For the last several months Blue-winged Teal have been being reported at the Bashakill. The first time I found them was in late March. Since that time they have been reported many times, mostly single birds, both male and female. On a few occasions, a pair has been reported together. I have been checking for these birds on a regular basis and have only found the drake myself. Yesterday, I found him and an odd thing occurred. As I watched, the duck went behind a clump of weeds. Thinking he was coming out the other side I waited. To my surprise three tiny puff ball ducklings came out from behind the weeds, followed by the drake. They were clearly newly hatched ducklings. They were mottled yellow and brown. I didn’t know what to make of it. Before I could get a shot, the three ducklings moved into the dense vegetation. The drake hesitated a moment, long enough for me to get a shot of him and then followed them in. Were these ducklings Wood Duck ducklings? Though there were Wood Ducks in the distance, they were all sitting up on logs or bogs and sleeping or preening. None had ducklings with them. Is it possible these ducklings were Blue-winged Teal ducklings? To my knowledge, drake ducks don’t interact with their ducklings, the female raising the broods on their own. That said, since Blue-winged Teal don’t breed in our area, I have no direct knowledge of their breeding behavior. Shortly after my encounter I was texting with Karen Miller. I informed her of my experience and she decided to go check it out. She did find a Wood Duck with seven ducklings. Shortly thereafter, she found and photographed the pair of Blue-winged Teal together. She did not see ducklings with them. This continues to be an intriguing situation and I think it is possible the Blue-winged Teal are breeding at the Bashakill. I have studied Blue-winged Teal ducklings now and will be able to discern them from Wood Ducklings if I see them again. They are similar, but there are some distinct differences. I will continue to monitor them as best I can and keep you posted!
I have been very busy over the last several days covering different areas of the county conducting the BBA surveys. Its always interesting to get out in areas you don’t normally bird as much to see what’s actually happening there. I think things are delayed this year due to the cold wet May we experienced. We know that a lot of migration was delayed due to the weather and I think that has pushed back dates I would normally be seeing more breeding activity ie. carrying food, feeding young, recently fledged young. That said I have been seeing some nice birds. in the northeastern portion of the county I had a number of Magnolia and Yellow-rumped Warblers the last few days. These are two birds I don’t see much in the southern portion of the county at this time of year. Other warblers I’ve seen include Blackburnian, Ovenbird, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Black-throated Blue and Green Warblers, Prairie and Black and White Warblers to name a few. I was able to record Hooded Warbler in two new spots as well. Hands down the most enjoyable experience over the last five days has been the discovery of a Pileated Woodpecker nest right off my back yard. I always have Pileateds here in the yard, but I’ve never actually found a nest here. Each year the birds bring their young through the yard as they teach them the ropes. I just happened to be on the deck Friday when I heard a calamity right out back. When I went to check, I found the nest with two juvenile Pileated Woodpeckers hanging out of it begging for food from both adults. One chick a male and the other a female. Obviously the nest has been there for weeks, but this was my first time having any noticeable activity there. The adults kept it well under wraps until the loud young birds made its presence known. Over the last several days there has been endless activity there. And they are noisy! On Sunday, the young male bird fledged! This caused a commotion and the chick ended up in a tree about forty feet from the nest hole. It was nearly impossible to see it and most of the time I can tell where it is by the parents coming in to feed it. Meanwhile, the female chick remains in the nest. She is being fed regularly and I can see the adults are trying to coax her out, but no luck so far. I would think it will be any minute now. This was especially rewarding because some how I have missed confirming Pileated Woodpecker anywhere in the county up until now. To do it in my own back yard couldn’t have been better. BTW, my yard has been a hot bed of other fledglings as well. Red-bellied Woodpecker, House Wrens, Tufted Titmice and more are all bringing chicks into the yard. A great time of year!
As has become the norm, I’ve spent the last four days Breeding Bird Atlasing. It has become pretty routine and nothing really exceptional has happened. That said I’ve confirmed quite a few birds in as many blocks. One species to take note of right now is Baltimore Oriole. They are fledging chicks at this time (photo above) and the chicks are very vocal. They call almost constantly a sort of BBB, BBB, BBB. They can easily be found and confirmed this way. Things still seem a bit behind and many birds are not yet feeding young. This should change at any minute. The best bird of this period for me was my FOS BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO!! (photo below) I was beginning to think I was going to miss this bird in a year that they are extremely scarce in our area. Daniel Danza photographed one on the Stop Sign Trail Friday, and I’ve gone there every day since in hopes of finding one. This morning as I walked along I suddenly heard a gurgling sound. I recognized it as a cuckoo vocalization, but wasn’t sure which one. A moment later it gave its kyulp call and I knew I had a Black-billed. It took me a while to find it, but once I did it was quite cooperative. This is the last species I was still hoping for on spring migration, so now I look to the start of the fall shorebird season for my next new bird.
I got a call from Ken McDermott this afternoon informing me he was watching a beautiful male Dickcissel singing right off the parking lot at the Grasslands. I couldn’t resist and headed right down. When I arrived, Ken and Mary Buskey were listening to the bird that had relocated out in the grasslands near a large tree. In fact, the bird was in the tree. Over the course of the next hour and a half, the bird moved around a lot and was singing most of the time. We also got to enjoy Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrows among the more common birds. It was a great afternoon and it was nice to catch up with Ken and Mary!
Actually, beginning last week, I started working my “Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks” in earnest. That takes quite a bit of time and its been quite enjoyable. This brings me to new locations and that usually means finding some interesting stuff. For example, its been years since I’ve seen a Great Blue Heron nest, and to be honest I haven’t seen one now. The fact is though I found a Great Blue nest off the Linear Park trail over the weekend. I just happened to see the adults fly in, and heard the resulting chaos from the squawking young being fed by the parents. The nest itself was on the backside of a huge pine and there was no vantage to see it. While working the blocks I had the occasion to have some friends pay a visit. On Saturday, Gordon and Lori Lam came up for a Linear Park Trail walk and we enjoyed a nice afternoon at the Wurtsboro diner for lunch. Its always good to see them and catch up. Then Saturday evening I got a surprise text from my friends Julia and Eildert. They were finishing up their visit to the US and wanted to make a quick trip back to Wurtsboro on their way to Toronto. We too had a great afternoon and it was great to finally meet Max! Today, I headed to Westchester County to have a change of pace and see some birds I hadn’t seen this year. I have barely left the county this year and many things would be new for me. I had a great morning with birds like Snowy Egret, American Oyster catcher, Willet, Least Tern and many others. I mentioned to Tom and Gail that I was going to detour on the way home to get my first ever Purple Martins for Westchester at Croton Point, and they were able to show me a colony I didn’t even know was present at Milton Point just up the street from Rye. While at Marshlands Conservancy, I even had a non-avian encounter with one of my favorite animals, an EASTERN BOX TURTLE! I haven’t seen one of them in several years and was really happy to find it. Thats a wrap on the last several very busy days!
With migration clearly over and our locals coming off the excitement of the Wilson’s Phalarope, its time to get down to business. With the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas well under way, I spent the last several days censusing different parts of the county. The areas I’ve covered include the Neversink River basin, Sullivan County Grasslands and Linear Park Trail. This is the perfect time to seek birds in an array of different environments around the county. Some of the highlights of the last several days include a number of Orchard Orioles, Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Green Herons. All of these birds are of particular interest to me and I enjoy finding new locals where they may be breeding. Additionally, I really enjoy seeing how our grassland species are doing. Though even this year, their habitat continues to shrink, the birds are doing well. Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink and Savannah Sparrow are all breeding in many locations in the county and its amazing to see just how resilient these birds can be. Every time I go out and work one of the atlasing blocks I find something new and of interest. I hope you will get out there as well. Help out with an atlas block or two and find something that will be of a surprise to you too. Good luck!
This morning I headed to Morningside Park to search for yesterdays Wilson’s Phalarope. It was not seen. I met several people there who were searching as well, also without luck. The Killdeer, Spotted Sandpipers and Least Sandpiper were all present, but the target bird has apparently moved on. It was a great experience though it would have been nice if it had lasted longer. I can’t help but wonder what the next great find will be…….see you there!
The Wilson’s Phalarope continues along the shore of Morningside Lake at the park near the pavilion and the playground. The bird has been present all day and is the most cooperative phalarope I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. I know its a long shot, but with these brisk north winds, maybe the bird will continue tomorrow. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
This morning I once again headed out to try to find some shorebirds. This is peak migration time for them, but conditions have to be right. I must admit that with all the great shorebirds they’ve had in Orange County the last two days I was a bit bummed by my failure to find any. This morning my luck seemed about the same. I stopped at Apollo Plaza hoping for something, but once again nothing. I decided to head up county to do some Breeding Bird Atlasing, making a stop at Morningside Park to try for shorebirds. In that order, these are our best two locations in the county for spring shorebirds. At first I found none. Then I noticed a bird in the air. It was flying almost tern like and was surely a shorebird, but I couldn’t identify it in flight. I moved more to the east along the shore, a spot the bird had passed a couple of times, with the hope of getting a photo. As I stood near the shore, the bird flew in and landed less than thirty feet from me. I instantly recognized the bird as a WILSON’S PHALAROPE! This is an extreme rarity in Sullivan County and only my second in thirty years of birding here. I got some photos and then posted the bird to our local group text and then the Mearn’s Bird Club Whats App. It seemed like forever before anyone responded, but Scott Graber eventually arrived and got to see the bird. As time passed, more and more of my local birding friends arrived and got to see it as well. Of all the phalaropes I’ve seen in New York, this was the most confiding and we were able to get close up views. Usually you view this bird from an extreme distance on a lake or mud flat. This was a great experience seeing it so close. I’d like to thank all those who came, making it a really fun morning. Who knows, with these intense north winds, perhaps the bird will stay another day. We can only hope!
Our new neighbors have been next door for less than a year and aren’t quite familiar with what goes on in the mountains. They went away today, leaving their garbage cans out at the curb. It didn’t take long before they had an interloper. Eddie looked out this afternoon and alerted me immediately, there’s a BEAR in the yard! I have to admit, I was pleased to see it! Back in the day, we had bears regularly. With the advent of new rules and stricter regulations, that doesn’t happen much any more. The bear dragged all of the garbage from their yard into ours. I think it was a blessing. So many people stopped by to see and photograph the bear in the two hours it remained, and they were thrilled to see it. After all, the weekend is a bit of a bust. It has rained constantly and the temps just barely got out of the thirties. Yes, that’s 30’s! Is this really Memorial Day Weekend? I can’t help but think that the number of people who saw this bear had an unexpected treat and gave them a memory they won’t soon forget. I hope you all stay dry and have a great Memorial Day Weekend!