Note: NYSYBC’s 9th Annual Kickoff conference, held at Mariandale in Westchester County with a morning bird walk at Croton Point, was a huge success. 25 young birders and their parents were in attendance and had a fabulous day birding, hearing and giving presentations, participating in the photo quiz and book ‘n’ stuff swap, and making new friends while enjoying old ones. Saw Mill River Audubon, a NYSYBC partner, graciously made all the arrangements for the bird walk, venue, food, etc. – plus shared the cost with NYSYBC. Many thanks to SMRA Executive Director Anne Swaim for her central role in making it all happen and her personal commit- ment to young birders. A shout-out also to the other local birders who helped lead the walk: Mike and Kelli Bochnik, Sarah Hansen, and Larry Trachtenberg.
American Tree Sparrow - photo by Rion Yoshimura
The start of this all-day event was a bird walk through Croton Point Park. Walking down the snow-covered trail, we saw our first birds, a flock of American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos feeding in a large patch of phragmites, shaking the snow off themselves as they fed. I also spotted a Fox Sparrow on the edge of the flock. As we went down the path around the landfill, we started seeing more birds. A nice surprise was a pair of Gray Catbirds on the side of the trail and a Great Blue Heron flying north along the shore of the bay.
Now we started to see our first targets of the day. We had very backlit/misty views of a few of Croton’s wintering eagles flying south along the shore of the bay. Our group then arrived at a large grove of pine trees. We sent out several scouts to look for owls there, as there had been recent reports of Eastern Screech-Owls and Great Horned Owls in the area. Most of us went a bit further down the path to look at some more birds while the scouts looked for owls.
Suddenly, we shifted to the opposite direction. Somebody had found an owl! To discourage disturbance, I won’t say where exactly the bird was, but we did have to go quite a ways for it. The owl was a red morph Eastern Screech-Owl, sleeping halfway into a tree cavity, giving everyone really good looks! This bird was a lifer for many in the group, including myself, but I’m glad to say that it wasn’t the only highlight of the day.
Croton Point Park - Photo by Mary Batcheller
We then went to the Hudson River to look for ducks, where we found some Buffleheads and a distant flock of Common Mergansers. It’s odd to see them in a place where they’re actually “common”, since these birds are very uncommon downstate where I and many other young birders live. Our group then started to head back, but we took a different route, which was through the grasslands. At the entrance we were greeted by a few wintering Savannah Sparrows. When we went a little further in, someone spotted a trio of Eastern Meadowlarks, and I and several others were lucky enough to get a good look at these rare winterers as they flew over the grasslands.
After this brief excitement, we didn’t have many birds in the fields save for a flyby Common Raven. Then, we heard someone yell “Red-throated Loon!” We rushed over there, but the bird dove just as I arrived. They said it was very distant, barely identifiable with a scope. Then the loon came up, but I missed it again due to its diving almost immediately. As I attempted to get on this bird, we got great looks at two adult Bald Eagles flying along the shore of the river. Finally, the Red-throated Loon stayed up long enough for me and several others to get it through the scope. This was not a bird I even thought about getting here!
Eastern Screech-Owl, photo by Teresa Loomis
Afterwards, we walked the remaining trail to the parking lot, but first decided to scan for vultures. In the distance, probably over a half mile away, we saw two flocks of vultures. One was made up of Turkey Vultures, but the second was made up of Black Vultures, a rare but increasingly common resident in the Hudson Valley. We then got in our cars and went to the conference at Mariandale.
The conference began around 10:30 a.m. We had some snacks and drinks, and Kai Victor kicked off the meeting with us introducing ourselves, as well as a review of 2016. With the amazing stories of last year, I am excited that we will find more great species in 2017. We then had a few presentations. To start, Anne Swaim showed us just how unique bird nests can be as well as the importance of cavity nests. Next, I introduced people to what I did volunteering at the Wild Bird Fund, a wildlife rehabilitation facility on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Then, Garret Van Gelder informed us on why mixed species flocks occur and what species typically do this. After that, we had our book swap and then went to eat lunch.
Photo Quiz - Photo by Anne Swaim
After lunch, most of us went outside to look for a reported raft of Canvasbacks on the Hudson River. We were not disappointed, as a raft of over 160 of these ducks was resting on the water, as well as several Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, and Buffleheads. We also searched for both kinglet species and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in a nearby grove of coniferous trees. I only saw a Golden-crowned Kinglet, but others reported a Ruby-crowned and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. There was also a mixed sparrow flock in the tall grasses, made up of American Tree, Song, and White-throated Sparrows, along with Dark-eyed Juncos.
When the conference resumed, we were informed about big day fundraising, future events and field trips, and scholarships we could get. Next, Teresa Loomis showed us her amazing experience at ABA’s Camp Avocet in Delaware in July. Then, Carena and Herb showed us how to bird by ear and what apps we could use to help us. After that, Silas Hernandez gave us a very fun photo quiz. Lastly, Kai showed us how to pursue research opportunities and told us about various projects he has worked on.
After the meeting, we went outside to take a group photo, as well as being sent off by a Golden-crowned Kinglet and one last Bald Eagle. Our 2017 kickoff event was an amazing experience, not only because of the fantastic birds at Croton Point Park, but also because of the fantastic presentations, reliving memories of 2016, and looking at what’s to come for the NYSYBC this year!
List of Birds Seen on this Trip
Species Total: 44