On February 7th I headed over to Old Quarry Trail for the first time since mid-January. On my January visit I’d had only 6 species on my 3 km walk, the best of which was the overwintering Song Sparrow; this time I hoped to find some winter finches, Bohemian Waxwings, northern woodpeckers, or even a resident owl or hawk for my year list. I started my walk along the right-hand path from the parking lot, as there are numerous buckthorn bushes and crabapple trees in the open meadow where I’d seen Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings in previous winters. Unfortunately, the meadow was empty of fructivores…I didn’t even see or hear a robin, which are quite common here in the winter. A flock of mallards flying south of the conservation area was my only notable find.
From there I headed into the woods, first following the main trail that circles the marsh before heading east on some of the smaller side trails. I was hoping that by walking deeper into the trail system, away from the main and normally crowded loop, that I would see more birds; however, except for the chatter of nuthatches and chickadees, the side trails were fairly quiet. It wasn’t until I returned to the main loop that I started seeing and hearing more birds. I heard a Pileated Woodpecker call a few times, and the whistled notes of a Pine Grosbeak flying over. An American Tree Sparrow was in the thickets near the marsh boardwalk, while a few juncos were feeding on the ground near the Deer George feeder trail. I saw another sparrow with them, this one a White-throated Sparrow, a new bird for my year list.
On the northern portion I heard the trills of a large group of Bohemian Waxwings. I could see them in a couple of pine trees toward Robertson Road, but when I tried to make my way over to them for a better look I couldn’t find a trail and the snow was too deep to blaze one of my own without snowshoes. I was hoping to find a Cedar Waxwing among the Bohemians, as it’s not uncommon for the two species to travel together in the winter, and Bohemian Waxwing flocks themselves have been scarce this season.
I was almost back at the parking lot when I heard the quiet tapping of a woodpecker in a pine grove several feet away from the main trail. I was tempted to ignore it, as I didn’t relish the idea of sinking thigh-deep into the snow, but the habitat and tapping sounds were compelling enough for me to try. Sure enough, the snow came up to the bottom of my coat, but it was for only a few steps, and once I got into the grove it was not as deep. I easily found my way to the tree where I could hear the woodpecker working, which was close enough to the trail that I didn’t have to do much bushwhacking, either. It was, indeed, a northern woodpecker – a female Black-backed Woodpecker, most likely the same one that has been seen on and off in this trail system since November.
This is the fourth northern woodpecker I’ve found or refound in Stony Swamp this winter – first the two Black-backed Woodpeckers at Old Quarry and Jack Pine Trails, then the American Three-toed Woodpecker I refound at Jack Pine Trail on January 1st after it disappeared for a week. This may have been the same female Black-backed Woodpecker all three occasions, though it wouldn’t surprise me if there was more than one present given the excellent habitat.
I took several photos of her, then retreated back to the trail trying to figure out how to report its location on the local Rare Bird Alert. However, when I realized how close I was to the parking lot I was able to describe the landmarks easily enough, and then left after issuing the RBA as I was quite tired after my 5 km walk through the system. I was happy to see reports later that day from others who had seen her in the same grove, although eventually she flew east – deeper into the woods – where she was not relocated.
Perhaps we’ll meet again!