A Travellerspoint blog

Bull Hill

Hudson Highlands State Park, NY

sunny 40 °F

My dad was in town this weekend with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to play in Carnegie Hall, so today the two of us took the Hudson line of the Metro North Railroad up to Hudson Highlands State Park to hike Bull Hill.

Now, don’t be confused by the name “hill:” Bull Hill is one of the highest mountains in the Hudson Highlands area, and the loop hike to the summit and around the mountain includes 1400 feet of elevation gain and 8 miles of hiking in total. A true butt-kicker!

Since the Hudson line parallels first the East, and then the Hudson Rivers, I spent a lot of time looking for both waterfowl and migrating raptors which use the Hudson River Valley as a migration path. As well as a few REDHEAD, these BUFFLEHEAD were seen along the journey:
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As well as a distant look at an Eagle sp — whether it is an immature Bald or the rarer Golden, I will never know. It is hard to photograph from trains!
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We disembarked the train at the Cold Springs station, and after refueling at a local bakery, were on our way towards the trailhead. There were a few feeders in this very cute town with common species such as BLUE JAY:
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And HOUSE FINCH:
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My first identifiable raptor of the day came in the form of this TURKEY VULTURE:
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Soon, I also spotted its much less common cousin in these parts, the BLACK VULTURE! (separated from the Turkey Vulture by the Black’s diagnostic whitish wing tips)
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As we ascended the mountain using the fairly steep trail, the views across the Hudson became increasingly beautiful:
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One of many CAROLINA WRENS seen today gave wonderful views:
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Female DARK-EYED JUNCO:
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The views from the top of the mountain were just stunning. And even though we were on an exposed summit and it was just above freezing, wind was almost nonexistent, making for very enjoyable conditions under a winter parka.
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I noticed a decent raptor movement from the top of the peak, including this RED-SHOULDERED HAWK, my first for New York state: note its heavily-banded tail.
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Its more common cousin the RED-TAILED HAWK was also present:
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And then, a stranger-looking hawk came in to view. It was very clearly an Accipiter (bird-eating) species, but it was extremely bulky in its build & had heavy chest marking and thick banding on the underside of its tail. With all these field marks in mind, the identification of this bird is extremely clear: first-year NORTHERN GOSHAWK! Too cool — a very uncommon find for this part of the state, and one that was not even on my radar for today!
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The views of nearby Breakneck Ridge were stunning on the last leg of our hike.
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SONG SPARROW:
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While waiting for the Metro-North at Breakneck Ridge, my dad and I were afforded some decent views of CEDAR WAXWINGS:
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And the train arrived right on time: 1:09pm. The Breakneck Ridge station’s sole purpose is to pick up & drop off hikers, so the platform is accordingly quaint.
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Here are some stats for our hike today:
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What a fun day, huge thanks to my dad for hiking with me! Bird-of-the-day to the Northern Goshawk with runners-up to the Black Vulture & Red-shouldered Hawk.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 977 Species

Posted by skwclar 17:28 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Chicago Never Disappoints!

Grant Park, IL

semi-overcast 43 °F

Upon seeing a report of an immature male King Eider in Evanston IL yesterday night, I was extremely bummed — today I would be in Chicago to visit my family (more on that later) for O N E day, and I would certainly not have time to make the trek up to Evanston.

Come this morning, I wake up, and I see that the King Eider had flown down to Monroe Harbor near Jackson St in Grant Park, downtown Chicago! CRAZY! As this is a 20-minute walk from my condo, I wasted not a second and my dad and I headed over to the harbor. We had a duck to find!

Just after leaving our condo, we were sidetracked to find a stranded Brown Bat (species?) in front of the Chicago Cultural Center. We attempted to upright the animal, but it resisted, so we called Chicago Bird Collision Monitors who said they would come pick it up even though it’s a bat. Several friendly passerby helped the cause by alerting people to walk around the bat.
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Upon arriving at Monroe Harbor and walking a bit along the lakefront, I spotted a large duck sitting among even-larger CANADA GEESE. Could it be...the sought-after Eider??
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YES! KING EIDER!!!

Unfortunately, I had only heard about the rogue Eider once I was almost already on the plane to Chicago, so I did not have my camera with me. BUT, this dang bird was so cooperative and allowed for many photos with my mom’s iPhone, the best camera I could muster today:
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This HORNED GREBE was also around:
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All I have to say is W O W! That’s birding for you — constant surprises! And especially, birding in November: November is a notorious month for bringing in rarities.

I am in Chicago for one night because tonight is my sister Pearl’s Lyric Opera Debut in the Chicago Children’s Choir group in the Lyric Opera’s new production of “Dead Man Walking.” I am SO excited to see this! Lyric opera collaborations were definitely some of the highlights of my time in the amazing Chicago Children’s Choir.

So, bird-of-the-day goes to the King Eider, just recently a life bird for me out at Orient Point, New York! So, so cool! Runner-up to the Horned Grebe.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 976 Species

Posted by skwclar 12:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Seawatching, Round Two!

Fort Tilden, Queens

semi-overcast 70 °F

Because classes end at 1:50pm for me on thursdays, I took advantage of the free afternoon and traipsed across New York City for yet another seawatch at Fort Tilden! The conditions looked great for seabirds — light rain and strong southerly winds, which would hopefully serve to push the seabirds into view from land (since Fort Tilden looks south onto the sea). My targets for today were Parasitic Jaeger and Northern Gannet, which have both been seen from Fort Tilden in recent days.

Once I arrived, I again found the BRANT which are resident for the winter here. This midwesterner will never get tired of seeing these charismatic geese.
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I got to the shoreline and mother nature bared down upon me. Sand blew in my face, waves crashed onto the beach, and clouds streamed overhead as gale-force winds pummeled the shoreline. So, I was forced to hunker down behind a small sand dune that allowed me just enough of a view of the ocean to seawatch without getting a cloud of sand in my eyes.
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NORTHERN GANNETS, as reported by other birders earlier today, were in great abundance, with over 85 of these sulids seen today. The darker birds are immature; adult birds grow into beautiful white seabirds with a yellow wash on their head. Target species one, done!
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This fast-flying LAUGHING GULL briefly confused me for a hoped-for Parasitic Jaeger.
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Then, I saw a small gull very buoyantly flying away from me. It had a black M pattern on its wings, a black spot behind its head, and sure enough, I had an amazing bonus bird for the day: BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE! This is a very uncommon sight from shore that was probably only seen due to the extremely high southerly winds. The bird on the left is the kittiwake; if you squint, you can barely make out the black “M” patterning on its wings. Sorry, I know it’s a horrible photo. The larger bird on the right is in immature gannet.
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I found a deceased Horseshoe Crab which had washed up onshore:
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Then, I saw a darker-backed gull sitting on the beach and sure enough, I had a (the?) LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL for a second week in a row! Too cool! Once again, it gave great views.
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ROYAL TERNS were much less common this week than last; this was the only representative of the species that I saw this afternoon.
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A great day! Bird-of-the-day to the unexpected Black-legged Kittiwake, only my second ever! Runners-up to all of the Northern Gannets and the wonderfully-cooperative Lesser Black-backed Gull. The full (small but mighty!) species list for the outing is included below.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 978 Species

1. Brant
2. Black-legged Kittiwake
3. Bonaparte’s Gull
4. Laughing Gull
5. Ring-billed Gull
6. Herring Gull
7. Lesser Black-backed Gull
8. Great Black-backed Gull
9. Forster’s Tern
10. Royal Tern
11. Peregrine Falcon
12. Northern Gannet
13. European Starling
14. House Sparrow

Posted by skwclar 20:15 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Central Park with Tian

Manhattan, NYC

overcast 63 °F

Today, after a successful audition for the Chautauqua Institution’s summer vocal program, my girlfriend joined me for a fun late afternoon & evening in Central Park!
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Upon arriving to our picnic spot near the 96th St Traverse, I noticed a wealth of songbirds around the area including many CHIPPING SPARROWS:
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And YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS:
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And a couple of DARK-EYED JUNCOS:
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A YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER foraged nearby:
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Then, we headed north and soon were near the Central Park Pool (actually a stagnant pond) where there were GADWALL with the usual MALLARDS:
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The nearby foliage was outstanding:
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And there was quite a nice pocket of songbirds including a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW:
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And a plethora of RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, including this male who was friendly enough to show us a sliver of his scarlet crown:
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Best of all, yet another late BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER was in the area — the number of this species I have seen this fall is pretty remarkable, and I am certainly not complaining! October 27 is definitely getting on the late side for this beautiful species.
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Continuing north onto the Great Hill, we found a lone SONG SPARROW:
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And the North Woods in the far northwest corner of the park, though beautiful, was pretty devoid of humans & birds alike, save for this HERMIT THRUSH:
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What a peaceful way to spend an afternoon! Bird-of-the-day to the Black-throated Blue Warbler with runner-up to an American Kestrel who unsuccessfully dive-bombed a bunch of Chipping Sparrows at one point. Honorable mention to Tian who put up with my thorough birding throughout the afternoon like a champ.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 978 Species

Posted by skwclar 21:11 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Truly, a fish out of water

Union Square Park, NYC

overcast 64 °F

Today, after practicing piano in the morning, a Manhattan Bird Alert popped up, reporting a Saltmarsh Sparrow, of all things, from urban Union Square Park in downtown Manhattan! Definitely a “fish out of water” as this bird prefers to go unseen in salt marshes along the sea. Given its odd location and extremely secretive, hard-to-find nature, I had to seize this opportunity to chase the bird and I managed to squeeze in a quick trip downtown for the bird in my two free hours today.

Upon arriving from the Q subway, I found the usual horde of birders & photographers when a rare bird pops up in Manhattan huddled around a smallish patch of grass on the southeast side of the park. There were definitely sparrows around, including the expected HOUSE & this WHITE-THROATED SPARROW:
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A lone SONG SPARROW also didn’t want to have its picture taken:
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Then, a woman shouted “I think I got it” and sure enough, a smallish, orangey, streaked sparrow hopped out in front of us, slinking through the grass like a mouse. Bingo!!! SALTMARSH SPARROW in downtown Manhattan!!! Too cool!!!
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Here is an example of how close of views it provided to both birders and many curious passerby alike.
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And here you can compare it (left) with a more common White-throated Sparrow (right):
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And it absolutely provided the best views I have EVER had of this species, which I have only seen twice before: once in Merrit Island NWR in Florida, and once at Plumb Beach in Brooklyn where there is actually habitat for this species: saltmarsh. The amazing Saltmarsh Sparrow, therefore, is undoubtedly my bird-of-the-day, and far and away the most photogenic bird I have seen since the Spruce Grouse in Idaho.
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Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 978 Species

Posted by skwclar 13:35 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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