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

Something Fishy is Going On…

Its been a mild and snowless winter to say the least, thus far.  As a result of mother nature and the anti-American Crow roost efforts by the City of Albany, I don’t have the thousands upon thousands of American Crows in my back yard.  Sure hundreds, if not thousands still fly over the house at dusk, likely to a roost site along the Hudson River near Troy.  But the lack of these big bullies, have given their smaller cousin a chance to shine.

Each day about 8-12 Fish Crows take up residence in my backyard.  They visit my poor excuse of a feeder, torment my dog and keep me informed of any local Red-tailed Hawks.  The American Crows arrive shortly after dawn and set up camp a couple of yards down in my neighbors fen.  There they bathe, drink and frolic as only Crows can do.  Then there is this invisible line, a buffer zone, before my yard and my nasaled Fish friends.  But it is an uneasy peace.

At times the bigger, bolder American Crows will cross the border, sending the Fish Crows into noisily into full retreat, there they wait until whatever had forced the American Crows into the yard to go away and slowly the Fish Crows return.

Fish Crow was a relative new bird to Albany when I moved into the City, over 10 years ago.  Fish Crows have nested in my neighborhood (ironically away from water) nearly every year I have lived here, but only in the last few have they become part of the winter bird scene.  However, my yard is not the epicenter.  For that you must head over to Westgate Plaza in West Albany, where in the parking lots of the supermarkets you may find 20 or more Fish Crows, equally fighting for garbage among the Starlings, House Sparrows, Ring-billed Gulls and American Crows.

Watching the behaviors of any corvids is fascinating, but I find myself simply amazed by the actions of Fish Crows, as they have learned to co-exist with their cousins and as their population has grown, they have slowly, but steadily carved a niche for themselves amongst the city birds.

Perhaps I should write to the American Birding Association and suggest the Fish Crow as the bird of the Year?

As the Fish Crows would say…

“Ah-huh!”

50 Years of Warbler Springs – Have they really changed?

Recently I was looking at my own notes and thinking back to just last year.  In 2010, we had Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in our yard almost the entire month of May, 2011 – none (Edit: After I started writing this, the very next day we had several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in the year).  In 2010 we had Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Parula, Cape May Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush, in 2011 I had a single Black-throated Green in late April and a lone Black-throated Blue in early May (Edit:  You guessed it, a Magnolia Warbler was spotted after I started writing this!).  No thrushes of any kind, we used to hear at least Wood Thrush from some of the near by woodsy areas at dawn and dusk, but not this year.

So this all got me thinking about past springs in Eastern New York.  So I decided to look up the Spring reports from the New York Ornithological Associations, Kingbird archives from 1955, 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995 and 2005 to see what, if any changes in spring migration has happened.

1955 (KB: 1955 V5 N2)

The regional editor (James K. Meritt) mentioned that the weather was 4.2 degree above normal, with little rainfall until the end of May (when most migration is over).  The editor mentioned a general lack of migrants, especially warblers, the exception was White-Crowned Sparrow.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler were the only 2 warblers reported in April, but on May 1st of that year, Black-and-White Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Blackburnian Warbler, Nashville Warbler followed on May 3 and Golden-winged, Magnolia, Cape May and Chestnut-Sided Warbler arrived on May 7.  Northern Parula, Canada Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush (late) and Black-throated Blue Warbler (late) arrived on May 8.  Worm-Eating Warbler arrived on May 14 and a Yellow-breasted Chat (!) was seen on May 22.

Of note, Common Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak and Red Crossbill were all reported well into April and Evening Grosbeak was considered a common bird with flocks of up to 600 birds still reported. (Where are they now?)

1965 (KB: 1965 V13 N3)

Fast forwarding a decade, the Beatles were popular, the Vietnam War was about to begin, Sandy Koufax was striking out hitters and throwing no-hitters and Spring migration was unimpressive again.

This time the editor (Peter P. Wickham) echoed very much the same report of Meritt 10 years earlier.  April was about 4 degrees below normal and May was only about 1.7 above normal, but once again an extended dry and warm spell in late April through mid-May meant many migrants simply passed over Eastern New York.

Its interesting to note in this report how alarmed the editor was (and rightly so), he comments on the steep decline of Owls and all raptors both as breeders and migrants, but also noticed steep declines in rails, herons, bitterns and Pied-billed Grebe.  Of course we now know that many of these species were affected by DDT and in some cases would take almost another 50 years for these species to even come close their numbers prior to mid 1960′s.

Black-and-White Warbler (Apr 25), Worm-Eating Warbler (May 5), Golden-winged Warbler (May 6), Blue-winged Warbler* (May 4), Tennessee Warbler (May 10-19 all passed through), Nashville Warbler (Apr 27, early), Northern Parula (May 3, editor noted “more than usual”), Yellow Warbler* (Apr 28, likely ignored in the 1955 report because of its ‘common’ status), Magnolia Warbler (May 10-18, very similar to Tennessee), Cape May Warbler (May 1, early), Black-throated Blue Warbler (May 2), Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Apr 10), Black-throated Green Warbler (May 2, late), Blackburnian Warbler (May 2), Chestnut-sided Warbler (May 3), Bay-breasted Warbler* (May 8), Blackpoll Warbler* (May 13), Pine Warbler* (Apr 25, another one likely overlooked in the 1955 report, but editor only noted 2 sightings and considered both migrants, while a report from Northern Warren County in late May were considered breeders), Prairie Warbler* (May 6, again overlooked in the 1955 report), Palm Warbler* (Apr 18, editor noted more reports than usual),  Ovenbird* (May 2, very much overlooked in the 1955 report), Northern Waterthrush (May 6), Louisiana Waterthrush (Apr 25), KENTUCKY WARBLER (May 15-17, near Ghent, Columbia County.  Editor noted it as now “annual” in that area), Mourning Warbler* (May 15, only reported from nesting areas which is usual), Common Yellowthroat* (May 2, another very common warbler left off the 1955 report), Yellow-breasted Chat (May 10, this species will become nearly extirpated from the region soon along with Loggerhead Shrike and Barn Owl), Wilson’s Warbler* (May 13, can be tough to find), Canada Warbler (May 2, editor noted “rather few”), American Redstart* (May 5, yet another in a long list of common warblers, left out of the 1955 report).

*Birds reported in 1965 Spring Report that were not in the 1955 report.

1975 (KB: 1975 v25 n3)

The region 8 editor was Gladys Snell, who reported it was one of the coldest April’s on record in April, with it nearly 6 degrees colder than average and temperatures in the mid 20′s as late as April 27.  May was near normal both in terms of temperature and precipitation.  The 1970′s show a marked increase in the organization and abilities of your average bird watcher, especially compared to just 20 years earlier.  As a result, we likely have a better record of when species arrived as more people in field = more birds being spotted.  No comments were really made on whether it was a good or bad spring migration, although a team banding at Vischer Ferry in southern Saratoga County reported “average” numbers.

Black-and-white Warbler (May 9, late), PROTHONOTARY WARBLER# (May 17, with a report of a whopping 3 at the Alcove Reservoir in Albany County, clearly and spring overshoot), Worm-Eating Warbler (no date given), Golden and Blue-Winged warblers (May 10, notice how they lumped together in this report?), Tennessee Warbler (May 10), Nashville Warbler (May 6), Northern Parula (May 10), Yellow Warbler (May 3), Magnolia Warbler (May 9), Cape May warbler (May 9), Black-throated Blue Warlber (May 9, late), Yellow Rumped Warbler (April 16, editor noted 280 banded at Vischer Ferry), Black-throated Green Warbler (May 6, late), CERULEAN WARBLER# (May 17, this species breeds very locally in the region and was either not looked for or overlooked in past reports), Blackburnian Wabler (May 8), Chestnut-Sided Warbler (May 9, late), Bay-breasted Warbler (May 13), Blackpoll Warbler (May 15), Pine Warbler (May 3, late, likely overlooked), Prairie Warbler (May 8), Palm Warbler (April 22), Ovenbird (May 9, late), Northern Waterthrush (May 4), Mourning Wabler (May 17), Common Yellowthroat (May 10, late), Yellow-breasted Chat (May 6, still holding on), Louisiana Waterthrush (May 8, very late.  Overlooked?), HOODED WARBLER# (May 30, a beginning of an increase in our area), Wilson’s Warbler (May 13), Canada Warbler (May 13) and American Redstart (May 10).

# birds not on the 1955 or 1965 reports.

1985

I was actually alive and even doing a bit of birding at the age of 4, but I was too young to volunteer to be editor for Region 8 and no one else stepped up to the challenge, as such there was no Region 8 report from Spring 1985.  Boo!

1995 (KB: v45 n3)

I was actually alive and actually birding during this time (I was a freshman in High School).  Those were the days when Red-bellied Woodpecker could only be found reliably in one spot in Albany County at Coeymans Landing and I remember finding a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher nest also in Coeymans, when that species was still rather uncommon.

Of course as I read the report, I noticed my own name there.  Apparently I reported Chimney Swift on Apr 19 and Blue-winged Warbler on Apr 30 both in Ravena.  Now that I think about it, I remember that Blue-winged Warbler, I had to hunt it down in some really thick stuff, but finally pished it out into view.  But actually my reports were not too far off, as the Editor (Jane Graves) reported that many birds were 1-2 weeks ahead of schedule that year.  However, this report is frustrating in a way as many of the arrival dates were not noted, but instead dates with max number of reports or high counts of individuals.  I put in dates where I could.

Blue-winged Warbler (Apr 30, yours truly!), BREWSTERS and LAWRENCES Warblers (the dreaded GWWA X BWWA hybrids.  No Golden-winged Warbler were reported, which means the tipping point came in the 1980′s and the one report we are missing!), Tennessee Warbler (6 reports), ORANGE CROWNED WARBLER^ (May 13, rare in spring), Nashville Warbler (6 reports), Northern Parula (9 reports), Yellow Warbler (max of 40!), Chestnut-sided Warbler (16 reports), Magnolia Warbler, Cape-May Warbler (3 reports), Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Pine Warbler (5 April, much earlier than previous reports, but more likely on target), Prairie Warbler (Apr 30), Palm Warbler (Apr 6, early), Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Cerulean Warbler (no reports), Worm-Eating Warbler (May 13, late), Northern Waterthrush (Apr 23, early), Louisiana Waterthrush (Apr 9, early compared to past reports, but recent years have shown this date to be near ‘average’), Mourning Warbler (5 reports), Wilson’s Warbler (May 17), Canada Warbler.

2005 (KB: 2005 v55 n3)

The editor Will Yandik, noted that the early warblers were “early” and the other warblers were “late”.  However, at least in my opinion these are still within historical ranges of arrival.

Blue-winged Warbler (May 5), Tennessee Warbler (May 18), Nashville Warbler (May 10), Yellow Warbler (Apr 29), Chestnut-sided Warbler (May 6), Magnolia Warbler (May 3), Black-throated Blue Warbler (May 7), Black-throated Green Warbler (Apr 22, early), Blackburnian Warbler (May 14, late), Pine Warbler (Apr 6, early), Palm Warbler (Apr 14), Blackpoll Warbler (May 12), Cerulean Warbler (May 19, late and away from known breeding areas), Worm-eating Warbler (May 29, very late), Ovenbird (May 3), Northern Waterthrush (Apr 16, very early), Louisiana Waterthrush (Apr 13), Mourning Warbler (May 27, very late and only report), Wilson’s Warbler (May 14, only 1 report), Canada Warbler (May 15).

Conclusion:

It’s interesting that after I started writing this, I received my copy of Birding magazine.  Inside was an article about how Henry David Thoreau had theorized the connections between the blooming of planets, the arrival birds and the hatching of insects.  To summarize the article, they compared dates of flowers blooming and bird arrivals in the Concord, MA area and found while plants are blooming 1-2 weeks earlier then they did in the 1850′s, birds still seem to arrive at the same time now, that they did in the 1850′s.

Looking back at 50 years of warbler arrival dates here in the Albany, NY area, we again found that the arrival times are pretty even.  Now there are other factors, such as weather we can easily adjust the arrival dates either way by a good week, plus as I noted, observer efforts have improved in recent times as opposed to the 1950′s.  What we have seen was the sudden decline and almost disappearance of Golden-winged Warblers and Yellow-breasted Chats, but those are directly connected to habitat loss and a genetic swamp by a similar species.  But for the most part, despite whether it was a “good” Spring or a “bad” spring, Warblers still arrive very much the same time now as they did 50 (and as the birding magazine stated, almost 150 years ago too!).

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.

Spring Fall-Out

The forecast could not have been more perfect.  The pesky warm front that had been hung up south of our region, was poised to move through late Monday, giving a strong push of south winds during the overnight hours.  As a bonus, a line of strong thunderstorms moved through in the pre-dawn hours, creating near ideal conditions for the first spring fall out of the year.

Danika and I had already planned to go birding that morning and as we were walking out the door, I got a phone call from Rich Guthire who said there were 3 Vesper Sparrows feeding near his banding station in Coxsackie.  Now I had picked up Vesper Sparrow, just a couple of days before on Easter, but Danika still needed it for the year, so off we went.

When we got there, there were no Sparrows or Guthrie in sight, but we could hear a number of birds in the thick bushes and trees along the edge of the grasslands.  Ovenbird, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Northern Cardinal, Yellow Warbler and Prairie Warbler all began to appear and sing around us.

Rich then made his way over to us, carrying with him a female Red-winged Blackbird, whom Danika quickly became acquainted with.  Soon after the thick morning mist began to burn off and almost instantly, Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers and Broad-winged Hawks began flying north overhead.

-I was amazed at all the detail and colors there were on the bird when seen close up.  The best part was that Rich let me hold and release her, and she was a perfect lady sat pretty, nibbled your finger tips, then flew off with out so much as a thank you very much.  When we told our nine year old she was horribly jealous and has vowed to hunt Rich down next time shes out birding with us to pester him into letting her try- Danika

<Red-winged Black Bird Female, and a Tree Swallow in flight with a pale band.

We looked for the Vesper Sparrow’s in vain and Rich showed us a bit of a surprise in his nets with a gorgeous Swamp Sparrow, when we decided to head down to Vosburgh’s Marsh/ 4-mile point in search of more spring birds.

Bird life was busy at Vosburgh’s as well, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Black-and-White Warbler were clearly singing, with Canada Goose, Pied-billed Grebe, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, American Black Duck and Wood Duck on the north end of the marsh.

At the south end of the marsh, we added a nice male Northern Shoveler, Yellow Warbler, Northern Parula and Blue-winged Warbler.  That brought our total number of warbler species for the morning to 10, since there were almost none of these reported even the day before, they clearly arrived overnight.

Since then the more common migrants have continued to arrive, such as Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore and Orchard Oriole and a number of warblers and vireos, but the real neo-tropical migrants and the boreal breeders are still lurking to our south…