Birding the morning after partying hard (yay Halloween!) is...um...interesting, and a bit difficult. I didn't quite have the wide-ranging spacial skills as I usually do, and probably missed a few individuals.
So anyway, today's weather was beautiful, and probably a little unseasonably warm. I was out in a t-shirt at one point, which is very odd for upstate New York in November. I was pleased.
Where did I bird? My wonderful second home, Moreau Lake State Park. I'm quite certain the last time I took the path I took today way back in the early spring, and I welcomed revisiting the slow wander along the road to the Nature Center like it was an old buddy. And I actually did get to welcome a buddy when I got to the parking lot near the park office! As soon as I got out of my car and made my way to that road, a familiar car slowly rolled nearby and when I looked up, I realized it was Sue! I was absolutely overjoyed, loving the fact that two nature-loving friends decided to visit the same general area on the same day, at the same time. I am excitedly awaiting her post on her hopefully lovely ramble!
I will get this out of the way, so that it doesn't ruin the rest of my entry, but I was really disappointed today to not see any of the snow buntings that have recently been sighted, apparently near the Fishing Bridge. I can think of two potential reasons for this, one being that it may simply have been too nice out for them (is that possible for birds? are there species that dislike nice weather?), the other is the high traffic on said bridge by very loud, annoying, rude dog walkers that have no sense of keeping one's voice lowered and allowing people who actually went to the park to enjoy nature as it should be, to enjoy it. I know it's some sort of birder's ethic code to not be mean to the nonbirders to give birders a good name in general, but I can't help but to think maybe someone should be telling ungrateful nonbirders to shut up and stop ruining natural areas for everyone else. But anyway, no snow buntings...I'm determined to see these mysterious little cute birds.
Anyhow, one major great thing I noticed is that Moreau Lake is full of woodpeckers this time of year. I couldn't go far without running across another, and I had at least two different species (pileated and downy), and I'm positive that there's hairys and sapsuckers. I find them amusing and impressive to watch. The pileated I saw was on a tree right by the road, unfazed by cars and humans, though watchful. It hammered away at all angles of the circumference of the trunk, the amplitude of the sound surprisingly loud. Today was the first time I noticed that some pileateds have a long red mustachial stripe, which looks at once both classy and cartoonish. One of the downys that I spotted was apparently attempting to destroy the Nature Center's nest box, as it wouldn't stop banging away at every angle of it, including from the inside-out.
There were also, of course, plenty of white-breasted nuthatches. Don't let the high numbers of them in this area during winter let you think of them as a boring common bird that you should just ignore. They are great fun to watch with their strange crawling and hopping upside-down on trunks, and I love the "ahnk ahnk ahnk" or "yenk yenk yenk" calls they rapidly give out when you get nearby. Become absolutely familiar with this call, because when you finally hear the much less common red-breasted nuthatch, the red-breasted will immediately stand out to you. The red-breasted call is clearer (less hoarse), more high-pitched, and squeakier sounding. I had this happen to me today and got to see a white-breasted chase a red-breasted in rapid spirals up a trunk, both of them calling loudly and rapidly. There were plenty of other individuals of both species nearby seemingly yelling out for them to stop.
The blue jays were surprisingly quiet today, and I realized their short flights resemble the light, breezy falling of dying leaves from the trees they were hiding in. I feel like they are the keepers of the forests, always watching any intruders. I have often looked up at a tree only to see the contortionist blue jay peering over a branch at me, one eye pointed straight down. Black-capped chickadees are like little messenger minions in cahoots with the blue jays, merrily dancing around the branches while staying hidden behind the leaves still attached, laughing at you. You may notice the incredibly high counts I get of them in other places I bird in, but they seem to have a smaller population in Moreau Lake.
The unfortunately named tufted titmouse was also present today, though I only counted four. Moreau Lake individuals seem shy; I could not attract them with my squirrel call and I unfortunately did not have anything that could play death metal in the park (one summer I found that every time I'd listen to metal with the bedroom window open the titmice would come up to the screen and call as loudly as possible...wonder what kind of music they do enjoy).
There were a few leftover American goldfinches in flight overhead at one point, though I only counted three. Yes, they are a species you can see year-round here, but it seems as though the populations shift with changing food availability.
The lake was much more exciting than the road itself today, and I spent more time overlooking the water. There was a possible eagle/osprey in flight so high overhead that I could make out no colorations or true shape, so I must do the one thing that is quite painful for all birders to do: to say, "I have no idea what that species was." Ouch.
Also on the lake was a long line of Canada geese close to the shore where humans couldn't get to. They stayed there for the two hours that I walked, quiet almost the entire time with the occasional honk. They looked as if they were simply enjoying the warm day, lazily floating around. Near them I caught an extremely exciting and fun sight of five female common mergansers also in a line, diving completely under the surface and coming back up maybe half a minute later. I'm not sure if they were fishing, because they spent most of their time above water flapping their wings and nearly standing on the surface, or preening. Sometimes they would play follow the leader, where the first in line dove first, then the second, then third, and so on. Sometimes the line would begin from the last duck. And sometimes it was completely random. But they did not dive in a group formation, only as a line! When not preoccupied with diving, they would appear to look for each other, making sure they didn't lose anyone.
There were also mallards that kept flying off, and I counted nine total. I suspect that there may have also been two American black duck x mallard hybrids, or just the typical American black duck, but those two just did not look right in the conditions they were in, and so I ran away from them pretending I never saw them at all. Take that, mutant ducks! As a birder, I can finally tell you that my least favorite bird sightings are the mallards, especially in their domesticated forms, as they are an absolute pain for identification, making one think for half a second that one may be seeing a rare species, only to find out it's just another one of those ducks that will mate with almost anything.
And so that concludes my not-so-successful birding ramble for this morning, with no luck in finding the elusive snow bunting, and nearly crapping my pants at this monsterously oversized poodle coming right at me at the Fishing Bridge. All those dog walkers were the reason I screamed with glee on the inside that it appears that they have yet to find the semi-secret new trails I helped carve out with the Boy Scouts this summer.