This seems to be the snowiest, coldest winter upstate New York has had in a few years! Though I have not yet forgotten the incredible Valentine's Day blizzard a few years back. I have photos to remind me.
But that's okay, today's early afternoon squall that bulldozed through the South Glens Falls area was not going to stop me. It was clear when I went out driving, but as soon as I arrived at the Betar Byway, the snow began to fall. I couldn't decide whether to be annoyed or happy, so I decided to just fully try to enjoy it.
I unfortunately had never been birding in a snowstorm with this type of snow, and quickly found out that visibility was cutting really low. I had to ID birds by shape and song alone (and where I had previously seen certain species along the Byway many times before). I literally could not see any color on any of them. Add to me not wanting to move much because despite my layers, the dampness of the bitter air was cutting down right to my bones. My bins are also good at collecting snow. I spent 25 minutes wandering around the Beach Road entrance of the Byway, not heading down the actual trail much of the way.
Fortunately I caught sight of some mallards in the pool just before the snowfall became heavy. There were two breeding males with their soft grays and metallic greens, a lovely female with her reddish and tan-browns and blackish spotting on orange bill, and a fourth mallard with a plain orange bill with black nail - likely another adult female. They did not stay for long once the snow fell heavier.
I wandered over to the beach-side view of the inlet, where I see the turtles, heron, and phoebe in warmer months. At first it seemed no one was around, but I heard a few black-capped chickadees hiding in the branches, and spotted a few silhouettes of ducks where the water was still open. I stood watching them, planning on getting a better view of them when I started hearing the strange sound of the ice in the inlet cracking and splitting. It was as if the entire earth was going to open up before me.
I wandered to the boat launch at the beach. At this time, I could not see across the Hudson at all, it was just a white sheet. I saw some hunched-up American crows resting on high branches in some deciduous trees near the beach, and one of them poking around the edge of the ice on the river. I stood on the pier, and heard twice what sounded like a little girl letting out a loud scream. It was certainly a hawk of some sort, probably unamused with the presence of the garbage-picking birds. I thought it odd to also hear a group of about 6-10 American goldfinches flying overhead. A downy woodpecker called at this point, probably disturbed by their sudden intrusion to it's resting spot.
At this point I was thoroughly shivering, toes cold despite 2 layers of socks and my comfy hiking boots. I was not about to let up though, still needing to scout out the inlet ducks. Around the pool I went, the utterly quiet pool, snowflakes flying in my eyes, making checking the trees impossible. I got to the other side and started my way along the Byway and peered over the ridge to get a better view of the inlet. I was surprised! I got my first view of ducks being caked by snow! Fifteen American black ducks were huddled together, some resting on the open water, others standing on tiny ice islands. Most had their heads under a wing. All had a layer of white on their backs and heads. I thought it odd that they did not occasionally shake it off, flapping their wings, as I myself was doing (well, I don't have wings). They obviously deal better with the winter weather than I.
Happy with my sighting, I jogged back as quickly as I could up Beach Road hill, but I soon was stopped by my curiosity. Beach Road hill has a densely brushy area to the left when running up it, and I started to see rather large (just smaller than the average crow) dark birds quietly rustling around the dead shrubs. Up my binoculars go...European starlings! Many birders would be annoyed or disgusted at their presence, but I rarely see them here, and enjoy their strange sounds (which they weren't making today), and love their tiny numerous white spots on such miserably-colored feathers. I wondered what they were up to, as there were about 12 of them refusing to sit still on any one perch, making a broad zig-zag pattern by heading up to the highest branches and then gradually skipping from branch to branch down to the brush again. I also wondered if they usually hang around some local softball field or school yard.
I decided I was finished and headed to my car, which I parked at the main waterworks building off Beach Road. This is a trailhead for the Betar Byway, and if you follow the trail left, you head through wooded forest with very little understory. I rarely visit it, as the birding is very poor, and seemed to rarely be visited during the summer by locals. So I was surprised today while warming up my car and cleaning it off to see many locals coming in to walk their dogs along that path during a snowstorm. And they all looked miserable!
My trip back north was a bit unnerving, the roads were slippery which for me was fine but I watched many other drivers slide all over the roads. At the intersection of Quaker Road and Ridge Road in Queensbury, a woman in a compact car did a 180 at the green light, nearly slamming a waiting car. She tried the same turn again, and slid again, almost the same way.
Heading up Ridge Road brought a nice surprise, as I got a solid view of a pileated woodpecker clinging only about 8-10 feet up a telephone pole right alongside the road by the Wesleyan Church. It was almost as if it was watching us silly, vulnerable humans risking our lives, for his or her own enjoyment.
I received for Christmas a surprise CD of 'Birds of the Forest.' I was elated, though I know most nature CDs wind up with cheesy Kenny G-like music in the background. My CD says 'Tranquility Music' on the side and I have been concerned that I am going to hear piccolos and sax or some other world music instrument. I chucked the CD into my car today and hoped for the best...no music at all! In fact, it has 6 tracks of pure birdsong, running about an hour. Each track is a different habitat, each one with a brief habitat label. I wanted to scream for joy and jump around like a kid in a candy store. There are songs of savannah sparrows, red-bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, a few different owls, and plenty of other species I didn't yet identify because I instead tried to picture myself walking through these habitats. I'm now having a good laugh that my favorite habitat track right now is labelled as 'Florida Wetlands.' I would think I'd have more enjoyment listening to one that seems more close to home (such as 'Afternoon Forest'). And before I forget, there's even a thunderstorm in one track. While my blog is typically advertising free (besides me mentioning Wild Birds Unlimited here and there because that store ROCKS), feel free to glimpse the CD I'm talking about here: http://www.tranquilitymusic.us/products.htm It's amusing to see it is the ONLY nature CD there without music.