Only five of us showed up this month: Mike, hike leader; Rudy, sanctuary caretaker; a Czech father and son, both birdwatchers; and myself. Today was hot and muggy, as the past several days had been. The air already felt unbearable when I left home at 8:30. The area had several days of rain in a row this week. With every rainfall, the air became more humid. We were truly in the dog days of summer, as today was the day Sirius rose just before the sun. While this rain was good for the flora, it also meant the rise of ticks, which fried and died during the July drought.
I asked Mike, “Should we have a contest to see who has the most ticks in the end?” (I checked after the hike and found nothing…yet.)
“We should see whose shirt is soaked the most with sweat,” he responded.
Further on the bug situation, I didn’t have to worry about mosquitoes. Instead, my right ear was nearly buzzed to death by black flies. I couldn’t hike and birdwatch in peace without swatting the air by my ear every few seconds.
Being August, I didn’t expect that many birds. I saw and heard a good amount at Rockefeller State Park in Sleepy Hollow that Monday, but it’s Rockefeller SP after all. Many birds concluded their nesting weeks ago. No reason to sing for territory or mates, though a few adults sing because they might not have anything else to do. But the number of species ended up quite underwhelming. 19. Last year, my notebook listed 26. I had better counts in winter than today!
I especially looked forward to older juveniles. There was only one family of titmice. And I thought for sure I would hear and see many more goldfinches. August is their time to breed. Around this time, they sing their hearts out. They constantly fly around with a mission in mind. But I didn’t hear any – only two, at that – until an hour and a quarter into the hike. The sauna-like air seemed to have deterred most of the birds into hiding.
The hike started off with an Eastern Wood-Pewee and a Northern Cardinal. At the first intersection, where the sanctuary map is placed, is what I call the warbler corner. During spring and autumn migrations, warblers like to visit this the most. Today: a Black-and-white Warbler and an American Redstart. Warblers, no matter which and how many, are always welcomed. Also present were a couple robins, a White-breasted Nutchatch, and three species of woodpecker (Downy, Red-bellied, Northern Flicker).
Thereafter and to the end, we mostly encountered repeat species, including the titmice, woodpeckers, Blue Jays, pewees, and nuthatches.
The Great Blue Heron, seen the past couple weeks, hung around the pond. We found it nearly on the other side. Hunched, its body looked like a small boulder. The water was very shallow, practically covered in lily pads. It couldn’t have much of a chance to hunt, but it still stayed in the sun. When we passed by it, it flew to its roosting tree, which was nicely under the shade.
I didn’t want to walk the power lines today. I’m sure Mike and Rudy would have if I weren’t there. For a few minutes, we went out and stood in front of the path that led back to the woods. The sun felt so powerful. A grass cutter made noise on the other side of the field. We had some birds. Several Turkey Vultures. The one Eastern Phoebe. Another flicker. An un-ID’d passerine (probably a female goldfinch, but it flew by too fast and didn’t stop to perch anywhere.)
We then heard one of the resident Pileated Woodpeckers in the trees on the edge of the wood. I saw a large black thing move behind the leaves. Then it went out in the open, flew fifty feet up the field’s edge, and went back into the trees. It called again.
I could have stood and listened more birds (just in case), but I didn’t want to drag out the moment for nothing. We walked back to the trail in the woods and hydrated. Only forty minutes into the hike.
Very quiet. The cicadas filled an otherwise silent void. A couple chipmunks still called to maintain their territories. Between the black flies and the humidity, my concentration for birding went down to nearly zero. The one time I looked up at the canopy, coincidentally, an Empidonax flycatcher flew into a tree just above me. When I came home, I ID’d it as a Willow Flycatcher.
The hike lasted only an hour and a half. (On average, it would last two and a half hours.) I checked the front pond for any ducks, but the water was coated with algae. The place was deserted. I did, though, see a female cardinal in the bushes.
When we got back to the parking lot, I had to ask, “Who won the sweat t-shirt contest?” Mike did – because of his backpack.
Next month: the Ramble.