Sunday, July 12, 2009

Birding Hell

I know it's been awhile. I never stopped birding though. I'm always birding in some form. But today I am post-trip, suffering from the worst chaffing I've had probably since I was a baby, extremely sore legs, still suffering not-fun dehydration symptoms (ehem, hello bathroom), and sticky all over with horribly frizzy hair. My limp would make Dr. House feel like a total wuss for using a cane. I think I may be a little too insane over the birds.

How did I get to this point, you must be wondering. Well, I'm finding out quickly that maybe birding and hiking do not mix so well. To look for birds, one usually must look up. Where I hike, Moreau Lake State Park, one must frequently look down, because the terrain is very rugged. Tiny pebbles all the way up to massive boulders that would dwarf almost any human on earth are scattered in abundance. In some spots, rocks are all you're walking on, wet rocks, some placed to aid in stream-crossing. This led to me rolling one ankle twice and the other one five times today. Awful. All because I kept looking up to see my feathered friends. I'm always so worried that the second I look down is when I miss that rare one.

The chaffing? It was hot today. I never checked the humidity, but it felt to be at tropical rainforest levels, which is not surprising because the lowest point of Moreau Lake was caked with ferns, thus giving the appearance of said rainforest. Even though the winds were up to 30 mph I could not cool off. I even stood atop a boulder at the overlook (great view of the bend in the Hudson River, by the way), arms spread, mimicking the eight turkey vultures that had just set off from that very boulder, in an attempt to dry out. It was a no-go, so I sat for a bit watching the vultures lazily lilting on the gusts while I wolfed down a few (yes, a few, not MANY, I promise) wild blueberries.

The sore legs are due to me gravely underestimating the mileage of the trails I took. The map that Moreau Lake gives out is incredibly deceiving. There's no mileage posted anywhere. It's a topographic map in small scale so the straightness of the trails is greatly exaggerated. The trails actually wind greatly, sometimes nearly touching spots you just walked. So while on the map you guesstimate that a length might take 10 minutes, you somehow wind up powerwalking for 40 minutes instead. This caused me great panic today, as I started my birding hike around 2:10 PM. I walked the eastern ridge of the mountain range, trying to follow a trail marked by navy blue markers. Please note: the eastern ridge of a range in late afternoon will get very, very little sun. I just barely made it out before I could no longer see the markers! Terrifying. I was not ready to hunker down and camp overnight with nothing to make a fire with, and no water left.

So now you're probably wondering what is the point of this, why did I bother writing about my fail trip at all. Well, because despite how awful the experience was, the birds still made it worth it. I heard eighteen elusive Red-eyed Vireos, four Ovenbirds, eight Wood Thrushes, twenty-one Black-capped Chickadees, a Chipping Sparrow, four Eastern-Wood Pewees (a special delight of mine), eight Black-throated Green Warblers and a possible Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Downy Woodpecker, one Brown Creeper (another big favorite of mine), a Great Blue Heron flyover, and two American Crows. Actually seen was a dark blue male Indigo Bunting on high alert (note: they can look a shiny black in bright sunlight), a female Indigo Bunting, those eight Turkey Vultures from the overlook, two Dark-eyed Juncos, and a bright red with nearly black wings breeding male Scarlet Tanager that had me staring for almost ten minutes. I have never seen the red breeding males, only the strange orange variant. It even sat out in the open and called, "chip-burrr" for me multiple times. Three others were heard at various points in my walk, but he was appreciated most.

The winner was a bird I have found most elusive all spring and summer and is a new one for the life list (which I take much less seriously than a lot of birders). Back in May I went on a bird walk at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve with a guy who is really all about actually seeing the birds he's hearing. We stood by a small bridge in the preserve at some point, hearing the loud, distinct "QWEEP!" of the Great-crested Flycatcher, which I was hearing for the first time. We spent ten minutes looking for the oversized tyrant, never finding it. The guy seemed really saddened that I could not add the visual to my life list on that day, so I've made it a personal attempt to actually see one. And this time, I was not even following anything making a "QWEEP!" call. I was standing around in a small field where I had seen the Indigo Buntings, writing things down in my tiny book. I looked up just in time to see a quiet nearly American-robin-sized bird flying awkward ellipticals off of branches and landing on other ones. Up the binoculars went, and there I saw the yellow belly, reddish-orange undertail coverts, and dull brown-gray above, and the odd flycatcher shape. It sat quietly for a few minutes, apparently watching me back, until someone's black lab decided to jump on me and attempt to lick my binoculars to death. Ah, dog walkers.

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