A rainy Fourth of July

Common Merganser and her seven chicks.

Common Merganser and her seven chicks.


This morning I took a ride in the pouring rain to see if I could find something good on a rainy holiday. Along the Neversink River I found a family of Common Mergansers that were fairly cooperative for photos. A mother and her seven chicks swam up and down the river feeding as they went. They eventually went down stream a ways when the chicks hauled out on a rock to dry out a bit. I went on to Apollo Plaza where I quickly located the Spotted Sandpiper family. This morning, only one adult and two, now well grown, chicks were present. The chicks are about three quarters the size of the adult now. In another week, I think they will be full size. Many Killdeer were present, though I didn’t spot any new chicks. One adult Osprey was on the nest, apparently sheltering the chicks from the rain.
Time to dry out for a while.

Time to dry out for a while.

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Bashakill Floods! Timing isn’t that bad.

A Gallinule family swims along Haven Road.

A Gallinule family swims along Haven Road.


I never got to the Bashakill yesterday to see if the waters had continued to rise. I spent much of the day hiking into the Neversink Gorge with Bill and Jayne Fiero and June Fisher. Last evening, I heard from Karen Miller that she was at the Bashakill, and the water had reached flood stage. She said that like earlier in the week, Common Gallinules were easily seen, only now there were more of them. She said she had a total of 4 adults and 14 chicks! Thanks for the heads up Karen! This morning I headed right to the Bashakill with my kayak. I was able to launch right on the road near the parking area on the 209 side of the bridge. It hasn’t been this flooded in about two years. The timing however was better than in previous years. This time, all the marsh birds have had a chance to hatch at least one clutch of chicks. Once hatched, flooding is not a problem for the marsh bird chicks. I headed out from Haven Road toward the Pine Boat Launch. On this side of the kill I had six adult Gallinules and eight chicks. I then crossed Haven and headed toward Westbrookville. In fact, I kayaked all the way to just before the Deli Fields in Westbrookville. I encountered many families of gallinules along the way. In total I had 40 Common Gallinules. Six families with the following clutches – 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5. The pair with one chick, the largest chick seen and already flighted almost certainly had more, but I wasn’t able to see them due to the dense vegetation at the south end of the kill. I also saw another pair that had no chicks that I could see. Additionally, eight birds were heard that I never saw. These birds could have had chicks as well. I had four Great Blue Herons, but no other waders. I can usually find both bitterns after a flood, but this flood was not as extreme and I couldn’t find any. If your interested in seeing gallinules, either by land or kayak, the next couple of days should prove productive before the waters start t recede. FYI Haven Road is not passable in a regular car at this time. Stick to South Road, The Orchard and that side of Haven Road. If you don’t see gallinules there, they should be visible form the Main Boat Launch.
If you proceed slowly, either walking Haven Road or in a kayak, you can get some half way decent shots.

If you proceed slowly, either walking Haven Road or in a kayak, you can get some half way decent shots.

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Common Gallinule Follow Up

This morning I got out to the Bashakill before the rain, however, I didn’t get out of the Bashakill before the rain. That said, I did a census of the marsh birds via kayak for about 2 1/2 hours. I had a total of 18 Common Gallinules from the Main Boat Launch three quarters of the way to Haven Road. I had three gallinules that were giving contact and alarm calls for chicks. That brings to four the number of clutches I was able to confirm in two days. One adult crossed an opening with a single chick alongside. I’m sure there were many more. Two other adults also showed themselves, the remaining 14 birds were heard. I didn’t find any other marsh birds this morning, not even a Great Blue Heron. The torrential downpours ended any chance of finding anything else. At the end of the day, I returned to Haven Road and was really surprised to find the Gallinule and her five chicks again. They were slightly farther out than yesterday, but easily seen. This time I also had two Great Blue Herons, but no other waders.

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They’ve Hatched!

the Common Gallinule with one of its chicks.

the Common Gallinule with one of its chicks.


Its been about a week since I’ve had a chance to bird at the Bashakill. Actually, I was glad to check out some new spots and take care of some overdue chores. This afternoon, I finally went by Haven Road to check on the water level and see if anything interesting was going on. I immediately spotted a Common Gallinule only forty feet from the road with five chicks! These are the first gallinule chicks I’ve seen this year and it bodes well for the effects of water level. We’ve had a lot of rain over the last month, but it seemed to me that the water never got high enough to cause any nest damage. Another good sign was that the gallinules never changed their behavior, remaining close to nest sites and being calm throughout the storms. This is the second year that no significant flooding has occurred during the nesting season (following three years of mass flooding at that time). It was neat to watch the adult leading and calling to the chicks almost continually. Actually, that is an easy way to locate, just follow the cluck notes. These chicks are not newly hatched, but rather a week or more old. Since there are good numbers of Gallinules at the Bashakill this year, the crop of new chicks should be plentiful. I can’t wait to get back out in the kayak now, hoping to see chicks of other species like both bitterns. I’ll keep you posted!
There are actually four chicks in this shot with the adults head.

There are actually four chicks in this shot with the adults head.


One chick was particularly cooperative for pics, I thought this one was the best.

One chick was particularly cooperative for pics, I thought this one was the best.

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Woodpeckers Class

The Sapsucker chick awaits its turn at the Orange.

The Sapsucker chick awaits its turn at the Orange.


This morning I had no time to bird, so I spent a little time watching my yard birds. I really enjoy watching the woodpeckers as they teach their young where to find a good meal. The only food I provide at this time of year is Oranges and nectar. Three species of woodpeckers are currently educating their young. The Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are spending long periods at the oranges. I knew they were feeding them to their young by the constant back and forth flights from the tree. The last few days, they have been bringing the young to the oranges with increased frequency. The male Red-bellied and the female Sapsucker took turns this morning showing the young how to eat the oranges. The Catbirds hardly had a chance to get in. The Red-bellied chicks (two) quickly picked up the technique, as did the sapsucker (just one this morning). By mid morning, all of the chicks were coming to the oranges on their own, pulling the pulp out and gulping it down. The Downy Woodpeckers don’t eat the oranges. Instead, they feast at the Hummingbird feeders whenever they can squeeze in among the eight or so hummingbirds feeding. The Downy’s have just started to bring their chicks to the feeders, but I have yet to see a chick be able to hold on. I suspect it will only be a short time before they are hanging from the feeders too.
The male Red-bellied teaches his chick how to eat the orange.

The male Red-bellied teaches his chick how to eat the orange.

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Cold Spring Access Neversink Gorge

Three of the seven Hummingbirds at the sapsucker tree.

Three of the seven Hummingbirds at the sapsucker tree.


Having enjoyed yesterday so much, I couldn’t resist a try at the Cold Spring Access for Neversink Gorge today. It was another great hike with some unexpected highlights. First, the number of Hooded Warblers was impressive. I had ten male and one female Hoodeds along the trail. That is my highest count ever for a single location in the county. There were many other warblers as well. Magnolia, Black and White, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green Warblers, Ovenbird, American Redstart and Common Yellowthroat were all seen in good numbers. Scarlet tanager, Veery, Hermit Thrush and Wood Thrush were all seen. All of these species were feeding young, some of the chicks easily seen. The second highlight was finding a sapsucker tree. I spotted the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker feeding on the tree and went to investigate. It was alive with activity. First, the sapsucker didn’t look right and I kept thinking “what is wrong with this bird”? It took me a minute to realize there was no red on the bird at all. Scott Baldinger had recently shared photos with many of us of Black-capped Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers taken by Gene McGary. I hadn’t even known that there was such a morph, and now I have found one myself. I’ve included a couple of shots of the bird. Secondly, the sapsucker was far from alone in feeding on the tree. SEVEN Hummingbirds were fighting over the feast of sap from the tree as well. I tried everything to get a shot of all seven of the hummers, but five at once was the best I could do. Besides the hummingbirds, they tree was being shared with Red-spotted Purple Butterflies, bees and flies! As I went further along the trail, enjoying all the activity, I saw movement up ahead in the trees. I moved slightly to my left, and sure enough, a yearling bear was foraging on the hillside. I watched him for about ten minutes, actively searching for food and couldn’t help but feel sorry for the little guy. He couldn’t have been more than sixty pounds, small for a yearling, and kicked out by his mother all on his own. Hopefully the little guy will make out all right. Another exciting morning in the Neversink Gorge!
Though not quite as good a shot, five of the seven hummingbirds can be seen here.

Though not quite as good a shot, five of the seven hummingbirds can be seen here.


The "Black-capped" Yellow-belied Sapsucker.

The “Black-capped” Yellow-belied Sapsucker.


I see a bear on this trail just about every other time I hike it.  Missed one last time, so this one was right on cue.

I see a bear on this trail just about every other time I hike it. Missed one last time, so this one was right on cue.

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Wolf Brook and the Neversink Gorge, outstanding summer birding!

The falls on Mullet Brook in the Neversink Gorge

The falls on Mullet Brook in the Neversink Gorge


This morning I took a look at the forecast for the next three days and decided I’d better do something today. I headed over to the Wolf Brook Multiple Use Area and the Neversink Gorge. I always like to start my hike right near the kiosk at the entrance to Wolf Brook. There are many birds to see along the dirt road to the upper parking area, and I like to see as many as I can. Eastern Towhee, Gray Catbird, Prairie Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler and the occasional Hooded Warbler are among the many species seen on your way up. Indigo Bunting, Cedar Waxwing and American Goldfinch are all present as well. Once you reach the parking area, take the trail into the Neversink Gorge. It is not really marked, but is right at the back of the parking spot. This is a fabulous trail. Canada Warblers begin to show shortly (today I had a record 14 Canada Warblers here), and Hooded Warbler picks up in numbers. All the species mentioned before increase in abundance. Eastern Towhee, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Ovenbird and Black-throated Blue Warbler are so abundant that it is hard to get an accurate count. Today, Black and White Warbler was nearly as abundant as the first four. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are common here, today I had a total of five of them. Once you reach the first stream crossing ( a nice little bridge under the pines that is quite scenic) you run into your first coniferous forest species. Black-throated Green Warbler and Blue Headed Vireo can both be found here. As you head further down, you won’t believe the shear numbers of some of the species. Today, I had 13 species of wood warblers on the hike. I decided to turn around and come back up once I reached the falls, so I never reached the area for Magnolia and Louisiana Waterthrush. Altogether, I had 39 species of birds on the walk, and great looks at all of them. This was my day to get great photos of the twigs next to the birds, I sometimes run into that problem in dense woods. Some of the other nice birds seen included Black-billed Cuckoo, Scarlet Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak (rare in the gorge). The falls are of course beautiful and it makes for a nice spot to take a rest and cool down on a hot day. Great spot for lunch! I highly recommend this hike to anyone interested in birds or even just a beautiful walk through the woods.

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