hiking

Brinton Brook Hike, Report 6-2017

Because I now work weekends during the summer, I missed the Second Saturday group hike on the 10th. I will have to miss Second Saturday in July and August as well.

I got the chance to hike Brinton Brook by myself this morning. Black and yellow flies began zipping around my ears as soon as I got out of the car. I looked up to the overcast sky, a bright uniform gray. The air was so muggy that it perpetually felt like that second just before rain starts to fall. The robins sounded muted through the thick air.

Now that we have passed into the latter half of June (the summer doldrums for songbirds), I expected to hear a handful songs. Few songbirds sing at this time, save for the ones that have a second or third clutch and still need to establish territory. Most only raise one clutch and take care of their young ones at this time. I did, however, start my hike with a sharp eye and ear for fledglings.

Traveling up the trail to the map intersection, I heard two different chipping notes. One was familiar and the bird immediately seen soon after: Northern Cardinal. He foraged in the bushes next to the path. The other note was unfamiliar. I pished to draw out the source. On the other side of path, an immature male Indigo Bunting popped up and perched on a woody vine. He looked like Sleeping Beauty’s dress at the end of Flora and Merryweather’s fight: his plumage was a messy tye-dye of indigo and brown. For more than a minute, he chipped and chipped, turning to and fro, calling for his parents or expressing his state of alarm. He flew to another vine, continuing to chip, so I walked away.

I could still hear him when I reached the intersection. Not another bird made a peep. Pishing produced nothing. As I continued along the trail towards the field, I heard another chipping note from the myriad of black locusts. It sounded sharper and more metallic. Utilizing echolocation to find a bird more often difficult that easy. After a couple minutes, I saw bird finally move. An adult male Indigo Bunting. He moved closer to me, still chipping. Based on his and the other bunting’s behavior, I presumed he was scolding me for pestering his offspring, so I moved on quickly.

The pond was mostly shallow and covered in lily pads. A few Red-winged Blackbirds sang and called from all around. Walking alongside the pond, I heard more robins, a Red-eyed Vireo, a couple Eastern Wood-Pewees, and a Baltimore Oriole. I couldn’t find any herons, Great Blue or Green, when I scanned the other side. A lone green frog called.

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View of the pond from the eastern side. © S.G. Hansen

At the eastern end of the pond, the path narrowed because the vegetation had closed in on it. I paused a quick moment before crossing. I may not have been hiking the Hudson Highlands – where copperheads are about – but I (alone even with a cell phone) was still mindful about the possibility of a snake shooting towards me on the attack. As soon as I started walking I heard a rustle behind me. I looked back to see a black rat snake on the pond side of the path. It stared at me for a little before slinking into the water.

I had seen black rat snakes here before. The last time I hiked Brinton Brook, I saw three large ones swimming in the pond. Harmless, they are common in New York. They’re more likely to slither away from you when they’re scared rather than go on the attack.

At the blue trail’s beginning, I heard two Wood thrushes duel. The hike up to the power lines, of course, was quite dead, with exception to a small titmouse family.

The clouds were just starting to part away when I arrived the power lines. Minutes later, I saw mostly blue sky. The sun brightly shined. Now I was birding during a true summer day, hot and muggy. I observed a lot of bird activity: two Eastern Towhees, four Prairie Warblers, three Blue-winged Warblers, a couple more Baltimore Orioles, three more Indigo Buntings, two Field Sparrows, two loudly warblering House Wrens, and a Common Yellowthroat. From the woods I heard another Eastern Wood-Pewee and more cardinals. Many of these birds were singing and chattering all at once. The Prairies were flying about, and two of the Blue-winged were fighting. Numerous insects zipping around constantly threw off my focus.

I experienced my first birding sensory overload of the year. It was difficult to decide which single bird to settle on and to discern if it was a bird within a split second. But when the warblers came into view, I reserved my bins for them. I had only Prairies up to this point. It was a relief to finally see them. I also watched an Indigo Bunting sing perched atop of a nearby bush, his blue blazing in the sunlight. I also don’t often see Field Sparrows. It was wonderful to catch a sight of a pair.

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Nessus Sphinx Moth at the power lines field. © S.G. Hansen

I was relieved to re-enter the woods. Even though I now heard the construction of the golf course expansion at its loudest (I was hearing it throughout the hike since I started). The construction didn’t deter the birds from going about their business. I had walked into a miniature bubble of activity. A pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds flew about. Three voluble Hairy Woodpeckers sang, called, and darted from tree to tree. Another two male Baltimore Orioles – one adult, one immature – chattered. I disturbed a pair of Eastern Towhees into hiding. When I pished to coax the female out, the male burst forth and aggressively sang “Drink your tea!!!!”.

I continued. I heard more pewees, Wood Thrushes, titmice, and chickadees. At this point, I stopped keeping track of robins. I had seen a lot thus far – including immatures – and decided to estimate a number in the end. Shortly transitioning from the white to the yellow trail, I saw a Wood Thrush scoot along the forest floor, wary of my presence. Just ahead, in one spot, a Scarlet Tanager and Blue-headed Vireo sang. I tried getting on the vireo but failed. The tanager did fly into view, his red stunningly way more powerful than a cardinal’s. He sang even as carried an insect in his mouth.

Activity quieted down significantly as I further hiked down. Toward the trail’s end, I saw a few more robins, and heard one more pewee and the same Carolina Wren from the beginning. Before hopping back into my car, I stopped by the Weinstein pond, which was still as glass.

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I got within six feet of this tame bunny. © S.G. Hansen

My hike lasted a little less than two hours. I might have been more patient and slow-going were it not for the humidity. Summer is my least favorite season for this reason….That means it’s time to visit the beach for shorebirds! Still, I was pleased to go around Brinton Brook and barely make it in time before the summer doldrums hit. I observed 33 species. Check out the eBird checklist here!

Brinton Brook Hike, Report 4-2017

Reports of First-of-Season birds – including Eastern Phoebe, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler, Chipping Sparrow – have been popping up. The past couple weeks were rainy and cold, but the weather predicted for the day of the hike looked promising: a clear sunny day, with the temperature rising from 40° in mid-morning to 50° by noon. And the snow from March’s Nor’easter finally melted away. Where there’s good weather, there’s good birds and much bird activity. I’d been looking forward to this month’s hike for the past week or so.

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Early spring flora: skunk cabbages by the pond. © S.G. Hansen

Unsurprisingly, our group count exceeded ten. Besides us regulars Mike, Rudy, Gerry, and me, several SMRA friends from Project Feederwatch joined. This winter season Cornell Lab of Ornithology project ended last Sunday, freeing the volunteers’ weekend mornings. Also joining us today were the Czech father and son duo (who last hiked with us in September), and two friends/former coworkers of mine.

From the time I arrived to when the hike began, I already counted up to 10 species, including a small variety of raptors: a Red-tailed Hawk, an Osprey, and an immature Bald Eagle – all flyovers. A male Brown Cowbird tried impressing a few female cowbirds. Robins foraged on the forest floor and whinnied. The year-round residents made their presence known with constant song.

While helping my friends adjust their binoculars, I missed the small group of Cedar Waxwings that the rest of the group had at trail’s beginning, but I did see the red-tail from before. It wasn’t hard to miss the site of a small massacre:

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Blue Jay leftovers. © S.G. Hansen

Just before we reached the meadow, I spotted two adult male Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers foraging next to the trail. Their red napes and throats stood out like red on a cardinal. They engaged in a quick skirmish. One landed on the tree on which the other was foraging, and the latter was chased off. I was a little surprised – I had never seen them in spring. But they are still on the move. Checking the eBird bar chart, people apparently spot them in Westchester all year round, albeit not so much from mid-spring to early-fall.

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A full pond. The red maple flowers are blooming. © S.G. Hansen

We took a short break at the eastern end of the pond. Two Red-winged Blackbirds conk-la-ree‘d. An Eastern Phoebe flycatched. No ducks or herons. Walking along the pond path, we came across more robins and downy and red-bellied woodpeckers. A flock of goldfinches twittered across the pond. Chipmunks darted away from us.

Someone noticed a male-female pair of Green-winged Teal swimming around the western end! The teals slowly scootered towards the phragmites, presumably to hide. Our group was rather large. Fortunately, most of us got an excellent view of them.

Seeing these small, attractive ducks at Brinton Brook was a first for me. They’ve been sighted at the sanctuary before, the first and only other time on March 2016. Teal aren’t as common in Croton as other wintering ducks, such as the Common Merganser and the Bufflehead.

Just as we were still observing the teals, a Palm Warbler stole their thunder. My First-of-Season! I wasn’t the person to spot it, but as soon as I heard one of us utter “Palm Warbler,” I diverted my attention from the teal to this bird, which was no more than twenty feet from us (I’d seen so many teal at the Montezuma refuge earlier this year anyway). I couldn’t miss out on such an amazing look at my first warbler of the year, especially one with vivid spring plumage. (I don’t count the Yellow-rumped Warbler, which I see more during winter than spring.) The sunlight intensified its yellow face and breast and its richly rufous cap. The Palm foraged on the edge of the pond, sticking close to two robins nearby. It flitted low among the vegetation on land and water, and even ventured onto the path for a bit. Its tail never took a break from bobbing up and down. At one point, the Palm perched higher in a tree and sang a few times. Had I not actually seen it sing, I would have mistaken it for a Chipping Sparrow or a junco. We made sure to tread carefully as we moved along so as not disturb the Palm much. But like the teal, it eventually hid itself from us completely.

When we reached the western end of the pond, we heard a Pileated Woodpecker call once. It called a second time a minute later, as if teasing us. As we admired the close-view of a bright male cardinal, the Pileated revealed itself, landing on a tree nearby. Seconds after, another Pileated landed on the same tree, on the opposite side of the trunk. Both climbed simultaneously, as if they were engaged in a challenge. I tried to discern the color of their mustaches (red for male, black for female) but couldn’t. The first took off, and then the second followed suit, both calling maniacally. They flew out of sight and hearing.

Ed Mertz and I dubbed the portion of the trail that leads to the power lines “the dead zone.” Each time we hike it, we hardly see or hear any birds (Ed, fellow SMRA member, frequents Brinton Brook more often than I and takes wonderful photographs of the birds). Today, however, we counted one robin and – this one caused excitement – a Northern Flicker. The flicker, which was foraging on the ground, flew to a tree, exposing his yellow-tinged wings. Farther up the hill, we encountered two vibrantly blue male Eastern Bluebirds. While one hunted for insects, the other was cooperatively perched on a tree at eye-level for several minutes. I spotted another flicker.

The power lines didn’t have much songbird activity. Another cardinal sang and our third and last flicker called (pew!). We had unintentionally split into two groups. My group, having gone ahead, saw another Red-tailed Hawk flying over the field, and the other group observed an adult Bald Eagle soar over the forest. A Turkey Vulture glided overheard as we re-entered the sanctuary.

Our hike down was quiet save for a few chickadees and titmice consistently calling and buzzing. A second Carolina Wren sang. Blue Jays jay’d. We stopped to look a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree. It flew away when we continued, allowing me to note it was an immature – blank breast, lack of red tail, pale tail bands.

Once we reached the last leg of hike (the yellow trail, which loops around the pond), activity increased some. I heard more robins, presumably the same ones from the beginning of the hike. A small flock of goldfinches drank from the stream, twittering incessantly and yet sweetly. One male’s plumage nearly molted to bright yellow. A White-breasted Nuthatch and a Song Sparrow sang. I found one Dark-eyed Junco.

Earlier, Ed and I talked about the fact that we had seen every woodpecker possible except for the Hairy. We kept our ears open and eyes peeled for one since we saw the first flicker. Ed even joked that couldn’t leave the sanctuary until we had one. Barely at trail’s end, we heard a sharp call. We waited to hear it again but got nothing. We didn’t see a bird either. The Hairy’s call sounds very similar to the Downy’s (as do their songs), but the Hairy sounds louder and forceful in comparison. I added Hairy Woodpecker to my list. That call had to have belonged to a Hairy. (We did it, Ed!)

I observed 30 species today. This month’s hike was great all-around: good weather, good birds, good company. I expected another other First-of-Year, the Chipping Sparrow. I was a little disappointed to not observe a Chipper. I thought I would hear its song for sure. It doesn’t beat a Palm Warbler, though.

Check out the eBird checklist here.

Brinton Brook Hike, Report 3-2017

Between last month and this month’s hikes, the temperature practically ping-ponged from 40° to 65° to 40° to 65°. Besides snow drops, a few orange crocuses flowered in my front yard. The daffodils had also started growing, green stems inching upward. And the viburnum next to the front steps was also beginning to bloom magnificently. And then yesterday, Winter dragged Spring backstage – again. About three inches of snow fell. The early spring plants were covered. The viburnum’s blossoms, wilted and darkened, looked pathetic.

The car thermometer on my way to Brinton read 16°. Thankfully, the sun shined. The morning was shaping up to be beautiful in spite of the dry, frigid air. Sunlight meant the birds would be out.

Our group number reached five: myself, Mike, Rudy, Gerry Weinstein, and Alexandra, a birdwatching friend whom I haven’t seen since summer.

I heard about a dead deer in Gerry’s pond earlier in the week, so we went to take a look. The deer had been crossing, misjudged the ice thickness, fell through, and drowned and/or froze to death. Gerry had seen deer tracks on the ice earlier in the winter, but with recent temperatures…. The deer’s corpse attracted turkey vultures, black vultures, and even an immature bald eagle. Only part of the deer was exposed to open air. I got a good look of its bare ribs through my binoculars.

This winter seems to have fallen into a bird activity pattern, shaped like a horseshoe if the data were drawn on a graph. Lots of activity in the beginning, nearly thinned out to nothing at the power lines, and back to much activity at hike’s end. While waiting at the parking lot, I heard more than half of dozen goldfinches tweeting, but couldn’t get my eyes on them. I also heard other usual winter birds: chickadee, titmouse, blue jay, American crow. At the map intersection, we saw nuthatches and a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers.

The pond wasn’t completely frozen. A few black ducks gladly foraged where the water was open. Unexpectedly, we were treated to a show on ice. A mixed flock of more than dozen goldfinches and several bluebirds searched for seeds by the pond’s edge. We watched them a bit before continuing on the trail, which brought us closer to the mixed flock. I stopped at a point in which the birds wouldn’t be too disturbed by our presence. The bluebirds – I counted up to eight – flew further into the woods, but then they soon returned to rejoin the goldfinches.

The lighting was optimal. Everyone with binoculars could clearly see the goldfinches’ finely patterned olive, black, and white plumage and the contrast between the female and male bluebirds’ colors (females look pale compared the vibrant males). At one point, we were distracted by the arrival of a young red-tailed hawk. It perched high in a tree for a couple minutes and then flew out of sight, revealing wing-tip curls.

The goldfinches were as still as kinglets – in that they were not at all still. Those that foraged on the ice didn’t forage for long. Many roller coaster fights erupted among them. They zipped from branch to branch, tree to tree. They incessantly twittered a mess of “per-chick-o-ree”‘s. At some point, a few were right over our heads, demonstrating they were more concerned with their affairs than with us. To add to the goldfinch chaos, downies and red-bellied woodpeckers called. Three Carolina wrens fought one another. A fourth sang from somewhere else around the pond. The auburn orbs tumbled through branches and over fallen trees, trilling and flapping frantically. The bluebirds seemed much more relaxed when not disturbed by their neighbors’ frenzied behavior. It was easier to keep track of them as they foraged on the ice. One particular bluebird perched in tree directly in front of me. She was still for up to a minute. Puffed up to retain, she looked like a plush toy. The sunlight illuminated and further softened blue and orange feathers.

When we continued walking along the pond, we flushed a flock of juncos. I thought I saw a Carolina wren with them, darting to hide under a log, but that flash of a moment I realized it looked browner overall. Winter wren? Too early for house wren. I tried pishing and playback to get it to pop up. Only juncos emerged. I didn’t see the wren again, but I was positive it was a winter wren based on the color and time of year. Since this was a year bird for me, I would have liked to get a much better look. I lingered a bit just in case, but not for long.

Yesterday at dusk, Rudy spotted a great horned owl. We took a detour trail to the power lines in order to find it. Unfortunately, it was long gone. Two titmice wheezed and whistled around that very area.

The power lines were quiet except for a couple chickadees and nuthatches, some white-throated sparrows, and a cardinal singing far away. We counted our third turkey vulture for the morning soaring overhead. I pished only to scare away the white-throats.

When we went back inside the sanctuary property, we saw more chickadees and one more bluebird. Not long after we started our way on the white trail, I noticed a different woodpecker: a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! I hadn’t seen one since New Year’s Day at Rockwood Hall. And the last time I observed one at Brinton Brook was February 2016. This sapsucker was an immature, nearly adult. Though it was large enough, it didn’t have a red cap (males have both a red cap and a red chin, while females only have a red cap) and any yellow on its body, but the rest of its black and white barred plumage was neatly coming together (the very young sapsuckers look scruffy).

We reached the highest point of the sanctuary. The wind picked up. The sky had become fully overcast at this point, with the sun barely peaking through the fast moving dark gray clouds. We could see and hear the driving range construction at the golf course, which is south-east adjacent to the sanctuary.

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This wasn’t here last month. Have a mound of dirt. ©S.G. Hansen

As stated before, we didn’t encounter much more bird activity until the very end. There, white-throats called and foraged on either side of the trail. The blue jays jay’d. More nuthatches, more chickadees, one more red-bellied woodpecker. I paused to see if there was another species of sparrow hanging with the white-throats. My attention turned to another bird, which I initially thought to be another chickadee. I suspected its flightier-than-usual foraging behavior and put my binoculars on it. Golden-crowned Kinglet! Another excellent winter resident. I last saw one at Montrose Point State Forest during the Great Backyard Bird Count. Either kinglet species is always lovely to find, but I might be more biased towards the Golden-crowned than the Ruby-crowned. The bright orange-yellow crown – lined on either side with a black stripe – strikingly contrasts with the overall olive plumage, and its thin black eyeline adds to it character. They’re also not as flighty as Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Alexandra and I lagged behind to observe the kinglet until it flitted out of view. It was the last best show for today’s hike.

Have a look at the eBird list: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S35104506

Brinton Brook Hike, Report 2-2017

A snowstorm on Thursday brought us twelve inches of snow. I knew I would be in for a tougher hike this month. The temperature wasn’t that cold – just above freezing, no windchill factor. The sky decided to become overcast at the last minute. Unlike the February two years ago, I now had proper footwear and no excuse to skip the hike.

Driving in, I flushed at least three dozen Dark-eyed Juncos foraging for grit on the road. I caught a blue flash from a bright male Eastern Bluebird zooming over my car. When I parked and got out to gather my gear, I heard a number of birds unceasingly sing or call: White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadee, and Carolina Wren. Though that doesn’t seem like many species, it’s certainly a huge difference compared to the quiet that had been reigning since fall migration’s end. Winter birds begin singing to claim territory in February. By this time, the amount of daylight has substantially increased since the solstice. The birds have taken their cue. Earlier this week,  in my neighborhood, I heard a House Finch and a Northern Cardinal sing for the first time this year.

Hike leader Mike arrived shortly after I did. There were no other cars parked on the un-plowed lot. The snow cover wasn’t unoutched. Visitors had already stopped by sometime after the storm. As we waited for additional hikers, a Red-tailed Hawk flew over our heads. A flock of seven rowdy Blue Jays landed in a tree above us. Seconds later, they flew away. Gerry Weinstein would be the only other person to join us this month. We three set out.

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Trail’s beginning. © S.G. Hansen

 

We rested a bit at the trail map fork (which I call the warbler corner during the warmer months). The amount of trail from the parking lot to this point wouldn’t be considered a hike, but because of the snow, my heart beat as if I’d just finished jogging a mile. I was sweating. I took off my gloves. People and dogs had already stomped on the snow for us, but I still felt like I hiked on sand.These people even blazed a trail for deer, who left hoof-prints over boot-prints.

Not as much activity here. I continued to hear the same birds from before, plus a House Finch sweetly twittering somewhere east, out of our view. We barely saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker against the backlighting. The parking lot and the map area were apparently the only hotspots in the sanctuary that morning. It wasn’t until the very end, when we nearly completed our loop, that we came across a lot of activity again. At the pond, now frozen, the winter trio (chickadee, titmouse, nuthatch) made some noise and we bothered a male Northern Cardinal, who chipped at us in annoyance by the side of the trail.

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Itty bitty birdie tracks – likely belonging to Dark-eyed Juncos – around Black Birch seed hulls. © S.G. Hansen

Other than the occasional nuthatch, jay, and crow, we trudged through silence. At least, I was trudging. Somehow I became the leader of the single-file line, followed by Gerry and then Mike. I was glad for the fact that the snow was still fluffy and not at all icy. But I’m a short person with short legs. Hiking through six inches of snow is a doozy for me. I may regularly visit the gym, but I only hike once a month, not counting any walking I do when I birdwatch. “You’ve slowed down,” Mike commented as we trekked uphill to the powerlines. I don’t remember what I said in response, but I was looking forward to soon completing the hardest part of the hike.

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A Tulip Tree (its trunk is on the right) has absorbed another tree into itself. © S.G. Hansen

When we neared the top of the hill, we heard a loud, rapid drumming. Based on the intensity, I guessed that the drumming belonged to one of the resident Pileated Woodpeckers. I tried looking for it with my binoculars. The bird drummed a couple more times. I couldn’t find it – too far away from us, hard to pinpoint its location. I was sure we were hearing Pileated. It was very similar to the drumming I heard by the pond last month, when I did eventually find the bird responsible for the drumming.

We decided not to walk the powerlines earlier, but Mike and Gerry wanted to at least venture out for a moment. Mike blazed through the virgin snow as if there weren’t any snow. (He may tell you he’s out of shape, but it’s up to you if you believe him or not.) I didn’t think there would be (m)any birds, but I followed behind somewhat reluctantly. We were treated to a lovely view of snow-coated mountains to the north – namely, Bear Mountain and Anthony’s Nose. A steady, thick steam cloud rose from Indian Point. Winter silence accompanied the scenery.

Mike, puzzled by the lack of bird presence, pointed to certain plants. The birds should be eating this, the birds should be eating that, and that, and that. We’d seen a good amount of berries and seeds for the birds to eat as we hiked, but the foods remained untouched. “Why don’t you pish?” Mike offered.

I don’t remember what I replied, maybe I simply mumbled and trailed off. With this much snow covering the ground – which could also be called “the great flat food-provider” – I imagined the birds wouldn’t want to waste their energy being bothered over nothing. I didn’t pish. I heard was some cawing from crows I couldn’t see and a chickadee’s tinny “feebee.” All I saw were a few juncos by the sanctuary’s edge and a jay or two flying about. While I distractedly looked around, Gerry spotted a woodpecker racing from one side of the field to the other. I was able to get on it with my binoculars mid-flight and noticed a particular mustache. Northern Flicker! Gerry had never seen a flicker before. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get a very good look at it when it perched. We bemoaned the awful lighting.

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Deer bedding. © S.G. Hansen

We didn’t hike our usual route (going the powerlines, then onto the green and white trails, and finally back onto the yellow). Instead, we continued on the blue trail to the yellow trail, which loops the pond. There were no birds to hear or see during our descent from the powerlines, so Gerry, Mike and I began concentrating on animal tracks. Gerry owned a pamphlet on tracks and scat, but he left it in his cottage. Still, guessing which tracks were which by memory alone was part of the entertainment, especially when it came to discerning the difference between dog and coyote. (Coyote’s look more oval-shaped. The footpads are triangular, and the claws aren’t as pronounced as they are in dog tracks. Sometimes, a dragging line trails the prints, indicating a tail, which would definitely belong to a dog.) Of  course, we saw dog tracks on every inch of trail we hiked. We also found a couple coyote tracks, some more deer, and one belonging to an Eastern Cottontail rabbit. Wherever we came across fallen birch seeds, we found small bird tracks.

As soon as we approached trail’s end, we were met with a burst of activity. A large flock of juncos foraged on the hillside (presumably the same flock I flushed from before). I suddenly noticed wings fluttering against a tree trunk near us. I assumed “nuthatch” right away, but then I saw familiar flurry of moth mottled brown: Brown Creeper!! I’m always happy to see a creeper, as it is my ultimate favorite bird and I don’t see them frequently. I miss them during spring and summer. They’re winter birds for Westtchester. Watching a creeper – whether I’m birdwatching or just out-and-about – makes my day, no matter how well my day is going. This one was the fourth creeper I had seen so far this year. Looking back at my past Brinton Brook lists, I apparently noted the last sighting in November 2014. A bit sad…

I maintained my focus on the creeper for as long as it was in my sight. Its small, jerky movements will never lose charm, and neither will the way it flutters from tree to tree. I did stray my binoculars to ID a Hairy Woodpecker. Another species for the list. Always welcomed after so many Downy’s. Mike and Gerry indulged me and waited patiently. Gerry had never seen a creeper before (that made two new species for him this morning) and watched it with interest. He wasn’t able to keep up with it as I did, so he turned his attention to the juncos. When I finally lost the creeper, we walked ahead. The juncos had disappeared. From at that point to the parking lot, I heard the Blue Jays continue their ruckus, the lone House Finch from before sing away, an American Robin “yeep!!” a few times, and another Carolina Wren sing about tea kettles (or cheeseburgers, if you will). I was positive I heard the question mark note of an American Goldfinch.

We completed the hike in 1 hour and 45 minutes. Less than average, even with periodic rests, but still a workout because of the snow. I counted up to 19 species. You can view the eBird list here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S34344128

Brinton Brook Hike, Report 1-2017

To sum up this month’s hike immediately, it was quiet. I observed a couple spurts of activity. Any other time, though, I was met with silence when I stopped to listen. I counted 19 species – same as last year’s January hike – but the numbers for each species were underwhelming.

(Before anyone else arrived, Mike and I found 13 used condoms strewn around the parking lot. Maybe the orgy scared off the birds.)

Our group consisted of 9 people, many of whom were familiar faces and regulars. I lagged behind half the time to concentrate on birding.

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Paper Wasp nest revealed. The pond is frozen, so no herons or ducks for us. © S.G. Hansen

A woodpecker tapped away continuously some fifty feet away from the pond. I couldn’t see the bird, so I challenged myself to find it. I didn’t want to guess which woodpecker in order to add it to the list, and I also I didn’t want to leave it off the list not having known what it was. The pecking sounded more like hacking, and was strong and constant. Perhaps a Pileated? I moved around to get different angles. Meanwhile, two female Hairy Woodpeckers nearby engaged in a scuffle, squeaking, thus prompting two Carolina Wrens to buzz. More than five minutes passed after I nearly gave up and continued walking on the trail. Then I spotted the woodpecker – a male Pileated. I had trouble because it turned out that the Pileated was on the side of a large branch facing away from the pond.

I caught up with the group, still on the pond trail.

“There’s a decapitated female Mallard under the holly,” Mike said.

Tell-tale signs of a dead duck were around us: a bloody spot on a rock and a clump of down feathers. Everyone had seen them as they went along, then when Mike walked over to the holly tree by the trail to determine its sex, and he found the mallard’s body.

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Looks fresh. We’re in a duck horror film. © S.G. Hansen

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Headless body of female Mallard Duck. Croton will soon have the Legend of the Headless Duck haunting their streets. © S.G. Hansen

The headless mallard won Highlight of the Hike for this month.

The hike up to the power lines, along the power lines, and down from the power lines was incredibly quiet. Whatever I heard and saw was by the individual, including American Crow and Turkey Vulture (something other than the usual winter flock). I spent the rest of the hike talking or watching where I placed my feet. I wasn’t discouraged by the incredible lack of bird activity. I greatly enjoyed the silence. With the recent increase of homeowners hiring leaf blower and lawnmower service in the area this past year, winter seems to now be the only true quiet season of the year.

At the very end of the hike, by the part of the brook near the parking lot, we encountered a spurt of activity. We flushed up to 50 juncos down brook. They took off one by one, twittering en masse. A robin ate from a lone winterberry bush. Atop the group of black birch trees, around 30 goldfinches and at least 1 Cedar Waxwing fed on the seeds.

We finished the hike in less than 2 hours. Not a record low, but still short. We had plenty of time to kill before the soup lunch at Croton Point Park, where people from Charlie Roberto’s eagle walk and people from the nature center’s Project Feedewatch would also be gathering. Gerry Weinstein, who was on the hike with us, took us around his property again for a bit (his property is next to the sanctuary, and the Weinstein Family recently protected 18 acres of their land adjacent to Brinton Brook with a conservation easement through the Westchester Land Trust). Rudy – lead sanctuary volunteer – found these feathers while searching for owl pellets underneath a clump of cedar trees. Judging by the size the color pattern, I’d guess these belonged to a Downy Woodpecker.

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Woodpecker feathers, presumably Downy (purposely arranged). Thanks for spotting them, Rudy! © S.G. Hansen

For the full species list, you may look here.

Brinton Brook Hike, Report 12-2016

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Ice formation on the brook. © S.G. Hansen

Though the solstice has yet to arrive, we are in winter. I flushed up to thirty juncos as I drove up the sanctuary’s driveway. When I arrived at the parking lot, my car’s thermometer read 28°F. The sky was partially overcast. A thin layer of clouds coated much of the sky. Only the beeches and a few oaks retained their leaves. At first, today seemed like one of those days in which I would have to mostly bird by ear. The activity actually occurred in sporadic spurts, wherein we had a few short periods of much movement between long stretches of quiet.

Our group was on the small side again, totaling seven: a few of us regulars plus a photographer and a birdwatching father and son duo. I heard a few birds at the warbler corner: a couple jays, a goldfinch, a white-breasted nuthatch, a Carolina Wren, a red-bellied woodpecker, and good pick-ups of a Fish Crow and a Common Raven. On the way to the pond I only saw a pair of Song Sparrows and cardinals. Rudy – one of the hike’s regulars – said that the pond filled up nicely after the two days of rain last week. He observed some Canada Goose and more than a dozen mallards. Now, a thin layer of iced had formed. No waterfowl today.

The clouds thinned more as we walked along the pond, allowing the sunlight to strengthen. The number of birds seen increased from 0 to 100%. Chattering immediately followed. Three different Carolina Wrens sang and trilled around us. There were more nutchatches, more jays, more goldfinches. Chickadees and titmice buzzed as they flitted from tree to tree. We spotted a Downy Woodpecker and three Eastern Bluebirds. An unseen woodpecker drummed. Ahead, a mixed flock of goldfinches and juncos foraged for reed seeds at the edge of the pond, on the ice.

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Part of where the goldficnhes and juncos had been feeding before we flushed them. © S.G. Hansen

As usual, the ascent to the power lines was quiet. I hoped for Cedar Waxwings and more bluebirds at the field. But it was nearly as quiet were it not for a buzzing chickadee and a few White-throated Sparrows chipping.

I had been putting off pishing. We were already startling the birds by hiking. I didn’t want to disturb them even more, especially when they needed to conserve as much energy as possible in this cold. I considered that I would be able to draw out American Tree Sparrows and the resident mockingbird. I had yet to see tree sparrows at Brinton this season, and I supposed it would have been nice for the non-regulars to have a chance at the mockingbird. I pished. I only irritated the white-throats. More than from before chipped around us. They remained hidden. I spotted another song sparrow.

Just over the hill beyond us, a raptor soared above the field and behind a small tree, out of sight. The sun was directly ahead of us and skewed the raptor’s coloring, though I was able to make out its shape, which was that of a buteo (chunky body, short tail, and relatively long wings). Common sense points to Red-Tailed Hawk. Red-tails are the most commonly occurring buteo during winter in Westchester. I decided it was best to note the raptor as buteo sp. (eBird gives the option of “[……] sp.” if you end up not completely ID’ing a bird but can make out its family or genus.)

The raptor’s presence explained why the birds stubbornly hid. When we climbed to the top of the hill, I tried finding the raptor in the trees lining the opposite side of the field. We may have flushed it. I pished some more as we went along, and still only few white-throats responded.

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Hike leader Mike holds a nest we found in the brush at the power lines. © S.G. Hansen

We came to area where we had the Fox Sparrow last month (where the power lines trail transitions back into the sanctuary). Fall migration having long ended, it might have moved on by now. Wouldn’t it be something if I saw one here again today? I thought. I starting pishing anyway. A few seconds later, a sparrow popped up and perched on top of the thicket. I expected another song, but after I put my glasses on it, it turned about to be a fox, amazingly! It looked ruffled. Its tail twitched. After just a few seconds, it flew into the sanctuary, producing its call note.

Like last month, we hiked on the newer part of the white trail. We observed another Carolina Wren, and more jays, juncos, goldfinches, and white-throats. We also came across one more additional species for the hike: American Robin. A flock of twenty or so darted back and forth over the trail, whinnying. They fed on a large bush’s berries, chased one another, and foraged on the forest floor and trail. Not long before, Rudy was commenting on how he wasn’t seeing many robins of late. I, too, like seeing them in the winter. They are lively birds.

Contrary to popular thought, American Robins don’t necessarily migrate south for winter. Some do winter in Central America and the very south of the United States. However, most stay in the U.S. all year around. They form nomadic flocks like bluebirds, traveling around to find food.

Towards the end of the hike, we encountered one last movement: a large mixed flock of goldfinches, juncos, white-throats, and one nuthatch foraging around the brook. Though so many birds were flying about, they were quiet. Even the goldfinches, which are usually vocal. They probably felt no need to communicate to one another, or were too busy eating and tussling.

I observed 20 species altogether. In addition to birdlife, we saw twelve deer – including two bucks – on four separate occasions. Right by the trail we found a tree on which a buck had rubbed its antlers to scrape away the velvet.

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A male deer’s antler markings on a tree. © S.G. Hansen

Brinton Brook Hike, Report 11-2016

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Mossy hillside. © S.G. Hansen

This morning was chilly (the temperature was in the 30s) but sunny and clear. Most trees had lost their leaves, with the few recognizable exceptions: American Beech, Norway Maple, White Oak, Tulip. The forest floor and parts of the trails were covered with brown leaves from oaks, maples, sycamore, sassafras, and other trees. The group this month consisted mostly of Saw Mill River Audubon affiliates, plus a member from the Weinstein family.

The first half of the hike was so quiet that it was more like a nature walk than a birding walk for us birders. We didn’t observe many species. The regular members of the winter flock included a few chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches; unseen White-throated Sparrows; and a couple Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers. Blue Jays cried here and there. We heard a Golden-crowned Kinglet flitting around mid-story but didn’t get a chance to see it. At the pond we counted ten Mallards. For a certain time, we made more noise than the birds, crunching leaves as we walked.

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This tree by the trail’s side must have insulted someone because it apparently took an axe to the trunk. © S.G. Hansen

During our ascent to the power lines, a Turkey Vulture and then the lesser common Black Vulture soared behind the trees. Mike – hike leader – found a few Barred Owl feathers on the trail. They felt very soft. Since Barred Owls don’t usually leave their feathers around like this, we guessed a Great Horned Owl must have tackled it and carried it off somewhere to eat.

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SMRA Executive Director Anne Swaim holds Barred Owl feathers.  © S.G. Hansen

Rudy – the sanctuary caretaker – checked one of the nest boxes and found a square-shaped bluebird’s nest.

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An Eastern Bluebird nest. © S.G. Hansen

At the power lines were more white-throated sparrows, a couple cardinals, an acrobatic mockingbird, a Carolina Wren, a couple more TVs, and a far away screeching Red-tail Hawk. I expected American Tree Sparrows. They would have been first-of-season for me. It was about they’d begin to show up in Westchester. A few were already sighted at the Croton Point landfill a few days before. I didn’t observe any here. I did see this dead Box Turtle, which had been in the same spot since Sunday, according to Mike (we moved it off the trail.)

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This Box Turtle was likely frozen to death due to wacky temperature changes. © S.G. Hansen

We reached the section of the power lines trail that goes back into the sanctuary. Pishing happened, disturbing a chickadee feeding on wild lettuce. And then out came a Fox Sparrow! It perched on top of a bare bush for up to a minute. Very agreeable of it. This sighting was my second for the season, but I welcomed the sight of a Fox Sparrow to enliven the birding. I don’t often see them.

The rest of the hike had much more activity. I observed more of the same birds from before, but more numbers of each species flitted around and foraged for food. The Dark-eyed Juncos especially revealed themselves more, venturing onto the path. We saw at least a half dozen Cedar Waxwings and a second Fox Sparrow. A Common Raven flew overheard and croaked. A Northern Flicker “pew”-ed. A couple more Carolina Wrens trilled.

Overall, I observed 23 species of birds: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32502820.