The irony of birding.

Today was my first actual unhampered birding day in a couple of weeks. It felt good to get out in the field, actually walking around. That said, my first encounter of the morning left me shaking my head. I was only on Haven Road a few minutes when I noticed a swan flying in from the northeast. Excited for it to be a Tundra Swan, I was disappointed to see that it was a Mute Swan. If you follow my blog, you can probably understand why. If not, here goes. Mute Swan is normally a common bird in the county. We have many sightings each year and you usually are hoping for a bird to be either a Tundra or a Trumpeter Swan rather than a Mute. Last year, as I inched closer to setting a new record for the number of birds seen in Sullivan County the fact that none of us ever saw a Mute Swan the entire year loomed large. I waited right up until December 31st hoping this bird would show up. It of course never did. I was actually half expecting it to be on Haven Road the morning of January 1st. Well, at least it’s over. This is the first Mute Swan for all of us in two years and we’ve already got it out of the way for the rest of the year. Now, bring on the Tundra and Trumpeter Swans! BTW, thanks to all of you who let me know you had found it today as well!

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A great day for raptors!

My birding continues to be limited so today I headed up county where I could bird by car. I was hoping for some winter field birds which might have come in with the winter weather. That didn’t happen. What I did find was a nice number and assortment of raptors. The best finds were an immature GOLDEN EAGLE on Robisch Hill Road (below) in Delaware Township. This cooperative bird was soaring with four Bald Eagles along the ridge paralleling the road. I spent quite a bit of time with the bird which came and went several times over about twenty minutes. I then moved farther up county to try for additional wintering raptors. I came upon two American Kestrels, a female on Hess Road and a male on Hankins Road. As I continued along Hankins Road, I spotted three eagles over the road. I got out and found that one was an adult Golden Eagle (above). I was able to get quite a few photos of this bird as well. This was not only fun, but very rewarding in that last year it took me all the way to November 12th to get my first golden of the year. Continuing around the grassland area I had more eagles, but no more goldens. I posted to our birding group text and Renee Davis was able to come relocate both Golden Eagles and one of the Kestrels! In all today I had 8 Bald Eagles, 2 Golden Eagles, 2 American Kestrels, 1 Red-tailed Hawk and 1 Cooper’s Hawk, not a bad raptor day at all!

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Evening Grosbeaks Galore!

I’ve been sick for most of the last week, missing birding entirely three of those days. That said, it couldn’t have been better timing. There has been nothing happening in the county. All of the good waterfowl that we had been having have departed for parts unknown, probably due the abundance of open water around the state. I was finally able to get out this morning for a short time with a new but brief surgence of energy. I decided to head to the Neversink Basin and see how the Evening Grosbeaks were faring. I am pleased to say they are thriving! I had 42 Evening Grosbeaks at the Marsden’s feeders on Woodard Road. This is a high count so far, the entire winter. They remained moving between the trees and the feeders the entire visit. I then headed to Blue Hill Road. Upon my arrival I could hear Evening Grosbeaks but couldn’t see them. As I sat waiting, a large flock flew in just up the road. I walked up to the location to find many feeding in some kind of tree I am unfamiliar with. It had long wispy pods hanging in clusters and birds were feeding frantically. I could count 30 birds in the trees, but once they finished and took off, my flight shot shows there were 37 birds present. That’s a high of 79 Evening Grosbeaks this morning and I don’t even know if I saw them all! I’ve added a photo of the birds on Blue Hill Road in the tree they were feeding. Perhaps someone will know what they are eating.

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NYS DEC Winter Waterfowl Count

Sunday January 15th, I conducted a count to be part of the above-mentioned count. I counted at the Rondout Reservoir, Neversink Reservoir, Bashakill SWMA and Phillipsport Marsh. It was a pretty decent day, cold and windy to start, but the winds calmed down making it quite pleasant. Here are my totals by species.

Canada Goose – 760

Mallard – 277

Black Duck – 66

Ring-necked Duck – 7

Greater Scaup – 2

Redhead – 1

Bufflehead – 11

Common Goldeneye – 55

Hooded Merganser – 8

Common Merganser – 17

Ruddy Duck – 1

Notable misses for me included Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail and Tundra Swan, all of which were seen this past week. Others fortunately, did find some of them for the count.

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A two Owl Day!

I birded the Linear Park Trail again today and this time it was a lot more productive. There were lots of birds highlighted by Eastern Bluebirds, Rusty Blackbirds, Belted Kingfisher, Hooded Mergansers and lots more. Before I headed to the trail, I checked out a location in Wurtsboro where for many years Eastern Screech-owls have roosted. They didn’t last year, which was disappointing. This winter, I’ve checked a couple of times but didn’t find any. Today, conditions seemed perfect and indeed they were. I found a beautiful Red-phase Screech-owl sunning itself! (above) Later this afternoon I went to the Bashakill, hoping to run into some more owls. I no sooner had the thought, and I spotted the Barred Owl (below) at the Pine Boat Launch where I’ve been seeing it recently. I let Scotty know since the bird has been so cooperative and he was able to come see it as well. I decided to give one more species a try and ended the day at the Deli Fields where a pair of Great Horned Owls are occasionally dueting. No luck with them, but two owls in a day is pretty good birding!

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A three-county day.

This morning I started out at the Sullivan County Hotspots. I had all the regular species that have been found at each of the locations, primarily Rondout and Neversink Reservoirs. I did manage to miss Evening Grosbeaks at all locations, though others were more fortunate. With things kind of status quo, I decided to head to Ulster County and pick up the Harlequin Duck and Barrow’s Goldeneye for the year. They had other plans and disappeared minutes before I arrived. I did pick out a nice Long-tailed Duck among the Common Goldeneye and also spotted a Common Loon. I spent two and a half hours trying to find the others to no avail. I finally called it quits and headed to the Newburgh Waterfront. I was hoping to pick up a couple of the good warblers that have been being seen there. Not this afternoon. That said, I had a great time with the gulls. Great Black-backed, Herring and Ring-billed were all seen. As I scanned them, I picked out a third winter LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL! (above) The bird cooperated on Gully’s Roof. A short time later, I spotted an ICELAND GULL there too. Before long, Bruce Nott showed up and picked two additional Iceland Gulls, an adult and a second winter, out of the large raft on the water. A pretty good day after all!

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The first week of the New Year!

With the extremely mild weather that rang in the New Year birds have been very active and starting a new year list has been pretty easy. That said, the birds are mostly year-round species and there is no real sign of any winter finch irruption. The best birds are mostly in the form of waterfowl. The Rondout Reservoir continues to be the hotspot so far and many species can be found there. From my perspective, the REDHEAD is the best of these birds. Never common in the county, it is great to start the year with this bird. Other nice species of waterfowl that often don’t show up until later in the year include Gadwall, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Greater Scaup and Ruddy Duck. Away from the Rondout, the Neversink Reservoir has hosted a few good birds as well. Bonaparte’s Gulls and Horned Grebe, both very rare in January have been being seen! The only other species of note seen so far this week is EVENING GROSBEAK! I’m not sure of the status of this species as of today. I had three of them on Blue Hill Road on the first, and Scotty had four on Woodard Road on the second, but none have been seen since. Hopefully this is just another side effect of the extremely warm weather with completely open woodlands. Down county at the Bashakill, the water is almost entirely open. So far, only half a dozen species of waterfowl have been seen. I suspect that if weather returns to a more normal state, the birds will begin to concentrate in the typical locations. We’ll keep our fingers crossed and see what happens.

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Sullivan County “Butterflies” year in review!

When the year started out, I never expected it to turn into a “Year of the Butterflies”! I hadn’t really done much butterflying over the last ten years. I had had a previous county list of 56 species which I thought was pretty good. This year Renee Davis and Lance Verderame discussed butterflies with me several times, but I really didn’t have much interest as the year started. Then on June 7th, an unexpected event occurred. I was birding on the Stop Sign Trail at the Bashakill when I noticed a small butterfly. Something seemed different about it and I followed it, hoping it would land. Eventually it did and gave me great looks. I knew in an instant that I had never seen this butterfly before and couldn’t even imagine what it was. I took several photos and sent them to Renee and Lance. The response was most unexpected. It was not only a new butterfly to me, but it was a new record for Sullivan County. The butterfly, pictured below is called a “Hoary Edge” and I was quite excited to add it to the county list.

That was it! I began looking at every butterfly I could find, conferring with Renee and Lance and joining the annual “Butterfly Counts” that I hadn’t participated in in years. At a time when birding is slow, looking for butterflies filled my time and was really exciting. With my friends help I started searching for new butterflies around the county and it was quite productive. I added butterflies like Arctic Skipper, Harris’s Checkerspot, Pepper and Salt Skipper, Variegated, Atlantis and Aphrodite Fritillaries. The list went on and on as I added more and more species to my county list. At one point I became obsessed with the Hairstreaks. There are many species and I suddenly wanted to see as many of them as I could. I studied the butterflies’ behaviors, habitats, and host plants, all with Renee and Lance’s help. I had one particular hairstreak I had always wanted to see so I tried to track it down. It didn’t take long, and I had found a small colony of them. They breed in Juniper and Cedar trees and that’s exactly where I found “Juniper Hairstreak”!(below) Not only was this a lifer for me, but it was also another first record for Sullivan County. Additionally, it was a state butterfly for Renee and a lifer for Lance!

I was on a roll and having lots of fun! That said, summer is only just so long, and butterflies begin to wane as the season comes close to an end. I still managed to add a few new butterflies, but activity was definitely dropping off. Just then, Renee found a colony of “Fiery Skippers” at Sullivan County Community College! This was a new species to the county list and a lifer for me as well.  

That wouldn’t be the end of this year’s story though. On September 16th Diane Bliss and I were birding the Deli fields at the Bashakill when I noticed a striking butterfly. What was so striking was that it was blue! We have a few blue butterflies, Spring and Summer Azure and Eastern Tailed-blue, but this was larger and more cobalt! I had no idea what it was. When it landed, I had part of the answer. It was a “hairstreak”! But what hairstreak? I didn’t even know there was a blue one, much less that it occurred here. I took lots of photos and sent them to Renee and Lance and was surprised at the response. It was a “White M Hairstreak” it is only blue from above (just try to photograph that!), but very distinctive below as well. This was yet another new species for Sullivan County!

Things really wound done after that, but what a year it had been. I had a total of 62 species for the year that included 15 new species for my county list (all lifers!) bringing my total county list to 71 Species! I can’t thank Renee and Lance enough for reigniting my interest in butterflies! We all had lots of fun with it this year!

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Sullivan County Year in review! One of our best years ever!

Once in a great while Sullivan County experiences a phenomenal year. This just so happened to be one of them. The year started off typically, with all the expected species being seen on the water and feeding stations. Then in mid-February things started to amp up. Scott Graber and I found a NORTHERN SHRIKE at the Deli fields and some good field birds came on the scene with Horned Larks, Snow Buntings and Rough-legged Hawks all being seen. With March came a real influx of waterfowl with some nice year birds found. TUNDRA SWANS, often scarce, were seen for nearly three weeks. They were at both the Bashakill and Swan Lake, a total of 22 birds. While searching through the swans, I found our first of the season CACKLING GOOSE which was ultimately seen by many. Many first of the year birds continued to arrive when on March 21st I found six RED CROSSBILLS! This was just the tip of the iceberg, and many more crossbills as well as many Pine Siskins would be seen over the next six weeks. While searching for the crossbills, I came upon a SANDHILL CRANE on Muhlig Road in Neversink. This was my first ever Sandhill in the county away from the Bashakill. Spring migration was excellent, and all the usual species arrived as expected. On May 13th, the most unexpected thing happened. I was photographing shorebirds along Haven Road at the Bashakill when four terns flew past me. I was sure they were COMMON TERNS since I had had two just the previous week and that is the default species in spring. I ran into Karen and Kevin Brady and told them what had happened. Kevin said, “I think they may be out there now” and indeed there were terns. We went back to Haven Road to find 14 more terns flying around. We took many photos and alerted others. The birds remained the entire morning, picking up another 2 birds then departing just before noon. No sooner had they gone, I heard of an unprecedented influx of ARCTIC TERNS (below) into the northeast. I contacted Shai Mitra and Pat Lindsey and informed them of what had happened, ultimately sending them dozens of photos to see if any of the terns I had were Arctic. It turned out ALL of them were Artic Terns, a total in 20 from the morning. This was a first record for Sullivan County and Region 9, the influx having occurred throughout the region that day! A BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER in May was an excellent find by Renee Davis and rare for the county. Another excellent bird was a WHITE-EYED VIREO! We had gone years without having any in the county and then had them show up last year. This bird remained just two days, but was a nice addition to our annual list. Warblers, Vireos, Sparrows and more all did their thing and we ended spring migration with an impressive 204 species for the county. I couldn’t help but wonder if something was happening here and that this would be a year to remember.

Mid-August would see a wave of new year birds that would excite us all. The first and foremost was a beautiful, RED-NECKED PHALAROPE I found at Morningside Park.

Little did I know that it would be the first of a string of shorebirds that would give us our best year for shorebirds in five years. The Phalarope was soon followed by SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER and SANDERLING! September and October brought their share on great birds with FORSTER’S TERN, CASPIAN TERN, CLAY-COLORED SPARROW, (below) WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER all being seen. Early November provided NORTHER SAW-WHET OWL and GOLDEN EAGLE!

I had reached a total at that point of 223 species for the county this year! This was a new second place high count, the previous second place year having tallied 222 species. With seven weeks left in the year, could I set a new record high for the county? Could I still get more birds? There were certainly lots of possibilities, many species have shown up in November and December before, would they show up this year? The next month would be excruciating. With so many possibilities, you would think that something would show up, but nothing did. Then on December 9th, I hiked the Birch Trail at the Bashakill. We had just had a deep freeze, and this often concentrates birds in areas with open, warmer water. I hiked to the tower and back. As I was halfway back, a flycatcher flew out from along the water’s edge between the trail and the ice. I couldn’t believe my eyes, a flycatcher in December. I had several looks at the bird and then it began to call. I immediately recorded it on my Merlin App in my phone. I didn’t recognize the call and was sure it was none of our normally occurring summer species. Once I lost the bird I went home and sent my poor photos and the recording to Jay McGowan at the McCauley Library at Cornell University. It only took Jay ten minutes to get back to me informing me I had found a HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER! (below) Only the fourth record for New York and a first for Sullivan County. I now had a new second place high of 224 species, second only to the 225 total I had had in 2011! Would I be able to get two more birds to break the record? Unfortunately, not. No more new species would be found in the county this year. That said, the phenomenal year continued right up to its end with a great Christmas count. We had 57 species on the count, plus two count week species. I personally found a Ruddy Duck and Black Vulture which were my first ever on a Christmas count. That wasn’t the best of it though, I also found a Tundra Swan at the Bashakill. This was the first time we have ever had this species on our count in its 50-year history. More nice birds showed up the last few days of the year, but we had had them earlier in the year as well. It was a fantastic year and once again all of our local birding group had over 200 species for the year! This bird also brought my county total to 289 species for all time.

New York year in review.

I didn’t spend a lot of time outside my home county this year. Orange and Ulster Counties drew most of my attention. I added several species to each of those counties and several were new region birds as well. In Orange I saw the long staying Neotropic Cormorant that was found by Bruce Nott, the Orange-crowned Warbler, also found by Bruce, and a flock of American Avocet found by Jarvis Shirkey. This brought my Orange County total to 286 species. In Ulster County I was able to see Mountain Bluebird, Yellow-throated Warbler, Gadwall, Vesper Sparrow, and Harlequin Duck, bringing my Ulster total to 198 species. Westchester’s new species, Loggerhead Shrike brought that list to 196. Rockland County provided me with many new birds including my first Piping Plover for the region. All these birds brought my Region 9 total to 340 species!  Around the state there were 14 new state birds possible for me this year, few were chaseable. I didn’t take the pelagic trips and that accounted for a third of the new birds. Most of the birds that showed up on land weren’t within my reach. Though seen well by many, they were one day wonders that weren’t found after that initial sighting. That left three birds within my grasp. My first new state bird was a CINNAMON TEAL. The bird was on Groveland Flats in western New York and was viewed at a great distance by scope. The next bird was a miracle. I was at the Bashakill when I got a text stating that a SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHER (below) was found in the Bronx. On a whim, I headed right down. I joined dozens of other birders and spent a few hours searching for the bird. I had just decided to give up and was walking up a side street when the bird flew out in front of me, landing in a tree along the side street. I got great views and some decent photos as well. The third bird was a MOTTLED DUCK found at Ketcham’s Creek on Long Island. Renee Davis and I went down twice in the spring, but those were two of the days the bird wasn’t seen. We finally gave up and the bird disappeared. Fast forward to October and the bird returned to the same spot. This time Renee and I zoomed down and got some good looks and photos of the bird. They were the three new state birds, bringing my total state list to 429 species!

Birds of the year!

Each year I designate a bird of the year in three different categories. ABA, State, and county. This year is once again a tough decision in all the categories. For the second year in a row, I didn’t get a life bird, not even a new ABA bird, so it narrows the candidates. Unfortunately, I was unable to travel out of state this year, so all the birds occurred in New York.

ABA Bird of the Year: SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHER – I’ve only had this bird three times before, twice in the ABA area. I never expected that I would get to see it in New York.

New York State Bird of the Year: ARCTIC TERN – While I’ve seen Arctic Terns on many occasions, they were always on the coast or at Sea. Once again, the possibility of seeing this species, much less twenty of them, inland, here in Sullivan County was beyond my wildest imaginations.

Sullivan County Bird of the year: HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER – This bird was again not even on my most distance radar. Through the years I’ve always hoped that at some point Sullivan County would get one of the great flycatchers that most of our neighboring counties have had, but I never dreamed I’d come upon this bird. It made the experience even better when the bird was relocated the following morning and so many people got to see it as well.

As always, I’d like to thank so many people for all their efforts and support this year. Our local birding group members, Scott Baldinger, Scott Graber, Renee Davis, Patrick Dechon and Karen Miller all helped make it a great year. From Orange County, Bruce Nott, Ronnie DiLorenzo, and Jeanne Cimorelli have all given so much to our birding efforts this year as well. There are many others who have contributed as well, thank you so much! I can’t wait to see what the New Year has to offer!

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A surprisingly good morning and a mad dash this afternoon!

This morning I birded the Rondout Reservoir hoping some new birds might have come in. I was pleasantly surprised to find that some had. I was trying to spot the drake Gadwall that I had inadvertently flushed from the small channel along the road at the intersection when I spotted a drake REDHEAD! As I was watching the Redhead, a RUDDY DUCK swam up alongside it. Ruddy Duck is actually very rare at this location and only the second time I’ve seen it here. The ongoing abundance of waterfowl included the Gadwall, a Northern Pintail and a Greater Scaup. Of course, Canada Geese, Mallards, Black Ducks, Common and Hooded Mergansers were all in good numbers. The ongoing Belted Kingfisher was present as well. I left the reservoir and headed to Hunter Road in my ongoing quest to find a Lapland Longspur this year. I had a start when I flushed 11 Snow Buntings from along the road but unfortunately there was no Longspur among them. I had no sooner gotten home when I heard that Peter Schoenberger had found a female HARLEQUIN DUCK just south of Port Ewen along the Hudson River. I zoomed over with little time to spare. I arrived at 4:20 pm to find everyone had left. No worries, I set up my scope and was on the Harlequin in just moments. There was also a Barrow’s Goldeneye present, but the goldeneyes were diving so much I never really zeroed in on it. I was excited to watch the Harlequin since it was a new regional bird for me, my 340th! It was also my 198th species for Ulster County so I’m getting close to that 200 mark for that county as well. A very distant poor photo of the Harlequin is below. A really busy day overall, but lots of good birds!

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