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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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Frosty Queensbury, NY Morning

This morning was bitterly cold in Warren and Washington counties, colder than it has been all week. I did not enjoy how painful the air was on my skin as I warmed my car up.

However, I did enjoy seeing the mix of adult and juvenile ring-billed gulls resting on the mowed corn field near Adirondack Community's campus. One was almost completely dark gray! For weeks now, dozens of Canada geese have enjoyed that area. Why they weren't there I wasn't sure, but about 25 gulls took their place today. I saw a lone goose standing by itself near a shallow pond on the golf course on Haviland Road, with a soft white mist in the background - it would have made a great calendar photo for November.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Third Day's a Charm - Moreau Lake

So I initially was going to start out with the past two days that I spent at Moreau Lake and then write up today, but I just couldn't wait. The past two days were awful there and humans were absolutely to blame for both days of fail. I have developed a newfound insanely deep hatred for dog walkers, no exceptions. Screw birding ethics, where you're supposed to be kind to everyone you come across on trails to help make birders not look bad, when you are doing something completely against state law that ruins my ability to enjoy myself and feel comfortable in the wild, and have to hear a massive sense of entitlement and a rash of incredibly stupid excuses for the bad behavior, well, then eff you dog walkers. All of you. In fact, you should all count your lucky stars that the state park is so lenient that they do not enforce the leash law despite having plenty of signs.

But anyway, today I planned on getting together with my buddypal Sue for some dual birding (got a little lonely with the solo birding, today was supposed to be lovely weather, and I enjoy nature walks with Sue). The weather was colder than I had expected, but I am definitely not complaining, especially when Sue decided to take me to Mud Pond and show me the frostweed! She seemed disappointed that the ones we found were so small, but I was completely impressed with seeing the frozen vapor. It reminded me vaguely of midsummer cirrus clouds - neat how the seasons can seem so connected. There was also plenty of what I am mostly sure is British soldier lichen. I also found a half-buried golfball which I had too much trouble trying to dig up, so I left it there.

Back to the park office we went and walked a different way than I had been going the past few days. I quickly found that this pathway is much less ruined by rude humans and was greatly pleased. We enjoyed the sounds of plenty of white-breasted nuthatches and black-capped chickadees even right in the parking lot! Both species are pretty much everywhere in the park this time of year. We also had two brown creepers come right down a tree trunk, in plain view, at maybe knee-level in the sun to check us out. It was absolutely incredible. One flew high up near the top of the tree and let out it's high, rushed, rarely-heard melody.

Along we went, checking out everything. There were plenty of chipmunks and the occasional squirrel before we came up to where the old Fernwood mansion once was, where Sue found broken pieces of china and an old doorknob half buried in the trail. I stood there trying to picture what it must have once been like to actually live in a fancy house in the park, which I may have to include in my nice daydreams.

I must be honest, in this area I did not really bird much (besides noting a few downy woodpeckers) until we got further down the trail and could see the water as we came upon an area with a bunch of chubby American robins. They fluttered about and called many times. One robin looked erroneously colored, a dark brown down it's side and a mostly black face. It was difficult to tell whether it was being shadowed by a nearby branch or if it really had miscolored feathers. Near the robins were a bunch of dark-eyed juncos and tufted titmice, both of which I absolutely love. The tufted titmice today were letting out calls I was not too familiar with.

We eventually made it to the marshy area, where this past summer a group of us created a trail along a bunch of phrag. The wind blowing through the dried reeds sounded like rushing water and was relaxing. Off on the water by a beaver hut were four hooded mergansers, at least three of them male. The sun shining off their white patches made it looked like they were shiny metal sticking out of the water, reflecting the rays. They're amusing to watch simultaneously pop back up from a dive.

The phrag itself was busy with chickadees watching us, and a patch was chock-full of hidden red-winged blackbirds making a bubbling call.

A nearby small marshy pond was already beginning to ice over. Sue and I stopped to see if there was any activity under the ice, and sure enough we saw insects just under the surface carrying leaf bits around. Sue got ahold of one of them, and it looked as if the insect, now hiding inside, had glued together the leaf bits like a tiny makeshift sleeping bag. Both Sue and I believed them to be caddisflies, and I began thinking back to a stream ecology course I had where we talked about shredders, collectors, filterers, caddisflies, stoneflies, mayflies, and gathered larvae in the fall. Also not a few feet away was a grouping of about 12 snail shells, apparently with snails in them as when I tried to pull one off of where it was attached it would not budge. Near this area was a pileated woodpecker making it's extended jungle call.

Sue then showed me a great place near Mud Pond where one can sneak up on anything in the water without being seen. A bonus is that the area had quite a few wintergreen berries which we snacked on. We quietly peeked to see a beautiful hooded merganser pair floating around, the male occasionally zig-zagging in the water and slightly extending his neck. Nearby there was a much larger group of hoodeds which took off together in a group with a surprise belted kingfisher zipping across the water with it's loud rattle! I was absolutely thrilled to see her - yes, her - as I haven't seen a kingfisher in about two months now. She came back across the water again, flashing her brown vest briefly before disappearing back into the trees.

By that time it was time to head back due to our crazy work schedules. I did very little birding on the way back and instead enjoyed nature-y discussions with Sue. I was quietly elated to have had such a great nature walk, and I think this was one of the best I have had with Sue. And I will now be back to Moreau sooner than I had planned, knowing I now have a quieter path to walk in these cool months.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What One Might See in Winter in Eastern Upstate NY

A question was posed at Moreau Lake this past weekend that piqued my curiosity and inspired me to pull out a spreadsheet I made this past spring. It began out of my need to have a list of all birds I might see in all seasons in the three counties I regularly visited in upstate New York, those being Washington, Warren, and Saratoga counties. The list was first created using the DEC's Breeding Bird Atlas, then organized in taxonomic order based on the AOU list. I arbitrarily decided whether the species had a big, medium, or small population and whether it was increasing, decreasing, or staying about the same by comparing the distribution maps (1980-1985 map with 2000-2005 map). I then determined what season one would see each species by comparing range maps in 4 or 5 different field guides, including Peterson's and Sibley.

What you are about to see is the list of birds one potentially might see in Warren, Saratoga, and Washington counties in upstate NY in the winter (yes, this includes both those that are here year-round and those that migrate here in the winter months), organized by those arbitrary population sizes. The list under each population size runs by taxonomic order.

At the end you will find a heading "Not in BBA." For whatever reason, the species has inconclusive data in the DEC's Breeding Bird Atlas, thus I was unable to determine an arbitrary population size, but field guides show that the bird has a winter or year-round range in those counties of NY. Notes on the population size that I have included come from Peterson's and/or Sibley field guides.

HIGH POPULATION
canada goose
mallard
ruffed grouse
wild turkey
red-tailed hawk
american kestrel
ring-billed gull
rock pigeon
mourning dove
belted kingfisher
downy woodpecker
hairy woodpecker
northern flicker
pileated woodpecker
blue jay
american crow
black-capped chickadee
tufted titmouse
white-breasted nuthatch
eastern bluebird
american robin
european starling
cedar waxwing
song sparrow
dark-eyed junco
northern cardinal
common grackle
purple finch
house finch
american goldfinch
house sparrow

MEDIUM POPULATION
american black duck
common merganser
hooded merganser
ring-necked pheasant
sharp-shinned hawk
cooper's hawk
eastern screech owl
great horned owl
barred owl
common raven
red-breasted nuthatch
brown creeper
northern mockingbird
white-throated sparrow
pine siskin (erratic winter range - irruptions)

LOW POPULATION
mallard x american black duck hybrid
bald eagle
northern goshawk
herring gull
great black-backed gull
northern saw-whet owl (irruptions)
carolina wren
golden-crowned kinglet
red crossbill (irruptions)
white-winged crossbill (irruptions)
evening grosbeak (irruptions)

NOT IN BBA
rough-legged hawk (irruptions)
long-eared owl (uncommon)
short-eared owl (irruptions)
northern shrike (uncommon; irruptions)
american tree sparrow (fairly common)
lapland longspur (uncommon)
snow bunting (fairly common)
common redpoll (fairly common; irruptions)

Little Observations

My truly intense birding has been put on hold since the Moreau bird walk from this past weekend, as after enjoying an evening on the town with Dave (from The Park), a deer apparently ran into the side of my car while I was driving, in the early morning hours, leaving Saratoga. I was hoping to get a full post up complete with photos (I know, I know, it's not bird stuff, but still related to nature), but the exhaustion of worrying about the cost of car repair, of not having the car and trying to get to and from work, and being in quite a lot of pain (muscular) from my neck to my back and through my shoulders, has put me mostly out of commission.

I did take a short walk yesterday as it was absolutely lovely outside of this time of year. I live not far from a small, quiet pond that looks more like glass than water, complete with a trail that runs alongside it and the brook that's part of it, where I had previously witnessed a pudgy blue jay taking a bath and loudly making it's metallic call. This time around, I heard an unfamiliar call note eminating repeatedly from the pond and had to do some detective work. Loud, short bursts of a high-pitched whistle were carrying down the street. As I walked over, I noticed about 10-15 mallards in all parts of the pond, chasing after each other. Ahhhh, the whistling mating call of the drakes. I had never witnessed it before in person, so this was a treat. I did not witness any of them actually getting busy, however. They appeared to be flirting rather than doing anything more serious.

Also spotted at this pond was a pileated woodpecker hanging out in his or her own nicely chiseled hole in the top of a dead tree. It would peak it's head out, look around a bit, and then sneak back into the hole. A few muffled knocks made me think it was still putting some finishing touches on it's lair.

Today I tagged along with my grandmother while she ran errands in Wilton. I was in a fairly semi-comatose state, exhausted from the past few days and pain. I was still able to enjoy the ring-billed gulls that frequent the area (almost every parking lot there). I have noticed that birders often think of them as 'trash' birds and not worthy of a count, but their antics are amusing, and it seems each individual has it's own unique personality. I saw two fighting for a spot on top of a lightpost, others scattered, one bird each to each light, all facing the same direction. Closing one's eyes there, one can listen to the calls and imagine oneself is standing near the ocean for a moment. Also, I was approached by a small adult ring-billed in the parking lot, the gull walking up to me and calling. I just stood and watched in amusement, not holding onto any food, and it soon flew off to hopefully find a more willing participant in it's search for lunch. The gull reminded me of my one-legged gull buddy in Erie who would visit when I'd sit in Presque Isle State Park with a bag of Sheetz french fries, except my Erie buddy was more patient and not so demanding.

Looks like it might be a bit before I get back out there with my bins, as I cannot even raise my arm high enough to use them.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Moreau Lake Bird Walk - November 7

I found out at nearly the last minute that there was a Bird Walk scheduled for this past Saturday, November 7th at Moreau Lake State Park. They have only been a recent thing, as the environmental educator there, David Alfred, and I have become closer and he has apparently respected me greatly for my obsession with birds. If I recall correctly, a previous one only wound up being David, myself, and our mutual friend Sue. I found out later that Dave really only intended this one to be him and myself, which would have been absolutely lovely, but there wound up being a small group that came along without having signed up, as I had. This did not disappoint me, except for one woman from NYC who would not stop talking (how can people go on bird walks and not understand one of the first unspoken rules is to be quiet for the most part or speak softly?) loudly and telling tall tales and outright stating lies and twisted facts. I could not help but to sarcastically correct her a few times, which made Dave chuckle. Also along was an older couple who I found out enjoyed traveling, especially to the western states, and were a birding pair. I was utterly fascinated. They told me great stories about condors and hummingbirds. They also had along this really neat little kid named Cyrus (sp?). I'm bad with ages, and I was unsure if he was their grandchild, so he was a big of an enigma to me, but this little guy had a bold personality and a streak of confidence of his knowledge of all things nature. I've been on plenty of nature walks in the park and thus have come into contact with plenty of children, but Cyrus was something else. I found him totally fascinating and enjoyed having him along. It was fun watching him get psyched over the enormous red oak leaves and collect a few to bring back with him to his classes. Dave took us around to the back bay after realizing birding was completely failing to go check out some beaver damage (which in itself was totally impressive - I loved being able to see the marks made by each individual tooth) and I had an awesome little moment with the little guy. We stood at the edge of the back bay, and I let him tell me what he knew about what we were seeing. He talked about the minnows swimming around near our feet, and identified the willow tree above us that had littered the ground completely with lancelet-shaped bright yellow leaves. We even just enjoyed the scenery in silence for a bit before rejoining the tiny group. It restored some of my faith in humanity and the potential for younger generations to really appreciate nature. I'm reinspired to put together some more bird presentations for the kids for the spring and summer.

So back to the birding being fail. I can assure you that this is not due to true suckage of the area. Moreau Lake even lately has been fantastic for birding - there have been both common mergansers and hooded mergansers on the lake, diving, for honorable mentions. We checked out the gravelpits, which is great habitat for grouse and turkeys. It was quiet except for some blue jays. And while the other people in the group didn't seem too impressed with Loop A, Dave and I were fairly fascinated by how many white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches we were hearing. He even briefly tested out some new birding tech the park recently received, something quite similar to ibird Explorer for the iphone. I was a bit envious - I've had so many times in the wild where I wished I had mp3s to play of birdsong to help in identification. Dave enjoyed showing me this neat little piece of tech, and I encouraged him to play me a couple of warbler calls that I miss. He got to test out whether the nuthatch calls would actually receive a response from the real ones in the trees nearby, a joy to every beginning birder (though anyone who knows the birding ethics laid out there somewhere knows that playing callbacks is a big birding no-no if used often) and I was overjoyed that he got to hear that they do. I was a bit sad that he (and the rest of the group) missed out on spotting the brief view I had of a brown creeper which Dave was really hoping to find on this walk.

The back bay for birds was not so interesting to me, as it's a quiet, small pond-like spot that attracts my least favorite birding bird, the mallard. There were plenty there swimming around, quacking briefly. There was also the dreaded couple that has haunted me on my last few birding trips in the park, which I suspect is a pair of mallard x black duck hybrids. They are nearly impossible for me to ID confidently, but they absolutely look like a halfway between the two species. I keep pretending I don't really see them, and they pretend that they have nothing to do with mallards, as they totally avoid all of them. Renegades.

I can't help it, but one of my favorite parts of the nature walks is when everyone but the diehards leave. I love seeing them go. It is not the elitist in me, it is just the part of me that sees that they do not have quite the passion for nature as those of us who linger do. And this time I stayed just to chat with Dave for quite some time about everything environmentalism. It was awesome and fascinating. Those post-walk chats with him are one of my favorite parts of those nature walks in Moreau.

Upcoming: It's not exactly bird-related, but I'm thinking of sharing my harrowing experience of having a deer run into the side of my car and causing quite a bit of damage. It really drove home how much we encroach upon the environment, not only to the detriment of wildlife, but potentially to ourselves. Oh, and there might be photos! ;)

RUTland, VT - November 3rd

I am not sure what possessed me to take that rather bleary, cold Tuesday to drive an hour out to Rutland (which I found to be sarcastically referred to as "Rut-vegas" by locals). I knew I needed a getaway day, a short road trip not much over an hour, and new birding areas for the day. The Vermont Audubon website looked promising and mentioned a few areas around Rutland that are not being run by the hunters at this moment. I was excited.

I threw some day-hiking stuff in my car (granola bars, a full thing of water, my trusty hiking boots, extra warm clothing, maps) and took right off. The drive out there is lovely if you go through Granville, NY and Poultney, VT. There is nothing overly stunning about the drive, but it's quiet, you have nature with you the entire way, and you start seeing the scenery change a bit as you start driving near slate quarries.

My first stop was Castleton State College, located quite a jaunt back west from Rutland down Vermont 4A. Seriously, Castleton is in the middle of nowhere. I was shocked, considering all the junk mail I've received from them making it sound like Castleton was a neat, hopping little college. I hit up campus around 11:15 AM, a time when I remembered that my old stomping grounds SUNY Oneonta would be chock-full of students. I think I saw maybe 7 walking around at Castleton, and only one was friendly. The campus is pretty, but rather small, and looked just like any SUNY campus, so I was not impressed as it held nothing new for a SUNY alum. I stopped into the Campus Center, and was mostly ignored by the two hipsters at the desk when asking for directions to a bathroom.

So why Castleton? Because it is the northern terminus for the Delaware & Hudson Rail Trail, which was recommended to me back in April by a coworker who lives near the southern terminus. The trailhead is clearly marked and you can see it from the road, but finding the actual trail took a bit of work till I saw a jogger make his way down. I actually started birding right on campus - Castleton strangely had a few ring-billed gulls flying around the parking lots, one individual sitting on top of a light to peer down at me for a bit.

To make a long story short, the D&H trail at the northern terminus was nothing exciting. In fact, I was really disappointed. It takes quite a bit to get off-campus, as the trail runs alongside the athletic fields. Then as soon as you get away from that, to your left instead of getting any forest, you get a large expansive grouping of farmhouses with mowed fields scattered with gathered hay (I like to call them "hayballs" and I'm not sure there's an actual word for them). At least in the fall season, this is horrid birding habitat, except that there was either a Sharpie or Cooper's that quickly flew over the farmlands, but didn't stick around for me to ID it. Along the rail trail, I did get some American crows, one blue jay, plenty of black-capped chickadees, one white-breasted nuthatch, a couple of tufted titmice, two American goldfinches, and a diligently foraging female hairy woodpecker. Not really all that much to write home about. I did note that there were absolutely no leaves on any deciduous trees, which I found impressive, because back here in Warren and Saratoga counties we still have had deciduous trees with green leaves or brilliant yellows and oranges. Autumn hit western Vermont before it hit us. Oh, I also spotted a hippy on a bicycle who was kind to me as he passed.

I hightailed it out of there, disappointed. I relaxed to some EQX while driving east on Vermont 4A to get to what seemed a much more promising spot, the West Rutland Marsh. I was expecting a tiny little thing surrounded by privately owned houses, considering that many wetlands are encroached upon just like I just mentioned. Oh how I was surprised when I drove up Marble Road/Street, a strange, wide backroad that is entirely white. It is quite secluded out there, and the marsh is enormous, a huge rectangle at the base of a grouping of mountains, chock-full of cattails and some phrag further north. The main entrance that includes a boardwalk was quite inviting to birders, with a tree full of homemade feeders, plenty of reading material posted, and a mailbox with a notebook to write who you were, where you came from, and any comments and sightings you had, which I enjoyed making my own entry in. The boardwalk in my eyes was a great idea - I got to stand in the middle of the cattail marsh and just listen and look. It was blustery at that point and looked like snow, so of course there were no birds in the marsh at the time, but it was no loss. I also did get to hear a common raven in the distance, and it's low harsh call being the only sound at the time gave me goosebumps. I later found out the area is a great spot to sight Virginia rails, soras, American bitterns, and least bitterns during the breeding season, and despite that my trip to Rutland was full of fail-birding, I will be back just for this place at some point.

However, my birding adventure there was soon to be interrupted by a young redneck with a rifle, who pulled his car up right at the boardwalk entrance. I got the creeps right off, but he got out of his car, kept his distance from this young lady from New York, and kindly asked if my car was mine and if I had seen anybody on the other side of the road. The other side of the road contained some odd trails and what looked to be an old fallen-apart building, none of which enticed me. I soon found out that area is frequently used for shooting practice, as this young man went off into the trees up there and started shooting away, which ruined my birding there. I was stunned and a little perturbed that an Audubon sanctuary would allow such activity right there. I again high-tailed it out of there, after taking a mile walk up Marble, only to find tons of litter of empty bullet boxes strewn by the marsh edge. Disgusting. I wondered why the local birders did not enforce rules there or even cleaned the area up there themselves.

I didn't expect my next birding stop to be very successful, as it is an area of short trails located behind the Diamond Run Mall, a new commercial craphole located in southern Rutland. Apparently this section of trails was made and is maintained by the mall itself, but Vermont Audubon lists it as part of it's site as well. All I can tell you is that it was the most awful spot for birding I have ever visited. No part of those trails is far enough out to not get the highway and mall traffic noise, and the forested area there is just devoid of life whatsoever. I couldn't figure out quite why it may be failing to sustain wildlife, but it definitely does. I was a little happy that I did see a pileated woodpecker near a tiny boardwalk that covered what the mall claims is a little wetland (more like a joke of one). It saddened me that this was all Rutland seemed to have to share with the public for birding (though I know there's some nearby state parks or forests that are currently used for hunting that may be better). I stood in the midst of these trails and closed my eyes and pictured Moreau Lake State Park and felt so incredibly thankful that I have had that all year to adventure in and see so many new things.

Drained, dehydrated, and disappointed, I decided it was just time for food and liquid instead of more birding. I was ready to get out of Rutland ASAP after filling my stomach. I parked, probably illegally, in a plaza lot so that I didn't have to pay to park downtown and walked into the downtown area to find that by 3 PM, many of the cafes were closed. I did find one that was still opened and seemed really inviting to the granola crowd even from it's outside decor, the Back Home Again cafe. In I walked to find a really strangely decorated place, as if it was trying to be a tropical rainforest while playing cutesy leprechaun-image-inducing Irish music. The women were dressed in a style similar to that of the Amish I've seen in PA, and were extremely timid and submissive. The cafe completely pimped out some Yerba Mate tea, which I thought odd. I ordered myself what would be the most expensive and absolutely awful turkey wrap I have ever had in my life, and again, high-tailed it out of there soon after wolfing down the waste. I would return to NY only to find out the cafe is run by the Twelve Tribes cult, potentially as a front to their real mission, to recruit unsuspecting idealistic young new members.

Rutland, why must you be so strange, with your cult-run cafe, economically-ruined downtown, crappy commercial areas, and the most horrible birding I've experienced in my life?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Update To Be Soon

Sorry everyone, I have been slacking! I just wanted to let you know I'm still breathing, still birding, and that I will have an update soon, or maybe a few, as I might be birding tomorrow. But earlier this week I adventured out to Rutland, Vermont, for fail-birding, which I will talk about soon enough. Heck, I think I might even have travel tips and I did find a great spot out there that I will talk about that apparently hosts rails, soras, and bitterns during breeding season! I found nothing of the sort of course, but the imagery of the nature of the area was stunning.

Soon...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Moreau Lake - Mergansers No Buntings

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.