Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Migrants Galore - Betar Byway

With it being sunny and near 80 degrees this morning, I couldn't help but to go outside. In fact, I headed all the way to the Betar Byway in South Glens Falls. I'm here about every three days - ever since March the number of species has been slowly increasing.

Until now. Now they have massively exploded! I am unsure of why I was thinking I wouldn't see anything unusual today, though I haven't paid much attention to the weather forecast either, besides enjoying a day of thunderstorms and some overcast skies and cooler weather. I didn't even keep up with Hudson-Mohawk birds, which would have obviously alerted me to the mass migrant influx - there are many other birders' posts currently discussing what migrants they are seeing nearby.

So imagine my surprise when even from the step out of my car I start hearing migrants that are first-of-season for me. Not even a kid in a candy store could have been that overjoyed. My walk took me twice the time it has been, because I was extremely careful to make sure I got every bird I could today.

Betar Byway is now inundated with yellow-rumped warblers (aka butterbutts, a nickname I recently became amusingly acquainted with). I couldn't be happier - the past two years, I never really got many. Today I couldn't walk anywhere without either seeing a pair hanging out with each other, or an individual eating inchworms. I'm still not entirely familiar with their song, so I had a great time just listening to all of them. They sound like quiet, bored American goldfinches, or maybe a goldfinch with a classier, more refined song, and the trilling quality is of note. I also noticed they sometimes have an end note higher than the rest of the song, though it quickly drops to finish the song out. It is not all that distinct, so keep an ear out for them.

Betar is also loaded with, yes, goldfinches, and cedar waxwings, but those guys have been there. There were also a ton of grackles, which was not surprising (but fun). Also of actual note in enormous numbers now, which IS notable as part of the recent influx, is the tree swallow. I had nearly two dozen of them today!

White-throated sparrows are also now moving through the area in large numbers and this is not just taking place at Betar. It always confuses me to hear the "Oh sweet Canada" song this time of year.

The other notable migrants at Betar today are as follows:
- common yellowthroat - I had one calling (do not confuse with the Carolina wren - wren songs tend to be longer, less distinct, and the 'wit' on the end of the yellowthroat's call distinctly separates it from that of the wren), and badly wanted to go find it, but I was being watched be fellow Byway walkers and the yellowthroat was on private property. Damn.
- yellow warbler - one small male sitting right at eye level, singing loudly.
- red-eyed vireo - only one calling. I had to stick around and listen to make sure I was even hearing a vireo - guess I was just that amazed.
- black-throated green warbler - called right near my car, once, and never again.
- Empidonax flycatcher - of course, it wasn't calling! I watched it glean for a bit and gave up.
- broad-winged hawk - only heard calling. Had I not heard one yesterday in Corinth, I would have thought a silly blue jay was messing with me.
- double-crested cormorant - there was a pair in clear view swimming around the river and where the inlet meets the river. The male even had his crests!
- ruby-crowned kinglets - we had these last weekend at Bog Meadow, so I wasn't as surprised, and I had them last year here for a week. I was still excited, knowing this might be my only chance to see them at Betar this year, because they will likely move on soon. I got a great sighting of one today, with it's white (broken?) eye-ring, gold-dusted wings and uppertail, a white wingbar, general "angry" look...and then it scolded me harshly before hiding in the brush.
- eastern kingbirds - I nearly passed the first one off as a large phoebe, then decided to have a second look and spotted the obvious white tail tip. Duh.
- swamp sparrow - I listened for a LONG time to the trills I heard today. There was at least one at a hidden vernal pool (I know if it's existence mostly due to hearing a massive amount of frogs there last week) with a loud trill a bit more musical than a chipping and blatantly fading at the end.
- chipping sparrow - a few of these with their mechanical trill, unless I'm wrong and there were a few pine warblers hiding where there are no pines.

Also notable, but has been there for a month or so, was a lone pied-billed grebe. I had seen two grebes in a pair earlier in the month, so maybe this one was just out for a dive. I also spotted a flying cooper's or sharp-shinned hawk - assumption would lead me to sharp-shinned, as J. and I had spotted an adult last month, and I had a juvenile sharp-shinned earlier this month. And just because they are fun, I will note the belted kingfisher and brown creeper. There are also so many other species to note there - plenty of woodpeckers, for example. That Byway is absolutely worth going to at any point of the year, any weather, as it is a very bird-riddled spot.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Trip to Binghamton, NY and PA

Birding this year has been insane. In a fantastic way. I started in March (I really need snowshoes, being indoors all winter drives me nuts) and on my first evening of the season, got a woodcock calling and flying right past my head! The excitement and great sightings has yet to slow down, and I doubt it will, as it's only the very beginning of migration.

So now I get to play catch-up with all this rain and cold weather. This has been extra amusing in a ridiculous way for me - Saturday night the driver's side window on my car broke, and I've been without a window to roll up all week. This did not stop me from transporting my old Dell and some magazines out to my best guy buddy on Sunday and Monday, who lives just across the NY border in Friendsville, PA. The drive was horrendous though. One really has no idea the amount of deafening road noise and intensely cold wind surrounding a car on a highway until there's absolutely no way of getting away from it. I probably looked battered and beaten after my three hour drive.

It didn't stop me from birding while out there, although it was bitterly cold to the point of even sleeting on my trip's second day (I spent it at my old college stomping grounds in Oneonta, NY). Saturday was low-key, as I was more focused on my friend and our eating adventures, and despite him not being a birder, he took interest in what was around him, having me point out the different species we were seeing, which I had a blast with. Binghamton and Vestal, NY of course get a lot of crows and starlings.

His lake-side house in Friendsville, PA was quite a different treat. During the day Saturday we walked around a small portion of the lake (I'm guessing it was the east side, at least by map) despite winds blowing at a fairly consistent 40 mph. Not a lot of birds, but the lake offered up three ring-necked ducks (a male and two females). American robins hung around on the road, and a red-winged blackbird called in the distance. When I later left at 2 AM Monday morning, I got to point out to him an American woodcock that was persistently calling down the road from his house. My friend had then mentioned that he's heard that call many nights for years. I must say I'm a bit envious.

Monday birding in Binghamton was terrible, though I also had a hard time finding any birding spots there. I used ebird to find one nearby urban spot, and my guess is it's fairly good for waterfowl on a day when the Susquehanna River isn't rushing, as I only had a few Canada geese.

Monday afternoon I spent in Oneonta, NY and the birding was surprisingly bad there. It's also off-season for Franklin Mtn's hawk watching and so their feeders were also down. I had also visited Emmon's Pond Bog nearby, and while I love the walk, I was bombarded with sleet the entire visit and thus got very few birds, all common. If you ever get to go out there, please visit the bog, even if the weather includes things like hurricane-force winds, tornadoes, or even lava. That bog is something to see, and even though I had not visited it in three years, it had haunted my mind.

Next blog, which I promise will be soon (within the week, I swear), will be about my birding trip on Saturday to Bog Meadow Brook Trail in Saratoga Springs, NY with Rich Speidel and a bunch of fellow birders. Good times were seriously had by almost all (except that one guy that complained about the cold the whole time).