Documenting the Birding Adventures of Scott Whittle
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Timing is everything when it comes to finding birds. The difference between missing and seeing a rarity can be a matter of seconds, and a birding spot that is flush with warblers one day can be dried up the next. Likewise in a big year, being in the right area at the right time of year is important. I don't want to be upstate when a rarity shows up on Long Island, or visa versa. So this Sunday, when the migration activity seemed to be dying down, and with the weather not promising any immediate bird movement, I decided use the opportunity to take yet another "quick" trip to the Adirondacks.
I say quick because it's for one overnight, but there's nothing quick about the six hour drive it takes to get to Tupper Lake from Brooklyn. We left at 6am, and were out in the woods by 2pm, searching for the elusive Spruce Grouse. When we pulled up to the spot a grouse flushed immediately, but I could see by the color and the tail band it was Ruffed Grouse, a relatively common bird in the Adirondacks. Spruce Grouse, on the other hand, is one of the hardest birds to see in New York, evidenced by the fact that this was my fifth trip to this spot, the only "reliable" place to look for them. In my experience, grouse are unpredictable and hard to photograph in this area. Frequently the only look you get is when the bird exlodes out of the brush it was hiding in and flies away. Occasionally you get the other bird, the one that just stands there, six feet away, eyeballing you before it saunters off. The birds we had this time were definitely the former. The grouse we flushed was the only one we saw that day, so we were back at the same spot before daybreak the next morning in the hopes of finding a bird on the road. These birds sometimes dust themselves in the road, and some birds also eat sand or grit to help them digest their food. In any case, this are is privately owned, and we weren't allowed to walk anywhere but the road, so the road was where we looked. We didn't find anything else but some bear scat, and as we walked back a gorgeous full moon came up through the trees.
The next morning we we back before daybreak. We walked slowly, staying on the road margins to muffle our footsteps. We were about halfway through the area that Spruce Grouse have been seen, when a bird blew up about 10 feet to my right and flew directly away and down the road. I went for my camera and found that it was tangled up, and by the time I had it at ready the bird had settled back into the dense spruce forest. The bird was very dark if not black, and my impression was Spruce Grouse. My heart was racing, and now I made my next mistake. Rather than wait and hope the bird came back to the road, I walked down to the spot where I'd seen it go into the forest. Right as I got there, there was another explosion and the bird flew back into the woods, this time gone for good, without me seeing it again. Needless to say, I was a little frustrated, and pissed at myself for not having the camera up and ready while I walked. We had one more grouse along the road, and I had the camera ready this time, but it was a Ruffed.
We were there for about four hours, and then headed back, with a stop at Ferds Bog. Ferds was lovely with the changing leaves, and we spent an hour there and got good looks at a pair of Black Backed Woodpeckers, as well as a couple of Gray Jays. The Three-Toed Woodpecker here has been known to associate with the Black Backs, but not today apparently. We headed back to Brooklyn and got home around nine. It was another beautiful trip to the Adirondacks--sans target birds, but beautiful nonetheless.
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.