Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Winter of My Discontent

Winter is really beating me down. I've had no energy for weeks, and thus you guys don't see any birding from me happening. I forced myself to get out on this sunny day, being tricked into thinking there might be an inkling of warmth (see if I ever believe a weatherman again). It was as bitterly cold as has been for weeks, but I kept going! It also helped to run across Sue P. It fascinates me how I could have a week of crappiness but I run into one person who cheers me right up - plus it helps to have someone to chat about fun nature things with. It is not often that I find someone who is knowledgeable and excited to talk about things like birds and trees. I periodically complain about my peers, because most of them are more concerned with looking cool, getting wasted on a weekly if not daily basis, and smoking tons of weed, and having no true interests, so someone like Sue (or Jackie) is pure gold!

The bald eagle was not out today, but I noticed they tend to be bad weather bird sightings. Today is sunny, clear, and bitter. Actually, today wasn't all that great for birding overall, I'm not quite sure where the birds go when it's nice in winter. Odd that they aren't hanging out on the branches in the sun! I also noticed the river was almost all ice, compared to my last Betar Byway venture, so there was no chance of seeing mergansers this time.

I took notice right off that the pool at one of the water works buildings at the Betar Byway is now covered with banging pie tins, obviously to keep birds away from the pool. I thought that odd, as I have never seen a single bird hanging out there recently. Humans...I don't understand them.

I first headed towards the beach. Walking along I heard hidden American goldfinches calling their summer song. A white-breasted nuthatch was a bit less hidden, running around the trunks. I saw off to the treetops to the left a bunch of American crows having a fit, chasing something around. I stood and watched and got a glimpse of a shaggy-looking red-tailed hawk trying to shake them off in flight. I chuckled at how it looked like the hawk was expending much less energy circling and soaring than the crows were in harassing and wildly flapping. Silly crows.

The beach didn't have anything bird-wise to show me though I enjoy the view of the river from the boat launch and stood and looked around. I made my way back up towards the inlet and spotted three American black ducks enjoy what looked like some bathing in the tiny bit of open water hidden from the sun by tall trees. The ice around them periodically moaned but they seemed not to mind.

Walking back up to the Beach Road I heard a pileated woodpecker deeper into the woods.

This is when I found Sue and chatted with her for 50 minutes about all sorts of fun things!

Off I went back up the Betar Byway, up the hill, looking over the steeper hill onto the inlet. I wonder if the water in the inlet stays open all winter, as there's a large portion of it available for waterfowl. The same old American black ducks were down there, eight of them today, also bathing. The sun was shining on them and I got a rare sighting of their stunningly beautiful purple speculums bordered with a thick line of black. I have heard other birders talk about how bland these ducks are, but I find their muted dark browns and this patch of royal hue to be stunning.

I managed, with intensely painful hands (I do not know why the cold does this to them as I do not leave them exposed to the elements - I noticed it has only been this bad since I suffered a bout of Lyme), to make it all the way to the other end of the Byway. Along the way I was greeted with alarm calls from black-capped chickadees who were well camoulflaged. I heard plenty of loud, bright, cheery "peter peter peter peter!" and was shocked. Rarely do I actually hear tufted titmice singing instead of also alarm calling. I'm quite certain the last time I heard one singing was in May! They seem to prefer hoarsely yelling at things to get away. They too made the dreary winter woods seem more summery.

American crows
were all over, flying across the Hudson River multiple times to sit on various roosts. They couldn't seem to get comfortable. One nearby crow had a large hunk of something whitish/yellowish in it's bill and made me think of a small vulture when seen from a distance.

I was surprised to see a red-breasted nuthatch spiraling a trunk right in front of me, then hanging upside-down from a top branch, before pecking wildly at it's underside, causing bark to rain down on me. The only way I can describe the call it had today was a high "yip yip yip yip yip yip." White-breasted nuthatches were nearby, having a quieter, calmer snack lower on some trunks.

I got to see two male northern cardinals, both of whom were obviously quite disturbed by my presence. Another hidden cardinal called at some point. The cardinals looked like huge blobs of red feathers with a red mohawk and black mask. I'm not sure if it's their outfit or my experience with their bills that makes me think they appear as formidable opponents. They sat in low brush, peering out at me, making quite loud, metallic, clinking chips.

The field was surprisingly quiet - I always expect to see dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows there, but it never happens. However, the woods edge brought the sounds of two downy woodpeckers squeaking at each other, but I could not find them. It was strange that the rest of the Byway was lacking in woodpeckers today, usually it's loaded. I did also get to spy a chunky little dark-eyed junco well-hidden in some brush further north.

There is a special spot along the Byway that I love, thick with shorter trees all close to each other and completely covered with bittersweet. I sometimes worry that this spot could easily be demolished by the trees toppling under all of those viny plants. But for now it's been a great home to plenty of the summer I saw many, many yellow warblers hanging out there. Today I heard a cacophony of calls, sounding much like the American goldfinch but missing the more complex melodies; I suppose one could describe it as sounding more like a bunch of parakeets chattering. I could not find them in these trees, so looked lower in the brush where a single version of the chatter came from, and spotted myself a brightly red with thick brown underside streaks house finch. It never saw me, as it was busy picking off bittersweet berries nearby.

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