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This description was taken from http://library.fws.gov/pubs5/web_link/text/upp_hud.htmt ,  and while it maybe out of date being that the most recent year i could find in the article was 1996, it has relevance in its documenting what this area was and is to this day.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

2007 Birding Year in Review

For anyone who cares, I finished 2007 with 251 species in New York State, throw in a few species I picked up while on vacation in Disney World in Florida and that number only goes up to 255.  Certainly this is well short of Corey’s big year of 316 or Rich Guthrie  at 317, but I’m not retired nor do I have a girlfriend in law school who happens to live only a short drive from Jamaica Bay.  I also have 2 young kids, which as Mike at 10,000 Birds understands is a challenge to give enough time, effort and energy to both loves.

There were of course a lot of great moments, I’ll have to admit I spent a lot of with Corey of 10,000 Birds.  In February we had two great trips one was north to Oregon Plains Road where we might have had the best success of anyone, with stunning looks at Red and White-winged Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch and a nice and very cooperative group of Gray Jays.  Another trek that same month was on Presidents day to Jones Beach to seek a bird, which I shall not name here.  It was cold, cold and cold.  It was also the first time I got to meet Mike from 10,000 Birds  (noticing a theme here).

There was also the Short-Eared Owl spectacular in Ft. Edward, which I saw with both Corey and my Wife.  By late March, Corey and I were standing in a snow covered field listening for American Woodcock, which did not sound but we found many tracks in the snow.  We also got to hear hooting Great-Horned Owls, a new property bird for that location.

March was also a fabled trip to Lake Champlain to look for Tufted Duck and the first time I met Jory.  We saw nearly every kind of duck that day including Barrow’s Goldeneye and Eurasian Wigeon, but no Tufted Duck.

April the great excitement builds for migration and we made lots of little local trips.

In May I headed down the NYC over mothers day to participate in the New York City Audubon Birding Challenge, where once again the team from Staten Island that I was one narrowly edged out the team from Brooklyn for the victory.  A week later I joined Corey, Chad Witko and my wife to do the HMBC Century Run, where despite miserable conditions we finished with over 120 species in 24 hours.

In June, 4 bird bloggers (Corey and Mike from 10,000 Birds, Patrick from The Hawk Owls Nest and myself) traveled over hill and dale in search of field birds such as Henlow’s Sparrow and Upland Sandpiper and the next day climbing a mountain in the dark to listen to the surreal song of the Bicknell’s Thrush (and we also got Mike his life Ruffed Grouse).

July had yet another trip up north with Tom W., Jory and Corey to search for Spruce Grouse, in one of the most remote and dramatic places I had ever visited in the Adirondacks, the trip was a bust on our target species, but no trip to the Adirondacks is ever a bust.

August is time for shorebirdsand other than a quick trip to Montezuma NWR in Central New York to get Sandhill Cranes (and missing a Whimbrelbecause we were lazy), we spent a lot of time at the Cohoes Flats and Peebles Island.  Corey had his mystery shorebird, that even David Sibley commented on, but a lot of the sightings would not have been possible without Zach B., who spent a lot of time looking through every shorebird in Cohoes, and eventually would turn up a pair of American Golden Plovers a rather uncommon bird in these parts.  I also was one of two people to snag a briefly stopping Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Albany County (Thanks Rich and Corey!)

September Corey and I did the first ever fall Century Run with the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club.  We were one of only two groups that participated (it was labor day weekend) but we ended with around 90 species.

October Corey went to Germany and I hung around the house.  November rolled in with winter finches and waxwings and it wasn’t long before Common Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, Northern Shrike and Bohemian Waxwingwere all added to my year list.  A late trip to Noblewood on the shores of Lake Champlain also got us a late Dunlin and a Little Gull (Hey Corey, we saw a Little Gull!)

December was spent doing Christmas counts, in Saratoga, Albany, Rensselaer and Columbia Counties and while I only added one new species (Snow Goose which I had somehow managed to miss up till then), but there is nothing I like better than spending the day counting birds.

What’s in store for 2008?  Well who knows, as of this writing I’m 10 days in to the year and haven’t gone birding once.  Too tired, a little stressed and generally distracted.  I will however I have the opportunity to be on the Gulf coast the first week in April, so hopefully I’ll get something good out of that!

Catskill-Coxsackie Christmas Bird Count

How your day starts, when doing a big day or Christmas Bird Count, is obviously key to the rest of the day.  This past Tuesday, Corey from 10,000 Birds  and Matt Medler and myself were participating in the Catskill-Coxsackie Christmas Bird Count.  We would actually be covering much of eastern Columbia County north of the City of Hudson.

Pulling out of my driveway a little after 6 am, with temperatures only a few ticks above zero, I was dismayed to found that the wonderful City of Albany had plowed me in yet again.  Being lazy and already running a tad late, I tried to drive through it.  I didn’t make it and got stuck.  So I had to call my Wife Danika and she helped me shovel out the car and drove it while I gave it a good push.  Soon enough I had picked up my passengers and we were on our way to Section A.

This territory unlike some of the other territory I cover for other Christmas Bird Counts, is more suburban than rural.  What rural areas there are were mostly small farms, fields and hedgerows.  This may explain why we had a ridiculous amount of Red-tailed Hawks, 38 all total for the day.  We also had good numbers of other field birds such American Tree Sparrow(not as many as in Saratoga), Snow Bunting and Horned Lark.  A Lapland Longspur that was feeding with two Savannah Sparrows along a roadside was the highlight of the day.

Although this territory has considerable amounts of water with the Hudson River, we were dismayed to find it largely frozen.  We were able to find a good group of Mallards and American Black Ducks, along with Canada Geese on the Ice.  A nice flock of Common Mergansers flew by and we found a very cold looking Belted Kingfisher as well.  We had little luck with Bald Eagles with only 2 sightings, one adult and one immature.

This count is somewhat famous for its half-hardies upstate.  Our sector had our fair share with Corey managing to spish up a Hermit Thrush and later would dodge a freight train and an Amtrak train to track down a Swamp Sparrow.  A nice flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds (how often do you hear that?), a couple of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and good numbers of Northern Mockingbird and Carolina WrenSong Sparrows came in with 8, and 3 Savannah Sparrows were a nice find.  Raptors outside of Red-tailed Hawks were limited, we had one Northern Harrier (A Gray Ghost no less), 2 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 1 Cooper’s Hawk.

Since this is a winter for winter finches, we had a few.  Matt and I heard a lone Common Redpoll flyover at one point and we all got a good look at one Common Redpoll and I was able to see an additional 5 on a thistle feeder before they all flew off.  We also had 9 Purple Finches (all females) and over 100 American Goldfinches (including 40+ in one field).

Notable misses include, Cedar Waxwing, Brown Creeper, Ruffed Grouse, Golden-Crowned Kinglet and Great Blue Heron. Eastern Bluebird numbers were respectable, American Robins were in the thousands as usual and European Starlings were getting upwards of 5,000 individuals.  2 Snow Geese at the end of a long skein of Canada Geese at the end of the day, were also good finds.

All in all I had a great day birding (nice to meet you Matt), we found one good bird and finished they day with 49 species in our sector, not bad for Mid December!  Be sure you check out Corey’s tale over at 10,000 Birds, where I’m sure he’ll have a photo or two to share as well as the days complete totals!

It goes to show that just because your day starts by getting stuck in your driveway on a snow bank, it doens’t mean the rest of your day will be bad as well.  Even when we did get slightly stuck later (Corey and Matt make good pushers if anyone cares), we discovered one of our Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers there, so luck was with us!

My next CBC is (hopefully) the Southern Albany County CBC this Saturday!

September Century Run

There was actually a slight chill to the air when I stepped outside of my home to my car.  The calendar read the first of September, still several weeks of summer left to go, but the air had a decidedly fall feel.  The grass was heavy with dew as was the car when I got in.  A damp, fall smell hung pungent on the pre-dawn air. 

Enough about the setting, I was out to find birds, Dammit! 

Getting in the car I zoomed through the streets of Albany, running red lights and stop signs and got to Corey’s in record time (actually I didn’t do that, but still got there pretty quick).  I jumped into his car and we made our way to our first stop of the day Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve in Southern Saratoga County, New York.  The preserve is located between the Old Erie Canal and the Mohawk River. 

We arrived shortly after sunrise at about 6:15am.  There we met Zach who would be joining us for this first part.  The grass was very wet with dew and it wasn’t long before we all had wet feet and pants.  The birds were slow to wake, with many common species present including Great-Blue and Green Heron, Black-Capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Wood Duck, Downy Woodpecker and Cedar Waxwing.  A little stroll further down got us nice looks at an Eastern Wood-Pewee and Purple Finch.  Some exploration down some of the side trails didn’t yield much, but I did see 2 Juvenile Black-Crowned Nightherons fly over and land somewhere in the marsh.  It has been an amazing year for this species in these parts. 

Between Cardinals chipping, Catbirds mewing and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks squeaking things were slow.  Very slow.  Not a good sign when you a trying to do a Century Run.  We followed Corey who led us to some spots where he had some success the day before, but we came away with little to show.  The most exciting bird?  Likely a Least Flycatcher that was calling. 

On and on we went, more wet than anything.  Finally as we came around the west end of the preserve we had a nice little mixed flock.  Hairy Woodpecker and Magnolia Warbler were new additions.  Further down a Red-bellied Woodpecker (oddly our only one of the day) Brown Creeper and the normal assortment of birds. Finally we hit a very active mixed flock of birds.  First to be spotted was Chestnut-Sided Warbler, then Black-throated Green Warbler.  Zach then blurted out “Tennessee Warbler!” and Corey was able to get on it.  I missed it (Because I was looking at something else) but was able to every so briefly relocate it later.  A crappy view of a lifer to be sure, but that’s what keeps me going out into the field.  However our attention quickly turned to another warbler with two very bold white-wing bars.  It was Corey who was able to say aloud what we were thinking, “Bay-breasted Warbler!” another lifer for me (pretty much wrapping up my New York State Warblers).  The flock moved on and so did we, but we were feeling a lot better. 

The walk back along the tow path we picked up Eastern Phoebe and Scarlet Tanager.  On the pond over 50 Blue-winged Teal were present (along with a Green-winged), a surprising number for a species that has been in a general decline in the region for some time. We left the preserve with nearly 60 species and headed to the end of Ferry Drive and found nothing.  From there we parted ways with Zach and Corey and I hit Stewarts (no birding trip is complete without a Stewies) and a quick trip down the Northway got us a Red-tailed Hawk.   We hit the Pine Bush, mostly to get to the dump to look for Black Vulture. 

On the way through we got Red-breasted Nuthatch and the ubiquitous Eastern Towhee.  We also got Sharp-shinned Hawk, House Finch, Turkey Vulture, Fish Crow and a late calling Black-billed Cuckoo. By mid day the sun was high and we were getting hot and tired.  We traveled south to Stanton Pond and got Gadwall, House Sparrow and Barn Swallow.  We looked over both the Alcove and Basic Reservoirs but found nothing. 

We took some back roads down to the Coxsackie Reservoir and again found nothing.  We knew it was too early in the year to expect waterfowl but hey you never know. We hit the Coxsackie Creek Grasslands preserve and added Bobolink.  While I don’t doubt we saw Savannah Sparrow none of the buggers called or showed themselves.  Realizing we were not going to get 100 birds, we hit another Stewarts to drown our sorrows. 

Revived, we took a quick drive through the Coxsackie Flats were in a couple of months I will be spending a lot of time looking for winter birds.  But found nothing.  Onto Vosburgh’s Marsh/Four Mile Point in hopes of a Mute Swan or two, but a quick hike in allowed us to flush a Great-Horned Owl and an Osprey flew through the Marsh.  We next went to  Coxsackie Landing, New Baltimore and Coeymans Landings hoping for something along the Hudson River (namely an Eagle) but all we added was a Wood Thrush in the little preserve in Coeymans. 

Corey took the Thruway north and for once in the time I’ve known him actually made good on one of his sure bets.  He said there are always Wild Turkey near exit 23 on the Thruway (his Bittern guarantee last May was a bust), but sure enough there they were. 

Onto Papscanee Island in Rensselaer County, where we hoped for some help.  A Carolina Wren was calling and young Northern Harrier was hunting in the fields.  We discovered another large flock of Bobolinks.  We then went to the south end where we briefly walked into the preserve and Corey’s young life nearly ended on the wing beats of a Ruffed Grouse. 

Further down we were nearly killed by a group of people driving a U-haul truck down the trail!  A woman on the back of the truck warned us of the ‘Monster that would bite our heads off’.  Needless to say there was no monster, our heads are still firmly attached to our shoulders, but there is a lot less drift/fire wood left in the preserve.  Corey and I guess that these folks didn’t have permission to take the wood, but we will never know. 

Our last stop was Cohoes Flats for shorebirds.  Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs were easily spotted and Least Sandpipers as well.  Semipalmated Plovers scurried before us and Killdeer swarmed the place.  The Black-Crowned Nightherons which have been present here for over a month were still there that evening along with all three common gull species.  A Merlin made a quick pass at some passing Blue-winged Teal and a Peregrine Falcon tried to take out a gull.  A lone Chimney Swift flew overhead.  On the way back to Albany a young Cooper’s Hawk flew over 787 and was the last bird of the day. 

Below are 3 pictures from the big day.  I didn’t get a lot of photographic chances but here are pictures of a Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers and a Semipalmated Plover.  We finished with 90 species, ten short of our goal, but better prepared to do better next year!

Lesser Yellowlegs, Cohoes Flats

Least Sandpipers, Take that Sibley!

Semipalmated Plover