The next location in the Where to bird series is Washington Park located in the heart of New York’s Capital, Albany.
Built in the 19th Century by the same people who designed and built New York City’s Central Park, Washington Park shares many similarities with Central Park, only on a much, much smaller scale. The park is largely located between Madison and Washington Avenues in Albany.
No matter which way you enter the park (and parking is usually difficult) the first thing you will see is the lake, which also has a large lake house next to it (where there is a Free Summer theatre Program). The lake (aka Pond) has the usual assortment of Canada Geese and Mallards on it. In migration, don’t be surprised to find American Black Duck and Green-winged Teal. Pied-billed Grebe has been seen on the lake, although rarely. Great-blue and rarely Green Herons have been seen hunting along the edges.
Spring time is the best time to bird Washington Park, but you better get there early as it is also a very popular dog walking and jogging park. Many species of warblers and just about any species could be found during an early morning walk around the park in May, but by the end of May the number of remaining species dwindle. Blackpoll Warblers seems to favor the park and many can be found there in late May and Early June.
Summer breeding birds are few, but pleasant none the less. Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Carolina Wren, Gray Catbird and Northern Mockingbirds can be found with the abundant Grackles, Crows, House Sparrows, Starlings and Red-winged Blackbirds. Yellow Warbler and Common Yellowthroat can be found in the shrubby areas of the park and American Redstart can sometimes be found in areas of larger tree’s. In June keep your eyes (and ears) open at dawn and dusk for displaying Common Nighthawks. Great-Horned and Eastern Screech Owls, are rare but present. Red-tailed Hawks nest nearby and don’t be surprised to see a Peregrine Falcon chasing Pigeons or Mourning Doves in the park. You’ll find most of the activity in the early morning, with many birds becoming silent as activity in the park picks up after 9 or 10 am.
Fall is a tough time in the park, certainly migrants move through but often silent and warblers are in their confusing fall colors. Don’t be surprised to see a Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s Hawk chasing birds through the tree’s. Once the leaves fall off the tree’s, the park becomes somewhat barren, mainly populated with roving bands of Chickadee’s, Titmice, Nuthatches and Woodpeckers. Any of the ornamental berry producing plants should have Northern Mockingbird, American Robin, Carolina Wren and Cedar Waxwing in winter. Pine Grosbeak is a very rare visitor to the park, but can’t be ruled out in the dead of winter, especially near crab apples.
Washington Park is a pleasant walk no matter what the season. For bird watchers it’s a mixed bag, a nice array of habitat, but it’s small size makes it difficult for both birds, birders and everyone else to co-exist, unlike the much larger NYC parks. Plus Washington Park is much less of a warbler trap than many locations in the NYC, due to the fact that there is plenty of areas for birds outside of the city, so many migrants simply pass over Albany. Even during the peak time of Migration, Mother’s Day, you will have to fight hoards of people coming to the Albany Tulip Festival, where thousands come to view the flowers in the park, making bird watching very difficult. From then through June the park is in heavy use during the weekends, meaning the best times to be at the park is mid-week.