Sunday afternoon was great. Doing my favorite activity (birding) at my favorite location (Five Rivers Environmental Education Center) with my favorite person (my other half, Daisy, up from law school for the weekend) is my idea of a good time. Five Rivers is a large preserve run by the state of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The habitat is varied, with everything from marshes and ponds to mature forest, open fields and a wooded ravine. I have had so many great experiences birding there that it is ridiculous. Best of all, it’s only a short drive away!

Plus, over the last couple of days several reports of Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles and Brown-headed Cowbirds returning to the area have gone out over the local listserves. Now, I’ve already seen the first two this year, but I’ve yet to see any of the three in my local patches.

Daisy and I started on the Beaver Pond trail, walking on the snow already packed down by cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Mourning Doves and Black-capped Chickadees moved through the woods and a Pileated Woodpecker laughed at our attempts to spot it.

Now winter is not the best time to visit Five Rivers birding-wise, but we didn’t expect to come up with a big fat nothing the rest of the way. Except for an uncooperative flock of Cedar Waxwings, a couple clucking American Robins, and the birds frequenting the well-stocked feeders, that is exactly what we had. It was hard to fault the birds for only being around the feeders because we didn’t see a berry left anywhere and most of the assorted seeds normally available were either already eaten or buried under snow.

At the first, small set of feeders by the education building we watched Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, both Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees and Tufted Titmice feeding. It was cool to observe a Downy Woodpecker adapt the use of his stiff tail feathers to help him hold on to a suet feeder instead of using it the customary way by propping himself up on a tree trunk:

Downy Woodpecker

Until we hit the feeders at the visitor’s center we had actually seen more people than birds. Five Rivers is a very popular place for people enjoying the outdoors and while I love to see people leaving their televisions off and getting out I like visiting Five Rivers early in the morning and having the whole place practically to myself even more!

The feeders at the visitor’s center are amazing though. We sat and watched some of the birds listed above plus Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, American Tree and House Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and an American Crow stuffing themselves. The same array of feeders brought in a Dickcissel two winters ago (before I started birding seriously), a pretty good bird for anywhere east of the Midwest.

I tried taking pictures through the windows but most didn’t come out well. Below is one that did, of a Blue Jay between attempts at getting through the wire cage that keeps squirrels and other large creatures from hogging all the food.

Blue Jay on cage feeder

Am I the only one who always has a hard time getting good pictures of corvids in general and Blue Jays in particular? Except for Gray Jays which have come to food I offered both times I have encountered them it seems like crows, ravens, and jays always know when a camera is pointed their way and do their best to avoid having their picture taken.

Although the bird list wasn’t long or rarity-laden it was still a nice afternoon enjoying the outdoors with wonderful company.

And the Piermont Ivory Gull is gone to who knows where. I’m going to check out a couple spots around here where gulls congregate before work tomorrow morning (I do live north of Piermont along the Hudson)…what are the odds I find it? One-in-a-million? One-in-a-hundred-million?

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.