Note: Many thanks to our leader, Anne Swaim of Saw Mill River Audubon. Anne was so informative, taking time to help young birders and their parents identify birds, and giving great background information about different species and their behavior. We are also grateful to Larry Trachtenberg and Christine McCluskey of SMRA, who gave up their Sunday to come along and help us find good birds (and Larry led an after-lunch birding excursion to Croton Point). Ornithologist Elija Goodwin also joined us and then led a follow-up outing to Eagle Hill after lunch.
NOTE: Rockefeller State Park Preserve is a designated IBA (Important Bird Area) under the National Audubon Society's IBA program.
Photo by Carena Pooth
Our shivering and sleepy group met at 7 a.m. on a brisk but glorious early-fall morning. (By brisk, I mean 45 degrees.) We were happy to be joined by three new birding families. As we gathered, we watched birds dropping down from the sky for a buggy breakfast as the sun heated up the leaves on which the bugs rested. While waiting for birding families, we watched two Ruby-crowned Kinglets dancing endlessly in the trees, heard the nasally laugh of the Red- breasted Nuthatch, and watched a Hairy Woodpecker fly overhead.
The preserve has a system of carriage roads built by John D. Rockefeller, and they wind through wetlands, woodlands, meadows, and fields. Our group started in the main parking area, and took Brothers’ Path to the northern end of Swan Lake, by the dam. At the beginning of the walk, we stumbled upon a lovely assortment of warblers jumping around in a dead snag that consisted mostly of Yellow-rumped Warblers, but we also had a Black-throated Green Warbler and Northern Parulas. We then came in view of the water of Swan Lake, which was full of happy Mallards swimming around like motor boats. We rejoiced as the sun light warmed our frozen limbs and vanquished the mist that had collected over the lake.
As we continued south along the west side of the lake, we were awakened from our cold states when we heard the call of a Green Heron. It must have been right next to us, but because of its extreme camouflage, it was only spotted after hard attempts on a log before it flew over the water's edge. (It sort of looks like a chicken when flying.) Those of us who wanted to pursue the heron further went back down the trail a little and got great looks and pictures of the beauty. As we headed to the fields, we were lucky to find Broad-winged Hawks riding thermals in the sky, displaying the black bands in their tails as the sun shone above them.
As we neared the fields, we had to say farewell to some fellow birders at a fork in the road who had to leave early. I hope they had fun in the time they spent with us. The rest of us made a loop through the Rockefeller Fields, where we saw beautiful Simmenthal cattle grazing and Cooper's Hawks tussling in the air. As we continued down the path, things got busy. We watched in awe as a lively bouquet of Palm Warblers flitted about, totaling around 30 birds! We also observed groups of Bluebirds, Cowbirds, and Chipping Sparrows at the Cattle Chutes, which were like their playground, and just to top it all off, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker crawled up a large tree right next to us, giving us birders a chance to marvel at its amazing coloring that helps it blend in to the bark surroundings it lives in.
We then continued on the Ash Tree Loop to Old Sleepy Hollow Road Trail, where we had the opportunity to watch a Raven being harassed by a Sharp-shinned Hawk. (I’m sure the Raven didn’t enjoy it, be we did.) We even saw an Osprey with what looked like someone’s Koi!
We then worked our way back to the parking lot along Nature’s Way, which was full of the wonders of nature (it lives up to its name). Great fallen tree branches lined the side of the leaf-covered trail we walked upon. A White-eyed Vireo showed itself along the way, and a very hyper Black-throated Green Warbler that posed for pics followed us for a while down the trail. By the time we got back, (to our delight) it had warmed up to about 65 degrees.
After a picnic lunch, some birders continued on with Dr. Elijah Goodwin, who is working with the preserve studying Wood Thrushes and other understory species. He is also an expert regarding raptors, and he offered to guide a hike at Eagle Hill. Others went on to Croton Point with Larry Trachtenberg. And more still headed home, heads full of birdy things.
List of Birds Seen on this Trip
by Truth Muller and Kai Victor
Species Total: 47