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Mike scoping the skies for hawks from Raccoon Ridge.

Mike scoping the skies for hawks from Raccoon Ridge.

The Raccoon Ridge Hawk Watch, located at the top of a ridge on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border, embodies a much more rugged style of hawkwatching than you would find at my regular spot, Quaker Ridge. Raccoon Ridge, or “Coon,” as it’s affectionately called by some, has none of the amenities that Greenwich offers – no multi-million dollar heated facility, no easy step-out-your-car-and-start-watching access, not even any wooden lawn chairs! 🙂 Still, it has its advantages. Up on the ridge, a large percentage of migrating hawks fly by around eye-level, and on good days can come within dozens of feet of observers. Not to mention the breathtaking view from which four states are visible.

young balds

Two young Bald Eagles interacting.

On Sunday I caught a ride with long time hawkwatcher, Mike, who was making the trek out to the ridge with his son (it’s two hours from his house and about 1.5 from mine). Despite rain early on, we decided to go for it, as the skies to the north and west were clear. After arriving a bit after 8 am, we embarked on the hike up to the ridgetop. It was tough, but bird-wise, uneventful. We set up at “Mid Coon,” a spot a couple hundred feet downridge from the actual hawk watch site, from which one can get better views of birds sticking close to the ridge. Unfortunately, the winds, even though out of the north west, were a tad light, meaning hawks were not forced close to the ridge. As a result, most of our hawks were overhead.

A large flock of Brant.

Although by no means a banner day, we saw a sizable number of hawks (around 150), mostly migrating Red-taileds, but also consisting of a large number of Red-shouldered Hawks and many Bald Eagles. The best raptors we saw were a young Northern Goshawk and Golden Eagle.

gos

A close-in juvenile Northern Goshawk.

With the sun getting low in the sky and a long hike back ahead of us, we started heading down around 4 pm; good timing, too, as the sun disappeared behind the horizon as we neared the car. In the fading light I did spot a light-colored Ruffed Grouse, but since my binoculars were buried in my pack l wasn’t able to get any good looks. Still, a fun and exciting second trip to Raccoon Ridge.

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WOW. What a May I had this year. I don’t even know if I can remember all the places I birded. The first weekend (2/3) – Larchmont Reservoir and Central Park. The second weekend (9/10) – WORLD SERIES OF BIRDING. The third (16/17) – Doodletown and Sterling Forest (both amazing). Fourth (23/24) – Mohawk State Forest, Cornwall and River Rd, Kent, CT. And fifth (who knew there were so many weekends in May?) – Muttontown Preserve and the Shawangunk Grasslands. Here’s a recap:

Larchmont Reservoir, May 2nd

I had never been here before, but what a nice place! Green everywhere, a nice pond, woods, open spaces, lots of warblers. I wonder how good this place would be at peak migration. Total 41 sp. 8 warbs. Lots of year birds including Wood Thrush, Baltimore Oriole, Warbling Vireo, Chimney Swift, N. Parula, BT Blue, Green, and some more. (40.951788, -73.771034)

Veerys were everwhere. This one in Cornwall, CT.

Veerys were everywhere. This one in Cornwall, CT.

Central Park, May 3rd

The wonderful Central Park – arguably best spot around for spring migration. Rainy all morning picking up intensity – I ended up getting drenched by sticking around after everyone had left. It was worth it though because I got two more day warblers (L. Waterthrush & Redstart) to bring the total to 61 with 17 warbler species. Not bad for a rainy May 3rd! (40.776902, -73.969499)

The World Series of Birding

This was honestly the best time birding I’ve had – for those who don’t know the world series is 24 hours straight of birding from midnight to midnight within (but allllllll over) the state of New Jersey. The team with the most species at 12am on Saturday night is the winner. My team, the Razorbills, finished 3rd in youth and 12th overall with 176 species. The winning youth team got 211 and adult team 229.

We had a decent pre-dawn, but unfortunately there were a few hours of on and off rain up until dawn, so we started off behind schedule. Luckily, we were able to cut some stops out of the route that hadn’t been productive during scouting, and finished the morning with 131 species – 10 higher than what the winning youth team had at that time during the day. However, a lack of scouting time in the South (we could only rely on others’ reports – school is hard to take off from) combined with some bad luck, prevented us from keeping up the pace we had set in the morning. Still, we finished the day with 176 species and some great memories!

For a full account of the trip with pictures, visit Razorbill team member Hope Batcheller’s blog: http://fledglingbirding.blogspot.com/2009/05/worldseries-of-birding.html

Golden-winged Warbler singing at Sterling

Golden-winged Warbler singing, Sterling Forest State Park.

Doodletown Rd, May 16th

This was my first time to Doodletown Rd (lots of firsts this month). Got great looks at Cerulean & Hooded Warblers, the area’s “target birds”. A nice surprise was a persistently singing Kentucky Warbler that decided to show itself to everyone BUT me…I decided to count it anyway. Also nice were Olive-sided Flycatchers, Tenneseee Warblers, Blue-winged Warblers, and lots more. (41.300724, -73.985813)

Sterling Forest State Park, May 17th

If I had to sum up Sterling Forest in one word it would be “awesome”. Despite sub par weather forecasts, I decided to go anyway, and we made the right choice! Almost no rain, and it took all of about 45 seconds to find my target bird for the morning, the (unfortunately declining) Golden-winged Warbler! He was truly a ball of energy, bouncing back and forth from tree to tree and hanging on very, very tightly to high branches in the stiff 15-20mph wind. Also nice were Cerulean, Hooded, Prairie and Blue-winged Warblers, Yellow-throated Vireo, Indigo Bunting, and a beautiful pair of Orioles. A lone Brant I saw seemed out of place there. The species count was a bit low, only 28, but who can complain? (41.191902, -74.255776)

Female American Redstart gathering nexting material. Cornwall, CT.

Female American Redstart gathering nexting material. Cornwall, CT.

Cornwall and River Rd, May 23rd

My family usually takes a trip on Memorial Day weekend to Cornwall, CT. Luckily, right nearby (well, 30 minutes away) is River Rd, one of the only places in the state to see Cerulean Warblers (or should I say hear Cerulean Warblers). We heard them all the time – I think the total was about 7 or 8 – but I only saw them once or twice. Other warblers (12 sp.) included Blue-winged, Blackpoll, Blackburnian, Worm-eating, and Louisiana Waterthrush. There were a few Spotted Sandpipers on the sandbars and some Common Mergansers on the river. I didn’t know about the nesting Cliff Swallows…that’ll be next year. The real surprise came when we decided to take a road that branched off of River Rd (N. Goshen Rd), and it ended up taking us past this school (unexpected) and by these grasslands with tons of Bobolink. One even landed 10 feet away but my camera decided to focus on the bush instead if the bird, and then it flew away.

At the house in Cornwall, I had the same number of species and more warblers (51 total, 13 warblers – but no Ceruleans). The breeding Louisiana Waterthrushes behind the house have returned, and there was a Black-throated Green singed persistantly all day whom I suspect was breeding. Same with Blue-winged, Magnolia, and a host of others. A nice Blackburnian moved around the property a lot singing the unmated-type song (sort of sounds like B&W), and the calling of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo was a nice surprise, as well as an early Common Nighthawk. No Mourning Wablers though, which I had been hoping for. I did have three empids (small flycatchers that look almost identical and best differentiated by song) though – Alder, Acadian, and Least.

Blackburnian Warbler, Cornwall, CT.

Blackburnian Warbler, Cornwall, CT.

Mohawk State Forest, May 24th

Being only five minutes away from the house in Cornwall, I decided to try Mohawk. It was later in the morning, around 10, so I wasn’t expecting amazing things. Located on Mohawk Mountain (the other side is used for skiing), it attracts birds that would normally breed at more northern latitudes. New species for the weekend were numerous Black-throated Blue and Canada Warblers, many Northern Waterthrushes, and tons of Towhees (no alliteration intended). This brought the weekend total to 70 species including 17 warblers. (41.843988, -73.289996)

Indigo Bunting, Muttontown.

Indigo Bunting, Muttontown.

Muttontown Preserve, May 30th

This was a NY Young Birder’s Club trip to Muttontown Preserve on Long Island. It was pretty productive, but I didn’t get any lifers, or year birds for that matter. The best bird was a Woodcock that flushed out of the grass as we were walking by. Only the 2nd time I had seen them during the day. (40.838879, -73.535410)

Shawangunk Grasslands, May 31st

Finally, the last weekend in May. Hudson River Audubon had a trip to the Shawangunk Grasslands, about an hour and a half upstate. I got to ride in a Mustang convertible the whole time (thanks Paul!). I got my year Willow Flycatcher and life E. Meadowlark, but we missed Upland Sandpiper, which I had been hoping for. All in all it was a nice trip though and I really enjoyed it. A great way to end a birding-packed May!

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