PART 2: West Coast Expedition, Day One: From 200 feet above sea level to 8,500 feet above sea level

A funny thing happens up in the mountains of Pine, Colorado during blizzards.  The visibility increases for what seems to be just a moment, but then the snow slowly creeps back over the world, reducing your sight to what seems to be just the tip of your middle finger on an open hand with your arm stretched out at its farthest reaches.

Fortunately, after about four hours of being inside, the haze and snow showers lifted for an hour to allow some great, beautiful mountaintop birding!

As I stepped out of the warmth of the cabin-like house, I was hit with a shocking blast of 30-degree-Fahrenheit air.  I was allowed to go within sight of the house, and I obeyed those boundaries (give or take ten or fifteen yards, for birding purposes 🙂 ).  To get an idea about how far I could go, I walked out until I could no longer see the house, and then birded my way back.

Although I heard calls in the distance, the surrounding woods were silent.  I moved swiftly to the nearest grouping of calls.  At this point, I got to really take in all of the beautiful snow-covered evergreens, undulating in the gentle breeze.  I was able to really listen to the subtle crunch of the wet snow underfoot.  Just the overall serenity of everything here – no sound of bulldozers, no sound of planes, only the curious sound the snow makes as it falls off of trees.  Then, finally, I came upon the source of the calls.

To my surprise, there was a house that had a feeding station consisting of a couple of full feeders.  The house had a REAL cabin design (like the type of wooden cabin that one may see at a campground), and was small compared to the others in the area.  One story and made of wood, it looked like it had seen many years and many harsh winters up there in the mountains.  It was certainly singular.  The question was, would a singular person be living there?

Now, viewing the feeding station that undoubtedly had lifers on it from twenty yards away (yards meaning three feet, not yards meaning people’s properties) isn’t exciting, so I decided to get a closer look.

Sprinting to the nearest tree for cover from any watching eyes, I went onto the guy’s property.  This brings up a perplexing argument.

Do birders have the right to trespass onto somebody’s property just because they have cool birds?  I say no.  BUT, I don’t think that, on the first offense, they should be reported to the police.  I could see if I was a homeowner, and I saw a thirty-year-old guy with binoculars and a camera on my property, I may be upset (I really wouldn’t be though, because I would understand that he probably isn’t a Peeping Tom).  The thing is, if a birder trespasses, they never mean any harm – never.  That is why I unhesitatingly trespassed.  From my point of view, I wasn’t doing any harm.  I wasn’t getting uncomfortably close to the house, nor was I angled so I was pointing my binoculars at the house.  From my perspective, what I was doing was fine.

I got incredible looks at the birds on the feeders.  I saw the usual Pygmy Nuthatches (my fourth and final Nuthatch species of North America) and a huge flock of Chickadees.  I wrote them off as just “Chickadee species”, but then I quit thinking that I was still in PA, and realized that there were only Black-Capped and Mountain Chickadees here, no Carolina, and these both have their own unique characteristics.

It was obvious that the Chickadees that I was seeing were not Black-Capped Chickadees.  They had two distinct superciliary lines on either side of their head, dorsal to two, very prominent white lateral crown stripes.  Then, below those, there was a black median crown stripe.  The Black-Capped, on the other hand, has a completely black head, and none of that fancy stuff!  So, I concluded that they were Mountain Chickadees – another lifer!

So, with a lifer already, I thought I should do some more exploring of this guy’s property.

Not traipsing too far onto the property looking for birds was a challenge – the guy’s feeders attracted so many birds!  From afar, I did manage to pick up the steady, monotonous drumming of a Woodpecker.  I closed in on the bird’s position, and discovered that the bird looked more like a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker.  This bird had a red cap with a bit of red caudal, a red throat, a yellowish chest and stomach speckled with black, and a black back with a white barred “U” shape extending to either side of the median.  It was drilling on a type of conifer.  Knowing that the Yellow-Bellied range doesn’t extend that far west, I crossed off that possibility, but still kept it in mind because it looked so similar.

Next in the Sapsucker possibility lineup was the Williamson’s Sapsucker.  The adult Williamson’s were a definite NO, as the male has no red on it’s head (other than a bit on it’s throat) and a bold yellow stomach.  The female Williamson’s looks more like a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, in my opinion, because of the heavy barring of the back.

Our third contestant, the Red-Bellied Sapsucker, was also a definite no.  If not because of it’s range of the immediate west coastline, only extending as far east (in the United States) as central Utah, then because of the male’s striking red-rose head, extending caudally to it’s breast.  The female looks very similar to the male.

Our final species possibility was the Red-Naped Sapsucker.  This bird is probably the best match to the bird I saw.  The range fits, the habitat fits, and the description fits.  So, I decided that it was the Red-Naped Sapsucker, my second lifer of the day.

After all that, the owner of the property stepped out onto his lawn – or should I say snow -, crossed his arms, and stood there giving me the evil eye.  Not wanting to have to deal with this creeper, especially because he wasn’t brown (I love employing bird puns, especially bad ones 🙂 ), I fled the scene.

When I arrived back at the house, my mom and our friend were just departing to do some birding along with me.  But, as they were descending the outdoor stairs from the elevated deck, I noticed a little zip around the Hummingbird feeder placed strategically by our friend so she could see the feeding hummers from indoors.  Upon putting my binos up to it, I confirmed it as a Black-Chinned Hummingbird.

Being one of two Hummingbird species in our area of Colorado, the bird was very easy to narrow down.  The two choices were the Broad-Tailed or Black-Chinned hummer.  Immediately I noticed that this bird had a black/purple gorget, a distinct characteristic of the Black-Chinned Hummingbird.  To back up this identification even further, the Broad-Tailed has a red/pink gorget and a bright green back.

I then went inside of the house and grabbed my camera, feeling stupid that I did not have it with me previously.  Upon returning outside, there was a clamor so great that I had no choice but to investigate.

I quickly found the source of the incredibly loud and vexing noise in my binoculars, and identified the large yellow birds as Evening Grosbeaks.

Evening Grosbeaks are typically seen in this area only in winter.  They are a larger bird that usually travels in flocks.  The males are mostly yellow, with a brownish head, black and white wings, and a black tail.  The females are duller with more white on the wings and tail.  They are also a member of the Finch family.

I noticed these birds in a flock of about eight or so individuals, which provided some cool and continual looks at this lifer.  This was certainly one of the most exquisite birds that I saw on this trip.

With that, we departed to go back out birding, literally retracing my footsteps.

Soon we arrived back at the neighbor’s feeding station, and the creepy guy was no longer there.  Because of that, I didn’t mention anything to either adult.  But, soon enough, after I had shown the two all of the birds on the property, the man came out again, with that same disgusted countenance.  Quickly, I jumped off of the guy’s property (there was a little drop-off until you came to the dirt road), and backed up until I no longer felt penetrated by his unblinking gaze.

Our friend, however, said that this man was quite friendly, and that she had known him since her mountain house was constructed.  Having already seen all of the birds this feeding station had to offer, and seeing that I didn’t want to have anything to do with the man anymore, my mom and our friend willingly left to go back to the house.

Now, with the lifer total capitalizing to a whopping 6, I decided to end the day of birding, excited for all that was in store for tomorrow.

*As for the pictures that would normally be here, well, I wasn’t able to get any good ones, unfortunately, but I certainly did for Day 2, so stay tuned!

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West Coast Expedition: Day One From 200 feet above sea level to 8,500 feet above sea level, Part One

Before I start this post, I want to make it clear that I have failed to write about a number of previous trips, and I will be posting them at a later time.

So, May 19, 2011, I have begun my eight day odyssey into beautiful southern California.  First, though, we will be stopping over in Denver, Colorado.  We have a family friend there, and she would like to do some birding, so to start the journey, I’m going to have a little CO birding!

Approx. 9:30 am

We have landed!!  Immediately, I am looking outside the plane and I am noticing some hawks.  Unfortunately, I can’t identify them.

Now, we are meeting the family friend at the baggage claim, and we are about to walk out to the parking lot.  In the parking lot, I am seeing House Sparrow (darn), Rock Pigeon (grrr…), European Starling (argh), and a Western Kingbird (woo-hoo!!!)  The Kingbird isn’t a lifer (I saw one at Bombay Hook NWR last year), but still a cool western bird.

Approx. 11:00 am

Now, we are driving up to our friend’s mountain house.  She is stopping at a few good parks along the scenic route, although the weather is overcast and drizzly.  Our first stop was Lair O’ the Bear Park.

Lair O’ the Bear has proved very productive.

As we entered the main trail, off in the nearby grassland area, I saw a brushy area.  There was a high amount of flitting inside of it, and, as I took a closer look, there was a Flycatcher species (so far unidentified, but most likely a lifer), multiple “Audubon’s” Yellow-Rumped Warbler (a western subspecies of the Yellow-Rumped Warbler), a Yellow Warbler, and Chipping Sparrow.

Then, we headed right where the trail branched in two, and along that found a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and Song Sparrow.  This trail curved along a stream, and, my guess is that in nice weather, it would have attracted a good number of birds.  The trail led us through a meandering woodland habitat, eventually leading to another spot where it branched in two.

At this point, we were in a field setting, and you could really feel the wind.  The breeze brought along pelting bullets of a wintry mix (not rain and not snow, but in between), which didn’t make the excursion very enjoyable.

At the branch, we made a left, which took us through yet another wooded setting.  Here, there was an odd noise to be heard.  It was a very stately “chip”-like call, which was replied by the same call off in the distance.  As we approached the call, I noticed the bird.  It was a Flycatcher.  It was frequently bobbing its tail (by frequently I mean about twice a second, no exaggerations), and was moving about quite a bit.  It had olive upperparts with cream-color washed underparts (to my best recollection).  It is still unidentified, but it seems to closely resemble a Hammond’s Flycatcher.  If this is true, it would be the second lifer for the trip.

We continued up a bit, still in the unrelenting, poor weather.  Then, as if out of nowhere, there was a cricket-like buzzing noise.  Perched up on a branch above us was a female Hummingbird of some sort.  In my days, I have only seen one kind of Hummingbird, the Ruby-Throated.  In turn, this had to be a lifer.  The only Hummingbirds readily seen in this part of Colorado are the Black-Chinned Hummingbird and Broad-Tailed Hummingbird.  Since I only got a quick glimpse at the bird, and no photograph, I will have to leave it unidentified.

After the Hummingbird sighting, the weather started to get more intense, so we decided to head back to the car and drive on.  There was one last stop that our friend wanted to show me, regardless of the weather.  The next stop is to be O’Fallon Park.

The park was about a half an hour away from Lair O’ the Bear, and we were about to find out that it was worth the drive – and putting up with the poor weather!

The main section of O’Fallon was less coniferous forests and more grass, but as you got deeper, it converged back into the usual pine groves.  The park borders a small stream that, as with the stream at Lair O’ the Bear, would have attracted a good amount of birds on a nicer day.

As we pulled into the park, I noticed some more Audubon’s Warblers, as well as an American Crow, and a couple of Mallards and Geese.  Then, I spotted a blue bird.  Thinking that I was still in the east, I immediately thought that the bird was an Eastern Bluebird, and then quickly changed my frame of mind to western birds, and reevaluated the species as a Western Bluebird.  Sure enough, as I examined the bird more closely, it was a Western Bluebird.

Western and Eastern Bluebirds are not hard at all to tell apart.  If the range of the two doesn’t already tell you, there is one other identification tip that almost never fails.  The male Eastern Bluebird has a solid blue back.  This is not the case with the Western species.  Male Western Bluebirds have a chestnut patch below their nape, their most obvious field mark.

As we continued down the path, still in awful weather, there was a flock of finches.  A yellowish bird that stood out appeared to be a Goldfinch.  No closer inspection could be made, as the bird flew away at the first sign of us approaching.  I did catch a very quick glimpse, and in that time I saw that it looked like a Lesser Goldfinch.  With no proof that it wasn’t just an American, I decided not to count it as a lifer.

The males of both species are very easy to tell apart (not cutting myself any breaks, but in poor weather, and a second’s look, they aren’t).  Lessers have black only on their cap, wings, and tail.  Their backs are an olive-green color, and their breasts and stomachs are yellow.  The Americans, on the other hand, have black on their cap, wings, and tail, and yellow everywhere else.

After that, we continued in the freezing (no pun intended) weather.  All that were in front of us were Chipping Sparrows and American Robins.  At that point, the weather started to become very intolerable.  We decided to head back to the car and grab some lunch.

As we briskly walked to the car, I saw a small, gray bird that seemed like a sort of sparrow.  Upon closer inspection, the bird was a “Gray-Headed” Dark-Eyed Junco.  This is a Rocky Mountain region subspecies of the Dark-Eyed Junco.  As you can see in my (poor) photograph, it has an overall gray body, but black around its eye, and a chestnut patch below its nape. All of the Junco shots in previous posts have been “Slate-Colored” Dark-Eyed Junco, common to northern United States.

With the end of that last sighting, we headed back to the car to go get some lunch.  As we passed the creek at the entrance, I saw a Nuthatch.  There are only three types of Nuthatches to be found in Colorado – Red-Breasted, White-Breasted, and Pygmy.  I knew that it wasn’t the former two, so it had to be a Pygmy.

Out of the two, Pygmy Nuthatches resemble White-Breasted Nuthatches the most, although they still have very distinct differences.  There is not a single ounce of red on them, so there is no resemblance whatsoever with Red-Breasted Nuthatches.

Male White-Breasted Nuthatches are full of a multitude of vivid colors.  They have midnight black on their cap and nape leading down to around their shoulders, much of their wings, most obvious on their primaries, and on parts of their tail.  They have a light blue-gray color on their back (transitioning with the black on shoulders), mixed in with the black on their wings, and mixed in with the black on their tail.  Almost everywhere else on their body is white, with the exception of a very light rust color on their ventrals.

Male Pygmy Nuthatches have white on their throats and cheeks, leading all the way down to their stomach, where it changes into more of a gray color.  The rest of their body is a deep gray color, with the exception of some obvious black (and some white) on their primaries.

With that, there were no more new birds to be seen, and I swore I was getting some frostbite!

Finally, we got out of the park and on our way to lunch.  With two confirmed lifers so far today, I figure that I am doing well so far, but my birding day is now over because of the intense blizzard conditions, which would undoubtedly get worse as our altitude increased…

Personally, I think this subspecies of Junco is much more interesting than our "Slate-Colored" back at home

Although birded in poor weather, this small park high up in Colorado yielded a variety of birds new to me, being from Pennsylvania

This flycatcher was seen near Pine, Colorado on May 19th, 2011. It was frequently bobbing its tail (around two times a second, no exaggeration). Buffy-white front.

This flycatcher was seen near Pine, Colorado on May 19th, 2011. It was frequently bobbing its tail (around two times a second, no exaggeration). Buffy-white front.

At Lair O’ The Bear Park in Pine, Colorado

Much different from our "Myrtle" back home

The Idle Period of Birding – The Trail

Although it has been a little over a month since my last post, I can assure you that my passion for birds (or writing) has not decreased at all.  My lame excuses are – my parents have been busy with work around the house, and the weather has been awful lately on the weekends (but I have had time for a birding trip during this time, although that is for another post).  The truth is, on the few days that were suitable for birdwatching (but I didn’t have anyone to take me birding), I have been in my backyard, not completely idle in the bird world.  I have been making a trail.

In the very back of our property, there is a narrow strip of woods where the birds are often abundant.  I have decided to clear a rustic path through those woods so I can see what birds my yard really can produce (“really” meaning not just at my feeders).  I am very excited because come migration and breeding season, I believe there will be a plethora of species to be found.

My interest in the birding opportunities that my yard presents started one fall day at around dinnertime.  We were eating outside when I noticed “flitting” in the tops of some of our trees.  I grabbed my binoculars (unfortunately I didn’t have a scope) and went to the back (where the tree with activity was).  I knew that I was dealing with Warblers, and, since I couldn’t tell what species they were, I just could hope that they came down to a lower level in the trees.  My hope paid off.

Discouraged, I headed back to the table to agitated parents saying “We were in the middle of a meal.  Why did you leave?”.   I said “Well, I thought I saw some birds that I had never seen before.”  Then, before they could reply, I was up out of my seat, and off to the back once again.

I slowly approached the back, careful not to scare my targets.  Then, a small bird darted across my field of view.  It landed and stayed put long enough for me to put a name to it.  It was a Blackpoll Warbler.  Excited at my discovery, I got a good final look at the Blackpoll and headed back to the dinner table.

I was now at the table, a wide grin stretching across my face.  But instead of looking at me and lecturing me once again about leaving the dinner table, my parents had their binoculars and were staring through them at a looming Birch Tree situated next to our patio.  I found what they were looking at, got a look at it through my binoculars.  I identified it as a Northern Parula.

Now, I know that the majority of you are probably thinking “Umm… wow *sarcasm*!  A Blackpoll and a Parula.  Incredible sighting!”  Don’t get me wrong, these species are beautiful birds, but seeing them in our area at that time of year is not rare to any extent.  The thing that makes this sighting exciting, though, is the fact that I have never seen a Warbler in our yard (with the exception of a Yellow-Rumped a few years back), let alone two in one day!  So, I can conclude from this that there are, in fact, Warblers in our yard, and it has merely been a case of me not being in the right place at the right time to see them!

So now I am very excited for migration this season so I can view, in my own backyard, many of the birds that I would usually travel many miles to see.  Just one more note – I had said that I was excited for breeding season at “The Trail”.  This is because there are many woodpecker cavities that I have noticed Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches, and Woodpeckers all investigating, so I have a feeling that we’re going to have some nesting action!

Good birding!

This is the main part of my trail.

The Mayapple, one of the few native wildflowers growing along the trail.

One of the sections of my trail. Not yet a bird magnet, but Im hoping that come migration, it will be.

Another section of my trail.

Falling trees are a hazard of my trail, thanks to Poison Ivy, English Ivy, and Wild Grape. They have killed many of the trees along my trail (which is what makes it a prime area for Woodpecker watching).

Another section of my trail.

This is the main part of my trail (the clearest). I am not aiming to thin out the invasive groundcover species (most of the bushes in this shot) all right away because, for instance, the berries of the Japanese Multi Flora Rose is a favorite for species like Northern Mockingbird. Also, if the woods has limited ground cover, then I may just be working against myself - making the trail less desirable for birds instead of being able to view loads of them.

The perfect way to spend the Great Backyard Bird Count

Every year, there is an event held for bird watchers of all levels and ages called the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).  To find out more about this fun activity, visit http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/whycount.html.

Now, many people spend the GBBC at their houses, counting from their yards.  For me, this wasn’t the case.  The GBBC in our backyard from previous years was very successful – I added the American Tree Sparrow to my life list – but this year, I wanted to do something different.  So, on Sunday of last weekend, we drove to Atwater Quarry, in Malvern, Pennsylvania.  Note – To find Atwater Quarry, plug in Atwater Drive as the street name.  You can try Atwater Corporate Park, but that might not work in all cases.  Also, the “overlook” of the Quarry is actually the road leading into an Allstate Insurance building, so there is more background noise on weekdays than on weekends.

In my opinion, out of all of the places that I have been to in my life, Atwater Quarry is the third most gorgeous and serene (Second: the U.S Virgin Islands. First: Buttermilk Falls State Park, Ithaca, New York).  On your first visit here, you will fall in love with it, not only because of the exquisite views, but because of the sheer masses of birds!

The water in the Quarry is an amazing blue-green color, and is obviously packed full of fish, because it has a wide variety of fish-eating birds throughout the year.  Feeding on the water alone, you will be able to find a wide variety of species, including Belted Kingfisher, Double-Crested Cormorant, Bank Swallows, Canada Goose, Mallard, and other winter duck species.  But the birds on land are of the greatest variety of all.

You can go through a multitude of habitats – there is a “fit trail”, which overlooks the Quarry, takes you past a few secluded trees, gives you a distant view at a forest mixed with scrub, and then takes you close up past some small trees (which usually harbor Red-Winged Blackbirds and Common Yellowthroat).  There is an area (off of the “fit trail”) that is behind the Allstate building which is a garden.  This area usually has Northern Mockingbird, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, and the occasional Turkey Vulture that perches on top of the building.

If you are the “off-the-beaten-path-rather-than-heavily-trodden-trails” type of person, then you can always walk on the dirt/stone area leading out farther into the “wilds” of the Quarry.

The rugged path at Atwater Quarry.

Here, you can get a good look at Alder Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Kingbird, and Red-Winged Blackbird (On our trip this past Sunday, this is where we found an American Kestrel).  This area also brings you close enough to get a good look at breeding Killdeer, but not close enough to do them any harm.

This birding paradise’s specialty, though, is it’s Hawks and Vultures.  You are guaranteed a close up view of Turkey and Black Vultures, and possibly a Red-Tailed Hawk (if it comes to you at all).  Even on Sunday’s trip, we had hoards of Turkey Vultures flying relatively low over

One of the many Turkey Vultures hangliding on the thermals here

our heads.

Finally, the most beautiful view of the Quarry is from a cliff – the St. Peters Church side of Atwater Drive.  There is nothing special birding-wise up here, but the view is spectacular.  You get to look over everything – and when I say everything, I mean everything.  To get the best views, though, you will need to come here early in spring, so that the bushy scrub doesn’t get in your way.

All in all, this past Sunday’s GBBC was amazing.  The list of birds seen is listed below

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Redhead
  3. Ring-Necked Duck
  4. Mallard
  5. American Black Duck
  6. American Wigeon
  7. Common Merganser
  8. American Kestrel
  9. Song Sparrow
  10. Turkey Vulture
  11. Killdeer
  12. Eastern Bluebird
  13. Northern Mockingbird
  14. Dark-Eyed Junco

    Canada Goose sitting in the water

    A mixture of ducks at the Quarry including Mallard, American Black Duck, Ring-Necked Duck, American Wigeon, and a couple of Redhead

    A long distance of an Eastern Bluebird. They weren't being very cooperative today!

    A Northern Mockingbird watching over his land!

So, if you ever need to relax, or you want to have a great birding day, give Atwater Quarry a try!

An overlook of the Quarry

An overlook of the Quarry

A high cliff. Taken from near the waters edge

A small waterfall leading into the Quarry

An overlook of the Quarry

An overlook of the Quarry

Spring!!!…….Sort of

You know its close to spring when the Bluebirds are checking out possible homes for the breeding season!!

This past Wednesday, I noticed a pair of Eastern Bluebirds flying from birdhouse to birdhouse in our backyard, and occasionally entering one.  When they entered one, they would usually go in together, which, according to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Bluebird/id, is a good thing.  This behavior indicates that the pair bond is typically established (read more at the link above).

If you have a story similar to this, feel free to comment it!

Shot of a female Eastern Bluebird from a couple of years ago. This shot portrays what will probably be happening at our house soon, though!

I hope as we start a little birding community here, the readers of this blog will be able to share your experiences through comments, and we will all eventually be able to learn from each other!

Birding Black Rock Sanctuary

This past Sunday, February 6th, we went birding at Black Rock Sanctuary in Phoenixville (near Spring City), Pennsylvania.  For more information about the whereabouts of this sanctuary and its amenities, please visit http://dsf.chesco.org/ccparks/cwp/view.asp?a=1550&q=616465.

One of the many interpretive stations along the Interpretive Trail.

A trail at Black Rock.

One of the first points that I want to make is that if you are planning on finding this park with a GPS, you have to be careful and word it as Black Rock Sanctuary.  We tried finding it using Black Rock Park, and that took us to another place in Phoenixville that was under some sort of construction, and didn’t look much like a park at all.

Many people say that places like Cape May or Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (hoping to be able to get there in spring!) are their favorite places to see Warblers during migration.  Cape May is my favorite spring birding spot, but not for the Warblers.  I would say that Black Rock, a rather local (to me), unknown gem, is my favorite place to see Warblers during migration.  This is the place where I found my first Chestnut-Sided, Black-and-White, Yellow, and Tennessee (I had an interesting experience with this guy last year!) Warblers, and during the winter you can expect to see bounties of Yellow-Rumped Warblers.

Now for the birding!

To start off the day, we started on the interpretive trail leading through a multitude of habitats (unfortunately walking straight into the sun).  Immediately, we experienced one of the great things that happens at this park.  Pockets!

“Pockets” of birds form everywhere, but I notice them the most at Black Rock.  Pockets can be found almost anywhere along the trails at any time of the year.  My favorite part about pockets at Black Rock is that they don’t only consist of one species, you usually can find about fifteen species in one pocket on a spring day.

The birds that we found in our pocket consisted of Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, White-Throated Sparrow, European Starling, a Chickadee, Mourning Dove, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Mourning Dove, and an American Goldfinch.

A Great-Blue Heron. Messed with the white-balance of this one a bit.

A Yellow-Rumped Warbler that spends the winter here.

Messed with the white-balance of this one, too. A Chickadee who was visiting the nearby feeding station.

Now, one of the questions that you might be asking yourself (if you haven’t already gone onto Black Rock’s website) is “What type of birds could I expect to see here?”.  Well, you are in for a long explanation!

First of all, Black Rock’s trails (more than just the interpretive trail) lead you through such a variety of habitats, I will not be able to name all of the individual species, but I should be able to get you a pretty good idea of what you will see.

When you pull into the parking lot, you will see a field at your left.  This field will have a trail that stretches back for at least a mile, and then loops you back to the parking lot again.  During breeding season, this trail holds many good birding opportunities, as the Parks and Rec Service put up nesting boxes (seemingly for Eastern Bluebirds, but Tree Swallows occupy most of them).  The Tree Swallows that have taken up residence in these boxes allow you to get very close (good for photographers), but please, leave their nests alone.

Anyway, you can expect to see many species on this field trail including many birds of prey, a good variety of Swallow (Northern Rough-Winged, too), some species of Warbler, Sparrow, and Indigo Bunting.

They have the Interpretive Trail, as mentioned earlier.  This has just been paved, so it makes it handicap accessible.  The true Interpretive Trail (true meaning that the Interpretive Trail ends where its pavement ends, and then leads onto an entirely different trail) leads through a multitude of habitats itself.  You can expect to see Warblers during any season (preferably during migration).  You can see Sparrows and Wrens in winter, and Herons and Egrets in summer.  Towhees, Grosbeak, Woodpeckers, Tanagers, Bunting, and Oriole can all be seen at different times throughout the year.

The final trail (well, the last trail that I have found) doesn’t seem to be named, but it can be found off of the Interpretive Trail Loop.  We have ventured only about three quarters of a mile on this trail, and we have made the realization that this is really the part of this sanctuary where you are surprisingly (surprisingly for this area) a good distance from any houses or roads.

A few years ago (not during migration, and we haven’t been on this trail for a very long time.  I am hoping to get there this spring to see what Warblers can be seen, as well as other species), this trail produced my first Great-Crested Flycatcher, which flew right out in the open (unfortunately I wasn’t into photography).  Other species that I guarantee you that you will see on this trail at some time of the year are Buntings, Towhee, Tanager, some Warblers, and Oriole.  This trail, along with the others, leads though a diversity of habitats, including marshes, fields, deciduous forests, and open water (those are the only ones that I passed on my trip), so there is bound to be a much greater quantity of species that can be found there.

For any of you who want to check Black Rock out:  Depending on the weather, you should have an amazing birding day.  Also, if you are not a serious birder, it probably wouldn’t be worth a two and a half to three hour drive, because this place is relatively small; it isn’t like one of the major state parks or wildlife refuge where, if at one part the birding isn’t good, you can just go to another part.  But, if you want to, I hope you have a great time!

Oops!  I forgot!  If you come during spring, summer, or fall, make sure you check out their front garden in the parking lot (the garden pictured in the link that I have attached at the top of this post) for Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds!

P.S.  I have not been posting as frequently as I had hoped.  You can expect a larger wave of posts coming during mid-spring through mid-fall.  School has been keeping me busy!!

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day!!

Staten Island & Ferry Ride Birding

On January 29th, we went to the Manhattan area in New York to visit a family friend.  That friend was kind enough to hook all four of us up with a tour of some Staten Island Parks!

Now, today’s post will be slightly shorter than previous ones because, although the 29th was a beautiful day, many of the pond and lake birding opportunities were spoiled by freezing weather.  The day did not produce any lifers.  It did start out interestingly enough, though.

The ferry ride to the island was great – the Gulls trailing it were very photogenic!

Gulls flying behind the Staten Island Ferry on the Manhattan skyline.

A Ring-Billed Gull following the Ferry

A Ring-Billed Gull that took a ride with us on the Ferry

But what really stood out was when we got off of the ferry.  Immediately, our guide spotted Cormorants, and identified one as a Great.  Now, this would have been a lifer for me, but there were many Double-Crested Cormorants around.  Not that I didn’t trust the guide (he was a great leader and his bird identification skills were very good), its just that the bird was very far away, and I couldn’t get a positive ID on it.  If there is something as serious (well, serious for me) as putting a misidentified species on my life list at stake, I want to take as much precaution with identifying the bird as possible.

After that, we boarded our bus that would take us to the southern end of the island.  The bus ride was very long (personally, I wished that we could have spent more time birding and less time on a bus), but they did spot two Wild Turkeys in a tree.  It wouldn’t have been a lifer, of course, but I didn’t see them anyway.  I would have liked to see a turkey (other than on my dinner plate), because I haven’t seen one in years, and I think that they are a very intriguing species, not only because of their looks but because of their history too (but that is for an entirely different post).

After about a half an hour on the bus, we reached our destination, Wolfe’s Pond Park.  It is a scenic place, even in winter, but further research shows me that the birding there is better during spring and fall.  We saw Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls, Long-Tailed Duck, a species of Scaup (probably Greater), Common Goldeneye, Brant, Mallard, and American Black Duck.

A saltwater Scaup species, which means that they are probably Greater Scaup

A flock of Brant flying away from us as we walked in their direction.

There was one specific Ring-Billed Gull that would let me get within feet of him, which proved to provide many good photo opportunities.

The Ring-Billed Gull that let me get very close at Wolfe's Pond Park.

There is nothing else to be noted about birding at this park, other than a great look of Herring Gulls trying to steal an American Black Duck’s food.

Here is the Gull trying to steal the American Black Duck's mussel

We got BACK on the bus and headed up to Greenbelt Nature Center to attempt to walk on some trails to get some forest birds.  We arrived, and headed into the nature center.  They had a band playing, and there were drinks and snacks for all.  I then went outside to a feeder right along the walkway leading into the front doors, where a Chickadee was letting people get very close (a Downy Woodpecker showed up, too, but left before I could get pictures).

"What are you lookin' at?" The Chickadee that was being very photogenic.

We then all attempted to walk on a trail through the forest, but then they all turned around because the snow became too deep.

We, for the last time, boarded the bus which took us back to the Ferry.  We took one final look at the Cormorant to try to determine if it was a Great, and then got on the Ferry.

The final excitement of the day was when a Rock Pigeon boarded the Ferry with us, rode it all the way back to the Manhattan side, and flew back towards Staten Island until out of sight.  I don’t know why, but that intrigued me…

This guy boarded the Ferry with us, rode it to Manhattan, and then flew back in the direction of Staten Island.

One of the Gulls that was following the Ferry