Sunday, December 13, 2009

November 29 - 4 Part Birding in Only 4 Hours

On November 29th I was on a birding roll. I was worried it would be one of the last "nice" days of the winter, one with little snow on the ground. Looks like I was right, so I'm glad I did this.

First stop was Ash Drive. I remember being devastated by the horrible mowing job on both sides of the Warren County Bikeway. So many beautiful dogwoods more than a year old were murdered. There's no explanation anywhere for why this happened, and it seems completely senseless to me. I looked at some of the other woody plants/small trees in the area, and it was quite clear that the mowing done in such a destructive manner had not happened in this area in recent years passed. I really hate humans sometimes...

However, it was quite cold and clear that morning, and birding was not all that great. I spent more time looking at the trees, trying to ID some using what I had read so far in the Sibley Guide. I did catch sight of an adult mallard pair swimming around in the marsh. A pair of American goldfinches sang "potato chip" as they flew overhead. An American crow called in the distance...about eight black-capped chickadees came out to see what was going on. I heard three white-breasted nuthatches calling from tree trunks. About seventeen blue jays came flying in at one point, possibly as a mob, and left just as quickly. I counted seven dark-eyed juncos, one with just as much chestnut-brown (mostly on the wings) as had slate-grey, which perched on eye-level branches rather than hiding in the brush as they usually do. I apparently attempted to describe their various calls in my journal. I wrote that they have a "dry chek-chek" and another call described as "a dry two-two-two." They are certainly not the most melodic birds, but I noticed today that their ringing trill sounded like cheery, tiny bells.

There are also powerlines that run overhead in this area, and for the first time I could clearly hear the electricity buzzing through them.

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I then ran off to stop at the Country Club Road parking lot to walk another portion of the badly damaged Warren County Bikeway. Upon immediate entrance, I heard three eastern bluebirds calling! They stayed hidden on the other side of a tree line, but their mournful calls were loud and clear.

This area was inundated with American crows and black-capped chickadees on this day...I counted eleven of the former, and twenty-eight of the latter. There was a group of American goldfinches at one point, about eight of them. Blue jays would periodically, extremely quietly, bounce around in the brush. I counted five. Woodpeckers are irritatingly and surprisingly difficult to see this time of year, the poor light helps them to blend into trunks...here I had two that I could hear scratching, pecking, drumming, but could not ID. I did hear a loud, sharp "KYOOOOO!!!" at one point, which in the past I have noted tends to be a northern flicker or red-bellied woodpecker (to me they sound fairly similar). Both species have been seen here. There were of course also about a dozen tufted titmice and a couple of white-breasted nuthatches, typical upstate NY winter birds.

I got quite a surprise at one point! A small brook runs along the trail here, which attracts wrens. While I was standing watching a chickadee, I hear a ringing, quick, very clear call with a dramatic pause in between the phrase in groups of three...it sounded like the bird was calling, "Figaro, figaro, figaro!" I immediately recognized it for a Carolina wren, despite not being all that familiar with this specific call. Sue P. and I actually refer to them as the Cheeseburger bird, as the ones we heard during the summer were calling what sounded like "cheeseburger" 3x in a row...a similar call, but "figaro" has more of a rolling sound.

There is great brushy habitat just past an arborvitae stand that blew me away on this day...it was full of dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows! Birders I met over the past year made me think these species are shy and will hide from human contact, but I can assure you these individuals did not. One sparrow sat right out on a branch in plain view, repeatedly making a sharp, loud chip, seeming to be an alarm call alerting the more hidden individuals (about 14 others) of my presence. Three of them were not paying attention and instead snacking on blue dogwood berries. One was singing it's broken casssette sounding song. The juncos were flitting all about, saying "chek chek!" There were about 15, another one with the mix of grey and brown.

Also spotted were two house finches, both on the ground foraging and calling to each other. They were promptly scared into the trees by a group of elder humans that sounded like they were talking about further destroying the area.

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Off to Hovey Pond I went! The gardens there were still fun to adventure in even though most plants have died off. I found a few herbs still fairly fresh and smelling delicious. One mint was so strong that it resembled the menthol in Vicks VapoRub. There was also some hardy lemon balm and thyme. I also nearly screamed with glee to find some bayberry - so fragrant during the summer, and so rare up here. I also found some purple and yellow violets in perfect shape hiding in a small yew.

It was rather quiet here too, with only two black-capped chickadees. Two American goldfinches flew over, and one white-breasted nuthatch called from a tree near the marsh. Four rock doves flew over as well. Ring-billed gulls flew overhead, and an adult pair with a juvenile landed in the center of the pond and sat there for quite some time, before mom and dad flying off, leaving teen gull all by him or herself. He or she had some beautiful reddish-brown wingtips! There was also a mallard party in the marshy pond, with six adult males and two females.

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Last stop was Cole's Woods, located between the YMCA, Aviation Mall, and the Northway. It's a really neat spot, a forest crammed in the middle of a small city and large commercial area. The only drawback is being able to hear the Northway traffic in all points.

The place was loaded with black-capped chickadees - I counted 46 in all, which I noted sounded like bells that day (I walked the perimeter of the woods, by the way). There were also three dark-eyed juncos, three American goldfinches, eight white-breasted nuthatches, two tufted titmice, and three American crows. I was surprised that when I heard some scratching in a tree and looked up, a lone red-breasted nuthatch was in perfect view, as if it was just waiting to be identified. I also heard and spotted a common raven flying from the water tower to the Aviation mall. I noted that it sounded like a ring-billed gull with a sore throat.

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