Another Big Year Birding Adventure

Last Saturday evening I got to sit in the Emergency Room at Albany Medical Center with my daughter Sophia, who was involved in a bizarre accident that only a 7 year old and a 6 year old can create.  Essentially an old TV set fell off a TV cabinet and hit Sophia on the ankle.  All the x-rays were negative on fractures of her actual bones, but due to the amount of bruising and swelling, both the ER doctor and the Orthopedic Doctor on Monday agreed that she likely fractured her growth plate, which is something they don’t mess around with.  So, despite a “clean” x-ray, she got a cast and can’t put any weight on it and has to use crutches for the next 2 weeks.  Of course it is January in Upstate New York, so we have well over a foot of snow on the ground and our driveway is a sheet of ice, so Sophia has had to learn to maneuver on crutches pretty fast.

The reason for this little side tale, is that Sophia and Lillian were at my in-laws spending the night (or were going to), for Sunday Danika and I had big year plans to bird Saratoga, Warren and Washington Counties in search of winter finches and grassland birds (Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur and Northern Shrike).  Well we chucked those plans out the window.

Danika did begrudgingly let me go out on Sunday by myself.  Although she said I could go north and look for those birds as we had planned, I decided if I wanted to sleep in my own bed again, I better go someplace else.  So I headed off to Partridge Run WMA and Cole Hill State Forest in Western Albany County. 

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that these areas are virtually boreal in habitat and has had some surprising birds, such as nesting Cape May Warbler.  This was also the same area where Pine Grosbeaks frequented last winter.  This winter Pine Siskin and White-winged Crossbill have been frequently found.

I figured I was going to have a good day, when a Common Raven flew over the car just as I got near Cole Hill SF.  I started up the various roads I usually take out there and started scanning, and hoping, and praying and wishing and looking and listening, but didn’t find much.  Sure there were common birds, such as Black Capped Chickadee, American Crow and Red-tailed Hawk, but even they seemed scattered at best.  After about 2 hours of searching I headed off to the High Tundra in search of grassland birds.

And struck out again.  However I did wander into Schoharie County where at a feeder, a zillion Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches that were eating some poor soul out of house and home (a common theme this winter in these parts).  Still I had hope that I was going to turn something up good and started driving back roads south towards the higher elevations of the Catskills.  I drove from Rensselaerville in Albany County to Windham in southern Greene County.  And found squat.

Having now wasted half a day, I headed down to Coxsackie in Greene County.  Once in the valley, the birding picked up.  Most of the birds were common of course, but at least there were birds!  I went back and visited the Red Phased Eastern Screech Owl, Danika posted about (scroll down) and arrived with better light and found the bird was still very cooperative.


Further down this road, I was able to look out over the frozen Hudson River towards Stockport Station in Columbia County, where I found year bird #49 and adult Bald Eagle.

From there I traveled down to the Coxsackie Boat Launch, where again everything was frozen and nary a gull to be found.  However out on the ice, two adult Bald Eagles did battle over what appeared to be a deer leg, which was quite a sight.  The winner carried his/her winnings to a tree to feast, while the loser (in the fuzzy photo below) made his/her way elsewhere to find a meal.


From there I wandered the grasslands for awhile and found the usual assortment of hawks, such as Red-tailed Hawk,


And a Northern Harrier,


And Rough-Legged Hawk (Dark Phase)


No Shrikes, Buntings, Larks or anything new for the year (other than Bald Eagle).  Defeated I wearily drove home, just as I got home my cell phone rang, a Northern Shrike was been seen on an unknown piece of property at Five Rivers, only about 10 minutes from my house.  I was too tired to even look for it.  Tried the next day, didn’t find it.  Yep this big year is off to a great start!  I have to keep telling myself, its a marathon, not a sprint.


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