Sunday, April 19, 2009

Moreau Lake - First Warblers

Today was an okay day to go birding in Moreau Lake State Park, it was about 55*F and sunny, though quite a bit windy and there was an abundance of dog-walkers and kids screaming in the playground, and thus there was a noticeable quiet in areas of the park. I also realized I may need to be birding earlier there, as there was a sudden, astounding quieting of all birds around 3 PM, until I left the park at 3:20 PM.

My adventures are split in 2 as I was stopped by a nice old gentleman fishing with his apparent grandson at the Causeway Foot Bridge. He was just looking for a chat, and we had one which lasted for about 20 minutes. He was very kind, and he hoped he would run across me again there. Also, his grandson found a newt/salamander! Anyway, I'm amazed at the kindness of the people who visit the park, and today it seemed I was a bit of a novelty to some of them, as I walked around looking up while carrying a pair of binoculars. At some point I overheard a woman whispering excitedly to another woman, "She's looking for birds!" Strange, but neat.

So during the first half, from 12:50 PM to 1:40 PM, I walked along the road from the main parking lot, along the lake, to the beach/Nature Center. I heard 1 American Crow, and 14 Black-capped Chickadees along the way. When I hit the first open area with benches and a Phrag stand, I had what was apparently a Belted Kingfisher flyover (identifiable by sound rather than sight). Then I spotted 2 White-breasted Nuthatches - they were not very shy which gave me a good view. A very quiet Eastern Phoebe also sat still for me to stare at him/her while sitting on a low branch by the private cabin. Along the way I kept hearing a call that I could not ID coming from the tops of white pines. If you've seen a white pine, you can quickly figure out what the problem was with sighting a bird at the top. Also, none of these birds flitted about. The habitat quickly made me think it was a warbler, though I thought it odd that a warbler would make a trilling sound that reminded me so much of spring peepers. I noted this down and started counting...8 in all, all the way to the Nature Center. At the Nature Center, I spotted a lone Chipping Sparrow scaling the roof - I applaud myself for noting down the rufous crown, white throat, and black eye line, or else I would not have identified the sparrow.

At 2 PM to 3:20 PM was part two, from the Causeway Foot Bridge, up to Loop D (camping sites), down the trail to the marshy pond, along the creek/stream, back around the pond to the beach trail leading back to the Nature Center area. Just after the bridge I had 8 Common Grackle overhead with about 4 Red-winged Blackbirds. All were noisily calling, apparently unhappy with my presence. Unfortunately for them, I was not so disgruntled and stood watching them for quite some time. All along my way back to the Nature Center I heard about 8 American Goldfinches making their 'potato chip' flight call. I also spotted 3 American Crows flying silently. I counted 7 more mystery birds making calls that sound like spring peepers. 12 Black-capped Chickadees were counted.

At the pond I saw two silent Canada Geese. One was still, the other dipping it's head into the water. Near the stream/creek I caught the sight of a Hermit Thrush. Along the beach trail, another quiet Eastern Phoebe sitting at eye level, this one dipping it's tail. Also, two unidentified hawks. Definitely hawk-shaped, but one was mostly obscured by trees as it flew overhead, and another was so far away that my binoculars couldn't help.

Bonus: 3 Mourning Cloak butterflies on the beach trail; 2 painted turtles right near those Canada Geese in the marshy pond!

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So the mystery birds (15 in all) making peeper-like calls? After getting online and doing some crafty searching, I quickly found out they may be Pine Warblers, and apparently they are nesting now. However, Chipping Sparrows make a nearly identical call, so I'm not sure how many of them were one or the other. I'll have to study their calls more.

The Hermit Thrush was quite a challenge as well. I've never actually seen one before and did not at first know which identifying characteristics would be helpful. Plus, the thing was 'shy' and quickly hopped to underbrush. I tried stalking it, but it was dark brown, and so was the underbrush and dried leaves. I was not fooled, however, by the distinct rufous tail contrasting greatly with the darker (chestnut?) brown back and head. And I knew it was a thrush by it's American Robin-like shape and behaviors.

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