Area of Exceptional Forest Character
My friend Laura encountered a Lawrence’s Warbler, which is a rare Blue-winged/Golden-winged Warbler hybrid, just a week ago. This weekend, I finally had a chance to chase this unusal avian while hopefully immersing myself in the rushing torrent of traveling birds that is spring migration. To be honest, though, I was more intrigued by the location of the Lawrence’s Warbler than the bird itself.
Quinn Oak Openings, also known as Rush Oak Openings, is a 228-acre DEC tract located in Rush, NY. Oak openings are apparently a big deal. This one, for example, is the only official intact oak opening remaining in New York State. In addition, oak openings or oak savannahs feature a distinctive mix of vegetation:
Oak openings are composed of native prairie grasses and associated plants usually surrounded by oak/hickory forests. Characteristic species are Indian grass, a.k.a. buffalo grass (Sorghastrum nutans), little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium), thimbleweed (Anemone cylindracea), butterfly-weed (Asclepias tuberosa), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), chinquapin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii) and other oaks (Quercus spp.), and hickories (Carya spp.). The woods buffalo (Bison bison var. athabascae), now extirpated from the United States, was once a prominent mammal habituating oak openings. Elk (Cervus canadensis) were also a feature of Oak Opening communities. The mix of forest and grassland provided a habitat similar to areas in the Rocky mountain regions
Quinn Oak Openings was truly beautiful. On a warm, sunny spring morning, the fresh green wood and expansive meadows were just what I needed. Unfortunately, this “Area of Exceptional Forest Character” nurtured exceptionally bloodthirsty insect life. I’ve just encountered the first mosquitoes of spring and my, they are hungry. Days later, and I’m still nursing the bites!
The bloodsuckers contributed to, but were not wholly responsible for what I consider an indifferent day’s birding. I never imagined I’d walk away from a morning in which I spied a Blackburnian Warbler unsatisfied, but then again, I never imagined I’d visit New York’s only official intact oak opening either. Well, actually, until last week, I’d never even heard of an oak opening before, but that’s neither here nor there. My point is that my torrent of migration was merely a trickle.
Warblers did haunt the forest’s edge but mostly in drips and drops. A Black-throated Green here, a Palm Warbler or American Redstart there but little to suggest that waves of migrants were rolling through. The only warblers that appeared in numbers sufficient to suggest breeding intent were Blue-winged, Yellow, and Common Yellowthroat. I also observed ample Baltimore Orioles in fresh, flame-colored plumage.
My quarry never turned up, despite Laura’s considerate remote guidance. No doubt the cloud of gnats around my head proved too distracting for patient pursuit. However, I’m still thrilled with all of the other warblers of the morning along with abundant Field Sparrows and a few special singletons like Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Broad-winged Hawk. Having the oak opening all to myself was a treat as well. I’m looking forward to returning this summer to survey the butterflies and wildflowers a distinctive ecosystem like this must include but next time, I’ll be sure to bring the bug spray!