Another spring trip to the Adirondack Coast - or - How I blew off work to go birding
Work to do, but birds to see
A friend of mine called me a few days ago to ask about the ducks that have been congregating near Crown Point for weeks. He was interested in heading there to see them and to take some photos, and as we chatted he began to tempt me for another run to the Adirondack Coast to find them. I really needed to get writing work done – lots of work — but when the next morning dawned blue and sunny, I was already working out a way to justify the loss of time in front of my computer.
To be honest I’m still not sure my reasons held a lot of substance, but we had a good time birding and that may be reason enough. My friend’s time was a little short so we didn’t do much around Westport, although the birding in the area has been pretty good as of late. We did find one Vesper Sparrow along Dudley Road on our way to Port Henry, where my friend was interested in finding birds to photograph.
The Port Henry beach
The boat launch at Port Henry was quiet, as was the lake near the beach, but the sand spit held a nice collection of gulls and Caspian Terns. We stood there for a while taking photos of the group and attempting to capture the aerial grace of the terns as they raced and called raucously above our heads. In contrast to their grating calls, the sweet flight notes of an American Pipit caught my ear from overhead, and I was just able to spot the pipit against the sky.
As my friend photographed the terns I scanned the water – which glimmered like a mirror facing the blue sky. While the water adjacent to the beach held only a few gulls and a couple of Buffleheads, the distant lake had black strings of Common Loons and white necklaces of Bonaparte’s Gulls, all on their way north. I could also see there were still many ducks congregating around Crown Point, our next destination.
Suddenly, a Peregrine Falcon seemed to appear out of nowhere overhead in hot pursuit of a Bufflehead. The duck dived – Splash! - into the water, and the falcon veered off just above the water and sprinted for the far tree line where it landed, waiting for its next opportunity to catch a bird unawares. It had certainly caught us by surprise. The entire episode lasted only seconds, but we stood there gaping and dumbfounded for several minutes afterward.
Finally recovered from the excitement, we returned to scanning the water and taking photos until we needed to leave for Crown Point. As we turned I noticed a female Merlin standing in the water along the beach – an odd place to find one, as it stood dwarfed by a few Ring-billed Gulls, with which it shared the beach. But the funny scene was short lived and the Merlin flew before either of us could snap a picture.
Ducks at Fossil Rock
After spotting a few Wood Ducks in the marshes at the south end of Crown Point, we drove into the historic site and walked out to Fossil Rock, adding a few forest birds like Red-bellied Woodpecker and Ruby-crowned Kinglet as we went. Unfortunately for my friend, the ducks were too far away for photos when we arrived, but we scanned through them, spotting large numbers of the usual species such as Greater and Lesser Scaup, Common Merganser, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and Ring-necked Duck. We also found Mallards, American Black Ducks, a single Red-breasted Merganser, and a lone Wood Duck, but it took us a little while before I noted the young male Harlequin Duck – one of the rare species which has been frequenting Crown Point. Since I had last seen the bird, the white markings on the face and neck were starting to show themselves thanks to its ongoing molt, and my friend tried some distant shots which he would later zoom and crop for blurred images. I rested my eye from the scope and looked at the Osprey overhead, adding a Sharp-shinned Hawk in the same way.
With our time waning, it looked like the male Tufted Duck which has lingered in the area for weeks might dodge me again, but I finally spotted it swimming alone through the large flock. Happy as we were with this, it was still much too distant for photos and my eyes were tired of scoping. So after watching it for a bit we turned and walked back out, finding our first Eastern Kingbird of the season as we walked along what many local birders call the “Bobolink field”. But the kingbird was not our final spring first of the day. That distinction belonged to the Blue-winged Teal we spooked along Crown Point from a farm pond as we drove out. It flew down into the Crown Point marsh and out of sight.