Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jefferson & Oswego Cos. - Apr 28 - Willow in the Wind

After leaving the Willow Ptarmigan apparently settling in to roost for the night on the evening of Apr 27, Sean and Doug and I drove to Watertown and found a motel for the evening. We planned to spend the night, but get up early on the 28th to get back to the Willow Ptarmigan at sun-up to see it again and try for more pictures in the early morning light. We were up at 4:30 am and driving the last quarter mile or so to the ptarmigan spot as the sun came up. Alas, there was no sign of the ptarmigan in the tree where we had last seen it the night before. We spent about an hour searching for it but did not find it. A local birder from Watertown was also searching for it unsuccessfully. Whether it had decided to head back north, or moved to another nearby, but inaccessible location, we will probably never know. The Snowy Owl from yesterday was still there, perched atop a silo.

Snowy Owl                                                                                  © Joseph DiCostanzo

When we finally gave up we headed off Point Peninsula. On the way we heard the sound of a displaying Wilson's Snipe overhead as we passed a wet area. Though mostly done at night these snipes were putting on an early morning show. Their distinctive "winnowing" display sound is not vocal, but is produced by vibrations through their specially adapted tail feathers in flight. Recordings of this wonderful display sound can be found here. I have heard the display of American Woodcocks many times, but this was the first time I had heard snipes. On the side of the road here we were surrounded by the sound. We estimated seven males here and saw four in the air at once. Sean, Doug and I agreed later that after seeing the ptarmigan the night before this was the most memorable birding experience of our two day trip. There were also 16 Ring-necked Ducks here as well as Wood Ducks, Mallards, Buffleheads and Pied-billed Grebes.

From here we headed over to the Perch River Wildlife Management Area north of Watertown. This is a wonderful spot with great birding.

Perch River WMA                                                                              © Joseph DiCostanzo

There were a variety of waterfowl here, including Trumpeter Swan, Wood Duck, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, and Common Merganser. Overhead were Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, Osprey, Broad-winged and Red-tailed hawks, harriers and a Merlin. The real highlights were some of the heard only birds - another "winnowing" snipe, two Marsh Wrens and four American Bitterns and four Virginia Rails. We had seen some Caspian Terns the day before and earlier that morning, but finding 40 here was a treat.

Caspian Terns at Perch River WMA                                                      © Joseph DiCostanzo

After leaving Perch River, Doug suggested we stop at the Derby Hill Hawk Watch in Mexico, Oswego County on the shore of Lake Ontario. We weren't expecting much since the winds did not seem favorable for much of a hawk flight. We were very pleasantly surprised. I had never been to Derby Hill before and compared to big flight days, there weren't a lot of birds, but in the just under two hours we were there over 1200 Broad-winged Hawks came over along with small numbers of Turkey Vultures, Osprey, Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks and a Cooper's Hawk.

After Derby Hill, there was the long ride home to NYC, but it was a great two days birding!

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