Have the summer doldrums gotten you down as much as they have me? Well, don’t fret, look for shorebirds! Though they may be indistinct and indistinguishable, especially at the great distances from which one usually sees them, they are still birds. And these birds of mudflats and seasides, wet fields and drainage ditches, sewage ponds and shallow streams are starting to head south and birders everywhere are scoping them out, trying to pick the rare from the not-so-rare (though some like shorebirding as little as I do).
Up here in the capital region of New York State we have several traditional locations where the shorebirds stop for at least a day of fattening up on their long journey south. Wright’s Loop, a sod farm in eastern Saratoga County, hard up against the Hudson River, is a stupendous spot for American Golden Plover, though, according to recent reports, all that is there so far this year are way too many Killdeer. Sod farms in general tend to be good for shorebirds, especially just after the sod has been harvested, leaving bare earth in which birds find invertebrates on which to feed. I haven’t checked out Wright’s Loop yet this summer but I’ll be out there looking next week.
Killdeer in flight
Further south along the Hudson River is the blockhouse in Stillwater. The blockhouse itself is a historic building that is not very good habitat for anything except pigeons, but the shallow water beneath the dam in front of the blockhouse is sometimes a shorebird bonanza. Already this season Western Sandpipers have been reported there though my two stops there this year netted me a paltry two Spotted Sandpipers and some unidentified peeps. My lack of a shorebird haul was due to the presence of fishermen who kept birds off the prime feeding area. The Stillwater site is also often a good spot to see early migrating waterfowl. Common Mergansers often congregate in numbers and one never knows what else will appear.
Vischer Ferry in southern Saratoga County can also be a good shorebirding location. Last year a Wilson’s Phalarope was present at the end of Ferry Drive but it dodged every effort I made to see it. I bird Vischer Ferry so much in the spring and autumn that I never feel like going there in the summer so I don’t do much shorebirding there.
In Albany County the place to go is in the extreme northeastern corner of the county, near the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, the Cohoes Flats, located in, yes, you guessed it, Cohoes. Here rocky flats are alternately inundated and left high and dry, the result of engineers releasing and holding back water upstream. The wonderful side effect is, of course, great shorebird habitat.
Cohoes Flats from New Street
So far this year at the Cohoes Flats I have seen my only White-rumped Sandpipers of the year, many Killdeer and Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs (the pictures above are from Cohoes), my first Semipalmated Plovers of the south-bound migration, and Least, Spotted and Semipalmated Sandpipers. That might not be a very impressive list but it beats the heck out of anywhere else around here.
And the non-shorebirding birding is great too! Huge numbers of Ring-billed Gulls roost on the flats and there is almost always a Great Black-backed or Herring Gull or two. Over the last couple of days Will, Zack (a new birding acquaintance) and I spotted a breeding-plumaged Bonaparte’s Gull, five Black-crowned Night Herons, Belted Kingfishers, an American Kestrel, a juvenile Bald Eagle, Chimney Swifts, a Green-winged Teal, a Common Merganser, Yellow Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, etc, etc. It is a wonderful birding spot, and exciting when a bird of prey puts up all the other birds.
gulls put up by Bald Eagle
To conclude: shorebirding is not terribly fun compared to other kinds of birding, the Albany area, except for a few select spots, is rather poor when it comes to shorebirding, and if you want to shorebird around here go to Cohoes and enjoy other birds too…even an Australian Black Swan!