Documenting the Birding Adventures of Scott Whittle
Friday, May 23, 2008
Sterling and Bashakill
I've been birding Prospect Park heavily during migration, and I'd gotten most of the likely species I could see, so I decided to go upstate for a couple of days and try and fill in a few birds that are easier to see up there than down here. The trip started on Thursday with a drive up to Sterling Forest and Bashakill with Peter Dorosh and Tom Stevenson. We got up to Sterling Forest in the early morning in some of the clearcuts made by power lines. These are traditionally good spots for Golden-Winged Warbler, and withing a few minutes we were hearing one sing nearby. The Golden-Wing is threatened by hybridization that has been going on in recent years -- yet another form of "threat" to a species -- as it mates with Blue-Winged Warblers (producing Lawrences and Bresters Warblers, through direct and backcross mating). That means that it's one bird that you can't necessarily judge by call alone, since all four warblers seems to be capable of similar calls. Over the next half hour or so we tracked it (in part through Tom's incredibly good ear-birding skills), and finally had it perch out in the open about fifty feet away-a full-bred, beautiful Golden Wing.
The weather was on-and-off rain and sun, and we figured it was a good time to go further upstate to Bashakill. I hadn't seen Bashakill before, and it was really spectacular that day (I've posted a video below). Big open marsh habitat that you rarely seen in New York, with forest surrounding it. The turbulent weather made it even more dramatic. This is a good place for Moorhen and Rail, Sora, Mourning Warbler and Flycatchers. Again Tom's ear birding came to the fore...now that the trees are fully leafed out, you find birds more through hearing than seeing, so his skills are invaluable to helping find the hidded birds. We had a Willow Flycatcher pretty quickly, lots of Swallows, Osprey, Louisiana Waterthrush, probable Alder Flycatcher, and a surprise Bald Eagle flyover. We also had a Sora make it's cool whinny call, which is great to hear in real life and not as a recording.
After Bashakill we checked out Liberty Marsh, and got another Sora calling loudly and consistently. At one point I was within ten feet of it, but I never got to see it. These birds are masters of skulking, and they can get down in the reeds right under your feet and remain out of sight. I did get a good recording of the call though, and I hope to get a photo to augment it at some point in the next few months. At Liberty we also ran into Curt McDermott, who had the amazing Hoary Redpoll at his feeder this winter (I think he said it was there every day for over eighty days!). Curt, friendly and generous as always, took us over to a nearby spot for Grasshopper Sparrow. We got good looks at a couple of these little birds staking out their section of meadow with their high, tinkling calls.
That was enough birding for the day and we parted ways, Peter and Tom heading back to the city, and me heading several hours north to Fort Drum.
My name is Scott Whittle and I'm a professional photographer (www.scottwhittle.com). I have an MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I started birding as a teenager, and then dropped it for many years. I started to bird again in 2007, and have been birding since then in Brooklyn, NY and Cape May, NJ.