Note: We are especially grateful to Lance Verderame of the Sullivan County Audubon Society, a NYSYBC Partner Club, for leading this wonderful field trip. Lance is a well-known local birding expert who has led several NYSYBC trips in the past. For more information on the Sullivan County Audubon Society and Sullivan County birding hotspots, visit www.sullivanaudubon.org.
Fog made a screen around the New York State Young Birders Club members as we walked out toward an opening in a swampy river. In the shrouded unknown there were whistles of Wood Ducks and the chips of Common Yellowthroats, very few of them getting close enough for views. Fortunately, this changed as the sun climbed over the mountains and melted the curtain, allowing us to get an amazing view of both the swamp and the forested mountains. This was Basha Kill Wildlife Management Area, one of the best migratory bird hotspots in New York.
With some light on our subjects, we began to identify some of the avian fauna that used the aquatic vegetation as shelter from predators or to sneak up on prey. Our first find happened to be my most anticipated bird of the trip: A Common Gallinule. Our guide for the day, Lance Verderame, told us that a pair of these birds nest here every year, making this place a reliable spot for them. After this we were able to find other water birds like some Green-winged Teal, a Great Blue Heron stalking minnows, and a lone female kingfisher sitting in a tree. Even though we left this area thinking that we wouldn’t see many new water birds after this, we were in for a surprise at our next location.
We pulled into the parking lot of the “Nature Trail” (sounds plain, I know), and above us we found a ton of songbirds enjoying the berry producing vines. Keeping track of the small, agile warblers and vireos was incredibly challenging as they hopped from branch to branch in the canopy. At last my bro, Silas, and I were able to get a good glimpse of one vireo. Looking through some field guides later on, it happened to be a Philadelphia Vireo, a bird that Lance said to be unusually common here during migration season. The boardwalk and dirt trail went through dense bushes, making us trust our vocal identification rather than visual. Some were easy like the rapid “pip-pip-pip” call of the Wood Thrush and the “chick-bur” of the Scarlet Tanager. Others were too hard like warbler chips, so we just hoped they were Common Yellowthroats. At last we reached a slight opening in the brushy trail. It only took less than a minute here when our eagle-eyed club member, Garret Van Gelder, spotted a strange black bird walking in some muddy puddles. This was our other great water bird of the day, the Virginia Rail. I was overjoyed about this, being my second time seeing this bird in my life and pushing my year list up to 378. We continued on the trail into the open woods. When birds were scarce while walking, amphibians such as American Toads, Pickerel Frogs, and Red Efts kept us company the whole way. Suddenly a flock of chickadees and titmice pierced the quiet, and among them were the warblers we were waiting for. Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Black-and-white, Canada… our list grew as each young birder sniped species with their binoculars. But as fun as it was, the birds slowly disappeared into the woods, giving our cue to move on.
before calling it a day
After making a couple more short stops, we reached our last location: the Deli Fields. Once again we had an uncommon surprise just as we got out of the cars. Flying in the broad noon daylight was a Common Nighthawk, cruising through the sky. Not long after, we met a startlingly large flock of passerines. We all guessed at first that they were Cedar Waxwings, but getting better looks showed they were actually blue birds! Then came another air brigade of birds, this time it was raptors. Walking along the dirt road and trails we spotted 6 species of raptors, highlights including a beautiful adult Bald Eagle and a Northern Harrier. We even got a front row seat view of a Sharp-shinned Hawk locked in combat with an American Kestrel. There was yet one more surprise that closed out our trip wonderfully. As we walked back to the cars, we came upon an adorable and very brave Eastern Wood-Pewee. While I was snapping great pics, this bird out of the blue dove off its perch and flycatched inches from our faces… twice!
After we said our goodbyes and left, I’m sure all of us felt satisfied with our truly surprising adventure at Basha Kill!
List of Birds Seen on this Trip by Silas Hernandez, age 15