Tag Archives: NY

Blue Skies, Nuthin’ but Blue Skies


We all stared at the flat blue expanse of the firmament. Not a cloud, not a wisp, heck, very few contrails even.  We battled eye floaties, crinks in our necks, and sunburn hoping today was the big one; when the flow of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks would come down from their summer forest homes in the north. We got excited by a plane or a vulture, to use as a point of reference.  We strained to ID distant tiny specks, hurried to count swirling kettles before the birds started to peel away, setting their wings for a drive south. These are the hard days when a  lot of eyes trained to the sky helps.

Luckily for me, lots of people showed up at the Mount Peter Hawk Watch today.  In addition to the other sharp-eyed counters, we had almost 12 members of the Fyke Nature Association come for a field trip.  Chief among them was Stiles Thomas, who established the Hawk Watch in 1958.


According to the history section of the Mt. Peter page on HawkCount! “The Montclair Bird Club of NJ sponsored the ‘Across the State Hawk Watch of 1958’.  The two day watch on September 28 and October 18 produced 349 raptors of 10 species for Mount Peter and enough excitement to propel volunteers into a full-time count.”   There has been someone standing on this mountain doing just this thing for over 50 years. Imagine.

Let me give you a glimpse of the spectacle overhead.  Although many birds were high, some did come right over the platform, giving us fabulous views.  Brilliant sunshine streamed through feathers to the appreciative croons of the watchers.

juvenile Broad-winged Hawk

This is what we had gathered to see.  Although there were only 346 pass overhead today, there were 1312 yesterday and more are gathering to the north for another push south tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that until they are all safely basking in the warmth of a South American Spring.


Filed under Local schmocal, migration, Photos

Clean-up day at Mt. Peter Hawk Watch

1st year Bald Eagle

Mt. Peter Hawk Watch is volunteer run.  And am I honored to be among those who will stand on the platform with bins trained to the skies in eager anticipation of the river of raptor that will soon flow south to Mexico and beyond.  Every year at the beginning of the season we all get together to trim back the brush that has seemingly sprung forth from out of nowhere since last fall, chat about birds we are seeing and generally get caught up.

When I arrived at Mt. Peter the clean-up was well underway.  I picked my way down the slope with pruners over my shoulder to tackle the trees and shrubs that were getting out of hand.  We had done such a thorough job last year, I was sure this was going to be a snap.  And while it was less work, there was still plenty to do.

Volunteer hawk watchers

Judy Cinquina is the driving force behind getting the hawk watch organized.  Not only does she solicit volunteers, but pulls together a calendar, makes packets of information, wields a mighty clipper, rallies us, has an easy laugh and has been know to bribe us with ice cream.

Judy Cinquina

I also love that birders come from both NJ and NY to be part of the count.

Dripping with sweat and plastered with bits of leaves, wood chips and heavens knows what; I reached into a tangle to tug a branch out of the way to find… raspberries.  Ripe Black Raspberries.  Oodles of them.  Mmmm, natural snacks warmed by the sun.

black raspberries

The other cool thing I found while I was down and dirty with the goldenrod was a gorgeous butterfly.

Eastern tailed-blue

I hope you get the opportunity to take part in a hawk watch this year.  If you can’t find one, you can always come hang out with us.

standing on the platform

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They are called Turnstones for a Reason

ruddy turnstones

I was disappointed that the American Golden Plover that had been reported was no where to be found, but consoled myself with watching Turnstones do their thing.  Flip, flip, flip.  They eyeballed each stone for its potential then careful flipped it before moving on.  Flip, flip, flip.  Over and over as they marched down the spit.  Flip, flip, flip. I never get tired of watching them.

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Wading with Shorebirds at Jamaica Bay

East pond

C’mon, let’s take a walk.  Wait, did you go get your permit? Yes?  Ok then.

In a few weeks, there will be a bloggy meet-up at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, NY.  You are coming, aren’t you?  It is one of the most amazing places to see at most times of the year, BUT, my friends, there is nothing like the shorebird migration.  I was there in August last year and the birds were literally at our feet.  We walked around East Pond and then hopped over to walk around the West Pond and through the woods.


Not only is it great for shorebird viewing, but the opportunity for photos is outstanding.  AND not to dangle the carrot too close to your face, there have been several rarities there in recent weeks.


Hyped up to go now?  Here is who’s going as far as I know. There are a a few others nibbling the carrot too. (Which is sort of like drinking the Kool-Aid, but not really.)

Anne Marie from iheartwarblers

Dendroica from A DC Birding Blog

Carrie from Great Auk or Greatest Auk?

Matt Bango, driving force behind Chirptracker.com.

Christopher from Picus Blog

Jay the driving force behind BirdJam

Stella, President of Huntington Audubon

Laura from Somewhere in NJ

Patrick from Hawk Owl’s Nest

Corey from 10000 Birds

Catherine from Birdspot

Cindy from Longing for Maine

Scott from Peace, Caffeine, Linux

Birdingbev from Behind The Bins.




Filed under Local schmocal

Birding Doodletown

Doodletown map

Seriously.  There is actually a place  called Doodletown.  It is one of the local hotspots and the one place were many of the hard-to-see warblers nest; think Cerulean.  Doodletown always pops up on the local ListServ and in conversation when the topics of warblers comes up.  I finally made the trek because there was a Kentucky Warbler singing on territory and I had never seen one.

Doodletown is a town that once was; a ghost town, if you will.  The buildings have all been demolished, but their stone foundations peek through the encroaching brambles.  There are paved streets, 2 cemeteries, a reservoir, a waterfall and trees that sing with bird call.  I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live there.

Here are some of the highlights:

Scarlet Tanagers

Look at him giving her the once over.

Hooded Warbler

Lots and lots of Hooded Warblers everywhere.  Totally a Gimme.


Ditto Redstarts. Yes, they are common, but how can you not love them?

I know you were just dying to know if I saw the Kentucky Warbler. Meet Life bird 614.  It is a totally crappy picture, but my excuse is that he was 40 feet up a tree.


Did I wet your whistle?

Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture. Black-billed Cuckoo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo,
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wood Thrush, Veery, Gray Catbird, Blue-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, American Redstart, Hooded Warbler, Scarlet Tanagers, Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole and Life Bird 614 – Kentucky Warbler.


Filed under Local schmocal

Chasing a Ruff

Hark back with me to May 1995.

I was in Cape May for the Spring Weekend racking up lifebirds when a Ruff was reported.  The discovery was met with lots of excitement.    My friend and I jumped in our car like everyone else eager to see the bird but instead of speeding away, we ended up creeping in a long line of traffic.  Disgruntled, we almost gave up, thankfully we did not. Looking back on it, I have to smile.  What did I know from rare Eurasian visitors?  I had no idea that I would not see a Ruff again for 14 years.

A few days ago, a rufous phased Ruff was spotted at the Marshland Conservancy in Rye, NY.  I read the report with amazement.  Not because, hot diggity, there was a Ruff in the neighborhood, but because, I actually knew that place and it was in the next town over from where I work.  I decided to pop over Sunday afternoon.  But after standing in the sun taking pictures of the March for Babies walk, all I wanted to do was go home.  It was not a life bird for me after all.  But when I got to work on Monday and it was still being reported; I decided I had to try to see it.  The directions were vague, and never having been in the park before, I had no idea where the bird might be.  I wandered aimlessly around then gave up as the sun slipped past the yardarm, as it were.  I resolved to go again this morning.  I walked the paths but did not see another birder, the Ruff or any of the landmarks reported.  With a heavy sigh, I left for work prepared to give it just one more shot.

As I hustled down the path after work; I came across Greg,  another birder also looking for the Ruff.  We took off together determined to find it.  After an hour of floundering in the marsh, he spotted 2 other birders away on the other side of the park. We plodded, well, I plodded, over rocks carpeted in squishy seaweed, up the steep cliff path, then down the other side, through the woods (stopping to look at an owlet generously pointed out to us by a charming lady birder), across more marsh and out to the waterline.  Scanning the distant shore (a tip from the lady birder) we found a tiny red dot on a dark body.  Greg got the scope on it and low and behold, there it was a gorgeous rufous Ruff.  We watched it feed, fly a few yards, then feed again.  It got closer and we were able to see the markings more clearly.  Two more birders came by and Greg got on the bird again and again.  This was a scope bird, thank goodness Greg brought his.

Bonus birds were: a pair of Orchard Orioles, a Yellow warbler, Immature Black-crowned NightHeron, Lesser Yellowlegs, Oystercatchers, Snowy Egrets, 3 Osprey on 2 separate nests, a good sized flock of displaying Turkeys, Goldfinches, and lots of Red-winged Blackbirds.

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I looked around.  I had heard that before.  When I spied five Crows fussing with each other in a tree by the river;  I hustled over to watch them, hoping they would call again.


I smiled, yep, they were definitely Fish Crows.  We have 3 different kinds of Corvids here in NJ: American Crows, Fish Crows and the Common Ravens.  The most common is your regular ol’ Crow of farm and field.  It has a wide habitat range, from farms to woods.  Heck, I have them in the backyard often (maybe because of the bread I occasionally throw out).  The Fish Crow is mainly at the beach and other bodies of water,  like there on the Hudson River.  The Raven is a northern bird.  We have them at my house in the mountains, but, they are not common.  In fact it is sort of thrilling to see then anywhere in the East.

Where Crows and Ravens share the same habitat, you can tell them apart by voice and by sight.   The easiest and most reliable way to tell them all apart is by their call.   The American Crow caws.  The Fish Crow has a 2-syllable Huh-uh kind of sound.  (Imagine a small child shaking his head no and saying Huh-uh.)  Ravens have a coarse kronking kind of thing going on.  If you click on the links you can listen to the difference in their voices.  The voice thing can be tricky though, Crows and Ravens have a wide variety of crazy sounds.  As far as telling them all apart by sight; crows have a square tail and Ravens have a wedge-shaped tail.  There are size differences but realistically I have never seen them sitting side by side, so that is not much help.  Fish Crows are the smallest of the lot and always around water.  So in this case, habitat is key.

Which of the Crows do you have by you?

To see what is in other skies, check out Skywatch Friday.


Filed under Local schmocal, Photos

Awash in Rough-legged Hawks


I was surprised to see 4 different Rough-legged Hawks at the Great Swamp (in the measly 1/2 hour I had to spend there) on Saturday.  Curious to see if there were any at the Wallkill; I decided to take a run through the farm country in lower Orange county (NY) to see what was shakin’ before swinging by Oil City Road at sunset for the raptor show.

As I crawled along deserted snowy roads I found Rough-legged Hawks alright.  I was delighted to find 1 sitting in a tree overlooking the sod farm on Skinner Road.  Then pulling back onto Route 6, heading into Pine Island; I squeezed half off the road when I saw  both light and dark morphs on successive telephone poles.  While I sat there 2 more flew across the road to land in a copse of trees while 1  hovered over a field.  That’s 5.  5 + 1  Holy Cow.  I was on a roll.  Now that I knew they used telephone poles like Red-tailed Hawks, I scanned every hawk on every pole as I headed toward Oil City Road. I found another 1 sitting on a pole beside a pole with a Red-tailed Hawk that provided a lovely comparison.   Alas, there was no shoulder to pull off.  Spotting a dead-end road not far ahead, I thought to park on the edge of that and hike back for the hawks.  But as soon as I got out of the car, I glanced up and in the trees overhead was another Rough-legged Hawk.  He took off winging his way across the road toward some distant trees where I spotted yet another dark morph.  I shook my head, counting hawks on my fingers.

As I approached the Oil City Road parking lot, giddy from seeing all the arctic hawks, a Harrier flew across the road and the resident Red-tailed Hawk sat on a pole.  I spent the next hour standing in deep snow watching Harriers (4 and 1 gray ghost), 4 more Rough-legged Hawks, and the local Tail as they went about the end of their day.  The Rough-legged Hawks flew back and forth across the marsh occasionally stopping to hover in place.  I did not see any of them actually get anything.  Snow started to fall making visibility in the gathering dusk more and more difficult.  I finally left, covered in snow, without seeing the owls.

All in all, I had 13 Rough-legged Hawks in both morphs, 3 Red-tailed Hawks, 4 Harriers and 1 Kestrel.

Is it me, or do there seem to be more Rough-legged Hawks around this winter?


Filed under Local schmocal

King Eider in Piermont


All Hail the King!  Well, I guess it’s more of a Prince at this point.

Once in a while the birding gods smile on me.  Late last night I saw that a juvenile King Eider had been spotted Sunday afternoon at the pier in Piermont, NY.  It was not verified and reported on the ListServ until yesterday.  Since I am on vacation, I decided to see if it was still hanging around today.  Unfortunately it was also pouring rain today, so I wasn’t sure if it was worth the trip.  But the pier is not that far, so off I drove windshield wipers slapping.

When I arrived, the parking lot by the ball field was empty, not a good sign.  But I drove out onto the pier anyway just to see for myself.  There were rafts of Ruddy Ducks and large flotillas of Buffleheads.  I saw a Song Sparrow, 3 Chipping Sparrows and a Mockingbird.   There were loads of Ring-billed Gulls.  But No Eider.  Or anything that looked like an Eider.  Or even anything big and brown.

Disappointed, I stood alone at the end of the pier in the pouring rain glassing the open water.  I saw a Great Cormorant wing past.  Watching it; I saw a large brown duck pop up in my field of view.  And low and behold, voila, one juvenile King Eider.  It was still there.  But there were no other birders.  Yes, it was teeming, but I have often birded in the rain.  True, the pictures are not great, but I do have some.

With the holiday coming up, I image the pier will be packed with birders in the next several days.  It was nice to have quality time with the King.

To see what this guy will grow up to look like, visit Picusblog he has a shot of an adult taken in Massachusetts.


Filed under Local schmocal, migration

One of Those Days

Red-tatiled Hawk

I pulled into the parking lot at Liberty Loop and there in front of me was a Red-tailed Hawk trying desperately to balance in the crazy wind.  But no sooner had I got out with my camera when a little something caught his eye.  Rats!  Or rather, Voles!  Deciding it was way to cold and windy to stay at the Wallkill, I opted for looking for Longspurs.

American Kestrel

As I crawled up and down the farm lanes of Pine Island, NY, I spied an American Kestrel sitting on a wire.  I pulled over and inched along to get a good view, when the same thing happened.

Northern Harrier

And I am 3 for 3 on raptors flying away when this Northern Harrier, ghosted past.


Filed under Local schmocal, Photos