Documenting the Birding Adventures of Scott Whittle
Monday, July 28, 2008
Closing the Winter Finches
Reports have been coming in the past week--very exciting reports. It looks like White Winged Crossbills are going to have a big year in New York...they are being seen in roving bands all over the Adirondacks, and all the way down to Pharsalia (near Ithaca). According to Matt Young, crossbill expert, the birds are gathering now and may nest in the state later this year. Like Red Crossbills, they use their specialized bills to feed on the pinecone seeds, and so their presence is connected to the boom/bust cycles of that cone crop. Often, the White Winged Crossbill is a very rare bird in NY State, but this year it looks like the exception. This caps what has been an excellent year so far for the winter finches, and it's the last winter finch to see on my list.
No surprise, then, that I spent three days last week up around Ferd's Bog in the Adirondacks, looking for both the White Wings and trying again for the Three Toed Woodpecker. I drove up in the afternoon, and immediately went for a drive on the backwoods Moose River Plains Road, where a lot of WW Crossbills had been seen the week before. The first 24 hours I was there it was either drizzling or raining, which wasn't a help, and although I saw a pair of Common Loons with a chick riding on it's mother's back, I missed the crossbills. Moving on, I slept in my car at Ferd's Bog, and walked in at 5am, hoping to hear or see the elusive Three-Toed Woodpecker that has been seen there recently. Since there seems to be just one female bird there right now, it's not a certain proposition by any means (this is the fourth time I've been there to look for it). Three-Toes, I'm told, can also be notoriously silent, and seeing her in the tangle of deadfalls around the bog is a difficult trick and involves some luck. Of course, the longer you spend looking the luckier you tend to get, so I put in three hours that morning. Nothing but beautiful habitat and a few other bog birds, so I headed out to Moose River Plains Road again. Unfortunately, my luck stayed the same, and although I did get a good look at a nesting Lincoln's Sparrow, as well as Magnolia and Blackburnian Warblers, I didn't have any crossbills. Crossbills can be hard to see because of their nomadic, unpredictable behavior--they seem to rarely stay put--which is sort of the opposite problem as the Three Toed Woodpecker, who I know is in Ferds Bog, but is reclusive.
The weather cleared towards the end of the day, so I was hopeful for a better chance the next day before I headed home. I slept at Ferd's again, and was in the woods at about 5:30am. In this situation the call is as likely as seeing the bird, so I had my recorder running in 5 minute segments the entire time. I had just heard a soft call that I thought might be Three Toed, when I heard a chatter overhead. I pointed the microphone up at the same time, and realized that I had a group of WW Crossbills flying over! That lasted a few seconds, and then I had the woodpecker call again, which I also recorded. I was a uncertain about the quality of the recordings, but I was glad to have had a little luck, and headed home. Back in Brooklyn I isolated the calls and amplified them, and sent them out to Matt Young and Tom Stephenson for their opinion. Unfortunately, the woodpecker call was faint, and I'm afraid it's not conclusive enough to count (the call is similar in quality to a Pileated Woodpecker, and although this was a soft call and I'm pretty condfident was a Three Toed, I don't think the recording is definitive). The crossbill call, though, was definitely White Winged Crossbill, which is a great addition to the year list.
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.