A Beautiful Day for Birding
I led a birding trip to the southern Champlain Valley the other week, and we started by making a quick stop at the small wetland along Cemetery Road in Keene. One of the participants had found a Willow Flycatcher there a few days earlier. We listened to singing Yellow and Black-and-white Warblers before we found the flycatcher – perched on top of the shrubs and singing its almost sneeze-like Fitz-bew! song. And while we could have remained there longer, we continued on our way – we had miles to cover that day, beginning with Crown Point State Historic Site.
Crown Point State Historic Site
As we hiked in along the roads of the historic site, we almost immediately found a Black-billed Cuckoo cooperatively sitting low in a tree and eyeing us suspiciously as if it knew something we didn’t and it didn’t want us to find out its secret. The light was perfect on the bird and everyone watched it excitedly but quietly until it flew to a more hidden perch in the trees. Soon after that we spotted an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and when we left the woods to walk along the grassy field, Bobolinks were quickly added to our list. We were also soon adding Eastern Kingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Veery, Wood Thrush, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, and Black-throated Green Warbler. A Scarlet Tanager sang from an open perch, although it would have been nice had the Warbling Vireo taken lessons from the tanager on how to do that. It remained hidden from view in the tops of the trees.
As we walked back to the cars, we again spooked up a Black-billed Cuckoo in the same spot as we had before, and this time we could see a small cuckoo fledgling sitting low in the bushes! The parent was evidently feeding it – its secret was out! The fledgling soon slipped from view behind some leaves and we moved on to leave the cuckoos alone, spotting a pair of Baltimore Orioles at the parking area and finding swallows – including a Bank Swallow – feeding low over the fields of the peninsula as we drove further south past a series of Osprey nests.
Ticonderoga and Washington County
We drove to Ticonderoga where I planned to make a brief stop at the ferry terminal. To my surprise, I heard a Yellow-throated Vireo when I arrived there, and we took some time finding it so that everyone as able to see it. Our brief stop became even longer since the Warbling Vireo which was singing nearby followed the precedent set by the previous Warbling Vireo at Crown Point and it did not offer us any views despite our efforts to spot it in the tops of the cottonwoods. We finally gave up. We would be unable to get a clean look at one the entire day.
We then drove south through the finger of land in Washington County - bound by Lake Champlain and Lake George, and checked out points along Lower Road. There we found species like Indigo Bunting, Ovenbird, Veery, Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, and Pine Warbler. We also stopped at Bob and Betty Cummings Memorial Park, and it proved excellent for Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow, and Eastern Bluebird.
We eventually made it to the junction with Hutton Square Road, and we began to slowly move along it, finding similar species as we went. But then we heard it – one of the species we had been seeking. The buzzy notes of a Golden-winged Warbler rose from the early successional habitats which lined the road. We enthusiastically hopped out of the cars and I spotted the bird sitting on an open branch, only to have it fly away before everyone could see it well. So we stood and waited, walking the stretch of road back and forth in the hope that it would return. With all the difficulty of finding a Warbling Vireo that day, there was clear concern that the Golden-winged might offer us the same treatment.
After several frustrating – and perhaps agonizing - minutes of waiting, the bird sang again, but further from the road and we couldn’t locate it. But the song gave us hope, and after a few more minutes the bird landed to sing in plain view in a bare tree along the road! If nothing else, birding teaches us patience. Everyone was buzzing about the Golden-winged, and then a Prairie Warbler sang from nearby! We didn’t know which way to turn!
We were soon in search of the Prairie Warbler and like the Golden-winged it initially proved elusive to find, staying fairly low in thick bushes and only affording us quick glimpses, its rising zzzzs of a song giving away its location from time to time. Meanwhile the Golden-winged Warbler continued to return to a few trees along the road, granting us amazing views of it, even as we began to focus on the Prairie which was staying out of sight. To add to the confused excitement, a third bird began to sing a Golden-winged/Blue-winged Warbler-esque song and I pursued it along the road, finding a Brewster’s Warbler – a hybrid of the Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warblers. But unfortunately I was the only person who got decent views of that bird and we returned back to where we had heard the Prairie Warbler in the hopes of better luck with it.
Thankfully our continued efforts were not met with frustration. The Prairie Warbler – after the requisite teasing of pursuing birders – finally sang from some of the same bare trees chosen by the Golden-winged, bringing with it both smiles of enjoyment and relief from all of us. And as it flew out of sight and we prepared to leave for our next adventure, the Golden-winged Warbler perched once again in the open, as if it was the easiest bird to see in the world.
That’s often how it seems to go with birds. We as birders pursue them, working hard for even a brief glimpse of a bird, and then once we have seen them, the bird keeps coming back making us wonder why it was all that difficult to find in the first place! But I think most birders would agree that’s an okay scenario from their perspective. After all, if every bird was easy to find, there would be no challenge or reward in their pursuit or in eventually spotting them. The birds can tease us all they want – we only ask a view eventually. And in truth we have little say in the matter. And so after more splendid looks at it, we left the Golden-winged Warbler singing its buzzy tune in the open, poised to hide again for a spell when the next set of birders came along.