The snow in the valley of Cayuga Lake basin – where I now live – had mostly melted during the past couple days. “Up the hill,” towards the Lab, several inches of snow still covered the ground. The car thermometer read 16°. Until this week, this month hovered around the thirties. I wasn’t worried this dip would deter early migrants. The sun shined at its fullest this morning, without even a wisp of a cloud to cover any blue.
Nearly at the parking lot, I flushed a few small birds gritting on roadside. I slowed…junco, junco, junco…Fox Sparrow! It perched for a moment to study my car before diving into the bushes. A happy-chance first-of-year! I hadn’t seen one since December.
For this month’s walk, I joined the Cayuga Birding Club, which holds a walk at Sapsucker Woods every Saturday and Sunday at 8:30. I was first to arrive. As I waited at the Lab entrance, I watched and listened to take note of the much activity happening around the feeders. Several dozen Red-winged Blackbirds flocked in the trees above the feeders, singing a continuous chorus of kon-ka-ree’s and calling. The number of Blue Jays kept to the teens. The usual amount of feeder goldfinches sang and per-chick-o-ree’d. American Tree Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos skulked in the brush and foraged for seeds. Geese honked, chickadees dee-dee’d, downies downied, several crows cawed, cardinals boomed their song, mourning dove wings whistled. I heard a fox sparrow sing – likely the same one from before – from somewhere around the parking lot.
Our guide, Dick Feldman, started the walk with standing by the pond for a good while to allow us to visually sort out the birds. Our group was small, unsurprisingly not exceeding ten. The eight of us looked at the tree sparrows, marked the yellow of the white-throats, observed two downies fighting, and noted the goldfinches’ increasing yellow. A couple Common Grackles (another first-of-year) joined the blackbirds.
A pair of Wood Ducks suddenly took off. I was the only one quick enough to notice and ID them. They must have hidden themselves towards the back of the open water, behind the geese and mallards. (The pond would be completely frozen if it weren’t for the water churner). Mid-March is quite early, especially at this moment because of the cold and snow. Unlike other ducks, they are only here for spring and summer. A third first-of-year for me…
Dick the led us around the building to the northern end of the Wilson Trail. We stopped to watch a half dozen Cedar Waxwings forage for seeds in two tamaracks. The clear morning sun alighted the subtle softness of their gray-yellow-beige gradient and the bright yellow terminal tail band. I’ve only seen in passing twice this year, zooming overhead, faintly crying zee zee zee. This flock stayed put, eating and resting at leisurely. We left them behind to continue our walk.
A movement of many red-winged blackbirds with a few grackles and starlings whirlwinded around us, darting from tree to tree, perching, lifting up. Two blackbirds sticking closely together stuck out to me: Rusty Blackbirds! I presumed them both as male since they were purely black except for some spotty rust patches. Their yellow eyes seemed to stand out more boldly than a grackle’s. Unlike the waxwings, they did not stay put, but they gave us enough time to get our good looks. I recalled the one Rusty frequently sighted at the feeders towards the beginning of the year. It hadn’t been observed for weeks. I was happy to see two at once this morning.
Two of us dropped out to warm up. I didn’t feel too cold, especially because we moved some. Owling at 4:30 during a Christmas Bird Count spoiled me (see why here). We gingerly walked the path till the viewing dock, which was directly on the other side of the pond from the bench area. Two Songs Sparrows dueled as we stood and chatted. After our rest, we backtracked our path to the Lab entrance. We encountered nothing new. Same birds, same sounds. A blue jay was perched in the tamaracks that the cedar waxwings once occupied.
Our walk ended in time for the Lab to open for the day. By then, the sky had become partly cloudy. Bird activity lessened quite a bit, but the blackbirds and goldfinches unceasingly sounded as we parted.