Trip Reports
Wallkill River NWR (Orange County, NY and Sussex County, NJ) — April 9, 2017

This trip was led by Tait Johansson, Naturalist-in-Residence at Bedford Audubon Society's Bylane Farm. During our walk, Tait taught us much about the Liberty Marsh habitat and the flora and fauna it harbors. Tait has been a longtime supporter of our club and has generously given of his time to lead a number of other great trips for us in the past. Thank you, Tait!

Checking out the snake - Photo by Carena Pooth
Checking out the snake - Photo by Carena Pooth

On this bone-chilling morning, with temperatures just above freezing, several young birders met up in the Jolly Onion parking lot in Pine Island, NY, just north of the New Jersey border. Despite being in the middle of town, the group still managed to find quite a few birds, including Fish Crow, American Kestrel, and Chipping Sparrow. I arrived just as they were about to leave a half hour later, at 8:30 am. We then headed over to Liberty Marsh, part of Wallkill NWR. This spot is unique among the places the club has been because the majority of it is in New Jersey, with about one-third in New York. On the way there, a few cars (including mine) had to stop because we flushed several Turkey Vultures off of the road, showing just how big these scavengers are up close!

When we arrived at Liberty Marsh, we could tell that this would be a very interesting and unique experience for many of us. Small groups of Green-Winged Teal flew overhead, and Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows seemed to sing from every patch of reeds. A few Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows made quick passes by us, the first of year for quite a few of us. We were ready to start our trek around the marsh.

We started our route down the west side of the marsh, where we started to notice something unique about this trail. With the vast marshes and ponds on our left, and the woods and bogs on our right, we could view two different habitats at the same time. On our way south, crossing over into New Jersey, we saw harriers hunting and a variety of waterfowl in the marsh, while also seeing an Eastern Phoebe, a Pine Warbler, and two Palm Warblers in the woods, some of the first migrants into the area. We also saw a Belted Kingfisher, and a few lucky birders spotted a Wilson’s Snipe that they flushed. On a non-avian note, someone spotted a snake basking along the shore that we subsequently identified as a Northern Brown Snake.

Great Horned Owl on nest, photo by Rion Yoshimura
Great Horned Owl on its nest - Photo by Rion Yoshimura

When we reached the corner where we would turn east, we spotted a large nest, apparently abandoned by some large raptor such as a Bald Eagle or a Red-Tailed Hawk. Interesting, but we moved on. Just past the nest, we had a large flock of blackbirds that contained many members of all four regular species, including up to a dozen of the rarer Rusty Blackbirds (then again, this was PERFECT habitat for them). Suddenly, someone said that they saw a bird fly into the nest we had just passed. We all turned our bins to the nest. The bird turned its head, and everyone shouted “Great Horned Owl!” It immediately became apparent why this bird was out during the day. It was being harassed by several American Crows, and we saw it being chased by them a few more times.

Not long after the owl sighting, we stopped for a bit by a large pond adjacent to the marsh. In it were various types of waterfowl, including American Wigeons, Gadwalls, and Mute Swans, and we also had three Common Mergansers fly over there. There was also a large flock of swallows (mostly Tree) to keep us company. Something else that should be mentioned was the dramatic temperature change. Even though it was in the mid-30s when we started, the temperature rocketed to around 65 degrees just after noon, forcing many of us to take off multiple layers! This is one of the signature signs of how extreme the change in seasons can be, and birding can follow this trend as well. However, migration still seemed around normal with no dramatic change in species or numbers.

The rest of the walk was less eventful than the first half. We saw much of the same stuff (minus many of the woodland birds), and did manage to pick up a few more species, including a pair of Blue-Winged Teal. We then finally arrived back at the entrance, where we looked back at the marsh in awe of its avian riches. This trip was amazing in that it showed a picture of what a “natural” freshwater marsh provides during migration, giving us a variety of waterfowl as well as many other species that depend on this crucial habitat for food and shelter along their migratory route. I must say that it was definitely worth the long drive to get to this birding gem available right next to the numerous onion fields!

                                                                              — Jordan Spindel, Age 16

      View photo gallery

          List of Birds Seen on this Trip  by Josh Cantor

Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
American Black Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Common Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Pied-Billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier
Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Wilson's Snipe
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
N. Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren

Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird

      Species Total:57