Saturday, 7 March 2009

Birding by Bike in New York

Today was the warmest day of the year yet (64 F, 18 C), so naturally it seemed like a good day to be out. Indeed, the early singers were making themselves heard: Mourning Dove, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird and House Finch mainly.

Within 5 miles of biking I had added several new birds to my Bigby 2009 list (see the details of a Big Green Big Year here: including Red-bellied Woodpecker and Common Grackle. Then I arrived at the local state park, which is often THE place to be in early spring migration. True, it was only early March, but there are more attractions there than just migrants.

The first I place I was eager to check was the small pond. Just several weeks ago, a moribund Thick-billed Murre had shown up at that little wooded puddle and could be swimming among Mallards, Hooded Merganser, Green-winged Teal and an American Black Duck. Naturally the auk wasn't there, but all the ducks except some Mallards and the black duck had left. Fortunately, a few hundred yards south was a much larger lake. Way out was one of the missing suspects (Hooded Merganser) along with Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, and a surprise pair of Common Merganser. Generally, Mergus merganser is the rarest of the trio in the area, but this winter they have been showing strongly.

Moving on to the woodland, I was disappointed not to kick up any Fox Sparrows (reliable there), but was also puzzled to hardly see any sparrows at all. Consolation: a group of 5 Rusty Blackbirds! A very localized winterer, mostly due to a ridiculous population decline of more than 90%. Also in a very small square of woods I found singles of Red-bellied, Downy, and Hairy Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, as well as 3 flyover Great Black-backed Gull (which are very rare flyovers just 5 miles north!).

I was very content at that point, but had a triple surprize on the way out. Back at the smaller pond what I thought was a piece of trash, began swimming around and dabbling. Not one of styrofoam cups, but rather a drake Northern Shoveler. Still no Green-winged Teal, or were there? Two small ducks on the other side... teal? No, a pair of Wood Ducks! A very nice bonus! Then just as I was about to give a third small duck came into view. That one had a white verticle stripe on its side. Finally!

All in all, I increased by Bigby waterfowl collection exponentially (last year I only had Mallard and Canada Goose!) and nailed some tricky visitants. I think with a bit more effort than last year, and some springtime visits, perhaps I can break my pathetic record of 94 for the year. I don't really like the year listing aspect as much when greenhouse gases are emitted just to chase easy birds every year. This sits better on my conscious. :)

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