Check out City Birder Tours, and Green-Wood sponsored tours on their calendar pages here.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Shawangunk Grasslands NWR

Shawangunk Grasslands at dawn

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Yesterday Shane and I drove north to Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, as well as, Sharon Springs. Despite periods of rain showers most of the day (which was eventually replaced by gusting winds) we managed to locate our target birds. The distance to Sharon Springs was much greater than I had expected and my wife thought that we were insane to make the trip there and back in one day. She might have something there.

The last time that I was at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR was early February of last year. In fact, I had only been to that location during the cold months. The scenery today was a fantastic contrast to the colorless landscape of winter. A base layer of varying shades of green-ness was primarily topped with spikes of White Beardtongue. The mid-ground vibrated with yellow, star-like points of Birdfoot Trefoil. Some of the other wildflowers that caught my attention were milkweed (covered with Red Milkweed Beetles), mullein, chicory, wild parsnip, Viper’s Bugloss, Bladder Campion and the dainty Deptford Pink. I probably could have spent all day sorting through the dozens of native and non-native wildflower species.

White Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Bladder Campion (Silene cucubalus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

The other major change from my winter visits is the multitude of sounds in the area. First, it is loaded with Bobolinks. At one point we counted 15 in one tree. Bobolinks, to my ear, make a mechanic, almost otherworldly song. The mostly climbing scale of harmonizing notes is described in many field guides as bubbly, warbling and yangling (that’s a new word). I think you need to hear it and try to form your own description. Meadowlarks were also fairly abundant. I usually only encounter them during the annual Christmas Bird Count when they aren’t singing. I was unfamiliar with their vocalization and was surprised to hear that their flute-like whistles sometimes ended in a “peent” that was very similar to a Common Nighthawk. Upland Sandpipers have always managed to elude me but we learned that they breed here so I was optimistic that I’d finally see one. Soon after we arrived Shane spotted one circling a section of the grassland. I’m not sure what was motivating him but he spent most of his time circling and making an eerie, rolling whistle. Also common throughout the refuge were Savannah Sparrows. They would periodically perch at the top of a tall stalk and belt out a buzzy, high-pitched song. At times the near constant chattering of the Bobolinks made them difficult to hear.

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)
-Click to hear the amazing Bobolink song-

Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Our motivation for traveling to Sharon Springs was the posting of some online reports of two “special” birds in the area. I’m not normally a “bird chaser” but I think a couple of things have influenced by behavior this year. First, the year began with some pretty extraordinary observations of rare birds. By the start of February I had recorded 114 species of birds, which is very high for me. The chase got into my blood. Second, my hawks failed to breed this year. The time I would have spent observing and tracking them was freed up for looking for seasonal specialties and rare visitors. A small, unused field in the tiny hamlet of Sharon Springs was hosting a pair of Dickcissels and a Henslow’s Sparrow. Dickcissel is described as a “casual breeder” in New York State. The Henslow’s Sparrow is listed as “Threatened” in New York and “Endangered” in seven other states.

By the time we arrived in Sharon Springs where the Henslow's Sparrow was reported the sun was strong but so was the wind. We located two Dickcissels almost immediately clinging to the telephone lines. It took nearly an hour of walking back and forth in front of the fields before we heard the Henslow's Sparrow. He was calling and singing from within the cover of the thick grass. He eventually perched out in the open but it was obvious that the wind was making his job difficult. I guess he tired of fighting the wind and finally flew into a small shrub for cover. At one point the local Bobolinks became very noisy and agitated. A harrier had dropped in to circle the field but the blackbirds chased him off. I was afraid that my first Henslow's Sparrow would end up as somebody's lunch.

The strong wind made it impossible for me to take any photographs of the Henslow's Sparrow but there are a couple of great shots on the Indiana Audubon Society website.

-Click to learn more about Henslow's Sparrow-

We took a more scenic route back south (route 145) and stopped near the town of Broom at "Franklinton Vlaie Wildlife Management Area" (I just learned that Vlaie is Dutch for a low marsh, piece of ground or a meadow). We walked a new, gravel trail from the parking lot towards a wooden overlook. I was fiddling with my camera when Shane saw something up the path and quietly tried to get my attention. By the time I heard him and looked up, it was gone. A Bobcat had been walking up the trail from the water and, for a moment, didn’t notice us. When he did, he silently bolted into the woods. We looked for tracks in a stretch of soft mud at the edge of the gravel covered trail. I took a couple of photos of one paw print with a fairly clear outline.

Bobcat track

(Photo credit - Rob J)

What a great, but exhausting day.

- - - - -

Shawangunk Grasslands NWR & Sharon Springs, 6/22/2005
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier (Sharon Springs, NY)
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon (2, Brooklyn Bridge)
Killdeer (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Upland Sandpiper (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Great Black-backed Gull
Chimney Swift
Northern Flicker
Willow Flycatcher (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Least Flycatcher (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Eastern Phoebe (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Eastern Kingbird (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Tree Swallow (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
House Wren
Eastern Bluebird
Wood Thrush (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Cedar Waxwing (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Yellow Warbler (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
American Redstart (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Ovenbird (Sharon Springs, NY)
Common Yellowthroat (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Indigo Bunting
Dickcissel (2, Sharon Springs, NY)
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Savannah Sparrow (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Henslow's Sparrow (Sharon Springs, NY)
Swamp Sparrow (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Bobolink (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, Sharon Springs)
Eastern Meadowlark (Shawangunk Grasslands NWR)
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow


Nuthatch said...

Your little pink flowers are Deptford Pinks (Dianthus armeria). Nice blog -- urban birders unite!

Rob J. said...

Thanks for the flower ID and complement.

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope