This past weekend had the family and me visiting my folks for Easter in my hometown of Saugerties, New York, “Where,” as the slogan says, “The Catskills Meet the Hudson.” Because I am an absurdly early riser of late I had some time before breakfast on Sunday to get out for some birding. The only difficulty lay in deciding where, exactly, I would spend my precious hour-and-a-half of birding time that could allow me to grow my Ulster County list, even a small amount.*
I eventually decided that my early morning ramble would occur at Esopus Bend Nature Preserve, a 161-acre preserve along the Esopus Creek less then one mile before it flows into the Hudson River. The mix of habitats is good, from wetland to hemlock forest, and some reports on the local listserv indicated that at least some early migrants had already been spotted in the preserve’s fine precincts.
Out of bed before the sun had crested the horizon and out of the house as the sun’s first rays were repelled by a thick fog, I drove from my parents’ house in West Saugerties to and through the village, pausing briefly for some necessary coffee, and found myself at the entrance to the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve before I was really ready for it. And when I stepped out of the car I was really unready to hear the ringing tones of a singing Ovenbird! Now that is a bird that I had missed over our seemingly never-ending winter!
I decided to work my way counter clockwise on the Shroeder Trail because after a dip between ridgelines and a footbridge over a freshet where, by the way, a Louisiana Waterthrush was singing, the trail goes up the opposite ridge and then along its top, giving great views into the treetops which I knew would be loaded with hordes of wood-warblers just waiting for my binocular-equipped eyes to gaze upon them. I had forgotten about the fog.
Actually, I hadn’t so much forgotten about the fog as pushed it and its effects to the back of my mind. The fact is all I was thinking about was green and yellow and orange and blue and all the various shades in between that make up the palette from which wood-warblers are colored. In the fog there were no such colors – only silhouettes and precious few of them – as the fog that had slowed my driving speed down seemed to have completely stopped the birds from awakening.
Of course, some birds made their presence known. A Tufted Titmouse “Peter-Peter-Peter”ed from the trees and a big flock of White-throated Sparrows made their “Oh-Canada-Canada-Canada” sound more like a lament for a lost land then a cheerful expression of nationalism. When I heard an individual Canada Goose start honking from the Esopus Creek I started to wonder if the birds really liked Stephen Harper’s government and were sorry to see it fall. Nah, impossible!**
Anyway, the point is that the birding was slow and I was getting bummed out and kind of angry that I had awakened so early to see fog and hear common birds. By the time I came down off the ridge and was at the level of the Esopus Creek I was not happy at all. Then, in rapid succession, a Belted Kingfisher rattled past, a Yellow Warbler sang “Sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet” and a Black-throated Green Warbler started in with “Zee zee zoo zoo zee” and I was thrilled I had jumped out of bed so early for such a glorious morning!
Then bird after bird revealed itself as if the forest’s alarm clock had gone off and everything had awakened at once and I was loving Palm Warblers, a Pine Warbler, my first Northern Waterthrush of the year (and first ever in Ulster County), some Eastern Phoebes, a Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warblers all over the place, Ruby-crowned Kinglets frenetically feeding, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers making their thin calls from the treetops. It was great! The only thing that could have made it better would have been some of that bright stuff. You know, sunlight?
Once I had used my allotted time birding I made my way from the preserve and back to my folks’ house pausing once to utter a primal scream as the sun finally broke through the fog and made the day absolutely gorgeous. At least it made for a sunny Easter egg hunt…
Get to Esopus Bend Nature Preserve. It is a great little preserve and well worth a visit.
*Yeah, I am that much of an obsessive, thanks to the wonders of eBird.
**Perhaps the sparrows were singing “Vote Liberal Liberal Liberal” and were worried that Ignatieff can’t seem to connect with Canada’s voters and is losing votes from his left flank thanks to the strong showing of the NDP’s Layton in the debates?