Trip Reports
A Special Weekend:  Northern Saw-whet Owl Banding (Ulster County) and
Bashakill Birding (Sullivan County) -
November 5-6, 2016

Note: Once again NYSYBC was invited to witness and learn about the banding of Northern Saw-whet Owls. We are especially grateful to Valerie Freer and Lance Verderame of the Sullivan County Audubon Society, a NYSYBC Partner Club, who banded the owls, explained the process, and shared their knowledge of these wonderful little creatures. Thanks also to Mary Collier, who monitored the mist nets and brought in one owl after another for us to see, and Rick Bunting, who shared his knowledge and great photos with us between owl banding activities - and brought great cookies, too! Lance took us to bird the Bashakill the next morning, where he took us to a variety of habitats and knew just where to look so that we'd get as many species as possible.

Valerie banding an owl - photo by Carena Pooth
     Valerie bands a Northern Saw-whet Owl- photo by Carena Pooth

Saw-whet Owl Banding

We gathered in a park and ride to wait for everyone. The sun was setting as the last members of our group came, and we all carpooled to drive to the house where the owl banding would take place. When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed and went to see the mist nets.

The nets surrounded a speaker broadcasting male Northern Saw-whet owl calls up into the night. The nets themselves were very fine, with pockets that the birds would fall into after being caught in the net. Because they are attracted to the maile calls, the majority of owls mist-netted are females.

The first owl came in relatively soon after we trooped back inside. The small, feisty raptor was a female, which Valerie told us after measuring the weight and wing length of the bird. The next step is to take a look at the wing feathers of the bird, and if the color is uniform, then it is a hatch year bird. A hatch year bird is a bird that was hatched that year, as most of the owls were. Also, the bander looks at the bird’s wing under ultraviolet light. They measure the bird’s tail length and check its eye color against a sheet next. They aren’t sure if eye color is important, but they take it just in case. Next, they check the bird for armpit fat, which, if the bird has none, doesn’t mean it is unhealthy. Then, they measure the bill length, and comment on the owl or rate it from 1 to 5, depending on how feisty it is.

We saw 9 owls that night, and saw some wonderful pictures that Rick showed us during the intermissions between owls.
 — Elizabeth Hayes, age 13

View owl banding photo gallery

Sunday:  Birding the Bashakill

Our trip began on a chilled, misty Sunday morning on Haven Road, young birders, parents, Herb, Carena, and our guide, Lance Verderame, slowly trickling in and wandering down the Tree Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco laced way. Quite a few emberizid sparrows (White-throated, Fox, Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Junco) along with a few thrushes (American Robin, Hermit Thrush, and Eastern Bluebird) and the usual mixed-flock crew (Blackcapped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Downy Woodpecker, and Golden-crowned Kinglet) were all flitting about the road's edge, as well as an unusually late Palm Warbler. Out over the marsh, Mallards and Wood Ducks could be seen flying overhead, the sparkling highway in the distance contrasting the thick, heavy mist and gloom. A few goose hunters shared our marsh, their goose decoys throwing us off for a moment. After all were accounted for and we had walked the length of the road, we drove off to the feeders on the South Road.

Red-headed Woodpecker feeder, photo by Carena Pooth
The Red-headed Woopecker
photo by Carena Pooth

All the regular feeder patrons were present, some birds new for the list, including Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Purple Finch. Continuing with the theme of decoy birds, a particularly massive Red-headed Woodpecker graced our binoculars, presumably frozen while feeding on suet.

Moving briskly on, we reached the Birch Trail, and quite like the Haven Road we were led by sparrows down the way as we startled them forward incrementally. A few Bald Eagles soared above our heads, immatures and adults alike. A few flocks of Rusty Blackbirds, perhaps the best bird of the trip, lent our ears their odd calls as they descended on the marsh. Appearing steely black, identified by their pale yellow iris, these erratic blackbirds are declining all over their range. Their more ubiquitous relative, the Red-winged Blackbird, could be heard deeper in the forest to the side of the trail. Ring-billed Gull and Green-winged Teal were sighted as well, to the other side in the marsh.

Autumn Colors at the Bashakill, photo by Mack Meller
Fall Colors at the Bashakill, photo by Mack Meller

Our last site on the marsh, the Nature Trail wound its way to an observation tower at its end. However, while the length of the trail was sided with several interesting clubmosses, few birds were seen or heard as the avian clock began to point toward siesta time. From atop the tower, a live Canada Goose and flock of distant Green-winged Teal could be observed, but until we reached our final location, the Deli Fields, not much else was seen. At said fields, a good deal bluebirds lined the path, and a Red-tailed Hawk could be seen not too far away. As our trip rounded to a close, a Cooper’s Hawk could be seen overhead, as if to wish us a fond farewell.

                                        — Garret Van Gelder, Age 16


          View Bashakill trip photo gallery


          List of Birds Seen on this Trip  by Garret Van Gelder 

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Green-winged Teal
Bald Eagle
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Palm Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Purple Finch

Species Total: 30