Birdsongs and mating dances are in flight right now as migratory birds flock to the region and resident birds tease out a breeding companion. “The last week of April through the first three weeks of May are really the peak times for birders,” said Steve Stan, a retired specialist from the Department of Environmental Conservation, an avid birder, and a resident of New Paltz whose home borders a bird sanctuary.
Stan explained that late April signifies “the tail end of the waterfowl migration,” including the arrival of Canadian Geese and Wood Ducks and even the small, blocky Green-Winged Teal Duck, “a beautiful little bird that will likely nest a little further north.”
Wood Ducks love a marsh area, where they can find tree cavities made from rot or from Pileated Woodpeckers attempting to nest right now. “The ducklings are so downy and fluffy that apparently they just get pushed out of the nest and float in the air and then their mom takes them to the water,” says Stan. “There’ll be two dozen of them all clumped up behind the mother duck in June.”
Red Wing Blackbirds and Grackles, both of which have been in the area for several weeks. are now starting to establish their territory along the marshlands. Winter backyard birds including the Black-Capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren are still here, singing and flapping their wings to attract mates.
“Birders are really starting to look for the arrival of the early warblers,” said Stan, including the Yellow-Rumped Warbler, the Palm Warbler, the Louisiana Water Thrush, and Black and White Warbler.
Stan said that In birding circles, Stan said, the Yellow-Rumped Warbler is often referred to as the “Butter-Butt Warbler” because of its bright yellow backside.
Megan Napoli, a research ecologist at the 8000-acre Mohonk Preserve, agreed that the Yellow-Rumped Warbler is a common migrant species fairly easily spotted at this time of year, along with the Tree Swallow and House Wren.
What birds are the most colorful? Both Stan and Napoli mentioned the Scarlet Tanager, a medium-sized songbird with fairly stocky proportions and thick, rounded bills that help them catch insects and eat fruits. Their plumage is fiery red and their wings and tail black. The female Scarlet Tanager is a creamy yellow with olive-hued wings. These dazzling songbirds can be seen in mixed hardwood forests.
Other bird with unique color patterns, according to Napoli, include the Cerulean Warbler, a bird the color of a smoky blue sky that floes high through the upper canopy of Eastern forests. The males have a cerulean neckband and streaks down the side, the females a dusky hue of blue-green plumage.
According to Napoli, these birds can be found in oak forests and steep slopes. Added Stan, “They can be seen in areas like Breakneck Ridge and Storm King, places where there are rocky outcrops and deciduous forests and more steep slopes for nesting.
Tree Swallows are attracted to riparian areas and grasslands.
Baltimore Orioles, Goldfinches and Woodcocks will soon display dramatic courting flights which will have them circling higher and higher into the spring sky, making twittering sounds with their wings until they reach a crescendo, cease flying and dive back down to the ground, where they make a sound that Stan can only describe as a nasal exhalation.
This is also the time when Hawks are migrating, Great Blue Herons are returning to their watersheds of choice, and they will be followed by the smaller Green Herons. “Peregrines and Red-tailed Hawks and Bald Eagles are all nesting right now,” said Stan, and various climbing routes and trails at the Preserve are closed to make sure that the Peregrine nesting sites are not disturbed.
While loss of habitat is the greatest threat to these lovely songbirds, waterfowl and Hawks, Napoli did note that “no matter where you are birding, it is always important to stick to designated roads or trails so you are not disturbing any potential nesting areas. Birds nest in grasslands, cliffs, trees and shrubs, so they’re found in almost all wild habitats.”
Stan and Napoli recommend the Cornell ornithology website www.allaboutbirds.org where amateurs and veteran birders alike can learn about the shape, size, color, songs, sounds, habitats of almost any bird species. Napoli “highly recommends the Sibley and Merlin bird apps for your smartphone,” as well as noting that the Preserve offers birding programs throughout the year, including the upcoming “Hike with a Naturalist — May Migrants,” on May 12 and “Early Morning Bird Walk,” on May 15. To register for Preserve programs, visit https://www.mohonkpreserve.org/events/.
“This is the time for birders,” said Stan. “In a few weeks you can probably count 30 different species of birds in one walk!”
For more information on the Preserve’s Peregrine Watch program, visit https://www.mohonkpreserve.org/what-we-do/conservation-programs/conservation-science/peregrine-watch-updates/.