*Note this post will be permanently linked in the Where to Bird in Eastern New York and Handicapped Birding Pages.
The Albany Pine Bush is a series of Pine Dunes (part of a larger group of Pine Bush which runs down the Coast into New Jersey), nestled along an extension of the City of Albany and parts of the Towns of Guilderland and Colonie. It is also conveniently located next to the Albany dump. While many species of animal call the Preserve home, the Albany Pine Bush is most famous for a small, blue butterfly, The Karner Blue, which is endangered. This was also once the historical home of Heath Hen, a now extinct sub-species of Lesser Prairie Chicken, which occurred in the Northeast.
A good place to start your visit to the Albany Pine Bush is at the Discovery Center (located off Rt. 155, between Rt. 5 and Washington Avenues). Here you can learn more about the uniqueness of the Pine Bush as well as get maps and directions to other parcel of lands. (Keep in mind they do controlled burning in some years and access to the trails may be limited). The easiest way to start exploring the Pine Bush is to follow the trails from the Discovery Center. These trails go through typical Pine Bush habitat. Within moments in the warmer months you should be greeted with the “Chewink” call of Eastern Towhee, which is abundant in the Pine Bush. Prairie Warbler is common here, along with Field Sparrow. Flycatchers are also abundant, with Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Willow, Least and Great Crested Flycatchers. Eastern Pewee may be heard in some of the woodier sections. Common Yellothroat, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler and American Redstart are the common warbler species, with others such as Blackburnian, Bay-breasted and Cape May Warblers are found in the dense pines in migration. Red-breasted Nuthatch and Northern Flicker are often found as well. Wild Turkey is abundant, along with Gray Catbird and Indigo Bunting. In winter, Northern Shrike frequents the area.
As one follows the trails east, the preserve runs along the Albany dump. In summer months the smell can be wretched, but expect good looks at Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture is a recent arrival but can often be found here as well. All 3 of the main gull species can be found wheeling above the garbage and a gull enthusiast might be able to pick out a white-winged or better gull from the swirling flocks.
In late summer Common Nighthawk can be abundant flying over or even found quietly snoozing on a branch. Recent survey’s have shown Whip-poor-will to be present in the park, a welcomed sign. Red-tailed Hawk is a common resident and both Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks are often found. Merlin can be found in migration. Barred, Screech and Great Horned Owls frequent the surrounding woods, and with more effort or searching in winter Northern Saw-Whet and Long Eared Owls are a good bet. In winter also keep your eyes our for both Red and White-winged Crossbills, Pine Siskin and Common Redpoll.
Other areas of the preserve have a variety of habitat, ranging from mixed woodlands, ponds and marsh areas. Rensselaer Lake off Fuller Road is part of the preserve, but is often crowded and has an unsavory reputation for use. Some further exploration of the area, might lead to some new finds, especially during migration.
Beyond birds, the preserve has an amazing array of unique plants, insects and mammals as well. The preserve can be busy with mountain bikers and joggers in the warmer months and cross-country skiers in winter, making visiting the preserve early in the day your best bet.
(The Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center is an excellent stop for someone with disabilities. As a former bank, the building is handicapped accessable and has plenty of restrooms. It also provides an opportunity to for those with disabilities to experience the Pine Bush, through displays and other information. However birding the Pine Bush with someone who is disabled is poor at best. The trails are sandy and uneven, prone to washouts in heavy rain and stairs are used throughout the trail system. A wheelchair is impossible here and others with mobility problems, may find the sandy trails, which can be steep a challenge. The preserve is also surrounded by major roads, including the New York State Thruway, there is significant noise pollution, even someone with slight hearing loss may have issues trying to hear birds in the preserve due to traffic. The good news is there are areas in which you can’t hear the traffic as much, but in other areas, especially late in the afternoon it can be deafening.)
****Spring, * Summer, ** Fall, * Winter