I was doing a drive-by basically), I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw an UPLAND SANDPIPER perched on the fence closest to the road!!! I stopped the car and the bird did not flush. As I reached for my camera, a motorcycle went screaming by and flushed the bird! My heart was broken! It relocated to a far off fence where I got good looks and some distant photos. I went back to my car and waited, and I couldn’t believe it when not one, but two Upland Sandpipers flew in and landed on the grass just beyond the closest fence. Then, one of them flew closer and perched briefly on the fence! I couldn’t believe my luck, what a great day, to get photos of this bird, which until today was considered one of those awesome birds that I would probably never get a decent photograph of!
I got up really early this morning and headed over the the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. It was a little bit overcast as I arrived at just around 6:30, but it quickly cleared up and turned into a gorgeous morning. I parked my car out by the road in an effort to see as many species as possible, it can be quite birdy on the road into the refuge. It was towards the end of that road that I had my first Brown Thrasher of the year. As I entered the refuge, I could immediately hear one of my target birds, the Grasshopper Sparrow. I really like this bird for some reason, it is certainly not the most attractive bird, but I love its behavior and its call as well. I walked the Red Trail out to the furthest blind and then back; I saw 3 and heard an additional 3 Grasshopper Sparrows which seems like more than I had in that area last year at this time.
Bobolinks were numerous and very busy calling and flying over. Meadowlarks were heard more than seen, but I did see ten or so, some perched and some in flight in the distance. Killdeer could be heard and seen on occasion and I saw three American Kestrels. One pleasant surprise was a female Northern Harrier that flew close to me; she had a Red-winged Blackbird in hot pursuit.
My only disappointment of the day is that I struck out with the Upland Sandpipers. I stopped by Blue Chip Farms after leaving the refuge and then I also tried the airport in Montgomery, but it was not to be. At the grasslands, I accumulated what I think is a respectable species list for the morning, with 35 species being seen or heard:
Turkey Vulture Northern Harrier
Great Crested Flycatcher
Gray Catbird Brown Thrasher
Savannah Sparrow Grasshopper Sparrow
I finally caught up with the Ulster County Gyrfalcon again this evening. I got really good looks at the bird as it perched in an evergreen briefly on Bates Lane before heading in the direction of Old Fort Road. This is just a super bird that I feel very fortunate to be able to see at all, nevertheless so close to home. The down side is that photos were a bit tough – by the time I saw the bird, the gorgeous afternoon light was gone. It had clouded over a bit as it was getting late, pushing 4:30. Regardless, my day was made!
On my way home, I went to Lippencott Road to look for waterfowl. During a brief visit, I saw: Common Goldeneye (8), American Black Duck (5), Common Merganser (6), Hooded Merganser (2), Canada Goose (45), and Mallard (10). I also had a Cooper’s Hawk on my way over and an adult Bald Eagle perched on the ice in the river.
As a side note, I was happy to see that the number of birders out for the Gyrfalcon appeared to be down a little bit this evening (which may have been simply because it was so late in the day). If you go for this bird, PLEASE be courteous and aware of the locals. I have gotten some feedback that indicates that Gyrfalcon Circus might be wearing thin for some folks, so I think it would be helpful if everyone put there best foot forward while enjoying this fabulous bird.
I received word from Denise Farrel that the Gyrfalcon had been relocated for the fourth straight day while I was at work today. It was a beautiful day out with nice light, so I headed up to Ulster County right after work to see if I could see the bird. I knew when I saw the first traffic jam ever on Bruyn Turnpike that I would indeed be able to see the bird. The bird was perched on a fence post way out in a field, where it stayed for some time but then eventually headed back north. Karen Miller had also come straight from work and finally caught up with the bird (third times a charm). We both went to the Grasslands to see what was going on there, but there was not much activity, just one distant Rough-legged Hawk. After Karen left, I sat with Ralph Tabor and we waited for the Short-eared Owls. It was a gorgeous night with a fabulous sky and although they got up a little late for photos, Ralph and I enjoyed watching 7 Short-eared Owls put on a nice show. What a great way to end the day.