Note: This field trip was sponsored by the Sullivan County Audubon Society, a NYSYBC Partner Club. Lance Verderame and John Haas are well known local birding experts; John Haas is the author of A Birding Guide to Sullivan County, New York, copyright © 2007. For more information on the Sullivan County Audubon Society and Sullivan County birding hotspots, visit www.sullivanaudubon.org.
I am pretty sure I do not speak only for myself: when somebody says Sullivan County, NY, you think Finches and Bashakill Wildlife Management area. Our NYSYBC trip to these locations was a complete success in respects of both finches and waterfowl, and we were treated to a tour of the county by two fantastic local leaders, Lance Verderame and John Haas.
, photo by Carena Pooth
Upon arrival at Bashakill Wilderness Area—a large scrape in a valley that has accumulated with runoff water and turned into an absolutely gorgeous body of water and swamp—we met up with Lance and John who welcomed us to the area and introduced themselves to us, as we introduced ourselves to each other. Our leaders weren’t the only welcoming ones, as standing on Haven Road, a causeway running across “the Bash,” we were surrounded by water, vegetation, and of course birds. Ducks were everywhere, and we quickly found American Wigeon, Gadwall, American Black, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Green Winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Common and Hooded Merganser, and Ring-Necked, and Wood (which practically covered some of the trees) Ducks. All of these were present in substantial numbers. There were also a few instances of a Pied-Billed Grebe or two around, and of course, Red-winged Blackbirds. A single Tree Swallow made an appearance as well. The clear sunny weather provided thermals for a few raptors and at Haven Road we found Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Coopers Hawk, and a juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk. After about 45 minutes, we felt we had seen most if not all there was to see at that spot, and we continued on to some feeders where two Common Redpolls had been reported earlier.
photo by Hope Batcheller
Though we could not find the Redpolls at our leader’s friend’s house, we did find a flock of over 50 Pine Siskins, as well as many goldfinches, a House Finch, Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles. In the field across the street, we found a few American Tree Sparrows as well.
From here, we went to the Birch Trail, another vantage point and pleasant walk looking out over a different segment of the Basha Kill. We found more of the previously mentioned waterfowl, with conspicuously more Ring-Necked Ducks, as well as a very interesting duck, which appeared as a mallard, with a darker back, and a head with plumage and shape almost identical to that of a Green-Winged Teal. We were also treated to views of a female Bald Eagle sitting on her nest. Continuing down Birch Trail, we found at least one Wilson’s Snipe, 3 migrating Great Blue Herons, Northern Flicker and Downy Woodpecker, as well as hearing a drumming Pileated Woodpecker. Returning back to the Haven Road parking lot from here, we chatted and ate lunch before heading up-county.
As a result of its proximity to the Catskill Mountains, Sullivan County has been getting numbers of finches in the past irruption years. Last year in the Redpoll/Pine Grosbeak year, they had hundreds of the above, more than many places in the area. This year, (I know this is old news for many) they’ve had hundreds of White-Winged Crossbills, normally rare in the area, and in bigger numbers than ever recorded before. These boreal denizens were naturally most (if not everyone’s) target bird, so we headed up-county to try and find them (after a Burger King pit stop of course). Our first stop did not yield much but added White-throated Sparrow to the day list. After this we tried a grassland area which, though Lance and John said it was usually productive, was ghostly and empty, save for a distant Red-Shouldered Hawk.
photo by Benjamin Van Doren
Our final attempt at Crossbill was Cooley’s Bog. It was unbelievably authentically Boreal. Numerous spruces everywhere, with a spring emptying out into a wet, grassy bog, bordered by more spruces. It was the kind of place which makes you wonder how in the world Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers, Gray Jays, Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee etc., did NOT live there. But White-winged Crossbills did/do. John was the first one to hear the Crossbill chatter, and yelled “Crossbill!!” We looked up to see a flock of about 10 circle and fly over. Lance got out his tape (though he usually doesn’t like using recordings for birds, he made an exception for this occasion), and started playing the calls, and another flock of about 10 birds flew out of the forest, and over our heads, some circling back. One adult male paused for about a minute on top of a spruce for all to see—a raspberry and black/white bird sitting at the top of a Black Fir, chattering away. He joined the flock again, and they flew away, for the time being. A few Common Ravens, a Sharp-shinned hawk, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Dark-eyed Junco, and two Red-breasted Nuthatches also appeared at our bog stop. To top everything off, as we were about to head back to the cars, a flock of at least 30 more Crossbills flew over as our grand finale. From here, with our birding stomachs (temporarily) full (except for the anticipation of a Black Woodpecker about to fly by), we went back to our cars and said goodbye, as well as a warm thank you to Lance and John for their superb and gracious leadership.
List of Birds Seen on this Trip
by Eamon Corbett
Great Blue Heron
American Black Duck
Mallard Hybrid- Possible Mallard x Green-Winged Teal
American Tree Sparrow
50 Species Total