On Friday I expended another of my precious days off from work to get a jump-start on the Memorial Day weekend. My friend Tom, just back from surveyor school, and I had planned to hit up the the Adirondacks in an attempt at some of the northern specialties but the warm weather brings out black-flies so we figured we’d head south instead of north.
Jory, one of the Albany-area birders on a New York State Big Year, had given me very detailed information on where to find an Acadian Flycatcher, an empidonax flycatcher I had never encountered, in Sullivan County. Both Tom and I had heard wonderful things about a couple of birding spots there, namely the Bashakill and the D&H Canal Trail (also known as Linear Park because it is a long and narrow park that follows an old canal), so we figured that would be our destination. Click here for more information on birding these locations.
The problem was that our selected spots were a two-hour-drive away and the forecast 90-degree weather would certainly suppress bird song once the day got hot. So we decided to leave Albany at 4 AM, giving us plenty of time to find good birds before the sun beat us (and the birds) into submission.
Our first stop at the Bashakill was moderately productive. A bird trilling above us was revealed as a Pine Warbler after at least ten minutes straining our necks and backs trying to find it in the canopy. Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks sang for us and were revealed by their brilliant plumage. On the ride back out to Route 209 Tom picked up the song of a Canada Warbler, and sure enough a male gave us decent looks in the thick brush.
Our next stop, at Haven Road, got us an Eastern Phoebe, an Eastern Kingbird, a Blackpoll Warbler, a Black-and-white Warbler and other common birds. Further along Haven Road we drove down a dirt road, parked, and walked through the woods, finding another Blackpoll Warbler, another Canada Warbler, a Northern Waterthrush, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Alder and Willow Flycatchers, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, Least Flycatchers, a Great Crested Flycatcher, a bunch of Great Blue Herons, and lots of other birds. With seven different flycatchers under our belt we were feeling pretty good, but we still wanted an Acadian!
Driving back across the Bashakill I spotted a large bird perched on what looked like a distant beaver house. With just our binoculars, it looked vaguely like an Osprey but it just didn’t seem right so Tom pulled over and unlimbered his scope. The Osprey was actually a third-year Bald Eagle! It’s amazing what 30-power magnification will reveal!
A stop along the D&H Canal Trail where Golden-winged Warblers are supposed to be regular netted us the similar Blue-winged Warbler, but none of the Golden-winged Warblers I so desperately wanted to see (they would be a lifer). While we were examining some distant sparrows in a field I happened to look up and saw an absolutely stunning male Ring-necked Pheasant walking across the trail! It was only the second one I’ve seen in the wild and the first one of the year…awesome! Nothing beats an unexpected bird when the expected bird lets you down.
A little bit further up Route 209 we turned off onto a side road to try and find the Acadian Flycatcher about which Jory had told me. His directions were to go past a small road, down a hill, and stop by the stream. We did that and before Tom had even turned the truck off we could hear the “Pee-see” of the Acadian! We quickly got our binoculars on the bird and watched it do what it was supposed to be doing, catching flies. While we were watching the first one a second started calling up the road a ways. Nothing beats a life bird except seeing more than one of a life bird! We were also surprised along the back road with singing Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Nashville and Magnolia Warblers. A pretty good haul for such a short ride!
A return to the D&H Canal Trail was highlighted by a Brown Creeper, a large Black Snake, and some more Blue-winged Warblers. Finding no Golden-winged Warblers hurt but the birds aren’t always where they are supposed to be.
Instead of returning via the New York State Thruway we headed north to the village of Ellenville and then turned off onto 55 and then onto 55A along the north side of the Rondout Reservoir. A right turn led us up into higher elevations and more birds like Dark-eyed Juncos, Prarie Warblers, a Hermit Thrush, and a Louisiana Waterthrush. The ride was cool as the high elevation and big forest kept the temperatures down. And the scenery was magnificent, especially along Peekamoose Road, where a cascading stream in a Hemlock-filled ravine paralleled our path.
We passed within a mile of my parents’ house in West Saugerties but didn’t want to break our momentum so we continued along, encountering a five-foot Black Snake on Manorville Road and not much else until we were in Greene County. That is when Tom revealed that he had been doing some internet research and had discovered that Golden-winged Warblers had been present west of the hamlet of Freehold several years ago. He didn’t have an exact location but that was okay. We had nothing better to do than drive back roads hoping to randomly encounter one anyway.
So we drove around. And around. And around. Then Tom suddenly said, “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” I asked.
“That song, it sounded like a Golden-winged Warbler,” he replied.
I was out of the truck practically before it stopped. I heard the song, signaled Tom, who was waiting in the truck which was parked awkwardly on the shoulder of the road, and put my binoculars up. GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER!
A word about Golden-winged Warblers. They are gorgeous. They are wonderful. And they are in trouble. You may remember several paragraphs back when I said that Blue-winged Warblers are similar. Well, they are. Too similar. Blue-winged Warblers and Golden-winged Warblers often hybridize, and eventually it seems that all that are left are Blue-winged Warblers. Combine that with the fact that Golden-winged Warblers prefer the early-successional growth that accompanies abandoned farmland and the fact that lots of upstate New York’s farmland has already grown all the way back to forest and you can start to see the problem. Golden-winged Warblers are hard to find and we had just found one, through Tom’s amazing ears at thirty miles-per-hour!
After that find I counted up our warbler species for the day and realized that we already had 18! A couple stops on the way home could get us a Hooded and a Worm-eating Warbler and then we could say we saw 20 species of warbler in one day. Well, we did make the stops, and we did see two more species of warbler, but they weren’t the ones we expected. At the Holt Preserve where we were hoping for the Hooded Warbler we found a Chestnut-sided Warbler instead and no Hooded. At the Deer Hollow Preserve we found a lingering Yellow-rumped Warbler and no Worm-eating Warblers. Odd, but we decided to take it. Also at Deer Hollow we found a Copperhead, a venomous snake, so if you head up that way be careful.
After five counties, a couple hundred miles, twelve hours, eight flycatcher species, twenty warbler species, two lifers, and 94 bird species total Tom dropped me off at my apartment. Quite a day!
And I promise that my next post will have lots of pictures.