Monday, February 23, 2015

A Fantastic Day Of Birding In The Black Dirt Region, That Is Until Pat Took Pete’s Lemon Slice...

What’s up with the weather lately? Weather never used to be this crazy, but it helps to look at the trends and make your best guess as to how things are going to turn out. I could have taken the easy way out and cancelled the trip, but what fun is that?

I’ll tell you what is not any fun though. Driving on the remnants of the snow and ice that was treacherous in a few places. One such place was on a sharp curve on the southern state parkway. A few cars collided with each other and the divider. And the remarkably stupid others on the road decided it was best to linger on site oblivious to the cars *behind* them that would need a place to go. I managed to maneuver my vehicle between the [ expletives deleted ] other drivers and continue on safely.

We, that is Arlene and Pete, met up with the others at a designated McDonald in Orange County. Those others being Ian, Nancy, Lou, Pat and Rich. One other had wanted to join us but responsibilities and displeasure with the conditions had made him bail out. So eight of us set out to explore the Black Dirt Region of Orange County NY.

This region is famous for what else? Black dirt. This rich soil is great farmland, and apparently a good thing to grow all sorts of onions within. But to us birders, it hosts a lot of winter specialties on the fallow fields, and made known to us fellow New York birders by the regions own expert birders.

We proceeded to the first birding stop, and not unexpectedly the road was impassable due to snow cover. Undeterred, we explored adjacent roads and discovered a very active feeder. The local birds availed themselves of the bounty in the largely otherwise desolate landscape.

Large numbers of Juncos, Cardinals, and White-throated Sparrows caused quite a commotion, and were joined by Chickadee, Downy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers as expected. But unbeknownst to us, there was a smaller yet active feeder in the house right behind us. Eagle ears { is that a legitimate expression?} Rich heard and alerted us to White-crowned Sparrow. YB1.

We all got looks at the immature bird, and shortly thereafter located several more in the trees surrounding the original feeder. We had 8+ with at least 2 adult White-crowns. And then they started singing! (The White-crowneds thankfully, not the trip participants )

Exhausting the possibilities here, we moved on, noting a plethora of Crows. I’m just guessing, but I think crows must really like onions. Not sure why else there are so many in this area.

Hopeful for finding raptors, we scrutinized many a crow to make sure were not missing out on something more desired. And then as we passed a large field we saw what looked like some crows flying with a raptor? Good thing we had the FRS radios so that all in our caravan were simultaneously aware of sighting.

And then upon closer inspection the raptor revealed itself to be none other than a Short-eared Owl! With the improved lighting conditions the bird was such a beautiful sight and we were all very psyched! Unfortunately, most of the other roads I had hoped to explore in this portion were snow bound. But the Owl made it all okay.

We proceeded to Missionland Road and began to explore some more. The snow cover was again evident and implicated in the paucity of birds. Or so we thought. As we approached the more southerly sections we kicked up some Horned Larks. Of course, those with hearing heard a Lapland Longspur with the Larks. Looking at them before they flew off, some saw it, and some (yours truly) did not. Dang. But by this time the day was revealing beautiful sunshine and moderating temperatures. All were glad we did not cancel this trip.

At the end of the road we scoped a bit and found our first Rough-legged Hawk. Later we back-tracked to gain egress and in the process found more birds hiding in the weeds. We remarked that primrose seeds seemed to be popular with finches; it was what we found a Redpoll consuming, on our Montauk Trip. Here they were being picked over by lots of Goldfinch as well as several Tree Sparrows. Here Rich also located some Rock Pigeons, and patted himself on the back for this discovery.

Moving on to the Wallkill NWR,  Rich reminded us of a place on the way that had feeders which we located and stopped to inspect of its offerings. There were the usual suspects, and more White-crowned Sparrows; always nice to see especially the adults.

In the parking lot, the sun continued to shine brightly. We found some more Rough-legged Hawks, and spotted Bald Eagles, Black and Turkey Vultures, and Ravens. But the pickings were otherwise slim, and the natives were getting restless. Fearing another unfortunate cannibalism event, I relented and permitted the consumption of the midday repast.

After the savages were sated, I led them further afield to the Camel Farm. Pat of course had to question me: “camel farm?”. “Yes” I replied, “ Have I ever lied to you”?  “No” she said. “I just don’t believe you.” I instinctively reached for a non-existent Windsor knot at my throat to adjust from side to side, but it was not present to assuage my disquietude.

On the way we stopped at the no-name road. Here we discovered another sizable flock of Horned Larks, as well as hitherto missed Snow Bunting. No additional Lapspurs though.

After some photos were obtained, we went to the Camel farm. It is in reality a sanctuary for abandoned animals with nowhere else to go.  And yes, Pat, there be’d camels. And Zebra. And donkeys etc.

Having exhausted the known possibilities here, we traveled to Blue Chip Farms. A Gyrfalcon had been sampling the local duck and pigeon cuisine since just before or Croton trip, and this was an opportunity for others (who were not as enthusiastic as I was a few weeks ago ) to get a chance at the bird.

We assembled along Old Fort Road and looked and hoped for the best. We got it! The best weather imaginable that is. We were in gorgeous warm sunshine without a breeze and temps in the 40's; after all the recent brutal cold! A special sighting was an almost adult Bald Eagle who flew low and over head, and more vultures. But no Gyrfalcon.

Not seeing a bird is never the most pleasant thing, but many of us took the opportunity to catch up with folks we tend to see only at occasions like these, while waiting for our luck to change. I for one enjoyed meeting folks I have previously only known from the internet. Its nice to put a face to a name.

One thing I found a bit off putting however, was the ‘carbon foot-print’ lament espoused by some people present. Really? Cannot one simply enjoy a beautiful day outdoors without guilt and recrimination? As far as limiting carbon foot-print, we car-pooled. For anyone who wants to feel good about themselves by sitting at home and patting themselves on the back because they did not get out and enjoy the spectacle of nature I ask: “what else do you enjoy by not actually doing it?” I am proud to be part of a club that gets out and has those great outdoor experiences.

As darkness began to approach, we first took a ride down Bates lane, hoping to see a reported Red-headed Woodpecker. We did not, but instead found a whole mess of turkeys feasting on something within a large pile of straw that was probably used horse bedding.

We ended the day’s birding by going to the Shawangunk NWR  hoping for the evening Short-eared Owl show. Didn’t happen. Oh well. So we went to get dinner at Lombardi’s in Gardiner NY, and guess what, just like always, there was an excessive wait. Should have made reservations. But in birding its hard to schedule things. We instead went to our alternate destination, the Gilded Otter Brewpub in New Paltz. Beer. Yay!

We had a pleasant dinner while doing the day’s list. We also commented upon the stark contrast in numbers as compared to last year with so many Short-eared Owls, Rough-legged Hawks, and Lapspurs back then. And we missed Harrier! One never knows - that’s what makes birding so interesting.

The only minor complaint was from Rich, who lamented we had neither camel nor Short-eared Owl for Ulster County. All in all a most spectabulous day. Until Pat took Pete’s lemon slice...

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