There are very few “sure things” when it comes to bird watching. Habitats attractive to waders and waterfowl like Jamaica Bay can usually be counted on year round for a decent array of species and fair odds at a rarity or two. Most inland ecosystems, on the other hand, offer few reliable species and fewer surprises. Even celebrated Central Park, oasis for upwards of 200 avian species annually, can disappoint. Some days, it’s all you can do to wade through the starlings and sparrows.
Lenoir seemed different.
I’ve written often of Lenoir Nature Preserve, noble headquarters of the Hudson River Audubon Society. Birds flock, literally and figuratively, to these 40 acres of old forest and gentle pasture overlooking the mighty Hudson River. Even a casual visit can turn up well over 20 species. I don’t know the full bird list for Lenoir but I suspect that this well runs impressively deep. Birding Lenoir is always a pleasure.
This past weekend, the Core Team blocked out a few hours from our busy schedules for a little picnic at this tranquil spot. We ate lunch under a shady stand of pines and then moved to a better vantage of the field and woods. While we were eating, we noticed something, or rather, the absence of something. The usual background chatter and chirping was muted, almost completely silent. Instead of a symphony of song, we were treated to little more than the mewling of catbirds.Â Lenoir was feeling mighty lonely.
Our strategic sighting position didn’t help, as there were no birds to see. Over the span of 30 minutes, birds neither flew over our field nor graced the surrounding trees. We couldn’t even muster a good look at a Mourning Dove. It wasn’t until we quit our vigil that we saw some real avifauna.
The Audubon bird feeders attracted plenty of Black-capped Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse, but birding in September should be about migrant spotting, not feeder watching.Â The other end of the preserve offered ideal warbler habitat. Unfortunately, the songbirds were so snug in the brush that they barely ruffled the leaves. Only an Eastern Phoebe was brave enough to confront us, although he was a lot more interested in accosting insects. We got perfect looks at this flycatcher, spotting his dark head, gray body, and underbelly shading from white to pale yellow.
The phoebe seemed our sole wild bird for the day (feeders are cheaters!) but on the way back to the car, we chanced upon some yellow-bellied beauty of a warbler. We didn’t get a good enough look to identify this enticing warbler, but while tracking it, we did spot a bird creeping in the underbrush. the bird was sparrow-sized, completely black with white breast, belly, and wing bars. It steadily ascended the inner branches of the bush in which it lurked, jumping back down to the ground when it climbed too high. We ran through our mental checklist of possible birds. Our guy was too small to be a Eastern Towhee and showed too much white to be an early Dark-eyed Junco. There are no tiny black birds with these kind of white markings in our range, so we were predictably stumped. It wasn’t until our quarry left the shadows that we realized he wasn’t completely black at all. This bird sported plumage the color of midnight. Fortunate we were indeed, gifted with excellent looks at a Black-throated Blue Warbler. This was only the second time we’ve ever spotted this pulchritudinous passerine. If you haven’t seen one yet, I highly recommend it.