Monday, May 17, 2010

In Search of the Golden-winged Warbler

Yesterday I took a train to Ramsey to meet Bev since she knows of a good spot for Golden-winged Warblers and generously offered to take me there. The place is just over the New York border and is as nondescript as a birding spot can be. Along the side of a road there is a small, unmarked pull-off, and beyond that is a powerline cut running alongside a stream. It is the sort of place one might pass by without even noticing its presence. The great thing is that Golden-winged Warblers breed there, so they are reliable from one year to the next.

Our morning began auspiciously with a repeated bee-buzz, the standard call of a Blue-winged Warbler, sounding from the trees. This was not actually a Blue-winged Warbler but a Brewster's Warbler, one of the hybrid forms of Blue-winged Warbler and Golden-winged Warbler. This bird had white undersides, a gray nape and back, white wingbars, a golden crown, and a black eyeline. The Brewster's was not shy and sang from prominent perches near the trail.

As we continued along the power cut, we saw many other birds. Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes called from the wooded area on the left side of the trail. Baltimore Orioles were very prominent, singing and chasing each other in the treetops. Indigo Buntings were also darting back and forth across the trail. Close to the pull-off I saw a female American Redstart add material to a nest; several other warblers were also gathering nest material nearby. Blue-winged Warblers sounded from a few places but did not show themselves. Yellow Warblers sang all along the trail and were actively gathering nest material or chasing rivals.

Finally Bev heard a Golden-winged Warbler calling from a swampy area about half a mile down the trail. Unfortunately it was difficult to locate the sound over the racket put up by a Great-crested Flycatcher, but I heard it clearly enough to identify it. Just as we thought we had figured out where the Golden-winged Warbler was, a Broad-winged Hawk landed on a snag above the bushes. This silenced all of the birds (well, except for the flycatcher). Once the hawk went away, some activity resumed. A couple of Eastern Bluebirds appeared in the snags above the swamp; one appeared to be carrying an insect, presumably to feed to nestlings. A Wilson's Warbler landed just below eye level and paused briefly before disappearing. A few other warblers such as Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, and Magnolia were active in nearby trees.

After waiting a little longer by the swampy area, we decided to head back and bird the other side of the pull-off. The other side was more open with small beaver lake, making for a slightly different set of species. A lot of Red-winged Blackbirds were patrolling their territories; meanwhile a few Common Grackles were foraging, and a Brown-headed Cowbirds sang on top of a telephone pole. Several Tree Swallows darted back and forth over the lake. Eastern Kingbirds hawked insects from dead snags near the lake's edges. In addition to the usual waterfowl, there was a pair of Wood Ducks. The shrubs along the path had more Baltimore Orioles and Yellow Warblers. At one point I thought I heard a Golden-winged Warbler, but a flock of motorcycles roared past, and it did not call again. We still got one good bird, though. Bev saw, and I heard, a Kentucky Warbler low in the bushes near the edge of the lake.

Since I had gone up specifically for Golden-winged Warbler, we decided to try once more to see one. So we walked back down the trail past the pull-off to the swampy area. Once again Bev heard them singing. This time I saw one perched out in the open at the side of a large tree. It was cooperative and sang in the open for several minutes while a nearby rival answered. Once I was satisfied, we left and headed to Doodletown.

Doodletown is an abandoned village near Bear Mountain. It is more surprising that it was once inhabited than that it was abandoned because it is necessary to climb a steep hill to reach the former village's site. The reason for a birder to visit is that many warblers stop on the hill during migration and some stay to breed. Our best bird there was Cerulean Warbler, of which we may have heard a half dozen (only one of them seen). There were just as many orioles here as at the pull-off spot, including one Orchard Oriole near the trailhead. We also saw blackpoll and heard a singing first-year male American Redstart. We also got nice looks at a Blackpoll Warbler and a Blue-winged Warbler. A few other warblers, like Hooded Warbler and Magnolia Warbler, sang along the trail, but were difficult to find.

Once we had found what we could at Doodletown, we called it a day. We ended the day with 16 species of warblers and over 50 species overall. Both of the places we birded are great locations, and Bev is a great guide.