Boreal Birds or Bust: Local Edition

For awhile Corey and I had discussed a possible big trip the day after Veteran’s Day.  Corey was hell bent on going to Montezuma NWR to look for birds that by and large had not been reported (Ross’s Goose, Cackling Goose etc.).  But after a fellow birder named Tom, called and said he had some interesting birds near his house in Albany County, we scrapped the idea of a long trip and stayed local.  We also decided that we would do it in two groups, Corey and Tom in one car and my wife Danika and I in another (our 21 month old daughter, Lillian as well).

The day didn’t start as well as I had hoped.  Danika ended up staying up until 3am playing Dungeons & Dragons on-line and she was less than cooperative when the alarm went off at 5:30am.  But after a slow start, we finally hit the road.  Just before leaving Corey had called to say that there were Common Redpolls at Tom’s feeder.  We had our first destination.

After stopping for gas, breakfast and to return a movie which was due the night before, we made the half and hour drive to Berne, where Tom lives.  Pulling into his driveway, we quickly scanned the feeders, but didn’t find anything other than Black-capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos and a Red-breasted Nuthatch.  Getting out of the car, I quickly heard a flock of American Goldfinches fly-over and land in a near-by birch tree.  After a few moments, the Goldfinches started coming to the feeder and after a few moments, I saw my first of the year streaked, rosy breasted, black-chinned, thistle seed devouring Common Redpoll.

Common Redpoll, Berne, New York

Danika and I quickly headed off into the wilds of Partridge Run WMA, where Tom had reported Pine Grosbeak only the day before.  Our first stop was Fawn Lake.  We found American Robins, Blue Jays, Canada Geese, Hooded Merganser, Hairy Woodpecker and another fly over flock of 13 Common Redpolls.

As we were finishing Fawn Lake, we got a call from Corey who said that he and Tom were pretty sure they had a Pine Grosbeak with a flock of Robins on Beaver Road.  Off Danika and I went (passing them on the road on the way) and then down Beaver Road which is not for the faint of heart.  While we found many American Robins and Black-capped Chickadees, we found little else.

At then end of Beaver Road, Danika’s sharp eyes spotted a couple of Snow Buntings in a horse pen.  On the other side of the road, a big flock of Cedar Waxwings and American Robins (with a Few Starlings to boot) were busy attacking wild grape.  We scanned through them carefully, but again found nothing.

On the way out, we passed Corey and Tom again and both of us reported nothing.  They went off into the deeper forest in search of birds and Danika and I went Shriking (Looking for Shrikes).  We stopped at Mysotis Lake in Rensselaerville and found 100 Common Mergansers a few dozen Canada Geese and some Ring-billed Gulls.  Shortly after and in a completely random spot, my cell phone buzzed with a message from Corey saying that they had both Evening and Pine Grosbeak on Cooks Hill Road.  Now Danika nor I had any clue as how to get there and even though we didn’t move, we lost the cell phone signal so we had to guess, but lucky for us we guessed correctly.

We went down the entire length of Cooks Hill Road and found nothing.  At the end of the road, we had a signal again and I was able to contact Corey and get better directions.  We turned around and headed back up to the spot and sitting in the tree was a flock of 18 Evening Grosbeaks.  Though we searched and searched we did not relocate, the female Pine Grosbeak Corey and Tom had earlier.

Evening Grosbeak, Partridge Run WMA

I had never been so disappointed to see Evening Grosbeaks before in my life.

Turning around again, Danika and I headed up some nearby roads and added Red-tailed Hawk and Danika spotted what she thought was another Red-tailed Hawk sitting in a tree, but once we got our binoculars on it, it had a long tail and big white circles on its back.  It shortly after took off, showing us its true size, a Juvenile Northern Goshawk.  Shortly up the road, we were nearly run off the road by a DEC officer, who had a rather large, dead, Black Bear in the back of the truck.  On our way back down the road, we spotted a young Cooper’s Hawk near the road (a very different bird from the Goshawk) and another pass up Cooks Hill Road, yielded nothing.  The Grosbeaks were gone.

In another random spot, I had another message from Corey and he and Tom had found a Northern Shrike outside of Rensselaerville.  Danika and I took our time heading over, adding some more common species, including a nice male Northern Harrier.  We searched the area in vain for about an hour for the Shrike, but couldn’t find it.  We did however find the mythical Mountain Lion which every hill-town in Albany County supposedly has, but is never confirmed.

A man eating, Mountain Lion, Puma or Panther.  Whatever you call it, it does not live in Albany County

We had not heard from Corey and Tom for awhile and Danika and I decided to start heading back towards home.  On Rt. 85 just outside of Rensselaerville, at 55 mph I noticed a bird fly to the top of a tree.  Yelling at Danika to stop, I quickly got my binoculars on the bird and squealed “Shrike!”.  We pulled into a fuel storage area and drove behind the tanks near the bird, which did nothing but sit very still and shrike-like for us. 

Northern Shrike, Rensselaerville, New York

Since we had to pick up our older daughter Sophia at my in-laws we decided to stop at a few local waterfowl spots to help pad our day list.  A very good sign was an adult Bald Eagle which sat very close to the road near the Alcove Reservoir in Coeymans, Albany County.

Bald Eagle, Alcove Reservoir, Coeymans, Albany County, New York

Near the Eagle was easily 150 or more Hooded Mergansers and lots of Canada Geese and Common Mergansers.

Our next stop was Stanton Pond where we had many Northern Pintails, American Wigeon and lots of Canada Geese.  Mixed in with the Geese were 2 Brant, not all that rare but unusual in terms of location and time of year.

Brant, Stanton Pond, Coeymans

After that we hit the Coxsackie Reservoir which held 2 Green-winged Teal, a bunch of American Black Ducks and nearly 200 Ruddy Ducks.  To finish the day we drove around the Coxsackie Grasslands and flats and camped out for Short-Eared Owls but our luck had run out.

Danika told me it was one of the best days of birding she had ever been on.  As for Lillian?  She slept most of the time and enjoyed a near endless supplies of cookies and milk. 


7 responses to “Boreal Birds or Bust: Local Edition

  1. We might have seen Pine Grosbeak but you guys got much better pictures (I got nada on film except for some distant Evening Grosbeaks).

    Why go chasing boreal birds when they come to us?

  2. @ Corey: The pictures are a small consolation. It has been 13 years since my last Pine Grosbeak and yes I want to see them again. I might try again this weekend!

    @John: I hope so, interesting to note this is the earliest I have ever recorded Common Redpoll, my personal early date was December 28 in Albany County, this blows away that record. Also the Northern Shrike was a new county bird.

  3. Where are you located? How far is Montezuma for you? I’m a Cayuga Lake Basin birder myself. I’m determined to find that Ross’s Goose this weekend – would be a lifer.


    PS Bring that Redpoll when you do come. Almost all reported from the Basin so far have been flyovers. I would love to see one up close at a feeder.

  4. @ Nick: Montezuma is about a 3 hour drive each way from my location, so I only get there once or twice a year.

    As for the Redpoll, I think this might just be the winter you get a good look at one. Good Luck looking for a Ross’s Goose and please let the rest of us know!

  5. Pingback: Winter Finches in Albany County:

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