My first bird sighting of the new year was a raucous murder of crows, which might have seemed ominous were it not so commonplace. One likes to start a new year (and year list) off right to set the appropriate tone for the coming months. The Core Team spent the last days of December in Potter County, PA and Rochester, NY. Since the majority of the Core Team (Sara, Mason, and Ivy) decided to remain upstate for a while longer leaving me to return to the Bronx alone, I decided to get in a bit of New Year’s Day birding on the way home. Fortunately, my path took me right through Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.
Seth and I were in hot pursuit of a squad of Sandhill Cranes that have been hanging around Montezuma. I also hoped to pick up some new waterfowl, specifically Redhead. As we approached Montezuma, the typical Red-tailed Hawks, Ring-billed Gulls, and European Starlings along the highway were overshadowed by long, lazy skeins of geese filling the skies. Snow and Canada Geese were both magnificently numerous throughout the Montezuma complex. We lacked the time and equipment to pick out Ross’s and Cackling Goose respectively from the throngs of greater geese, but I’m told they were out there. My redheads were out there too, but we didn’t spot them. However, we did pick up abundant Mallard, American Black Duck, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, and Common Merganser.
Montezuma, a fabulous birding locale any time of year, had more to offer than just waterfowl. Northern Harriers coursed the marsh while Bald Eagles worked the shore of the Main Pool. One immature eagle soared right overhead for a few quick photos before returning to its snow goose snack. From the same vantage, we enjoyed crippling looks at Great Blue Heron, which, though hardly a rarity, is extremely impressive up close and personal.
Since cranes didn’t turn up in the refuge proper, we adjourned to the Savannah Mucklands for possible sandhill sightings. Regrettably, cranes didn’t make the scene there either. However, while scoping out a large group of Tundra Swans in the area of the Potatoes Building (a prominent mucklands landmark), we struck up a conversation with an obviously experienced pair of local birders. Bob and Leona were getting a jump start on their 2007 lists, same as us, and while they couldn’t help Seth and me find the dearly desired cranes, they could point us towards very likely Trumpeter Swan. Now this got my attention, as I’ve never seen Cygnus buccinator before. Then Bob and Leona went one step further and, in an unsolicited expression of the brand of enthusiastic generosity I’ve come to associate with birders everywhere, actually led us around the area in search of these special swans. It’s enough to restore your faith in humanity, isn’t it? Before long, we were admiring a trumpeter trying its hardest to hide amidst the cattails. To be perfectly honest, I would never have distinguished it from tundra without the aid of experts. Nonetheless, knocking out North America’s two native species of swan is a fine way to start a new year of birding. Certainly seems more auspicious than that murder of crows!
Thar she blows…