This past Wednesday, Garrett MacDonald, Andrew Dreelin, and I birded in Madison County, New York. Specifically, we decided to chase some Evening Grosbeaks tending to a feeder near the town of Sheds, as well as a continuing Townsend’s Solitaire in Erieville. My classes didn’t start until 12:20 PM on Wednesday, so we were able to have enough time to try and get these two species, as well as improve our Madison County lists. Garrett picked Andrew and I up at about 6:15 AM, and we then drove the hour and ten minutes to the grosbeak site.
According to both eBird and the Oneida Birds Listserv, Linda Salter has had Evening Grosbeaks coming to her feeders for a few weeks now. Both Garrett and I were quite interested in seeing these birds, and figured that we could work them into our schedule if we were also going for the solitaire. I emailed Linda about access for the grosbeaks, and she was more than helpful to allow us to look for the birds.
Garrett, Andrew, and I pulled in around 7:30 PM and asked for news on the grosbeaks. It turned out she had already had a visit this morning from two of them, but they were not present now. Apparently, she has both a flock of two immature birds that comes regularly to the feeders, as well as a group of eight (including adult males) that also cycles through at least once a day. So began our stakeout…
Linda’s yard was amazing, and we were soon racking up county birds, including Pileated and Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and White-throated and American Tree Sparrows.
About an hour into watching, I walked over to the parking lot for a different angle at the back of her house. Upon moving here, I noticed two oddly shaped birds fly into the top of a deciduous tree over the main road. Looking closely, I realized they were the two grosbeaks! I got Andrew and Garrett’s attention, and soon they were watching them too. Eventually, one of the grosbeaks descended onto the feeder on the south side of Linda’s house, and began to feed. I snapped quite a few photos of it, and then contacted Drew Weber, who was supposed to meet us as the house. He said he was close, and wondered if the grosbeaks were present. I told him to get to the house ASAP, and not soon after sending the text did he drive over the small rise into sight. Waving frantically, we had him pull up along side us and handed him my binoculars to grab a diagnostic view of the Grosbeak. Not ten seconds after getting the bird did it leave without us noticing. Talk about good timing!
After getting the grosbeak, we headed to the Townsend’s Solitaire in Erieville that had been consistently reported since November 30th. After arriving, wandering the property for about ten minutes. At one point, I heard a faint, peculiar whistle (which turned out not to be the solitaire). I decided to play the Townsend’s Solitaire call from my phone so I could refresh my memory of what they sounded like. After playing it mainly to refresh my memory, Garrett stated to us all, “Woah! There it is!” I turned around, and after direction from Andrew, easily got on it. The bird ended up putting quite a show for us, and I was able to get some nice photos of it when it was down low in the shrubs.
After we had our fill of the solitaire, we all decided to hit a few reservoirs on the way back to Ithaca (and Syracuse, for Drew). Our first stop was at Tuscarora Lake, where we lucked into quite a diversity of waterfowl. Highlights included a single blue morph Snow Goose chilling with Canadas, four Cackling Geese, Redhead, Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Ring-necked Duck. We also found a distant Rough-legged Hawk as well as a Common Raven on the ridge east of the lake.
Drew needed to head back, and we had to begin making our way to Ithaca. We decided Cazenovia Lake would be a good final birding place along both of our routes. The lake was surprisingly void of birds, but we lucked into a Great Black-backed Gull, Horned Grebe, and some Common Loons. After our brief scan of a mostly empty lake, we said our goodbyes to Drew, and headed our own way to our final stop, DeRuyter Reservoir. DeRuyter once briefly hosted a sick Great Shearwater which ended up dying after being rescued. Along the drive down, Garrett spotted an eagle from the road. He pulled over, mumbling that we should check what eagle it was, though I expected it to be a Bald. To my surprise, he quickly shouted, “Oh! It’s a Golden Eagle!” I hopped out of the car super quickly, and snapped some ok photos. I had been wanting to see a Golden Eagle in New York state for a while, and did not expect one at all on this trip. In looking in eBird, this was the first December record for Madison County.
DeRuyter was quite empty, and we decided to head home soon after, reminiscing on the amazing morning we had just had. I must thank Garrett again for driving us and the great day, and it was great to meet up with Drew and share some great New York birds!