The Snowy Owl of Piermont, NY is, for those of you who haven’t been keeping tabs, is a sleek, white celebrity bird that has induced thousands of nature lovers to take a long walk down a longer pier in the midst of winter’s coldest weeks. This extremely charismatic megafauna has been holding court on the icepack just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge since January. It even attracted a brief visit from one of its arctic amigos, an Ivory Gull that drove Northeastern birders into a frenzy. Six weeks or so is a phenomenal run for a rarity of this caliber to remain in one easily accessible place. But even tons of adoring fans combined with the Hudson River’s generous bounty of Ruddy Duck couldn’t entice this impressive predator to hang around any longer, now that the spring thaw has ensued. The Snowy Owl of Piermont has departed, presumably for parts north.
Unfortunately, Charlie and I didn’t know that when we struck out for Piermont Sunday morning.
Did you ever have one of those days out on the trail when even the most reliable birds fail to appear on cue? Perhaps the birding gods, fickle masters indeed, sought to exact some recompense for our Smith’s Longspur sighting of the previous day. Perhaps we are paying in advance for some future find of epic proportions. More likely, though, we simply caught the business end of immutable laws of migration which dictate that as birds arrive, so must they some day depart.
The Snowy may have been absent, depriving Charlie of his first views of that august species in over fifteen years, but other species were in attendance. While my focus was on preventing Mason from falling into the river as he clambered along icy rocks, I still noted ruddies and Canvasback, crows and Song Sparrows, and lots and lots of the usual gulls. A pair of acrobatic Peregrine Falcons made for a fine sighting, as did the sporadic waves of migrants, including robins, grackles, and Brown-headed Cowbirds.
In an attempt to salvage the morning, the three of us headed back south to Van Cortlandt Park. As I’ve written before, no place in the NYC Metro area is as surefire for Rusty Blackbirds in winter. I couldn’t get Charlie on the owl, but at least I could serve up an interesting icterid. Or not…
Turns out that our bad birding luck crossed the bridge with us. We couldn’t find the blackbirds. We couldn’t find the Belted Kingfisher that usually gives great views. We couldn’t find the usual array of interesting ducks. Heck, we couldn’t even find a single chickadee or titmouse. I have NEVER seen such a poor showing from this park in winter. Our consolation was a few Hooded Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks, and Ring-necked Ducks (very common this winter) along with a single, magnificent Wood Duck drake.
If our bad luck was the work of some malign spirit, I’d consider our final bird encounter a parting shot of sorts. We were rushing back to the car to get Charlie to his train when we flushed a small brown bird from a hiding spot almost directly underfoot. As the cryptic critter winged away, Charlie identified it as an American Woodcock. This was, in fact, my very first woodcock, or rather it would have been if I could have picked out even one identifying feature. Unfortunately, the bird winged away too fast for me to get a good look at it. A few minutes of beating the bushes (figuratively, not literally) was not enough to roust the woodcock. All in all, a fitting end to a morning of birding utterly without mojo, redeemed only by the excellent company.