Saturday, November 21, 2009

Betar Byway - Audubon Walk

This morning I forced myself out of bed at 7 AM to get to the Betar Byway by 8 AM. I will put this sentence first though it really should be near the end, but: Birding is not necessarily better early in the morning.

I found the walk to be okay...it was definitely one of the better quality ones when it came to other people attending and leader. And the Byway never seems lacking of birds, ever. Yet, I do have my complaints, however small, that lead me to believe that the best birding is done either completely alone or with someone else at the same level of obsession regarding nature. I hear birders in these groups say all the time that groups are amazing because it provides more eyes, but I really think that's not a true advantage. Better birding happens when you are a better birder, not when you combine the skills of a bunch of mediocre birders. In fact, I felt a loss of decent birding in this group while it seems the others felt a gain (except for this kid who was there). Interesting...a group just made everything average.

Well, I'll get on with the actual walk first. Maybe I will feel less compelled to post the rest of my complaints! So anyway, it was a cool, overcast morning, typical autumn weather in upstate NY. I love it. The group wound up turning out to be 5 people, not including the leader and myself, all people who are actually interested in birds. There was a kid there who has INSANE birding skills, and was fantastic at pointing them out no matter where they were hiding. He truly has some crazy talent, and should definitely lead his own walks. His dad seemed to be a fairly competent birder himself which was awesome. The other people were more around beginning stage, and I dunno what the heck was with the leader, who admitted to not being able to ID waterfowl whatsoever (and this is an Audubon person?). I was also really perturbed at her calling the obvious leucistic beautiful white squirrel that is resident to the Byway 'albino.' WTF. NO NO NO!!! I could go on for hours about how people in leadership in Audubon need way better understanding of actual science...

Onward we went, and of course, the Byway was incredibly busy. I enjoyed taking in the frosted purple hues the berry plants took on against an orange-brown background, and the brilliant reds of red osier dogwood. I missed having Sue or Jackie or both though, because I was the only one taking interest in the plants today. But the birds were apparently enjoying what was left of the berries (mostly bittersweet)! I got to watch a bright red male northern cardinal alternating between making his loud alarm chip call and wolfing down berries. He broke most of them with his bill before swallowing them down, his bill turning bright red and dripping with juice. 'CHIP!' he would call with half a berry visible from his lower mandible.

There were plenty of white-breasted nuthatches and black-capped chickadees for everyone to enjoy. No red-breasteds on this trail today, to the disappointment of almost everyone. I spotted a brown creeper right in front of us on a tree at one point, pointing it out for everyone, and was thanked profusely throughout the walk and even after, as it wound up being the only one we saw.

The mallards were not having sexytime today, at least not while we were there. Instead many of them were sitting on a log just like turtles are apt to do. One had a leucistic spot on his neck. While I did not do counts today (who could? we were moving way too quickly), I estimated about 50 mallards in all. I also got a confirmation on the American black ducks I thought I was seeing earlier this month, and there were about half a dozen swimming around.

One neat sighting today was a northern mockingbird who flitted around in the brush and then came out and sat almost at eye level on a bright orange pole in the open to stare at us, us staring back. I've heard a lot of birds talked about as being dull, yet me never finding them dull - this was definitely one dull bird! So strange for a bird with such a colorful and varied 'song.'

I noted that some trills on the trail were mistaken by others for cedar waxwings (though there was a spot that certainly had those trills) but were actually dark-eyed juncos, which I saw for myself. That is a bird that often gets called dull, but I find the contrast between the slate-gray and blank white belly beautiful.

We also had three species of woodpecker at multiple times. The Byway has plenty of downy woodpeckers making their squeaky toy call and flying around quickly. There were two hairy woodpeckers and one male's hollow hammering was so loud and rhythmic that I was mesmerized. Pileateds (the locals were saying PILL-ee-ated) were a bit more shy but at one point we had one land on a tree in front of us before flapping off over the river to hide on the other side of a fat tree. I noted that the woodpeckers seemed to have a zig-zag flight pattern, something I have never noticed before.

There were also house finches, a blue jay, American crows, American goldfinches, American robins, and a colony of ring-billed gulls that were absolutely amusing to watch. One gull had a slice of bread it was flying around with, with a bunch of gulls trying to steal the slice, calling out as if to say, "I want it!" It was interesting to watch the gulls wanting the bread to actually not fight the keeper of the slice, but rather try to cunningly maneuver close enough to take it without any warring. Unfortunately, the slice holder accidentally dropped it into the water, the bunch of gulls landing on the surface and looking down for it. They never found it, and flew off to find something else...

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