NYSOA NY State Waterfowl Count – January 18, 2020

Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Black Ducks on Stone Ridge Pond – January 18, 2020 Waterfowl Count, Steve Chorvas

The Ulster County segment of the annual NYSOA New York State January Waterfowl Count was conducted on January 18, 2020.  Twenty participants in eight field parties encountered a remarkable 21 species and 10,012 individual waterfowl, surpassing our previous high count of 17 species recorded in 2016, 2013, and 2008.  Our ten-year average for this countywide effort is 11.8 species and 6,225 individuals.  Typical for this annual mid-winter survey, two species accounted for 94% of our total abundance, Canada Goose (82%) and Mallard (12%).  A total of 16 Bald Eagles (9 adults and 7 sub-adults) were observed during the course of the waterfowl count.

Extensive open water, exposed fields, and extremely mild air temperatures less than a week prior to the count encouraged a noticeable movement of waterfowl into the mid-Hudson River region, with air temperatures reaching the upper 60’s (F) on two consecutive days over the previous weekend.  Cold arctic air eventually moved into our area mid-week and remained in place, freezing smaller and slower-moving bodies of water.  This sudden change induced some waterfowl to congregate in significant areas of open water on creeks, rivers, and reservoirs, and an exceptionally good diversity of waterfowl remained in the county for count day.    

The highlight of this year’s survey was principally the magnitude of diversity encountered on a waterfowl count that typically tallies in the low teens.  Although there was no particular outstanding species this year, Hooded Mergansers were found in record high numbers (35), surpassing our previous high count of 20, more than four times our ten-year average of 8.2/year.  A single Lesser Scaup was the first record for this species in over 15 years, and three Long-tailed Ducks was a new high count compared to the past 15 years.  With considerable effort, one Cackling Goose was found in a very large flock of approximately 3,250 Canada Geese amassing in the Wallkill River in the Village of Wallkill.  One Snow Goose was observed on Spring Lake, and fifteen more were reported from River Road on the Hudson River.

All major bodies of water were mostly open, with creeks and rivers flowing at a moderate rate.  The presence of abundant open water in the Hudson River and Ashokan Reservoir contributed significantly to our species diversity, while the Wallkill River hosted our largest concentration of waterfowl.  Stone Ridge Pond was roughly half open and continues to attract large numbers of Canada Geese (1,500), Mallards (420), and our only Northern Pintail, though the mix and density of waterfowl on the pond fluctuates considerably throughout the course of a typical day.

Rondout Reservoir was completely open with a raft of 25 American Black Ducks visible on the water.  The marsh at the Great Vly WMA was entirely frozen, as is often the case this time of the year, and the lagoon at Kingston Point was half open hosting just a few Mallards and Common Mergansers.  Most area ponds had frozen over late in the week, with a few exceptions, including those with aeration pumps or underground inflows.

Count day temperatures ranged from a frigid morning low 14° (F) to an afternoon high 21° (F).   Winds were generally calm with an occasional light breeze under overcast skies until mid-afternoon (1:00 p.m.) when a snowstorm moved into the area from the south, severely limiting visibility during the final two to three hours of daylight. 

Follow this link for the full report along with a table of count results. The table summarizes the 2020 Ulster County results by area, followed by field party effort and area descriptions.  Thanks to all of the field observers for providing extensive coverage of the county once again this year.  Next year’s Ulster County segment of the NYSOA NYS January Waterfowl Count is scheduled for Saturday, January 16, 2021.

Steve M. Chorvas – compiler