Last week, from Saturday to Monday (15-17 July), we did our annual camping trip with some friends. This year we tried out Mongaup Pond Campground, a state park in the Catskills in Sullivan County. It’s a pretty park, not far off Route 17, but surrounded by miles of forest. And though it was not a birding trip we were out in the woods all day every day so of course I saw some birds. Here’s a few of the more interesting encounters I had with some of the birds of the eastern forest.
Saturday afternoon, down at the pond, with some folks swimming, I was just sitting on a picnic table enjoying the view. I picked up a distant raptor over the hills on the opposite side of the pond with my bare eyes and watched as it came closer and dropped lower. The flash of white in the tail and the sheer size of the bird made me think Bald Eagle and when I put my binoculars up I was correct. My use of binoculars attracted the attention of a random guy who, of course, wanted to know what I was looking at. I explained and offered my binoculars for him to take a look. “Whoa! This is awesome,” he said as the eagle dropped to the water and grabbed a fish, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The eagle made its way off the pond and out of sight into the forest, the guy handed me my binoculars back with a huge grin on his face, thanking me profusely. Sure, I missed seeing the eagle make a catch but I think the random dude appreciated it much more than I would have.
Later, on Saturday, in the evening, I was getting the fire built up so we would have enough coals to cook on. “Corey, what’s that bird?”
My friend Kerry was pointing to some low branches where, lo-and-behold, a Red-eyed Vireo was foraging only a few feet away and below eye level. We managed to get the kids to see it and well, as the bird launched itself repeatedly from branches to the underside of leaves, grabbing some kind of invertebrate. Though not exactly a snazzy bird, the vireo’s closeness made up for its lack of bright colors. And when it grabbed a katydid and beat it to a pulp the kids were suitably impressed. (The vireo image at the top of this post is actually from our camping trip in 2015.)
Sunday in the late morning we had a wonderful hike that had as its goal a waterfall in a hemlock ravine. The waterfall was nice and the water refreshing, but as we hiked out I heard a song over the rushing water that stopped me in my tracks. A Swamp Angel in full song! I made everyone listen to the Hermit Thrush as it sang its song over and over and over. There’s not much better than the sweet, rising, warbling song of a Hermit Thrush in an sublime natural setting.
Most of our hike back from the waterfall was along the entrance road to the campground which was actually appreciated as the smooth pavement made for easy walking after the rough-and-muddy trails we had been hiking on the way to the waterfall. I heard a “chip-per” call a couple of times and let folks know that a Scarlet Tanager was nearby. Then, just to make me look like a magician, a bright red male tanager popped out onto an exposed branch at the side of the road, maybe twenty feet up. It called and called and called and called, allowing everyone a look. I had never seen such behavior in a tanager and was struggling to figure out why when the brim of my hat caught my eye. My bright red St. Louis Cardinals hat.
I took my hat off and hid it under my shirt. The tanager called exactly four more times before flying over us and the road, and a bit into the forest, perhaps making sure it had completely chased its “rival” away. It called half-heartedly from that side of the road a couple of more times before flying back across and disappearing into the forest.
Sunday night, exhausted and perhaps having had a bit too much to drink, I went to bed earlier than the other adults. As I lay in the tent, drifting off to sleep, the “Who-cooks-for-you?” of a Barred Owl was repeated several times before a second bird, much more distant, started in as well. That was as good a lullaby as I could ask for and I fell asleep.
Birders are always birding but we are often places where the birding isn’t ideal, in cities and suburbs, indoors or in transit. Being able to slow down and be outdoors continuously for several days in a row is a great way to have some wonderful experiences with birds, especially if you have non-birders around with whom to share them. Camping is the best way to make this happen. So take your non-birding family, friends, and acquaintances camping and let them see and hear the natural world through your senses. It’ll be rewarding for you and them!
Thanks for sharing some of the fun from your camping trip- brings back fond memories of summer camping in upstate New York.
Sometimes incidentals make the most memorable sightings!
What a good essay!