Hudson-Delaware: Summer 2020

Summer 2020, June 1–July 31

Robert O. Paxton

Shaibal Mitra

Tom Reed

Frank Rohrbacher

Recommended citation: 

Paxton, R. O., et al. Summer 2020: Hudson-Delaware. <> North American Birds.

Summers grow relentlessly hotter. This season, the coronavirus precluded some field work, such as the New York City Audubon Society’s Harbor Herons Survey. In addition, an early deadline meant that breeding statistics for colonial waterbirds that have been traditionally a staple of this column were not ready at submission time. Next summer’s report will include them.

On 10 July, Tropical Storm Fay, one of the earliest on record, swept northward along the coast, producing a record Brown Pelican count in DE and bringing ashore a few Great Shearwaters, skuas and jaegers. White Ibis bred in NJ for the first time, after nearly annual summer invasions since 1977, accelerating in recent years. So did Merlins, expanding in the opposite direction.


Chris Bennett (D. N. R. E. C.), Andrew Block, Jeff Bolsinger, Joseph Brin (Syracuse RBA), Thomas W. Burke (NYC RBA), Andrew P. Ednie (Birdline Delaware), Ken & Sue Feustel, Douglas Futuyma, Susan Gruver, Andy Guthrie, Chris Hadden, Tom Johnson, Sandra Keller, Nick Kuchala, Patricia J. Lindsay, Irene Mazzocchi (N. Y. D. E. C.), Jay McGowan, Matthew Medler, Michael Morgante, Dave Nicosia, Bruce G. Peterjohn, Joy Peters, Bill Purcell, Robert G. Spahn, Joseph Swertinski, Robert P. Yunick, Ryan Zucker.


Bombay Hook (National Wildlife Refuge, Kent, DE); Brigantine (Brigantine Unit, Edward P. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Atlantic, NJ); Cape Henlopen (State Park, south side of Delaware Bay mouth, Sussex, DE); Cupsogue (county park east of Moriches Inlet, Suffolk, NY); D. N. R. E. C. (Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control); Little Galloo (island, eastern Lake Ontario, off Jefferson, NY); Montezuma (National Wildlife Refuge, Seneca/Wayne/Cayuga, NY); N. J. D. F. W. (New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife); NYC RBA (Rare Bird Alert for New York City, compiled by Tom Burke); N. Y. D. E. C. (New York Department of Environmental Conservation); Pea Patch (island in Delaware River, off Delaware City, New Castle, DE); Prime Hook (National Wildlife Refuge, Sussex, DE); Sterling Forest (state park, near Tuxedo Park, Orange, NY).


A Barnacle Goose, by far the rarest regularly occurring goose species in New York, was photographed 10 June at Three Rivers W. M. A., north of Baldwinsville, Onondaga (Gretchen Dillon et al.). In view of the date, captive origin is possible.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, a conspicuous addition since 2000 to this region’s avifauna, were limited this summer to DE. They visited all three counties in that state, the largest group by far being 18 on 3 June at a retention pond opposite the Concord Plaza Shopping Center in Talleyville, North Wilmington (Birdline Delaware, 4 June).

A Common Goldeneye with three young on 3 June on Silver Lake, north of Eagle Bay, Herkimer, NY was south of normal breeding range (Michael DeWispelaere).

Nightjars to Cranes

Common Nighthawks have almost totally vanished from their urban nesting sites of a generation ago, except for Buffalo, NY, where one was heard in the evening of 10 July (Joe Fell). Once again Chuck-will’s-widows pioneered well northward in early June, this time to the towns of Athens and Coxsackie, both Greene, NY (Richard Guthrie).

A Purple Gallinule, a vagrant since the 19th century but far less than annual, was captured on Long Beach I., Nassau, NY on 22 June (Robert Proniewych), and released on 23 June by rehabber Bob Horvath after overnight care at Twin Lakes Park Preserve, also Nassau. It was last detected 29 June (Patricia Aitken). There are upwards of thirty previous state records, mostly in April and May.

A pair of Sandhill Cranes nested successfully at Walkill River N. W. R., Sussex, a first for northwestern NJ, though a small population has persisted in Cumberland and Salem since 1995. Two chicks were observed at Walkill 26 June (A. B.). Sandhill Cranes bred again in the Montezuma/Savannah area of north central NY, as they have since 2003.


Southbound shorebird migration was well underway in the opening days of July, as usual. Bombay Hook held 360 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 1,125 Short-billed Dowitchers, and 243 Lesser Yellowlegs on 6 July (A. E., J. S.).

Piping Plovers fledged chicks again at Sandy Island Beach S. P., Oswego, NY, where they have bred almost annually since 2015 (missing 2017). This is the first breeding population on L. Ontario in modern times. One chick disappeared, but two were still visible 3 July (I. M.).  Cape Henlopen and adjacent Gordon’s Pond remain this species’ only regular breeding site in Delaware. A Wilson’s Plover at Cape Henlopen 26 July (B. G. P.) would be, when approved, the second modern DE record of this species since its mysterious withdrawal from the Middle Atlantic coast in the mid-twentieth century.

American Oystercatchers have adapted well to human activity, nesting successfully near busy beaches and shifting from the outer beach to salt marsh hummocks. They have expanded inland to western Long Island Sound where “most small rocky islands [had] young birds” as seen from a kayak 9 July (Matthieu Benoit).

Four pairs of Black-necked Stilts were nesting at Shearness Pool, Bombay Hook on 13 June and 6 July (J. P.), a bit below recent years; this species was extirpated from the east coast but has reestablished  breeding in DE since the 1960s and more recently in neighboring states as well.

Floating inter-seasonal shorebirds, not clearly either spring or fall migrants, included an American Avocet at Timber Point, Suffolk, NY 20 June (D. F.), eight avocets the same day at Brigantine (S. K.), a Western Willet in breeding plumage at Cupsogue 10-11 June (S. S. M., P. J. L.), and a Marbled Godwit at Cape Henlopen 11 June (C. H.). Also in this inter-seasonal category were two Whimbrels flying by Breezy Point (Ryan Serio) and another at Jacob Riis Park, both Queens, NYC, on 21 June (Tom and JoAnn Preston), along with three the same day at Brigantine (Larry Zirlin).

The late spring build-up of Red Knots in Delaware Bay reached about 20,000, as horseshoe crab production was poor. Knot numbers had stabilized at around 45–50,000 after a serious decline at the beginning of the 21st century (Larry Niles). The rufa race was listed as threatened 2014 by Federal authorities.

Two Ruffs were a bit under par. A chestnut-and-black male paused at Shearness Pool, Bombay Hook, 6–9 July (A. E., J. S.), and a Reeve was at Prime Hook 21 July (B. G. P.).

As many as three Wilson’s Phalaropes 20–24 June at Bombay Hook (C. B., Kris Benarcik, John Dunn, Lou Horwitz) were late spring migrants. Though this species has bred in upstate NY, no breeding behavior was noted this season. Red-necked Phalaropes were above average, with four at Montezuma 2 June (J. McG.), one at Braddock Bay, Monroe, NY 2–4 June (Jessie Barry, Brad Carlson), and a bright female at Bombay Hook 1 June (Sharon Lynn, C. H., et al.).

Skuas to Pelicans

A dark-form South Polar Skua headed east at Robert Moses S. P., Suffolk, 10 July, harassing an Osprey, several hours before the arrival of Tropical Storm Fay (K. &S. F., D. F.). Though regularly present offshore in summer, this species is rarely seen from land. Fay brought a dark-phase Pomarine Jaeger to Cape Henlopen (C. B.).

An errant Franklin’s Gull at Myers Pt. on L. Cayuga, Tompkins, NY on 3 June (J. McG.), and another 13–16 June with 800 Ring-billed Gulls on Ditch Bank Road north of Canostota, Madison (David Wheeler, m. obs.) were unexpected. This bird of the western prairies strays here more often in late summer or fall than in spring. As Herring Gulls expand in the Great Lakes, a record 1,247 nests were counted on Little Galloo, an increase over last summer of 25% (I. M.). Summering Lesser Black-backed Gulls grow ever more common, as indicated by 66 on the Captree, Long Island, Summer Count 6 June (fide T. W. B.).

The region’s principal Caspian Tern colony, on Little Galloo, rebounded to 2,280 nests, normal for recent years, after flooding reduced last year’s number (I. M.). Sandwich Terns arrived as summer visitors early, starting with one on 3 June at Cape Henlopen (B. G. P.) and another 11 June at Cupsogue (S. S. M., P. J. L.). The peak count was a family group of 2 adults with 2 immatures in post-breeding dispersal on 29 July at Fenwick Island Beach, Sussex, DE (David Schoch). They normally breed north to coastal Virginia.

In a census taken on 20 July 2019 (the latest available), a total of 549 Common Loons were counted on 125 (75%) of the 167 lakes inspected, including 487 adults, 52 chicks, and 10 immatures. These figures are slightly below the 607 on 153 lakes, including 79 young, found in 2018. The percentage of lakes containing loon chicks or immatures has increased from 24% in 2005, when the censuses began, to 37% in 2016 (Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation).

Tropical Storm Fay brought Great Shearwaters into New York Harbor, one off West 70th Street in Manhattan on July 10 (R. Z. et al.), and one on the NJ side as far up as Liberty Island at dawn on July 11 (Mike Britt).

American White Pelicans, once a rare western straggler, have visited this region annually since about 1996. Since some began nesting in 2016 on islands on the ON shore of western Lake Erie (NAB 70:295), breeding here is not inconceivable. Four occurrences in upstate NY this summer could involve duplication: one remained from spring to 7 June on the Saint Lawrence River at Wilson Hill W. M. A., Saint Lawrence (N. K., Eileen Wheeler, Robert Buckert); three overflew nearby Hawkins Pt., Massena, Saint Lawrence, 4 June (Mary Curtis); one remained 10–17 June in the greater Montezuma area (Dorothy Dunlap, Les Preston); and one was on the Hudson R. at Hudson, Columbia, 20–21 July (R. G.).  In DE, three passed over Dewey Beach, Sussex, on 27 June and were seen later that day on the marsh side of Indian R. Inlet (Joseph Hadaway).

A few post-breeding Brown Pelicans wandered north to Long Island, as usual, but they were abundant only in DE, peaking at a record 450+ at Cape Henlopen Pt. on July 10 as Tropical Storm Fay passed just offshore (B. G. P.).


The New York Harbor heronry went uncensused this summer because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Birds entering and leaving the great heronry on Pea Patch I. in the Delaware R. were counted as usual from Battery Park in Delaware City on 24 June and again July 29 (C. B.). The total of 1,842 herons and ibis of eight species there on 24 June was a little above the last two years, but far below the 12,251 counted by Kathy Parsons in the 1990s [Katherine C. Parsons, “Heron Nesting at Pea Patch Island, Upper Delaware Bay, USA: Abundance and Reproductive Succes,” Colonial Waterbirds  18:1 (1995), pp. 69-78]. Most species increased slightly, but Little Blue Herons (267) were slightly down and Glossy Ibis (179) fell to just below half the recent average. Only one Tricolored Heron appeared, on 29 July, a species that has almost disappeared as a regional breeder. The 516 Cattle Egrets at Pea Patch, a bit above the recent average, constituted the region’s largest remaining colony, as this species’ range contracts.


Black Vultures’ continued northward advance was marked this season by one photographed in the town of Schuyler, Herkimer, NY 1–3 June (Faith Thompson) and another photographed north of Pulaski, Oswego, NY 15 June (Matthew Brown).

Mississippi Kites bred again at Waretown, Ocean, NJ (m. obs.), as in 2016 and 2018. Explorers were numerous around Cape May (12 on 4 June, Jim Danzenbaker), and reached a half dozen locations in northern NJ and around NYC in June and early July. Northernmost were an immature over the Sterling Forest visitor center on 1 June (NYC RBA), and another immature over Bylane Farm, Katonah, Westchester, NY on 9 June (Kristen Johnson). A Swallow-tailed Kite, a less than annual visitor, was photographed at Cape May Meadows, NJ, on 6 June (Dan and Danny Ceravolo, Karen Thompson), a typical date for spring overshoots.

In NJ, 210 active Bald Eagle pairs were monitored this season, including 33 new ones (Alex Tongas, Conserve Wildlife Foundation New Jersey), up from near extinction in the 1970s. A Bald Eagle pair successfully fledged an eaglet on 18 June along the Hackensack R. in densely populated suburban Bogota, Bergen, NJ, though the fledgling needed brief care at the Raptor Trust at Millington, Morris.  Having returned to breeding on Long Island, NY, in 2006 after a long hiatus, Bald Eagles have expanded there from an initial five nest sites to eleven in 2019 (Maureen Wren, N. Y. D. E. C.).

Northern Harriers were observed repeatedly in Bombay Hook this summer (Birdline Delaware, 4 and 24 June, 1 July), but breeding was confirmed in only three blocks in the 1983–1987 Delaware breeding bird atlas, and may well have ceased altogether in that state—and, indeed, in any part of this region south of the Saint Lawrence River Valley.

Woodpeckers to Ravens

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are prospering at the southern edge of their breeding range. The Greenwich-Stamford summer bird count, including much of eastern Westchester, NY 13–14 June, recorded seven, nearly twice the usual total (T. W. B.).  In NJ, where Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers first nested in 1998, at High Point S. P., Sussex, they now breed widely from High Point south in the Kittatinny Mountains to Warren, and across the Highlands from Wawayanda S. P., Sussex, to Mahlon-Dickerson Reservation, Morris (Louis Bizzarro). A pair was active 15 June by Clinton Reservoir, Passaic, NJ (Rollin Deas).

Merlins, having first bred in NY in 1992, continue to extend their breeding range southward. Ten pairs nested this summer in Ithaca and surrounding Tompkins, where they first bred in 2005 (John Confer). The first confirmed Merlin nest in NJ was in Mendham Twp., Morris (Chris Neff).

A Western Kingbird eastbound on 11 July at Robert Moses S. P., Suffolk, NY, (Michael McBrien) gave an early kick-off to the annual post-breeding movement of this species into our region.  A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flew past the Cape Henlopen hawk watch on 3 June (B. G. P.), the second early June regional record in a row for this increasingly regular spring explorer.

A count of 102 Red-eyed Vireos in 12.65 miles in New Michigan S. F., Pharsalia, Chenango, NY on 26 May demonstrated the continuing abundance of this neotropical migrant (D. N.).

A Fish Crow continued 16+ June on Ditch Bank Road, north of Canastota, Madison, NY 16 (J. B. et al.), evidence of continuing expansion northward and away from the Hudson. As Common Ravens recover their historic coastal breeding range, new nesting sites in NY included Sterling Forest (A. B.), the Hell Gate railroad bridge in Queens, NYC, and a water tower in Elmont, Nassau (Tim Healy). Two were at the First State National Historical Park, New Castle, DE 14 June (F. R.), but there is still no evidence of breeding in that state.

Wrens to Dickcissels

Sedge Wrens were scarce, their habitat diminished by drought. They were limited in upstate NY to a few sites: Conewango Swamp W. M. A., Cattaraugus (Kyle Brock, Dennis Crouse, Jr.); Perch River W. M. A., Jefferson (S. S. M., P. J. L., Phil Ribelow); Fort Drum, Jefferson (J. B.); Canton, Saint Lawrence (N. K., et al.); and Beatty Point, Monroe (ph. A. G., m. obs.). In NJ, they appeared only at the Swan Bay W. M. A., Burlington 6+ June (Steve Sobocinski, Jim Schill). As is often the case, they appeared late in some habitual areas such as Bombay Hook only at the end of the period (Birdline Delaware, 6 Aug).

At least five male Clay-colored Sparrows sang in the grasslands around Ithaca, Tompkins, in mid-June (M. M.), as this species consolidates its recent establishment as a breeder across north-central NY. Twelve singing males on 23 June (R. Z.) were a sample of what may be the “largest colony of Grasshopper Sparrows in New York State” (New York Times, Metropolitan Section, p. 7), at the new 2,200-acre Freshkills Park, constructed since 2008 atop a former colossal garbage dump on Staten Island. Henslow’s Sparrows “may be going out” in this region (J. B.), as only four males were found at their only remaining site, Chaumont Barrens Preserve, Jefferson, NY, in a field becoming too shrubby for them.

Bobolinks are not known to breed in DE, though five, including three males in alternate (i.e. nuptial) plumage at Prime Hook on 6 July (J. P.) were suggestive.

A female Yellow-headed Blackbird, an increasing straggler from the west, was photographed in West Sayville, Suffolk, NY on 3 June (fide Mike Scheibel). A possible Western Meadowlark at Mill Creek Marsh, Secaucus, Hudson, NJ 7+ July (Andrew Marden, at al.) is under review by the New Jersey Bird Records Committee; the state has only about a dozen prior records, mostly around the Great Lakes.

A Northern Parula, rare outside its Adirondack stronghold, summered at Howland I., in the Northern Montezuma W. M. A. (Chris Wood, et al.). Nicosia found 120 Blackburnian Warblers in 12.5 miles in New Michigan S. F., Pharsalia, Chenango, at the end of May (D. N.). This species appeared to be the most abundant warbler there aside from Ovenbird (D. N.). A Yellow-throated Warbler was territorial at Bayard Cutting Arboretum, Suffolk, NY 12+ June for the third successive year (K. & S. F.). This species, known to breed in NY only since 1984, has only recently colonized Long Island. Prairie Warblers, another species advancing northwards, tested their northern limits at Green Lakes S. P., Onondaga, on 6 June (m. obs.); at Montezuma 1–6 June (m. obs); and on Eden Hollow Rd. in Madison on 6 July (Kevin Pace). A Blackpoll Warbler was a very late “floater” 1 July at Hillview Reservoir, Yonkers, Westchester, NY 1 July (Sean Camillieri). Nicosia found 166 Ovenbirds in 12.5 miles in New Michigan S. F., Pharslia, Chenango, NY at the end of May. A Kentucky Warbler at Sterling Forest on 28 June (Ajit Antony) was a welcome record of this southern species barely present in southern NY. A Wilson’s Warbler was a very late migrant on 8 June at White Clay Creek S. P., Newark, DE (Kitt Heckscher).

A bright male Western Tanager, a somewhat less than annual western visitor, was photographed at a feeder in Henderson, Jefferson, NY on 30 June (Julie West).

Aside from a fleeting observation at Somers, Westchester, NY, 6 June (Paul Clarke) and a female at Negri-Nepote Grassland Preserve, Somerset, NJ 14 June (Joe Palumbo), Dickcissels were mostly limited to DE, where they re-established themselves as breeders in the 1990s after many years’ absence. This season they inhabited two familiar locations: two to five at Charles E. Price park, Middletown, New Castle, 13 June–6 July (m. obs.), and two at Prime Hook headquarters 25 June–16 July (Sue Gruver, J. P.).

S. A.

An immature Brown Booby flew eastwards past Robert Moses S. P., Suffolk, NY early on 4 July (K. & S. F.), the fifth year in a row for this species whose regional status has changed dramatically in this century from very rare to nearly annual (see Tony Leukering’s remarks in NAB 71:1, pp. 17-18). It has appeared somewhere in the Hudson-Delaware Region in seven of the last ten years.

Three White Ibis were observed leaving the large heronry at the Ocean City Welcome Center, Cape May, NJ, at dawn on 12 June (Steve Smith), and single White Ibis were observed manipulating sticks there on 13 and 16 June (Susan Treesh, S. K.). Copulation and more stick-carrying were observed 14 June (T. J.). These observations confirm the first NJ breeding record for White Ibis. A White-faced Ibis with an unknown mate was nesting in the same colony, along with a hybrid Glossy-White-faced Ibis paired with a Glossy Ibis on 14 June (T. J.).

The N. Y. D. E. C.’s triennial Black Tern census found 144 breeding pairs in the state, four pairs more than in 2017, but at only six sites, alarmingly down from 12 sites in 2017 (Cody Nichols). There have been as many as 284 pairs (1991), many of them using artificial platforms, at 21 sites (1994). There may be some negative correlation between the presence of Mute Swans and the absence of breeding Black Terns (I. M.). Known limiting factors include water level changes, predation, and the proliferation of exotic vegetation (particularly Purple Loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria).

Red-headed Woodpeckers are doing well in their curiously fragmented regional range. About 50 individuals were found in thirty locations around Rochester, NY at the end of May, better than in recent years (Little Gull, July-August 2020, p. 5). Two sites were above normal on Long Island—the Paumanok Trail at Jones Pond (m. obs.) and Hampton Bays (Kathryn Loddegaard), both Suffolk. Red-headed Woodpeckers had a “banner year” in Sussex, DE, with 10+ in Redden S. F., 11 at Assawoman Wildlife Area, five at Trap Pond S. P., and three at Angola Neck (Birdline Delaware, 13 Aug.). In New York, more generally, Red-headed Woodpeckers are found sparingly and locally in 21 of the state’s 62 counties, along the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario, in the Hudson River Valley, and in the Finger Lakes. In NJ, they occur mostly coastally, with a few mountain outliers, in 12 of the state’s 21 counties.

Cliff Swallows reach the southern edge of their Atlantic coastal breeding range in DE. For many years, the southernmost colonies were coastal, having this year reached the Fleming’s Landing bridge over the Smyrna R., on the New Castle/Kent line, and the Leipsic R. bridge on Route 9 in Kent (fide A. P. E.). This year, a pair nested well inland and significantly further south under the Blades Bridge over the Nanticoke R. in Seaford, Sussex (David Fees).

Golden-winged Warblers grow ever scarcer and more local. This summer in NY, where Golden-winged Warbler is a Species of Special Concern, the species was reported to eBird from only six out of the state’s 61 counties, fewer than in the 2000–2005 atlas, and from only two of NJ’s 21 counties. One focal point is the Saint Lawrence River Valley, where Golden-winged Warblers continue to diminish as Blue-winged Warblers increase (J. B.). The second focal point is the western Hudson Highlands of southeastern NY, such as Sterling Forest, and adjacent highlands of Sussex and Passaic, NJ, where powerline cuts harbor a few closely-watched pairs.  An outlying observation came from Westport, Essex, NY, on L. Champlain, 2 June (M. M.).  Reports of the two hybrid forms between Golden-Winged and Blue-winged warblers corresponded roughly to this pattern. The commoner type, Brewster’s Warbler, was reported repeatedly from Jefferson, NY and from Sterling Forest (m. obs.). Individual reports came from Peach Hill Park, Dutchess, 3 July (Barbara Mansell, et al.) and from the approaches to the Adirondacks at Willsboro, Essex, NY, on L. Champlain, on 2 June (ph. Derek Rogers), and at Reagan Flats Road, Franklin, NY on 9 June (Alan Belford).  In NJ, a Brewster’s Warbler sang at Stockholm, Hardyston Township, Sussex 1 June (Marc Chelemer). A Lawrence’s Warbler visited Rockefeller S. P., Pocantico Hills, Westchester, NY on 1 June (Larry Trachtenberg); another was found on Clinton Road, Passaic, NJ 22 Jun (Carole Hughes); and there were six or seven, about twice normal, in the Saint Lawrence Valley (J. B.).

Report processed by Amy Davis, 29 Sept. 2020.

Photos–Hudson-Delaware: Summer 2020
Hover or click on each image to read the caption.

A Swallow-tailed Kite or two have wandered into the Hudson-Delaware Region almost annually since about 1972, mostly in late spring or early summer. This one was photographed over Cape May, NJ, on 6 June. Photo by © Danny Ceravolo.