Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March 20th - Equinox Birding

I spent the first day of spring birding for approximately 5 hours in my favorite spots Warren/Washington Counties. While I'd like to add to that list, it was nice revisiting areas that had previously been caked with snow and therefore somewhat inaccessible.

While some people use the calendar alone to validate the beginning of spring, I've also noticed it in a few other ways lately. The obvious American robin now using it's spring/summer/fall foraging habitat of the front lawn; Eastern bluebirds returning to birdboxes made just for them; a plethora of red-winged blackbirds making their way back north to set all marshes alight with buzzy, harsh calls of "conk-la-ree" and their higher-pitched, whistled, though still buzzy, "See-errrr." Also notable, though not exactly bird-related and more horrifying...the deer ticks are out now. There's a particularly nasty spot of them between Mud Pond and Spier Falls Road (Moreau Lake) where the habitat turns brushy/grassy; I'd advise you to either not visit there or wear long pants and rock the Repel Permanone and do a thorough post-check if need-be.

So yes, March 20th! The spots I'm mentioning are all easily accessible and public, so visit them if you wish. I will warn that if you try to do them all in one round trip, it might actually take longer than the 5 hours I did, as I also spent part of that time joyriding and making great time. But alas: I checked out Dunham's Bay marsh (Bay Road boat lot), SGF Betar Byway, Hovey Pond/Park, and Ash Drive at Glen Lake.

Dunham's Bay possibly was my favorite that day. It was quiet, no other people around, and just stunning to look at, the still water hidden behind many reeds. Two Canada geese were lazing about and preening from time to time. A pair of mallards followed suit, but staying quite some distance from them. I saw a bit more activity from another duck pair, each individual alternately diving briefly...the lighting obscured their colorations and markings a bit, but from what I saw I was almost certain that it was a pair of common goldeneye! Fellow birders all winter long kept letting me know of sightings in the area but I never caught sight of this apparently more elusive species.

Betar Byway had a "more of the same" feel to it for me, but I'm eagerly awaiting migration, as I miss the vireos and warblers that litter this trail in the spring. Not that "more of the same" is at all negative. This is a fantastic birding spot, always something to see...this is where I first noticed the inundation of red-winged blackbirds, one handsome male sitting in a high perch, showing off it's black wings tipped with red and yellow primary colors. Canada geese are now back in this spot, as are house sparrows. The tufted titmice and northern cardinals are still here in larger numbers, and I finally spotted an American black duck after their brief hiatus from the inlet here. My walk back up the Byway was the better half; right near the Hudson River shoreline, for even non-birders to get a good sight of was a handsomely painted pair of hooded mergansers, actively foraging with their extended dives and popping back up in another location. I finally got a great sighting of the red eye of the male. Many people stopped to stare for a bit and then asked, "What are those birds?" Further up was a flock of noisy ring-billed gulls and an even noisier group of common grackles, another bird I didn't notice all winter but are back with the blackbirds. I know this time last year I was saying as a newer birder I didn't find a single species to be a pest...my annoyance has grown for this species alone, as in my trips I have noticed they tend to drive out the smaller birds both with just showing up and in the extremely raucous sounds.

Hovey Pond/Park was quiet, but this is not unusual for this spot, likely due to it's unfortunate location in a busy commercial area. I also tend to get distracted by the volunteer-planted/maintained gardens here. Also worth checking out, and something I didn't notice before, is that many of the trees that dot this landscape are labeled - notable trees included the dawn redwood, pin oak, river birch, Colorado blue spruce, and a shrub called Caragana arborescens. Birds located here on the vernal equinox: mallards, mourning doves, red-winged blackbirds, crows, and a black-capped chickadee.

Ash Drive had a couple of creepy fishermen, but I ignored them to enjoy the sun setting. At this point in my walking I started to resent just how complicated human life can be and wished to spend my life in the much more simple wild. This spot also gives me the worst desire for migration to occur soon as it's a spot with high levels of bird activity and occasionally gets much sought after flycatchers. Right now it's still fairly calm, though one can hear over a dozen red-winged blackbirds at the marshy fen and over at Glen Lake. There's still high levels of black-capped chickadee activity, and the grackles have invaded this spot as well. I was psyched to see a lone turkey vulture (I tend to refer to them as TVs) softly rocking along a warm jet of air overhead. Even this early in the year the bikeway at this spot reminds me of the lazy warm days of summer.

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Also worthy of note from last night though not a confirmed sighting was an early evening potential spotting of a great blue heron flying over the Rte 9L area just north of Rte 149. It was too large to be much else, and had the flight pattern/style of the heron, but again, lighting really killed my ability to figure out exactly what it was. I would not think a sighting of such a bird would be unusual there, as Dunham's Bay marsh is just north/northwest of there.

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