Sunday, March 22, 2009

First Day of Spring at Horseheads Marsh

There's a quiz bird below!

I drive by the Horseheads Marsh every day I head to Ithaca for work. It's an easy-in, easy-out spot that attracts a decent variety of water, land, and marsh birds, from warblers and sparrows to rails and shorebirds to waterfowl and gulls. It's small, the daily numbers and diversity don't stack up to large, expansive marshes (like Montezuma NWR), but over a season it produces a decent list of species, especially for a site bounded by unsuitable habitat.

If the conditions are right, meaning if there's enough light and there are no hunters around, it's a regular pause on my commute for a quick stationary count. Typically I simply scope the pools and cattails from a central "hump" that overlooks the northern part of marsh. Occasionally I'll walk south along the railroad tracks that run through the middle of the marsh, especially if I'm thinking more about photographing birds and less about just watching.

Railroad Tracks through Horseheads MarshA reasonable walking path, though you really have to watch your step.
This shot doesn't betray that the cattails on either side of the
tracks are a narrow strip, giving way to large, open pools of water.


As I drove by Friday, the first day of spring, I was compelled to stop. Bright and sunny conditions, not another soul present, a burning desire to see what spring birds might have arrived following a long day (week, actually) of discussions and presentations at work . . . if ever there was a day for a stop, this was it. I had my camera so I was off down the railroad tracks.

Horned GrebeHorned Grebe - not a bad first bird for the stop.

I left the binoculars and scope in the car, expecting to primarily photograph whatever I came across. Standing on the "hump" I scanned the open water. First bird: a lone Horned Grebe. Oftentimes waterfowl take flight when they notice someone peering at them, but this bird wasn't so antsy.

Canada GeeseA pair of Canada geese wing their way into the northern-most pool.

Canada geese, as you might expect, are resident as long as the water is exposed. They're gone in the winter months when all water is frozen solid, but I start seeing them perched on the ice in late February. They commute during these weeks, flying in from either the Chemung River, Seneca Lake, or perhaps agricultural fields in the area until mid-March when the ice has disappeared. Several pairs often nest on the railroad tracks, making passage a gamble - sometimes they yield the right of way, sometimes you do.

Mallards
In direct opposition to the Horned Grebe, ducks tend to be very wary. They often burst into flight just before you spot them, circle the marsh repeatedly, eventually landing in a distant pool. I expected Ring-necked Ducks since they are usually the most numerous during spring migration. Perhaps I'd see a Wood Duck or two stealthily paddling among the cattails, maybe a few Hooded Mergansers. Not today, Mallards were the only ducks I found.

One shorebird flushed from nearly beneath my feet, a current quiz bird. No one's identified it yet, so I'm waiting to post the answer another day or two. Check my earlier post to weigh in - and check out the image, I'm pretty proud of it. It came out much better than I anticipated.

And the new quiz bird, promised earlier, is below. This bird skulked along in the vegetation, rarely allowing a satisfactory view. Finally it perched on a Multiflora rose where I "shot" it. I did get better, more-identifiable images which I'll post in the next day or two.

Quiz Bird - Image 1 A headless passerine: who am I?

Post your best guesses, or laboriously deduced conclusions, in the comments.

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4 comments:

jan m said...

That certainly looks a lot like the rear end of one of my house sparrows, but I doubt that one would hang around the marsh when they can get a free meal from me.

noflickster said...

jan_m - a good guess, I did see/hear two House Sparrows near the "parking area" (and I use that term loosely). But I didn't find them farther along the tracks, where this one perched. Another clue coming shortly . ..
-Mike

nishiki_85 said...

The bird appears to have two white wing bars and has a rusty brown back with streaking. American Tree Sparrow.

Nate said...

Ah, Tree Sparrow sounds right!

Here I was thinking Swamp but it didn't seem right. I should have realized you northerners would pick up on a quiz bird I never see down here. : )

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