Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Catching up on Warblers just North of New York City ...

A quick circuit of state parks and other hotspots North of New York City.

So I thought I might go to Cape May today to look for kites (they had Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites yesterday) but when the alarm went off at 4am, by brain was willing but my body said "No", there was just no way I was up for that kind of drive today.  Just too tired I guess, so I turned off the alarm, got up at 6am and instead headed North to some of the State parks North of New York City in search of some of the warblers that I'd missed this year in Central Park.

First stop was Doodletown Road, a nice trail in Bear Mountain State Park about an hour North of the City.  This park is famous for it's CERULEAN WARBLERS, a bird I'd missed in the Park this year and was obviously popular with New York birders this week as I saw many old friends.  The trail was very birdy with 15+ species of warblers including a lot of migrant Tennessee Warblers, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, and a nice selection of local birds.  My focus was very much in the two specialty warblers there though and I soon had a nice look at a male Cerulean, and then a brief look at a female at a nest.  I also got to hear, but not see, a KENTUCKY WARBLER (thanks to Jeff Ritter).  When I bumped into Rich Cech later he said that you basically come here for those two species, and they cooperated remarkably well.  A very cool spot ... two target species ... done.

Cerulean Warbler nest .... saw the female building it when I first saw it, but
she didn't come back for a photo.
Black Racer ... a very cool snake seen warming up on the trail.

After Doodletown I headed over the Sterling Forest SP with a plan to see a GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER.  As I pulled in to the site I bumped into a gaggle of New York City birder (Richard Friend, Peter Post, Anders Peltomaa, Brian Paden, etc.) who quickly gave me good directions to the warbler sites.  A half hour later, after some advice from some photographers, I did find a Golden-winged Warbler which was singing and vigorously defending it's territory from a Blue-winged Warbler.  The sad thing about this site it that it's very much on the front-line of the war between Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers and sadly the Blue-winged Warblers are winning.  Over the years I've been in New York the number of Golden-winged locations has slowly declined each year as each site has winked-out one-by-one with the Blue-winged Warblers slowly absorbing their sister species and pushing them further North.  We're not sure how much longer we'll have Golden-winged Warblers here and this is basically the last place 'downstate' that you can see them reliably.  But they're still around this year so I made the most of the views .... really neat bird ....

Golden-winged Warblers (3 shots)

Blue-winged Warblers (the villain of the piece) ....
Having got the three warblers I came for, and still having time to kill, I decided to joint Richard Fried and co. and head up to Blue Chips Farm (a 600-acre horse farm) to hopefully add an UPLAND SANDPIPER for the year list.  Richard and I got brief views of a distant sandpiper, one of my favorite North American birds, but couldn't get the others on it before it vanished behind a fold in the field.  So on to the Shawangunk Grasslands, a former airport that has been restored as grassland habitat and had a great selection of grassland birds (declining in the East).  We had Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, American Kestrel and lots of displaying Bobolinks.  We also had two singing GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS - a bit of a surprise as we didn't realize they were there but apparently they've come back with the habitat restoration and numbers are increasing.  This site was also one of the last 'downstate' sites where Henslow's Sparrow used to breed (another species declining sharply in the East) so let's hope they make it back there too.  A very neat spot, and nice to see a grassland habitat on the rebound.  I definitely should come North more often; even though I was only an hour-and-a-half North of the City, it really did feel like a day in the country.

Postscript:  the next week several birders bumped into (Eastern) Timber Rattlesnakes at this site - my most wanted Eastern herp.  Should have stayed longer, and looked harder I guess.  I really need to be more patient ....

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