Sunday, May 3, 2009

Moreau Lake State Park

On Saturday (yesterday) May 2nd I visited Moreau Lake for some birding, as it was a nice day. Started out a bit cloudy, then became warm and sunny.

This is becoming one of my absolute favorite areas to go birding. There's a variation of habitat, and while you start figuring out which birds are probably the residents while walking the same routes, you see something new almost every single time. I don't even go birding in the early morning like a lot of birders do. Today I showed up at 2:25 PM and walked till 5 PM.

I split my walk up into two parts again. Part 1 starts at the park office and heads along Beach Rd to the Nature Ctr/playground/bridge. Starting out at the park office was a Turkey Vulture flying overhead. Interesting that it's the same spot I've spotted one before.

The parking lot had a few Chipping Sparrows singing. And yes, I'm sure they are Chipping Sparrows, I kept spotting them and further on near the playground I even got to watch through my binoculars a not-shy individual singing like crazy. Throughout the walk, I spotted 10 of those guys. An old lady caught me watching through my binoculars and asked me if I spotted anything interesting. When I told her it was a Chipping Sparrow, she said, "Oh," in a disappointing tone. I couldn't help but to chuckle because I'm fascinated by those birds, while most people write them off as "just another sparrow."

Also spotted or heard along Part 1:
- 2 Red-winged Blackbirds
- 3 American Goldfinches
- 4 Black-capped Chickadees
- 1 possible Pine Warbler, the call was actually remarkably different from the Chipping Sparrows
- 1 American Crow
- 2 Tufted Titmice
- 2 unknown Woodpeckers drumming, and 2 chipmunks near the private cabin

I also had the crap scared out of me at the nature center. I weaved in and out of the area, forgetting that around the time of 3 PM-ish they start telling people to remove their cars from that area, and they do this over the loudspeakers. I was standing in the wrong place right when that happened. Oops!

Part 2 was from the 'bridge' (Causeway Foot Bridge), haphazardly around the quiet marshy pond by the Nature Trail, and out around Mud Pond up to Spier Falls Rd. This was where I met my first incredibly rude Moreau Lake State Park tourists. How fantastic. I did not appreciate their kids screaming and throwing things around, and they didn't appreciate me standing out there with my binoculars. It was odd.

Anyway, the wooded area just past the bridge is a favorite of mine. An Eastern Phoebe sat on a low branch, quiet, just watching me. It strikes me as odd that bird books label them as drab and bland birds, as the contrasting dark gray, buff, and white is pleasing on the eye. Also in that area were 5 Common Grackles making all sorts of noise with 5 male Red-winged Blackbirds. I keep finding this assortment interesting, and the noises both species were making were nearly identical. Also in this area was a new sighting for me and I've never seen them in this spot before either - Blue-gray Gnatcatchers! Two of them. They were flitting all about, so tiny, making all sorts of noise. I almost couldn't get a glimpse of them, but noted the tiny size, the distinct gray and white with absolutely no yellow or buff, and the white eye-ring. So awesome.

Also counted 11 American Goldfinches in all. It seems like more, thinking back on all the calls. They seem to particularly enjoy Mud Pond.
4 American Crows
2 Tufted Titmice
5 Red-winged Blackbirds
8 Black-capped Chickadees
2 Canada Geese (hanging out in that marshy pond - I watched them forage for a bit)
1 Pine Warbler
2 Chipping Sparrows
1 Downy Woodpecker near Spier Falls Rd
1 Mourning Dove near Spier Falls Rd
1 Common Raven on the orange-red trail past Spier Falls Rd, where it circles back around Mud Pond
Also noted a grey squirrel, and a painted turtle that plopped right off a log into the water away from me hanging out in Mud Pond. I also found - no kidding - a pea-sized deer tick crawling on my pants leg while on the north side of Mud Pond. It took all I had to not start screaming, those things freak me out so badly. This one was determined not to let go. I had to repeatedly forcefully poke it in the head with a stick and then I ran like hell when it fell off onto the ground.

Once I got around Mud Pond I headed through the campgrounds to get back to my car. I was done birding by then, but heard an Eastern Phoebe and plenty of Black-capped Chickadees, Chipping Sparrows, and Tufted Titmice. I thought about how someone told me recently that the Titmice call does not sound like "Peter Peter" to her, and realized in my own head I was translating it as "Wheedle wheedle." If you look that up in a bird book you're going to get a Blue Jay. So I guess this is your warning that "wheedle wheedle" could cause you ID confusion.

That concludes that! It wasn't my best birding in Moreau Lake, what with rude peoples, terrible seasonal allergies, and that deer tick on steroids. But those gnatcatchers were a highlight. Unfortunately, I just spent 20 minutes having my dad stab and pick at the spot on my leg where I just found a tick. Mouthparts so frequently get stuck in the bite area. I'm now sitting here totally paranoid, thinking I have more on me. The worst is that I did 3 tick checks AND tossed my clothes into the dryer for 15 minutes and somehow STILL got bitten.

I have been doing some volunteer work for the Wilton Wildlife Preserve, which this past week had been cleaning up a plot of land in front of the office on Scout Rd. It is a fantastic spot for a large array of birds. There have been Chipping Sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, American Robins, Blue Jays, hearing some Kingfishers (there's a nearby pond), Mourning Doves, and Tree Swallows. Oh how I love Tree Swallows. It was relaxing spending Friday afternoon listening to them sing and watching them do their aerobatics.

The house in West Fort Ann now has a Bluebird pair! I watched them today visiting 4 nest boxes. I was not familiar with their calls and if you ask me, they sound swallow-like. Also notable is a male American Goldfinch that shimmies sideways down this metal pole leading to a feeder. It has a diagonal angle with the lowest point at the feeder. I caught him one day sitting at the high point of the pole, apparently slightly releasing the pressure of his grip on the pole, and sliding sideways all the way down the pole right to the feeder. I hope that skill attracts the ladies for him, because I was impressed.

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