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!