So yes. The Betar Byway. Yesterday, Sunday was my first time. And I am SO glad that I went, because what I saw was absolutely amazing.
I started at the main entrance off of First Street, by the gazebo. It was absolutely weird parking behind the SGF American Legion. The last time I did that was 9 years ago, when I was going to my first hardcore/metal show. So bizarre to think of it that way.
The weather yesterday was not very birdwatching friendly, and I feel like I missed out on a lot, despite the enormous amount of birds I got to see and hear. But the gusts were up to about 35 mph, which caused the leaves to overturn, which made the smaller birds invisible to the eye and songs incredibly difficult to locate. Awful. But it didn't stop me, oh hell no.
First birds I saw, were of course, Common Grackles. They were hanging out by the gazebo, snacking away in the grass. A Song Sparrow was calling right by the parking lot which already made my day; I love their calls.
When I got onto the actual path, I immediately spotted Mallards floating along in the Hudson River. Two mating pairs. There were also quite a few Red-winged Blackbirds along the trail, near the river. I counted 5 in all. There were also quite a few American Robins - I counted 7.
I saw a pair of Tree Swallows mating, almost by sheer accident. I had not actually spotted a bird but looked all around with my binoculars, hoping to spot something. I did, right off a horizontal branch of what looked like a dead birch tree. Little metallic green/blue bird flitting around. The male kept touching down to the female, which was sitting on the perch, and he looked like he was being so gentle.
Also swimming around in the water were two pairs of Canada geese, with young in tow! One pair had 4, and the other had 3. I couldn't take my eyes off of them, and they were attracting the eyes of other people using the trail.
I heard three birds calling the same call, but couldn't figure out what they were. I suspect they were actually Northern Cardinals with a call I wasn't used to hearing - in a high whistle they were calling something like, "Pew pew pew, chew chew chew, wit" with the pews being the highest and the chews being the lowest. I did hear other calls that definitely were Northern Cardinals, making their count up to 3 individuals.
A tiger swallowtail was pretty much blown against it's will in the air across the path. I was excited to even see one.
I started hearing another call that I was only vaguely familiar with, and it kept driving me nuts every time I'd hear it. I stalked one bird down with my binoculars and nearly screamed for joy: a male American Redstart! I did not become familiar with these birds until last summer when I was in Erie, PA. I'm so glad I've become acquainted - watching them spread their tails and seeing their orange and black patterns is great. In fact, they are just as beautiful in their buffy/tan with yellow colors - I suspect it was the female, but wasn't sure (the males look similar before acquiring their male colors). In my notes I had written down that I had heard a hurried, not-buzzy call much like "see-see-see-SEE-seet" and after listening to calls of Redstarts, this seems right on. The weird part is that I swore I heard about 10 different birds calling this.
Two American Goldfinches were heard. I actually don't often see them unless at home at the feeders. While looking for them, a female Hairy Woodpecker swooped right down in front of me to land in a dead tree. I watched as she furiously stabbed the bark off the side, searching for insects.
I laughed as I spotted a lone male Mallard. He quacked at me and swam up to me before finding out I didn't have food.
Further up the trail, it becomes a bit more wooded and on the left if you're headed south on the trail is a small marshy spot. I desparately looked for the Pied-billed Grebe, but no luck. But I was happy to hear an Eastern Wood-Pewee. I never spotted it but it sounded like it was following. Just a ways further the ground dips up a bit and you can see off the edge down onto an inlet created by the Hudson River. As soon as I looked down, I saw two white ducks with bright orange bills. I had absolutely no idea what they were. I found out later on that they were simply domesticated Mallards.
There was an American Crow in this area. Also in this area, SGF has another small pond by a small public water building. Two male Mallards were swimming around in it, and a song sparrow was nearby, calling.
I made my way around that pond and found myself at the edge of the inlet. This was a great secluded marsh area, completely with plenty of lily pads. As soon as I got over there, I saw about three Red-winged Blackbirds flying around as if they were furious. I looked to where they kept diving down, and couldn't believe my eyes! A Great Blue Heron was lurching around quietly, although it did seem to get quite obviously annoyed at the harassment. At one point I watched the heron stand completely still and then dart it's neck and head straight down into the water only to bring it back up with a 4" fish in bill. Unfortunately I didn't get to watch him fish for much longer because those two white mallards had followed me, and came right up to me while I was watching the heron, and began quacking loudly. Jerks.
Also near the inlet marsh was an American Robin and a Mourning Dove. I also got to see a Common Grackle bathing, which was neat.
I heard something making noises while it was pushing through the dried leaf litter near the pond. I had to look. What did I see? A painted turtle! It didn't like the sights of me and stopped moving and squished it's head back into it's shell, so I had a stare and then left it alone.
Further down the Byway past the inlet is a beach and a boat launch area. I was not all that impressed with that actual area, but there's some nice bushy edge habitat right near the water, and there's edge habitat on the other side of the parking lot. Birds love this. In that area I saw a Red-winged Blackbird (I suspect there were more but the wind was whipping), heard two Song Sparrows, two Tree Swallows flying overhead, and get this - 1 Eastern Kingbird! First time I have seen one around here. It was sitting up on a telephone wire, making no noise. I've actually only ever seen them on telephone wires. It's like they live on them.
I had to head back past the inlet to get away from the beach. On my way back past it, I saw an Eastern Bluebird male sitting on a tiny sign near the inlet, keeping a close eye on me. Behind him on a bush was the female, keeping safe. While I was watching them, overhead I started hearing extremely loud, multiple, very high-pitched "tsee"s! Not only that, but the trees overhead were extremely fragrant. I looked up without even thinking, to see two locust trees in bloom, FULL of Cedar Waxwings! I probably don't have to explain the draw they have since I noticed most people LOVE them, but I enjoy watching their social habits. And for the first time ever, I got to witness their courtship. Pairs would sit near each other on a branch and the male would bounce away from the female toward some flowers, choose a petal, rip the petal off the flower, and bounce to the female, holding the petal in his bill for her to take. She would take it, bounce away from him, look away from him, look back at him, and bounce toward him and he'd take it back. They would pass the petal back-and-forth until she either ate it or it was blown away by the wind out of her bill. Absolutely one of the cutest, sweetest bird behaviors I've seen so far.
I headed up Beach Road, which connects the Byway to a parking lot of the SGF Department of Public Works, and if you walk around the building you get to a sort of Byway Pt 2. I've walked this before, and it wasn't all that productive. It was even less this time around. Along the way, I heard 1 Grey Catbird, 1 Pileated Woodpecker, 3 Black-capped Chickadees, 1 American Goldfinch, and 1 Tufted Titmouse. I was disappointed and turned around prematurely. The trail was actually better for butterflies - I saw 2 Mourning Cloaks and a Tiger Swallowtail.
But when I got back to the Department of Public Works building, I got a treat. Two little streaky brown birds were flitting about, and sat on the fence mere feet away. I nearly passed them off till I saw that one of them had a reddish face and head! And such a huge, cone-shaped bill. Unbelievable. I found out later they were merely House Finches, but I have never in my life seen them. They were so pretty up close.
I then had to backtrack all the way to my car, back along the Betar Byway. The birds mostly died down during that time because it was mid-afternoon and even windier. But I did get to see two Song Sparrows mating right in front of me on the ground. The male saw me and hid off in the bush nearby as if he was embarrassed.
Also along the way I saw an enormous grey squirrel. It was so huge and just laying on it's belly on a branch. Another came to it's defense and made catbird-like mews at me. I actually did hear a catbird soon after.
There were two more American Robins. Yippy.
I also got to briefly see one of my Turkey Vulture buddies just soaring along.
And then, I heard it. Earlier along the trail I kept hearing what sounded like a messy version of the "Sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm-so-sweet" of the Yellow Warbler. I could NOT find it with my binoculars and got really annoyed. It doesn't help that someone earlier this year claimed we do not get Yellow Warblers (I don't believe her). Anyway, I walked by this same tree covered with vines, not expecting ANYTHING, and then I heard it, loud and clear, and slow enough for it to be distinct: "Sweet...sweet...sweet...sweet...I...am...so...Sweet!" Yes Yellow Warbler, you are. Thank you.
Further down the path I heard was I swore was a Warbling Vireo. I define the call as buzzy, somewhat hurried warble, with two nondistinct phrases repeated and descending, with the last warbled phrase slightly ascending. You may not hear it like this. But when I do plays of the recordings, it's very similar on the recording as I heard it yesterday. Also, I had tried pishing the vireo. I swear it had the correct size and coloring, but it was flitting around too much to see the eye, and dog walkers scared it off before I got a chance. GRR!!!
I started walking faster down the trail just to get to my car. I don't know what possessed me to look up when I did, maybe the sun hitting the Hudson River the right way. As soon as I did, I saw the Great Blue Heron flying onto the shore! This shore is right out in the open, very few trees, and people everywhere. Somehow, I was the only one who spotted it. And it seemed that it was eyeing me as it walked along the shore. In fact, with eye pointed at me, it walked the same slow distance I went at the same time, stopping at the same points I did. It eventually apparently got sick of this and went back to the water edge, plopped down in, and started fishing away. This heron was catching fish up to 8 inches long! It'd stand there, let the fish wiggle, and then try to gulp it down. I couldn't believe it. Although, while watching it fish was great (especially when it was standing diagonally to watch the water), I think the best part is how shy the heron certainly wasn't.
And that concludes my awesome Betar walk. I will be doing it again soon.