Winter finches gives one a reason to look forward to winter! John Haas recently reported the arrival of Crossbills and Siskin in Sullivan County, and the forays into the area gave an impressive list of possibilities to experience.
Gary Strauss, Bob Hayes and I set off at 7am to get a few target birds. Our first stop was at Fosterdale, where a Northern Shrike has been reported. We got off route 17 and proceeded to follow “Loretta’s” directions, but curiously, as we got near she went haywire and stopped responding. We drove past the road we were looking for because she was ‘stuck’ back near where we got off the highway. When we got to Lake Huntington, I knew we had gone too far, so we turned around. Zylstra Road did not have a sign off 52, only one at the other end on Short Cut. When we finally found Zylstra Road, we began to look for the Shrike, but did not see it . We then drove a short way ‘around the corner’ of Zylstra on to Shortcut road, and looking back towards the farm buildings I spied the Shrike as it flew into a small tree. Lifer for Bob, nice looks for me and Gary.
Interestingly, Bob has tried repeatedly for the Shrike at Floyd Bennett, and dipped repeatedly. This bird is atypical of it’s northern ilk, who seem not to be disturbed by human approach. I have never met a Northern Shrike that was not acutely concerned with the proximity of people, and so with all the commotion at Floyd Bennett its no surprise most people report multiple trips are necessary to find that bird.
This bird was different; we observed from the road a good distance away, and the location probably means it has a lot less disturbance. The species must have been golfers in previous incarnations.
We departed for our next target, the White-winged Crossbills and Pine Siskins that had been reported from the bog on Cooley Road. It had begun to snow ever so lightly, but as we got to Cooley Road it really began to come down and was coating the roads. We tried as best as conditions permitted, but it was a white-out.
We decided that we would try the feeders at the corner of Cooley Mountain Road and Smith Road. This homeowner has hosted many good birds in the past, including Evening Grosbeaks. The viewing was much better here with loads of Dark-eyed Juncos and Am. Goldfinch predominating. BC Chickadee, Downey WP, Red-bellied WP, Cardinal, Mourning Dove, Bluejay, and a lone Red-winged Blackbird.
In the window above the driveway to the house, the homeowner has placed a sign where he posts sightings of Evening Grosbeaks! Unfortunately, there are no listings yet. If visiting here, please be sure to park off to the side of the road so you do not obstruct traffic. This remote location does have a fair bit of traffic from locals, so it pays not to irk them so that the hospitality of the feeder’s owners is not jeopardized and we can continue to enjoy them.
The snow and lighting conditions did not lend themselves to any photographic opportunity, so we perused slowly the various roads hoping to see additional birds and or feeders. Some homes that had hosted feeders in the past did not have them filled, and we saw little activity in the snowfall, but we did find a family of Bluebirds on top of a Cedar.
We tried to find lunch at this point and be forewarned that this area is bereft of eating establishments. The diner that was at the Cooley Road exit off of what is now the old rout 17 is closed. We tried finding a diner in Liberty, but many restaurants there are closed too. The Pizza Place on Main Street is your best bet.
The snow looked like it was slowing down, and we headed back to Cooley Road. It then picked up and got even heavier. Doh! The scenery was a winter wonderland, but impossible to bird in, especially in the vicinity of the bog. We tried to go to the Willowemoc DEC fishing lot to look for the reported imm. Golden Eagle, but it was a wall of white.
We decided to leave, surprised at the amount of snowfall. Cooley road was even being plowed! 17 was only a bit better, and as I expected, once we passed Wurtsboro, the climate changed and we had rain instead of snow. We then decided to continue on to Shawangunk instead of calling it a day. We were glad we did.
We approached via Blue Chip farms, and saw hundreds of Canada Geese which we scanned. No unusual geese were with them that we could see, so we continued to Galeville County Park. In the past I used to bird from the Shawangunk NWR parking lot on Hoagerburgh road, but we went straight to the county park on Long Lane, as one can park with a direct view of the grasslands.
It was lightly raining / snowing, so standing outside of the car was not exactly welcoming. But in short order we saw a lot of activity and getting out for a better view was worth it! Short-eared owls were sitting on top of many of the trees, and flying about too. They would drop into the grass and all in all I estimated at least 12, but it could have been more. There was one rough-legged Hawk that we found sitting on top of a tree, and it was being harassed by the owls. There were many Harriers around too, and they were chasing, harassing and competing for food with the owls. What a show!
With light fading, we had timed our arrival perfectly. We had satisfying looks at the owls and other raptors, but alas, no photographic opportunities, and it was time to go. Hopefully, the Crossbills will remain in the area, and will be joined by other desirable species for a trip at a later date.
A map of these locations is >here<