Common Loon (Gavias immer)

Common Loon - New Baltimore, Greene Co., NY - Photo by Will Raup

Typically Common Loons are long gone from the Hudson-Mohawk area by the time Christmas Counts roll around.  This year however, with the mild conditions, water remained open on many of the lakes and reservoirs, keeping the Loons happy much later than normal.  In early January we had several cold days, with temperatures at  night in the City of Albany at or below 0 F, many of the outlying areas between -5 and -20 F, meant a rapid freeze up of water.  I stopped by Cornell Park in New Baltimore (Greene Co. NY) and was surprised to see a Common Loon on the Hudson River.  Loons typically don’t like moving water (like rivers), but given the rapid freeze up of the Lakes, this bird was no doubt forced to the River.  Making the situation even more interesting was the fact that huge ice sheets were moving down river.  There was a real danager of this Loon getting trapped by Ice, but it also pushed the bird very close to shore where I was standing, allowing me some of the most personal views and photographs of this species I normally only see at a distance through a scope.

I returned later in the day, to find that entire area choked with Ice, no open water at all.  But I didn’t see the Loon either, so hopefully he made it further south towards the coast.

Common Loon with Fish. New Baltimore, Greene Co., NY - Photo by Will Raup

Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)

The Hermit Thrush is one of the hardiest Thrushes in its family, prefering to winter in the U.S. as far North as New England, eeking out a survival among the native and ornamental berries.  They are typcially found in larger flocks of other birds such as American Robin or White-throated Sparrows.  Recently at Vosburgh’s Marsh in Greene County, NY, I “spished” at a group of sparrows in the underbrush and the first bird to pop out was a Hermit Thrush.  Given how mild and snowless the winter has been thus far, I was not surprised to see one at this location (a spot nortorius for half-hardies).  I was more surprised however to see it sit still long enough for me to photograph him/her.  With the rest of the world a dead brown and gray color, the rufous on the tail looked like it was blazing when I saw the bird in real life.  Sometimes, no matter how good a photo is, nothing beats seeing a bird with your own eyes.

Hermit Thrush, Vosburgh's Marsh, Greene Co, New York - Photo by Will Raup

Butterfly Kisses

Using our Kaufman butterfly field guide that we won from our friends at http://10000birds.com/ we were able to tell that all of the small blue butterflies we found dancing up and down the paths at Vosburgh’s Marsh were, Spring Azures.  Kaufman calls them widespread and common.  They occur in spring and summer in the north east and are often thought to be one of the first signs of spring here.  So while Will went off in search of spring warblers I got distracted by the little things along the way. 

-Vosburgh’s Marsh, and 4 mile point-

Is a track of land half way between Hudson and Cosxackie NY along the Hudson river.  It is owned by a local organization called Scenic Hudson that preserves historical and environmentally relevant land along the Hudson river Vally.   http://www.scenichudson.org/parks/fourmilepoint  

In a accessible point of view the trails are wide, dirt or grass paths that may not be suited to people with disabilities.  But there are parking lots at both ends of the road, and the mile drive goes through many different habits so there is plenty to see whether you’re in the car or out.  There is not much traffic on the road and as long as you use the marked lots you wont have to face the dogs ;)

This description was taken from http://library.fws.gov/pubs5/web_link/text/upp_hud.htmt ,  and while it maybe out of date being that the most recent year i could find in the article was 1996, it has relevance in its documenting what this area was and is to this day.

SIGNIFICANT HABITATS AND HABITAT COMPLEXES
OF THE NEW YORK BIGHT WATERSHED

Upper Hudson River Estuary
COMPLEX #33

Vosburgh Swamp-Middle Ground Flats is a freshwater wetland
complex extending for 6.4 kilometers (4 miles) along the western shore of the
Hudson, upstream from the village of Athens at river kilometer 192 (river mile
119). This 486-hectare (1,200-acre) complex includes mudflats, shallows,
freshwater tidal marsh, freshwater marsh, palustrine hardwood swamp, dredged
material bank islands habitat, and freshwater creek, i.e., a 0.8-kilometer
(0.5-mile) section of Murderers Creek to the first barrier, the Sleepy Hollow
Lake Dam. This area’s habitat values for fish and waterfowl are similar to those
of a number of sites already described. What is unusual is that Middle Ground
Flats contains one of the only known bank swallow (Riparia riparia)
breeding colonies in the area. Several rare plants occur here, including
exemplary occurrences of heart-leaf plantain and southern estuarine
beggar-ticks, as well as kidneyleaf mud-plantain and smooth bur-marigold.

Lapland Longspur

These were taken at the Coxsackie Flats in Greene County, New York on January 8, 2011.  We had traveled down to Coxsackie following  a moderate snow storm the day before which helped to concentrate birds on the road side.  Earlier in the day an American Pipit had been reported, but we were unable to relocate it, but the Lapland Longspurs were a nice consolation prize!

Lapland Longspur, Coxsackie, Greene County, NY

Lapland Longspur, Coxsackie, Greene County, NY

Lapland Longspur, Coxsackie, Greene County, NY

Groused!

Christmas Bird Counts always provide opportunities to photograph birds.  During the Albany County CBC, we were able to photograph Ruffed Grouse, a species that is experiencing some drastic declines across New York and in general.  Yet in Greene Count, New York, especially in the higher terrain, this species is still pretty common.  Below are some photos of a pair of Grouse, that were were so focused on us, they were nearly hit by a passing car!  Luckily everyone survived, but not without ruffling a few Grouse feathers.

Ruffed Grouse, Greene County, New York

Do you have a point? This bird does, right at the top of its head!

Ruffed Grouse, Greene County, New York

Ruffed Grouse, Greene County, New York

Foxy Birds

Fox Sparrow primarily a migrant in the Eastern New York area, most common in from mid March to mid April and again in October.  They breed north of New York in Canada and winter further south.  However most Christmas Bird Counts in the area, frequently record Fox Sparrow but not every year.

This past year, Danika and I were covering our regular area for the Albany County CBC and we were at about the southernmost point in the count circle and our territory, it was late afternoon and the birding had been slow.  We saw something fly off the side of the road and both Danika and I though Hermit Thrush.  As we approached the spot, 3 more reddish birds take off.  Finally we got one of the birds to pop-up, where we could ID them as Fox Sparrows!  Even during migration it is fairly rare to see more than one or two Fox Sparrows, but we had 4 in one View!  This sighting got us a lot of congratulations at the compilation dinner, but even now, several months later, we still marvel at the photos!

Fox Sparrow, Greene County, New York

Fox Sparrow, Albany County CBC, Greene County, New York

Fox Sparrow, Greene County, New York

3 Fox Sparrows, Greene County, New York

Fox Sparrow, Greene County, New York

Fox Sparrow, Greene County, New York

From Iceland With Love

This past winter was a banner year for Gulls at the Coxsackie Boat Launch in Greene County, New York.  Besides the “Big 3″ (Ring-billed, Herring and Greater Black-backed Gulls), Lesser Black-backed and Glaucous Gulls were frequently found, but Iceland Gull, both adult and immature were nearly common from January to mid March.  One particular young Iceland Gull was a bully, frequently making himself the sole recipient of any handouts from people.  Of course this meant you were able to get some killer looks at this species and of course, some photographs.  Makes me look forward to next winter!

Iceland Gull, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY

Iceland Gull, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY

Iceland Gull, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY

Ring-billed Gulls with Iceland Gull for comparison, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY

A great shot showing the wings and tail of an Iceland Gull, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY

Ring-billed Gulls with Iceland Gull, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY