Saturday was a day for birding. After looking for winter gulls along the Mohawk River upstream from its confluence with the Hudson and not finding any except a single Iceland Gull just west of where Route 9 goes over the Mohawk. I decided to try Fort Edward, not for the Short-eared Owls that were so numerous last year but for the Snowy Owl that has been reported off-and-on and was most recently reported on Friday. I didn’t find it.

I did, however, have a pleasant couple of hours driving the back roads around the snow-covered farms and grasslands of Fort Edward. Two Red-tailed Hawks, three Rough-legged Hawks, and one Northern Harrier were all nice to see but were also all distant. On occasion, as I drove down the road a flock of something would take off from the shoulders and either disperse into the bushes or fly off the road. Sometimes, the birds were Dark-eyed Juncos or American Tree Sparrows, but more often they were Horned Larks.

Horned Lark in Fort Edward

Horned Lark in Fort Edward

Even better was the one flock of about 35 Common Redpolls that I encountered twice. The first time they took flight when I drove slowly up to them but they landed a bit up the road. I parked, watched them grit for a bit, and then tried to drive past them. They kept flying up ahead of the car and landing. Eventually they flew off the road and circled back to where they were to begin with, which reminded me of how Belted Kingfishers will reverse course when they reach the end of their territory along a stream. The second time I encountered the redpolls I parked as far over on the shoulder as I could get when I was still well short of them and waited for another car to go past. When it did, they flew down the road towards me and decided to land in the snow bank across the street. Nice!

Common Redpolls in Fort Edward

Then another car went past and they landed behind me. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw that one was larger and whiter than the others. I quickly contorted my body around and stuck my head out the window, almost dropping my binoculars in my haste. This was going to be my life Hoary Redpoll! And it was bigger and whiter than the Common Redpolls, mostly because it was a Snow Bunting, a male, on his way into breeding plumage.

Snow Bunting in Fort Edward

Sigh.

Nonetheless, it was a fun couple hours of birding. I’m going to miss the open country upstate when I move to the city so any time I spend out in it is time well-spent. Even if Snowy Owls and Hoary Redpolls don’t decide to appear.

We might be Common Redpolls but we’re still pretty cool!

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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.