Sunday, November 14, 2010

Birding, Interrupted

Seems often when I come back to the blog idea, life kicks me into a gutter somewhere, which causes me utter writer's block. But I'm picking the pieces back up, and thus coming back here.

Today I went out for some solid birding after a week of dealing with, well, crap! The weather was fantastic. I enjoyed the soft warmth of the sun and the light breeze on my face while walking the Betar Byway. Apparently, the birds enjoyed this weather as well, I was impressed with the sheer numbers this time around. Usually for all species I see there I get an individual here, another one there, and can only get a decent number by totaling those at the end. Not today. Today we had large migrating or foraging (or mating?) groups.

Example: I kept watching ring-billed gulls singly flying north up the Hudson River, which didn't surprise me - they often head to downtown Glens Falls, sometimes to grab some fries at Burger King. I was surprised when I headed to the beach only to see a gathering of almost 200 just resting in a tight group right on the river (it's apparently shallow enough where they could stand in the middle). Closing one's eyes, the calls could make one feel they were at the ocean.

Behind them, a large group of rowdy Canada geese were resting along the opposite shoreline, some up on the grassy spots behind a business. I enjoy seeing them in their large gatherings this time of year, and their calls, while annoying to some, are a comfort to myself.

A small foraging group of hooded mergansers lingered between the two species, being much more active, and annoyingly harder to see.

Cedar waxwings were also in large numbers at Betar today, somewhere between 40-50 sitting in about 5 consecutive trees. They were mostly quiet, and didn't seem to be busily foraging. I spent time trying to see if they had a Bohemian amongst them, but by definition of such a word, that wouldn't really make any sense. An amateur birder stood nearby with his own bins, staring in awe at such beautiful beings, yet apparently unaware of exactly who they were until questioning me later. I was extremely pleased to find someone else where I was in birding only a few years ago - curious, thirsty to know everybody with feathers, making friends of such strangers.

Waterfowl were busy today as well there - dozens of mallards took up the inlet as their private space for mating. I heard an assortments of sounds from them, plenty of whistles, flapping of wings and slapping of them on the water, some quacking. I find it odd they should be mounting females this time of year, but they performed such acts last year as well, and in various places (one can see this taking place now at Hovey Pond). About 20 American black ducks lingered within their circle, possibly mating with them. About four wood ducks were taking shelter amongst their lair, hidden by some brush.

Songbirds were fairly uncommon today, and if they were around, they weren't apt to make themselves visible. I did catch a glimpse of a female northern cardinal, and a few others chipped from the brush. Chickadees, the forest keepers, would pop out here and there from a branch to alert the others, and a few blue jays practiced their hawk mimicry. I watched one ripping apart a leaf nest high in a tree; in search of what, I had no idea. A white-breasted nuthatch ran up and down a trunk, calling out. But finches and sparrows were notoriously absent, probably disappointed that it wasn't colder, as bitter temperatures seem to really bring them out.

Woodpeckers hung around those waxwings, foraging. A female downy woodpecker and a red-bellied woodpecker lingered within their social gathering. Pileated woodpeckers were further down by the beach, calling to give the forest a more jungle-like feel, and one flew overhead while I was on the beach with the amateur birder, looking awfully large and primitive. They make it possible for me to imagine that the Archaeopteryx once existed.

One last notable species lingering around was the northern mockingbird, apparently perched on the far side of the river from myself. I listened to it calling for almost 20 minutes non-stop, unable to get a clear hearing on the calls themselves, but I enjoyed the bright, cheery quality that causes one to think of early spring. It seemed as though even he, like many locals, is hoping for a mild winter.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Unexpected Visitors

I had a fantastic visit to the feeders at exactly 4 PM a few afternoons ago. As soon as I exited my car, I heard a fast, repeated, descending breathy trill, one I couldn't place and wasn't sure I'd ever heard before. I searched for the location of the bird, quickly found across the road but not sighted. I waited patiently in the driveway, and the bright orange-y and cinnamon brown tiny ball of feathers darted across my path, loudly but still breathlessly trilling, then landing on the feeders. A fellow bird then began making a call sounding like a hollow wooden stick being tapped against a drinking glass, over and over, before also flying onto the feeders. Running and grabbing my binoculars, I quickly found the upright short tails and exaggerated, huge white superciliums leading right to the back of the head! There was also a pale white throat and buffy belly on these two cute little Carolina wrens. These feeders, as far as anyone knows, have not seen Carolina wrens in the 9 years they have existed. I've seen plenty in the area in general. It's likely they were simply migrating on through. I was delighted to have them for the 10 minutes they lingered. They loved the suet. The male (the one who trills) got on top of the feeder, trilled some more, while his lady made more 'dit' sounds, as they have been described, and the male bobbed up and down repeatedly like an oompa loompa, cracking me up. They were soon off, probably to head a bit more south.

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Today I finally headed over to Moreau Lake State Park, after not having visited for probably two months now. There are huge areas of land quiet of birds, but other spots are prime - the lake itself, the Nature Center, and what I call the Reed Trail that follows the wetland full of phragmites on one side. The lake today held common mergansers - two females and a male following them around; a great blue heron flew overhead, making soft flapping sounds; about a dozen American black ducks were lingering; 32 Canada geese were noisily enjoying the calm waters while about 150 more flew over later on. Most of the park presented black-capped chickadees (the keeper of the forest), blue jays, and white-breasted nuthatches. The Nature Center grounds were caked with dark-eyed juncos, who were happily trilling while foraging on the ground, and a few made strange, hollow, reed-like tew tew tew tew calls. The trees near them had some tufted titmice, who fed with them. Another tufted titmouse was closely followed by a white-breasted nuthatch wherever it went. A male downy woodpecker peeked out at me, making not a sound, compared to the more exuberant red-bellied woodpecker whose calls were a bit too close to a northern flicker to tell them apart without a good view.

I later watched a male pileated woodpecker creeping it's way all over a trunk before quietly flying off, had a snack on some delicious wintergreen berries, and saw about 30 mallards lingering around one of the wetland areas.

It was a beautiful day for some decent birding, but being closely followed the entire way by a strange male human was disturbing.