Monday, August 29, 2011

Post-Irene Birding

I wasn't sure what I even expected after Tropical Storm Irene rambling through the area. All of Sunday, upstate NY was pummeled with heavy rains and winds up to 60 mph. It made me think less of a hurricane and more like a late autumn day, especially with how cool it was. The winds did little destruction in my immediate area, but I know people with trees down on their roofs, and Vermont got hit really badly.

This morning I woke up around 5:30 AM, and was displeased to see that it is now still dark out at that time! I recall lying back down on my pillow and snoozing a bit, still managing to make it to the Betar Byway at 6:20 AM, with the sun just coming up. Moments before I got there, I had a sharp-shinned hawk fly over the nearby Hannaford. This wasn't out of the ordinary, I've found an adult and a juvenile at Betar this year.

I immediately noticed a large upsurge in the numbers of eastern wood-pewees right near the parking area! They must be migrating through today, as there is no way the breeding season suddenly caused that rise in numbers. They were flitting about, calling, occasionally calling. The chickadees who like that spot seemed disturbed by their appearance.

There were the usual numbers of black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals, American crows, and cedar waxwings along the Byway. The gray catbirds seemed a little more active than usual but Betar always has a large number of them. The American goldfinch number seemed greatly reduced!

There was a pair of additional belted kingfishers this morning near the beach. There has been a pair near the inlet all summer, and they were there this morning. As I was standing there watching them, to my delight the double-crested cormorant juvenile I've watched for weeks flew right over my head! I was afraid he wouldn't find shelter in the winds and would perish, but they do seem hardy. I had also worried about the great blue heron many fellow Betar walkers have noticed but the bird was hunkered down by a pier way on the north end of the Byway, sheltered by nearby trees and bushes; it was not at all moving and was standing in a position that made me believe it was napping.

By the beach was a little pocket of fall migrants! I was absolutely delighted, and wondered if Irene made them drop in. A really fat flycatcher with an incredibly short tail was bouncing around some low branches, making a sort of 'whit' call repeatedly. I noticed the very thick eyering, and along with the other descriptors, has me thinking this bird was a least. Either way, I was excited to see any Empid. flying around today as it might be one of the last for the year for me. Along with the flycatcher there were a few other tiny birds flitting about in the low bushes! I had a confused-looking red-eyed vireo pop out from the lowest corner. The location had me thinking it was a migrant as well, and I'm a little sad to see them go finally. The first year male American redstart of whom I only really saw the wing and tail was fantastic. He was making a sharp sort of trill-y call note and moving at lightning speed among tiny limbs. And then, a juvenile chestnut-sided warbler popped into plain view, with it's odd lime-green and deep gray shades! I've recently studied them online so I would know them when I saw them, and this one was unmistakable, despite me never having seen a juvenile one before in person! It was almost as great as getting a life bird! Chestnut-sided warblers just don't seem common at Betar at all.

I was sad to leave the migrant pocket behind, but I had to check the rest of the Byway. And it was fairly quiet, with no species out of the ordinary. There were plenty of mallards with one American black duck following them, but the wood ducks seem to have gone. Of woodpeckers, I had a pileated, downy, and red-bellied. I had a yellow-bellied sapsucker there the day before Irene. Tufted titmice were here and there, singing their 'peter' song.

My other favorite experience of this walk was the family of Carolina wrens all purring, trilling, and singing their 'teakettle' song! I've only ever heard one there all summer, so to get three on one side and one on the other side of the Hudson River was amazing.

Also notable, when I got home around 7:30 AM, was that I also had additional Carolina wrens at my house. It sounded as if there were three, two more than my usual one! Their migration pattern is still new to me, so I'm not completely sure if some migrant and some now stay in upstate New York for winter.

So, the impact from Irene wasn't exactly as interesting as I expected, but there is NO way I am going to complain about seeing fall migrants! In years past I seemed to have missed actual pockets of birds moving through, getting only one here and there. This experience was a nice treat after a storm moving through the area.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene

I must admit that I won't be birding this weekend for the most part, if at all, all due to Hurricane Irene making her way up the coast. We also had a separate system affecting us today; I intended on going to Betar Byway, but sporadic rainstorms would sneak in as soon as I'd get ready to leave. I watched the chickadees in the huge pine in the neighbor's yard and listened to the blue jays screeching and begging (maybe there are juveniles too), and the white-breasted nuthatch visited briefly. So for now it's just waiting and watching. The storm tracker makes it look like we're getting something between a Cat 1 and a tropical storm this weekend, though I know that those things change frequently.

I'm not completely knowledgeable on how huge weather systems affect migrating birds, but I can imagine that plenty will get blown off course somewhere.

I also forgot to mention that the Carolina wren that has continually been here was extremely loud at 6:40 AM yesterday morning. With the crows soon cawing in, my guess was something was alarming them all. The wren alternated between an alarm clock version of the teakettle song and a loud trilling purr for about ten minutes. When I awoke again around 9 AM, he was quiet.

Southern Adirondack Audubon Facebook Page

For those of you in upstate New York and into birds, or just into birds in general, you should "Like" the Southern Adirondack Audubon Society Facebook page I just created. It's an idea I've had for some time now, and brought up at a board meeting (why yes, I was on the board) in spring before I suddenly found a cool bird research job and got distracted. It apparently has marinated in the minds of my fellow lovely board members, as the president messaged me about 7 hours ago asking if I may get started on such activity! I didn't have to think twice. It is in a very rudimentary stage for now, as I'm exhausted from training all morning and working this evening and then grocery shopping, but once I communicate with my fellow birders over there in SAASland, things should come together. The Events page is bare as August tends to be our quiet month, although if I remember quickly, we get VERY busy in the fall! There are also many related bird events in the area this autumn from other organizations/non-profits, and then when winter comes we do surveys. So we should have a lot to mention on our Facebook page.

Our (I'm still also a member and like to speak on behalf of SAAS when we do cool stuff) programs are absolutely worth going to. They aren't always directly about birds, but we've had great stories told, including that by Steve Mackey of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and Jackie ( of fame) and Sue (who keeps this beautiful blog: talking about wildflower walks, loaded with beautiful photos.

I don't usually talk about SAAS in my blog, but I really should. I love the local Audubon chapter and the people I have met through it are some of the most amazing people I have met in my 29 years. I think the org is understated and not as well-noticed as it should as a local establishment. So I take it upon myself to at least talk about SAAS things in this blog, and to keep that Facebook page updated.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bog Meadow Brook/Quechee Gorge

A few days ago I went searching for a different birding spot since I'm so familiar with Betar, I can predict what's going to be there. This is not a bad thing, but it gets quiet over there during early fall migration, and I wanted a place less predictable for myself. And thus, my drive to Saratoga Springs, NY.

I highly recommend Bog Meadow Brook Trail if you're anywhere nearby, at almost any time of the year (though spring = mud, winter = deep snow). The main parking lot is on Route 29/Lake Avenue but I find the first leg of the trail isn't great for birding because you can hear the traffic for quite a ways. There's more parking on the other side, off Meadowbrook Road just before County Rd 67 (take Exit 14 from I-87 and head east on Union Avenue/9P).

Bog Meadow is an old railroad track mostly grown over without rails left; there are some wooden boards perpendicular to the trail, I wouldn't recommend walking on them if they are wet unless you feel like slipping and smacking your head against a nearby tree. The entire trail is almost all varying levels of marsh, save for one section of forest with a lot of understory growth. One section includes a boardwalk over an open wet area, and further along you come across an even larger wet area - great for spotting marsh-loving herons and the occasional egret or, as we had in spring migration, a northern shoveler, first spotted by yours truly.

My latest walk along this trail was really productive. There were plenty of fledglings all down the trail of various species, and a nest that included two American robins nearly ready to fledge themselves! And fall migration is apparently hitting this spot already. Solitary sandpipers do not breed in this area as far as I know, and I first became acquainted with the species in the spring at the yellowthroat research site just north of Skidmore College. A pair stayed for a week or two there, before finishing off their migration north. I ran across yet another pair at Bog Meadow two days ago at the boardwalk marsh, one standing guard on a rock, the other slightly bobbing it's head while foraging as if it had a mild case of hiccups. If I had not been sure of their ID based on either field markings, I eventually saw the characteristic white spotting on their upperparts and clean white breast and flanks. These guys were my best spotting of the day/week!

There were multiple great blue herons along the trail in the wet spots, lazily walking about at the boardwalk marsh. One heron found himself in a more dangerous spot in the larger wet area along with an obviously spooked green heron trying to hide along the shore I was walking along. Both birds would try to find a hiding spot, and then be forced to alight for a few minutes, grazing the water with their feet while trying to stay out of a red-tailed hawk's way. The hawk would be invisible somewhere along the tree line but call consistently before swooping down over the water and back up again. I also had a red-tailed hawk calling near the forest, and it had flown down so low over my head that my reflex was to duck. The herons also might have been freaked out over the presence of an osprey, of which I had never seen at Bog Meadow in the past! A belted kingfisher was consistently flying about over the water and calling in alarm.

Another species I had never seen at Bog Meadow in the past and saw two days ago was a yellow-bellied sapsucker. Even more amazing, this one was a juvenile, complete with a gray head with two broad white stripes - if you look in the Crossley Guide, you can check this out. The only way I knew the species was by looking at it's back, wing, and tail black-and-white pattern. Bog Meadow is rife with other woodpecker species. This time I heard a red-bellied woodpecker and downy woodpecker.

The most irritating observation for birders this time of year at Bog Meadow is the load of flycatchers, mostly Empids, and therefore nearly unidentifiable as they are quiet due to the end of the breeding season. I had quite a few. One was likely a yellow-bellied based on the shape of it's eye-ring. I also had other flycatchers, including a juvenile great crested and a bunch of eastern wood-pewees, the latter of which still sang.

The sparrows are mostly gone now, although I had a late swamp sparrow singing.

Bog Meadow was predictably caked with cedar waxwings and American goldfinches as Bog Meadow is full of berry-producing plants and trees for the waxwings, and the goldfinches had recently been breeding. American redstarts and yellow warblers are still around in tiny numbers, as are warbling vireos and red-eyed vireos.

I heard raspy chipping along a wet part of the trail and had a laugh, as it was obvious to me what I was hearing - a common yellowthroat. I am glad they are still around. This little guy popped right up into clear view for a few moments before flying off. I can certainly say I will miss them when they finally all migrate.

Yesterday I headed out to finally explore Queechee Gorge, located in Central/Western Vermont. It was worth going, although the birding there is not great. I had a yellowthroat there, a redstart, a yellow warbler, and my favorite sighting of yesterday, predictably a spotted sandpiper right at the base of the dam, foraging around the rocks. This was the first time I got a great view of a spotted sandpiper, and the way they bob their entire body really makes it an easy ID.

If you head out to Quechee for anything, visit VINS. It's not my favorite nature center, but they do have live birds of prey and you can walk there from the gorge. The surrounding shops otherwise don't have a lot of bird-related items, though the Quechee Visitor Center alerted me to the Connecticut River Birding Trail, which I did not even know existed!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rainy Days

It has been raining nonstop for two days now, and this is not a complaint. We had some extremely hot summery days last month and I'm grateful to not be sweating out of every pore. The problem is the birding...I just lose my desire to wander the trails for birds in the rain, even after spending some days this summer in total downpours and even a thunderstorm looking for yellowthroats.

I did manage to get out with J. earlier this week and we had an absolute blast. Birding alone is great fun, birding with a great fun is the best. We spent the hours joking - corny jokes and dark humor are our favorites. We weren't even seriously birding, just driving down Towpath Road (there are many Towpath Roads around here, if you need directions to this one, leave a comment!) at maybe 10 mph peering out the windows and chatting. It wasn't too "bird-y" of course, breeding seasons are finishing up or done. My favorite sightings for the evening were a pudgy fledgling American robin in the road and a green heron perched in a tree - my first green heron through my new binoculars, and I got amazing views! The robin cracked me up as he had two tufts just above his or her eyes, so just looked silly. I was concerned with the bird being on the road but it bounced off into the grass nearby.

Also notable was the great blue heron wading in the creek that runs along Towpath Road. This is not at all an unusual sight here, but they are always welcome during a birding trip. There were plenty of American goldfinches all along the road and pockets of black-capped chickadees, but otherwise it was mostly quiet. We left Towpath and drove along a bunch of quiet country roads which was relaxing but didn't offer much. My excitement came when we stopped alongside a brushy area and I heard faint raspy chips - a common yellowthroat! We could see the bushes shaking wherever the bird was moving along, but it never popped up into view for an entire ten minutes.

Speaking of yellowthroats (oh how I miss them now that I've worked with them), a male was my first bird on a short walk at Ash Drive by Glen Lake late last week. Again, I was alerted to his presence by the raspy chips, much to my delight, but I couldn't find him on the other side of a thick bush. He sang, and then gave a flight song, but had apparently stayed out of view the entire time. A few friends thought I would be sick of those guys once I finished the field job, but I just feel a deeper connection with yellowthroats now that I've watched nearly 30 of them do what yellowthroats do all summer. The chip notes are so familiar to me that it reminds me of not needing to look at a friend to know who it is when he or she speaks.

I'm likely headed out for the first time on Saturday to Rutland Audubon's monthly walk - I have met a few people from there and they are extremely nice and the marsh is one of my favorite spots. Makes me wish the week was over already!

I've also woken up to a Carolina wren every single morning (between 6:30 and 9:00) for a month now since I've been back to the HF house. HF house is in a run-down suburban location, so it's not a great place for birding at all. The most we get are chimney swifts (which I adore), black-capped chickadees, a northern cardinal pair, a pair of downy woodpeckers and their one or two fledglings, tons of house sparrows, and sometimes a white-breasted nuthatch. The Carolina wren is a treat, and there never used to be one here. I'm not even sure this one will stay for the winter, but last winter I noticed one in the dead of winter up the hill from here! When I first came back in mid-July, the Carolina wren just sang his car alarm song. In the past week I've noticed he's now singing variations of that song and also making the purring trill call they are known for. Why the change in song, I'm not sure, although I assume it is the same individual. I've even caught him singing on the other side of the house around 7 PM. While I would love him to stick around all winter, I would understand if he left until spring!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

August Doldrums

This title just had to go with the last one!

It's now August, and birders in the Northeast, you know what that means...the bird world becomes awfully quiet. It's far past spring migration, it's pre-fall migration, and it's right after the breeding season for most songbirds. I do most of my birding by ear so for me it's very noticeable when the birds have simply stopped singing for mates and territories so much. And it has begun. Even the non-birders at Betar Byway have noticed.

This quiet and reduction in numbers of sightings (which was also mentioned on Hudson-Mohawk Birds' Yahoo Group) combined with the intense August heat and humidity tends to decrease my birding for the month, and I'm guessing it does for a lot of birders. Heck, even J. has been focusing a lot more on astronomy and Southern Adirondack Audubon doesn't even have an August program. I don't quite have another hobby to be so obsessive about, so I've gone back to reading about food, particularly how to prepare various types of food items. I've also gotten into couponing, being frugal, and simple living. And well, there's that job hunt...I'm currently impatiently awaiting a reply back, and yet it is only early Saturday.

So what WAS at Betar today? Well, I guess I missed retired DEC guy. Wood Duck guy was there today, and he showed me great photos from a nightcam of some moose and deer and a bear in his yard. The juvenile double-crested cormorant who I've seen there repeatedly like a trusty old friend was nowhere to be seen. And the juvenile cooper's hawk I enjoyed watching flying around the beach area while escaping some crows was not there. But the place is now loaded with American goldfinches! It is their breeding time, and Betar does have thistle. Cedar waxwings are everywhere there since all the berrying plants are ripe and one can never get enough views of those guys. There's been in increase in black-capped chickadees there and I'm not sure why, unless the increase is due to all the fledglings. American robins are of course all over there now, I saw a nest last week that had nestlings so close to fledgling status. And while I couldn't find the two juvenile still-fuzzy Canada geese that have been there on the edge of the river, I did catch a view of 17 adults swimming in the middle of the river.

There have also reliably been some barn swallows where I used to see tree swallows (and the tree swallows have been absent). I've had a blast peering at their extremely forked tails with my new bins. There's a great blue heron that has been lingering, even non-birders ask me about the bird. Today the heron was hiding way off past the beach, along the shoreline. I later spooked the heron from the tiny pool of water when you first enter Betar if you park near the beach parking. Woodpeckers are everywhere here, I tend to get plenty of downies, a flicker, a red-bellied, and a pileated. Yellow warblers are still around in very low numbers, as are Baltimore orioles...the American redstarts are gone. The Carolina wren I've heard since early May is still in the same spot, singing loudly (and I was woken by one this morning). I'm still getting plenty of catbirds mewing and scolding me. Song sparrows are aplenty, and be careful if you think you're hearing a towhee - I followed a towhee song one day only to find it was coming out of the head of a song sparrow, much to my confusion.

Sneak around the inlet and you're likely to find one or two juvenile wood ducks and maybe the adult female. Kingfishers and kingbirds are still around that spot, as are eastern phoebes.

The vireos are petering out too, I only had two red-eyes and two warblings.

So while birds are wrapping up their summers, I really wish the weather would wrap it up too!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Post-Research Blues

I've finished the summer research on the social structure of a common yellowthroat population. I've been having a conundrum - Southern Adirondack Audubon I'm sure would love me to do a write-up for their newsletter, so do I talk about the research in here too? Or do I wait?

The universe has administered beatings ever since that finished - I came down with Lyme Disease 2.0, the antibiotics have constantly made me nauseated, I cannot find a full-time job (but I do now have 2 part-time retail ones, meh) and instead of going to do more research I desire to try to pay off one of my student loans instead. And, well, things aren't working out with that due to the job misery! GAH.

I've snuck some birding in lately though. I'm back regularly at the Betar Byway, and have made a new friend out of a retired DEC guy who has begun frequently walking there too. He's super cool, and I hope he can make it to the Audubon walks on Fridays at Betar, as he wants to go. I also met a really neat fisherman from Arizona there. Betar is, of course, bird-y as ever, and if you live in this area and haven't been, well, get your butt over there. My current favorite is the juvenile Double-crested Cormorant who apparently is in love with that part of the Hudson River. The perfect sighting of a juvenile Cooper's Hawk being mobbed by crows was also amazing, watching the hawk wheel and dart through the trees. A fledgling yellowthroat made it's way over there one day, causing me to seriously miss research.

I also bought binoculars - REAL BIRDING binoculars, finally, after two years! I will not discuss was I was using before. Too embarrassing. This trip was also somewhat embarrassing, as I obtained a speeding ticket driving back from the first shop I went to.. I also will not mention what shop that was, but it was terrible. The owner has become a bitter man, and has a collection of only one very terrible brand. So I drove back up to Wild Birds Unlimited in Wilton, NY and tried out 4 pairs of binoculars. This might not sound like enough to you, but I had been there in May and tried out a lot more. It didn't take long this time for me to want to refuse to give back a pair of 8x42 Eagle Ranger ED bins. These things are amazing. I nearly fell over the first time I looked at an actual bird through them. I have a really hard time putting them down at all!

Yesterday I finally summited Buck Mountain (2330 ft, 6.6 mile trail)! I've tried this before, but the trail is rather brutal - steep, rocky, with some wet crossings, and no good views until the very summit. I regretted not bringing my binoculars yesterday, I could have received great views of hermit thrushes, of which the woods were loaded with, surpassed only by a surplus of red-eyed vireos who sang all the way up until near the top. The habitat near the summit changed to stands of red pine mixed with hemlock, and other stands of striped maple - this was loaded with woodpeckers, including hairy, pileated, and what sounded like yellow-bellied sapsuckers. The summit itself was chock-full of blueberries and huckleberries all ripe and so there were purple finches and cedar waxwings, and I wasn't surprised to be visited by a few dark-eyed juncos: I always find them on mountaintops here in the summer. A lone common raven called loudly near the summit, unseen.