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NYSOA NY State Waterfowl Count – January 14, 2017

The 2017 Ulster County segment of the annual NYSOA New York State January Waterfowl Count was conducted on Saturday, 14 January 2017, under very pleasant conditions for a mid-winter census.  Twenty  participants in eight field parties encountered a total of 13,500 individuals representing 11 species during an 8-hour effort (8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.).  This is by far the greatest number of waterfowl recorded on this count over the past two decades, eclipsing our previous high count of 8,874 (2012), and well-above our ten-year average of 5,350 birds/year.  Diversity was good, but not exceptional for a year with substantial open water, ranking slightly below our ten-year average of 12.4 species/year and well-below our previous high count of 17 in 2016, 2013, and 2008.

NYSOA_Cackling_2017The most noteworthy find was a single Cackling Goose discovered in one of two large flocks of Canada Geese totaling 2,090 individuals grazing in the horse pastures at Blue Chip Farm in Shawangunk.  As is typical for this count, Canada Geese dominated our numbers again this year.  A massive sprawling flock of 3,500 Canada Geese were observed foraging in a Farm Hub agricultural field between Rte 209 and Hurley Mountain Road in the Town of Hurley, another 815 were counted in the agricultural fields at Wallkill View Farm in New Paltz, and 800 were found associating with a very impressive mixed raft of 1,000 American Black Ducks and 1,700 Mallards in the Hudson River off the hamlet of Malden and Bristol Beach SP in the Town of Saugerties.

Stone Ridge Pond on Mill Dam Road hosted another 560 Canada Geese, 525 Mallards, a single Snow Goose and one GadwallCommon Mergansers were scattered up and down the Hudson and Wallkill Rivers, with our greatest concentrations of 42 observed from Bristol Beach State Park in Saugerties and 35 from Mariner’s Restaurant in Highland.  Two large rafts of Common Goldeneye totaling 260 individuals were found in the Hudson River along River Road in the Town of Esopus, 150 from the fishing pull-off and another 110 from Esopus Meadows Lighthouse Park.  Esopus Meadows was also the site hosting our only Bufflehead (5) on this day.  Hooded Mergansers were observed at three locations, all on the Esopus Creek, at Leggs Mills Bridge in Lake Katrine (5), Esopus Bend Nature Preserve in Saugerties (4), and Dutch Village Walk in the Town of Ulster (3).  Mute Swans continue to overwinter with the assistance of public feeding at two locations; a pair in the aerated pond at Lazy Swan Golf Course in Saugerties, and three in the pond at Buttermilk Inn and Spa, Milton.

New record high counts were established for three species, including 9,312 Canada Geese eclipsing our previous high of 8,177 from 2012, a staggering 1,013 American Black Ducks greatly exceeding the 207 recorded in 2012, and 2,594 Mallards surpassing our previous high count of 1,710 in 2006.  Additional avian highlights include an incredible 56 Bald Eagles (24 adults and 32 sub-adult immatures), including bonded pairs near known nest sites.  Four Belted Kingfishers spread out over three territories, one Great Blue Heron subsisting in a tiny inflow surrounded by solid ice in the Sawyer Kill, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler at The Great Vly WMA.

Temperatures ranged from an early morning low of 21° to an afternoon high of 29° (F) under partly sunny to mostly cloudy skies with an occasional light breeze.  The Hudson River was largely open with considerable floe ice covering roughly 10-50% of the surface area, depending on location and tide.  The Wallkill River was frozen in slower moving areas but completely open along Lippincott Road where larger numbers of waterfowl typically congregate in winter.  The Esopus and Rondout Creeks were mostly open and flowing moderately in their channels with shore ice and frozen backwaters.  The upper basin of Ashokan Reservoir was 75% open, the lower basin 50-60% frozen.  Kingston Reservoirs were 70-100 % frozen, Blue Mountain Reservoir in Saugerties was entirely open, and Stone Ridge Pond was 80% frozen, with open water restricted to the back inflow area.  Most inland ponds, lakes, and marshes were entirely or mostly frozen, with the exception of seeps, inflows, and aerated sites utilizing pumps to maintain limited areas of open water.  Area fields were entirely open with little in the way of snow or ice cover, serving as a major attraction for geese this year.

Follow this link for the full report along with a table of count results. The table summarizes the 2017 Ulster County results by territory, followed by field party effort and area descriptions. Thanks to all of the participants for their time and effort documenting Ulster County winter waterfowl. Next year’s Ulster County segment of the NYSOA NYS January Waterfowl Count is scheduled for Saturday, January 13, 2018.

Steve M. Chorvas – compiler