Wooo I've come back to the blog! It's not that I really left it, but I simply couldn't keep up with myself all summer. I met a fellow 'young' birder and have gone birding with him regularly which has been fantastic, worked two jobs, and went hiking when I wasn't birding. I simply couldn't do one more thing at the time.
I've noticed that autumn birding has two modes, probably no more, and it is maddening. If it's sunny, you won't see much of anything at all, and will come down with a case of birding doldrums (and you will probably freeze your bum off). If it's rainy/overcast/post-rainstorm, it's as if the sky opened up and every bird in existence has fallen out into every square inch! There seems to be no in-between.
I've had this experience this week with one new spot. Autumn is probably a terrible season to explore a new place in the temperate zone for this simple variation. After much reading online of multiple uncommon/rare species at the Vischer Ferry Preserve by Cohoes, NY, I just had to finally go. Overall, I'm psyched that I have twice this week. But I've just come back from my second visit, and today we had sunny mode. Very few birds. It drove me nuts. I went there on Tuesday for the first time and fell in love with the habitat, to begin with. It's a very wet, flat area, some forest, a canal with great riparian/edge habitats, cattail marshes, brushy areas, open ponds. Trails, while well-used, were not completely eroded away (though some are muddy) or over-marked. I was glad it seems to be one of the few spots that haven't turned into some dumbed-down-for-general-public interpretive center with a million kiosks and signs.
The number of birds on Tuesday - WOW. I've only ever seen flocks like this at an actual migration stopover site - never in Warren and Washington counties of NY. About 30 mourning doves in one tree alone, about 30 cedar waxwings feeding on berries, swarming from bush to bush, 50-100 white-throated sparrows. Some readers may still say that's small scale, but when you've got them all together like that in a small area, it's overwhelming when they're all flitting about non-stop. I absolutely welcomed the challenge. Unfortunately, with the sunny weather today, nothing of the sort was occurring.
The species I've been getting there have made it all worth it. There are plenty of the common species there. But what's amazing is that as soon as I got out of my car at the main lot, a black-throated green warbler was calling persistently! Seems awfully late in the year. I also got, believe it or not (recent records from others at VF confirm these species), a Lincoln's sparrow, which was in with a large flock of white-throated and song sparrows, and a Swainson's thrush. These are life birds for me, and I've been on the search for the Lincoln's sparrow. Against a song, the Lincoln's really only shows subtle differences, mostly in the buffy wash, and the finer dark breast streaks. Oh, and of course the wren-like call (the call is like that of a marsh, but the length nearly seems to reach that of the winter)! This individual (and I believe there were two) was a fairly persistent singer, alert to my presence was he or she. The funniest thing is that it never made it's head visible to me, no matter how much it flitted about. But I definitely saw the buffy wash on the flanks, the breast, and when it moved, a bit of a buffy mustache. I've read they can be elusive birds; this one couldn't have made itself much more obvious. And I was delighted.
The Swainson's was more of an oddball sighting. I was mostly done with birding, and was staring at a tree that stood out to me. Moved my eyes a bit, focused on a branch, and there it was, unmoving and quiet. It never called, and only turned around once for me to see it certainly had no rufous tail, canceling out the possibility of the fairly common Hermit (and it definitely was not a wood thrush!). I at the time had no idea what I was looking at, besides thrush, so I took copious notes. I even read Sibley's blog. After some research, it was plainly obvious it had to be a Swainson's. Hooray!
I also had a great double-crested cormorant sighting there, off Ferry Drive. An adult was riding a moving log down-river, swam off up-river, then got stuck in a current it wanted to go up, refusing to go back down-river. In it's attempt to go up and getting swept down, it wound up going in circles in one place about 10 times before finally giving up and going with the flow. I had myself a hearty laugh.
Today the birding there was awful, but looking into one of the open wet areas in one of the large marshes, I spotted the shape of a small duck and yelled to J. that I was seeing something. Binoculars up, I saw a dark, brick-red head and white bar on the side on beautiful light-grey body. Not knowing my ducks well from memory of a guide, J. immediately pointed out to me what I was seeing was a green-winged teal! Another life bird for me. There were at least two males, amongst a group of 10 ducks (not all identifiable, light was harsh).
Also notable was a Canada goose there with large portions of white mottling on the neck and head where it should have been black.
And again, another notable species, two black-backed gulls flying overhead at Ferry Drive as well. Could not tell of which black-backed species they were, however, probability says they were likely great black-backed gulls.
Must mention the pair of adult bald eagles hanging around Peebles State Park. One flew off early on, the other rested on a perch high in a leave-less tree for the half hour I sat there with J. watching ring-billed gulls, domestic geese, and some double-crested cormorants enjoy swimming around the river. The bald eagle called every time a bird would fly overhead, giving a good alarm to potential sightings.
Keep an eye out, I may update soon with highlights from the massive amount of summer birding I did. There were some great sightings this year, propelling me further into this lifestyle.