Good Friday Birding

Common Grackle

At long last, the Easter long weekend had arrived. Good Friday dawned sunny and bright, just as the weatherman had promised; however, I wasn’t prepared for the cold north wind blowing straight from the Arctic. It was not as nice and warm as it looked, as I quickly found out during my visit to Sarsaparilla Trail. To my further disappointment, no new migrants had shown up. I was hoping for White-throated Sparrows and Pied-billed Grebes, but found only the same species (Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ring-necked Ducks, Purple Finch, juncos, etc.) I had seen on previous visits. Even the local Great Blue Herons hadn’t yet arrived.

My next stop was Shirley’s Bay where a pair of Bald Eagles, Osprey, and some Rusty Blackbirds had been reported. A new nesting platform had been built for the Osprey near the old radio antenna they have used for years, but the birds didn’t appear to be around. At the Hilda Road feeders I found no cars, no food for the birds, and only a couple of blackbirds in the trees. I put some bird seed out, and immediately several Red-winged Blackbirds, American Tree Sparrows, Blue Jays and Mourning Doves flew in to get their breakfast.

Red-winged Blackbird

I only saw one chickadee coming and going from the feeder, but couldn’t say whether there was just one individual or if a couple of chickadees were taking turns. One Song Sparrow accompanied the American Tree Sparrows; perhaps by next weekend the White-throated Sparrows will show up. There were no nuthatches and no woodpeckers, and although I heard a cardinal singing a short distance away, I didn’t see him.

Red-winged Blackbird (Immature)

The vast majority of the birds, however, were blackbirds. Two female Brown-headed Cowbirds flew in but didn’t stay long, and at least five grackles were taking turns on the feeder trays, but the most abundant species was the Red-winged Blackbird. Almost 30 males and only two females were present in the area, only half of which were at the feeders at any given time. I thought the grackles were quite pretty in the sunlight, their glossy blue-black head contrasting with their iridescent bronze body.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

While watching the feeders I glimpsed an Osprey flying up Rifle Road, carrying a stick in its mouth. This made me curious as to whether any of the other local Osprey had returned. I checked the nesting platforms on Riddell Road, Berry Side Road and Thomas Dolan but didn’t see any, so I decided to head west to the Bill Mason Center. Along the way I saw a Great Blue Heron on March Valley Road, about 10 Wild Turkeys on Sixth Line Road, and an Eastern Bluebird on Fifth Line Road.

At the Bill Mason Center, a couple of Song Sparrows and a Red-winged Blackbird were singing in the marsh. I saw a pair of Wood Ducks near the beginning of the boardwalk and heard a single Spring Peeper peeping, but overall the marsh was quiet. I didn’t hear any Swamp Sparrows or Virginia Rails and assumed they hadn’t arrived yet.

In the woods I heard a distant Eastern Phoebe singing and two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers tapping. I saw one of the sapsuckers high up in a tree – another year bird for me! Five Ring-necked Ducks and about 15 Buffleheads were swimming in the large sandy pond, and I startled a Ruffed Grouse on a side trail. A single Turkey Vulture flew over.

When I returned to the marsh I could hear a Wilson’s Snipe calling from somewhere close by. It responded when I played a recording on my iPod; then, when a Northern Harrier flew over, it flushed. Another snipe was calling from the opposite side of the marsh and a third was winnowing high in the sky. The snipe and the Northern Harrier were also year birds for me, bringing the day’s total up to five.

It was a great day even if the wind was a little chilly; I was happy to see all the new arrivals, particularly the Eastern Bluebird and Northern Harrier. With two more days left in the weekend to go birding, I can’t wait to see what shows up next!

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