I was thrilled to see my weather website proclaiming that today was warmer than yesterday, so I jumped in my car with birdsong CD and drove off to the Betar Byway. I parked, the only one there, off Beach Road and got out only to find that it actually felt colder than my snowstorm birding of yesterday. I grumbled and headed down Beach Road Hill and got a better look at the European starlings that were hanging out in the brush yesterday. They were beautiful blacks, purples, and greens with bright white spots all over, and shaggy feathers on their heads. They seemed as though they were playing something like musical branches, without the music. An individual would alight on a branch, then fly off to where a previous starling sat while another starling took it's place. Odd birds, they are. I noticed a big blotch of orange off the edge of a branch, which I thought was odd. It was the orange of an eastern towhee which made no sense for this season. The orange flew and landed near some red berries and I soon came to find two brightly colored, pudgy American robins with bright white eye rings wolfing down as many berries as they could find. They were mostly quiet, making a soft "tut-tut" when I got too close.
I checked out the inlet which was quiet today, no creaking this time. A white-breasted nuthatch yanked nearby, but all was quiet otherwise, until the jungle-like raspy trill of a red-bellied woodpecker broke the air. I looked all about for it, not finding it, till it flew right overhead to land on the side of a dead tree. Their nature is curious when compared to that of other woodpeckers. The other species tend not to care of my presence and ignore me; the red-bellieds become quite hyper, constantly alerting everyone else to my presence and running fast circles around the trunk to reach the top of the snag to peer down at me.
I wandered slowly to the beach, seeing a house finch couple resting in low branches and a nearby male northern cardinal loudly chipping away, flicking his tail and jerking his head back with each call note, turning semi-circles on the branches he sat on. The beach itself and nearby Hudson River were seemingly quiet, a few large American crows sitting in the branches of nearby trees. I scanned the waterline (and where forming ice met the sluggish water) and came to a lump of something awfully red. I watched it for awhile, trying to discern what sort of animal had recently been torn to shreds and left dead on the ice edge. No such luck, there was no form to it. I thought it odd that good, fresh meat was going to waste, and even stranger that the crows were not picking at it. I watched and watched but nothing happened, and turned around to head to the trail, when behind my back I heard a strained gull-like call, much like that of the red-shouldered hawk, one that I'm pretty sure doesn't have a wintering range here. Odd...I swung around to see the adult bald eagle coming in for a landing near the meat with a crow trying to intercept. The crow flew back into the branches, and the eagle gently set down near the dead animal, rustled it's wings and tucked them in neatly, walked up to the lunch and slowly pulled flesh away over and over for about 15 minutes. I thought it odd that such a large bird whose behaviors look fragile and pre-determined so as seemingly not to cause excess strain would be chosen for the national symbol.
I left the eagle to his or her lunch and headed to the Byway trail. At this point I was yet again cold right down to my bones. I noticed there is always a slight breeze here from the river, a very damp one, no matter what season. It makes winters bitterly cold here. I trudged along anyhow, meeting a friendly boston terrier and his master at one point, and another dog and man later on, both of whom were interested in the eagle but neither one seeing it.
The American black ducks were out but in lesser number today and much less snow-covered. They still seemed half frozen, standing in the little bit of open water in the inlet. Black-capped chickadees, mourning doves, American goldfinches, white-breasted nuthatches, and northern cardinals all called along my short walk to the first pier. Stopping here, I saw flashes of white from two waterfowl out on the river a long distance off. Looking through my bins, they appeared like two tiny loons with extra thin, long bills and too much white on the sides. I was thoroughly amused at how this is the exact description I read just last night in a book about identifying hard-to-ID species and realized I was looking at two male common mergansers. I rarely see them, so this was a treat. I waited and waited for them to dive, and they eventually did, in unison. Both guys with dogs stopped by to ask what I was seeing, and I could barely speak to them due to being half-frozen like the black ducks. Both asked, "What are mergansers?" I was more than happy to explain.
On my drive around Washington county after my birding trip, I was excited to see multiple red-tailed hawks in different locations. One was sitting right near the road, sitting in the snow, seeming to be concentrating heavily on whatever was under it's talons. I wondered how many other people passing in cars did not even see the large raptor.
Yesterday I noted that I heard two screams at the Byway beach that sounded much like that of a little girl. I am now somewhat certain that they possibly came from the bald eagle.