Thursday, January 24, 2008

A field full of raptors

Had an abbreviated but wonderful field trip today out to the farm fields along Purgatory Road near Goshen, NY. As soon as we turned off Sarah Wells Trail, we were greeted by several Northern harriers of both sexes working the fields. One actually flew within 10 feet of the car as we drove slowly down the blacktop. As pulled over when Sharon noticed a white-breasted bird off in one of the trees in the middle of the field. Out came the spotting scope and soon we had a grand view of a light-morph Rough-legged hawk. Too far out to photograph, the bird still was a sight to behold and posed nicely for a long look. Soon, a dark morph of the same species came flying in, hovered over the field nearby, and then settled down on the wooden fence close to the car. The lighting was terrible, with the bird almost directly between me and the sun. Undaunted, I slowly crept down the road and back to a position where the bird was nicely illuminated. Show time....I got several decent shots of this black beauty. Later, we had close views of Redtails and more harriers. The one disappointment of the afternoon was that one of our target birds for the day, the Short-earred owl, never showed despite our observing until dark. All in all a very enjoyable late afternoon, however.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Haverstraw eagles

We had a tip that a large number of eagles were congregating near the Haverstraw marina. Haverstraw Bay is a wide expanse of shallow water, perfect for eagles on the hunt. It made sense that they might be found here, and so Sharon and I drove down with high expectations. We were specifically directed to a small kayak launch area opposite the north end of the marina. A small stream runs between the launch area and an isolated area of land. As we pulled into the parking lot of the put-in, we were greeted by the sight of a tall tree with no fewer than 8 eagles perched within its boughs. Soon, the eagles were taking flight right over our heads. They would head out over the Hudson and then return back to the roosting site. At one point, a mature and three immatures all took flight in close unison. It was as if the immatures were taking their lead from the senior member of the quartet up front. Quite a display! As we headed out of the parking lot, a beautiful mature bird was seen perched very close to the road. We slowed down and opened the sunroof to get a wonderful closeup view of our nation's symbol.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Birds of a feather

We traveled down to Rockland Lake, NY to check on the migratory waterfowl present there at this time of year. Several days ago, there was much more open water than today. But there was still enough unfrozen water to warrant a fair number of species using the park. The phrase "Birds of a feather" had little relevance today as ducks of all sizes, shapes and colors peacefully coexisted side by side. It was wonderful to look in the spotting scope and see a European wigeon, a Redhead, Buffleheads and Ringneck ducks all in the same frame of view. Also making an appearance were American wigeons, Common mergs, Gadwalls, Mallards, Canada geese, and Mute swans. A nice way to pile up some checks on the Year-list.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Networking is a wonderful thing. This morning as we were returning from a visit to the eye doctor's office, a call on the cell phone from a fellow birder regarding the appearance of what was easily over 1000 Snow geese brought Sharon and me along with a number of other club members to Skinners Road in Florida, New York. The sky was literally blackened with the birds whenever they chose to rise as one. They would fly over head so close you could hear their wingbeats, circle around the vast fields, and eventually land back on the turf, again in unison. We scanned the massive flock in vain as we tried to pick out a Ross's goose, another species known to "hang with" the Snows. The failure to spot a Ross's was the lone down point of this remarkable show. We watched the aerial displays for over an hour before having to abandon the fields for more mundane tasks of daily life. But this was certainly a sight to remember.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Coastal birds

We spent Saturday birding Jones Beach and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in search of wintering waterfowl and other migrants. One of our first encounters was with a Blue goose, actually a darker morph of the Snow goose. The goose was far too concerned with grazing along the roadside to be worried about several photographers stalking it. It's companions were not other Snow geese but rather a contingent of our more familiar Canada geese. As numerous as the Canadas were, they were far outnumbered by the migrant geese from much further north...the Brant. Literally thousands of brant filled the inland ponds at Jones Beach, while out in the ocean, an even greater number of Black and Surf scoters were riding the surf. Estimates from knowledgeble birders placed the number of these birds anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000. At the tower, we were at first thwarted in our attempts to find the Peregrine falcons which often frequent the building, but shortly thereafter, we did spot two fine specimens circling and eventually alighting on the very top of the monument. The sighting of the day had to be the spectacularly plumed Harlequin duck. These ducks have to be among the most gorgeous of avian world.

We finished off the day with a walk to the West Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Adding to the day's count were large numbers of Show geese, a Redhead, several Buffleheads, Hooded and Red-breasted mergansers, Pintails, and a Cooper's hawk which swept through the area as we searched for our final few birds in the day's fading light. Another fine day in another wonderful venue.

Friday, January 11, 2008


After a day of birding which began at 6:30 AM in search of the still evasive Hoary redpoll, we head over to the Shawangunk Grasslands preserve at the old Galeville airport. Our target species here is the rough-legged hawk. We are not disappointed as the hawk makes an appearance after only 5 minutes or so. We get really nice views of the dark phase bird through the scope even though he is too distant to photograph. That will have to wait till another day. Later in the evening, we take our two "local" grandsons to one of our favorite birding spots, Kenridge Farm. We find three muskrats feeding along the rim of the pond. One is quite close and is too busy grazing to be distracted by our presence. The kids know they have to be very subdued to get close and they do a wonderful job. Both are "junior naturalists, having gone through the local nature museum's educational program and they quickly id the mammal as a muskrat rather than a beaver. Nice end to a long day in the field. Oh, by the way......the Hoary redpoll continues to frustrate us. Maybe this weekend?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Canvasbacks return

After a number of trips down to Stony Point in search of the annual influx of Canvasbacks, today's venture proved worth the effort. Two rafts totalling 46 individuals were spotted in their usual cove just south of the Stony Point Marina. The arrival of these beautiful waterfowl are a sure sign of the onset of the winter season. Year after year, the Canvasbacks return to this exact spot. What draws them to these wintering grounds? Perhaps it is because the cove is secluded and protected from the heavy currents further out in the Hudson River, and the depth is shallow here providing for easy access to the vegetation which these ducks feed upon. Get them while you can, because here it is well into January and although they just arrived, these ducks will start heading back north next month.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


We birders are always trying to add to the list of birds we have seen during the course of our lives. For obvious reasons, these are known as "life-birds". For those of us who take this far too seriously, we travel around the state and further in search of reported birds which will be additions to our list. Today was one of those days. Two birds not on my list were reported in my home county of Orange and in neighboring Sullivan county. I've spent three days skulking around the reported site of a Hoary redpoll with no results, but I did manage to bag the Pine grosbeak and capture some images of this new lifer. Both of these birds are normally not found in New York, but a shortage in the pine cone production in Canada and points north has forced these avian visitors to journey much farther south than normal and into our neighborhood. We did get some nice looks at Bald eagles again today, another visitor from the north. Tomorrow, we'll trek out in yet another attempt for the redpoll.....wish us luck.

Friday, January 4, 2008

First of the year

We're in Connecticut, heading back from a weekend in Vermont. We decide to take a quick ride down along the Shepaug River in Southbury, CT to check on the eagle activity and officially begin our "year list". We find three mature eagles down near the dam. Two are in flight, but the third sits up nicely in the sun, allowing us to get good looks at the bird. As we head back towards I-84, Sharon spots a fourth bird sitting close to the water on a low branch. We pull over and attempt to get a closer shot. The bird is easily spooked, however, and takes flight early on. There are several juncos working the fields along the river, and then we spot a pair of beautiful bluebirds. These birds do not appear to be as shy as the eagle was and show little concern as they allow us to take several nice photographs. The wind is strong and the temperatures are in the teens, but these little birds seem quite comfortable as they stay in the shelter of the brush. Later in the day, at Croton NY, we find Common mergs, a fine Long-earred owl, and other more common birds to serve as the base of our list of this year's list.....a good start.