Monday, February 16, 2015

Eagles yes, and Gyrfalcon YES!

This past weekend 2-8-15 I participated with QCBC for its annual Croton Point trip. It is always a great trip, and this year was no exception. What is becoming clearer, is that removing deadly toxins from the environment has a beneficial effect on the creatures that were harmed by it.

Just like the Osprey, Bald Eagles have become ridiculously easy to find nowadays. If one travels to places where they concentrate, then one is overwhelmed by them.Yay!

We began by meeting at the end of the road by the train tracks, a location where the tributary flows under the tracks to join the Hudson river.  An auspicious start to the day was three adult Bald Eagles flying over our heads as we arrived.

On the water up stream was a nice assortment of waterfowl. All three Mergansers were present, and one unusual sight was an male Hooded Merganser trying to put the moves on a female Common Merganser. I can just imagine his rap: "Hey baby, have you read 50 shades of grey? Once you get hooded you ..." Other nice finds on the water were several Redhead, and a Kingfisher in a tree.

All around we were able to easily find eagles. On the ice, flying overhead, and in the trees.  One bird in particular caught my attention in a tree top. It was a dark raptor with a white head, and a dark stripe through the eye and down the neck. Was it an Osprey? No. Was it a Bald Eagle? Proba..yes.., but I'm calling it an Ospreagle! That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Moving on to Croton Point we stopped at the toll both where a feeder had been set up nearby. American Tree Sparrows were the first good birds here. Moving along to the camping area, we were dismayed to find it rather well occupied. We later learned that it was populated by workers doing the construction on the new Tappan Zee bridge.  This may be why we did not find any owls in the usual places, but birding is never a guarantee.

Flocks of Tree Sparrows as well as White-throated Sparrows were feeding on exposed areas, and we observed a flock that was attacked by a Red-tailed Hawk who flew in very low and stealthily.  We found the usual suspects here: Titmouse, Chickadee, Goldfinch, more Eagles, but nothing unusual unless you count the heard only wrens.

That is until Dunlin deftly picked out two Pine Siskins from the very numerous Goldfinches! YB1. When i say there wee a lot of Goldfinches, i mean there were a lot! They were doing a major job eating the seeds of the beech trees, but they were in the underbrush and all over as well. 

On the Landfill came some real prizes. Snow Bunting and Horned Lark of course; the latter quite amusing to me as I spotted them well ahead of a small splinter group of ours well ahead of us. I watched as that group was walking and apparently chatting so much that they were oblivious to the two birds that they kept flushing. I alerted those with me to watch the shenanigans, we collectively chuckled, and then catching up to the others we suitably chided them. Yacking instead of birding, sheesh!

But by far the best birds were a few raptors being harassed by Crows. Getting on them was made a bit more difficult as those carrying scopes earlier had chosen to store them in their cars before we climbed the hill. But when they flew more field marks were discernible and they were revealed to be a Coopers Hawk and an adult Red-shouldered Hawk! YB2.

After returning to the car, we went to the nature center to eat our lunch in warmth while observing the feeder birds through the window. Once again we were a day late for 'Eagle Fest', {by design} and they were out of the delicious eagle chowder and other soups served the day before. They did have a pot of quite good coffee though.  Nothing special at the feeders though.

Our next stop was Black Rock after a very cursory stop at  the model airplane area. No Screech or RHWP. On the way to Black Rock we spotted Black Vulture, YB3, but surprisingly I still do not have TVs. Go figure. The Ring-necked Ducks were in spectacular plumage and always a sight to behold. We had Pied-billed Grebe and Coots, but alas no screech here either.

Our next stop was Georges Island. Guess what. More Eagles. They have really been surging in their recovery, and just like Osprey, and are becoming ubiquitous and approaching 'trash bird' status. YAY!!!  Another nice find here was a raft of Canvasback. Of course 'eagle ears Rich Kelly heard a strange call he alerted the rest of us to. We pondered it and proposed several possibilities, and then finally it was revealed that it was issuing from Pileated Woodpeckers! YB4. We saw them fly off a bit but we tracked them down on some trees on  a far shore. There were two; an amusing sighting as some stated the bird was on 'the curved tree' while others saw it on 'the wide tree'.

Two young ladies approached us and inquired if we had seen the eagles. Of course I responded: "There are eagles here!?!" I had them going for quite a bit before someone went and ruined it. So we showed them the Canvasback and Pileateds and told them of the other birds we had seen before we departeed for our next stop.

At Verplanck we scored  Great Cormorant, and more of what we had already seen. I also got an email reporting that the Gyrfalcon in Wallkill had been seen! I inquired if anyone wanted to go, but the others were too tired, disinterested, or leery of the weather forecast. Phil Jabiru was very interested, although it was a long walk back if he said no; I was his ride! He contacted his accommodating wife and we were a go. We left the others to go one to the trips last stops knowing that anything else was unlikely, and we had already gorged ourselves on eagles.

Interestingly, it was only a short distance before precipitation made an appearance on my windshield. Undaunted, we pressed on, even with the precipitation increasing. The one distracting factor though, was that it took a while to get to a major highway.

But we got there, and flakes were a falling. But we saw the sight we hoped for: folks lining the road looking for the bird. We joined them and learned that it had been perhaps a half hour since its last sighting, but no longer than 20 minutes later someone yelled out: "there's the bird". YB5.

The bird flew powerfully from one tree to another; stopping at some of its reliable and favored perches before settling for a tree at the far side of the field. In what could best be described as 'eyegasms' folks viewing the Gyrfalcon gasped and exclaimed various things denoting their pleasure at seeing the bird. Both Phil Jabiru and I attempted pictures, but the distance, overcast, and the snow fall made for crappy results. Oh well. I was happy to see this bird, and it was superbulous!

After we were satisfied with our views, we high tailed it out of there to get away from the storm. Driving south and east made for continually improving conditions. Phil even made it home before the time he had anticipated. We were both very glad we made the attempt!

Fortunately for others, it appears the bird is going to stick for a while.

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