On Saturday I awakened at 3:30 AM, tiptoed out of the house as quietly as I could, and headed north and west to Sullivan County, the first of three counties I planned to visit in a series of surgical birding strikes to see (or hear) the birds I had thus far missed this year as they migrated through New York City. Sullivan County was my first stop because I was hoping to hear some of the secretive freshwater marsh birds that are often difficult to find. It was very shortly after five when I pulled up at Haven Road at the Bashakill State Wildlife Management Area and immediately heard an American Bittern busy “thunder-pumping.” My first target bird was checked off and I had barely even left my car! Not only that but the sunrise over the marsh (as seen above) was a wonder to behold.

The next hour plus netted me a host of other species, including my two other targets, Virginia Rail and Common Gallinule. As always, the woods around the marsh were busy with breeders setting up shop. I particularly appreciated the Veery I heard singing, a bird you’ll hear in the video. In addition to the Veery I saw or heard a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos, some cooperative Eastern Kingbirds, Swamp Sparrows, Warbling Vireos, Wood Thrush, Cedar Waxwings, a Worm-eating Warbler, and, well, you get the idea: it was awesome!

This video is obviously being shared here just for the sound. Not very exciting to look at, is it?

I stopped back on Haven Road to see if anything else was around and I was pleased to be greeted by a pair of extremely cooperative Eastern Kingbirds. I spent a good fifteen minutes digiscoping them before heading to my next stop. How can anyone not take advantage of cooperative kingbirds?

Eastern Kingbird taking off

Eastern Kingbird taking off in pursuit of a bug.

Eastern Kingbird

The tyrant of the telephone line.

Eastern Kingbird wings spread

I swear, sometimes birds just like to show off.

After Bashakill (and a quick stop at Stewart’s for some more coffee and breakfast) I headed through Wurtsboro to Gumear Falls Road, the one spot in New York (that I know of) where you can pretty much be guaranteed to hear a bird yelling about pizza. That is, you can find Acadian Flycatcher there. I didn’t even have to get out of my car to hear one call though it took me a bit of effort to get a look, not that it was worth it. It was also nice to hear Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, and Chestnut-sided Warbler all singing on territory. After Gumear Falls Road I crossed Route 209 to the Linear Park and tracked down an Alder Flycatcher that is always present there, my eighth flycatcher species of the morning. (For those keeping track at home, I had Great Crested, Least, Acadian, Alder, and Willow Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and Eastern Phoebe.)

I said good-bye to Wurtsboro and headed east and then north, making my way to the Town of Wallkill in Ulster County, in particular, to Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge where I hoped to see Grasshopper Sparrows and other grassland breeders. I was amazed that there were two different birding field trips there already, but I managed to see past the tilly hats and spotting scopes to pick up not only my hoped-for Grasshopper Sparrows but Eastern Meadowlarks, Bobolinks, and Savannah and Field Sparrows too!

Grasshopper Sparrow at Shawangunk

Grasshopper Sparrows don’t seem to sing terribly loudly but their song carries a long way.

From Shawangunk I headed just down the road to Blue Chip Farm to see if I could find Upland Sandpipers. And, of course, because it was that kind of day, I did. The only downer was that they did not come close.

Upland Sandpipers

Who likes a declining species of shorebird that eschews the shore and has as its most impressive vocalization a wolf-whistle? Me!

This left me with one stop to make on my whirlwind birding tour. I had not yet found Golden-winged Warblers and Ironwood Road in Sterling Forest State Park was my best bet. Could I go six-for-six on my target species? Or could I do even better and pick up a Black-billed Cuckoo as well? Golden-winged Warblers ended up being embarrassingly easy, with four birds showing themselves to me, including this color-marked bird.

What an amazing bird!

But Golden-winged Warblers weren’t the only show-stoppers at Ironwood Road. A Worm-eating Warbler foraged in the forest, a Hooded Warbler sang from cover, Prairie Warblers were everywhere, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird did a quick fly-by, and, yes, shockingly, a Black-billed Cuckoo called several times!

I was home by noon after what was undoubtedly my most successful search for some of New York’s coolest breeding birds ever!

singing Golden-winged Warbler

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 and Desmond Shearwater. 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.