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.