Sunday, May 31, 2009

Too Tired For Full Update, But Amazing Day...

Oh how I have quite the update for all of you tomorrow! The Betar Byway is one of the most amazing birding adventures I have had thus far. Copulations abound (it is definitely spring), Red-wings are being very territorial now, a Great Blue Heron having a feast along a river not bothered by the fact that he's in clear view of the public, white domestic Mallards messing with my birdwatching, and tilting my head up to sniff the fragrant locust trees only to find they are full of Cedar Waxwings, passing back-and-forth the very petals of those flowers till one in the pair swallows it down or loses it in a gust of wind. Everywhere I turned on that Byway it seemed neverending with a different species doing something worth getting birder's neck for.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Birds Still Out Despite Rainy Day

It's been dreary all day, cold (52*F), and rainy. I actually like this weather, despite that I can't get outside during it.

The birds seem to really be enjoying my window feeder though. Today I've had:
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 male Goldfinch
2 Tufted Titmice (they come in a pair) - they were drenched!
1 White-breasted Nuthatch

Forgot To Mention

I wrote awhile ago that I saw two hawks fly overhead while I was in West Fort Ann, and that I couldn't quite ID them but they made distinct calls.

Well, I think I finally figured out what they were. Last Thursday I gave presentations about birds to groups of third graders at Moreau Lake State Park, and the park let me use these handy devices called IdentiFlyers. They come with various bird cards (and a bonus frog card!). You put a specific card in and press the buttons for the birds and it plays the calls. Well, hawks weren't a big part of my presentation and by sheer accident I hit the button for the Broad-winged Hawk. That call...I got tingles down my spine - I knew instantly that was the same call I heard from those hawks that day.

So there we have it. And it makes sense - I now don't recall who told me or where I was reading it, but I recall being told that they are a species that does breed up here.

May 24 - Hudson Falls

On May 24th I spend quite a bit of time at a relative's house for a picnic. Oh god, how the picnic itself was so boring. But the yard is fantastic for birding. It's a big open yard surrounded by woods, and behind the woods is a big open field, leading to a canal. I believe I sat and watched birds for about 6 hours. There were plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds and a few Northern Cardinals to watch. The next door neighbor actually had them repeatedly visiting his bird feeder. I loved listening to the Red-winged Blackbirds - they have such varied sweet-sounding metallic noises.

I did split up my 6 hours into a few manageable, noticeable bits:

1:00 PM - 1:30 PM:
- 5 Red-winged Blackbirds
- 1 Common Yellowthroat (I'm starting to get annoyed that I can hear them but never spot them - they seem to be able to 'throw' their calls)
- 1 House Wren

3:50 PM - 4:00 PM:
- 1 Eastern Phoebe
- 1 Northern Cardinal
- 1 Tufted Titmouse
- 2 American Robins
- 2 Red-winged Blackbirds

May 23 West Fort Ann house

Man, I was busy birding on Saturday! Three different instances. Nice.

The first of the three instances, I was at home at the West Fort Ann house. The first time was from 11:20 AM - 11:25 AM:
- 2 Blue Jays (I've been getting a kick out of seeing them rip quarter-sized chunks from the suet)
- 2 Northern Cardinals (not seen, but heard)
- 1 American Robin
- 1 Eastern Bluebird (the male was hanging around)

The second was at 1:30 PM, for about 3 minutes:
- 1 House Wren (calling)
- 1 American Robin
- 1 Black-capped Chickadee
- 1 Chipping Sparrow

The third was from 2:35 PM to 2:40 PM:
- 1 Black-capped Chickadee
- 1 American Goldfinch (M)
- 1 Tufted Titmouse

May 22, West Fort Ann house

Ah, more birding from home. I only birded once on this day, from 4:45 PM - 5:00 PM. Very short intervals, you may have noticed. It's because I'd still only get the same species of I birded for longer. Many of these are residents.

1 Tufted Titmouse
2 American Robins
2 Eastern Bluebirds (yup, the nesting pair)
1 American Goldfinch (male - they are so beautiful)
1 House Wren (calling in the woods nearby)

May 18th, backyard birding at West Fort Ann house

As I said previously, I've just been too busy to go on a birding trip. The great thing about birding is that birds are almost everywhere.

At the West Fort Ann house, there's multiple feeders and multiple bird houses in various parts of the yard. It's a busy place for wildlife, because it's a busy yard full of plants of all sorts. We also unfortunately had a bit of a deer tick outbreak here in one area due to it being so weedy. My mom took care of that by destroying those weeds and putting down fresh soil in that area. In fact, the last time I saw a deer tick in this yard was May 18th. I kidnapped her and killed her with isopropyl alcohol and then took pictures, because I'm that evil.

I birded twice on that day. My weather notes claim it was overcast and dreary, and only 52*F. My weather! I love it.

So from 11:20-11:35 AM we had:
1 Tufted Titmouse
1 Blue Jay
1 House Wren
2 Chipping Sparrows
2 Eastern Bluebirds - there's a pair that's been nesting here. I love watching the male sit on top of the vacant swallow house, making quiet gurgly warbling calls to his lady who peeks her little head out of the box. Unfortunately, it's a kind of nestbox that I can't open, so I can't spy on the babies, but I don't mind leaving them alone.

I birded again from 11:50 AM - 12:00 PM:
1 Eastern Phoebe (calls from the woods)
2 Black-capped Chickadees
1 Grey Catbird (no kidding! I've never seen a catbird around here before, I couldn't believe it.)
1 Tufted Titmouse
1 American Goldfinch
1 American Robin
2 Mourning Doves

Wilbur Park, Oneonta, NY - May 15th

Oh boy! I've been so behind. Not that I lost interest. I just got ahead of myself because I had so many projects and life changes all at once, got really stressed out, and didn't feel like doing this at the time. I'm just happy I kept right along birding to deal with the stress.

So on May 14th I returned to my alma mater to actually walk in my graduation. I missed it last spring due to having to leave early for my internship. I was sorely disappointed. So finally getting to go absolutely made me happy, I had a blast, and it was just nice being in that town. It's a pretty town, but it gets really deserted now until fall, and I get kind of freaked being in tiny towns like that where the only civilization is an hour away.

While I was there I took the time to actually go birding in Wilbur Park. I never did that while I attended college, and I regretted not doing so. So on that Friday, the 15th, I went out there at 4:40 PM dressed in my 30% DEET-sprayed outdoor gear and had myself an adventure. Literally. Wilbur Park is a bit of a maze of little trails, and I got confused at one point and a little lost.

But anyway...upon entering the main entrance of the park (I'm not sure why even locals get confused about what constitutes the entrance - it's where there's a playground, a pavilion, and a large pine stand to the left of the trail) I heard a cacophony of Blue Jays. Two were calling right in the lot, and there was also a noisy Mourning Dove. I got excited because I love Blue Jays, and as soon as I walked right into the pine stand, it was obvious that about 8 more were mobbing something. I looked up and immediately saw a bird larger than a robin perched on a horizontal pine branch. Up the bins go, and it was immediately obvious that the bird was some sort of falcon and he was ripping all the downy feathers off a dead baby bird. The down was actually floating right past my face. Having never seen any falcon up close like that, I nearly jumped for joy! The hilarious part was I was standing dead center of the trail and joggers kept passing, and not a single one was at all interested in what I was looking at.

My notes show that the poor afternoon lighting can really, really mess with coloration. When perched, he had a long, sort of squared-off tail (it wasn't yet fanned out). I wrote that he had a very dark grey head cap, black moustachial stripes down sides of cheeks, underside of the tail had an extremely thick black end, the bird had thick blackish streaks on the underside and these three dark brown stripes on the sides in a definite horizontal pattern, buffy/orange-ish undersides, pinkish legs. The falcon had to move at some point while I was watching him because the Blue Jays were really after him, and I kept noticing another falcon flying above him. When the falcon settled down again on a nearby perch, I had at first lost sight of him and walked around a bit. Upon looking back up I found him sitting right above me, staring right down at me. I got goosebumps. There's something so odd about having them stare at you like he was, and he tried defecating on me! I got a better look now that he was in the sunlight, and noted rufous thick streaking, black-grey eyestripe, brownish-orange on the face, and nicely patterned orange on the underwings. I was still stumped. I do not know my raptors all that well, but he was so small that he easily ruled out the larger falcons and it was definitely not a hawk. The drawing I made in my notes of the underside of the tail was so distinct that leafing through Sibley's, the tail alone showed exactly who this little guy was:

a Merlin. That's right. And I waited for almost 20 minutes for these two falcons to make noise, and they certainly did as they seemed quite annoyed with the Blue Jays and with having dropped the baby bird. The noise of a merlin is so distinct. I wrote it as an eery ascending and then descending staccato whinny (at the time it reminded me of kingfishers and the pileated woodpecker) - Sibley wrote it as a rising and falling call that resembles the Killdeer call, and I absolutely agree with him. These merlins also made a high-pitched 'tic', short, sharp, and staccato.

The next day I saw one of my favorite professors, Dr. Nigel Mann, who also happens to be a bird guy. I mentioned said Merlins to him, and he confirmed that there was a nesting pair in Wilbur Park this year. I was glad to pass on such exciting info to him, and was absolutely happy to get a confirmation of such beautiful raptors nesting in such a strange spot for them. I'll not soon forget this sighting.

The Merlins eventually got too buggered to stick around, so I took off down the trail, enjoying the dandelions, forget-me-nots, and garlic mustard. The rest of my notes are just a list of the birds and other wildlife I saw, and this is what was in Wilbur Park (yes, all of it, I swear I walked around the entire thing about 2 or 3 times while confused):

3 grey squirrels, big ones
4 Black-capped Chickadees
3 more Blue Jays - one of them did not have ANY blue, was instead all light grey with the usual face markings! He was making these weak little squeaking noises at me. Made me think it was a juv but I don't know for sure.
1 bullfrog calling!
1 House Wren calling by the school (those lucky kids)
1 red squirrel who blended in well with the leaf litter
4 American Robins
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Slate-colored, Dark-eyed Junco which made me so happy since I haven't seen them in SO long
4 European Starlings by the tennis courts
1 chipmunk

There's a break in my notes here. I had to turn around at the tennis courts and backtrack. There's this nice little bridge near the road that leads to the school and I made my way back there by 6:10 PM. Here I heard 1 Common Yellowthroat calling it's distinct song of "witchity-witchity-witchity-wit" and a Tufted Titmouse.

I did no more birding until I got back to the main parking lot since I backtracked the whole way there, but noted an American Goldfinch in the tree above my car.

And by 6:22 PM, I was finally finished.


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NOTE: Upon looking at Google Maps, the "main entrance" where the pine stand is, is located off Center St - the road is just called 'Wilbur Park.' It looks like the walking route I took from the end of that road is directly north through the woods, all the way up along the school's field, along the trail till you reach the little wooden bridge over the stream. The bridge overlooks the winding road that enters the school (it's apparently not named on the map). You then go through the little field there to the Southwest, and there's another little trail that goes south through the woods, sort of following the stream. You eventually come across a pool with a big parking lot (still in the woods) and I walked behind it, following the stream south. This will lead to the tennis courts on Albert Morris Dr. I then walked east on Joseph Lunn Dr to get to the other side of the stream and headed north for a bit. The geography of the area makes it nearly impossible to keep going north, so I had to backtrack back to those tennis courts, to the pool, back out to the school road and back around south to where I initially parked.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bird Walk w/ Rich Speidel, Camp Saratoga in Wilton, NY

Yesterday I woke up at 5:45 AM to get ready to go birding at Camp Saratoga at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve with Rich Speidel who is associated with the Adirondack Mountain Club. The group was set to meet around 7:30 AM. It was an all right morning for outdoor activities, though rainclouds loomed ahead for hours, which meant absolutely horrid lighting for birding.

I was amused to meet with the group of about 25 people. I was the only person remotely near my age (I'm 26), which was much expected. That was quickly overlooked, and many fellow birders were quite friendly and talkative for that early in the morning, and I had a great time chatting with some of them.

The walk itself was really leisurely. I was almost fascinated with how slowly we were going, because I tend to have a brisker walk through the same trails when I bird. I now wonder if my speed has caused me to miss birds in the past, because we saw/heard 37 in all, and some of the birds didn't make themselves known until about 3 minutes into resting at a point. I can definitely say that I was quite awed by this.

Anyway, we were so leisurely that we stood still long enough for me to start having ticks crawling up my boots, socks, and pants. I don't mean just one or two. I mean 8-12. I nearly had a panic attack while flicking them off one right after the other. Others in the group started implying that I must be doing something to attract them to myself, as they claimed they had none on themselves. It is amazing what people will come up with to justify their beliefs that it couldn't possibly happen to them. Somehow people even believe that green field pants will attract them. But, I had 30% DEET repellent on, more than most of them used. And in mere minutes, everyone had ticks on them. I couldn't help but to yell out, "SEE! I TOLD YOU!" We, the birders, had wandered into a tick festival. I could have screamed. It left me distracted for the second half of our day, and later on, exhausted due to the long-term anxiety. I even found one on my pants 30 minutes after leaving the Preserve. But this time, I did not get a single bite. Was I just diligent? Lucky? Or did my repellent work? Who knows, but I ordered myself some Repel Permanone last night.

So, the actual birds! Oh yes. Well, I found out yet again that birding in a large group distracts me terribly. I noticed this last summer when I did point counts. I just cannot focus around more than about 8 people, unless I'm leading, which I wasn't. It's because everyone focuses on something different and people are simultaneously calling out birds. But anyway, at the pond off Scout Rd, I spotted a Green Heron (my first!), Canada Geese (4), Mallards (2), saw a Kingfisher fly over the water, and heard American Goldfinches and a Red-winged Blackbird. The parking lot across from the pond had American Robins and an Eastern Phoebe. There were also ducks flying overhead, but the lighting made any marks impossible to see.

We then walked the trail on the southern side of Scout Rd. There were many American Goldfinches, the occasional Black-capped Chickadee, and incredibly loud Tufted Titmice all along the trail. There were also a few Blue Jays - in fact, they were a good indicator of just how bad the lighting was, as I got a good view of them and they just looked brown and white.

And here is why I don't like birding in groups - despite us having a leisurely pace, I actually don't have in my notes the general locations of these birds or the times. I do know we mostly walked the blue trail. So you get more of a list:
- Black-throated Blue Warbler - heard and saw for the first time! They have a distinct zoo-zoo-zoo-ZEET call which was also described by others as zeu-zeu-zeu-ZEET. I mention this, as they both sound accurate enough to me. Spotting the warbler was not all that exciting, as his color was washed out by the clouds, but it was definitely him as I saw him open his bill and make that call. Also exciting was hearing a Black-throated Green Warbler calling right nearby, and they seemed to actually be responding to each other.
- heard an Ovenbird in the woods at some point with it's 7-time teacher call.
- Pine Warblers were seen actually calling multiple times, so it was nice to finally have them confirmed as being in the area and not so rare. Rich told me that it seems that Chipping Sparrows tend to call much longer than Pine Warblers, and having seen both calling, I can say this has a tendency to be true.
- heard Eastern Towhees, worth noting that one was by the field by the blue trail near Scout Rd, calling chu-WINK. This was certainly a new one for me by call, and I never saw one yesterday, but I love that bright, very loud sound.
- heard Northern Cardinals
- heard a Hermit Thrush, it was kind of cool being the first to actually have one's attention on it's call
- heard a Common Raven call
- Scarlet Tanager (heard the Robin with a sore throat song)
- there is a clearing where all the trails meet, surrounded by tall pines. This is where the Black-throated Blue Warbler was finally seen, and it's where I finally saw my first Pileated Woodpecker! I couldn't believe how huge it was. I didn't even need binoculars (good thing, they seemed to have something greasy on them yesterday which really made them poorly functioning). It sat on the side of a pine and made it's jungle-like ascending call.
- there is a neat area with a bridge over a brook with marshy area on both sides with tall dead trees that's worth noting. Here we heard Song Sparrows (such a distinct song) and Common Yellowthroats (the Witchity-witchity-witchity-wit), and a Great-crested Flycatcher which I attempted chasing for a look, which never happened. I did get to see the large size which blew my mind, and it kept calling a low, buzzy weeep. weeep. weeep.
- Field Sparrows (the song starts slow and speeds up) were heard near the large field opening as well, and many Chipping Sparrows hung out in that field.
- near the parking lot, there is a log cabin of sorts, and a House Wren was singing near it.

And that concludes that. I apologize for how messy and disconnected this post may seem, but that's what happens when I bird in a large group. I'm not complaining though, I learned quite a bit, got to see new species, and heard PLENTY of songs that are new to me in the wild that I will have to get to know better. Plus, now I know even more what species hang out at the Preserve, a spot I keep on visiting.

Warbler Week!

Ah, where have I been! May is busy yet again, even after having been out of college for awhile now. So odd.

It's also apparently a busy one for the warblers who are now migrating, and the ticks. The dreaded ticks. This blog is easily becoming about them just as much as the birds, and so be it, considering that they do often attach themselves to our feathered friends. They fill me with dread and they have been putting a damper on my birding, and they seem to be in full force in upstate NY this year. The fact that I had one crawling on my pants leg after a mere 5 minute walk through my West Fort Ann yard (it's partial woods) is a testament to that as I have never had to worry about them here before. Fortunately, the bites I have mentioned in this blog turned into no disease for me.

Anyway, so this week I was quite busy. But I still took the time on Wednesday, May 6, to visit Dave, the environmental educator at Moreau Lake, as I have a bird presentation coming up there for their Conservation Field Day, and I was curious as to the materials in the Nature Center. I'll spare the details, but while Dave and I chatted in that area of the park around 1 PM, we saw multiple birds, including a beautiful, quite tame Chipping Sparrow, an Eastern Phoebe (I know they are common but I get excited every time), and a Yellow-rumped Warbler spotted by Dave at first and then I helped figure out that it most likely was one. I was so incredibly excited to see one as it was my first time. The color contrast of dark gray/black-ish and bright yellow was stunning.

I haven't been noting down or actually doing any birding at the West Fort Ann house, but the usuals are around. The bluebird pair has been busy with their nest box and I like their hoarse little warbles when they spot me around. American Robins occasionally visit, and a Mourning Dove is usually here. Daily we have Black-capped Chickadees and American Goldfinches (the males now vivid yellow) and at least two Tufted Titmice. However, on Friday, May 8th, around 4 PM, I received quite a treat at this location - a Black-throated Green Warbler with it's distinct zee-zee-zee-zooo-ZEET call! It called for at least 2 hours, sometimes the only bird making any sound. He was impossible to find though. I don't mind, however, as the call itself didn't fail to amaze me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Moreau Lake State Park

On Saturday (yesterday) May 2nd I visited Moreau Lake for some birding, as it was a nice day. Started out a bit cloudy, then became warm and sunny.

This is becoming one of my absolute favorite areas to go birding. There's a variation of habitat, and while you start figuring out which birds are probably the residents while walking the same routes, you see something new almost every single time. I don't even go birding in the early morning like a lot of birders do. Today I showed up at 2:25 PM and walked till 5 PM.

I split my walk up into two parts again. Part 1 starts at the park office and heads along Beach Rd to the Nature Ctr/playground/bridge. Starting out at the park office was a Turkey Vulture flying overhead. Interesting that it's the same spot I've spotted one before.

The parking lot had a few Chipping Sparrows singing. And yes, I'm sure they are Chipping Sparrows, I kept spotting them and further on near the playground I even got to watch through my binoculars a not-shy individual singing like crazy. Throughout the walk, I spotted 10 of those guys. An old lady caught me watching through my binoculars and asked me if I spotted anything interesting. When I told her it was a Chipping Sparrow, she said, "Oh," in a disappointing tone. I couldn't help but to chuckle because I'm fascinated by those birds, while most people write them off as "just another sparrow."

Also spotted or heard along Part 1:
- 2 Red-winged Blackbirds
- 3 American Goldfinches
- 4 Black-capped Chickadees
- 1 possible Pine Warbler, the call was actually remarkably different from the Chipping Sparrows
- 1 American Crow
- 2 Tufted Titmice
- 2 unknown Woodpeckers drumming, and 2 chipmunks near the private cabin

I also had the crap scared out of me at the nature center. I weaved in and out of the area, forgetting that around the time of 3 PM-ish they start telling people to remove their cars from that area, and they do this over the loudspeakers. I was standing in the wrong place right when that happened. Oops!

Part 2 was from the 'bridge' (Causeway Foot Bridge), haphazardly around the quiet marshy pond by the Nature Trail, and out around Mud Pond up to Spier Falls Rd. This was where I met my first incredibly rude Moreau Lake State Park tourists. How fantastic. I did not appreciate their kids screaming and throwing things around, and they didn't appreciate me standing out there with my binoculars. It was odd.

Anyway, the wooded area just past the bridge is a favorite of mine. An Eastern Phoebe sat on a low branch, quiet, just watching me. It strikes me as odd that bird books label them as drab and bland birds, as the contrasting dark gray, buff, and white is pleasing on the eye. Also in that area were 5 Common Grackles making all sorts of noise with 5 male Red-winged Blackbirds. I keep finding this assortment interesting, and the noises both species were making were nearly identical. Also in this area was a new sighting for me and I've never seen them in this spot before either - Blue-gray Gnatcatchers! Two of them. They were flitting all about, so tiny, making all sorts of noise. I almost couldn't get a glimpse of them, but noted the tiny size, the distinct gray and white with absolutely no yellow or buff, and the white eye-ring. So awesome.

Also counted 11 American Goldfinches in all. It seems like more, thinking back on all the calls. They seem to particularly enjoy Mud Pond.
Also:
4 American Crows
2 Tufted Titmice
5 Red-winged Blackbirds
8 Black-capped Chickadees
2 Canada Geese (hanging out in that marshy pond - I watched them forage for a bit)
1 Pine Warbler
2 Chipping Sparrows
1 Downy Woodpecker near Spier Falls Rd
1 Mourning Dove near Spier Falls Rd
1 Common Raven on the orange-red trail past Spier Falls Rd, where it circles back around Mud Pond
Also noted a grey squirrel, and a painted turtle that plopped right off a log into the water away from me hanging out in Mud Pond. I also found - no kidding - a pea-sized deer tick crawling on my pants leg while on the north side of Mud Pond. It took all I had to not start screaming, those things freak me out so badly. This one was determined not to let go. I had to repeatedly forcefully poke it in the head with a stick and then I ran like hell when it fell off onto the ground.

Once I got around Mud Pond I headed through the campgrounds to get back to my car. I was done birding by then, but heard an Eastern Phoebe and plenty of Black-capped Chickadees, Chipping Sparrows, and Tufted Titmice. I thought about how someone told me recently that the Titmice call does not sound like "Peter Peter" to her, and realized in my own head I was translating it as "Wheedle wheedle." If you look that up in a bird book you're going to get a Blue Jay. So I guess this is your warning that "wheedle wheedle" could cause you ID confusion.

That concludes that! It wasn't my best birding in Moreau Lake, what with rude peoples, terrible seasonal allergies, and that deer tick on steroids. But those gnatcatchers were a highlight. Unfortunately, I just spent 20 minutes having my dad stab and pick at the spot on my leg where I just found a tick. Mouthparts so frequently get stuck in the bite area. I'm now sitting here totally paranoid, thinking I have more on me. The worst is that I did 3 tick checks AND tossed my clothes into the dryer for 15 minutes and somehow STILL got bitten.

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I have been doing some volunteer work for the Wilton Wildlife Preserve, which this past week had been cleaning up a plot of land in front of the office on Scout Rd. It is a fantastic spot for a large array of birds. There have been Chipping Sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, American Robins, Blue Jays, hearing some Kingfishers (there's a nearby pond), Mourning Doves, and Tree Swallows. Oh how I love Tree Swallows. It was relaxing spending Friday afternoon listening to them sing and watching them do their aerobatics.

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The house in West Fort Ann now has a Bluebird pair! I watched them today visiting 4 nest boxes. I was not familiar with their calls and if you ask me, they sound swallow-like. Also notable is a male American Goldfinch that shimmies sideways down this metal pole leading to a feeder. It has a diagonal angle with the lowest point at the feeder. I caught him one day sitting at the high point of the pole, apparently slightly releasing the pressure of his grip on the pole, and sliding sideways all the way down the pole right to the feeder. I hope that skill attracts the ladies for him, because I was impressed.