Every Wednesday I will examine and showcase some of the best birding sites in the Capital District area of New York. Some of these sites are huge, others small but hold interesting birds. Where available I will give the best directions and what species you can expect to find.
Five River Environmental Education Center, New Scotland, New York
No matter what level of bird watcher you are Five Rivers is a can’t miss stop on any birding journey. Located in suburban Albany, Five Rivers is a pleasant mix of many different habitats, including woods, ponds, marsh, fields of various ages and orchards. They also have well stocked feeders and an information kiosk inside the interpretive building dedicated to bird watching. The grounds generally attract between 150 and 200 species annually, with nearly 100 species possible on a good day in May.
Five Rivers is located off Game Farm Road (Mapquest if need be) in Delmar. It is advisable to start birding as close to dawn as possible in the warmer months as many locals use it for a jogging park. Dogs are not allowed on the trails. Once arriving at the Center parking lot, I like to get warmed up by walking the Woodlot Trail which located adjacent to the parking lot. If you are there in the early morning or late evening, keep an eye (and ear) out for Eastern-Screech Owl which frequents the woods. Otherwise you will find mostly common birds, Black-Capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-Eyed and Warbling Vireo, Blue Jay, Downy Woodpecker, American Robin, Gray Catbird etc. This trail is handicapped accessible and is also kid friendly.
From there cross Game Farm Road (maps are available at the visitors center if you require more information) and begin the Beaver Trail. The first 50’ of this trail can be very productive birding, especially in migration. Continue down the trail and take your first right and follow the trail up an incline. This will open up and give views of Beaver Pond, the largest of the ponds at Five Rivers. Check for Mallard, Wood Duck and Canada Goose. Green and Great Blue Herons can often be found hunting along the edges. Also keep an eye out for Spotted Sandpiper. Osprey and other ducks can be found here during migration. Continue following the trail down towards the pond and you will go over a footbridge. Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler and Song and Swamp Sparrows frequent this area. Follow the trail into an evergreen grove and keep right. Pileated Woodpecker frequents this area and the area is good for Warblers. Follow the trail and cross Game Farm Road again, keeping an eye now on both the Beaver and Wood Duck Ponds. The marsh on your left has held Virginia Rail, Sora and American Bittern. Keep an eye over the water for Barn, Tree, Bank and Northern Rough-Winged Swallows.
Cross over the bridge which divides the two ponds and take the road to the left. Red-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Warbler and other woodland birds can be found here. You never know what you can find in the marsh on your left as well. Follow the road past the Teacher’s resource center (and another set of well stocked feeders) keeping an ear out for warblers. Northern Waterthrush can be found in the wet thickets near the marsh. At the end of the road another trail begins called Fordham’s Crossing. About 100 yards into the woods, keep an ear out for Louisiana Waterthrush which nests along the Vloman Kill. Woodland birds are common, especially Ruffed Grouse and Brown Creeper. Great Horned Owl frequents these woods and Barred Owl is a rare visitor. Continue down and around the kill, keeping an eye out for a foot path that leads up. This should put you near a small pavilion near an access road where the field and North Loop trails come together. Eastern Bluebird, House Wren and Field Sparrow are common here. Blue-Winged and Prairie Warblers as well. American Kestrel can often be seen hunting from the wires nearby. Essentially walk straight from where you exited the woods and continue across an open field (heading NE) Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark can be found in the fields. Towards the end of this trail, another spur goes off to the left. Take it. Eastern Towhee and other scrub birds can be found here. A few hundred yards up, a path to right leads to a dead end and a bird watcher’s blind where you can look over Fox Marsh. Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Kingbird and shorebirds can be seen here. Retrace your steps to the main trail and continue on. This will put you past a couple of more ponds, which can always have surprises. Once back at the access road, turn left and follow the road into the woods. You will go past the 4 research ponds (and one nasty Canada Goose, heed the warnings people!) Just as the road enters the woods and large trail/road goes off to the left. In the evergreens here Long-Eared Owl has been found roosting in winter. American Woodcock, Wild Turkey and Ruffed Grouse can also be found. Continue forward taking your next right. This will put you on the Wild Turkey trail; this area has often been productive for warblers. Continue on and take your SECOND right and walk along the edge of the fields. Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark again can be found and watch for both Red-Tailed Hawk and Northern Harrier. Savannah Sparrow is often found here as well and keep an ear out for the rare but similar sounding Grasshopper Sparrow. Continue along the trail until it enters the woods again. This part of the trail can also be very productive. Follow down into the little valley then up until it connects with another trail. Turns left here and go along the crab-apple orchard. In winter, with a crab apple crop, many birds can be found especially Cedar Waxwing and American Robin. Pine Grosbeak is rare in winter, but often appears in this location when it does come south. It is also worth checking out the feeders near the buildings for interesting birds. At this point you are back in the parking lot, stop in at the visitor’s center and report your sightings as well as check out the feeders, which sometimes hold the best birds of the day. Say hello to the wounded Barred Owl they have there as well.
There are obviously many ways to bird Five Rivers and many different combinations of trails. The above description is the route I normally take and that I have found to have the largest number of species. There are many different trails and areas which are very productive, some birded more than others. With so many combinations, you can bird Five Rivers often without getting repetitive. It is beyond a doubt, one of the top 5 places to bird in the Capital District.