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.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Country Club Rd/Sweet Rd Bikeway

I've been psyched that the time change has left a good hour or so after work (if I am not working my other job after) to explore locally. However, I have been unable to really handle much physical exercise for the past two weeks...I took a hard fall down an icy ridge on the Moreau Overlook in Moreau Lake State Park, the only thing stopping me a tree with approximately a 6" diameter, and a jagged rock the size of nearly a basketball, right to the coccyx. There was almost no walking down the rest of the trail, and there's been little of that since. But I couldn't resist the t-shirt weather today brought to the area and headed out to the Warren County Bikeway at it's junction with Country Club Road. It's a short easy walk that softly winds it's way to Sweet Road, where I usually turn around rather than battling with traffic to hear the birds.

The weather was great. I merely wore some sneakers, jeans, and my work t-shirt...it was a pleasure to bare arms to the sun and feel not a bit of icy cold yet see snow all around me. I had a chuckle seeing many locals also on the trail, dressed as though the forecast was calling for a blizzard.

It looked like spring was just slightly kissing the trail. I believe I spotted some pussy willows littered with their fuzzy buds. I could smell the neon green moss sighted all along the trail edges. Tiny streams/brooks followed alongside the path, fresh with snowmelt. I also noticed an increase in the activity of what I came for: the birds.

American crows frequent this spot anyway, though never really visiting the trees right near the bikeway. They seem to linger in yards or in nearby marshy spots. I caught sight of one using a dried phrag as a tool.

American goldfinches were in rather large numbers here, at least compared to winter. I didn't see a single one, but could hear their canary-like songs in nearby trees.

The red-winged blackbirds were out in full force. I didn't hear them all winter; perhaps one could consider them a sign of spring. I saw either a juv or a female perched high up in a deciduous tree, appearing to be enjoying the sun's warmth. The rest were hidden in the reeds in the marshy areas. I welcomed their bubbly alarm chirps and well-known "conk-la-reeeee" calls that non-birders associate with the hot, long, humid summer days.

Black-capped chickadees littered the trees as usual, this being their year-round native habitat. I simply took note that there were fewer than during winter, and left them to their acrobatics and watchfulness. One called out a long, lonely-sounding, thin, wavering, "Phoeeeeee-beeeee." I liken that call to a rusty old playground seesaw.

There were less woodpeckers, though I heard a brief call from either a downy woodpecker or a hairy. Seems the winter birds are leaving the spot they frequented all winter long.

I heard and saw one pudgy American robin resting near the red-winged blackbird in the tree. I've been hearing a lot of people mention them as the sign of spring, yet I do not associate them as such. I often think them late compared to migration peaks, and I see them all winter long.

White-breasted nuthatches and red-breasted nuthatches were both present, one each. There was also a dark-eyed junco making it's own popping alarm call and ringing trill. A pair of mourning doves quietly flew overhead, their wings not making their characteristic whistle.

White-throated sparrows are still in this area in the wet brushy habitat just before the arborvitae stand. Despite the "broken cassette recording" song Sue and I became familiar with in the autumn, I am unsure that the new melodic songs I heard today near their location actually belonged to them. But I saw the male clearly, as if it posed just for me in the reeds. They are such enormous sparrows, and the yellow lore is a dead giveaway.

The Carolina wren was in it's usual spot, this time singing, "Figaro figaro figaro figaro," rather than it's car alarm call. It sounded rather cheery today. I still have not got a sighting of it, which is a bit frustrating.

I couldn't believe my ears the rest of the ramb. le, however. I'm used to this location being home to northern cardinals and even getting a good-sized count, but today I counted between 8-10 that were calling non-stop, apparently more to each other than to anything else and not necessarily for alarm. They too have a popping alarm call, but today they were actually singing just as much with their loud, clear, bright, "Pew pew pew, wit wit wit wit." The long pause in-between gives an almost haunting effect to the echoes their replies make.

I was completely blown away by a blue jay hiding nearby. At first I was hearing the alarm call of the northern flicker and got excited that I might get a sighting of such a spastic, elusive woodpecker. I rested up against a tree to get a better view, and saw the silhouette, thinking it an odd shape for a flicker. It bounced out into the sun, called, and I could see the blue...the blue jay mimicking perfectly the flicker was better than seeing the flicker itself.

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Other neat stuff from this short walk:

- Pileated woodpecker holes, fresh ones
- Andy, a coworker of mine from way back in the day, who has been avidly biking for, if I remember correctly, over 10 years. I see him on a fairly regular basis on the local bikeway in various spots. I was pleased to talk birds with him briefly before he went back on his way.
- My buddy Mike D., another person I haven't seen in quite some time, also out on his bike. It was a pleasure seeing him out!
- one eastern chipmunk, not at all bothered by my presence
- cirrocumulus, or "mackerel sky"