The bird habit

Birder Mark DeDea. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

“The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life…The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds — how many human aspirations are realized in their free, holiday-lives — and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!”

— John Burroughs


For amateur birders, wannabe birders and avid ornithologists, the Hudson Valley is steeped in bird sanctuaries, birding clubs, birding guides and tours of a wide variety of ecosystems from the banks of the Hudson River to where peregrine falcons nest, breed and soar on the high cliffs of the Shawangunks.

Each species is fascinating in its own right, habits, color and song, just as each site is its own unique ecosystem. It would take a field guide to cover every birding spot in our region, so we will turn our lens on just a few. For a fuller story, visit two key local websites, those of the John Burroughs Society, which focuses primarily on sites and guided walks in Ulster County, and of Dutchess County’s Waterman Bird Club.


Peter Schoenberger of Woodstock, who describes himself as a rabid birder, says that in his estimation “all points along the Hudson are interesting for bird-watching.” He is a particular fan of The Great Vly, a 184-acre New York State Park in Saugerties which contains a large freshwater marsh bordered by rock cliffs and wooden hills.

“The Great Vly offers so many different habitats that one could see an incredible variety of birds in a short span,” says Schoenberger, who is soon heading for Alaska to do extreme birding close to Siberia. The Great Vly is the home to osprey, golden eagle, American bittern, blackbirds and almost 30 species of warblers that pass through during spring migration, each with its own distinctive song. Woodcocks, rails, herons, marsh wrens and swamp sparrows are included. “The Great Vly is a real marshy area, almost a lake of sorts,” explains Schoenberger, “and you can see birds there during any season. They have a lot of Virginia rails, which are great birds.”

Now spending most of his time when not working to “support my bird habit,” Schoenberger says he did not discover birding until he was 43 years old. “I was sitting on my deck playing with a new pair of binoculars someone had given me when I saw this black-and-white bird with a flame-orange face, and I wanted to find out what kind of bird it was.”

Looking in a field guide, he discovered that the bird had been a Blackburnian warbler. “That got me thinking that this bird had been here all of this time in my back yard and I had never noticed it before,” he says. “I started to wonder what other birds were living here. And that’s how I got started.”

One of his partners in birding addiction is Mark DeDea, who runs the Forsyth Nature Center in Kingston. “The most important thing to starting is to get a good pair of binoculars,” says DeDea, who provided a private bird walk at the Shaupeneak Ridge, a 500-acre preserve owned by the not-for-profit group Scenic Hudson in Esopus. “You get what you pay for, and I’ve had these babies for 20 years. I finally bought a new pair, which I’m sure I’ll have for at least another 20 years.”

DeDea and Schoenberger encourage anyone and everyone to come to a guided bird walk, ask questions, borrow a pair of binoculars, and let the endless symphony of bird songs and flight enter their lives. “All it takes is a good pair of binoculars and some comfortable clothing,” says Schoenberger. “There are so many free guided walks and websites and clubs and sites for people to get started.”