A Travellerspoint blog

Herping the Hudson Valley!

New York

sunny 72 °F

Today, I got up at 6:30am to catch a bus to take me upstate for my last herping hike of the 2021-22 school year here in New York! Unfortunately, I have to keep locations from today secret because of the dangers of sharing herp locations online — poachers. Any New York herpers reading this probably can narrow it down to a few possible locations, anyway… My largest targets today were New York’s two vipers: Timber Rattlesnake & Northern Copperhead, though other targets included Eastern Ratsnake, Eastern Ribbonsnake, Northern Red-bellied Snake, Pickerel Frog, and Northern Red Salamander. With herping, you really never know — today I was just visiting this location because I had heard of these species being found in the vicinity before, but I really just narrowed the exact location down based off of looking for good habitat on Google Maps. We will just have to see!

The bus pulled into the station right on time and I was soon hiking uphill from the conveniently-close trailhead. There was a fair amount of birdsong including CHIPPING SPARROWS like this one:
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The first vantage point along the trail provided absolutely gorgeous views of the river valley below.
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And I spotted a TURKEY VULTURE:
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Next, I spotted a seep alongside the trail so I started flipping for Red Salamanders. I didn’t find any of those, but soon enough a glistening, black snake caught my eye alongside the seep and I quickly realized I had my lifer Eastern Ratsnake! Absolutely awesome!
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Here are some closeups of it:
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And I had to get a screen-grab of holding it, of course!
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Another nearby seep contained a Wood Frog, a species I had only seen once before today:
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Then, I ventured off trail because I saw a rocky hill that looked like it would be great habitat to find vipers as they tend to inhabit areas near rocky outcroppings on hillsides in this part of the country. There was a male PRAIRIE WARBLER utilizing the scrubbier habitat on the top of the hill as his breeding territory. Good for him!
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Then, after I had made it back to one of the main trails, I was startled by an extremely abrupt, and more importantly, extremely close, buzzing. I froze in my place, honestly rather startled, looked over my shoulder, and found that my lifer Timber Rattlesnake was warning me to “keep a social distance.” OMG! My biggest target of the day right on the side of the trail, and to think that if it hadn’t “warned” me, I could have ended up with a really harmful snakebite... My heart was racing for sure as it was just three feet away.
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I slowly backed up, caught my breath, and focused on the task at hand: photographing this beautiful creature which is endangered in New York State!
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To give some perspective, when I told another hiker later that I’d photographed a Timber today, his jaw nearly dropped to the ground. These are notoriously difficult snakes to find in New York because their preferred habitats tend to be high, inaccessible locations far from roads (I hiked almost 10 miles). This is due in part to habitat encroachment by humans as their population in the northeast has definitely decreased over the years.
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All this being said, I spent a solid half an hour with this absolutely majestic, powerful creature, and we gave each other mutual respect from a distance. Rattlesnakes are horribly misunderstood creatures — they do us many favors by keeping rodents under control and therefore balancing our ecosystems, and evidenced by today’s encounter, they give a solid warning if you get too close. They never want to chase or hurt you, which is unfortunately what so many folks wrongly believe.
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And of course, I have to end this set of photos with a disclaimer: it should go without saying, but never ever handle a venemous snake, even with a snake hook. This is as close as I was willing to get to the snake :)
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It was hard to tear myself away from such a wondrous lifer. It takes most people many tries to get their first NY Timber Rattler so it was a perfect combination of luck, weather, and planning today that came together. A little ways down the trail, I flushed 4 AMERICAN WOODCOCK at exactly the same time, dang! Was only able to grab this crappy photo.
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Further down, I had great views of a WORM-EATING WARBLER — great to see this bird on territory since it is a species of special conservation concern here in New York.
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Next, I came upon a series of seeps along the trail that held great amphibian life. In addition to those below, I had Northern Two-lined Salamander and Eastern Newt swimming in these tiny, obviously fish-less streams. Green Frogs:
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Anybody know what kind of tadpole? Bullfrog, probably?
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And my highlight in this section was my lifer Pickerel Frog, a species I had missed at Cranberry Lake last week, so I was delighted to see it today. Note the square blotches on the back that separate this from a similar Leopard Frog.
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Another riparian species I had that was a lifer was an Eastern Ribbonsnake, but true to form, it was too fast for me to catch and photograph. Gotta save something for next time!

The loop I took led me to several gorgeous lakes.
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And I spotted this Eastern Gartersnake alongside the trail but decided against catching it since it had just swallowed a meal (which you can barely make out in this photo) and I didn’t want it to regurgitate its hard-earned sustenance.
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A few birds along the way back were nice including MAGNOLIA WARBLER:
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YELLOW-THROATED VIREO:
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And SCARLET TANAGER:
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Yet another uncommon New York herp see today was this Common Five-lined Skink, a female in this case with the rusty head.
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One unphotographed bird on the way back that was quite notable was a singing PROTHONOTARY WARBLER as they are scarce in this part of the state. I managed 50 species of birds which was decent given the mainly-homogenous habitat covered.

Another habitat shot to show the rocky outcrop habitat that dotted the landscape today. Just incredibly beautiful. Bird-of-the-day goes to the Worm-eating Warbler, but I have to make a special mention to the winner herp today which is undoubtedly the extremely uncommon Timber Rattlesnake. So dang cool.

Good birding (and herping),
Henry
World Life List: 1130 Species

Posted by skwclar 12:43 Archived in USA Comments (2)

In search of wind-blown terns

New York, NY

all seasons in one day 60 °F

On saturday morning, at the advice of an extremely knowledgeable local birder, Andrew F, I made my way back down to the Hudson riverfront (this time at 125th St in Harlem) to see if any lingering Arctic Terns were moving up or down the river. Terns were sighted into dusk last night, and far upriver, so I was hopeful I’d be able to snag a view trying to make their way back to the Atlantic. Upon arrival, I had a flyover LAUGHING GULL which is a decent bird for this far upstream:
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And I saw this immature DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT that look like it had literally bit off more than it could chew. It struggled with this plus-sized fish for a few minutes:
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As an adult watched in, probably in amusement:
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Unfortunately, no terns of any species were sighted on saturday. So I tried again Sunday as some Arctic Terns were sighted flying up and down the river on saturday by others! Again, I was greeted by a Laughing Gull:
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RING-BILLED GULL in front of the New Jersey shore:
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For a third day in a row, I struck out, despite probably 7+ hours of thorough riverwatching. Well, you win some, you lose some I guess, and Arctic Tern wouldn’t have been a life bird — just a northern hemispheric life bird! :)

One consolation was the beautiful Flower Moon lunar eclipse to which Tian and I were treated in the evening:
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Bird-of-the-weekend goes to the funny Double-crested Cormorant, I guess, since the Arctic Terns did not want to cooperate for me.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1130 Species

Posted by skwclar 04:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Brooklyn birding & a late-evening chase

New York, NY

all seasons in one day 74 °F

FRIDAY, MAY 13:

After a rather intense week of birding and concert/jury preparation, I really needed to sleep in, yet I still wanted to make the most of a mid-May day. So, I headed to Prospect Park at around 11am to see how active it was. Turns out, very inactive, disappointingly enough, yet another birder was kind enough to point me in the direction of where she had a Hooded Warbler earlier in the morning. So, I slowly made my way over to Lookout Hill, trying to find any birds I could from the woods along the way. This male CAROLINA WREN was busy piping his repetitive “tea-kettle” song:
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A male BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER was also singing nearby:
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As I made my way deeper into the woods, the birdsong died off almost completely so I picked up the pace, heading over to Lookout Hill to find my favorite Hooded Warbler.

After about five minutes of searching, I heard the resonant, ringing song of the male HOODED WARBLER “wheeta wheeta wheet-ee-oh!” echo through the woods — it must be one of the louder warbler songs as you can hear it from quite a distance away, plus they tend to inhabit very thick habitats.
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Soon enough, another birder joined me having heard it herself, and between the two of us we were soon able to get looks at this beautiful male.
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He came even closer after about twenty minutes of observing, proving that patience is key with bird photography.
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After admiring and photographing the Hooded, I headed down to Prospect Lake to see if anything was on the lake. There wasn’t a whole lot — just a few gulls like this LAUGHING:
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And this GREAT BLACK-BACKED:
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Then, I decided to head over to Marine Park Nature Center to see if I could pick up some birds like Forster’s Tern, Clapper Rail, and the like. Upon arriving, I found a rather late RED-THROATED LOON:
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And a couple of COMMON TERNS:
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Here are some images of a pair of highly-cooperative FORSTER’S TERNS where you can see the difference — no darkness on the outer primaries or the tail feathers:
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Another Larid, a HERRING GULL:
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And a few shots of a highly-cooperative YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON which was my FOY bird:
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And some headshots:
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AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER:
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OSPREY:
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SNOWY EGRET by some snowy garbage:
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A distant group of GREATER YELLOWLEGS was my FOY for this species:
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WILLET:
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I did end up getting some very noisy yet heard-only CLAPPER RAILS as a year bird which wasn’t surprising as they tend to do just that.

Once I was already on the train back to MSM, I received a Manhattan Rare Bird text saying multiple groups of wind-driven Arctic Terns were flying downriver on the Hudson! Of course, I HAD to see this so, as my train was making its way through Brooklyn, I figured out the most downtown stop so I could get off and run to the Hudson ASAP to river watch for these rare terns. If I were to find them, they would be my Northern Hemespheric lifer — I have only seen these on a cruise in the South Pacific Ocean before!

So, I jumped off the train at Wall St and high-tailed it to the waterfront in Battery Park City where I had high hopes on seeing this rare-from-land species. In fact, eBird doesn’t have any previous reports of Arctic Terns from the Hudson River, so everyone’s reports from today would be the first!
This anamoly was caused by rainy, wet weather combined with high winds from the east pushing these birds upriver.

Panting, I arrived at my vantage point with a solid view of the Statue of Liberty, even in this cruddy weather.

Birds were indeed moving up and down the river like this MALLARD:
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DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT:
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Unfortunately, despite a half-dozen reports of Arctic Terns flying downstream from further up river, I never laid eyes on them. I spent about 90 minutes scoping wet, mostly birdless views like this:
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I held out until 8:15pm, after sunset, despite desperately having to pee. It was incredibly frustrating to miss this species as other folks were reporting flocks as high as 26 birds flying downstream. I will just take a look at the weather and determine if it would be worth trying again tomorrow morning from up by 125th St (where folks were having greater success). We’ll just have to wait and see…

Good birding!
Henry
World Life List: 1130 Species

Posted by skwclar 05:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Third time the charm for the Bicknell’s?

Central Park, NYC

overcast 60 °F

THURSDAY, MAY 12:

Upon being woken up by my 6:20am alarm, I jumped out of bed and checked the Manhattan Rare Bird Alert GroupMe and was relieved and exhilarated to see that somebody had just found the Bicknell’s Thrush a minute ago! So, I threw some clothes on and, for the third time in 24 hours, raced down to Central Park on my scooter. Upon arriving to the appointed coordinates, I immediately had my lifer BICKNELL’S THRUSH singing. Here is a short clip I posted to youtube:
https://youtu.be/Evil0MhXmqY

Notice that the final note of its song ends in an upward motion, compared to the downward slur found in the nearly-identical Gray-cheeked Thrush song. It foraged at point-blank range for me and a dedicated group of early-morning birders for a long time, allowing for absolutely unprecedented photo ops.
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The show it put on was just spectacular. To give perspective, here is a photo with a biker from the main loop road right behind it. Usually, in order to find this bird as a lifer, one has to wake up at 1am and make the long trek to the top of the Catskills near the treeline where this bird breeds in stunted boreal-like habitats at the top of the highest mountain peaks. And I was actually planning on doing that to find this bird next week! Luckily, this visitor to Central Park oficially saved me that grueling (albeit beautiful) trip. This species passes through Central Park I would say maybe 1 out of every 5 years, though they almost definitely make their way through unidentified every year. So I was so lucky this happened before I leave on May 20!
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As if the morning could get any better, a birder alerted me to the fact that there was a Cerulean Warbler at Summit Rock down near 83rd St! So, I scooted as fast as I could to Summit Rock and within twelve minutes was staring up into the large oaks surrounding the area. NORTHERN PARULAS abounded, briefly confusing us was their Cerulean-like songs:
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After about fifteen minutes of searching, I saw a tiny warbler flit into the top of a tall tree, and it gave the vibe that it was not staying for a long time, so I quickly zoomed in and grabbed an identification shot. Sure enough, it flew off the second after I clicked my shutter but not before I could nail it down as my year-bird CERULEAN WARBLER! Absolutely sweet! The colors did not pop on this gray morning, but you can see its identifying necklace contrasted with a pure-white breast.
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To get two extremely vulnerable and rare species like the Bicknell’s and the Cerulean on one Central Park checklist is an anomaly, and a very welcome one at that.

Next, I hit the Ramble which I hadn’t actually birded yet this year (!) and I picked up my year-bird CANADA WARBLER, the other warbler with a (very-different) necklace!
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HERMIT THRUSH:
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Azalea Pond was looking absolutely beautiful.
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BLUE-HEADED VIREO:
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Male MAGNOLIA WARBLER:
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CEDAR WAXWINGS:
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Female YELLOW WARBLER:
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Male BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER:
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Female BALTIMORE ORIOLE:
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Then, I looped back north in the park to bird my way back up to the Loch. This GREAT EGRET was hunting the perimeter of Turtle Pond:
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The rest of the park, including the Loch, was quieter with the exception of one noteworthy find: this WORM-EATING WARBLER which barely allowed a documentation shot before disappearing into the shrubbery:
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So, bird-of-the-day has to go to my lifer Bicknell’s Thrush which saved me an excruciatingly long trip into the Catskills, with runner-up going to the Cerulean Warbler. A very solid morning at Central Park.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1130 Species (1 life bird today: Bicknell’s Thrush)

Posted by skwclar 02:56 Archived in USA Comments (1)

In pursuit of a visitor from the Catskills

Central Park, NY

semi-overcast 70 °F

WEDNESDAY, MAY 11 — still catching up…my goal is to have all May posts up before June, but various musical obligations may prevent that from happening, we’ll see!

After singing a successful end-of-the-year jury at the ungodly hour of 10am, I rewarded the year’s efforts with a trip to Central Park for migrants. Somebody had found either a Gray-cheeked or a Bicknell’s Thrush west of the Blockhouse yesterday, so it was on my mind to scope out all of the thrushes there in hopes of maybe finding the suspect bird. These two species are almost identical and can only be reliably separated by voice since any minute distinction in plumage can almost never be discerned in the shaded, thick habitat these birds prefer.

Upon arriving, I noted the usual chorus of birdsong that rings through the Central Park North Woods on a cloudy May day. Unlike back home in Chicago where these birds are expected but not particularly common, BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS like this gorgeous male are one of the most abundant warbler species passing through in early-mid May here in NYC.
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OVENBIRDS also abounded:
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My first photographed BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER of the year was fantastic to see:
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Male YELLOW WARBLER:
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And FOY EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE while I was fruitlessly searching for a female Summer Tanager:
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YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER:
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Male AMERICAN REDSTART:
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GADWALL:
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I found two less-common turtle species out basking in the Pool, an Eastern Painted Turtle in the front, and possibly a Mud/Musk Turtle sp in the back. Anybody here solid with turtle ID? Either way, great to see some turtles that aren’t just Sliders (the House Sparrows of the herp world).
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So, it was back to the Manhattan School for a coaching, but after the coaching, I noticed that the bird found yesterday by others was positively identified as a Bicknell’s Thrush by call! Is this is a very, very uncommon species, I figured many birders would be out searching so the chances of finding it would be higher. So, it was back on my scooter to the Central Park North Woods for a second time in a day! Upon arriving, this MAGNOLIA WARBLER greeted me:
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And I did find several thrush including a HERMIT and this SWAINSON’S:
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But unfortunately no Bicknell’s, and I had to head back to MSM for another coaching. Frustratingly enough, during the intermission of Turandot at the Met that night I got a text saying the Bicknell’s was found singing again in the late evening. Rats! Just kept missing it — and I was seriously hoping to find this bird at Central Park since the other alternative is getting up at 2am to hike into the high Catskills to get the bird on its breeding grounds. Which would be great, but I don’t have a car…

Anyway, I was holding out that the Bicknell’s would stay the night in the park and be found again the morning since migration levels were forecast to be low with headwinds. So my fingers were crossed for early tomorrow morning.

Bird-of-the-day goes to the Blackburnian Warbler with runner-up to all the Black-throated Blue Warblers.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1129 Species

Posted by skwclar 04:27 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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