NYSOA NY State Waterfowl Count – January 19, 2019

The Ulster County segment of the annual NYSOA New York State January Waterfowl Count was conducted on January 19, 2019. Twenty-three participants in seven field parties tallied 8,007 individuals representing 13 species of waterfowl. Our ten-year average for this countywide effort is 11.7 species and 5,759 individuals. A total of 44 Bald Eagles (22 adults and 22 sub-adults) were observed during the course of the waterfowl count.

Mild air temperatures and open water with no snow cover was the predominant theme through early winter until consistently sub-freezing air temperatures solidified a substantial amount of water during the first half of January, forcing some waterfowl to move. Apparently displaced by freezing conditions to our immediate north, a noticeable influx of waterfowl appeared in the county and were still present during the week leading up to count day, but few were found during our day-long survey. The most notable misses include a rare Greater Whitefronted Goose seen in the Wallkill River, larger numbers of Canvasbacks (139) in the Hudson River, Ring-necked Ducks in Esopus Creek, and Horned Grebes (22) and Common Loons (4) on Ashokan Reservoir.

Count day temperatures ranged from a morning high of 33° (F) to an afternoon low of 23° (F). Winds were generally calm with overcast skies throughout the day; the only precipitation coming very late in the afternoon in the form of snow flurries ahead of a major winter storm. Most of the Hudson River was covered in ice along the outer banks but open in the channel with ice floes. The Wallkill River, Rondout Creek, and Esopus Creek ranged from mostly frozen to mostly open, depending on the location and flow rate. Ashokan Reservoir was only about 10% open but hosted a few ducks. Rondout Reservoir was completely open but devoid of waterfowl. Most ponds were frozen, with a few exceptions, including those with aeration pumps or underground inflows. The marsh at the Great Vly WMA and the lagoon at Kingston Point were entirely frozen.

Barnacle x Canada hybrid
Barnacle x Canada hybrid

A few noteworthy observations from this year’s count include three Cackling Geese (two grazing in a pasture at Blue Chip Farm, one in a cornfield on the Hurley Flats), a raft of 75 Canvasbacks in the Hudson River at Esopus Meadows, and a single drake Wood Duck and a drake Northern Pintail on Stone Ridge Pond. An interesting goose that appeared to be a Barnacle x Canada hybrid was also found and photographed in the Mill Dam Road pond, where an apparent leucistic Canada Goose was also found mingling with a large group of geese and Mallards. As is typical for this mid-winter survey, these two pervasive species accounted for 92% of our total abundance (Canada Goose – 69% and Mallard – 23%).

Late in the count day I experienced an impressive roosting event on a Hurley Mountain Road cornfield. We had just finished the time-consuming tally of numerous Canada Geese and Mallards on Stone Ridge Pond when Dixon Onderdonk alerted me to the presence of a large congregation of geese on the Hurley Flats. I had checked the Flats just prior to arriving at the pond, finding no geese at that time, and I was intrigued by the thought of large numbers of geese simultaneously at the pond and the Flats. Obligated to go back for a count, I returned to the Flats and found a mixed flock of geese and Mallards foraging in cornfield stubble.

Standing on the roof of my truck I was able to get a rough count of visible birds, but some remained hidden in a swale. Over the next hour, I watched staggered flocks of geese arrive from the south, joining the birds on the ground. Most of the flocks consisted of 50-75 birds, a few flocks were larger, with much larger numbers of Mallards arriving less often. In the fading light of dusk, one of the last flocks to arrive included a white leucistic bird that was most likely the goose from the Stone Ridge Pond cohort.

Conservatively, more than 2,500 geese and over a thousand Mallards came in to roost on a relatively small patch of ground and remained there as total darkness and snowfall from the impending storm descended over the cornfield. Assuming the birds did not take flight overnight under such inclement conditions, it would have been interesting to see this large concentration at daybreak and determine if the birds ultimately departed as a massive flock or in smaller groups, similar to the way they had arrived.

Follow this link for the full report along with a table of count results. The table summarizes the 2019 Ulster County results by territory, followed by field party effort and area descriptions. Thanks to all of the field observers for providing extensive coverage of the county. Next year’s Ulster County segment of the NYSOA NYS January Waterfowl Count is scheduled for Saturday, January 18, 2020.

Steve M. Chorvas – compiler