Feathers and Flocks at Papscanee
After work on Tuesday Daisy and I headed over to Papscanee Island for a snerklefork (our much better term for “picnic”) in the remaining hours of daylight (how great is this whole early daylight savings time thing?). The thick snow that blanketed the ground on my last visit was greatly reduced, which made the walking easier, but wetter.
Because I didn’t really anticipate seeing too much avian activity within good photo range I left the big lens at home and brought along my 100mm macro lens which allowed shots like this:
The sun was shining, the air was warm (almost 60 degrees F) and small flocks of icterids were regularly flying overhead. At one point we could distinctly hear the squeaky-gate call of the Rusty Blackbird interspersed with the familiar call of Red-winged Blackbirds. A small flock of robins fed on bittersweet, a Pileated Woodpecker flashed through the treetops, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers called from the woods and White-breasted Nuthatches entertained us by creeping headfirst down tree trunks. A Ruffed Grouse exploded from the underbrush off the trail and we caught fleeting glimpses of it as it flew away.
We stopped at a picnic table on the east bank of the Hudson to eat and watched two male Common Mergansers, a pair of Ring-necked Ducks and several flocks of Canada Geese. It was just a gorgeous day to be in the great outdoors.
We took the long walk back and Daisy spotted these:
We tentatively identified them as the body feathers of a Northern Cardinal. A more thorough search of the surrounding area turned up several more similar feathers but nothing else. We continued our walk and about a half mile down the trail came across another crime scene, also involving a cardinal. This time, we were sure of the victim’s identity as we found several much larger feathers, gathered together below for your viewing pleasure:
Now I don’t know about you, but this pair of crime scenes left me disturbed. The brilliant plumage and cheerful song of the Northern Cardinal makes it one of my favorite birds (to say nothing of my life-long love for the St. Louis Cardinals, reigning World Series champs) and if some predator has decided to focus on them, well, that’s not too cool.
Alas, the cardinal-killer will remain a mystery as we could find no other clues. A ravenous Sharp-shinned Hawk? A crafty feral cat? A kid hopped up on the power of his BB-gun? We’ll never know.
As we pondered the possible identity of the rapacious slaughterer we started to notice an increase in the number of icterids flying overhead. I managed to pick out some Rusty Blackbirds from a flock (my first of the year!) and we eventually found a mix of about forty birds perched at the top of still-leafless trees. This was nothing compared to what we were about to witness on the drive out of Papscanee.
That’s a lot of birds perched there right? Well, the spectacle had just begun. In the fields was a massive conglomeration of Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Rusty Blackbirds, and European Starlings. When a Red-tailed Hawk flew over the noise was nearly deafening.
We watched the flock for about twenty minutes during which time many small flocks kept joining it. We also spotted Wild Turkeys, American and Fish Crows, Canada Geese, and, in one flooded spot, a pair of Mallards.
All-in-all, it was a very satisfying evening of snerkleforking, walking, photographing and birding.