Jumpin’ Larks

Horned Lark, Rensselaer County, New York

Part of winter birding in Upstate New York, often involves driving around farm fields looking for raptors and other winter birds.  One bird that is found commonly is Horned Lark.  Danika and I found a group of Horned Larks in rural Rensselaer County and they entertained us, by frequently jumping up to knock seeds off weeds that were sticking out of the snow.  Good Birding!

Horned Lark, Rensselaer County, New York

Horned Lark, Rensselaer County, New York

Getting ready to leap! Horned Lark, Rensselaer County, New York

Horned Lark, Rensselaer County, New York

Horned Lark, Rensselaer County, New York

Horned Lark, Rensselaer County, New York

Southern Rensselaer County CBC, December 27, 2008

Jory Langer (The Quiz Master at 10,000 Birds) and I covered Ssection “A” of the Southern Rensselaer County CBC.  Our section (which ironically is entirelyy in Albany County) covered the area from Henry Hudson Park in Bethlehem to Menands and includes all of downtown Albany and lots of the Hudson River.

I met Jory at 6am in the parking lot of the K-Mart in Glenmont.  As soon as he arrived, it started pouring rain, putting the kabosh on any thoughts of Owling.  After spending 20 minutes in his car discussing different digital cameras, at 6:30am we headed into Panera’s for breakfast.

45 minutes later, the rain had let up and the sky was slowly graying.  We headed down to our first stop, Henry Hudson Park in the Town of Bethlehem.

Arriving, we spotted the usually assortment of American Crows, a few Tufted Titmice called from the woods, along with American Robin, Northern Cardinal and Pileated Woodpecker.

While checking out a hunk of floating ice with the scope (Trying to make them into Scoters) a 1st year Bald Eagle floated through the view on chunk of ice. 

From there we headed north, birding a lot of the side roads off Rt. 144, adding many common birds along the way, but nothing very exciting.  The rain came on and off, making viewing difficult at times and making us not want to get out of the car a lot of the time.

With the poor weather and lack of birds, we were moving through our territory faster than we really wanted to, and after a brief stop at a Cumberland Farm’s to use the restrooms and obtain refreshment, we headed off to the Port of Albany.

Now, Ports are not scenic places.  In fact they are awful to look at, and worse yet to smell.  Mostly what comes through the Port of Albany is food stuffs (including grain), cars and fuel.  Yet despite the dreary surroundings, birds can be found, if you look hard enough.

As we passed through the Port, hundreds of American Crows were found picking through the grain and compost heaps.  On another building easily 700+ Rock Pigeons were found, along with 100+ Canada Geese feeding on spilled grain.  All the while, the occasional Red-tailed Hawk was seen along with the big 3 Gulls (Ring-billed, Great-Black Backed and Herring).

Stopping at Island Creek Park (a tiny City Park in the most unlikely spot), getting out of the car we quickly heard the distinctive nasal call of the Fish Crow.  Along the shores of the park, a whole bunch of Mallards, just up from them was a bright white gull.  I could only get glimpse of it before it floated past my view, but I knew it was something good.  I called over to Jory and he and I made our way around the various 18 Wheelers (a truck stop is next to the park) and there nearly 10′ away was a 1st year Iceland Gull!  It was still, clear and rather tame.  Of course my camera was back in the car, I ran quickly to get it, but by the time I returned a Red-tailed Hawk had gone by and flushed everything, and though I tried to re-locate the bird, I couldn’t.  I didn’t bring the camera with me, because of the rain…  Drat!

From there our birding slowed down considerably.  We checked several more River vantage points, adding more gulls and Mallards, but little else.  We checked the factories and ponds in Menands where rare birds had been spotted in the past, with almost no bird life on this day.

To Round off our 1st half of the day, Jory and I made our way by car through Albany Rural Cemetery and St. Agnes Cemetery, adding a few more common birds, but nothing exciting.  Albany Rural Cemetery is one of the most famous ones in the United States and has the honor of being the resting place of President Chester A. Arthur.

After a quick lunch turned into a long lunch at the Albany Pump Station, Jory and I headed back south again, retracing our morning path.  It was now much warmer (by about 10 degrees) and the rain had all but stopped and the sun was peaking through in spots.  A few Common Mergansers were now visible on the River and another young Bald Eagle was seen soaring over the Port.

We noticed a small blob on an electrical pole at the Port, which closer inspection via scope revealed to be a Merlin!  But other than what we saw earlier there was nothing new to report.

Heading south along the side roads, we added more common birds we had missed earlier.  At the end of one road, a feeder had 15 Red-winged Blackbirds at it, a good find for December in Upstate New York and as of this writing, were the only Red-winged Blackbirds on the count!  But that would be our last good find of the day and by 3:30pm, Jory and I had had it and went our separate ways.  Jory did go to the compilation dinner, while I went home and decided to have a 100 degree fever (thankfully I recover quickly).

I have never had a bad CBC, they are always fun and almost always turn up something good and Iceland Gull and Merlin certainly are not every day occurrences in this neck of the woods.

Snowy Owl Rescue!

Today was the first day in a long time I didn’t have anything pressing to do, so Danika and I packed up the kids and planned a full day of birding, mostly looking for Crossbills in Western Albany County.  We had stopped at Dunkin Donuts to get some ‘supplies’, when my cell phone rang.  It was a call from a former co-worker and someone who volunteers at the USS Slater in downtown Albany, Mike Collins.  He told me there was a Snowy Owl “in the water”.  I pressed him for more details, thinking he had a Ring-billed Gull.  His description seemed to fit and he told me that the local Peregrine Falcons were harassing the bird constantly.  I told him I would check it out.
He called me back a few minutes later to say that the Albany PD had come down and done nothing and a call to DEC went unanswered.  They (at the Slater) had called Rensselaer County Animal Control and were awaiting a call back.  He also told me the bird seemed to be ‘drifting’ in the water, not a good sign I thought.
I arrived at the small park on the Rensselaer side of the river, but was unable to locate the bird (I could see a white blob as we drove over the Dunn).  Mike called me back to say the bird had stopped moving, and with that news my heart sank.  However an adult Peregrine Falcon went by at that time and started bombing an area of shoreline I couldn’t see.  So I figured the Owl was still alive.
We decided to change locations and headed over to the Slater parking lot (next to the U-Haul building in Albany).  Once there, I could clearly make out via binoculars and scope that this was indeed a Snowy Owl, a heavily streaked youngster.  However the bird looked awful, wings drooping and a general disheveled look.  The Peregrine Falcons constantly bombed it and the Owl reacted with each pass, so I was able to confirm the bird was alive.  At this point I called Corey Finger, who gave me Rich Guthrie’s  cell phone number.  I talked to Rich who passed the word to see what we could do to help the bird and then he headed up to check the bird out.  A few moments later we could see the Animal control officer on the Rensselaer side, whom we tried to flag down to give a clue as to where the bird was (at this point the Owl had climbed up the shoreline a bit into some bushes).  But he seemed oblivious.

 About half and hour later, Rich arrived and confirmed that the bird did not look well.  He headed across to the Renssealer side to see if he could help, while Danika and I stayed on the Albany side an acted as spotters.  After about another half an hour of guiding Rich and the Animal control officer up and down the river bank and one last gasp escape attempt by the Owl (it tried to run away, not fly) Rich was able to literally reach down and pick the Owl up, where it was taken to the Animal control van and the plan was to get it to a rehabilitator as soon as possible.
 OWL In Arms
Rich reported that the bird was, as guessed emaciated.  I don’t think the bird would have survived much longer, but now at least it has a chance.

In addition to the Owl and Peregrine Falcons, there was also a Merlin, Mallards, Ring-billed and Great Black Backed Gulls.
I did end up spending the rest of the day birding and will have a seperate report later.

I also want to say a special thanks to Mike Collins and Rich Ireland from the USS Slater, without their efforts, this bird was sure to perish.