Posts Tagged With: thacher park

Local surprises

I didn’t always have to travel to find cool birds this year. Some of the most unexpected were just a county away!

This first lifer has a kind of morbid backstory. We were traveling to Pennsylvania for a funeral, and my husband asked if I wanted to break up the drive anywhere. Well, I said, there’s this Acadian Flycatcher in Middleburgh… We followed directions, drove past floodplains and into the hills, and right on target we hear the bird loudly ordering ‘Pizza! Pizza!’ Not a big rarity for our area – Region 8 is just a bit north of where Acadians are comfortable. I wonder if they’re a species like Carolina Wren and Black Vulture experimenting with expanding their range.

The Lark Sparrow up in the Fort Edward grasslands last Christmas was the subject of my most frustrating search ever. So when reports came in of one at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve, I had to go for it. It took some patience, but finally emerged so we could admire its striking facial markings.


The Preserve is very similar geologically to the Albany Pine Bush and hosts a population of the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. A major hatch was underway as we walked the sandy trails.


Alert birders at Thacher Park noticed something odd about a Mockingbird – its wing patches were buffy instead of white, and it had a distinct eyering. That meant it was another western vagrant, Townsend’s Solitaire.   These thrushes frequent canyons and cliffs, eating juniper berries. I guess cedars at the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment felt just like home.


At a suburban Albany bird feeder someone different came for dinner. Another sparrow that’s unmistakably different! Why can’t they all be this easy to pick out? Harris’s Sparrow is, for a change, a mid-continental bird that rarely roams, and this one drew admirers from all over the state. The homeowners patiently put up with gear-laden hordes roaming their back yard, but I’m sure they were grateful when the bird finally disappeared after Thanksgiving.


‘The Patagonia Picnic Table Effect’ is a well-known birders’ phenomenon.

Basically, it means when birders turn out for a rarity, the concentration of skilled eyes tends to pull out more notable birds. In a fine example, the Harris’s wasn’t showing itself so we poked about into other promising tangles. One of the party urgently whispered and gestured towards a clump of multiflora rose where we saw… yes… a Bohemian Waxwing! The bird I’d hunted for three years, driving hundreds of miles in vain, right in front of me!


After last winter I swore I’d never chase them again, that the damned bird would have to come to ME.

And it did.

In the end, the one lifer that I didn’t chase was the most satisfying of the year.

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, Life bird!, OMG bird | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments


See the bird nest here?

No? How about now?

Why there they are!

And here’s a parental unit keeping a watch on trespassers.

This well-concealed Eastern Phoebe nest is right in the middle of the Indian Ladder Trail, one of the most-used in the area. I didn’t notice it until one of the adults flew in with food for the other. We kept our distance until both were off the nest for a moment, and I took one quick photo of the fuzzlings. Meanwhile, on a blazing hot day, dozens of people walked past us and them wholly unseeing. Here’s to stealth nesting!


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Thacher Park, 7/23

Thacher Park is one of my favorite local places. Perched high on the Helderberg Escarpment, the views to the east across the Hudson valley clear across to Vermont and Massachusetts are spectacular, while Turkey Vultures and Ravens take advantage of the strong updrafts and soar above, below, at eye level.

The Indian Ladder Trail runs below the cliff’s edge so streams cascade from above and offer a cool spray on a summer day. Rock-clinging ferns, lichens, and wildflowers decorate the stable rocks, while massive fallen boulders and the long talus slope give evidence of the power of erosion. Upstream creeks thunder in the spring melt exposing fossils like trilobites in the streambeds.

Almost 700 acres have been added to the park recently, so we decided to explore some of those new trails. The point we started from is a reclaimed quarry mined down to the bedrock, making excellent footing. This wooded area led out across fields to a small but active pond, with a shaded bench and remarkably few mosquitoes. On the way back we were intrigued (as who wouldn’t be?) by the Hang-glider Trail, so we followed that to the end and its unfenced jumping-off point.

We got a little turned around at an ambiguously-marked crossing and the day had gotten sticky, so we decided to save the rest of the North Trails for another day. Not a very birdy day at all, unsurprising for midday in midsummer, except for the ubiquitous Red-eyed Vireos, Common Yellowthroats, Ovenbirds, and Cedar Waxwings. I think it will be worth trying next spring, especially the young forest.

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