Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spring Field Ornithology - Sapsucker Woods and Hawthorne Orchard

This weekend marked the third and final field trip that I would lead for Spring Field Ornithology, and it promised to be a good one. Earlier in the week, and as late as Thursday, there were numerous local reports (some so local they were right outside my office) of Bay-breasted, Cape May, Tennessee, and Wilson's Warblers. And not just one or two, but in numbers. "The woods are hoppin'!" is how one post described the scene.

We decided the appropriate plan of action would be to first scour Sapsucker Woods, watching the just-leafing-out tree tops for movement, listening for signs of these birds.

There is a relatively short window when these long distant migrants are found in Ithaca on their annual trek north to the boreal forests, the bulk pass through in mid-May. Unfortunately, as we found out during our walk around the Wilson Trail, the woods were not hopping with these species. During the wave of mild, clear nights they departed for points north, and no new ones seemed to arrive.

Kip's Barn at Sapsucker Woods. © Mike Powers 2007
Can you find the ARU placed to record nocturnal migrants?
Hint: it's in the field in front of the barn.

All was not lost. We were surrounded by many breeding species, such as Yellow, Yellow-rumped, and Chestnut-sided Warblers, Baltimore Orioles, American Redstarts, and of course Tree Swallows which use the nest boxes placed on the hill east of Kip's Barn.

We next decided to check out the Hawthorne Orchard. It is like it sounds: a grove of Hawthorne trees, which, when blooming in mid-May, are magnets to birds of all feathers. And not only are there high numbers and high diversity, the canopy is only some 15 to 20 feet high, so the birds are right in front of you: no craning your neck for a glimpse, there is usually ample time to study each one in the front-facing position the human neck is adapted to.

Taking a break from birding to check out a garter snake. © Mike Powers 2007

But with the exception of a single Tennessee Warbler that provided quick and unsatisfying looks for the group (though the song will be forever etched in all of our minds), the Hawthornes were pretty slow. The flowers should be bursting in a few days, which is impressive because they were mere buds just a few days ago. Now that spring is actually progressing it is progressing fast. Hopefully I'll find time to return to the woods mid-week.

After returning home, I took a quick swing around our yard, venturing into the shrubby old field that borders us. Nothing new or unusual to report, but I did manage a shot of a Prairie Warbler. Given that I was some 30 yards away handholding my camera I'm pretty pleased that it's at least identifiable. Maybe I'll head back and try a digiscope this week.

Male Prairie Warbler advertising his territory, and his availability. © Mike Powers 2007

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