May 23, 2020

Point Au Roche State Park

On Friday May 22nd I went birding in the Point Au Roche New York state park. The park is located north of Plattsburgh and east of Chazy. The park is situated out on a small peninsula on Lake Champlain. The park is primarily composed of mixed deciduous forest, small wetlands and some developed areas including fields and a beach. The weather was fantastic. There was hardly a cloud in the sky and the temperature rose from the lows 60s when I started at 7:20 am to the upper 70s by the time I finished. It was also a pretty good day in terms of birding as I was able to encounter several new species.

I started off the day by picking my way down into a wetland. I spotted and heard a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers. The way in which the wetland was situated made it difficult to get close to them but I was able to observe them from a distance. I then worked my way down onto Long Point. This is a small peninsula which juts off of the main peninsula. The perimeter of the point was made up of primarily Northern White Cedars. Working inwards it transitioned to a mixture of young deciduous trees and open shrub land. I didn't have much luck on the perimeter as the wind and waves crashing into the shore made it difficult to pinpoint any vocalizations. In the interior of the point however I came across several new species. I heard then saw a Brown Thrasher which was really cool. I also spotted a Black-throated Blue Warbler. I then worked my way back to the main peninsula.

I then drove over to the main campground area which included an open beach as well as several large cleared fields and parking lots. The forest habitat was predominately a young mixed deciduous forest though the area was a bit swampy. Again along the lake edge there were numerous Northern White Cedar. Right off the bat as I exited the parking lot I saw a group of Tree Swallows. Intermixed with the Tree Swallows were a couple of Barn Swallows which was a new species. I worked my way into the forest and came across another new species. I bushwhacked off of a trail into an open clearing and heard a Black-and-white Warbler. I was eventually able to spot him in the tree. I was able to get a recording but the angle of the sun and the foliage made a picture difficult. Returning to the beach and open area I was working my way down the small sandy beach when I spotted a group of Semipalmated Plovers. I was super excited to spot them as I have not had much luck with shorebirds this past week. All in all it was quite a rewarding way to wrap up the week of birding.

Posted on May 23, 2020 00:13 by tsshafer tsshafer | 30 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 21, 2020

Missiquoi National Wildlife Refuge

On Thursday May 21st I went out to Vermont and went birding on several of the trails located within the Missiquoi National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is located towards the northern end of Lake Champlain and is compose of several habitats though the dominant habitat type with the refuge are wetlands. The weather continued the trend for the week and was beautiful. Starting out just before 7:40 am the temperature was in the upper 50's and by the end of the morning was approaching 70 degrees F. There was definitely more wind today at least at the first two loops I explored. I would say the wind was a little over 10mph. I ended up driving between three distinct trails today. This allowed me to experience a larger array of habitats.

I started the day off at the refuge Visitor Center and walked down the Discovery trail. Just below the center there was a large number of American Robins, Tree Swallows and Red-winged Blackbirds who were all very active. As I entered the woods I almost immediately spotted an American Redstart. As I looped down the trail the wind made it a bit difficult to distinguish specific vocalizations. I looped back to the center and drove down to the Stephen Young Marsh trail. Along the route I spotted what appeared to be Bobolinks in the field to my left. Pulling over I was able to see several Bobolinks and even snap a picture. The Young Marsh Trail started off in wetlands before transitioning into a young mixed deciduous forest. While I didn't see any new species on this loop I did identify a female Red-winged Blackbird which was a first.

I ended up heading down to Black Creek trail network farther east in the refuge. This trail followed the Black creek as it worked its way through a young deciduous forest. The area immediately next to the creek was very boggy throughout. On the herpetology side I came across 7 garter snakes along the trail. I also encountered two beavers. The wind was reduced in this area which made it quite a bit easier to hear the vocalizations. I saw a decent number of species including an osprey overhead but the two distinct highlights were the Scarlet Tanager and the Rose-breasted Grosbeak both new species for me. The two Scarlet Tanagers stayed visible for quite a while and were quite vocal which was really nice. I also encountered quite a few Baltimore Orioles and was able to hear their song quite clearly which was a big plus.

Posted on May 21, 2020 23:26 by tsshafer tsshafer | 30 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 20, 2020


On Wednesday May 20th I went birding at the Lake Alice Wildlife Management Area located between Altona and Chazy New York. The weather was beautiful when I arrived at 7:30 with clear skies and bright sun. The temperature started off at 52 degrees Fahrenheit but by the afternoon had climbed up into the upper 60's. The Lake Alice wildlife area is situated round Lake Alice a small lake bordered by marshes to the south and a deciduous forest to the east. Immediately north of the lake a small patchwork of fields are maintained but beyond those fields a mixed deciduous forest is the dominant habitat type. To the west of the lake is a mixture of properties, fields and small forest stands. Through the deciduous forest to the Northeast of the lake a cross country ski trail cut through the forest offering a useful trail to follow.

In and around lake Alice I saw some a high number of Yellow Warblers who were both very vocal and active. I was surprised by the abundance of Yellow Warblers. While I have come across them before I saw a much greater number of them today than on previous outings. Also in and around the lake were Red-winged Blackbirds, a Belted Kingfisher, Canada Geese, Baltimore Oriole and what I believe was an Eastern Kingbird. The mixture of habitat around the lake appeared to be influenced by the mowing of several small fields which provided a decent amount of open cover north of the lake. The marshlands to the south of the lake were still very boggy and lacked a developed trail which somewhat precluded me from exploring in that direction.

Moving into the deciduous forest I had a fair bit of difficulty. I'm still working on the vocalizations so I struggled a bit as the visibility was significantly reduced in the forested habitat. I think that I heard an American Redstart and an Ovenbird but I was not confident enough to list them. In terms of the Scarlet Tanager it could have been present and I simply did not hear or see one. I was in a fairly large block of forested habitat however I was located on the edge of the block and due to the boggy nature of the forest was somewhat limited to staying close to the trail. So there is a possibility that there may have been Scarlet Tanagers present deeper in the forest. In terms of what I did see I was very happy with the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, the Red-eyed Vireo, the Least Flycatcher and the Wood Thrush. I'm pretty confident that I observed a Least Flycatcher though it was a new species for me so I wasn't 100 percent sure. However, the abundance of flying insects in particular the mosquitoes offered a wide array of food sources.

Posted on May 20, 2020 21:12 by tsshafer tsshafer | 27 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 19, 2020

Grasslands and Shrublands

On Tuesday May 19th I went to the Flat Rock State Forest near Altona New York. I arrived to the area just after 7:30 am. The weather was very nice today staring off in the low 50's before warming up to the mid 60's by the afternoon with sunny and mostly clear skies throughout the day. The Flat rock area is made up of a mixture of different habitats including a large stretch of deciduous forest which transitions into a scrub pine forest with large stretches of exposed rock. The State forest juts up to and mixes with the private property owned by the Miner institute. The Dam and much of the grass and shrub land areas are inaccessible from the state managed forest area. While not as successful as yesterday I still managed to see a decent number of species.

Starting off on heavier forest mostly composed of deciduous tree species I worked my way down what I believe was a snowmobile/ATV trail though I'm not entirely sure. I came across both Downy and Pileated woodpeckers in this stretch of forest. As I transitioned out of the deciduous forest into the scrub pine forest I heard several White throated sparrows before I was able to locate any with my binoculars. In a small body of water tucked deeper into the area I saw a pair of Mallards as well as a Red-winged Blackbird near the water body. I also came across a House Wren and several Yellow Warblers. The scrub pine forest was a different habitat than I was used to. There was a large amount of forest cover but the canopy height was quite low. Though there was a lack of grasslands the forest was quite patchy creating a number of different shrub areas and clearings.

I eventually discovered that I was moving out of the State forest land and edging into the Miner Institute property. I then elected to move forward and exit the area rather than backtracking and potentially crossing private property again. I eventually made my way out of the state forest and came to the Miner farm road. I worked my way down the road and observed several species in the fields adjacent to the road. These included the Eastern Kingbird, Gray Catbird, Song Sparrow and the Red-winged Blackbird again. I also was able to hear several bird calls but was unfortunately unable to see them or ID them based off of the call alone.

Posted on May 19, 2020 21:26 by tsshafer tsshafer | 22 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 18, 2020

Water Birds

On May 18th I went to the Ausable Marsh Wildlife Refuge just outside of Peru New York. The refuge is primarily a marsh land situated just off of Lake Champlain. The bulk of the refuge is located between the Ausable river and Dead Creek. The refuge then juts up against the Ausable Point Campground. The weather was very nice throughout the day. I arrived at the refuge at about 7:35 in the morning and the temperature was 50 degrees Fahrenheit with a lightly overcast sky and a 10 mph wind out of the north. As the morning progresses the sky cleared off to mostly sun and the temperature warmed up to just over 60 degrees F.

The habitat of the refuge was quite varied. There were numerous small bodies of water isolated from each other by small strips of land. The Ausable river splits at the southern end of the refuge with one part of the river emptying directly into Lake Champlain and the other snaking up north through the refuge before moving west where it enters Lake Champlain. Dead Creek, the Little Ausable River and parts of the main Ausable river provide even more water sources within the refuge. The refuge is composed of a mixture of marshland and floodplain forest. The main part of the marsh is accessible by a dike which snakes its way through the Marsh. within the marsh there is a large amount of vegetation particularly cattails, rushes and reeds. The floodplain forest which borders much of the marsh is composed predominately of deciduous species and riparian vegetation. In the campground which meets the western edge of the marsh there is a small stand of coniferous trees mostly Red Pines.

I saw a large number of Red-winged Blackbirds in the refuge approximately 45, a large number of Common Grackles and a significant number of Tree Swallows. When I first entered the marsh along the dike these three species were very active and quite vocal. I also encountered a number of species in much smaller numbers. These included a pair of Osprey, a Baltimore Oriole, an American Goldfinch and a Great Egret among others. Towards the end of my outing as I made my way back towards where I had parked I encountered three Northern Flickers. The three birds were all out on an open area of grass probing the ground. I had not encountered a Northern Flicker before and was unaware that they fed on the ground. The Flickers I observed were probing at the ground for food.

In terms of water birds that I observed I saw Great Blue Herons, Mallards, Common Mergansers, a Belted Kingfisher and several Caspian Terns and Ring-billed Gulls. The Refuge is quite large and these species were spread out over a considerable geographic extent within the marsh. The Great Blue Herons and the Great Egret were all out wading in deeper water within the marsh while I observed both species of ducks in the Little Ausable river towards the northern part of the refuge. The Belted Kingfisher was at the southern edge of the refuge and was circling over a stretch of the Ausable River.

Posted on May 18, 2020 19:53 by tsshafer tsshafer | 29 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 01, 2020

Field Journal 8 ID

I went birding from 4:45 pm until 6:20 pm on May 1st in the village of Malone NY. The weather was decent with a solid overcast the entire time I was out but no rain. The temperature was about 54 degrees Fahrenheit and there was a very mild breeze out of the west. I started off at the local high school and then worked my way down to the salmon river. I then stayed on the edge of the river in a small floodplain zone that was quite marshy and worked my way upriver along a small offshoot of the main river up to a series of small beaver dams though I unfortunately did not see any beavers. The signs of spring are apparent as the vegetation was coming in along the river and there was a noticeable uptick in the number of insects. I then cut up a hill following a series of power lines. I descended on the far side and entered the back of the recently reopened Malone recreational park. The park is a mixture of wooded areas along with soccer and baseball fields. I was a couple of species that I had not seen yet this spring specifically a pair of Great Blue Herons and a Bald Eagle. I observed both species overhead while I was working my way up the Salmon river.

Posted on May 01, 2020 23:46 by tsshafer tsshafer | 14 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 22, 2020

Field Journal 7 Reproductive Ecology and Observation

I went birding on April 20th from 5:30 pm until 7:00 pm. I started out behind the North Country Community College campus in Malone NY. The campus is situated next to the first dam that the Salmon River flows through as it passes through the village of Malone. The weather was excellent with bright sun, a mild breeze out of the west and the temperature was about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. I started out on the edge of the salmon in a small deciduous forest. As I worked my way down the river the ground on the riverbank extending deeper into the small forest became much more moist and became a marsh eventually. I then crossed the Salmon River and came out on the football field at Franklin Academy. I worked my way down the field and ascended a hill to the edge of the forest that comes to the edge of the school property.

On the edge of the college campus I came across a decent number of Black-capped Chickadees and European starlings. Both species were quite active vocally. The Chickadees were singing more than any other time I have heard this spring. In this stand of deciduous trees there was a decent number of snags which would make excellent nesting habitat for the Chickadees. Not to far off on the Salmon river there was approximately 50 or so Canada Geese. The river pools a bit above the dam and there are several decent sized islands in the river with a good amount of vegetation. The islands would make very good nesting habitat for the Canada Geese as they would add an extra level of protection from predators. Also the Geese would have easy access to grass and other vegetation with which to construct their nests.

A bit farther down the river where the riparian zone turned into more of a marsh I came across a male Red-winged Blackbird. the red on his wings was just starting to come in. He was very vocal the entire time I observed him. He was situated in an excellent territory he had the river close by and by and the area underneath the tree he was in was a marsh. This would provide an excellent nesting site. The male was very vocal indicating that he had good fitness overall. He might have been trying to attract a female to his territory or he might have been trying to keep other males at bay. Either way his vocal display demonstrated a commitment to his territory and his health. There would also be easy access to marsh type vegetation such as cattails and reeds with which to construct the nest. In one of the drier spots along the river I saw a pair of Song Sparrows. The Sparrows were near a pretty good nesting location. The Song Sparrows would be able to accumulate grass and other weeds especially during the spring before the thicker riparian vegetation is in full growth. The birds would not have had to go far as there was some grass growing in between the forest and the river. Also the Song Sparrows could have ventured in the other direction into a more urban area with a large number of small yards to search for nest building materials.

I did the listening activity early on during the walk not long after I had entered the small forest. The link to the map is here

In terms of what I was hearing I was able to identify a few species by call first and was then able to spot some but not all of them from where I was sitting.

Posted on April 22, 2020 20:50 by tsshafer tsshafer | 17 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 15, 2020

Field Journal 6 ID

I went birding from 10:45 until 12:15 on April 15th. The weather was quite variable. The temperature was 37 degrees Celsius and the outing started with mostly clear skies with a west wind around 10 miles per hour. By the end of the walk the sky had become almost fully overcast and the wind had increased to about 16 miles per hour. I worked my way down two residential streets then cut across the high school property to the salmon river. The residential neighborhood is mostly made up of small homes but includes a fair number of trees. The school property is a mixture of buildings and fields. I then went to the top of the first of three dams that the Salmon river runs through. There was a large group of Canada Geese and several Herring Gulls. The river pools up and several sand bars and small islands are present above the dam. One the side of the river I came from there is a decent amount of cover in the form of trees and vegetation growing up alongside the edge of the river. On the far side however it is a bit more developed. From this point on the wind picked up steadily and I saw a smaller number of birds. I worked my way out and back through a wooded forest made up predominately red pine trees. I unfortunately did not come across anything besides some Black-capped Chickadees and a few American Crows. As I worked back down into the residential neighborhood I did spy a Red-tailed Hawk circling near the local ice arena which is adjacent to several youth athletic fields. As I finished up the outing a few snow flakes were coming down.

Posted on April 15, 2020 17:11 by tsshafer tsshafer | 14 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 08, 2020

Field Journal 5 Migration

On April 7th I went birding from 1:10 to 2:45 in the forest and riparian habitats near the Malone central high school. The weather was excellent with a crystal clear sky and a west wind of about 10 miles per hour. The temperature was quite warm for early march at 54 degrees Fahrenheit.

We are fully into spring in northern New York with the last traces of winter disappearing as the last bits of snow and ice have melted. The birds which overwinter in the region have become very active but the spring migrants are just starting to arrive. Several species that I observed that stay year round include the American Crow, American Robin, Canada Goose and Black-capped Chickadee. All of these birds have to be capable of finding food during the winter when many sources of food are cut off or limited. They also have to be able to withstand the cold temperatures. The American Robin in particular undergoes behavioral changes to be able to survive the winter. During the spring and summer seasons robins forage on worms in the unfrozen soil alone. During the winter the robins will congregate around shared food resources such as fruit trees which they use to survive the winter. The black-capped Chickadee makes use of snags for shelter during the winter. In addition the birds which overwinter rather than migrating south are able to increase their fat reserves and insulation in anticipation of winter. Migration is a very costly process to undertake. It is energetically expensive and the mortality rate is often high due to poor weather. The species that overwinter have adapted to overcome the challenges of winter rather than undertaking a costly migration.

Facultative migrants which may migrate based on weather conditions such as moving a little farther south if winter conditions are very harsh or moving north if they are more mellow. In northern New York both Canada Geese and Song Sparrows could be considered faculative migrants. Individuals that live farther north will migrate south for the winter but in northern NY we are on the northern edge of the region in which they can overwinter. Canada Geese in particular rely on open water during the winter. With winter breaking quite early the Canada Geese who had traveled slightly south are now able to return north. In the case of Song Sparrows and other facultative migrants when food resources are unavailable during the harshest parts of winter they can be forced south. With warmer temperatures and reduced snowfall they can return. In particular the winters in northern New York are changing due to climate change. Periods of intense cold and winter conditions are more often broken up by extended thaws or warm periods during the winter. Facultative migrants are able to take advantage of these thaws moving south when the conditions worsen and returning north during the thaws and warm periods to take advantage of the available resources.

I unfortunately did not come across any obligate migrants. While it appears that winter is done past years are evidence that we could still receive a significant snowstorm. Obligate migrants who arrive here in early April are taking a gamble. If winter is done than they will have first dibs on resources and nesting sites. But in the event that we experience a sudden snowstorm or several days of cold temperatures the obligate migrants weakened by their migration will be very vulnerable.

I tallied up the distance some of the faculative migrants could potentially migrate during the winter. I came up with the rough numbers of 300 miles for Canada Geese, 210 miles for the Brown Creeper, 150 miles for the Mallards and 100 miles for the Dark-eyed Junco. These were pretty rough calculations but I would call them an educated guess. Mallards only overwinter in a small strip running NE up from Lake Ontario following the Saint Lawrence river north. Farther north into Canada above Malone and south into the Adirondacks the mallards migrate. But Malone appears to fall into a small band where they can overwinter.

Posted on April 08, 2020 19:37 by tsshafer tsshafer | 14 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 24, 2020

Field Journal 4 Social Behavior and Phenology

On March 24th I went out birding from 2:30 to 4:00 in the Malone Memorial Recreation Park and along the Salmon River. The weather was quite pleasant and the snow that had come yesterday had melted off for the most part. The temperature was around 38 degrees Fahrenheit with partly sunny skies and a very slight west breeze.

Prior to the inch or two of snow that came on the 23rd of March the birds had been becoming much more active. They were not as active today as they had been in the preceding week but I anticipate that there activity will pick back up throughout the week. The first birds I encountered were a pair of Downy Woodpeckers. They were both foraging on some snags on the edge of a clearing. Both of the Downy Woodpeckers I observed were males with the distinctive red patches on the back of their heads. I came across a group of 12 American Robins. With the start of spring and a wider access to food the robins were no longer congregating around a shared food resource such as a fruit tree. This particular group were spread out across the ground presumably foraging.

Along the Salmon River which flows through the village of Malone I observed a large group of Canada Geese and several Mallards. In terms of plumage it appears that the Canada Goose has a counter shading style with dark brown, tan colors on their back and white on their belly. This dark coloration on their back could provide a level of camouflage with the ground and their white bellies would reflect the color of their surroundings enhancing their protection. The plumage style of the Canada Goose can be contrasted to the Mallard. The female mallard has what I would call a cryptic coloration pattern with a tan body with dark brown streaking throughout. Presumably this would also aid in hiding them from predators similar to the Canada Goose plumage. This plumage style of the female Mallard would also be quite effective when they are nesting. The plumage color of the male Mallard however is quite different. The males have a more solid grey body color with a rich brown chest. The most distinctive feature was their bright green heads. I would guess that this prominent head coloration would serve two features for male Mallards. First it may help attract a female and secondly while the female is sitting on the nest the more visible male Mallard would be more easily spotted by predators and thus could guide predators away from the nest.

The Canada Geese were resting for the most part on a several of the small islands in the river. However several of the Geese were very aggressive. One Canada Goose in particular was lowering his head and extending his neck out in front of his body while raising his wings up over his back. This goose then proceeded to chase several other geese out of his area on the shore. I would guess that this was a dominant male chasing off several juvenile males. I would also presume that mating season has started or is close to starting for the Canada Geese in this region of NY. The goose who was chasing off several other geese was presumably trying to defend his mate or his potential access to a mate. Canada geese mate once a year in the spring. The lengthening of the days and the warming temperatures most likely triggered the territorial behavior among the Canada Geese I observed as they prepare to enter the mating and breeding season.

After observing the first Black-capped Chickadee I saw today I attempted several pish calls to see if I could draw out any other Chickadees. It didn't really seem to work although I did see several more Chickadees not long afterwards. In terms of why sphishing works on Chickadees and other small birds I would guess that they are being startled more than attracted. I would guess that this sound might be alarming to Chickadees either mimicking another birds alarm call or that of a potential predator. The sound doesn't seem to scare off the birds more than it seems to agitate them until ceased. The Chickadees might wish to alert their kin or neighbors to a potential threat and thus become agitated at the sound of pish calls.

Posted on March 24, 2020 21:26 by tsshafer tsshafer | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment