Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thanks, Cold Front

This is my first winter birding, and the only thing that has been persistent through it has been the unexpected. Not that this is unusual up here near the Adirondacks in this season - the weather can change as quickly as it does in summer on the east end of Lake Erie. But seeing birds out of season, in odd spots, likely due to quickly moving bad storms displacing them has been a pleasant, though sometimes concerning surprise. Also, the weather doesn't really allow for planning ahead. Sue P. and I agreed a few days ago to get together this morning with Jackie D. for a little nature walk on the Betar Byway. I expected something like overcast skies and maybe flurries, since it's been snowing a lot lately.

Nope, instead a cold front rips through, with clear skies, a painfully bright winter sun, and bitter gusts of wind up to 50 mph with a windchill of -15*F that made your eyes water. Sue called me before meeting mentioning cutting it short and hitting up the Peppermill. I was down, so she contacted Jackie.

I got to the Betar Byway (off Beach Road entrance) first, being totally excited that I finally had some time with buddies to scout for birds and possibly plants not completely massacred by the brutal weather. As soon as I pulled in and put it in park, I spotted a large bird flying in from Route 9 direction, over the small pool at the Public Works building, and landing on a snag on the other side. I thought, "Hmm...I really doubt that's a heron, but what could that possibly be?" It landed, and I saw the bright white tail and head, and nearly screamed for joy. An adult bald eagle! I grabbed my binoculars, jumped out of the car, and saw in clear view the yellow-orange hooked huge bill, yellow-orange talons, and the dark chocolate-y brown almost black solid body of feathers. It had also raised the ire of some American crows, which flew right at it's head. The eagle seemed to take no notice, sitting there patiently, looking around. I looked again and again, thinking I was maybe dreaming, till Sue came along and I exclaimed to her what I was seeing. The eagle eventuallly grew tired of being harassed and flew off south down the side of the river.

It was unfortunately way too cold for us three to tolerate the wind for long and we headed off for a good chat and some food and drink at the Peppermill, one of my favorite spots in the area. I also got a surprise gift from Sue, a collection of Thoreau's journal entries on birds! I couldn't be happier for some great reading.

We did head back and tried to enjoy a short 15-20 minute walk north on the Betar Byway, and at points I completely forgot that it was cold. One of them being seeing a surprise hermit thrush in plain view, feathers all bunched up, sitting in the sun. It moved around a bit so I got to see all potential identification features it has, including the rufous tail contrasting with it's duller brown uppersides, blackish spots smaller than those of a wood thrush, and the strange dipping behavior - a quick upswing and then slowly lowering it again. I could not believe my eyes. I knew the thrushes should really only be around here during the breeding season, not the dead of winter. Why now? Did it stay? Did it get lost? Did it get stuck in the recent crazy storms across the United States? Birds by Bent claims sightings in New England of this species is not unusual on the coldest of winter days. That doesn't change the stange, dream-like appearance of it flying into my sightline.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Birder With No Toleration for Winter

I have a tendency not to write entries that are even remotely off-topic from birding, but I noticed my entries have been not so forthcoming in the past few months. Of course, the time change and much, much shorter days do not help, as I was doing quite a bit of birding in the late afternoon. But I have also been feeling horrible since mid-October. Needing to sleep 8-9 hours a night and tossing and turning through odd vivid dreams and nightmares and waking up exhausted anyway, feeling mildly awake for about 3 hours and then being tired again by 4 PM and seriously needing a nap by 8 PM...lack of concentration, a ruination of memory, irritability, bouts of seriously intense inner rage, boredom, anxiety, depression, less desire for socialization, constantly hungry for carbs, always cold no matter what...really kills my ability to get up early to go out and enjoy what little sunlight we have and to be fascinated by the colors and sounds and behaviors of our winter birds. I sit here nodding off at my laptop over a book or bowl of food around dinnertime and am unable to function for the rest of the evening and night (unless I'm at work, and my evening job is easy as pie). Emails sit in the inbox for days and I forget they are even there sometimes. Minor errands and chores not getting done for days because I have no energy and no motivation. I dread Christmas as I have not even begun shopping because I can't drag myself to the store and the mental energy needed to decide gifts is too much. I feel like I'm drowning in a deep brain fog...

*shakes first at the sky*

Is it spring yet?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Birding in a Snowstorm

If you ever get the chance, go birding at the beginning of a snowstorm. I forgot the science behind bird movement and fronts and low pressure systems, but bird activity was crazy today with birds trying to find shelter and food. I decided to stop by the Betar Byway since it's along the Hudson River and figured the waterfowl would be out as well. Just...bring gloves with you. I did not...my hands were so stiff and red within 10 minutes! It didn't help that it was probably 25 degrees. Also bring something to keep wiping your binoculars off with, since the flakes will be sticking to them. :)

The American crows were out in full-force and I think I undercounted at only 12. I'm pretty sure another flock moved in further down the river. Six ring-billed gulls looked like they were fully enjoying themselves, swimming around on the Hudson. At the end of my walk I saw two adult gulls with a juvenile, and wondered if it was the mom and dad and teen gull family I saw not long ago at Hovey Pond. Four mallards flew over at some point and I later saw two adult males and two adult females swimming in pairs. I only counted three blue jays bouncin around quietly in the branches. Lately I've been getting a kick out of how I can never see their eyes, always hidden by a branch. Out of sight, out of mind?

The female downy woodpecker searching diligently for food on a trunk was a great sight. A white-breasted nuthatch was just below her, running circles around the trunk and then straight down about a foot. I saw two more white-breasteds further down.

I was pleased with seeing many of the popular winter birds all around the same area today. I counted about 11 black-capped chickadees, 4 tufted titmice (both species of birds people tend to describe as drab and bland grey in color, but all I noticed was the orange-y and creamy yellows they have), and 4 dark-eyed juncos. I was also completely fascinated with the picture-perfect view of a bright red and black male northern cardinal sitting in the open on a perch, chipping away, with the snow falling all around him. I later counted 5 more hiding and chipping. Two American goldfinches flew overhead at some point.

The river and riparian habitat was really busy in this storm. I spotted a pair of hooded mergansers quietly allowing the flowing river to carry them north. There were three unidentifiable ducks, and from my view looked possibly like American black ducks. They were certainly in the vicinity, I watched 10 of them standing in the only part of the inlet that was not frozen. One section near the river got about 20 noisy American robins that refused to sit on any perch for more than a few seconds. They kept calling a loud, sharp "tut tut!" A flock of 15-20 cedar waxwings stopped nearby for about a minute before flying off back across the river. A female pileated woodpecker clung to a tree and hammered away at an already fairly deep hole. Another woodpecker nearby, which I could not ID, had a softer, shorter, yet very rapid steady rhythm.

Just before the snow actually began to fall, I was surprised by about 150 Canada geese flying southwest overhead, over the river. I would not doubt that they were headed to Moreau.

I took an extremely brisk walk back up the Byway, hoping to not have to drive on the roads when slippery and by the time I got near the entrance, I was bombarded by the sounds of about 30 house sparrows moving in. It was a little odd hearing the sounds of spring and summer on one of our most winter-y days.

December 8 - Moreau Lake, after first snowfall!

December 7th was apparently the official first day of winter in my area, as it was the day of our first small yet wintery snowfall. I decided to enjoy the "back way" around Moreau Lake on such a sunny (but bitterly cold) day.

Anyway, it's list time! This was a great day for birding, and writing out the entire walk (I made it all the way out to Mud Pond and back around the main path by the Nature Center) would take soooo long. Here's what I heard and/or saw:

6 American goldfinches
3 tufted titmice
10 white-breasted nuthatches
3 red-breasted nuthatches
3 blue jays
52 black-capped chickadees
45 Canada geese flyover from Rt 9 area to land by first phragmites stand
3 ducks flying away, possibly mallards
hooded merganser
pair...I was hearing gulping sounds from the lake at first, and unfamiliar with the call, it sounded like bullfrogs in summer
20 dark-eyed juncos
6 male mallards, 7 female mallards
3 American black ducks - you may note I was having some trouble telling them apart from mallards, but this time I got to see both species side-by-side in the bright sun, and it was obvious. The black ducks were much darker, duller, had grey faces and that dark grey crown. Mallard females have a really robust-chestnut or rufous brown on them compared! The black ducks also had bright yellow bills and the mallards had orange.
1 male American black duck x mallard hybrid
red-tailed hawk - I seemed to have spooked the hawk from it's perch in a tree in the camping area, as it flew off, causing me to gasp with wonder and amazement, and then it called! It was the highlight of this trip for me.
1 golden-crowned kinglet - I never found it, but heard it calling. I am not all that familiar with these birds, but have spent plenty of time listening to their calls so I'd be familiar, and the call with right on.
4 mourning doves
250 canada geese sitting in a row on the lake by the phrag stand when they were finally finished flying in overhead. It was a sight to see, and you could hear them no matter where you were around the lake.
1 northern cardinal
1 female common merganser swimming on the lake by herself

I had a good laugh watching a chickadee sitting in some reeds. It probably thought it was getting good shelter from the trees hanging over, but the breeze was blowing and the branches still had snow on them...the chickadee who was diligently watching me got hit in the head by falling snow! It shook it's head, looked all around, called "chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee" and then flew off. I was also psyched in this area to find muskrat scat on a large rock. A book I have calls it a "post office" which I find amusing.

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Also notable, and this happens every time when I come back up from Moreau Lake State Park, I saw about 25 rock doves sitting on the wires at the Exit 18 corridor. They are completely undisturbed by the high level of traffic going on under them.


November 29 - 4 Part Birding in Only 4 Hours

On November 29th I was on a birding roll. I was worried it would be one of the last "nice" days of the winter, one with little snow on the ground. Looks like I was right, so I'm glad I did this.

First stop was Ash Drive. I remember being devastated by the horrible mowing job on both sides of the Warren County Bikeway. So many beautiful dogwoods more than a year old were murdered. There's no explanation anywhere for why this happened, and it seems completely senseless to me. I looked at some of the other woody plants/small trees in the area, and it was quite clear that the mowing done in such a destructive manner had not happened in this area in recent years passed. I really hate humans sometimes...

However, it was quite cold and clear that morning, and birding was not all that great. I spent more time looking at the trees, trying to ID some using what I had read so far in the Sibley Guide. I did catch sight of an adult mallard pair swimming around in the marsh. A pair of American goldfinches sang "potato chip" as they flew overhead. An American crow called in the distance...about eight black-capped chickadees came out to see what was going on. I heard three white-breasted nuthatches calling from tree trunks. About seventeen blue jays came flying in at one point, possibly as a mob, and left just as quickly. I counted seven dark-eyed juncos, one with just as much chestnut-brown (mostly on the wings) as had slate-grey, which perched on eye-level branches rather than hiding in the brush as they usually do. I apparently attempted to describe their various calls in my journal. I wrote that they have a "dry chek-chek" and another call described as "a dry two-two-two." They are certainly not the most melodic birds, but I noticed today that their ringing trill sounded like cheery, tiny bells.

There are also powerlines that run overhead in this area, and for the first time I could clearly hear the electricity buzzing through them.

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I then ran off to stop at the Country Club Road parking lot to walk another portion of the badly damaged Warren County Bikeway. Upon immediate entrance, I heard three eastern bluebirds calling! They stayed hidden on the other side of a tree line, but their mournful calls were loud and clear.

This area was inundated with American crows and black-capped chickadees on this day...I counted eleven of the former, and twenty-eight of the latter. There was a group of American goldfinches at one point, about eight of them. Blue jays would periodically, extremely quietly, bounce around in the brush. I counted five. Woodpeckers are irritatingly and surprisingly difficult to see this time of year, the poor light helps them to blend into trunks...here I had two that I could hear scratching, pecking, drumming, but could not ID. I did hear a loud, sharp "KYOOOOO!!!" at one point, which in the past I have noted tends to be a northern flicker or red-bellied woodpecker (to me they sound fairly similar). Both species have been seen here. There were of course also about a dozen tufted titmice and a couple of white-breasted nuthatches, typical upstate NY winter birds.

I got quite a surprise at one point! A small brook runs along the trail here, which attracts wrens. While I was standing watching a chickadee, I hear a ringing, quick, very clear call with a dramatic pause in between the phrase in groups of three...it sounded like the bird was calling, "Figaro, figaro, figaro!" I immediately recognized it for a Carolina wren, despite not being all that familiar with this specific call. Sue P. and I actually refer to them as the Cheeseburger bird, as the ones we heard during the summer were calling what sounded like "cheeseburger" 3x in a row...a similar call, but "figaro" has more of a rolling sound.

There is great brushy habitat just past an arborvitae stand that blew me away on this day...it was full of dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows! Birders I met over the past year made me think these species are shy and will hide from human contact, but I can assure you these individuals did not. One sparrow sat right out on a branch in plain view, repeatedly making a sharp, loud chip, seeming to be an alarm call alerting the more hidden individuals (about 14 others) of my presence. Three of them were not paying attention and instead snacking on blue dogwood berries. One was singing it's broken casssette sounding song. The juncos were flitting all about, saying "chek chek!" There were about 15, another one with the mix of grey and brown.

Also spotted were two house finches, both on the ground foraging and calling to each other. They were promptly scared into the trees by a group of elder humans that sounded like they were talking about further destroying the area.

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Off to Hovey Pond I went! The gardens there were still fun to adventure in even though most plants have died off. I found a few herbs still fairly fresh and smelling delicious. One mint was so strong that it resembled the menthol in Vicks VapoRub. There was also some hardy lemon balm and thyme. I also nearly screamed with glee to find some bayberry - so fragrant during the summer, and so rare up here. I also found some purple and yellow violets in perfect shape hiding in a small yew.

It was rather quiet here too, with only two black-capped chickadees. Two American goldfinches flew over, and one white-breasted nuthatch called from a tree near the marsh. Four rock doves flew over as well. Ring-billed gulls flew overhead, and an adult pair with a juvenile landed in the center of the pond and sat there for quite some time, before mom and dad flying off, leaving teen gull all by him or herself. He or she had some beautiful reddish-brown wingtips! There was also a mallard party in the marshy pond, with six adult males and two females.

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Last stop was Cole's Woods, located between the YMCA, Aviation Mall, and the Northway. It's a really neat spot, a forest crammed in the middle of a small city and large commercial area. The only drawback is being able to hear the Northway traffic in all points.

The place was loaded with black-capped chickadees - I counted 46 in all, which I noted sounded like bells that day (I walked the perimeter of the woods, by the way). There were also three dark-eyed juncos, three American goldfinches, eight white-breasted nuthatches, two tufted titmice, and three American crows. I was surprised that when I heard some scratching in a tree and looked up, a lone red-breasted nuthatch was in perfect view, as if it was just waiting to be identified. I also heard and spotted a common raven flying from the water tower to the Aviation mall. I noted that it sounded like a ring-billed gull with a sore throat.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Betar Byway - Audubon Walk

This morning I forced myself out of bed at 7 AM to get to the Betar Byway by 8 AM. I will put this sentence first though it really should be near the end, but: Birding is not necessarily better early in the morning.

I found the walk to be okay...it was definitely one of the better quality ones when it came to other people attending and leader. And the Byway never seems lacking of birds, ever. Yet, I do have my complaints, however small, that lead me to believe that the best birding is done either completely alone or with someone else at the same level of obsession regarding nature. I hear birders in these groups say all the time that groups are amazing because it provides more eyes, but I really think that's not a true advantage. Better birding happens when you are a better birder, not when you combine the skills of a bunch of mediocre birders. In fact, I felt a loss of decent birding in this group while it seems the others felt a gain (except for this kid who was there). Interesting...a group just made everything average.

Well, I'll get on with the actual walk first. Maybe I will feel less compelled to post the rest of my complaints! So anyway, it was a cool, overcast morning, typical autumn weather in upstate NY. I love it. The group wound up turning out to be 5 people, not including the leader and myself, all people who are actually interested in birds. There was a kid there who has INSANE birding skills, and was fantastic at pointing them out no matter where they were hiding. He truly has some crazy talent, and should definitely lead his own walks. His dad seemed to be a fairly competent birder himself which was awesome. The other people were more around beginning stage, and I dunno what the heck was with the leader, who admitted to not being able to ID waterfowl whatsoever (and this is an Audubon person?). I was also really perturbed at her calling the obvious leucistic beautiful white squirrel that is resident to the Byway 'albino.' WTF. NO NO NO!!! I could go on for hours about how people in leadership in Audubon need way better understanding of actual science...

Onward we went, and of course, the Byway was incredibly busy. I enjoyed taking in the frosted purple hues the berry plants took on against an orange-brown background, and the brilliant reds of red osier dogwood. I missed having Sue or Jackie or both though, because I was the only one taking interest in the plants today. But the birds were apparently enjoying what was left of the berries (mostly bittersweet)! I got to watch a bright red male northern cardinal alternating between making his loud alarm chip call and wolfing down berries. He broke most of them with his bill before swallowing them down, his bill turning bright red and dripping with juice. 'CHIP!' he would call with half a berry visible from his lower mandible.

There were plenty of white-breasted nuthatches and black-capped chickadees for everyone to enjoy. No red-breasteds on this trail today, to the disappointment of almost everyone. I spotted a brown creeper right in front of us on a tree at one point, pointing it out for everyone, and was thanked profusely throughout the walk and even after, as it wound up being the only one we saw.

The mallards were not having sexytime today, at least not while we were there. Instead many of them were sitting on a log just like turtles are apt to do. One had a leucistic spot on his neck. While I did not do counts today (who could? we were moving way too quickly), I estimated about 50 mallards in all. I also got a confirmation on the American black ducks I thought I was seeing earlier this month, and there were about half a dozen swimming around.

One neat sighting today was a northern mockingbird who flitted around in the brush and then came out and sat almost at eye level on a bright orange pole in the open to stare at us, us staring back. I've heard a lot of birds talked about as being dull, yet me never finding them dull - this was definitely one dull bird! So strange for a bird with such a colorful and varied 'song.'

I noted that some trills on the trail were mistaken by others for cedar waxwings (though there was a spot that certainly had those trills) but were actually dark-eyed juncos, which I saw for myself. That is a bird that often gets called dull, but I find the contrast between the slate-gray and blank white belly beautiful.

We also had three species of woodpecker at multiple times. The Byway has plenty of downy woodpeckers making their squeaky toy call and flying around quickly. There were two hairy woodpeckers and one male's hollow hammering was so loud and rhythmic that I was mesmerized. Pileateds (the locals were saying PILL-ee-ated) were a bit more shy but at one point we had one land on a tree in front of us before flapping off over the river to hide on the other side of a fat tree. I noted that the woodpeckers seemed to have a zig-zag flight pattern, something I have never noticed before.

There were also house finches, a blue jay, American crows, American goldfinches, American robins, and a colony of ring-billed gulls that were absolutely amusing to watch. One gull had a slice of bread it was flying around with, with a bunch of gulls trying to steal the slice, calling out as if to say, "I want it!" It was interesting to watch the gulls wanting the bread to actually not fight the keeper of the slice, but rather try to cunningly maneuver close enough to take it without any warring. Unfortunately, the slice holder accidentally dropped it into the water, the bunch of gulls landing on the surface and looking down for it. They never found it, and flew off to find something else...

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Frosty Queensbury, NY Morning

This morning was bitterly cold in Warren and Washington counties, colder than it has been all week. I did not enjoy how painful the air was on my skin as I warmed my car up.

However, I did enjoy seeing the mix of adult and juvenile ring-billed gulls resting on the mowed corn field near Adirondack Community's campus. One was almost completely dark gray! For weeks now, dozens of Canada geese have enjoyed that area. Why they weren't there I wasn't sure, but about 25 gulls took their place today. I saw a lone goose standing by itself near a shallow pond on the golf course on Haviland Road, with a soft white mist in the background - it would have made a great calendar photo for November.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Third Day's a Charm - Moreau Lake

So I initially was going to start out with the past two days that I spent at Moreau Lake and then write up today, but I just couldn't wait. The past two days were awful there and humans were absolutely to blame for both days of fail. I have developed a newfound insanely deep hatred for dog walkers, no exceptions. Screw birding ethics, where you're supposed to be kind to everyone you come across on trails to help make birders not look bad, when you are doing something completely against state law that ruins my ability to enjoy myself and feel comfortable in the wild, and have to hear a massive sense of entitlement and a rash of incredibly stupid excuses for the bad behavior, well, then eff you dog walkers. All of you. In fact, you should all count your lucky stars that the state park is so lenient that they do not enforce the leash law despite having plenty of signs.

But anyway, today I planned on getting together with my buddypal Sue for some dual birding (got a little lonely with the solo birding, today was supposed to be lovely weather, and I enjoy nature walks with Sue). The weather was colder than I had expected, but I am definitely not complaining, especially when Sue decided to take me to Mud Pond and show me the frostweed! She seemed disappointed that the ones we found were so small, but I was completely impressed with seeing the frozen vapor. It reminded me vaguely of midsummer cirrus clouds - neat how the seasons can seem so connected. There was also plenty of what I am mostly sure is British soldier lichen. I also found a half-buried golfball which I had too much trouble trying to dig up, so I left it there.

Back to the park office we went and walked a different way than I had been going the past few days. I quickly found that this pathway is much less ruined by rude humans and was greatly pleased. We enjoyed the sounds of plenty of white-breasted nuthatches and black-capped chickadees even right in the parking lot! Both species are pretty much everywhere in the park this time of year. We also had two brown creepers come right down a tree trunk, in plain view, at maybe knee-level in the sun to check us out. It was absolutely incredible. One flew high up near the top of the tree and let out it's high, rushed, rarely-heard melody.

Along we went, checking out everything. There were plenty of chipmunks and the occasional squirrel before we came up to where the old Fernwood mansion once was, where Sue found broken pieces of china and an old doorknob half buried in the trail. I stood there trying to picture what it must have once been like to actually live in a fancy house in the park, which I may have to include in my nice daydreams.

I must be honest, in this area I did not really bird much (besides noting a few downy woodpeckers) until we got further down the trail and could see the water as we came upon an area with a bunch of chubby American robins. They fluttered about and called many times. One robin looked erroneously colored, a dark brown down it's side and a mostly black face. It was difficult to tell whether it was being shadowed by a nearby branch or if it really had miscolored feathers. Near the robins were a bunch of dark-eyed juncos and tufted titmice, both of which I absolutely love. The tufted titmice today were letting out calls I was not too familiar with.

We eventually made it to the marshy area, where this past summer a group of us created a trail along a bunch of phrag. The wind blowing through the dried reeds sounded like rushing water and was relaxing. Off on the water by a beaver hut were four hooded mergansers, at least three of them male. The sun shining off their white patches made it looked like they were shiny metal sticking out of the water, reflecting the rays. They're amusing to watch simultaneously pop back up from a dive.

The phrag itself was busy with chickadees watching us, and a patch was chock-full of hidden red-winged blackbirds making a bubbling call.

A nearby small marshy pond was already beginning to ice over. Sue and I stopped to see if there was any activity under the ice, and sure enough we saw insects just under the surface carrying leaf bits around. Sue got ahold of one of them, and it looked as if the insect, now hiding inside, had glued together the leaf bits like a tiny makeshift sleeping bag. Both Sue and I believed them to be caddisflies, and I began thinking back to a stream ecology course I had where we talked about shredders, collectors, filterers, caddisflies, stoneflies, mayflies, and gathered larvae in the fall. Also not a few feet away was a grouping of about 12 snail shells, apparently with snails in them as when I tried to pull one off of where it was attached it would not budge. Near this area was a pileated woodpecker making it's extended jungle call.

Sue then showed me a great place near Mud Pond where one can sneak up on anything in the water without being seen. A bonus is that the area had quite a few wintergreen berries which we snacked on. We quietly peeked to see a beautiful hooded merganser pair floating around, the male occasionally zig-zagging in the water and slightly extending his neck. Nearby there was a much larger group of hoodeds which took off together in a group with a surprise belted kingfisher zipping across the water with it's loud rattle! I was absolutely thrilled to see her - yes, her - as I haven't seen a kingfisher in about two months now. She came back across the water again, flashing her brown vest briefly before disappearing back into the trees.

By that time it was time to head back due to our crazy work schedules. I did very little birding on the way back and instead enjoyed nature-y discussions with Sue. I was quietly elated to have had such a great nature walk, and I think this was one of the best I have had with Sue. And I will now be back to Moreau sooner than I had planned, knowing I now have a quieter path to walk in these cool months.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What One Might See in Winter in Eastern Upstate NY

A question was posed at Moreau Lake this past weekend that piqued my curiosity and inspired me to pull out a spreadsheet I made this past spring. It began out of my need to have a list of all birds I might see in all seasons in the three counties I regularly visited in upstate New York, those being Washington, Warren, and Saratoga counties. The list was first created using the DEC's Breeding Bird Atlas, then organized in taxonomic order based on the AOU list. I arbitrarily decided whether the species had a big, medium, or small population and whether it was increasing, decreasing, or staying about the same by comparing the distribution maps (1980-1985 map with 2000-2005 map). I then determined what season one would see each species by comparing range maps in 4 or 5 different field guides, including Peterson's and Sibley.

What you are about to see is the list of birds one potentially might see in Warren, Saratoga, and Washington counties in upstate NY in the winter (yes, this includes both those that are here year-round and those that migrate here in the winter months), organized by those arbitrary population sizes. The list under each population size runs by taxonomic order.

At the end you will find a heading "Not in BBA." For whatever reason, the species has inconclusive data in the DEC's Breeding Bird Atlas, thus I was unable to determine an arbitrary population size, but field guides show that the bird has a winter or year-round range in those counties of NY. Notes on the population size that I have included come from Peterson's and/or Sibley field guides.

HIGH POPULATION
canada goose
mallard
ruffed grouse
wild turkey
red-tailed hawk
american kestrel
ring-billed gull
rock pigeon
mourning dove
belted kingfisher
downy woodpecker
hairy woodpecker
northern flicker
pileated woodpecker
blue jay
american crow
black-capped chickadee
tufted titmouse
white-breasted nuthatch
eastern bluebird
american robin
european starling
cedar waxwing
song sparrow
dark-eyed junco
northern cardinal
common grackle
purple finch
house finch
american goldfinch
house sparrow

MEDIUM POPULATION
american black duck
common merganser
hooded merganser
ring-necked pheasant
sharp-shinned hawk
cooper's hawk
eastern screech owl
great horned owl
barred owl
common raven
red-breasted nuthatch
brown creeper
northern mockingbird
white-throated sparrow
pine siskin (erratic winter range - irruptions)

LOW POPULATION
mallard x american black duck hybrid
bald eagle
northern goshawk
herring gull
great black-backed gull
northern saw-whet owl (irruptions)
carolina wren
golden-crowned kinglet
red crossbill (irruptions)
white-winged crossbill (irruptions)
evening grosbeak (irruptions)

NOT IN BBA
rough-legged hawk (irruptions)
long-eared owl (uncommon)
short-eared owl (irruptions)
northern shrike (uncommon; irruptions)
american tree sparrow (fairly common)
lapland longspur (uncommon)
snow bunting (fairly common)
common redpoll (fairly common; irruptions)

Little Observations

My truly intense birding has been put on hold since the Moreau bird walk from this past weekend, as after enjoying an evening on the town with Dave (from The Park), a deer apparently ran into the side of my car while I was driving, in the early morning hours, leaving Saratoga. I was hoping to get a full post up complete with photos (I know, I know, it's not bird stuff, but still related to nature), but the exhaustion of worrying about the cost of car repair, of not having the car and trying to get to and from work, and being in quite a lot of pain (muscular) from my neck to my back and through my shoulders, has put me mostly out of commission.

I did take a short walk yesterday as it was absolutely lovely outside of this time of year. I live not far from a small, quiet pond that looks more like glass than water, complete with a trail that runs alongside it and the brook that's part of it, where I had previously witnessed a pudgy blue jay taking a bath and loudly making it's metallic call. This time around, I heard an unfamiliar call note eminating repeatedly from the pond and had to do some detective work. Loud, short bursts of a high-pitched whistle were carrying down the street. As I walked over, I noticed about 10-15 mallards in all parts of the pond, chasing after each other. Ahhhh, the whistling mating call of the drakes. I had never witnessed it before in person, so this was a treat. I did not witness any of them actually getting busy, however. They appeared to be flirting rather than doing anything more serious.

Also spotted at this pond was a pileated woodpecker hanging out in his or her own nicely chiseled hole in the top of a dead tree. It would peak it's head out, look around a bit, and then sneak back into the hole. A few muffled knocks made me think it was still putting some finishing touches on it's lair.

Today I tagged along with my grandmother while she ran errands in Wilton. I was in a fairly semi-comatose state, exhausted from the past few days and pain. I was still able to enjoy the ring-billed gulls that frequent the area (almost every parking lot there). I have noticed that birders often think of them as 'trash' birds and not worthy of a count, but their antics are amusing, and it seems each individual has it's own unique personality. I saw two fighting for a spot on top of a lightpost, others scattered, one bird each to each light, all facing the same direction. Closing one's eyes there, one can listen to the calls and imagine oneself is standing near the ocean for a moment. Also, I was approached by a small adult ring-billed in the parking lot, the gull walking up to me and calling. I just stood and watched in amusement, not holding onto any food, and it soon flew off to hopefully find a more willing participant in it's search for lunch. The gull reminded me of my one-legged gull buddy in Erie who would visit when I'd sit in Presque Isle State Park with a bag of Sheetz french fries, except my Erie buddy was more patient and not so demanding.

Looks like it might be a bit before I get back out there with my bins, as I cannot even raise my arm high enough to use them.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Moreau Lake Bird Walk - November 7

I found out at nearly the last minute that there was a Bird Walk scheduled for this past Saturday, November 7th at Moreau Lake State Park. They have only been a recent thing, as the environmental educator there, David Alfred, and I have become closer and he has apparently respected me greatly for my obsession with birds. If I recall correctly, a previous one only wound up being David, myself, and our mutual friend Sue. I found out later that Dave really only intended this one to be him and myself, which would have been absolutely lovely, but there wound up being a small group that came along without having signed up, as I had. This did not disappoint me, except for one woman from NYC who would not stop talking (how can people go on bird walks and not understand one of the first unspoken rules is to be quiet for the most part or speak softly?) loudly and telling tall tales and outright stating lies and twisted facts. I could not help but to sarcastically correct her a few times, which made Dave chuckle. Also along was an older couple who I found out enjoyed traveling, especially to the western states, and were a birding pair. I was utterly fascinated. They told me great stories about condors and hummingbirds. They also had along this really neat little kid named Cyrus (sp?). I'm bad with ages, and I was unsure if he was their grandchild, so he was a big of an enigma to me, but this little guy had a bold personality and a streak of confidence of his knowledge of all things nature. I've been on plenty of nature walks in the park and thus have come into contact with plenty of children, but Cyrus was something else. I found him totally fascinating and enjoyed having him along. It was fun watching him get psyched over the enormous red oak leaves and collect a few to bring back with him to his classes. Dave took us around to the back bay after realizing birding was completely failing to go check out some beaver damage (which in itself was totally impressive - I loved being able to see the marks made by each individual tooth) and I had an awesome little moment with the little guy. We stood at the edge of the back bay, and I let him tell me what he knew about what we were seeing. He talked about the minnows swimming around near our feet, and identified the willow tree above us that had littered the ground completely with lancelet-shaped bright yellow leaves. We even just enjoyed the scenery in silence for a bit before rejoining the tiny group. It restored some of my faith in humanity and the potential for younger generations to really appreciate nature. I'm reinspired to put together some more bird presentations for the kids for the spring and summer.

So back to the birding being fail. I can assure you that this is not due to true suckage of the area. Moreau Lake even lately has been fantastic for birding - there have been both common mergansers and hooded mergansers on the lake, diving, for honorable mentions. We checked out the gravelpits, which is great habitat for grouse and turkeys. It was quiet except for some blue jays. And while the other people in the group didn't seem too impressed with Loop A, Dave and I were fairly fascinated by how many white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches we were hearing. He even briefly tested out some new birding tech the park recently received, something quite similar to ibird Explorer for the iphone. I was a bit envious - I've had so many times in the wild where I wished I had mp3s to play of birdsong to help in identification. Dave enjoyed showing me this neat little piece of tech, and I encouraged him to play me a couple of warbler calls that I miss. He got to test out whether the nuthatch calls would actually receive a response from the real ones in the trees nearby, a joy to every beginning birder (though anyone who knows the birding ethics laid out there somewhere knows that playing callbacks is a big birding no-no if used often) and I was overjoyed that he got to hear that they do. I was a bit sad that he (and the rest of the group) missed out on spotting the brief view I had of a brown creeper which Dave was really hoping to find on this walk.

The back bay for birds was not so interesting to me, as it's a quiet, small pond-like spot that attracts my least favorite birding bird, the mallard. There were plenty there swimming around, quacking briefly. There was also the dreaded couple that has haunted me on my last few birding trips in the park, which I suspect is a pair of mallard x black duck hybrids. They are nearly impossible for me to ID confidently, but they absolutely look like a halfway between the two species. I keep pretending I don't really see them, and they pretend that they have nothing to do with mallards, as they totally avoid all of them. Renegades.

I can't help it, but one of my favorite parts of the nature walks is when everyone but the diehards leave. I love seeing them go. It is not the elitist in me, it is just the part of me that sees that they do not have quite the passion for nature as those of us who linger do. And this time I stayed just to chat with Dave for quite some time about everything environmentalism. It was awesome and fascinating. Those post-walk chats with him are one of my favorite parts of those nature walks in Moreau.

Upcoming: It's not exactly bird-related, but I'm thinking of sharing my harrowing experience of having a deer run into the side of my car and causing quite a bit of damage. It really drove home how much we encroach upon the environment, not only to the detriment of wildlife, but potentially to ourselves. Oh, and there might be photos! ;)

RUTland, VT - November 3rd

I am not sure what possessed me to take that rather bleary, cold Tuesday to drive an hour out to Rutland (which I found to be sarcastically referred to as "Rut-vegas" by locals). I knew I needed a getaway day, a short road trip not much over an hour, and new birding areas for the day. The Vermont Audubon website looked promising and mentioned a few areas around Rutland that are not being run by the hunters at this moment. I was excited.

I threw some day-hiking stuff in my car (granola bars, a full thing of water, my trusty hiking boots, extra warm clothing, maps) and took right off. The drive out there is lovely if you go through Granville, NY and Poultney, VT. There is nothing overly stunning about the drive, but it's quiet, you have nature with you the entire way, and you start seeing the scenery change a bit as you start driving near slate quarries.

My first stop was Castleton State College, located quite a jaunt back west from Rutland down Vermont 4A. Seriously, Castleton is in the middle of nowhere. I was shocked, considering all the junk mail I've received from them making it sound like Castleton was a neat, hopping little college. I hit up campus around 11:15 AM, a time when I remembered that my old stomping grounds SUNY Oneonta would be chock-full of students. I think I saw maybe 7 walking around at Castleton, and only one was friendly. The campus is pretty, but rather small, and looked just like any SUNY campus, so I was not impressed as it held nothing new for a SUNY alum. I stopped into the Campus Center, and was mostly ignored by the two hipsters at the desk when asking for directions to a bathroom.

So why Castleton? Because it is the northern terminus for the Delaware & Hudson Rail Trail, which was recommended to me back in April by a coworker who lives near the southern terminus. The trailhead is clearly marked and you can see it from the road, but finding the actual trail took a bit of work till I saw a jogger make his way down. I actually started birding right on campus - Castleton strangely had a few ring-billed gulls flying around the parking lots, one individual sitting on top of a light to peer down at me for a bit.

To make a long story short, the D&H trail at the northern terminus was nothing exciting. In fact, I was really disappointed. It takes quite a bit to get off-campus, as the trail runs alongside the athletic fields. Then as soon as you get away from that, to your left instead of getting any forest, you get a large expansive grouping of farmhouses with mowed fields scattered with gathered hay (I like to call them "hayballs" and I'm not sure there's an actual word for them). At least in the fall season, this is horrid birding habitat, except that there was either a Sharpie or Cooper's that quickly flew over the farmlands, but didn't stick around for me to ID it. Along the rail trail, I did get some American crows, one blue jay, plenty of black-capped chickadees, one white-breasted nuthatch, a couple of tufted titmice, two American goldfinches, and a diligently foraging female hairy woodpecker. Not really all that much to write home about. I did note that there were absolutely no leaves on any deciduous trees, which I found impressive, because back here in Warren and Saratoga counties we still have had deciduous trees with green leaves or brilliant yellows and oranges. Autumn hit western Vermont before it hit us. Oh, I also spotted a hippy on a bicycle who was kind to me as he passed.

I hightailed it out of there, disappointed. I relaxed to some EQX while driving east on Vermont 4A to get to what seemed a much more promising spot, the West Rutland Marsh. I was expecting a tiny little thing surrounded by privately owned houses, considering that many wetlands are encroached upon just like I just mentioned. Oh how I was surprised when I drove up Marble Road/Street, a strange, wide backroad that is entirely white. It is quite secluded out there, and the marsh is enormous, a huge rectangle at the base of a grouping of mountains, chock-full of cattails and some phrag further north. The main entrance that includes a boardwalk was quite inviting to birders, with a tree full of homemade feeders, plenty of reading material posted, and a mailbox with a notebook to write who you were, where you came from, and any comments and sightings you had, which I enjoyed making my own entry in. The boardwalk in my eyes was a great idea - I got to stand in the middle of the cattail marsh and just listen and look. It was blustery at that point and looked like snow, so of course there were no birds in the marsh at the time, but it was no loss. I also did get to hear a common raven in the distance, and it's low harsh call being the only sound at the time gave me goosebumps. I later found out the area is a great spot to sight Virginia rails, soras, American bitterns, and least bitterns during the breeding season, and despite that my trip to Rutland was full of fail-birding, I will be back just for this place at some point.

However, my birding adventure there was soon to be interrupted by a young redneck with a rifle, who pulled his car up right at the boardwalk entrance. I got the creeps right off, but he got out of his car, kept his distance from this young lady from New York, and kindly asked if my car was mine and if I had seen anybody on the other side of the road. The other side of the road contained some odd trails and what looked to be an old fallen-apart building, none of which enticed me. I soon found out that area is frequently used for shooting practice, as this young man went off into the trees up there and started shooting away, which ruined my birding there. I was stunned and a little perturbed that an Audubon sanctuary would allow such activity right there. I again high-tailed it out of there, after taking a mile walk up Marble, only to find tons of litter of empty bullet boxes strewn by the marsh edge. Disgusting. I wondered why the local birders did not enforce rules there or even cleaned the area up there themselves.

I didn't expect my next birding stop to be very successful, as it is an area of short trails located behind the Diamond Run Mall, a new commercial craphole located in southern Rutland. Apparently this section of trails was made and is maintained by the mall itself, but Vermont Audubon lists it as part of it's site as well. All I can tell you is that it was the most awful spot for birding I have ever visited. No part of those trails is far enough out to not get the highway and mall traffic noise, and the forested area there is just devoid of life whatsoever. I couldn't figure out quite why it may be failing to sustain wildlife, but it definitely does. I was a little happy that I did see a pileated woodpecker near a tiny boardwalk that covered what the mall claims is a little wetland (more like a joke of one). It saddened me that this was all Rutland seemed to have to share with the public for birding (though I know there's some nearby state parks or forests that are currently used for hunting that may be better). I stood in the midst of these trails and closed my eyes and pictured Moreau Lake State Park and felt so incredibly thankful that I have had that all year to adventure in and see so many new things.

Drained, dehydrated, and disappointed, I decided it was just time for food and liquid instead of more birding. I was ready to get out of Rutland ASAP after filling my stomach. I parked, probably illegally, in a plaza lot so that I didn't have to pay to park downtown and walked into the downtown area to find that by 3 PM, many of the cafes were closed. I did find one that was still opened and seemed really inviting to the granola crowd even from it's outside decor, the Back Home Again cafe. In I walked to find a really strangely decorated place, as if it was trying to be a tropical rainforest while playing cutesy leprechaun-image-inducing Irish music. The women were dressed in a style similar to that of the Amish I've seen in PA, and were extremely timid and submissive. The cafe completely pimped out some Yerba Mate tea, which I thought odd. I ordered myself what would be the most expensive and absolutely awful turkey wrap I have ever had in my life, and again, high-tailed it out of there soon after wolfing down the waste. I would return to NY only to find out the cafe is run by the Twelve Tribes cult, potentially as a front to their real mission, to recruit unsuspecting idealistic young new members.

Rutland, why must you be so strange, with your cult-run cafe, economically-ruined downtown, crappy commercial areas, and the most horrible birding I've experienced in my life?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Update To Be Soon

Sorry everyone, I have been slacking! I just wanted to let you know I'm still breathing, still birding, and that I will have an update soon, or maybe a few, as I might be birding tomorrow. But earlier this week I adventured out to Rutland, Vermont, for fail-birding, which I will talk about soon enough. Heck, I think I might even have travel tips and I did find a great spot out there that I will talk about that apparently hosts rails, soras, and bitterns during breeding season! I found nothing of the sort of course, but the imagery of the nature of the area was stunning.

Soon...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Moreau Lake - Mergansers No Buntings

Birding the morning after partying hard (yay Halloween!) is...um...interesting, and a bit difficult. I didn't quite have the wide-ranging spacial skills as I usually do, and probably missed a few individuals.

So anyway, today's weather was beautiful, and probably a little unseasonably warm. I was out in a t-shirt at one point, which is very odd for upstate New York in November. I was pleased.

Where did I bird? My wonderful second home, Moreau Lake State Park. I'm quite certain the last time I took the path I took today way back in the early spring, and I welcomed revisiting the slow wander along the road to the Nature Center like it was an old buddy. And I actually did get to welcome a buddy when I got to the parking lot near the park office! As soon as I got out of my car and made my way to that road, a familiar car slowly rolled nearby and when I looked up, I realized it was Sue! I was absolutely overjoyed, loving the fact that two nature-loving friends decided to visit the same general area on the same day, at the same time. I am excitedly awaiting her post on her hopefully lovely ramble!

I will get this out of the way, so that it doesn't ruin the rest of my entry, but I was really disappointed today to not see any of the snow buntings that have recently been sighted, apparently near the Fishing Bridge. I can think of two potential reasons for this, one being that it may simply have been too nice out for them (is that possible for birds? are there species that dislike nice weather?), the other is the high traffic on said bridge by very loud, annoying, rude dog walkers that have no sense of keeping one's voice lowered and allowing people who actually went to the park to enjoy nature as it should be, to enjoy it. I know it's some sort of birder's ethic code to not be mean to the nonbirders to give birders a good name in general, but I can't help but to think maybe someone should be telling ungrateful nonbirders to shut up and stop ruining natural areas for everyone else. But anyway, no snow buntings...I'm determined to see these mysterious little cute birds.

Anyhow, one major great thing I noticed is that Moreau Lake is full of woodpeckers this time of year. I couldn't go far without running across another, and I had at least two different species (pileated and downy), and I'm positive that there's hairys and sapsuckers. I find them amusing and impressive to watch. The pileated I saw was on a tree right by the road, unfazed by cars and humans, though watchful. It hammered away at all angles of the circumference of the trunk, the amplitude of the sound surprisingly loud. Today was the first time I noticed that some pileateds have a long red mustachial stripe, which looks at once both classy and cartoonish. One of the downys that I spotted was apparently attempting to destroy the Nature Center's nest box, as it wouldn't stop banging away at every angle of it, including from the inside-out.

There were also, of course, plenty of white-breasted nuthatches. Don't let the high numbers of them in this area during winter let you think of them as a boring common bird that you should just ignore. They are great fun to watch with their strange crawling and hopping upside-down on trunks, and I love the "ahnk ahnk ahnk" or "yenk yenk yenk" calls they rapidly give out when you get nearby. Become absolutely familiar with this call, because when you finally hear the much less common red-breasted nuthatch, the red-breasted will immediately stand out to you. The red-breasted call is clearer (less hoarse), more high-pitched, and squeakier sounding. I had this happen to me today and got to see a white-breasted chase a red-breasted in rapid spirals up a trunk, both of them calling loudly and rapidly. There were plenty of other individuals of both species nearby seemingly yelling out for them to stop.

The blue jays were surprisingly quiet today, and I realized their short flights resemble the light, breezy falling of dying leaves from the trees they were hiding in. I feel like they are the keepers of the forests, always watching any intruders. I have often looked up at a tree only to see the contortionist blue jay peering over a branch at me, one eye pointed straight down. Black-capped chickadees are like little messenger minions in cahoots with the blue jays, merrily dancing around the branches while staying hidden behind the leaves still attached, laughing at you. You may notice the incredibly high counts I get of them in other places I bird in, but they seem to have a smaller population in Moreau Lake.

The unfortunately named tufted titmouse was also present today, though I only counted four. Moreau Lake individuals seem shy; I could not attract them with my squirrel call and I unfortunately did not have anything that could play death metal in the park (one summer I found that every time I'd listen to metal with the bedroom window open the titmice would come up to the screen and call as loudly as possible...wonder what kind of music they do enjoy).

There were a few leftover American goldfinches in flight overhead at one point, though I only counted three. Yes, they are a species you can see year-round here, but it seems as though the populations shift with changing food availability.

The lake was much more exciting than the road itself today, and I spent more time overlooking the water. There was a possible eagle/osprey in flight so high overhead that I could make out no colorations or true shape, so I must do the one thing that is quite painful for all birders to do: to say, "I have no idea what that species was." Ouch.

Also on the lake was a long line of Canada geese close to the shore where humans couldn't get to. They stayed there for the two hours that I walked, quiet almost the entire time with the occasional honk. They looked as if they were simply enjoying the warm day, lazily floating around. Near them I caught an extremely exciting and fun sight of five female common mergansers also in a line, diving completely under the surface and coming back up maybe half a minute later. I'm not sure if they were fishing, because they spent most of their time above water flapping their wings and nearly standing on the surface, or preening. Sometimes they would play follow the leader, where the first in line dove first, then the second, then third, and so on. Sometimes the line would begin from the last duck. And sometimes it was completely random. But they did not dive in a group formation, only as a line! When not preoccupied with diving, they would appear to look for each other, making sure they didn't lose anyone.

There were also mallards that kept flying off, and I counted nine total. I suspect that there may have also been two American black duck x mallard hybrids, or just the typical American black duck, but those two just did not look right in the conditions they were in, and so I ran away from them pretending I never saw them at all. Take that, mutant ducks! As a birder, I can finally tell you that my least favorite bird sightings are the mallards, especially in their domesticated forms, as they are an absolute pain for identification, making one think for half a second that one may be seeing a rare species, only to find out it's just another one of those ducks that will mate with almost anything.

And so that concludes my not-so-successful birding ramble for this morning, with no luck in finding the elusive snow bunting, and nearly crapping my pants at this monsterously oversized poodle coming right at me at the Fishing Bridge. All those dog walkers were the reason I screamed with glee on the inside that it appears that they have yet to find the semi-secret new trails I helped carve out with the Boy Scouts this summer.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Indian Summer on Betar Byway

Earlier this morning I wandered on over to the SGF Betar Byway, having no idea what birds I might see. All I cared about at first was just how comfortable the temperature of the air was, and the subtle warm breeze blowing in my face. It was a nice break from the bitterly cold weather typical of the Northeast this time of year.

The Byway, unfailing in blowing my mind with the diversity it holds, excited me greatly. I did not have to walk far to find a large flock of all sorts of species! From the start of the path (behind the American Legion - stop now at the little nature kiosk/plaque as there's some useful postings of birds one may see, including the common goldeneye) one could hear the intensely loud, manic repetitions of a northern mockingbird. How exciting! It seemed to be in spring mode, repeating those familiar songs 3x one would hear in May here. It sat nearby in a shrub, eyeing me intently, and I noted that it made me think vaguely of a cuckoo with it's tail slightly longer than it's body. There is also what I call the "half-tree," rising taller than a dead stump but no longer a tree, either. It is full of holes. Those holes today were full of eastern bluebirds, who were very busy flitting about and calling mournfully and quietly. Lately they sound like they are calling out sadly due to the decay of summer and spring that comes certainly with autumn. There were also three purple finches which I noted looked as if someone dumped little buckets of magenta paint on some pine siskins, the paint dripping down their heads, breasts, and bellies. A lone dark-eyed junco raced around the bare branches in this area, and a few tufted titmice showed up right in front of my binoculars seemingly out of nowhere to stare right back into them. A downy woodpecker and a male hairy woodpecker raced around their own trunks seeking the last few insects.

Near this grouping of open trees there is a shore marsh that during the summer months is home to plenty of red-winged blackbirds and many visiting tree swallows. There were still red-winged blackbirds just as territorial, and an almost neon-red male northern cardinal who seemed to be trying to desparately to blend in, with no luck. Two other cardinals were off on the other side of the Byway, calling, hidden in the shriveling yellow shrubbery leaves. Nearby, a white-breasted nuthatch was calling out "yenk yenk yenk yenk." Off on the Hudson River waters, about 20 ring-billed gulls were restlessly flying around in their own social group. On my walk back, this same spot hosted 3 breeding male mallards and possibly two of their ladies.

Along the Byway there were also the more common birds that people tend to overlook. I myself don't always get excited over them, but I know without them there, making noise, calling out my presence to everyone else around, and weighing down their perches, nature my seem almost a lonely place. These were the many blue jays, American crows, and American robins that seem to watch over the woods, making them safe for the smaller birds. There were also plenty of acrobatic black-capped chickadees, showing off their abilities to twirl around and hang upside-down from smaller branches and calling out a hoarse "dee-dee-dee" to get attention.

Further down the Byway, one comes across a large open field to the left, and a patch of trees to the right. This is one of my favorite spots here in the summer, but it was intensely quiet today except for the lone American goldfinch flying over and calling out "potato chip!"

The rest of the Byway is fairly quiet this time of year, at least bird-wise. Here is where I often meet locals on their morning walk. They sometimes stop me, as they did today, to share their bird stories (little old ladies love the cardinals that visit their feeders), ask bird questions ("Where have all the birds gone?"), and sometimes request advice ("Why am I finding dead bluebirds in my bluebird houses?"). I enjoy these chats, because they put into perspective, or actually make the answer to "What really is a birder?" confusing. These people are not birders probably in the sense of not having the conservation knowledge, every species knowledge, and don't actively go out searching for rares and low population species, but they can certainly tell you all about the behavior of the birds they do know, as they watch them intently almost every day. They can tell you what species are along the Byway, and where they live (as can I) there. They also often know about recent sightings there. These "nonbirders" make the pretentiousness out of true birders I have witnessed seem even sillier and ridiculous.

My next favorite spot is where there's a small pool of water to the left, a water works building straight ahead, and down the slope to the right is a large inlet. This was an exciting, busy spot today. People were amazed and awed by a lone leucistic gray squirrel that had it's own feast tree. It would come to the bottom of the trunk, grab a nut, and race back up the tree to it's favorite perch, out in the open, on display for everyone while it shelled each nut. If one can get a closer look at this squirrel, one sees that it's coat is faintly light gray closer to the skin. But from a distance it looks like a completely bleached-out gray squirrel. I had a chuckle at how unfazed it was by everyone gawking at it. Near the squirrel were two red-bellied woodpeckers flying through, a male visible with his cherry-red head stripe.

Down the slope I found seven ducks that still have me a bit mystified. I immediately wondered what species I was seeing, thinking maybe it would be a lifer, so I know these are certainly no regular mallards. They were making mallard sounds however...they just didn't look like them very much, except one had a patch of the familiar shiny green head. Upon a search through my Sibley's, they looked much more like American black ducks but not quite those either! There's a fair chance I came across some Mallard x American black duck hybrids. I would think being familiar with both species, a hybrid would not look alien to me, but these seemed very strange.

Up the hill, around the water works I went, and came to the other side of the inlet, and noticed something kept briefly blocking out the sun ahead of me. Looking up, I immediately noticed a hawk making quick, tight circles, it's dried-blood-brown tail flashing in the sun. It was low enough so I could see it hunching up it's feet under it's body. The underside of the wings were almost all soft white, except for a black crescent on each. On turning a sharp angle, I could see the upperside of the wing briefly, which looked to match the color of the undertail except for a large white patch on the outer wing. It also called briefly, sounding just like out of an old Western movie. This surely was a red-tailed hawk. I am unsure as to what color morph it may be, though it certainly was rather light-colored for this species.

While not birds, also noticeable in the quiet inlet were three turtles resting upon a log. I have lost by turtle identifying skills over the past two years, but these looked to be painteds, enjoying one of the last days of warm sun in the Northeast.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Autumn Geese

I have been unable to "go birding" (as they say) this week but my drives to and from work have brought me some treasures. It has been unseasonably warm this week (apparently reaching nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit - odd though that customers shamed me all day for not being able to get outside in the warmth considering that they should be ashamed of themselves for not hiking as much as I did in the heat all summer and saw many wonderful things), bringing out flocks of birds in droves, beautifully noisy ones. On one barely exciting evening drive home, I was met with a surprise flock of about 200 blackbirds making as much noise as they possibly could. They were not identifiable as they were moving very quickly and I suspected they were carrying some friendly species with them rather than being a monospecies group.

House sparrows are extremely abundant in Hudson Falls and are of course fat and noisy like human children who have lived on nothing but McDonalds. Funny how I would find the children quite annoying but the sparrows lively and fun.

My favorite sightings this week are the large gatherings of Canada geese and ring-billed gulls at the mowed cornfield by Adirondack Community College. I drive past at a specific time each morning and evening but I suspect you could drive by there at any time and see them. I usually count about a hundred geese, and one day saw about 60 gulls nearby. I find it interesting that geese-haters speak of the large grouping as if the individuals were merely a bunch of random hoodlums who got together to form this evil geese-gang...if you look more closely, you can see that the large group is broken into many smaller ones. These are family units. Now that you know this, you will never be able to look at a couple hundred geese the same again, not as a large random gathering.

People also seem to hate seeming them for they are apparently a signal to many that winter is soon upon us. To me they are a calming sight...if you remember, about a month ago I was worried that the oncoming colder weather and fall migration would bring us very few birds to enjoy for the winter. I'm absolutely pleased to see such plump, large, subtly-colored icons of autumn in enormous numbers, not to mention the gentle onslaught of white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos recently.

I cross my fingers for hopefully another winter with a few surprise irruptions...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dealing With Data

Part of the reason I made an effort to get a bachelor's in science is my love for data. I love Excel, spreadsheets, numbers, lists, and anything else you can think of related to dealing with data. I even enjoy applying arbitrary guidelines to data just to get an idea of info that can be gleaned from the raw.

But even I, sometimes, cannot tolerate the long hours it takes just to do anything with data. My field notebook, begun in April and trailing through multiple little composition books (they are 4 1/2 x 3 1/4 inches) and sometimes loose pieces of paper, logs nearly every bird I have seen since then. And boy, have I seen PLENTY of individuals. I am always, always birding.

I have spent most of today, minus eating, attempting to input my data from my field notebook from August up to the current date into ebird.org. I am now tired and cranky and not even near finished, and realizing that I have lost some recent loose pieces of paper that show some rather high counts of geese in local cornfields. I will probably not be able to find these papers. These feel like newb mistakes, which is highly irritating. Oh, the woes of going through all the little mistakes of something that is still a bit new to oneself, so that one can become a better birder over time.

Warren County Bike Trail

I've had various discussions that have left me confused...sometimes people tell me I should be grateful that I have nature trails nearby. Strange, as I have lived in many places and have never lacked for them. But what I mostly find strange is that the major 'nature trail' we have right here just outside the blue line of the Adirondacks does not see much use besides some cyclists.

So for you locals, I encourage you to check out the Warren County Bike Trail. It's not just for those who have two wheels. Yesterday morning, three of us nature lovers (Sue and Jackie) got up bright and early to begin about a 5 mile, 6 hour ramble here from Round Pond to the southern beach of Lake George. It felt like the dead of winter temperature-wise, but there was not a lot of complaining as we were all fascinated by what potentials were laid out ahead. The weather was actually much better than what was called for, as the sun was shining upon us for most of our adventure.

I paid little attention to many of the plants, besides virgin's bower, one that I had previously been unfamiliar with. I believe what we were seeing were the seed heads, which I found impressive, but anything in nature that creates squiggles or curves fascinates me. Also amazingly impressive were the witch-hazel trees/shrubs lining portions of the trail, in brilliant yellow. Witch-hazel really stands out amongst the typical deciduous trees of the mixed forests north of the capital region.

I paid attention to the birds, as I always do. What fascinated me was to find the further north we went, the pattern of birds changed to those who enjoyed more of the shrubby habitat to those of deeper, more northern woodlands, as one would expect as one slowly makes their way into the Adirondacks. Juncos, a bird at home in coniferous forests, didn't appear till we crossed the route I tend to consider the Adirondack Park border. It also became much quieter bird-wise past this route, also seemingly typical of deeper forests...some stretches I neither heard nor saw a single bird for dozens of minutes at a time.

Upon looking at my field journal, the very first part of the trip now seems unfamiliar to me. It is not a route I tend to follow, as part of the trail here is along the roadside, one that I find dangerous in the afternoon hours. However, there was definitely bird activity even here:

- downy woodpecker
- common raven (2 - the low crawnk call they give really broke the silence)
- blue jay (20+)
- American crow (4)
- black-capped chickadee (10+)
- white-breasted nuthatch (2)

The next part of the trail felt like home to me, and if you've followed my blog in the past or know me, you know the bike path from Birdsall (a name that makes me chuckle) Road to Ash Drive is a frequent visiting spot of mine, as the Glen Lake fen is home to dozens of red-winged blackbirds during the spring and summer months, and the occassional indigo bunting or bay-breasted warbler. We slowed here for photos and I fell into my old birding pattern:

- white-breasted nuthatch
- American robin (6)
- cedar waxwing (2)
- black-capped chickadee (10)
- red-winged blackbird (about 30, 2 males and 2 females seen hanging with grackles)
- american crow (7)
- blue jay (4)
- Canada geese (10)
- common grackle (about 50 in a flock that landed in front of us in a cacophony)
- white-throated sparrow (3)
- mallard (3 males, 2 females swimming around the fen)
- great blue heron (it tried to blend into the reeds but the sun was right on it)
- pileated woodpecker (hammered while we were around, which made such a fantastic loud sound!)
- song sparrow

From Ash Drive there is a more forested part of the trail that I always thought of us plain, and probably lacking in birds, as my one previous walk down it turned up nearly nothing. I was completely surprised at what was found, and Sue knew of an off-trail trail that had a wet area that was apparently where white-throated sparrows go to party. We had a good laugh at how their poor renditions of "Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada" (or "Old Sam Peabody" which I don't prefer) sounded like really old recordings, and some individuals stopped halfway through the song as if it was just too much for them. I got some good views of what I think of as one of the more beautiful sparrows:

- white-throated sparrow (14)
- American robin (5)
- blue jay (6)
- black-capped chickadee (19)
- red-winged blackbird (2)
- white-breasted nuthatch (3)
- American goldfinch (15, 3 of them were juvenile males and 3 were females...goldfinches still confuse me at this time of year, their pale gray coloring just still seems so unusual to me, so it's a good thing they are usually calling, "Potato chip!" or, "Are you here?")
- cedar waxwing (4)

If one is birding on the Warren County Bike Trail, one should stand at the intersection with Glen Lake Road and enjoy the birds there, as they love the messy, viny, shrubby habitat right on the corner. This whole section all the way to Route 149 is interesting bird-wise. There are also spots you can visit off the trail that have American wintergreen, though if you ask me I wouldn't eat many of those berries on an empty stomach. It's interesting to read that wild turkey will occasionally snack on it, as I noted yesterday that we were certainly in turkey habitat. If I remember correctly, this was also the spot with fun Lycopodium spores:

- white-breasted nuthatch (7)
- American goldfinch (14)
- northern cardinal (1 absolutely stunning female, another hidden one nearby making those piercing chip notes, likely the male)
- white-throated sparrow (8 of those who need singing lessons)
- blue jay (8)
- black-capped chickadee (22)
- song sparrow (one actually still singing!)
- downy woodpecker (2)
- cedar waxwing (7)
- American robin
- brown creeper (I'm truly excited about this sighting. I have a difficult time finding them, and this one was flitting about on multiple tree trunks rather than spiraling up any one of them)

Route 149 to Route 9 is not as exciting bird-wise, and it is a portion of the bike trail I'm likely to pass up for a regular birding spot, unless I absolutely desire to see large numbers of juncos again (and I very well may as that species really tugs at my heart-strings). It is very quiet in spots as it is a deeper forest habitat, and I noticed quite a bit of road noise. Also, this is where I consider the border of the Adirondack Park begins, and one can tell by the birds - this is where juncos begin, and larger numbers of chickadees occur. There's what appears to be an old road or rail trail near a monument in this section that is worth a gander, as it is full of lichens and clubmosses. Here in my field notebook I wrote with excitement, "Pixie cups! Running cedar!":

- hairy woodpecker
- American robin (5)
- dark-eyed juncos (7 - it is actually difficult for me to call them dark-eyed, as I call them by their subspecies...up here they are the slate-colored)
- white-breasted nuthatch (4)
- cedar waxwing (2)
- black-capped chickadee (28)
- unknown sparrow, at first thought, wondered if it was an American tree, and glances at a field guide seem to be confirming this.
- blue jay (4)
- unknown woodpecker species drumming in the distance, such a great sound in the woods
- northern cardinal
- downy woodpecker
- common raven

The last stretch, from Route 9 to Lake George, is interesting. For the most part it was also a bit disappointing bird-wise, except for an exciting incident closer to the lake. I was a bit annoyed that the trail yet again ran alongside the road, but there's a fun stop at Magic Forest (a really old fun park), with creepy huge statues of Uncle Sam, Paul Bunyan, and Santa Claus. If you really have a look down a hill nearby, you can see a giraffe and two palm trees. Don't ask me why such randomness...I have never understood Magic Forest. The habitat further along got a bit interesting, there were a few invasive Norway maples, and a lone sassafras that even in this weather is still delicious:

- blue jay (2)
- American crow (4)
- black-capped chickadee (14)
- white-breasted nuthatch (2)
- dark-eyed junco
- red-bellied woodpecker (a male making a loud, high-pitched 'cue cue cue' call - I'm not yet familiar with this call)
- hairy woodpecker (a female...she was being chased around by the agitated red-bellied! It was really exciting to watch the showdown)
- downy woodpecker (was near the other woodpecker drama, calling away)
- American crow

Our rambling concluded at the Lake George Battlefield Park and Fort George State Park. I did not bird here, as I was too busy taking in the park. I've walked alongside it many times, yet never entering until yesterday, and was absolutely impressed with it's expansive size and scattered tree forest. The view of the mountains and the lake are stunning from that viewpoint and the sense of history there makes it worth a visit. There's also delicious pizza in Lake George!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This Just In!

My mom, just now, heard an owl at the WFA house hooting away (around 11 PM). For years I have listened for them at night here and haven't heard any, so this is absolutely exciting. I've been crossing my fingers that this autumn and winter are great for owls - I've loved the snowy owl irruptions, spotting them around this area every couple of winters.

My mom does not know her owl calls, but she made the call for me, and it's almost certainly that of a great-horned owl. The habitat at the WFA house is perfect for them. I'll have to keep my ears open!

Monday, September 28, 2009

I'm Back!

You may have not even noticed that I've been gone all September. It's the craziest month for me, and also my birthday month. Hooray!

Despite working so many hours and being busy with plenty of other things, I have still found time to go birding (it helps that I've made it part of my priority list). Plus I just never really stop, unless you count the times I'm indoors away from the windows, which tends to be depressing.

Now that it's autumn (my favorite) I have noticed a lot of nonbirders complaining about how there's "no birds." This fascinates and annoys me. I've still seen plenty! I even had a lifer, one that popped into view when I wasn't actively birding and while a local nonbirder was making his complaints to me. On September 19th, the bitterly cold morning it was, I was rambling along Betar Byway listening for the tufted titmice that began visiting the area around my birthday (September 8th). This old guy and his dog came along, and the guy said, "You won't be finding many birds today." Funny, because I count about 70 individual birds for that trip. But as soon as he said that, I saw a bird head pop up above the waterline of the Hudson River right behind him. I hoped so badly it was a pied-billed grebe. But the bird soon came up to swim around, and looked much bigger than grebes in photos...I was confused. And the long, odd-shaped bill and really dark body made no sense. The bird I was watching had fantastic diving and fishing skills...it'd stay under water for I swear almost a minute, go upstream while under, and come up with multiple fish. After swallowing that one, it'd go crazy fishing in a circle all around itself, grabbing up to maybe 4 to 6 more up it's in bill and swallowing them down. Too bad it probably didn't care or wouldn't understand me wishing I could give it a 10/10. I was fascinated later on to match it almost exactly with the illustration and field markings of a juvenile double-crested cormorant! It's apparently a fairly common visitor here on the Hudson, and I was most glad to make it's acquaintance that morning. I also got a bonus sighting (and hearing) of two red-bellied woodpeckers on the Betar Byway, the male flying right in overhead for about a half-minute to peer at me and call. I nearly squeed out loud.

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Also notable in my field notebook were the four red-breasted nuthatches I heard and saw at the Old Gick Farm parcel at Wilton Wildlife. I took the southern trail, which I had never been on before, and I will be going there more often as it's an incredibly beautiful, quiet place and I love the wetland that conjures up imagery of elves and faeries. There was nothing else too notable, just many of our common woodland birds (PLENTY of black-capped chickadees) but it was nice to have companionship of my familiar buddies while enjoying some late sweetfern and goldenrod. I also tested out my new way of 'pishing' which seems to work much, much better than the typical 'psshh' birders seem to use often. No, I'm not telling my secret.

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My feeders have been incredibly quiet, and after visiting here: http://wildbirdsunlimited.typepad.com/the_zen_birdfeeder/ and thinking, it's likely the birds here are just happy with what they have in the wild, considering that I live in the woods. In fact, the 80 or so common grackles that invaded the trees above the WFA house two days did not at all touch a single feeder. We do have one visitor...yup, one, on a daily basis, and he started only a week or so ago and is absolutely welcome here - a downy woodpecker. I love listening to his dog-toy-like squeaks and it's fun watching him diligently poke around the suet.

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I had a blast watching other people at the Adirondack Balloon Festival on Friday afternoon be absolutely amazed at the approximately 100 Canada geese fly over the airport while the balloons were being inflated. There were so many people with so much awe...I wondered if I saw even maybe one potential future birder being made. The geese came in, in that nice V-formation, and it appeared that the geese didn't quite know what to do with themselves once they saw what was going on down below, because they grouped together and changed direction a few times, before re-making the V and heading in the same initial direction. I figured the airport field is a typical landing spot for them and we had disturbed their landing pad that evening. I've also been seeing about 50-70 of them not too far away by Oneida Corners in two harvested corn fields, picking away at the ground.

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I had somehow forgotten that autumn does tend to bring the rains, and it's been killing my little free time I do have to go birding lately. This leaves me rather bummed on some days, although on Sunday I found it a good time to go traipsing around Wild Birds Unlimited in Wilton. If you have not gone, I recommend it. I've been there a few times. Just beware, you will want one of everything, and you may, like me, have to really stop yourself from wanting to squeeze all the little Audubon birds (I'll admit to doing this in the gift shop of the NYS Museum). Also, the people who work there are wicked cool (I'm just awkwardly shy sometimes), and I enjoyed sharing on Sunday with one of them that I love Sibley's guide. No they did not ask for any promotion in here, I just love that place and wanted to share, as people I've mentioned it to often say, "Where is that?" Then I happily give directions.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Birding Before the Storm - Friday, 28 August

I just had to get out on Friday, the day before Tropical Storm Danny was to roll through the area and dump some water on upstate NY. For those of you who don't know, tropical storms and hurricanes and cause fairly large dumpings of migratory birds to the trees/ground. Think of it like airplanes. So I expected to see a few, well, unexpected birds. And oh, I did!

I actually birded in three spots on Friday, but I for once will not list them all out. I do, however, want to mention that I saw an adorably cute baby chipmunk with it's mum on the Warren County Bikepath. It was trying to hide under it's mum and would peek it's head up to sniff hers.

Also mentionable is the herb garden at Hovey Pond Park in Queensbury. I never paid much attention to the garden there, as I'm not usually a fan of gardens unless they are full of wildflowers. These are worth looking at, especially the blue garden, which contains sea holly, a plant with amazingly brilliant blue stems! The herb garden is also totally worth checking out. I personally like to rub all of the leaves of the plants with my fingers and have a sniff, and I was much rewarded. There's spearmint, lemon balm (mmmm), lavender, thyme, anise (smells like licorice if you're wondering), and sage!

The Betar Byway is where I got my surprises:
- Canada Goose (that 1 juvenile is still around, and looking healthier)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
- Black-capped Chickadee (16)
- Gray Catbird (8)
- American Goldfinch (1 male, 13 unknown)
- American Redstart (this is one of the surprises!!! 1 breeding male, 1 juv male, and 1 female!)
- Ring-billed Gull (1 - kind of a surprise, I usually don't see them here. It was fishing the Hudson)
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1 - another surprise! I saw this one clearly so there was no mistaking it)
- Baltimore Oriole (1 - yet another surprise, and it was a breeding male, so brilliantly orange and black)
- Blue Jay (1)
- American Crow (1)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (1)
- Mourning Dove (1)
- Northern Cardinal (1 male, 1 unknown)
- Cedar Waxwing (16 total, 1 was a juvenile for sure, 1 had the orange-tipped honeysuckle tail...the sheer number of these birds was a little surprising)
- Belted Kingfisher (1)
- Downy Woodpecker (1)

The inlet here had:
- Black-capped Chickadee (2)
- Eastern Phoebe (1)
- Gray Catbird (2)
- Mallard (10)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
and a fuzzy black caterpillar.

I was so excited to see the gnatcatcher, oriole, and redstarts. I expected them to be gone by now, so they were welcome sightings. I thank the tropical storm for likely bringing them in for a stopover. I hope they fared well at the Betar Byway rest stop.